Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Thoughts on Sonlight's Core F

Christopher and I just finished up Sonlight's Core F, which he shared with his sister Grace (she finished three weeks ahead of him). We had a lot of fun with this Core and I am glad I will get to do it again with my younger two.

 I wanted to post a few thoughts on this Core while they are fresh in my mind.

First off, you can see how I tweaked Core F in this post. We started this Core in the pre-BookShark days, so that was not an option for us and I did have to make some modifications. Core F is definitely the most religious Core we have done from Sonlight to date, mainly because it uses so many missionary stories. But there is so much good stuff in this Core that it was worth the small amount of time it took to come up with a few alternate books. We used the 5-day version of Core F.

A few notes.....

  • 100 Gateway Cities: We did use this book, though I am not sure that I would again. It is mostly just a collection of facts about each country in the Eastern Hemisphere - it wasn't really a book I thought would be easily substituted for, which is why I decided to use it. It was quick to read each day, but pretty dry. There is a little section on suggested prayers for each country and I told my kids to just ignore those parts. We had several discussions over the year about how there is absolutely nothing wrong with people having different beliefs. 
  • The missionary stories: This Core uses quite a few missionary stories: we read some and skipped others. I read both Mission to Cathay and Teresa of Calcutta aloud and found nothing preachy in either. I mean, obviously, there is a lot of religion mentioned in the books (they are about missionaries, after all) but I thought they were just plain interesting stories, plus they gave a lot of good cultural information. Teresa had the kids feeling a bit squeamish with some of the graphic descriptions of illnesses, but I felt like they were ready to hear about that sort of thing and it definitely gave us an appreciation for Mother Teresa's work! I had the kids read David Livingstone  because I thought they should know about him and they liked that one a lot. We skipped William Carey in order to read a Gandhi biographyAnd Grace read Mary Slessor, but she complained a lot about it - she found it too depressing - and I ended up skipping it with Christopher due to time constraints, so I can't comment too much on that one.
  • The China Kit: I have mixed feelings about the optional China Kit for this core.  The calligraphy portion of it was okay...the kids enjoyed trying it out, but I don't think the materials were the greatest. The kit also includes chopsticks, which we already had, so we never used those. There was also a little card game, but we never got around to playing it. If I had it to do over, I would just buy a nicer calligraphy set for the kids to try out. 
  • Whatever Happened to Penny Candy? I have to say that a lot of this book went right over Christopher's head. Probably mine too! We had some interesting discussions though and all in all I think both kids got a good basic introduction to economics. I am thinking it would be better read at the high school level, though.  On Amazon, the recommended age for it is 8th to 10th grade, and I think that seems more reasonable.
  • World Book and the Eastern Hemisphere pages: I had heard of some people having issues searching for articles on the World Book CD-ROM, but we did not experience that.  The reading is a little dry -it is an encyclopedia!- and I sometimes chose to get library books about the country instead of reading the articles.  Grace read (or at least skimmed) the articles and filled out her Eastern Hemisphere Notebook pages on her own. These pages are sold by Sonlight and I really liked the format of them. The kids were assigned a small amount of writing to do most days...maybe filling in a timeline, working on a map assignment, or writing down things they found interesting from the readings.  For Christopher, I mostly read portions from the assigned World Book article out loud and helped him pick out the information needed to complete his sheet.  At the beginning of the Core he was still frustrated by the act of writing so he did a lot of dictating while I wrote.  But we stuck with it, and by the end of the Core, he was doing all of the writing by himself with no problems. I think the kids learned a lot this year about researching - how to skim articles, how to pick out important information, and how to summarize.They each ended up with a pretty impressive binder full of info on these countries. I think the World Book CD will still be useful as a research tool going forward, though I do see they have updated the Core to include a World Book DVD.  Here are a few completed EHS pages.  
  The Adelie penguin page above is part of the "Choose Your Own Adventure" part of this program. To wrap up the study of each area, several project ideas are suggested.  There is usually a recipe or two, a craft idea, writing ideas, or making a country or animal fact card - like this penguin one. Sometimes we also chose to end our study of a country by making an ethnic meal (or getting Thai food as takeout, which was very popular!).

