Casteluzzo Academy 2012, Term 1

So far, every homeschooling term seems to be more interesting than the last (at least to me; my kids might think differently). I wonder if this can continue indefinitely. This term we started Ambleside Online Year 2, which focuses on the Middle Ages.

We did get interrupted halfway through the second week with the job offer that brought us to Florida. Between finding housing, flying out here, packing and unpacking, and everything else, zero formal school happened for a good three weeks. Of course, that doesn’t at all mean that no learning happened. The process of moving to a new place is always a rich opportunity for learning and growing. And one of the beauties of homeschooling is that when life happens, unscheduled breaks for rabbit trails are no problem.

It can be tricky, though, to remember exactly where you were reading in fifteen different books. This is why I have a weekly schedule that tells which subjects I’m supposed to do at what times on which days, and a term schedule that tells me everything I’m supposed to accomplish in every subject each week. I showed you my weekly schedule in a previous post, but here’s what the term schedule (well, at least page 1 of 5) looks like:

Devotional/Religious Instruction – We are still working through the Book of Mormon slowly as a family (we have been reading ever since Raj was a baby four years ago). We might actually finish it this year. We also sing a Primary Song, which I choose off of the list for the Primary Program this year. We have family prayer and recite one of the scriptures we’re working on memorizing as a family. We also read Bible stories straight out of the King James Bible from Penny Gardner’s handy list.

British History – We continue with Our Island Story by H.E. Marshall. William the Conqueror, Henry Plantagenet, etc. Great fun, and plenty of battles. I still haven’t decided whether it’s important for my kids to memorize the list of British monarchs . . .

World History – The Discovery of New Worlds by M.B. Synge. Part of the “Story of the World” series (not to be confused with the Susan Wise Bauer series of the same name). I would describe this as world history from a 19th century British viewpoint. Well-written and interesting, but in need of supplementation by more modern/balanced viewpoints.

Historical Biography – The Little Duke by Charlotte Yonge. This is one of Axa’s favorite books for the term. It tells the story of Richard, a little boy who grows up to be the great-grandfather of William the Conqueror, and illustrates the making of Norman France (and thus England) out of the Christianization of the Norse Vikings.

American History – Besides our reading in the Book of Mormon, we don’t have much on American history yet, since it doesn’t figure heavily into this time period, and we’ll cover pre-conquistador native American history in a more focused regional study later. Halfway through the term, we will be reading Leif the Lucky by Ingri D’Aulaire.

Geography/Muslim History/Culture – Ibn Battuta. This was my own inspiration, and is a serious deviation from the AO curriculum, which at this age focuses on the Holling C. Holling books. However, we were all pretty much bored to tears by Paddle to the Sea last year, and need something that’s a little more in line with our family’s experiences and interest. Ibn Battuta, the famous 14th century Moroccan explorer, journeyed from his native Morocco to Mecca, Central Asia, Persia, India, West Africa, and China. During this term, we are following him through North Africa, Egypt, Syria and Palestine, Mecca, Persia, and Iraq.

For a geography spine, I found an excellent website on Ibn Battuta done by a junior high teacher with funding from U.C. Berkeley. It isn’t geared toward second graders, but it’s very accessible to Axa, especially since she’s already familiar with a lot of what comes up about the Muslim world. Each “chapter” describes some of the things he said and did in a particular place, and then includes websites for further study about the food, customs, and religious practices of the area.

I made a tiny Ibn Battuta figure for our map, who gets moved from place to place and leaves a dry-erase-marker-trail wherever he’s been.

Yes, I’m aware that he’s facing backwards. It’s a long story. I think at some point I’ll make a little Axa Familia figure for the map, and she can move herself around to all the places where she has been. I’m also toying with the idea of having her write a sort of “Rihla” (journey record) like Ibn Battuta, of all the places she has traveled in her short life.

