Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Exploring Genres: July Short Stories

I know, I've been horrible about getting these posts done. We've been reading books for each genre, but not taking the time to record them. July's genre was short stories. These are the books Jay & I read from. Dea has not been good about getting me the lists of her selections for our monthly genres.

Jay:
Guys Read: Thriller
Mystery Stories
Welcome to Bordertown
Guys Read: Funny Business
The Most Dangerous Game
Half-Human
The Doomed and the Dead
Guys Write for Guys Read
Murder Most Medieval


Me:
Centaurus
Volt
Best New Horror
Into the Mummy's Tomb
Throttle
Mile 81
The Black Phone

July Poet of the Month: Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Our library has a rather limited selection of books by some of our chosen poets. Elizabeth Barrett Browning is one of them. So, we were left with just:

Selected Poems

Magic School Bus Kits - a Review

My kids have always loved The Magic School Bus. We have several of the books, and have watched most (if not all) of the shows. My daughter loved The Magic School Bus when she was younger, and my son (3rd grade) still loves it. So, when I was planning my son's Science for 1st, and I found the Magic School Bus kits, I got an idea. I decided to make his Science for 1st-3rd Magic School Bus based (of course, we used many resources not related to MSB for each topic, as well). I ordered kits for each topic we studied in 1st & 2nd grades. We read the MSB books related to the topics, and watched any episodes of the show related to the topics. We enjoyed them. The kits were fun. He didn't learn much from them, but they were a fun addition to his Science. I changed my mind about continuing to use them for 3rd grade, though. They were just too simplistic and not challenging.

We bought & used the following kits (some for school, some for fun):
Diving into Slime, Gel, and Goop
Going Green
Journey into the Human Body
Jumping into Electricity
Secrets of Space
Soaring into Flight
Solar Energy to the Rescue
World of Germs

The World of Germs & Diving into Slime, Gel, and Goop were the favorites. Most of the others were alright. As I said, they weren't challenging, but were fun. The only one we really didn't enjoy was Secrets of Space. He learned nothing from the kit. It was all just demonstrations. He did kind of enjoy the fact that he was the one to do the demonstrations, because he likes to explain things to people and share his knowledge. However, we both wished that we had found better activities for that topic.

The materials are not high quality, and I wasn't really expecting them to be. After all, I paid about $16 for each kit. I was expecting cheap, disposable materials, and that is what we got. Yes, some of the items are reusable, but they are simply not a high quality.

My biggest issue with these is the age range. They are all listed as being for preK/K - 5th/6th grade. I find that to be really inaccurate. They would be great for toddlers - K/1st, maybe into 2nd depending on the child. However, I simply can not see a child in 4th-6th grade getting anything out of any of these kits.

They are also good for keeping around for something fun for the kids to do on weekends/breaks/free time, especially if your kids are a bit destructive. My son is very hard on things. I wouldn't want him playing around with high quality lab equipment on his own, not yet. He can be very destructive, and glass test tubes, etc. would likely end up broken.

They are easy for a child to do without adult supervision. That was one reason we got them again in 2nd grade. He could do the activities alone. We also liked that the activities start with a question, and doing the activity will answer the question. This is a nice, easy intro to the Scientific Method. We created Lab Sheets for each activity and filled them out as the activity was done. This way, he learned at an early age how to follow the Scientific Method & how to fill out a Lab Sheet (what the question was, what his hypothesis was, what materials were needed, what process was followed, what the results were, what his conclusion was). I think that, by doing things the way we did, he got a solid foundation in understanding these important concepts. For that use, these were great.

So, to sum up:
*Not really appropriate for the whole age/grade range listed.
*Would be great for younger kids
* Easy to use without adult supervision by kids age 6/7+
* Good for use during free time, just for fun
* Not high-quality, but sturdy enough to withstand destructive children
* Not challenging for Science-minded kid, but fun addition to Science in lower grades
* Helps introduce & reinforce the Scientific Method

All in all, I'm not sorry that we used them. I don't feel like they were a waste of money (except maybe the Space one). A part of me wishes that I had found them earlier. If I had found them when he was younger, I would have used them with him as a toddler & for preK. However, if we had used them then, I would have needed to find something else for 1st & 2nd. Plus, he likely would not have been able to use them independently had we used them at such an early age. He is a perfectionist, and being able to do these kits & fill out the lab sheets on his own has really helped build his confidence in his ability to do school more independently. So, I think he really did get more out of them, using them in 1st & 2nd, even if it wasn't what they were meant to get out of using the kits.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Just So You Don't Think Things Are Perfect Around Here...

On Monday, I posted a "Day in the Life" post about how our day went. It was a great day. Chores got done (well, some of them). Dea did school. Jay did all his school. There was a minimum of fighting & arguing. The new meal schedule went well. The kids played, read, had time alone. The day was virtually perfect. I knew it was too good to last.

The rest of the week did NOT continue to go as fantastically as Monday did. Tuesday, nothing was done. We lost power for 10-13 hours (not sure exactly when it went out, because it was during the few hours I slept). The raw chicken in the fridge went bad. The kids fought all day. The house was hot, due to no fans or A/C. It was a horrible, miserable day.

Wednesday, Jay started to do school. Then, he poked himself in the eye, which put an end to all productivity for the week. He has a corneal abrasion (for the second time this year). This time, we have ointment to put on his eyes 4 times a day. He has an appointment with the eye doctor on Monday, to make sure it is healing properly & hasn't caused permanent damage.

The kitten also went to the doctor this week. He had to go in for his final shots and to get neutered. He is fine, healing wonderfully. He is even more lovey-dovey, friendly, & snuggly than normal.

I did get a few phone calls taken care of, that I've been meaning to get to. However, the week was mostly unproductive, with the exception of Monday, of course.

So, remember, even though I try to focus on the positive, things are not perfect here. I strive for perfection, always have. However, I have yet to achieve it. I've been told that I am intimidating. Some people apparently  get intimidated by how rigorous our schooling is, the multiple languages we study, the number of courses we do each year, the effort I put into planning, the fact that I piece together our curriculum for so many of our courses, how much work my kids do (especially given that they are both 2E), my cooking skills, the fact that I refuse to accept that I that I can't do everything and strive to do it all anyway, or the fact that I sometimes appear to have it all together. I don't know how to respond when people tell me they are intimidated by me or find something about me or our homeschool intimidating. Hopefully, this post (and others like it) help to allay feeling like those. We all have our bad days (in this case, bad weeks). All we can do is try again the next day, watch for patterns, to see if any changes may need to be made, and keep working at it. My secret isn't perfection, it's perseverance, determination, and being too damn stubborn to give up.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Homeschool Planning for the Year part 2

This is part 2 in my series of posts about how we plan our school year. If you missed part 1, you can find it here. This post will focus on the planning process once the material choices have been made.

