Books We Are Using This Year
  • The Story of the World: Ancient Times (Vol. 1)
    The Story of the World: Ancient Times (Vol. 1)
    by Jeff West,S. Wise Bauer,Jeff (ILT) West, Susan Wise Bauer
  • Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding: A Science Curriculum for K-2
    Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding: A Science Curriculum for K-2
    by Bernard J Nebel PhD
  • Math-U-See Epsilon Student Kit (Complete Kit)
    Math-U-See Epsilon Student Kit (Complete Kit)
    by Steven P. Demme
  • First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind: Level 4 Instructor Guide (First Language Lessons) By Jessie Wise, Sara Buffington
    First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind: Level 4 Instructor Guide (First Language Lessons) By Jessie Wise, Sara Buffington
    by -Author-
  • Drawing With Children: A Creative Method for Adult Beginners, Too
    Drawing With Children: A Creative Method for Adult Beginners, Too
    by Mona Brookes
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Entries in homeschooling (5)


Year 5 school plan (2016-2017, age 10)

Here it is, our annual plan! Our homeschool is secular, classically designed (based loosely on the Well Trained Mind), and not at all grade centered—we do things depending on Calvin's pace and interest level.

I will come back through the year, or at least at the end, to update our progress.
X indicates an accomplished goal
+ indicates an added goal or activity/resource

June 2016-June 2017
Age 10 (public school grade 5)

Building Foundations in Scientific Understanding Vol. 3 (we'll spend at least two years with this book)

Technology and Engineering
Snap Circuits Student Guide (with Snap Circuits Pro SC-500 kit)
Javascript for Kids
Lego Mindstorms (beginning with Geek Mom's lesson plans and branching out from there)

The Arts
Drawing with Children on level three (first term)
Artistic Pursuits grades 4-5 (second term)
X Art and theater classes through our homeschooling group
Piano Adventures Level 5 (plus Performance, Theory, and Pop Rep)
X Public school band classes—clarinet (twice weekly rehersals, plus performances)
X Boychoir of Ann Arbor (twice weekly rehersals, plus performances)

Physical Education
X Twice weekly dance classes: tap and ballet
Biking, running, or yoga twice weekly depeding on weather
Hiking several times a month  

Math and Logic
Math-U-See Geometry
Perplexors Level E 
Building Thiking Skills Level 2 (first term) 
Red Herring Mysteries Level 1 (second term)
Mind Benders Book 4 (second term)

Language Arts:  
Avancemos Level 1 Homeschool Package plus the Cuaderno

MCT Level 4 Grammar of Literature plus the practice book
MCT Level 4 Vocabulary of Literature
MCT Level 4 Poetry of Literature
MCT Level 4 Writing of Literature

Assigned (mostly read-alouds) for discussion and analysis (one or two a month):
Moby Dick
David Copperfield
The Red Badge of Courage (with Novel Ties study guide)
Frankenstein (also Gris Grimly's version)
War of the Worlds (possibly this version)
A Christmas Carol 
Silent Spring
All Quiet on the Western Front (with Novel Ties study guide)
Paradise Lost (with this plain english assist)
A Separate Peace (with Novel Ties study guide)
Animal Farm (with Novel Ties study guide

Social Studies 

Draw the USA (first term)
Draw Europe (second term)

Story of the World Volume 4 with the student workbook (I'm not sold on this curriculum: it's too biased and not secular enough, but we've been successfully using it as a backbone and supplementing with literature, living history books, and documentaries as the true meat of our study).

