Our Homeschool Year in Review (2019-2020)

(Update: we ordered grade 7 books from Oak Meadow for this year and I’m so pleased with all of the changes they’ve made. I’m striking out my criticisms but I don’t want to delete them entirely so if you come across this criticisms elsewhere you’ll know that they’ve changed.)

Whew. And what a year that was. We started the year in a new province trying to navigate a new normal and ended up in the middle of a pandemic and what seems to be the beginning of an international civil rights movement. Who would have thought.

I’m going to be honest, I’m having a hard time remembering how we started this year and how it morphed into what it is today in what is our “final” week. (It’s not actually our final week, my kid will still be tutored through the summer because what else are we going to do and also my kid asked to not only keep going but to increase his tutoring sessions and I had to say no so that’s what’s going on over here.) But I’m going to try my best to gather my thoughts and hopefully my rambling will be helpful to someone out there, especially since September is looming and everything is up in the air when it comes to public education.

I’m going to try to split this up into subjects and minimize my rambling but if you are familiar with me at all, you know that rambling is my specialty so apologies in advance.

Math

I am a huge fan of Art of Problem Solving. Beast Academy is just the best math curriculum out there and I can say this with absolute authority as it’s the only math curriculum we’ve ever used.

We started our year continuing to use Art of Problem Solving Pre-Algebra and Number Theory but then something fabulous happened: my son got a math tutor. Specifically, a math teacher that teaches young kids advanced subjects and has no problem interrupting math for a few seconds to talk about dogs and is a-okay with sloppy handwriting. A unicorn, if you will. My kiddo is currently working his way through Algebra I and will be doing geometry in the fall and this is the end of my math curriculum suggesting days. I’ll just keep touting the benefits of AOPS but also be really happy that math is no longer my problem.

(sorry if that’s not what you came here for)

Science

For the following three subject’s we’re going to be talking about Oak Meadow a lot. Buckle up.

Oak Meadow’s grade 6 science curriculum is Life Science, aka my kid’s least favourite kind of science. Since he was a toddler he’s found biology “disgusting” and “gross” and “boring” and I’m sorry I’m just not the person to change his mind about this.

This was my first time using an actual homeschool curriculum set up by weeks with activity ideas and I have to say this was the perfect year for it. Opening the book, doing the reading, and then having my kid select an activity and then doing the test at the end of the week was absolutely fabulous. I’m not a science person so I can’t attest to the rigour of this program, but it was absolutely what we needed this year for this particular branch of science. Although, you didn’t hear it from me, but I purchased the teacher’s guide and opened it exactly one (1) time.

The past month my son has been working with a chemistry tutor through the University of Calgary thanks to a new program being put in place due to the pandemic and it has been such an amazing experience. Next year we’ll be attempting AP Chemistry and hopefully I can pass that off on someone a la math. Fingers crossed.

(oh surprise surprise the anti-homeschooling homeschooler doesn’t actually homeschool. sorry again)

(okay I’m not anti-homeschooling I’m just anti-me-homeschooling)

English

We used Oak Meadow Sixth Grade English. English is my subject, my jam, my I-get-drunk-and-ramble-about-the-Chrysalids. I spent the first few weeks of COVID taking an online course that focused on Jane Austen. But with the year I had I was really thankful we splurged on this curriculum if only because it kept me on track.

Now the layout of this textbook, while I understand the reasoning behind it, I kind of hated. The back of the book serves as a style guide, and each week you’re assigned a portion of it to review. Which is great especially if you want to keep this as a reference for the future, however, personally I’d rather purchase a separate style guide to have on hand and have had the subject matter put right into each week’s chapter. The reason I purchased this curriculum was to make my life easier and I wanted it even easier. I am a nitpicking whiner but at $115 USD I earned the right to be one. I’m sure someone out there would like to fight me on this and that’s fine. I get it. I encourage you to take my opinions with a grain of salt. (update: clearly I wasn’t the only nitpicking asshole because they changed this for the grade 7 books we have)

If you need help staying on task and want spelling tests and assignments laid out by week, I recommend this textbook. However, if you have your life together and just want a grammar and style review, Everything You Need to Ace English Language Arts in One Big Fat Notebook: The Complete Middle School Study Guide is under $20 and covers a decent amount IMO. But again, this is a subject that I’m confident in and need little handholding in beyond time management. Just my two cents especially in these exceedingly cash-strapped times.

History

I am the most conflicted about this curriculum, Oak Meadow Ancient Civilizations. I want to love it. But there were a few things that irked me and I’ll try to elaborate.

The theme of this year is loving having everything laid out for me and that’s part of my love here. Oak Meadow splits everything up into manageable 36 week parts, all laid out with readings and assignments and reviews and it really is lovely. On the most hectic of weeks I could open up to the week we were in and I needed all of two brain cells to make it through which is invaluable. Also, my husband could take over without having to try to decipher what we’re doing by reading my chicken-scratched notes. I think for my husband, being able to be involved in the homeschool and feeling confident in it was worth every penny.