Once I know what materials I plan to use, it's time to start planning how they will be used. I always start with any materials that we already own. Next, I plan out any that are free online. Finally, once the purchased materials get here, I plan those. Since I decide on activities/labs/projects when choosing materials (so I can make sure to get the materials needed for them), there really isn't much to do at this point.

This part of the process consists mainly of determining how many chapters/lessons are in each book and how  long each chapter/lesson should take. Again, some parts of this are incredibly easy. Easy Grammar has 180 lessons. At one lesson per day, that is 36 weeks. Other things take longer & more work to plan out. How many books should I assign for English this year? How long should I allow for each each novel? Should I require Historical Fiction to go with the History studies, or leave them optional? How often should he do Life of Fred when combined with other Math work? Should I assign all the problems in each exercise or just half? These are the types of questions that I ask & answer each year.

In order to truly decide how a subject should be planned for the year, I need to look at all the materials we plan to use, except library books & DVDs. I need to see how they will fit together. I need to decide if they should be used simultaneously, alternating, or in series. I need to determine where the activities/labs/projects fit in and how long they should take.

This is also when I search the library catalog and Netlfix. When planning what materials, I do check the library catalog, but that is really just to see how many resources are available on each topic. Now, I'm looking for specific ones we might want to use. I make a list of the DVDs I hope to get. I make a list of the historical fiction, about the time periods we're studying, that I think the child might enjoy. I search the titles available for Instant Streaming on Netflix. I find all those that we might want to watch with our studies & put them in our queue. I organize the queue so that all titles related to the current school year are at the beginning. It's so much easier if they are all together & I know exactly where to find them. During the last week of the school year, or over a break between years, I move all the titles for the next year to the beginning. After searching instant titles, I search the DVD titles, adding those to our DVD queue. The current school year's titles are, of course, at the top. I put all titles related to the coming school year just below those for this school year.

What I end up with is essentially just a large To Do list, ready to have all items checked off. I keep the plans for the school year in either a notebook or binder. I start with one subject. I list all the required materials for that subject, with their assignments. So, for Language Arts, it will have the Grammar program with assignments listed next to the title, then the Writing program & assignments, then Spelling, etc. The assignments are written out as the chapter/unit/lesson/day/however it is organized in the material. So, it doesn't say Easy Grammar - 180 days. It says Easy Grammar - day1, 2, 3,........179, 180. That way, we can mark off each lesson as it is completed.

History (always) & Science (until high school level) are planned out slightly differently. We don't use a text or really any other kind of spine for these (once we hit high school level, we use a text for Science, but never for History). For those subjects, I list the topics we plan to cover and the areas within in each topic. I also list all the activities/labs/projects I plan to do for each topic. I make a list of all the books we own that might be useful in the study, as well as a list of DVDs (both library & Netflix) I want to use. I then leave room to list all the resources we actually use (this part is more recent, as I didn't bother tracking what we used in the beginning).

I may write down a few library books I hope to use, but not a full list. I can never be certain when something will be available. Plus, our library doesn't tell you the level of a book, beyond Kids, YA, Adult, Picture Book. So, I have to look at the book to see if it will work for us. I have to flip through it to see if it's too easy. I have to skim it to see if it has any information that will actually be new to the child. I have to scan it to make sure it's appropriate. So, I see it as rather pointless to make a long list of all the books we might possibly borrow from the library, when I would still have to search every week to see what is available at the branch we go to & what needs to be put on hold, as well as looking over all the books before checking out.

Once I have my checklist for each subject, the planning for the whole year is done. All that's left is the weekly planning. I don't plan out every single week or day ahead of time, because we would never stick to it. That's why I like the checklist system I use. I can see everything that still needs to be done and everything that has been done, all without 'getting off track' or 'falling behind schedule' or having to re-write the schedule every week.

Monday, July 23, 2012

A Day in the Life

Today was the first day with our new schedule. This new schedule is not just for school, but for everything. So, I thought I'd do a 'Day in the Life' post about it. The times are approximate. There are short breaks (5-10minutes) scattered throughout here & not mentioned. We also try to alternate stuff that needs more attention & effort with stuff that needs less attention & effort or higher interest work with lower interest work, to add variety.

