A Peek Inside Our Homeschool Classroom: Electives
While the most important subjects for young students are math and language arts, there are so many other wonderful things to learn about. As a homeschooler, the challenge is not to get too carried away studying everything! You can find curricula to study just about any subject for any grade level.
This year I am taking on a more aggressive subject load for electives than I ever have before. It has taken a while to adjust to it. While initially, my concept was to teach one elective per day in addition to the math and language arts subjects, this didn’t work very well in execution. With a few exceptions, teaching an elective well for a younger student requires short daily lessons rather than intensive once a week lessons.
Below are the elective courses we are pursuing this year.
Knowledge of science is becoming more and more essential in our technology-driven society. Teaching science to children, however, can be a little challenging. Since children are prone to asking “Why?” about everything, it can be intimidating to teach a subject where you might not know all the answers. Also, many children will not naturally understand concepts like gravity and electricity. I have learned to accept that at this age, all you are looking for is exposure. Young children may still have no idea what you are talking about but with each exposure to a subject, they will start to gain familiarity and knowledge. Other basic concepts about science that are helpful for young children to learn are: the process for conducting an experiment, using various instruments, measuring and recording data and learning how to think creatively as a scientist.
|Since I am teaching science to two children of different ages, I was looking for a very child-friendly science curriculum. I settled on the SchoolZone Giant Science book. It is colorful and combines a textbook and a workbook in one. Units are on simple ideas like weather, animals and plants. There are simple experiments to conduct as well as fun activities like word searches. So far, my children are really enjoying it.|
In September, we studied the weather unit. We created a weather recording station in the backyard for $7 in supplies from Home Depot and recorded the daily temperature and rainfall amounts. We put our kindergartner in charge of reading the rain gauge. After nearly a “zero” every day, she was thrilled the day we received half an inch of rain. I showed the children how we could chart the data on the computer.
My husband, who loves history and is a historian by education, offered to teach the children a history curriculum this year. We have both been fairly disappointed by the history curricula for young children, so we made up our own. We decided that for this initial year, we wanted to lay a foundation for what history is about. Our “history” is a mixture of astronomy, geology, anthropology and history. We started with a book about how the universe was formed, then moved to more specifics about the progression of life on earth and the evolution of human beings. Eventually we will get to recorded history.
Some of the books we are using are:
We really needed to work on handwriting and I decided to try Dianne Craft’s “Writing 8” exercise for dysgraphia that I learned about at the HEAV convention. Since I attended that conference, research has come out showing that there might not be such a thing as “right brain” or “left brain” learning.
So, the fundamental explanation for Dianne Craft’s methods might no longer be accurate. However, we decided to try the “Writing 8” exercise anyway and I have to say that this really does work!
All that is necessary for this exercise is a large piece of paper (we like the large newsprint paper pads from the dollar store) and a fat crayon. We also used cookie sheets to provide a smoother surface and some masking tape to prevent the paper from moving around.
To do this handwriting exercise, you basically have to understand the rotation of each letter. For example, “b” goes clockwise while “d” goes counter-clockwise. My brain does not think this way at all. When I conducted the exercise with the children for the first time, I found that afterward, my own brain was spinning a bit. I think of this exercise as writing for visual-spatial children.
While Dianne Craft will tell you that you can learn about how to do this exercise for free from the instructions on her website, I found that her DVD was essential for me. I needed to see someone demonstrate how the letters went, some of which are exaggerated forms of the letters that you wouldn’t actually use in everyday handwriting. She also shows how to instruct multiple children at once.
After the first one or two practices, it was really hard to muster the enthusiasm to repeat this exercise every school day. It is rather tedious and boring. But, just like physical exercise, we fit it in and as we get near the end of it, we get excited that we have finished it yet again. The biggest challenge is just getting started and committing to making it a routine.
I can’t tell you why this exercise works but it does. It seems to have to do with muscle memory. The child that is struggling the most with handwriting enjoys doing this exercise and reversals are almost totally disappearing after just one month of practice. The child that does better with handwriting finds this exercise tedious and asks why we can’t just write the letters on a piece of paper in the normal way. With both children, if they get confused about how the letters go when they are spontaneously writing, all I have to do is say, “Think of how we do it in our handwriting practice.” and they do it perfectly each time!
Perhaps the biggest concern from professional educators about homeschooling is that uneducated people will be teaching their children the wrong things. If there is one area of our homeschooling where this may apply to me it is in our Spanish instruction.
Learning a second language has been shown to have numerous brain benefits, not only in learning languages but also in improving general cognitive skills. We decided to focus on Spanish for our children. It is one of the easier languages for English speakers to learn, and it is fairly easy to find people who speak Spanish in the United States. You can read Spanish on most product packaging and find it on signs in hospitals and other places. Our local library also stocks a good selection of children’s books in Spanish.
My entire Spanish language knowledge base comes from one intensive summer semester in college. I learned some basic words and some basic pronunciation and verb conjugation but not much else! My children had some Spanish instruction in preschool, learning colors, numbers and days of the week. We have been trying for the past few years to keep their Spanish progressing but so far have not had much success.
I have been trying to find resources that mimic how a native Spanish speaker would teach Spanish to their children. A few years ago, we found someone selling a beautiful collection of Spanish children’s books on CraigsList. This family had lived abroad and bought most of these books in Spain. I was excited to buy them. However, when I tried to read even the simplest of these Spanish books to my children, I found that I didn’t have enough knowledge to even read a book aimed at babies! From that point, I knew that something was wrong with the way we were learning Spanish generally.
I still haven’t found the magic answer. We haven’t had the time or money to invest in a formal Spanish tutor but this is eventually where we will have to go. I also discovered recently that many of the embassies here in Washington offer Saturday schools in foreign language instruction and there is at least one for Spanish. Unfortunately, our Saturday mornings are spoken for at the moment but we hope to enroll in one of these schools next year.
Our Spanish is still laughably rudimentary. We can barely complete the worksheets but we are learning something. I find it is tremendously helpful to read and hear full sentences in Spanish, even if I can’t understand everything. You start to get a sense of how certain phrases are used and the general pattern of words.
We also make liberal use of Google translate to help us write original sentences.
We may not be 100% correct but I at least hope to lay a foundation that another Spanish teacher can polish in the future.
With my children’s interests, art is a mandatory and not optional subject. I found my art curriculum this year through the HEAV convention. It is called Artistic Pursuits and it blends art history with art instruction. Each lesson is short and tells the story of a famous artist. The stories are written right at a child’s level. There are examples of the artist’s work and an art project that generally tries to mimic something from that artist’s style.
So far, we are learning about Italian Renaissance painters, like Cimabue and Giotto. The art projects combine a variety of materials from watercolor to oil pastels and even a fresco project using drywall spackling. The children love this program! It also fits nicely into a one day a week schedule.
Finally, we are also trying to squeeze in music. I give my children a short weekly piano lesson. Both children were a bit reluctant at first but I am delighted to report that they spontaneously practice nearly every day. It may be only for a few minutes, but their interest in music is wonderful to see.
I also pulled out a Wee Sing book from our piano bench with Halloween songs in it and my children love this too. They will sing and dance as I play.
So, as you can see, it is a full load of subjects. So far, we are not overwhelmed by it but some days have their moments.
If you are homeschooling, what do you prioritize as electives for your children?