July 6, 2012

Book Review: What Your 2nd Grader Needs to Know (Part 3)

Welcome to the last installment of my book review of What Your Second Grader Needs to Know.  If you missed the first two posts, here is part one and part two.  I'm attempting to compare and contrast this book to the curriculum we use.

   Today I'm going to look at Math and Science.  Ambleside Online, which I use, doesn't specify a math curriculum, and there are already blogs out there discussing how "CM" the different math programs are, so I won't get into that.  WYSGNTK (whew, that's a long title, even abbreviated!) does a good job covering math, and the scope seems reasonable for a year.  Here is some of what is covered in the book:
  • basic addition and subtraction to 18, as well as how to add/sub 3 digit numbers
  • beginning multiplication, up to fives
  • practice word problems, geometry, fractions and money (which were all introduced in first grade)
  • skip count by 3's, odds, and evens, 50's and 100's (2's, 5's and 10's should have been covered in K or 1st)
  • number words to 100
  • telling time to 5 minutes
  • measuring length and weight
  • recognize #'s to 1000 and learn to compare (< > =)
  • shapes, symmetry, and locations
   As with most elementary math, these lessons can be done almost entirely without a workbook of any kind, using real life applications and oral work.  This is great, especially for pencil-phobic kids like mine.  There is a great more detail in the book then what I've listed here, but it gives you a general idea.  WYSGNTK could be worth buying for this chapter alone, in order to avoid purchasing a math curriculum!

   For science (nature study) in the elementary years, AO focuses on putting the child in touch with nature as directly and as often as possible, as well as using living books about nature, such as the Burgess Bird and Animal books.  Through these books and observing our natural world, I think AO does a fantastic job of sufficiently covering science.
   WYSGNTK covers quite a lot in science, so I'm sure much of it is meant to be touched lightly and gone into deeper in later years.  It goes over tools, simple machines, and engineering which I would have categorized as technology, but there wasn't a chapter for that.  It also goes over the human body, food groups and nutrition, which I would categorize as health.  It covers how to use a compass and others ways to find North, which I consider geography.  In addition, it covers the following science topics:
  • life cycles and season
  • biology - botany, zoology
  • cells
  • definitions of the main branches of science, as well as what those scientist do
  • famous scientists - Galileo, Edison, Nightingale and Mae Jemison (another name that was new to me!)
Overall, I recommend that any parent interested in their child's education should take a look at Hirsch's What Your __ Grader Needs to Know series of books.  You can use them for after-schooling, as a homeschooling resource, or to compare what your child is learning at public school and supplement their summer learning.

To see another analysis of the Charlotte Mason method, Letters from Nebby has just written about this unique approach to home education, and mentions how with CM, there is no set curriculum or core standards, but that each child will take away what he needs.  

July 5, 2012

Book Review: What Your Second Grader Needs to Know (part 2)

Yesterday, I went through the literature and geography sections of What Your 2nd Grader Needs to Know.  I think Hirsch's series of books is a good resource, in that it gives common core recommendations grades 1-8, not only to school systems, but to the public.  This allows us homeschoolers to stay on target, if we wish, or to use it to chastise ourselves for not doing enough, or to ignore completely what the rest of the world is doing.  I don't believe there is a right or wrong way to use this book, but even if you don't follow it in any way, I think its useful to simply be aware of what other kids are doing.  Sort of like looking at all the adorable crafts on Pinterest that I won't have time to make, even if I live to be 100 :)

In continuation of this book review, the next section is World Civilizations.  To be honest, I don't remember doing much world civ at all until middle school, so I was surprised to see how much Hirsch included.  Covered in this section are:
  • the progression of mankind from hunters and gatherers to cities and jobs
  • ancient writing and Babylon
  • Persia vs. Greece
  • Athens (freedom) and Sparta (warriors)
  • Olympics and the alphabet
  • Alexander the Great
  • Africa - Kush (to be honest, I never knew who this was!)
  • India - caste system, Hindu, King Asoka, Buddhism
  • America - the Indian and Civil Wars
Does anyone else remember covering these subjects in second grade??  I seriously doubt the average second grader will take very much away from such a brief overview of these subjects, but I guess it doesn't hurt to touch upon them...unless it teaches them that history is boring!