7:30am - The kids wake me up. They get breakfast, and I stay in bed convincing myself to get up.
8am - Dea starts Math, and we discuss her plans for schoolwork this morning. Jay plays.
8:30am - Dea finishes her Math lesson, takes a short break, and starts working on Lit. Jay & I start on Science. He reads from a book. We watch the last part of an episode of 'Storm Chasers: Perfect Disaster' on Netflix. Then, he visits 3 sites, and reads information on wind & air. We still have some time left for Science, so we start another episode of 'Storm Chasers: Perfect Disaster,' but don't have quite enough time to finish it. Maybe we'll finish it later today.
10:30am - Jay does his hour of quiet reading. Dea does dishes & cleans the bathroom. She was actually supposed to do the bathroom on Saturday & dishes yesterday, but didn't finish them. So, she needs to finish them today. I head into the kitchen to start lunch. Lunch is now our big family meal, instead of dinner. What I would normally have made for dinner, will now be lunch instead. So, I now need roughly an hour to prepare lunch. Today's lunch includes thin sliced roast beef. I sliced it, seasoned it, and started it cooking in the crock pot before heading to bed. So, it's been cooking since about 2:30am. I still need to make the mashed sweet potatoes & veggies, though. While the potatoes cook, I get the kids' new chores lists laminated, 3-hole punched, and in their binders (I got them typed & printed over the weekend), and get a pot of coffee started for hubby.
11:30am - Eat lunch
12pm - Dea decided to spend about 10 minutes on Alcumus, while her lunch settled. Then, she gets to work on History. Jay asks to finish watching the episode of 'Storm Chasers: Perfect Disaster' we started earlier, while his lunch settles. Then, goes to work on his bedroom. This is actually supposed to be his break, but his room is a disaster & needs to be cleaned before I go up with garbage bags & throw out everything. I play on Facebook for a few minutes, then get to work on cleaning the office.
1pm - Dea continues to work on History. Jay gets on his computer for his half hour of Math games. While he does that, I do something I've been meaning to do for weeks. Weeks ago, Jay came up with his own Code of Honor for History. He wrote it in his notebook, and we decided that I would copy it out in nice writing on nice paper. So, I finally got around to it today. I pulled out some 'antique' paper, my quill pen, and chose the black India ink. It took 2 tries to get it right, because Jay kept shaking the table & there was a large ink blot on the first attempt. The second isn't my best work, but is legible & blot free.
1:30pm - Jay has chosen Logic as the next subject. He starts with a lesson in Logic Safari. This week's lesson is 15. These puzzles are really easy for him, but he enjoys them so much I still get them for him. After Logic Safari, we do some puzzles from Word Winks.
1:45pm - Time for ASL! Jay decides he's ready to move onto the next disc. So, today we're doing Signing Time vol 13, Welcome to School. He also gets his snack during ASL, since 2pm is snack time. Dea takes a break, has a snack, and gets another load of dishes soaking.
2:15pm - Jay re-reads chapters 6-10 in Life of Fred Decimals. He appears to have test anxiety (which is strange since we don't do many 'tests' here) and repeatedly does a bad job on the Bridges. He knows the work. He just keeps making stupid, careless mistakes. He needs to retake the Bridge after chapter 10, and wanted to read the chapters again before doing it. While he does that, I get the white board set up for Spelling.
2:30pm - Jay and I do Spelling. We haven't done it in a month. We're doing Step 10 (in AAS3) today. We start with some review, then move onto the 'New Teaching,' and finish with a few dictation sentences. Meanwhile, Dea is working on Anatomy & Physiology.
3pm - I decided we should do the Bridge today. I'm trying something different, to see if I can help him over his anxiety. His mistakes are always so careless, so I thought maybe if we did the problems on the white board, and he had to slow down & think about the proper procedures instead of rushing through some, over thinking others, and just screwing around for others. He's been making mistakes in basics - doing his multiplication wrong, forgetting to line numbers up properly, forgetting to borrow when subtracting. These are all things he's known how to do for years. I know that some people have problems with their kids forgetting stuff they knew when learning new things, but this has never happened to us before. His focus is generally better when we work things out on the white board, especially if I'm writing. He has to slow down and make sure he is telling me the right steps to take & the correct operations & numbers. So, we tried that today, and ...........he got them ALL CORRECT!! YAY!
3:30pm - Dea is still working on Science. Jay is doing Writing. It's a rather short assignment, dealing with recognizing voice in writing. In a day or two, he'll be starting the major assignment for chapter 3.
3:45pm - Jay likes to alternate the parts of Math with the parts of Language Arts. That way, he doesn't get tired of doing so much Math or so much Language Arts each day. So, he chose Measurement bk2 p.19.
4pm - Jay does Grammar. Over the last month, while we were doing school-lite due to health issues, he finished the Easy Grammar 4 section on Prepositions. Today, he starts the Easy Grammar 3 section on Capitalization. Once he's done with this section in EG3, he'll do the Capitalization section of EG4. That's how he wants to do it, and I see no reason not to. Dea spends some more time on Lit.
4:10pm - Time to finish off Math with p.88 of Perfecting the Point.
4:20pm - We decided to end the school day with Latin. He started chap 26 last week. It's a review chapter & he didn't finish it. So, we're finishing it this week.
4:40pm - We head into the kitchen to toss together something for dinner.
5pm - Dinner is now a small, snack-like meal. I make a pot of tea (today's choice is Spicy Plum, yum!) to go with it. Today, we each had  2 eggs, 2 slices of buttered bread (I had rye, the kids had cinnamon), and watermelon. Jay also had a carrot, and Dea had some cherry tomatoes.
5:30pm - I require the kids to spend an hour outside everyday, unless weather prohibits. In the cool/warm months of spring & autumn, they often choose to be out in the morning or right after lunch. In the cold months of winter, they almost always choose right after lunch. However, in the miserable heat & humidity of the Midwest summers, they choose the evenings. Today, they decided to go out right after dinner, to play in the sprinkler. I decided to take the time to just relax.
6:30pm - Dea chose to spend some more time on Alcumus. Jay chose to play cards. After most of an hour of sitting down & relaxing, my back, neck, and shoulders hurt. So, I rubbed some Blue Emu into my shoulders & neck. I then had Dea finish her dishes, so Jay could do his. Then, I did some dishes, even though it's not my day, and I had already done my dinner & lunch dishes. Then, I spent some time straightening up the kitchen, so hubby can do dishes later. The kids also had a snack.
8:00pm - Dea's hanging out at a friend's. Jay's playing with the dog. I've just finished a workout.Jay continues to play with the dog while I do some general straightening up.
8:30pm - The kids clean the school room, and I relax a little. Then, the kids get ready for bed. They're sleeping in the school room tonight (it's too hot in their bedrooms), but they head to different rooms to read.

It's now 10pm. The kids are in bed. I've done half the dishes & washed the counters, even though it's not my day for dishes. I've got dishes soaking for my hubby. I'm going to go curl up with a book for awhile. I really hope every day goes as smooth as today did. the kids barely fought. Neither complained about school or chores. We didn't wake up hubby. Things went great!



Thursday, July 19, 2012

Homeschool Planning for the Year pt.1

I thought I'd do a series of posts about how I plan out our school year. This is part 1, and will focus on choosing materials.

Choosing our materials is a long process that I work on all year long. I have the basic ideas of what I want to focus on each year planned out for several years (as in through high). I even have some idea of the materials I want to use. However, material choices can change.

I spend the current year choosing materials for the next year. Some subjects are pretty easy. As long as Easy Grammar keeps working for us, we'll keep using it. As long as we keep using it, planning Grammar is as simple as deciding how many levels of Easy Grammar we should get for the next year. The same goes for Jay's Writing & Spelling. We're good with Latin until Jay finishes LFC Primer C, but I'm already looking for what he'll use then.