Skimming the table of contents, you can see there’s a good variety of subjects touched upon in this text. But if you read a lot of “well of course there’s religion, it’s history and history has religion even though this is a secular text” you might think hmmm the writers protest too much. Or maybe that’s just me.

There is religion in this text, of course there is, but there’s a lot of religion in this text. Which isn’t a problem. But the way that say, Christianity is written about, versus say Greek mythology, is different in tone, which irked me. Maybe that’s to be sensitive to the fact that a lot of people still obviously practice Christianity but there aren’t a lot of people still worshipping Zeus (forgive me if I’m wrong here) but IDK. It felt off. Especially in comparison to say, Everything You Need to Ace World History in One Big Fat Notebook: The Complete Middle School Study Guide, (or even other books that we read to supplement with throughout the year) which manages to talk about all of these same topics in an extremely respectful but secular way… I don’t know. I think they are trying to be secular while still appealing to Christian homeschoolers which is fine and a good business decision, but I really want to find that perfect secular, accredited, homeschool text that doesn’t seem to exist.

I also had a pet peeve that images seemed to be pasted in from a google images search with zero context or credit which is nitpicking but again, for the price I earned that. (This has been amended with their new curriculum and it is lovely!)

If you’re looking for everything to be laid out by week with activities and assignments (I mean there’s even delicious recipes!), want something that’s secular and accredited, this is a good text. If you’re someone who has a history background even just as a hobby, you may find yourself making a lot of asides, but the bones are decent. But if it’s legal where you are homeschooling, you have time, are good at organizing, and want to save yourself a hundred dollars, use Big Fat Notebook as your spine and find books and activities to supplement on your own. Especially if those books are written by BIPOC.

Now, really do not let this scare you away because I’m heavily considering purchasing Oak Meadow’s grade seven world history curriculum. (Update: I did purchase it and I don’t regret it one bit- the new curriculum seems to have addressed a lot of my complaints!) But if I do purchase it l will probably be using it lightly and supplementing with Canadian resources. It’s a more inclusive version of history than I had growing up, but I still see room for improvement in 2020. At the end of the day, the price really is worth my sanity. I haven’t found anything that checks all of my very high maintenance boxes, and I can live with having to supplement.

Everything else

At the start of the year my kid was doing a variety of arts and sports and miscellaneous activities but in the days of quarantine everything has shrunk down considerably.

Kahn Academy, Crash Course, SciSchow, and other online activities are still visited weekly if not daily. Physical education is mostly limited to hiking and biking and a new indoor mini tramp and basketball net but we’re doing what we can in the circumstances of the day.

The current climate has given us a lot to talk about that isn’t directly curriculum related but important all the same. We’ve been enjoying CBC Kids News and Recap specifically, but we’ve always just had a lot of open conversations in general. There’s also been a lot of opportunity to reiterate the importance of shopping locally, supporting BIPOC and LGBTQ+, and how to reduce our environmental footprint even though plastic is creeping back into our lives.

Baking and cooking have become an even larger part of our lives with my kid’s discovery of the variety of cooking contests available to stream. I’d like to take a moment to plug In the French Kitchen with Kids: Easy, Everyday Dishes for the Whole Family to Make and Enjoy by Mardi Michels for the millionth time (if you’re on IG you probably have seen me rave about this one a ton) because we have yet to make anything from this book that wasn’t easy and delicious. Actually, I think I should do some research to see if I can find similar cookbooks with different cuisines. Hmmm.

I’m looking forward to planning our homeschool year next year however we’re still sort of unsure about what it’s going to look like (aren’t we all?) so I’m interested to see what happens. Hopefully my rambling has helped someone out there and if it’s left you more confused than helped well, this is why I rarely blog! Good luck and Happy Summer folks!

*** update: I ordered oak meadow grade 7 curriculum because after searching other secular curriculums and being lured by lower prices I ran for the fucking hills by their (other curriculum’s) statements about oh yeah we use problematic texts and good luck finding something to replace it. Also Oak Meadow’s booklist for grade 7 English has been updated and it’s much more representative of the world I’m bringing a child up in (plus I just really want to read Brown Girl Dreaming). If you want to know why we chose Oak Meadow in the first place, I wrote about that here.

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Our 2018-2019 Homeschool Year In Review

I’ve never done a homeschool year in review post before because I always have it in my head that I’m a newbie who has no idea what I’m doing. There are so many parents out there with multiple kids and years of experience and to be honest, our homeschool style is not for everyone. But at the same time, because of our unique situation I sometimes feel it’s even more important to share since there are so few resources for those who are homeschooling radically accelerated children.

Our homeschool style is what I would be consider to be eclectic, so cough, we don’t really have one. We use curriculum for science and math because those are my son’s strongest subjects and my weakest. Because of my son’s age, we largely unschool for language arts and social studies– learning as we go along and using books, museums, and other resources to create an experience-rich environment. His science and math is so heavy in academics that I think it allows us a good balance. We also like to dabble in other subjects as well, though not as formally.

Our requirements for curriculum are that they are secular, challenging, and age-appropriate. I do a lot of research before purchasing a new resource, but it’s still not always perfect. I especially struggle finding purely secular sources. I know a lot of secular homeschool families who use Christian resources, but that’s not for us.