Supplementary reading for history (about 1 book per week; we won't get through all of these but will choose at least one per topic area):
Where Soldiers Lie, Wilson, John
Begumbagh, George Manville Fenn
The Sebastopol Sketches, Leo Tolstoy
Out with Garibaldi, G.A. Henty
The Bears' Famous Invasion of Sicily, Dino Buzzati
Rebels of the Heavenly Kingdom, Katherine Patterson
Flags of War and X Battle Scars, John Wilson
Stories of Young Pioneers, ed. Violet Kimball
At Her Majesty's Request, Walter Dean Myers
The Shadows of the Ghadames, Joelle Stolz
Nory Ryan's Song and X Maggie's Door, Patricia Reilly Giff
Journey to the River Sea, Eva Ibbotson
Where the Flame Trees Bloom, Alma Flor Ada
Caddie Woodlawn, Carol Ryrie Brink
Ties that Bind, Ties that Break, Lensey Namioka
The Night Journey, Kathryn Laksy
The Wave, Todd Strasser
China's Long March, Jean Fritz
Bud Not Buddy, Christopher Paul Curtis
The Bread Winner, Deborah Ellis
Number the Stars, Lois Lowry
The War that Saved My Life, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Twenty and Ten, Claire Hutchet Bishop
Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, Eleanor Coerr
Hiroshima, Laurence Yep
Escape to West Berlin, Maurine Dahlberg
The Year of Impossible Goodbyes, Sook Nyul Choi
The Fire Eaters, David Almond
Linda Brown, You Are Not Alone, ed. Joyce Carol Thomas
Escape from Saigon, Andrea Warren
Phoenix Rising, Karen Hesse
Red Scarf Girl, Ji-li Jiang
China's Son, Da Chen


Year 4 school plan (2015-2016, age 9)

Our homeschool is secular and classically designed. It is based somewhat off the the suggestions in the Well Trained Mind, but we don't pay a lot of attention to grade expecations; instead we follow Calvin's pace and interests to determine where we are and what we are doing each year.

I will come back through the year, or at least at the end, to update our progress. An X means the goal was accomplished (or the book read), a + indicates was an added goal. No marks mean we did not accomplish or dropped the goal.

June 2015-June 2016
Age 9 (public school grade 4)

Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding Volume II (this is our second year with the book and we will probably finish it) (completed)

Typing with Mavis Beacon (completed)
X Blog upkeep 
+X Gaming (mainly Minecraft)

The Arts
Piano Adventures Level 4 Lesson, Performance, Theory, Technique, and Pop Rep (finished)
Piano Adventures Level 5 Lesson, Performance, Theory, and Pop Rep (started)
X Boychoir of Ann Arbor (twice weekly practice)

How to Teach Art to Children  (completed)
X Photography: Capture Your 365
X Classes through our homeschooling group (theater, sculpting)

Math-U-See Algebra I (completed)
Perplexors Level D (completed)
+X More Perplexors Level D (completed)
Orbiting with Logic (completed)

Physical Education
X Running or biking twice weekly (only in good weather)
X Gym once weekly through our homeschooling group (first term only)
X Dance class once weekly: Musical Theater

Language Arts
Foreign Language 
Spanish for Children B (completed)

Spelling Workout Level H (completed)
Michael Clay Thompson's Level 3: the Voyage Series: (all books completed)
MCT Grammar Voyage and Practice Voyage
MCT Caesar's English II
MCT Essay Voyage
MCT A World of Poetry 

Reading: in addition to choice and history supplementary reading, we will have one to two assigned books per month, many of which we will read aloud together and discuss, some of which will also have accompanying study workbooks. 
Holes, Louis Sachar (with study guide)
X The Yearling, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (with Novel Ties study guide)
The Canterville Ghost, Oscar Wilde
Uncle Tom's Cabin, Harriet Beacher Stowe (with study guide)
Gulliver's Travels, Jonathan Swift
Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe
Treasure Island and X Kidnapped, Robert Louis Stevenson
The Prince and the Pauper, Mark Twain
The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Elizabeth George Speare (with Novel Ties study guide)
Kim, Rudyard Kipling
The Last of the Mohicans, George Fenimore Cooper
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Franklin
The Secret Garden, Francis Hodgson Burnett (with Novel Ties study guide)
The Scarlet Pimpernel, Baroness Orczy
The Invisible Man, H.G. Wells 

History and Geography
The Story of the World Volume 3 and Activity Book (we use this as a backbone only and supplement heavily with reading and video materials)