Other subjects, though, aren't as easy as 'just use the next level.' For some subjects, like Science & History, I have many more materials to find. I have to decide exactly what topics will be covered each year. For History, this is fairly easy, as I mostly go in chronological order, through 5th or 6th grade anyway. After that, we spend 2 years on wars, then move on to their high school History courses. This is the plan we followed for Dea, and it is the plan we're following for Jay. Once they hit high school History, planning becomes a little harder, as they choose the exact time periods studied each year. Science, on the other hand, does not have a set path that both kids follow. I planned out a path for each child, that took them up to high school level. However, we are flexible on the order of the topics. Topic placement in the original path is not set in stone.  We finalize choice of topics to be covered just before planning the year. Many things go into determining which topics are covered each year, including (but not limited to) the interest level of the child, the materials available, and the likely career path of the child. For high school, there are certain Science courses that are required, but they choose the rest. We decide together on the order.

So, once the list of courses is finalized, I start the search for materials. As I've stated, some materials are easy, just get the next level (or two). Those are already in my wish list at Rainbow Resource. They are also the first ones I write in my plan ( I always do this part on paper), for obvious reasons. Then, I start looking for materials for the other courses.

I pull out my lists of ideas & possible materials. I start by choosing a spine, or main material, since that will determine how many and what kind of materials I will need. Then, I work on finding the supplemental materials I need/want. Of course, some of our courses done't have a spine. Those require a bit more research to plan. I add all my ideas for each subject to the lists. Then, I read more reviews about them all. When possible, I visit the publisher website. There, I read about the material I'm considering, as well as other materials they publish. I read any articles at the site, especially ones that explain the philosophy behind the materials or the qualifications/experience of the creators. I look at any available samples of the materials I'm considering. I also show the samples to the child I'm planning for, if it stays in the running. If there is a free trial, we try it out, with both the child & myself using it. I see how many of them overlap and how much. I then reduce the list to the fewest materials that will cover everything I want to cover.

Next, I look at each of the semi-finalists, again. I re-read descriptions. I re-read some of the reviews, both good & bad. I may read blog posts by people who use the materials, to see what they think of them & how they use them. I may even ask about them on forums. This is also when I get opinions from the child who would be using the materials, for any materials I have yet to get their opinion on. By the end of this process, I have the finalists.

I then attempt to see how I might combine the finalists to work together. With any luck, this produces the final round of cuts. Hopefully, at the end of this part, I have enough materials for what I want to achieve and cover. If not, I have to go back to searching for the missing pieces. Once materials are definite, they are put in my wish list. This process is done for each subject. 


My wish list at Rainbow Resource is organized by grade & child (i.e. Jay 5th or Dea 9th). This makes it easy to make changes to planned materials whenever needed. It also allows me to be years ahead in planning, when possible, and still keep it all straight.


A week or two before purchasing, I again run through the lists (both subjects & materials) with each child. This is to make sure we're still certain about our choices. Then, if any changes need be made, I have a little time to do so.


So, that is the long, arduous, somewhat convoluted process that leads to the final choice of materials. Part 2 will contain the process of planning the year, once materials have been decided upon.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

How Much Say do Your Children Have

In my experience, there seem to be a lot of homeschoolers who give their children little or no say in their education. Outside of children who are severely developmentally delayed, I don't understand this refusal to accept their input. Apparently, some even believe that children simply don't understand what learning styles and are, therefore, are incapable of choosing materials that will work with their learning style or help improve their ability to learn in ways other than their preferred learning style. I don't find this to be true (with my kids) and feel that it falls into the category of 'underestimating kids' (something I have already posted my feelings on), but you're free to believe whatever you choose.

Personally, despite the belief that I am a major control freak (a belief held by many people), I allow my kids quite a bit of say in their education. It's not like I hand them the Rainbow Resource catalog and say, "There you are! Choose whatever you want." However, I also don't choose everything myself and tell them, "This is what you're doing and what you're using. I don't care if you like it or not."

I have a list of subjects that are not negotiable, they have to do those subjects. However, I always take into consideration their needs, strengths, weaknesses, interests, and preferences while I look for possible materials. Once I have a list of possible materials, that I think they'll like and we can afford, I ask their opinion. I let them read the descriptions. We try out samples, if available. We try out trials, if available. They compare the options and tell me what they think of them. Then, I take their opinions into consideration when making the final decision. They are free to add in other subjects, as budget allows. They get to help determine how many activities/projects/labs they will do, and what those will be. They often get options for the kinds of assignments they do.

If they don't like the curriculum we're using for something, they can tell me. I welcome their input on what they do and don't like about a curriculum, since that will help in the search for a new one. Sometimes, they may be expected to use a curriculum they don't like for the rest of the year. Since the school budget is spent early, we can't switch to something else I'll have to buy midyear. If I can piece something together with what we have at home, what I can find at the library, and free resources online, they can use that for the rest of the year instead. However, if I can't piece together something that I feel is high quality & up to my standards, they will be stuck with whatever it was I bought that they don't like. If there is something we're using that they don't like, we'll spend that year looking for other options. I might do all the preliminary research, but they actually help quite a bit.

As for understanding learning styles, it really isn't a difficult concept. My kids have always known, even before we discussed learning styles, what types of learning activities & materials would work best for them and which wouldn't. After a discussion about the need to improve in their weaker learning styles, they had no problems helping to choose, and even suggest, materials & activities that will give practice in their weaker styles.

I determine the minimum number of History courses they need for high school, but they choose the topics for each year. I set the minimum of Science courses, and some specific courses, but they get to choose what parts of Science to study for the rest of their courses. I insist on foreign languages, but they get some say in which ones. If they would rather focus on photography instead of Art History, that's fine. They're still doing an Art class. If they prefer Music History to learning an instrument, that's fine. It's still Music class.

I see no reason to ignore their input. Their opinions matter to me. Their plans for the future matter to me. Their interests matter to me. If I wanted them to get a generic, homogeneous, one-size-fits-all education, I would have left them in public school. I prefer to tailor my kids education to them, their needs, their plans, etc. I have a list of what I require, but also allow some flexibility in how to achieve those requirements. I prefer to have my kids' input on their schooling. They are people, with their own personalities, their own ideas, their own preferences, and their own thoughts. I will not ignore that just to have more control over them.

Dea's Art class for 9th will be Photography. She has a natural talent for it (in my opinion, anyway), and an interest in it. Why force her to do Art Appreciation or Art History when I can let her focus on a interest of hers? Why say that Photography has to be a hobby instead of a class?  She's decided to start taking an online Astronomy course. I told her that she could count it for school, if she finishes it with the required 80% or higher. She's taking it because she wants to, not because she has to. If she wants to count it as school (meaning 3 Science courses for this year), I'm fine with that, as long as she gets the minimum grade I require for credit.