Nature Study – We have a great nature area all around where we live, since our development is built in the middle of the Volusia County Florida scrub habitat. There is a wonderful nature center right next to the library, where we learned about some of the native plants and animals. Also nearby is a manatee preserve, which I just can’t wait to visit. Axa writes in her nature journal at least once per week, with absolutely no coaching or reminding from me. I’ll have to ask for permission to post some pages out of it. I also need to get ahold of some field guides for this area.

Natural History – The Burgess Animal Book for Children by Thornton W. Burgess. Last year we read the Burgess Bird Book, and this is more of the same, focusing on mammals rather than birds. Alongside, we consult this handy searchable taxonomy for pictures and habitat distribution (focusing now on the East Coast rather than the West). The taxonomy is especially important, since some elements of classification have changed since this book was written some 80-or-so years ago (today we were told that rabbits belonged in the order rodentia, for example). It was a great opportunity to talk about how the classification of species works and has evolved over time.

Literature – Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare by Edith Nesbit. This term we have scheduled Two Gentlemen of Verona and Romeo and Juliet. We’ll see if I can find a live play here in Florida. If I do, I’ll add in the story of that play too.

Parables from Nature by Mrs. Gatty. This book is also continued from last year.

The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. Yep, the original version. Once we skipped the prologue, which is written in pretty dense verse, and very difficult to follow, this is going better. I was surprised to find from her narrations that Axa does understand the story line, despite the rather archaic language.

The Wonder-Clock by Howard and Katherine Pyle. This book was one of Axa’s favorites from last year, so we are continuing it, even though we’ve already read the assigned selections. It is Howard Pyle’s retelling of quite a few classic fairytales, along with verses and lovely illustrations done by his sister, Katherine Pyle.

Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield. Honestly, this book started out pretty slow. Axa prefers Greek myths full of heroes and adventures, exciting knightly battles, or stories of woodland animals. The tale of an ordinary little girl going to school didn’t really catch her interest. Fortunately, at the end of Chapter 1 we discovered that Elizabeth Ann is about to be shipped off to her relatives on a Vermont farm. Axa would love for that to happen to her, so I think this book may work out for us after all.

Poetry – Walter de la Mare. We are using AO’s Walter de la Mare page, which is compiled for Year 2. I also have a lovely little book called The Voice, in which Catherine Brighton has arranged several of de la Mare’s poems to illustrate a complete day, from dawn to bedtime, and illustrated them in a sort of dreamily Medieval style.

Science – Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding by Bernard Nebel. Another deviation from AO, because I don’t really care for their fundamentalist Christian science textbooks (Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day, etc.) BFSU is an amazing book. I highly, highly recommend it for elementary science.

I am amazed at how much even my four-year-0ld understands and remembers about scientific concepts. Last night I was tucking him into bed, and he told me that “when you hear, the sound vibrations go in through that thing that curves around, and it sends them to your brain, and your brain decides what they are. So if you didn’t have a brain, you wouldn’t be able to hear. Your brain is what is deciding that this is Raj talking.” We certainly did cover the BFSU chapter on Sound Vibrations and Energy about a month ago, and he was narrating back to me what he had learned. Fascinating.

I love pretty much everything about this curriculum, including the fact that Dr. Nebel is active in answering questions on the useful email list. He has separated the book into four threads (Nature of Matter, Life Science, Physical Science, and Earth and Space Science), which are meant to be taught in an integrated manner.

There is a flowchart at the beginning, showing how the threads intersect, to which I refer frequently. The chapters are easy to integrate into the kinds of real-life discussions we thrive on as homeschoolers. The best thing of all is that there are two more books after this one, covering grades 3-5 and grades 6-8. Kudos to Dr. Nebel for filling a deplorable void in homeschool science education.

Maths – I finally took the plunge this term and started MEP (the Mathematics Enhancement Programme). This is an experimental British curriculum based on a Hungarian model. I think of it as the mathematical equivalent of the science curriculum above. It teaches children to really think mathematically, solve problems from various angles, and apply mathematics to real-life situations. It’s fun and interesting to use. And did I mention that it’s free?

There is a bit of a learning curve when it comes to teaching it, but after two full weeks under my belt, it’s going pretty smoothly. There is also an active email support list for MEP, where fellow homeschooling moms answer questions about anything from general pedagogy to specific problems in the workbooks. If your current math program isn’t working for you, do give MEP a try.