  • The Read-Alouds: Most of the read-alouds for this Core were a hit. Our favorites were Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Seven Daughters and Seven Sons, and Shadow Spinner.  We also really enjoyed having Best-Loved Folktales of the World to read on day 5 (we did the 5-day program).  The assigned folktales matched the country we were studying and were a fun way to end each week. We skipped a couple of the read-alouds. Neither kid enjoyed A Horse and His Boy when we tried to read it a few years ago, so we didn't bother with it again. We also skipped The Land I Lost, because some of the stories in the book were pretty graphic. I have to be somewhat careful reading aloud,  because I have a six-year-old listening in. So reading a story about a monkey that dismembers a toddler...yeah, that isn't going to cut it. To be fair, there were warnings about that story in the Sonlight Instructor Guide, but some of the other stories also had similar graphic things in them and there just didn't seem enough value in the book to offset the bad.
  • The Readers: We skipped two of the readers to  make this program more secular - Star of Light and Hudson Taylor. I would have liked more of the readers to be at a higher reading level, but overall the books were enjoyed and there was a pretty good variety. The kids most enjoyed reading The Hobbit, even though they had read it once already. I stared out pre-reading the readers so that I would be better prepared to discuss them with the kids, but it quickly became too hard to fit that in. I think it would be ideal to be reading the books myself, though. I think my favorite from the lot was Around the World in 80 Days. I was a bit iffy about reading Sadako and the Paper Cranes and almost skipped it (cancer is a bit of a sensitive topic around here, because of my mom). In the end though, I made the book optional and both kids chose to read it. I read it too, even though it made me cry. We got the origami kit and the kids made quite a few things from that, so that was great.

This Core took us about a year to finish, Christopher took slightly longer with it. We bogged down a bit here and there on the weeks that were heavy with Eastern Hemisphere Pages, but I am very glad we stuck with it. Both kids are doing Bookshark World History 1 now and the readings are much more streamlined.  Core F had the kids reading small sections from books like 100 Gateway Cities, All the Small Poems, their reader, and the World Book articles. Bookshark has them reading The Story of the World, an occasional reading from The Kingfisher History Encyclopedia, and their reader each day. We read the poetry and the read-aloud together. So, fewer books overall, but the readings are a bit longer than Core F. We have a 4-day reading schedule now, instead of the 5-day option I always got with Sonlight.  I am finding it really helpful to have that extra time to catch up on things we missed earlier in the week, but the kids did miss those extra books at the end of the week at first.

 I was curious to see what differences there were between Sonlight's Core F and the new Bookshark Eastern Hemisphere. When James gets to this Core I will most likely replace our Core F with the Bookshark version. I counted three differences in the read-alouds (no missionary stories and no Best-Loved Folktales, since that was in the five-day program). The readers are also mostly the same, except that Hudson Taylor and Star of Light were swapped out for two secular titles. The biggest difference is in the history section, where the more religious books, like 100 Gateway Cities and the missionary stories were swapped out for books about Nelson Mandela and Gandhi. I also see an extra book about Ibn Battuta and one about the Sahara. It looks like the EHS pages are still used in Bookshark. 

Whew! This post took me the better part of a month to write for some reason. It was very much written in bits and pieces here and there, so I am pretty excited to actually be posting it! I would be happy to answer any questions about this Core in the comment box or through email.

Till Next Time!

Monday, December 15, 2014

December Days

We are really in the thick of our Christmas celebrating now and it is so nice. Friday was our last "official" day of school till after New Year's, though I do want to finish reading The Golden Goblet since we are so close to the end. We made painted and glittered feather ornaments to decorate the little tree we keep out on the sun-porch. The feathers are from our chickens. Rose likes to collect pretty feathers she finds around the yard, and this was a great use for them.  Simple and fancy, at the same time.

We also made salt dough ornaments, using this recipe exactly and they came out great.

We used the cinnamon as suggested, and the kids painted them. The cinnamon does make the dough quite brown, but it also  makes them smell great. This recipe makes a lot of ornaments, and making, baking, and painting them stretched over two days.  This is one of Rose's angels....

And here is a wreath by Grace peeking out from behind a wooden moose ornament that Christopher painted. I found the little wood ornaments for just over a dollar at the craft store and the kids each painted one.

I have seen more bluebirds around the yard the last few weeks than I have seen all summer. Bluebirds in the snow are so pretty. 

 Our amaryllis have started to bloom. We have two pink ones and two red ones and they are obligingly blooming in stages, so we should have at least one in flower from now until Christmas.