How about you? How much say do your kids have in their education, and why?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Everything in Moderation

When I was growing up, my mom went through phases regarding what we ate. Sometimes, we could get whatever cereal we wanted. Other times, all we could have was corn flakes & shredded wheat or puffed wheat/rice. Sometimes, our school lunches would include Little Debbie snack cakes. Other times, it was just  fruits & veggies. We went from white bread to wheat bread, with that one detour to Iron Kids bread. Do you remember Iron Kids bread? By the time lunchtime came around, the bread on my sandwich had turned yellow. Yuck! Of course, sometimes we bought lunch (apparently, those were the times when she couldn't be bothered about our nutrition).

We had the, oh so fun, tofu phase, where she bought tons of tofu, then realized she had no idea how to cook it so it was edible. She would randomly ban all sugar from the house, or all chocolate, soda, potato chips, junk food in general, salt, etc. She never learned about moderation.

I prefer moderation. However, one thing that stuck was the lack of salt. I got to the point where I just didn't really like the taste of salt. So, I didn't add it to anything I cooked for years. There are only a few things I add salt to before I eat (basically just popcorn & corn on the cob). We don't due a lot fast food or convenience foods. I've always preferred low sodium canned foods. I prefer fresh or frozen fruits & veggies over canned. Due to my low salt intake, I would get cravings, a few times a year, for something salty. Generally, it was Mrs. Fisher's potato chips, greasy, salty, disgusting deliciousness.

I have never banned salt from the house. I just don't use much. Anyway, since trying sea salt, I have been using salt on a more regular basis. I still rarely add it to food when I cook, but add use it a bit more than before. The semi-annual cravings for salt have stopped. Having a little on a regular basis keeps me from needing lots of it a few times a year. It's the same with sugar. I never have massive sugar cravings like so many people. I always keep some sweets in the house & regularly eat small amounts of sugar. I enjoy sweets and would never give them up, despite the fact that I'm trying to lose weight. This is one reason I have never bought into any of those fad diets. I prefer moderation. I will not give up something I enjoy.

I think moderation is actually the best way to achieve a well-balanced diet. Plus, it helps to model good eating habits for the kids. I want them to have a good relationship with food, not an unhealthy one. I hope to teach the kids to balance their diets and eat all the things they enjoy in moderation.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Language Arts, How We Do It

Many people prefer all-in-one Language Arts programs. I prefer not to use them, though. Sure, my life might be easier if we used just one program for Language Arts, one that combined all the concepts together. Easy isn't my way, though.

We use a different program for each part of Language Arts, and no program at all for some parts. We do this partly due to the kids' asynchronous development. Though, I don't know that I'd use an all-in-one even if they were at the same level in all areas. I've never seen an all-in-one Language Arts program that I wanted to use. I've never found one that I like the look of or that really seems like it would work for us. So, I do what I do, I piece it together myself.

Grammar - I've found that I like Easy Grammar. I tried some Language Arts and Grammar workbooks when Dea was younger, but we didn't like them. Then, we did our own thing for Grammar for a few years. She started Easy Grammar with Easy Grammar Ultimate for 8th Grade. We liked the format and the approach. It was short, to the point, introduced new topics and covered review, and there were no long, drawn-out lessons. So, we started Jay on Easy Grammar in 2nd grade. It was the same format as the levels Dea has used. However, that format changes in the 3rd grade book. From what I can tell, the 5th, 6th, and Plus books all have the same format as the 3rd & 4th grade books. I'm not overly fond of this format. We're still early in the book, though. So, I'm not completely certain how he'll do with it. Tweaking will be fairly easy, though, if necessary. Dea is still using Easy Grammar, too, and will continue until she has finished the grade 12 book.

Writing - This area has always been a problem for us. Writing is Dea's weakest area, and nothing seemed to work when she was younger. I tried letting it be unstructured. That didn't work. We tried a few workbooks. They didn't work. We tried Writing Strands. That helped a little. We tried Put That in Writing. She hated it. She was using Universal Class for online Writing courses. It worked much better. Now, we will be trying Put That in Writing again. I was lucky to find the Stack the Deck program for Jay. He really seems to enjoy it, and it seems to be a thorough & incremental course. I love the fact that it goes through high school, so I won't have to switch programs later.

Spelling - We learned early on that the typical Spelling programs would not work for us. We used Natural Speller for some years, creating our own lists & activities. Then, we just stopped focusing on Spelling. Dea really isn't that bad with Spelling, considering how little actual instruction she's had in it. Jay has Dyslexia, though, which means that he really needs more focus on Spelling. We use All About Spelling because its multi-sensory approach is great for his Dyslexia. He really enjoys doing it, too, for the most part. He isn't fond of having to write the words & dictation sentences, but enjoys everything else.

Vocabulary - We have never used a program for this (though we own Roots & Fruits, but it's just used as a resource for them to choose words from). My kids have always had very large vocabularies, so we just continue to encourage them. They learn at an early age how to use the dictionary, and are often told to 'look it up' when they ask what a word means. They have always been encouraged to look up unknown words while reading or doing schoolwork. They currently choose at least one word per day to learn. They then use that word as much as they can.

Reading - I didn't use anything to teach Dea to read. She was reading fluently before she went to public school for Kindergarten. Jay taught himself to read, though we did some review with Explode the Code, Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, and Starfall. After they know how to read, and are reading fluently, I just let them read. I don't use a program for reading comprehension. We discuss the books they read. They sometimes do projects for the books or study guides (that I create). I don't do required reading until high school English. Before then, I just encourage them to read as much as they can. They are expected to read for at least one hour a day.

Penmanship - I prefer not to actually have to focus on this. I don't think I used anything for Dea for manuscript. I'm pretty sure I picked up a dry erase notebook and a cheap workbook (both from Walmart) for learning cursive. I bought her one workbook for learning to write in Italics, and I bought materials for learning to write Calligraphy (though, Calligraphy was for Art). For Jay, I had to buy some copywork sets. We went with Happy Scribe since there are a variety of topics, each book comes with 3 styles of writing, and they were on sale for really cheap, so I spent less than $5. This is one area I will always go cheap on. I see no reason to spend $30+ on penmanship.

