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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Planning Our Homeschool Year (2019-2020)

Trello homeschool planning layout

It’s August, which for many homeschoolers means that it’s time to start planning next year’s homeschool year. Or you know *cough* you’ve all already started your school year completely or never took a break and all I’m saying is, I just moved and life has been crazy.

We have never actually taken a summer break before, and tbh, my kiddo is sitting beside me reading Beast Academy for fun while I write this. So call our “break” whatever you will. Gifted kiddos are exhausting.

I chose to do something very different this year, something that I haven’t done before. (You can read about what we did last year here.) I outsourced for English and Social Studies. If you know me, you know books are kinda my jam, so relinquishing that control to someone else is terrifying but much needed for my own sanity. I am really hoping I don’t regret it. But honestly, I don’t think I will.

We chose Oak Meadow for English, Social Studies, and Science. I say “we” because yes, even though I’m the one teaching it I make my husband peruse everything because if I fuck up my kid, I’m taking him down with me, damnit. You can read about the myriad of reasons we chose Oak Meadow here. I’ll be sure to write about whether we hate it or love it but honestly, I feel like I’m going to love it.

We’re going to be trying grade 6. We came to this decision very scientifically: I read through their graded curriculum and stopped when I found one that had a few things we haven’t covered yet while looking like it would be somewhat interesting to my kid. I am really trying to go for mastery, which is almost cruel to do to a profoundly gifted kid, but this is effectively a four grade skip and I’m trying to buy myself a bit of time before I have to go pounding on office doors at a University (again). If I end up buying the seventh grade curriculum come January because he whizzed through 6 or was bored to death, so be it. We get funding this year, bitches.

For math, we’re going to be sticking with our hands-down absolute favourite, Art of Problem Solving. (Did I mention my kid is sitting here reading their Beast Academy for fun. Yeah.) I felt a bit swamped last year trying to get through Prealgebra with my kiddo, but considering it took a back seat to his physical science online course and we hopped around between it and Number Theory and Kahn Academy, I think we got through a considerable chunk and will be moving on from it in no time.

I’m still trying to decide what to do about needing a homeschool board this year. In Ontario, homeschool is basically “see yah later, you’re on your own.” In Alberta, they’re a bit more hands-on, which I’m actually looking forward to. That is, if I can figure it out. I have until late September to do so and still receive funding (I’m so excited to have a bit of extra money to put towards homeschool, gah!) so I’m sure I’ll figure it out soon. Hopefully.

One thing that I am looking forward to is living in a city again! We have already gotten year-long passes to the TELUS World of Science, and the field trip opportunities are endless. My son has signed up for a chess camp and tennis lessons, and we’ll see what else catches his fancy because honestly, there is so much to choose from here. My kid has always been a sponge that thrives from new experiences (but like, aren’t they all?) so I’m really excited to be able to tap into that. Hopefully it will mean lots of learning with little effort.

Another change I’ve made is that I’m going to be trying Trello for our planning and recording. I’ve never really kept track of my son’s learning other than throwing some choice projects into a file folder. Which maybe isn’t the most responsible way to go about it? But like he’s 6! I explored a few different methods and I really fell in love with School Nest’s Trello board. If you visit Megan’s “PLAN” story on Instagram she walks through how she set hers up. It’s beautiful and inspiring. (Give her a follow while you’re there too, her homeschool is just plain beautiful.) I will still have a paper planner too, because, I’m codependent on paper, but I love knowing I have our year all set up in one convenient place including links to online content.

Have you started planning your homeschool year? Are you finished? What do you have planned?

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Why We Chose Oak Meadow Homeschool

I started looking at Oak Meadow for homeschool curriculum way back when we first started homeschooling. I liked that it was a secular, child-led program but it didn’t feel like a good fit for us at the time. A few months ago I came back to it, and for a number of reasons it felt like the right time to give it a try.

If you saw my Instagram stories last week, you saw that we received our books. I still have not looked through them but it’s on my to-do list so it should get done sometime in the next month. But in the meantime I thought I would share the thought process of why we chose Oak Meadow for our homeschool this year. I’ll be sure to update about whether they’ve been a good fit or not once we start back with our school year.

It’s secular

Finding secular homeschool materials is not for the faint of heart. If you thought Oak Meadow was Waldorf, you’re not alone. So did I. While it is influenced by Waldorf education they’ve eliminated a lot of the things that I personally found problematic, like not allowing young children to read. (Seriously, I once read a Waldorf book that suggested taking print away from young children like it’s hot coals.) But it still appeals to the part of me that wants to like Waldorf, so I’m pretty excited about utilizing the strengths while losing some of the dead weight.

It’s good for “sensitive” kiddos

One thing that I kept reading over and over was that kids sometimes find the curriculum boring and babyish. Well, that just sounds like an absolute treat for someone who needs curriculum for a radically accelerated kiddo. My kiddo is sensitive, and I mean, he’s 6, so we have a difficult time finding books that are challenging and interesting but are also appropriate. We’ve enjoyed a lot of the books that are a part of their curriculum, so hopefully it will be a good match.

It’s written to the child

Because it follows child development, once you get into the middle school curriculums the guides begin addressing the child. Now, my child may be chronologically a bit young for that, but he is definitely at the point where he wants autonomy and I thought this would be a great way for him to get it. One thing he loved about his CTY course last year was that he was able to do it independently, so I think this will give him a good sense of independence and a feeling of control over his own education. Plus, I think it’s good for kids to learn responsibility while they are young so that it doesn’t feel so daunting when they’re older. (And while they still have mom and dad to help them out.)

It has a lot of hands-on activities

Just eyeing the craft kits gave me heart eyes. I know not everyone is an arts and crafts person, but I totally am. And again, because I’m coming at this from the perspective of someone with a young kid who is working ahead, the more hands-on the better!

It doesn’t take up a lot of time (supposedly)

I’m one of those people who go straight for the 1 star reviews. Gimme the worst and if I can deal with that, I’ll probably check something out. I read a lot of complaints that people felt they needed to do a lot of supplementing to make Oak Meadow fill their days. Maybe these reviews were from parents of high-achieving gifted kids working at their grade level. But even so, I feel good about that. Again, see the whole “my kid is 6.” We need time for LEGO and hikes and Taylor Swift dance parties. I personally don’t want a curriculum that’s going to take all day! I want to cover the basics, and then allow my kid to run wild with the things that sparked his interest (and from what I’ve read, Oak Meadow gives a lot of ideas of ways to run with interests).

A few other notes:

I’ve heard that shipping to Canada can be pretty pricey from Oak Meadow as it’s based in the States, which is usually the case with curriculum. They had a wonderful Canada Day deal with $1 shipping so if you have the luxury of time, I would definitely suggest signing up for their emails and jumping on a good deal. We were currently between houses at the time, and they very kindly delayed sending out our package a week for me, which I appreciated so much! Shipping was relatively quick considering it was at the border for about four days. I do however, wish I had asked for no plastic air packs. I appreciate the care they put into our package though!

So will Oak Meadow work for us? Only time will tell. I only know what I’ve read, but from looking at the samples on their website it looks very promising for where we are right now.

Three coil-bound curriculum books from Oak Meadow.

Have you tried Oak Meadow homeschool before? What did you like/dislike about it?

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