 One or two of our chickens have decided to lay a few eggs this winter! This is a very nice surprise since we have not had any of our own chicken eggs since sometime in October. Our chickens normally do not lay once the days get shorter and we don't provide artificial lighting to trick them into laying. I suspect the winter layers are our new-ish Jersey Giant chickens, which were advertised in the catalog as being decent winter layers. Here's hoping!

We made marshmallow pops, and this was such a hit that the kids have asked to do it every holiday, with appropriate sprinkles of course. A marshmallow pop is just a marshmallow on a stick, rolled in melted chocolate and covered in sprinkles. They are surprisingly good! One thing we found helpful was to stick our pop stick in the melted chocolate, insert it into the marshmallow, and let it set for 20 minutes or so before rolling the whole thing in the chocolate and sprinkles. The marshmallows stayed nicely on their sticks this way.

And of course, there was extra celebrating this weekend because Grace turned 14! There was a lunch out, a nice family party, a trip to the car-wash (hey it was warmish out and she is a good sport), a special dinner (she requested Indian food), lots of games played and fun snacks eaten, an awesome chocolate cake, a late night movie, and tons of fun books received as gifts. She will have lots to read over her break, that's for sure!

Finally, we lit the third advent candle last night.

Now if time could slow down just a wee bit for the next couple of weeks, that would be great.

Friday, December 12, 2014

A Little December Homeschool Update

I was really itching to be on Christmas break this week. Like, really, really itching. We haven't even been doing full days of homeschool, or anything close to it. We have been starting most days with our Christmas activity, then working on Christmas lapbooks, per request. Still, I was very much ready to be done with formal schoolwork for a few weeks. Today, we wrapped up a few things, then called it good till after New Year's and made marshmallow pops and went grocery shopping for the weekend.  It's nice to have a stocked refrigerator going into the weekend, I wish we had time to do that every Friday.

Some things we have been working on lately - besides making gingerbread houses and opening those advent calendars. I think the chocolate turtle is my favorite so far!

*** Rose is on week 18 of Bookshark World Cultures. She and I just finished Out of Darkness, a book about Louis Braille.  She liked it, but a lot of it was too complex for her. This is one book that I think would be better off in the next level. We also finished No Children, No Pets and she told me she wants to re-read it as a bedtime story.  We are up to about week 7 of Writing with Ease Level 1 and she is doing well with it. She initially balked at the copywork, but now she does it with minimal complaint. She does prefer the narration days, though! After the break I am going to start her on some light spelling. We are plugging away with our First Language Lessons and Math Mammoth. FLL is so quick to do each day, I love it. Math Mammoth takes more time, but I am happy with our progress. Today we did lesson 76 in The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading. We learned about 'to', 'too', and 'two', She got a little kick out of that. I have been greatly encouraged with her reading progress lately. Definitely proof that if you stick with it, take it slow, and do it regularly, the results will come! Today she spent a long time reading Fun Tales books to herself and insisted on reading one to all of us at the dinner table! I would not have thought that possible even a month ago. What else? We dropped Song School Latin for the holidays. She likes it, but it was always getting bumped from the routine. We are still reading through The Complete Book of Animals and that has been a big hit with her.

*** James is on about week 12 of Bookshark American History 1. He and I just finished The Witch of Blackbird Pond. He enjoyed it for the most part, but it was a bit too romantic for him towards the end. He didn't much appreciate that! Next up, we will be reading The Secret of the Sealed Room. I think that will be more to his liking. He is doing well with both Writing with Ease 3 and First Language Lessons Level 4 and plugging along in his Spelling Workout book. He did struggle with the dictations in WWE at first, but it is getting easier for him each week. Again, it comes down to sticking with it...wish I had known that when we first started homeschooling. It would have saved me a lot of curriculum jumping! We have yet to pick up Latin again, and I don't think we will until next year. He is enjoying his science reading (Sonlight Science D), but I know he would like to be doing experiments and so far this level is light on that. The TOPS books should be scheduled soon though, and I think he will enjoy those. We are mostly where we should be in Math Mammoth 4, but getting him to do it can be a bit of a struggle. He doesn't enjoy math, unfortunately. I think as soon as he can test into Teaching Textbooks 5 that is where I will put him, since we own that level and it will probably be easier on both of us. We finished Life of Fred Honey and will begin Ice Cream after the break. His current reader is Mr. Revere and I, which he always picks first to do from his list, so I think he must enjoy it!