As for how it compares with Ambleside Online Year 2...
History is covered through Bible stories, Our Island Story, Trial & Triumph, the Child's History of the World and This County of Ours (see the list on Pinterest).  There is a lot of history in AO!  It isn't all "ancient" and "world" history every year, but its all there somewhere. (History is gone through at a slow and steady pace, using a 6 year cycle so that the child can come to a deeper understanding of these subjects again in years 7-12.   And unlike textbooks in public school, its interesting, and we always have time to finish the books!) 

Fine Arts are the next section covered.  Hirsch recommends covering the different types of instruments and imparting a basic understanding of music (rhythm, notes, dynamics), which I agree with and have already done with my son.  For art, second graders need to know the different types of lines, all about patterns and perspective, depth and light.  Thankfully, he doesn't expect them to master any of this!  I still can't draw that well, but I can certainly appreciate those things in a piece of art, and will continue to encourage my son to see them for himself during our ongoing Artist Study.  In addition to music and art, the performances are included.  The types of plays should be discussed - drama, comedy, and tragedy.  AO easily covers this, with its emphasis on Shakespeare beginning in year 1

Check back tomorrow for my review of the math and science sections of What Your Second Grader Needs to Know!

July 4, 2012

Book Review: What Your Second Grader Needs to Know (part 1)

I keep hearing and seeing the What Your ___ Grader Needs to Know in homeschooling circles, and our library happens to have the version for 2nd grade, so I checked it out to see what the fuss was about.  I can see how this would come in handy, especially if you are building your own curriculum and don't want to "miss" anything important.

I read the introduction thoroughly.  It is written from the perspective of a public school administrator, who is concerned about children who move about in our country.  Ed Hirsch believes we need a core knowledge curriculum, standard across all schools and states.  While I understand the need for schools to be on the same page, so to speak, for each grade, the underlying philosophy is at odds with the way we are created.  (See this great post from Letters From Nebby about educational philosophies.) I think each of us will pick up different things from the same stories, and are ready to learn different things at different times.  Just because every second grade class in the country is covering Daniel Boone, for example, doesn't mean that they are all learning the same thing from it, nor are they necessarily ready for third grade.  I have friends who are public school teachers, and they are in favor of the Common Core Standards, so that they don't have to figure out where to begin teaching each year.  (To be clear, I'm not against it - I just don't think it should be legislated.)

As I started through the body of this book, I felt a bit overwhelmed, thinking I would never be able to teach all this in one year.  Second graders "need to know"
  • the parts of sentence and parts of a word
  • common sayings and phrases
  • folk tales, tall tales, poetry and comedy
  • good literature about character
  • Greek and Roman gods, specifically Jason and the Golden Fleece
  • Geography map work - drawing, coloring, naming and shape matching (they mentioned checking out Dover publications for some resources)
  • Find the seas and continents (teacher names, student points)
  • Know why the 50 states have the shapes they do and be able to point out TX and CA and the 13 colonies
  • Understand the Incan, Mayan and Aztec cultures
  • Know the geography of Mexico, Central America and South America
  • Spanish
These are the notes I took from only the Literature and Geography chapters.  Then I started comparing it to the Ambleside Online curriculum that we are using, and my anxiety subsided.  True, my checklist won't be as impressive, but in reality, he will be learning just as much.  We've already done some poetry and, although we may not have put names to each type of literature, he is well aware that poetry, Bible, Magic School Bus books, and Heidi are not created equal.  He already has a decent grasp of maps and directions, and a year of immersion-style Spanish.