Supplementary history reading (about 1 book a week; we won't get to all of these, but will pick at least one title per topic area):
X indicates read, + indicates added/ to the list mid-year (and read)
I, Juan de Pareja, Elizabeth Borton de Trevino
The Wheel on the School, Meindert DeJong
Pocahontas, Joseph Bruchac
The Broken Blade, William Durbin
The Samurai's Tale, Erik C. Haugaard
Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Kate Douglas Wiggin
Grimm's Fairy Tales, Grimm
The Cat Who Went to Heaven, Elizabeth Coatsworth
Rama and Sita, David Weitzman
A Journal of the Plague Year, Daniel Defoe
German Hero-Sagas, Barbara Leonie Picard
Egg & Spoon, Gregory Maguire
Sign of the Beaver, Elizabeth George Speare
Mr. Revere and I, Robert Lawson
Johnny Tremain, Esther Forbes
My Brother Sam is Dead, James Lincoln Collier
Ben and Me, Robert Lawson
In the Reign of Terror, G.A. Henty
Kashtanka, Anton Chekhov
Lyddie, Katherine Patterson
The Monkey King, Aaron Shepard
The Gate in the Wall, Ellen Howard
Midnight is a Place, Joan Aiken
The Courage of Sarah Noble, Alice Dalgiesh
Lewis and Clark and Me, Laurie Myers
Streams to the River, River to the Sea, Scott O'Dell
The Legend of Lord Eight Deer, John M.D. Pohl
Nightjohn, Gary Paulson
The Journal of Jesse Smoke, Joseph Bruchac
Only the Names Remain, Alex W. Bealer
The Whale Rider, Witi Ihimaera
The Call of the Wild, Jack London
+ White Fang, Jack London
The Ballad of Lucy Whipple, Karen Cushman
By the Great Horn Spoon!, Sid Fleischman




Year 2 school plan (2013-2014, age 7)

June 2013-June 2014
Age 6 (public school grade 2)


Last year we were using Susan Wise Bauer's First Language Lessons books. I liked their slow pace, their focus on real literature, and the memorization and copy work strategies, but Calvin mastered the concepts quickly and soon found the repetition tedious. He has completed all the FLL books, so rather than go on with them, this year we will focus almost entirely on free and assigned reading. He will keep a vocabulary journal and write short reviews once or twice a month.
+ Added note July 2014: We started Michael Clay Thompson's Language Arts Series with level one in the spring of this year, and we're thrilled. The MCT books are rich and engaging. They vocabulary and language meant to challenge a quick mind, and for us they are the perfect mixture of repetition versus movement. The series includes grammar, vocabulary, writing, and poetry books for each leve. They begin with level 1, meant for late elementary.  

We are continuing our journey through Bauer's Story of the World, Volume I this year. Though most people spend only one school year on each book in this four volume series, in order to counter what I perceive as the over sacred focus of the series, we have been spending a lot of time on outside sources with a focus on early civilizations and each people's myths and origin stories. Call it a rudimentary comparitive myths and religions class!

Most of our study for this discipline comes with history at this point in time—as we learn about the different civilizations we locate them on the map, coming to know the continents and their general makeup over time. I am not ready yet to muddy the waters with current political maps, but we will focus a little more this year on map reading in general.


Daily free and assigned reading
MCT Island series (level 1)
: Grammar Island, Practice Island, Sentence Island, Building Language, Music Hemispheres
Spelling Workout E

Math-U-See Epsilon
Logic Liftoff Level 4-6
Perplexors Level A
Logic Safari, Book 1 
Allowance/Budget recording

Building foundations of Scientific Understanding Volume I
+ Personal Inquiry and research: "What was there before the big bang?"
+ Connect the Thoughts: Lower School Physics and Astronomy

The Story of the World Volume I: Ancient Times
Intellego Unit Studies, K-2 World History III: Ancient China and Greece
Intellego Unit Studies, 3-5 World History I: Ancient Rome

The Story of the World: Ancient Times Student Activity Book 
McGraw Hill Complete Book of World Maps & Geography, Grades 3-6
Exploring Maps: Ancient Civilizations
Spectrum World Geography

Classes through our homeschooling group (drawing, mixed media, and metal working)

Piano lessons

Swim classes once weekly
Hiking twice weekly in good weather 



Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding Vol. I thread plan

We are nearing the end of our journey through the first BFSU book, and I think a review of sorts is long overdue. I love these books, but not everyone does. These aren't the kind of books you can crack open for the first time on the morning you expect to run through a lesson together. They require planning ahead, and sometimes studying ahead, depending on your own science background. Since I studied Evolutionary Biology in college I have a strong science background, but these lessons are so well described that they lend themselves to learning together for those who do not have that background, with maybe just a little extra planning time.