Art Instruction – Drawing With Children by Mona Brooks. Overall, I am very impressed with this book. I have seen an improvement in both my own drawing skills and in Axa’s. In fact, last term when I gave Axa her first nature notebook, she refused to draw anything in it. All she would do is write about the animals she saw. After several weeks doing exercises out of Drawing With Children (and a few times of me helping her choose an animal to draw and finding a photograph from which she could draw), she loves drawing in her nature notebook, both from life and from memory, and her drawings are beautiful.

The one difficult thing about this book is that Brooks expects you to create the exercises she recommends for your child. I found this quite intimidating. Fortunately, Donna young has a set of free lesson plans and pre-made exercises to go along with the Drawing With Children book, which I found invaluable. You can find them here.

Art – I chose Giotto for this term, because I wanted a Medieval artist to go along with our Medieval history, and I’d been reading Ruskin’s Morning’s in Florence and feeling awfully nostalgic. Giotto’s paintings and frescoes are just so beautiful! We are using the AO selections (2004-2005 Term 2 on the Artist Study page). I also found a great little biography for Giotto from Amy Steedman’s 1907 Knights of Art: Stories of the Italian Painters on this Italophiles site.

Copywork (penmanship) – We are working through Getty Dubay Book B. My goal for this term is to help Axa improve her spelling, which will take some tact and subtlety, as she often prefers her own spellings of words to the ones I suggest. I’m planning to use some of the words she uses often in her nature notebook, and other commonly used words such as “deth star” and “enumee” for her copywork. Maybe I’ll also tell her about how in Shakespeare’s time spelling was not standardized, and we decided to standardize it so we could all understand each other. Wish me luck.

Foreign Language – We’re still plugging along through La Bella e La Bestia in Italian. Unfortunately, foreign language is the subject that suffers the most from a 3-week lapse. I will also be checking out the offerings at our library for audio Italian language programs.

Composer Study – In keeping with our Medieval theme, we are listening to music by Hildegard of Bingen. Yesterday I put on our selections, got out the play silks, and we danced around the house. It was a great success.

Our new library subscribes to Freegal, a great site where library patrons can download three DRM-free songs per week for free. They have quite a selection of classical offerings, including some lovely renditions of Hildegard’s compositions. And since we have four library cards, we can basically download a whole album per week! Hurrah for libraries.

Phonics – We continue to work our way through Teaching Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons by Siegfried Engelmann. Axa is gaining in confidence and fluency. We have yet to cross the threshold where she begins spontaneously reading for pleasure, but I’m sure it will come eventually. In the meantime, parental perseverance (while making it enjoyable as possible) is key.

So there you have it; another exciting term at Casteluzzo Academy. What does homeschooling look like for you these days?

3 thoughts on “Casteluzzo Academy 2012, Term 1

  • February 19, 2012 at 3:11 am
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    It’s always funny to me how similar our casa school topics are seeing as how we have never co-ordinated. We are doing Hildegard as well for composers and also as an example of secret-spy alphabets. We have a hobby of collecting those and writing furtive missives to one another. Ibn Batuta is one of our geography adventures as well. Shakespeare as well, but I’m checking out your Nesbit source as well as your MEP, math is never as fun and applicable as I want it to be. That’s no doubt because my own math education always lacked that. So glad you took the time to post this. Happy days learning to you!

  • February 14, 2012 at 2:00 pm
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    Congratulations to you and your son! Homeschooling is a grand adventure. I’m sure you will have a wonderful time.

  • February 13, 2012 at 11:36 pm
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    My 1st grade son just came home from school last week and said, “I am NOT going back.” And so, homeschool begins:) I just bought the Kindle version of the K-2 science text you recommended, and I’m excited about it. We’re also working on Spanish, violin, history (SOTW plus supplemental books), math, and dictation/spelling. It is a lifestyle change, but I think it will be a good one. Thanks for sharing all the details of what you’re doing!

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