My son turned 6 during this school year, so if he was in public school he would be in grade 1. We chose homeschooling because junior kindergarten was not a great fit for him, with the hope that we could enrol him in a private school or a public charter school for gifted children at an accelerated grade once he was 6. But he is just too far ahead academically that we chose to continue homeschooling so that we can continue to meet his unique academic, social, and emotional needs.

So without further ado, here is what our 2018-2019 homeschool year looked like:

Johns Hopkins’ Center for Talented Youth Physical Science

Science is always our biggest struggle because it is by far my son’s favourite subject and my weakest. This is why we chose to swallow the large price tag of a CTY course. I also wanted to have some sort of piece of paper that I can point to and say without a doubt my kid is at this grade level (hello, imposter syndrome), which I now have in the form of a transcript.

My son loved the online course. He found the content engaging and especially loved the simulations. He also enjoyed the independence factor of sitting down to the computer each day and knowing exactly what he needed to do without any help from me.

CTY’s courses are not cheap, and from what I’ve heard their courseware is the same as other less expensive options but for us the biggest pro was age. Because they work with talented youth, they are understanding of students working above grade level. Just speaking with the amazing educators and administrators through email was such an amazing experience as a parent because they get it. 

Art of Problem Solving Prealgebra

Art of Problem Solving is definitely the math curriculum for high achieving math kids whose parents want them to learn to think in complex ways. My son loved Beast Academy 3, but when I purchased Beast Academy 4 I realized that his math skills were needing something more. He enjoys reading through the guidebooks, so we’ll most likely purchase 5 and 6 without the workbooks for fun, but for “school” we’ve been working through AOPS Prealgebra with the odd unit from AOPS Introduction to Number Theory intermixed since that’s my son’s favourite kind of math. I am not a math person, but luckily the explanations are thorough enough that if my son does have a problem, I can still help him find the solution.

Coding

My son loves to code and I have to admit, I think it’s going to be a necessary skill for our kids when they’re adults. There are luckily some great coding books and toys that we love. My son’s birthday and Christmas money usually go towards purchasing himself something he can code so we have LEGO WeDo (we’re in Canada so we purchased from Spectrum Nasco), a Kano, and a BB8 Sphero. Phew. They all get quite a lot of use, though, and the possibilities are almost endless. He also loves the Coding Games books by DK. He’s dabbled in both Scratch and Python and honestly, I much prefer him building video games than just playing them!

Minimus Latin

While a grammar curriculum just wasn’t sticking for us this year, I did want my kiddo to have some language-based program. With the abundance of latin terms in Harry Potter and in science, my kid was pretty willing to give latin a try.

Minimus Latin is a comic book style resource that’s appropriate for young kiddos, but I have read a few complaints that it’s not a stand-alone curriculum. I do keep a pronunciation guide in the front of our notebook and we have watched a few of the Great Courses that introduce Latin through our library’s Hoopla app but for the most part my kiddo has been able to put the pieces together with little issue. For me the important thing is that he is getting language practice; we can always refine it in the future. And honestly, his grammar is better than a lot of adults that I know, so I’m not too worried about it just yet.

Field Trips

I think a huge part of schooling is getting out of the house and having experiences, whether it’s just a trip to the library or a huge family vacation. Right now we live about an hour and a half from Toronto (although it’s often more like two hours or more with traffic these days) so large museums are a big trip for us. We did however have an Ontario Science Centre pass which was a fabulous purchase! We also love the Royal Ontario Museum and finally visited the adorable Willoughby Museum on the Niagara river. We also spent six days in Iceland which was the trip of a lifetime!

Other stuff

This year we didn’t do a strict scheduling of our school days. I did try to plan initially but our life was just too chaotic to make it stick. My daily requirements have always been a little science, a little math, lots of books, lots of fresh air, and a bit of music. It seems to work well for us and I feel like my kiddo is happiest when he’s having all of those different needs met. We read so many fantastic novels and picture books. Silly stories were written. Fantastically fancy poetry tea times were savoured. We took hikes and had play dates and rode our bikes all around town. My kiddo was in swimming lessons and took karate, and also did a number of programs at our local library.

This year was a great introduction into a slightly more structured homeschool day with real curriculum and coursework, though I’m so glad we took our time with it and still allowed for some flexibility. It was fabulous watching my kiddo’s skills develop– things like handwriting even though I eventually said screw it to the handwriting books. Of course, I’ll probably go back to them now that I wrote that.

I learned that my son thrives when he can teach himself, and while he still wants me near, he likes his independence. I also learned that his growth happens in spurts just the same as always; one day I’ll be banging my head against the table trying to explain a topic and the next morning he’ll have mastered it better than me. That’s just the way it goes. I’ve learned to plan loose, flexible plans, like sticky note activities inside the text book so that it’s there waiting for me when we get there and not lost to my abandoned planner. I’m also learning a lot about myself, and becoming more comfortable with this path that we are on.

I guess with this year behind me that only means it’s time to start thinking about what next year might bring!

What worked for you in your homeschool this year? What didn’t?

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