*** Christopher just finished the first week of Bookshark World History 1. I have been reading The Golden Goblet with him and Grace for a few weeks now. The readings from this book are long! I think I am enjoying it more than them; they don't think it is exciting enough. Christopher is doing well with Teaching Textbooks 6 and is plugging away with his spelling and Latin. He is just beginning chapter 15 of Latin for Children A. He has done well with this program and enjoys playing around on the Headventure Land website. Incidentally, Classical Academic Press has started charging for full use of that site, but my kids mostly just use it for the free "Flash Dash" game, so I have not purchased a subscription yet. Christopher is beginning a study of the human body with Bookshark Science 5, using Usborne books and Blood and Guts. His current reader is Mara, Daughter of the Nile.  He is doing pretty well with Writing with Skill 1, but I have decided that I need to oversee his lessons more. Up till now I have been assigning WWS as independent work, but he doesn't always do a great job of reading the instructions, which means a lot of frustration when things need re-doing.  Analytical Grammar has not been popular with him, but we are beginning Unit 9 - which means only one more unit to go before he just does occasional reinforcement worksheets for the rest of the year. That, I think he will like.

*** Grace is on week 5 of Bookshark World History 1. She slowed down a bit on it while she participated in NaNoWriMo, but I think after the holidays she may go through it more quickly than scheduled. The reading is a bit light for her, so I think going at a quicker pace will be a good solution. Her current reader is To Ride the God's Own Stallion, which she says is far more exciting than Mara was. She is doing really well with Life of Fred Algebra, which is her only math program.  I have Dad sit down with her and discuss it every few weeks just to make sure she gets it all (because I surely don't!).  She is really enjoying her language studies - she does Rosetta Stone twice a week, Latin for Children B three times a week, and she just began Galore Park's An Introduction to Classic Greek.  Her biology study has been a bit tough the past few weeks, lots of DNA/RNA stuff that isn't always the easiest to understand! But we have been plugging away at it and trying to discuss as best we can. I just keep reminding myself that exposure is really the goal: I can't expect a 13-year-old to master biology, after all! She is about halfway through Writing with Skill 1.  I don't schedule this out for her like I do for Christopher. She finds it easy, so she often does two or even three days at once. She also dabbles in The Creative Writer most weeks. Lately she has been writing the story of Magellan from several points of view. She just finished Unit 10 of Analytical Grammar, so I am going to let her do several weeks of just the AG Review and Reinforcement book.

Okay, I'm off to have a marshmallow pop or two and watch A Charlie Brown Christmas. I cannot believe it, but Grace is turning 14 this weekend! Am I really so old?? We have some wrapping and decorating and lots of celebrating to do. Enjoy your weekend!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

One Thing a Day

My reminders are a gentle nudge to prioritize the season at hand. I had the kids sit down early last week and help me plan out a rough calendar for December. We chose one Christmas activities for each day till Christmas. Some days got two activities.  Then we put the list up on the refrigerator. It is another reminder to do the important things first this season and to keep things simple. One thing a day. Making cookies, making crafts, putting gifts together, a couple of special outings, a peppermint day, and a Christmas movie marathon with popcorn (at home) are among the ideas.

The list is a huge motivator for me, prodding me to get busy and do something fun each day, whether I feel like it or not. And some mornings I really don't feel like it, but I am finding that if I can pretend enthusiasm for just a few minutes, I don't have to pretend for the rest. It's getting going that is the problem sometimes.

 So far we have spent a morning on each of these things: making Christmas Jam, making thumbprint cookies, making chocolate kiss cookies, shopping for a special holiday candle, celebrating St. Nicholas Day, and of course, finding our Christmas tree. Rose really enjoyed counting the rings to see how old our tree was - 9 years!

This week our plans include making candy cane and feather decorations for the sun porch tree, making and buying a couple of gifts for our pets, going on a special Christmas outing, painting the little wooden ornaments the kids found tucked into their shoes on St. Nicholas Day, and celebrating Grace's 14th birthday. Or, as I remind myself and the kids frequently....those are the plans, for now. We are of course, at the mercy of the weather and anything else that can and probably will crop up to derail our plans. The important thing, I think, is going into these next few weeks with intentionality and the realization that things will not be perfect.