First, though, a bit more about what these books aren't: they are not workbooks or text books; they are not intended to be handed to a student; they don't have tests, questions, pictures, or diagrams; they are not scripted.

What they ARE, is a series of well thought out lesson plans that guide teachers and students through the basic tenets of science by following the scientific model of "show don't tell".

Lessons plans in these books are intended to be taught in a few sessions over one to two weeks, depending on the depth of the lesson and the depth of your interest. Each lesson opens with an overview, a breakdown of the parts of the lesson with suggested time expenditure for each part, and lists of necessary background knowledge, expected knowledge outcomes, and necessary materials.

Every lesson has suggested demonstrations and hands on activities as well as suggestions for general conversation. Most lessons also suggest ways to go deeper into subjects when the interest is there.

At the end of each plan is a list of suggested reading materials.

The lessons are divided into four different topic threads (the nature of matter, life sciences, physical science, and earth and space science), and all lessons in the three books are connected via a flow chart that shows a suggested order of attack and demonstrates how certain lessons flow into others and which are necessary prerequisites to others.

I first started with BFSU I a couple of years ago. At the time I picked it up and started with the first lesson in the book. It actually took me a couple of weeks to realize that the lessons were divided into the four different disciplines and were meant to be taught fluidly throughout. When I did figure that out, I sat down and spent some time with the book, creating a plan of action for us to follow.

It is easy, although a little time consuming, to sit down with the flow chart at the front of each book and make a plan of action for the school year, whatever that means to you. Where possible, we tend to focus on the Life Science and the Earth and Space Science threads in the spring and summer when the weather is nice, while in the fall and winter we focus more on the Physical Science and the Nature of Matter threads. This is what works best for us, but there are many ways to plan the order of delivery while still keeping to the suggested flow order, so you can do whatever works best for you.

We started with BFSU in Marc 2012 when Calvin was 5 (turning 6 in June 2012). Following is the plan I worked out and implemented for the lessons in book 1.

BFSU Vol. I, grades K-2

March 2012
A/B-1: Organizing Things into Categories
B-2: Distinguishing Living, Natural Non-living, and Human-made Things

April 2012
A-2: Solids, Liquids, Gases
A-3: Air Is a Substance
A-4: Matter I: Its Particulate Nature

May 2012
A-5: Distinguishing Materials
A-5a: Magnets and Magnetic Fields
C-1: Concepts of Energy I: Making Things Go
D-1: Gravity I: The Earth's Gravity/Horizontal and Vertical

June 2012
B-3: Distinguishing Between Plants and Animals
C-4: Concepts of Energy III: Distinguish Between Matter and Energy
C-3: Concepts of Energy II: Kinetic and Potential Energy
C-2: Sound, Vibrations, and Energy

July 2012 and all through the summer of 2012
B-4a: Identification of Living Things (ongoing study)
B-4b: What is a Species/Use of Field Guides in the Field (ongoing study)
B-4: Life Cycles

September-October 2012
C-1: Concepts of Energy I (REVIEW)
B-3: Distinguishing Between Plants and Animals (REVIEW)
B-5: Food Chains and Adaptations (ongoing study)
D-4: Land Forms and Major Biomes of the Earth

November-December 2012
B-6: How Animals Move I: The Skeleton and Muscle
B-7: How Animals Move II: Different Body Designs, Major Animal Phyla (ongoing study)

January 2013
B-3: Distinguishing Between Plants and Animals (REVIEW)
C-5: Inertia
C-6: Friction
C-7: Push Pushes Back

February 2013
D-5: Time and the Earth's Turning (ongoing study)
D-6: Seasonal Changes and the Earth's Orbit (ongoing study)
D-7: Gravity II: Weightlessness in space, Distintion Between Weight and Mass