When planning high school level English courses, I choose a different focus for the Lit portion each year. For Dea's courses, the plan is: Year 1 - play & poetry, Year 2 - Mythology & Legend, Year 3 & Year 4 - World Lit. I'm not sure if I'll use the same plan for Jay when he gets there or not. I've still got a few years to figure that out. Language Arts/English is really quite easy for us to plan.


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Date is Set

Today, we were given the date that my husband's work schedule (and effectively our lives) changes. I have only a short time to figure out some different schedule options for us, so we have some to try when the day gets here. Library & grocery shopping will switch days. Appointments will have to be scheduled at an entirely different time of day. The weekly volunteer work my husband & daughter do will have to change time & likely day. Our big meal will switch from dinner to lunch. The kids school hours will change. My 'me' time will be almost or completely non-existent. Everything will be changing, in less than 2 weeks.

I'm working on writing some posts & scheduling them over the next few weeks, in case this causes me to not get here to post for a little while.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Summer Reading Programs

Now I remember why we don't do these. We used to do the Summer Reading Program at the library and the Barnes & Noble one. We stopped years ago. The kids have asked to do them again every single year since then. So, this year, I said okay to the one at the library. We did not bother with the one for Barnes & Noble, because the book choices they offer as rewards are so limited. Here is how the Summer Reading Program at our library works:

I'll skip the stuff dealing with with the programs for pre-readers & adults & just focus on the ones that matter to us. Readers through age 12 are expected to read 15 books. After 5, they get a coupon for a free ice cream cone. After 10, for a free personal pizza from Pizza Hut. After the full 15, they get a  book, a cheap dollar store toy, a free pass to a water park we never go to, and a certificate of completion. Then, they can read 10 more an get one final prize, another cheap toy. You don't even have to read books to fill in all the entries. Children reading longer books can count every 100 pages as a book. Plus, they have activities related to the theme for the program (different theme each year), and those count, too. I have always required  the kids to count only full books that were at or above grade level, because of the low expectations the program has. This year, my son finished all 25 books, in 3 weeks. Every book he read was at or above his 'grade level' (3rd grade). The easiest books were Goosebumps & American Chillers. His list also included several 6th grade level books, and even some non-fiction books he read for school. So, it's not like he read just a bunch of too easy books. The Goosebumps & American Chillers are too easy for him, as his comfort level is 6th-8th grade books, but he still really enjoys those books.  He was hoping that they would let him do it again, but no such luck. They only allow each child to complete it once per summer.

The YA program only expects 10 books. Once you finish, you get a certificate of completion, a pass to the water park, a $5 coupon to a local fast food place, and entry into a drawing to win the Grand Prize (limo ride & movie for 4). You can complete it more than once, with each additional completion earning only an additional entry in the drawing. My daughter has already completed it, at least three times (I think she handed in the 4th last week, though I'm not sure).

This has reminded me why we don't bother with these programs. They are for motivating kids who are not motivated to read. They reward reading with junk food and cheap toys. I think this year was the first time the books offerings (for the children's program) had a book one of my kids wanted, and that's only because it included a Goosebumps. The YA doesn't even give a book as a reward. The expectations are way too low, especially for kids like mine. My son was rather proud of how quickly he completed his, but was upset he couldn't do it again. My daughter also seems proud of how many times she has completed hers. Unfortunately, that means they'll be asking to do it again next year. I really hope to convince them not to, since I just don't see it as being of value to them.

All About Spelling

We are currently using Level 3 of All About Spelling. I love this program. My son has Dyslexic issues, so a typical 'memorize a list of words and take a test' program won't work for him. I wanted a program that would teach the whys not just how to spell certain words. Learning the spelling rules is just so much more important than memorizing the spelling of certain words. I also like the fact that this program is multi-sensory. It is also a very incremental program. It really seems to cover everything. It focuses on the sounds of letters & blends, teaches spelling rules, and the exceptions. Normally, I'm not a fan of any curriculum that is 'scripted.' However, I don't mind it with this program. We don't use it exactly the way it says. We tweak it just a little to work for us.

Each day starts with review. We choose 10-20 cards to review from the Phonogram, Sound, and Key cards. We keep all the cards together, the ones from this level & the previous levels. We choose the cards for review at random. He chooses the cards (blindly) and how many (minimum of 10 cards). The lesson starts with the review of those cards.

Monday and Tuesday, we cover the 'New Teaching' concepts. We start with the words on either Tuesday or Wednesday, depending on how many words there are total, including the extra words for reinforcement. I split the words evenly, or close to it, over two or three days. When we do the words, we do them 3 ways. First, he spells them with tiles. Next, he writes them on the whiteboard. Finally, he finger spells them using ASL. Friday is our review day. He chooses a minimum of 10 word cards, from all the word cards so far (including those from previous levels). The lesson ends with dictation sentences. On Monday & Tuesday, he does 3 dictation sentences. Wednesday through Friday, he does 2 dictation sentences each. He writes the sentences on the whiteboard. I write them in his Spelling notebook, leaving a few lines beneath each. Then, he writes them under the ones I wrote. The point of my writing them is to show him an example of what they should look like. He is to put forth his best effort in writing the dictation sentences in his notebook.

So, here's how a typical week looks:

Monday:
Review
'New Teaching' concept(s)
3 Dictation Sentences

Tuesday:
Review
'New Teaching' concept
Possibly 1/3 of the words for the step
3 Dictation Sentences

Wednesday:
Review
Review of 'New Teaching' concepts from this step
1/3 or 1/2 of words
2 Dictations Sentences

Thursday:
Review
Review 'New Teaching' concepts from this step
Last of words
2 Dictation Sentences

Friday:
Review
Review 'New Teaching" concepts from this step
Review Word Banks, Syllable Division Rules, and/or other previously taught concepts
Review a minimum of 10 randomly chosen words from previous steps and/of levels
Final 2 Dictation Sentences

June Poet of the Month: Rilke

Our poet for June was Rainer Maria Rilke. I had hoped that we'd get to reading Letters to a Young Poet, as I think the kids would enjoy it. Sadly, we didn't get to it. We did read from a few books of his poems, though.

Possibility of Being
Rilke's Book of Hours

Spent the Day on the Computer

I mentioned before that we were giving hubby's old laptop to Jay, to use for school. We (well, hubby) had lost the power cord. Last week, we (I) found it. So, hubby spent some time this weekend cleaning everything out of it and doing all the necessary scans. I spent much of today getting it ready for Jay.