Now, Hirsch does not ever say that his book alone is a curriculum, nor should it be.  In fact, he emphasizes that it is the core, the basics, and should be added to in many ways.  However, he does include stories that children "should" know at this age, to be read straight from his book.  I read one or two of them, and was even more thankful to be following the Charlotte Mason method.  Instead of using watered-down, childish versions of the great classics, shortened so much that they are dry and uninteresting, we are actually reading the great classics and getting to know the characters like old friends.  Instead of drilling through geography, we are taking a smaller portion of the world and really focusing on it, on the stories of the people that live there.

We will be resting more in the literature itself, then learning bits and pieces about the literature.  Which do you think is more important?

July 3, 2012

Book Review: Homeschooling on a Shoestring

This summer has thus far been hotter than usual - breaking records more days than not.  I can't say we are getting as much outdoor time as needed, but I am getting some things done around the house!  I've worked on an Emergency Binder and a Household Binder, which includes school plans.  I still have a long way to go, but some progress is better than none at all.  (If you are interested in making some organizational headway, check out my Planner pins at Pinterest.)

I've also been perusing our library to glean what homeschooling information I can from its (mostly) out-dated books.  I have decided to basically copy my notes here for a couple of reasons: 1. so I don't lose them and 2. on the off chance it helps someone else. (I wasn't asked to do this review.)
The first book I checked out was Homeschooling on a Shoestring: A Jam-packed Guide by Morgan and Allee.  I read this over a year ago, and wanted to go through it again now that I have some homeschool experience under my belt. Although the copy I read is not the latest, I think it is well worth reading, or keeping on hand for reference.  It is chock full of ideas for many different subjects, and if nothing else, is a great jumping off point for further internet research.

  • The first thing that struck me was the discussion on television watching and how it affects kids and families.  They shared stats from The Overspent American, which said the more TV people watch and the more formal education they have, the less money they tend to save, with an average of $208 less in annual savings for every hour per week spent watching TV.  Wow.  So if I watch 3 hours of TV each week, I save $624 less each year then someone who watches none!  That is a great motivation to turn that thing off!

Here are some of their suggestions for getting a handle on the TV in your home.  Limit screen time to 1-2 days a week or an hour a day.  Hard rules equal fewer hard feelings, and its easier on the parent because there will be less negotiation.  Don't us TV for background noise - use a VCR (okay, I told you this was out-dated, lets make that a DVR) so you only watch specific shows and can skip the commercials.  Also, try the "no TV for a month" experiment - summer is a good time to try that because it won't be associated with the fact that you homeschool.  Finally, keep it in a central location - not in bedrooms - or hide it altogether!  (If you are like my family, hiding the TV isn't feasible because of its large size...but perhaps you can disguise it under a blanket or behind a room divider?  Out of sight is out of mind.)

  • The next nugget was to listen to Diana Waring's History Alive! series, which are audiobooks of American history using traditional songs.  They look interesting, but I haven't purchased them.  Does anyone have any experience with these?
  • Let kids choose wish list items for holidays and birthdays from educational catalogs.  This is a good reason to keep all those things collected from the homeschool conference!
  • Talk to your local schools to see if they will allow homeschoolers to borrow textbooks, library books, or even to attend classes or extra curricular activities.  (The book also suggested checking with your state or local homeschool organization first, to see if asking these things could cause your family trouble.)   I think private schools may be more open to this, personally, and have considered looking into it, but haven't yet.
  • Math - make your own Geo board by hammering nails into a square piece of wood (leaving 3/4" exposed) in a grid pattern, then wrapping with rubber bands into shapes and patterns of your own.
  • Use more puzzles and games!  Mad Libs are great for learning parts of speech.
  • Grammar - pay student a nickel each time he catches a parent using incorrect grammar, such as "ain't" instead of "isn't", or "don't" instead of "doesn't'.  Stipulate that this must be done privately! 

If you are stuck in figuring out how to school for less money, I think this book is a winner!