I've recovered enough from childbirth to go back to doing schoolwork with the Pillowfight Fairy. We will be finishing up our last week of school sometime before the end of next week. As a result there will be much rejoicing (by her as well as by myself). Since we are so close to done, I thought I would reflect on what we accomplished, what was short-changed, what changes had to be made to the schedule, and what I learned about teaching my daughter in her first grade year.
What we accomplished: I and my husband are satisfied that our daughter had a productive year and learned an appropriate amount for her first grade year. She progressed in her writing ability from fighting the effort of putting one sentence together to writing several sentences at a time with ease (even doing so for fun from time to time). She did well with her spelling curriculum, such that I was a little concerned that it wasn't challenging enough. I've decided that we will stay with it, because I like the pacing and think that she is getting a fairly good foundation with it. She has enjoyed the readings we have done for ancient literature (particularly the Aesop's Fables). She has a good memory and often retells the tales she likes best. Some of the mythology we covered had longer more complicated stories that were hard for her to follow without confusion, but she still enjoyed many of them.
She did well with her math curriculum, but she enjoyed that less. She picks up the concepts quickly, but hates the repetitive practice she needs to get good at some of the skills. I insisted she do it anyway and she did get better at learning her addition and subtraction facts. She prefers word problems and has been teaching her younger sister to do simple word problems aloud.
We will have covered all of our history curriculum for the year in just a few more days. I have tried to keep the focus on introducing these new ideas from people and places from the past, without getting too caught up in too many details. Everything we are learning in history is brand new to her, so I want her to just concentrate on learning the main points. I was pleased that she was able to make a connection between her history lesson and her Bible stories this past week. It dawned on her that some of the place names in those lessons were the same, so I was able to point out that the events in the Bible were real events that happened historically.
As for her religion studies, we took it slowly to keep the readings short. We are about mid-way through the book of Numbers. She prefers the narrative stories in the Bible best, but most people do. I wanted to get her reading through the Bible instead of just jumping from story to story, so that she would have a more chronological feel for what happened in the Bible. It is also a good habit to develop in general.
As for art and music, she has progressed with both. She can draw well for her age, but she often chooses not to use the realistic style, so that she can use the more stylized look that she finds easier and faster. I've decided to change art books again to try to follow an interest I've seen her display for picture construction. So far we have tried "Draw Write Now." This was helpful in getting her motivated to write using art, but she wasn't making any artistic progress. Then we used "Drawing with Children" which has many useful ideas and tips. However, she avoids following the technique presented in the book. In the meantime, I've noticed that she enjoys the "How to Draw" segments on her Veggietales Videos, where the artist shows how to draw a character from the video using basic shapes and construction lines. We have noticed her incorporating some of these techniques in her drawings. So, to try to follow up on this interest, I decided to pull out an art book I used as a kid that follows the same techniques. It is called "Drawing for Young Artists", by Mary Black Diller. It shows how to do some of these techniques at a very simple level. I also have a more advanced book titled "Drawing for Girls" that she could work on should she master the first book.
She is doing well with her piano lessons and Tim has started teaching her some basic music theory. She loves the piano and the music lessons, she just hates practice. In all of these areas, she has made noticeable progress.
What was short-changed: Despite our daughter's reading ability, I didn't make her read much of her own lessons. At first it was a time issue, then I realized that she was getting away with minimal effort at listening and then was at a loss when it was time to narrate back what I read to her. In the coming year, she will have to do more of the reading. I had grand ideas of having her write letters to people once a week. She did a few letters, but not many. On a positive note, those letters were her idea, rather than mine, so she enjoyed the process more. I didn't do nearly as many craft projects as I had planned. This disappointed both girls most of the year, but Mommy was so tired during the school year that craft time (when the Happy Boy was down for an afternoon nap) became Mommy's nap-time. I hope to make it up to them by doing more crafts during our summer break. We didn't do as much Music listening or Art study as I had planned. Somehow, other things crowded it out. But, actually playing music and making art took up that time, so I'm content. I had the Fairy do memory work, but wasn't very good about going back and reviewing the memorized work. That is something that needs correcting in the coming year.
What changes had to be made to the schedule: After we started, I realized that we needed breaks from time to time or we would all go nuts. So, we took breaks every six weeks (six weeks on, one week off, etc.) I also found that writing a narration for every reading assignment was fine at first when it was just one or two sentences each. But, as she got better, I had her write more sentences for each assignment until it was becoming a source of conflict. I finally decided that since she was writing more anyway, I would have her write all of the narration sentences for just one of her day's reading assignments. That helped diffuse the conflict we were having and she still got practice at sentence writing and narrations. I found that I needed to change the rate at which we did some of the work. For instance, she did better with doing her spelling work in four days rather than the five I had planned for. She also went through her favorite subjects quicker (such as art) and I was unprepared for how to fill the void when she finished the work I planned earlier than I expected. I'm going to try to correct some of these issues as I finish up the plans for the coming year.
What did I learn by teaching our daughter in her first grade year: Our daughter's perfectionist tendencies lead her into trouble sometimes. She can paralyze herself by indecision if she is afraid that she will make a mistake. She won't shrivel up and die if I force her to do work that she doesn't want to do. In fact, some of the things she enjoys now, used to be the things she complained about the most. She thinks more clearly in the mornings and is crankier in the afternoons. She works better with a constant daily routine. If we mix up the routine, or delay school work, she becomes less cooperative. If I can involve her imagination using stories or art, she will learn faster, retain the information longer, and enjoy the process more. You never know in advance what she will key into and remember from a lesson. When she keys into something, I need to be flexible and follow it up the best I can (even if it means departing from the lesson plan). My own teaching style requires me to plan the year in detail from start to finish before we start. But, I have learned that I am capable of making appropriate changes as we go along. I don't feel the need to be a slave to the lesson plan.
So how will this effect my plans for the coming year? I'm still trying to figure that out. I just have some fine tuning to do on next year's lesson plan. I'm still adjusting how the day to day lessons will flow. I'm trying to figure out how to set up the science observations I want to do. I'm trying to allow for a slightly more relaxed structure than what we had this last year. But I will try to maintain continuity with this past year by keeping successful curricula and follow routines and patterns we developed in first grade as we transition to second grade.
In addition to working with the Pillowfight Fairy, I was starting phonics work with the Adrenaline Junkie. We are finishing up with some of that this week too. She has been begging to be in Kindergarten (which is not a given, since she is still only four and won't be five until December). I've decided to start her doing Kindergarten this coming school year. For us this means beginning reading, writing, and math. The trick with her is that she is a very wiggly, active girl who doesn't like to slow down for anything. Her lessons have to be either very brief or very active, to keep her interest. I will probably have to spread her lessons out throughout the day to allow her enough run around time in between.
All in all, we've had a good homeschooling year. I had a few trepidations going into it, since we were going to be covering so many more subjects and I knew that it would take up so much of our day. But, we made it through the year and our daughter learned what we set out to teach her. Now we just have to figure out how to do that with a second grader and a kindergartener (plus a young preschooler tagging along).