I have almost everything on it that I want on it. The only thing I can think of that I don't have on it yet, that I want on it, is Tell Me More Spanish. I can't put that on it yet, as the kids lost or broke the headset with mic (and I think you need that to set it up, definitely need it to use the program). So, I need to pick up a new set. I actually plan to get two new sets, one for each kid. Once I get it installed, there will be very little he will need to use the desktop for. Spanish is still optional for him at this point, anyway. So, it's not a big deal that I don't have that installed. If he decides to take up programming again, I might install Logo on it, as well.

I got TimezAttack installed, with the division, addition, and subtraction extensions. I got Alfred's Essentials in Music Theory installed, bu tit only works on the Admin sign-in, not on Jay's. Both kids will need to use the laptop for Music Theory, as the program doesn't work on the desktop. I created a Google account for our homeschool, so he could use it. I've tried before to set up one for him, but it said he's too young. I didn't want to just have him use mine, as I have many bookmarks that he doesn't need to mess around with (bills, shopping, etc.). So, I created one for our school & added dozens of links to it. I added all the links I planned for History & Science for this year. I added Khan Academy (he has fun with the practice problems), the free videos from Art of Problem Solving (he enjoys these), Alcumus (we're planning to sign him up closer to the end of this school year), online Math games, Geography games, other educational games, sites about things I know he's interested in, National Geographic, weather sites, and more. I think I got all the sites he'll need for school this year and quite a few extra. Once I've finished finding sites for next year & we're closer to the start of the next school year, I'll add those.

I also visited the Chrome Web Store and added some educational apps. Tomorrow, I'll show him all that's currently on his computer. He can hardly wait to use it. He asked me at least 7 times today if I was done setting it up. He'll use the laptop for his Writing assignments, all the internet use for school, Music Theory, eventually (hopefully) Spanish, and possibly computer programming. He'll use the desktop for fun. Dea uses her netbook for most school stuff. She'll use the laptop for Music Theory. She uses the desktop for Spanish, computer programming, and fun. That should mean that there are no more problems with scheduling use of the computer. That will make my life so much easier.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

My Top 10 Homeschool Must-Haves

I thought I'd do a list of the 10 things that are most important in our homeschooling. These are the things that I would not want to have to homeschool without, in no particular order.


Library Card: We've got a good home library, well over 1000 books at last count. However, our public library has 6 branches & almost 600,000 items in its collection, not counting downloadable resources. I could never afford to buy all the books we read for fun or the ones we use for school. That's not counting all the documentaries & educational shows we borrow from the library.

Internet: I really would not want to have to homeschool without the internet. So many of our resources are online. I do tons of research online for every topic & every subject. It allows me to search our library catalog, put stuff on hold, and see what needs to go back each week. It allows us to use Netflix streaming for some of our documentaries. It allows us to connect with people from all over the world, read/see news from all over the world, and find resources we wouldn't have access to otherwise.

Netflix: While we do get some educational shows & documentaries from our local public library, they do have a limited selection. Netflix provides us with so many more options between streaming & DVDs.

Rainbow Resource: They have better prices and a larger & better selection of curricula than I've found anywhere else. I buy most of our materials from here each year.

Home Science Tools: This is where I buy most of our Science lab supplies, as well as some of the Science-y stuff the kids want for use during free time/breaks.

Computers: Not only do I use the computer a lot for research and finding materials, but the kids use the computer daily for their schooling.

White Boards: We have several white boards. We use them for a lot of stuff, for many subjects. If we weren't using the white boards, we'd be using a lot more paper, which would be very expensive & bad for the environment.

Dictionary & Thesaurus: These should be part of every family's personal library. They are two reference books I would never give up.

Games: This includes card games, board games, strategy games, educational computer games (like TimezAttack), and all other games that we use for fun reinforcement, review, and practice related to our schooling.

Art/Craft Supplies: My kids are both very creative and use our many art/craft supplies, not just for Art class, but also in projects for school & to occupy their free time.

As you can see, there are no curricula listed. This is because there  are none that I have found that I could not do without. There are none that are irreplaceable. There are several that I adore, but I could do without, if needed.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Win a Kitchen Aid Mixer

I just entered to win a Kitchen Aid stand mixer from the Cooking Club of America on Facebook. If any of my awesome readers would also like to enter to win one, follow this link http://bit.ly/OCKWDf. By following this link, you not only enter yourself to win, but will also help me have a chance to win either a 2nd mixer or $350 Amazon gift card. Then, share with your friends for that extra chance for you too.

Personally, I have always loved Kitchen Aid mixers. I remember both my mom & grandma having them throughout my childhood. The one my grandma had lasted for many years. It was avocado green & had a glass bowl. After my grandma died, it got passed on to a family member, because it was still working just fine. It is a brand I really trust. I do currently have a Kitchen Aid mixer. If I win one I'll probably put it away for my daughter, so she'll have one when she moves out. Either that, or it will be a really nice Christmas present for someone. So, if you don't have one, or have a friend or family member who doesn't have one, enter to win one (or two)!

Medical Fun

So, two weeks ago, I went to my new gynecologist and they told me that my blood pressure was high. I had to go back two days later. At that visit, my blood pressure was again high (160 over something). I got my Depo shot & went home. In the middle of the night, I suddenly got light-headed and my vision went blurry. Of course, this is to be expected when your blood pressure is 192 over 124 (I shit you not, that is what it was when they took it at the ER). So, I woke up my husband & told him I should probably go to the ER, if he was willing to call into work & take me. He called into work, woke the kids, and took me to the hospital. I like to think my blood pressure is high simply because my heart is really strong & forceful when telling the blood where to go, but apparently the doctors disagree with this. I was diagnosed with Hypertension (surprise! I'll bet you didn't see that coming!) & put on medication for it. Then, I had to get a primary care physician, since I haven't had one for around a decade (I really try to avoid  doctors, as they always seem to find something wrong with me).This likely is the reason my Hypertension has gone unnoticed for no less than 3 years (as proved by ER records). So, I found a Dr and had my first appointment today.