We overcooked our jam, used the wrong thumbprint cookie recipe, and forgot to bring our snow boots to the tree farm...where Rose refused to watch the tree being cut down because she was mad about having her picture taken. Then we went home to decorate the tree where Christopher got mad about something I can't even remember and spent the entire time the lights were going up fuming in his room. Things rarely go perfectly, especially with four kids.

But.... the jam is perfectly edible, if a bit stiff, we still have time to make the right thumbprint cookies,  Rose perked right up when she got a candy cane from Mrs. Claus in the farm shop, and happily, everyone did show up to decorate the tree.

All's well that ends well, as my grandmother used to say.

Monday, December 8, 2014


It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas around here! I began last week feeling pretty stressed about fitting everything in - getting ready for Grace's birthday, keeping some semblance of order here in our house and little farm,  keeping up with our outside commitments, and, of course, preparing for Christmas, which is a whole list by itself. You would think that I would not have to remind myself of the same exact things each and every year, but I do. I guess I am a slow learner.

This week, I reminded myself that....

  • I can't do it all. No one can do it all. Very basic stuff this, but it is amazing how often I tell myself that I can't do it all, then proceed to behave as though I can!
  • In order to fit in seasonal fun, other stuff has to be cut out. I cannot just add in holiday activities on top of an already full plate. Some of the stuff on that plate needs to be pushed off entirely, moved to a later date, or at least limited. For us, this means skipping some commitments here and there, taking time off from schoolwork, and delaying some projects and to-do list items until after the holidays. I want to make the most of the these next few weeks, and to do that I need to clear the calendar a bit. A missed practice, chore, or party here and there is not going to harm anyone. But being stressed and harried? That can definitely ruin a holiday season.
  • If we want to decorate for Christmas, some of the regular stuff must go away. Every year I try to fit everything back in the living room once we get the tree in. You know what? Our living room is not huge. It cannot fit a decent-sized tree and everything else. Ditto with any other display place, like the mantel or the sideboard. Some of the stuff needs to be put away until after the holidays. It is amazing what this one little idea has done for the feel of the house. It is much less cluttered, even with the decorations out.
  • The important things, the things that I want this holiday to be about? They need to be the top priority. They need to take place first, whenever possible. The other stuff can fill in afterwards, as time allows. This means starting each day with a Christmas activity that we can do together, reading holiday books with Rose, then doing schoolwork. We are getting much less done, but that is okay for right now.
  • Keeping to a routine is important. The holidays can be such an all out crazy busy time. But we are sticking to our morning, noon, and evening chore routines. We are trying to have dinner on time and eat something decent. I have set aside one afternoon a week to do most of the house work. Lately that has been Monday, this week it may be different. I dust, sweep, vacuum, hit the floors with a swiffer mop, wipe down the kitchens and bathrooms, and generally tidy everything up. When it's time to make dinner, I stop. Of course, we continue to pick up and sweep the kitchen and do other little chores throughout the week, but setting aside an afternoon a week to clean house has been wonderful.

Before I go, here are a few of the fun things we were up to last week. We have been decorating, little corners here and there. I really love to decorate for Christmas. Last week we did the mantel with these cute little egg cup decorations that I saw in a magazine. A bit of floral foam in the bottom of each one holds a surprising amount of greenery. 

 I love how they look on our mantel. We already had the egg cups and the greenery is from our front yard, so these were practically free to make, which is always wonderful.

I printed and framed this little sign last year from the Paper Mama's website, and the kids got a chuckle out of it when I pulled it out again. It's a Home Alone reference, if you didn't catch it. We made a little stack of our Christmas movies so we would be sure to watch them all.  Last week we watched Elf, The Grinch, and Home Alone with the kids. Without the kids, we watched Christmas Vacation. Love all of them. Christmas movies and some knitting? Pretty much the perfect December evening.

That first advent calendar door is always such an exciting thing! We have been getting our advent calendars from Aldi the past few years. I am not such a big fan of that store, but this one particular item we love, because the chocolates are so nicely rendered and so big compared to the supermarket calendars! I kinda wish I had gotten one for myself.

We finally got around to cleaning up the wood stove (the glass was embarrassingly filthy) and it has been nice to actually see the fire for a change! Naturally, as soon as I took this first photo, the glass started blackening up again, but it was so pretty for those few moments. I do love having the wood stove on and it will run pretty continuously from now until April.

I need to run but hopefully I will make more than one post this week! Enjoy your Monday!