March-June 2013
Supplemental: Connect the Thoughts Lower School Science IV: Physics & Astronomy

Summer 2013
B-4a: Identification of Living Things (ongoing study)
B-4b: What is a Species/Use of Field Guides in the Field (ongoing study)
B-4: Life Cycles (ongoing study)

October 2013
A-6: Matter II: Air Pressure, Vacuums, and the Earth's Atmosphere
A-7: Air: A Mixture of Gases
A-8: Evaporation and Condensation

November 2013
A-9: Matter IV: Dissolving, Solutions, and Crystallization
A-10: Rocks, Minerals, Crystals, Dirt, and Soil

January-February 2014
B-10: Plant Science I: Basic Plant Structure
B-11: Plant Scienc eII: Seed Germination and Seedling Growth
B-12 Plants, Soil, and Water
D-8: Rocks and Fossils

March-April 2014
B-8: How Animals Move III: The Nervous System
B-9: How Animals Move IV: Energy to Run the Body

May 2014
(connect to spring and planting of vegetable gardens)
B-11: Plant Sci II: Seed Germinatin and Seedling Growth (REVIEW)
B-12: Plants, Soil, and Water (REVIEW)

Summer 2014
B-4a: Identification of Living Things (ongoing study)
B-4b: What is a Species/Use of Field Guides in the Field (ongoing study)
B-4: Life Cycles (ongoing study)

For September 2014
Complete book review

For October 2014
Begin BFSU Vol. II



Being unschoolers at heart the idea of having a lesson based learning program is not top on our list of things to do, so I was a little sceptical back in March when Jon's bosses wanted to have Calvin on board for the piloting of their still in development preschool piano program. The program included weekly private lessons as well as weekly group lessons. It was of utmost importance to me that Calvin not feel pressured but self motivated to play the piano, and how can we assure that when we're carting him to lessons twice a week at night quite four years old?

We put our concerns aside, however, agreeing to the proposal, and at the same time started taking some measures at home to help it along. It's Rousseau who advocated that the teacher (in a one on one context) should learn, or at least pretend to learn, each subject along with the student. I can't get entirely on board with that—not only is it just not feasible all the time, I don't believe in lying to him to achieve an effect—but there are times when the genral principle makes sense to me, and since I really don't know anything about playing the piano I decided to take it up as a hobby right along with my son. It can be a little daunting to pick up a completely new subject at an older age, especially when sharing the learning process with someone so much younger, someone who most certainly will show you up, but we've had fun "arguing" over who gets to practice now.

My years of musical training are the only thing saving me right now from utter embarrassment. Well, that and the well written adult lesson books Jon brought home for me. I'm making progress and enjoying the evolution of a skill I have long coveted, but it is nothing compared to the leaps and bounds Calvin has made over the past months. In March he knew what the piano was and seemed to show an ability to keep a beat. By June he could play a multitude of his lesson songs from memory with one finger, keeping a steady beat and singing right along with them. By August he'd learned the names of all the keys on the piano and could play using all ten of his fingers, reading note names from a book. Now in October he is he reading music on the grand staff and playing two handed piano and is quite the accomplished sight reader—Im sure a video will be coming soon.

So how does this fit into our unschooling "method"? A common misconception is that unschooling is synonymous with unlearning, or that it means completely avoiding the process of learning by specific method. In fact, some unschoolers might agree with you, but for the most part unschooling just means letting the learner lead the way and fitting the process to the student instead of the other way around. Calvin has shown a remarkable interest in learning the piano. He enjoys practicing and doing the workbook exercises, and he is always hungry for more. In fact, while the original method is spread over a several month period, Calvin showed such eagerness to learn that he swept through it in half the time, something we did not slow down or discourage. That meant that he moved into the next book much sooner than expected, graduated into the next book just as ridiculously fast, and is now on his fourth. Since he is mastering the skills before he moves on we are remaining true to our student instead of to the lesson plan. That has meant being a little inventive along the way, but thankfully his teacher, Jon's boss, has been very flexible in working with him (and just as eager to teach him as he has been to learn from her, which makes the pairing work). It is his eagerness and his work that has made this a success, and that is what unschooling is all about.