My blood pressure was 160 over something, again. So, I was put on a second medication, because I am simply too awesome for a single medication to handle. We also discussed the fact that my husband is going to have a vasectomy, so that I can get off the Depo shots. They are the only birth control that has ever consistently prevented pregnancy (a fairly important thing in a birth control), but have caused some crappy side effects. One of the worst side effects is the weight. I have always struggled with my weight, but it has never been this bad. I eat healthy and try to exercise daily, yet I cannot lose weight (in fact have continued to gain it). After hearing about how I eat, the doctor said the only thing that I need to change is that I need to eat earlier in the day (I rarely eat breakfast, generally not eating until lunch or even dinner). She seems confident that if I get off the Depo shots & eat earlier in the day I will be able to lose the weight that I have struggled with so much over the last 8 1/2 years and get off the Hypertension meds.

I have to say that I like this doctor. She didn't doubt me when I told her that I eat healthy & already eat a low sodium diet. She didn't assume that my weight was entirely my fault, as others have done. She didn't treat me like a hypochondriac, as many have done. She treated me with respect, which is not something all doctors have done.

So, now I get to add Hypertension to the ever lengthening list of medical issues I get to deal with. Yipee! The more of these conditions that I get that are either rare or unusual in one at the age I developed it, the more I believe I should donate my body to Science. I truly believe I should be studied.

For the last few weeks, we've been taking it easy with Jay's schooling. My husband wanted me to stay as calm as possible. So, Jay has been doing some independent work, but no work with me. We will start back to normal schedule next week, unless my husband is adamant about waiting until my blood pressure is fully under control to start back to normal.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Relaxed Rigorous Homeschooling?

I know it might sound like a contradiction, but that is what I feel we are.

Our course of study is rigorous. The manner in which we study our subjects is rigorous. We do not skim over things, we study them in depth. I disagree with the mentality that the lower grades should only focus on the 3 R's. I disagree with the mentality that comprehension  in content subjects is irrelevant in the lower grades. I disagree with the mentality that formal education should be held off until age 8 or 10. I homeschool for academic reasons. I homeschool to give my children a rich, well-rounded, challenging academic experience. I don't believe that taking it easy, focusing only on the 3 R's, or delaying formal academics throughout the lower grades is the best way to accomplish my goals. So, I have a rigorous plan for each year. Starting in Kindergarten/1st grade, content subjects utilize a variety of resources ranging from grade level to adult level. We simply don't believe that they should be limited only to materials meant for children of their age. We enjoy using more challenging materials that assist in gaining more depth of knowledge &  understanding.

Our daily schedule, though, is rather relaxed. Yes, it is not uncommon for a school day to last 6 hours, and we have a basic outline of what we hope to accomplish each day. However, the kids move at their own pace. I do not set a specific number of hours for the day or set specific start & stop times for subjects. We do not have a strict schedule. I prefer the kids to have a decent amount of say in the day to day workings of our school, because they will one day take over all the day to day time management & organization. I prefer them to work at their own pace, because that will allow for maximum retention & enjoyment.

So, even though it sounds like a contradiction, our homeschooling is both rigorous & relaxed.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The More Things Change...

...the more planning I need to do. Yes, things are changing, again. By now, anyone who reads this blog (even occasionally) knows that things change fairly often around here.
 A day or two ago, I posted about some changes to Dea's courses for next year. Well, I'm changing one of those changes. The Geology will not be using the MIT OCW course we had intended, but will instead be using this resource. I also figured out what she'll be using for Accounting. The spine will be a College Accounting text we have. The main supplement will be an Accounting course from AOP, because it offers opportunities to use what she's learning by actually having to fill out ledgers,  journals, balance sheets, etc. & because of the business simulation it has. We will also be supplementing, as needed/wanted for more depth and/or different or further explanations, with this, this, and possibly this.

The other big change around here will be our entire schedule. I do mean entire schedule, not just our schooling schedule. My husband will be changing hours at work, though when that will happen is not yet known. This will require a complete change around here. We will be changing which meal is our large/family meal. We will be changing the schooling schedule. We will be changing how & when we run errands. I will lose most or all of my 'me' time.

So, I'm planning for all of these upcoming changes. The new schedule will take the most planning & the most getting used to. Hopefully, the transition will go smoothly.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Well, that sucks!

About a year or year & a half ago, we found out that we had free access to Universal Class.com through our public library. I signed up for a few classes, for fun. Dea used a few of their Writing classes as the Writing portion of her English. We had planned on using more of the Writing classes for her next school year, as well as using some of their classes as spines for Accounting, Geology, Government, and Economics. Well, it looks like that won't be happening. Today, we found out that either there was a time limit on how long we had access or our library has ended their subscription with UC. Either way, we no longer have the ability to take classes there for free. To purchase each pf those classes separately would cost us over $400. They do have memberships, which offer access to all classes for a year. Normally, it is $250, but they're offering membership for $189 for a limited time. I'd have to figure out how to fit that into a budget which has already been spent, though. Plus, I don't really feel that their classes are worth the money. They aren't rigorous or particularly challenging. Dea got 100% on an essay that was shorter than the minimum word limit listed for the assignment (and really, would that ever happen in ps or college? I know it wouldn't happen in my school). I just don't feel that they are high enough quality to justify paying for. The main reason we were using them was that we had free access.

So, that means that I need to re-plan all those courses. Most of them were easy to re-plan. This will be the spine for her Economics now. Government will now be done using a course at HippoCampus. For Geology, she will be doing an MIT OCW course.

I'm still looking for something for Accounting. Though what we bought as a supplement for Accounting is actually a full course, it is not rigorous or complete enough for my standards. So I would still like to find something else. If nothing else, I could use what we already have as the spine & find some online stuff to use as supplements. Actually, now that I think about it, we have a few Accounting text books, too. Maybe We'll use one of those as the spine & the program we bought as the supplement. I don't know exactly what we'll do for Accounting, but I'll figure it out.

Writing will be a problem, though. It's not a lack of materials. We have materials for Writing, though she pretty much claims to hate them all. The big problem is that she is overly sensitive to any comments I make on her writing. Having someone else grade/assess & critique her writing made everyone's lives easier. Unfortunately, there aren't exactly tons of free, online Writing classes that include instructor feedback. Many of the online Writing classes that I am finding are for short periods (very few are semester or year-long classes) and rather expensive. I don't think I've found a one year course for less than $400. I've found some 8 week classes for $100 & some for $150. I will not pay those prices for one portion of one subject.  So, we'll be using Put That in Writing level 1, using the accelerated schedule, and following that with How to Write Successfully in High School and College, since it focuses on essays, term papers, and outlines. I had already planned on assigning some essays & research papers, so those will stay in the plan.