We are headed into our fourth year of our Tapestry of Grace curriculum, which means we will have completed the cycle at the end of this year. (It also means this is my last year of all grammar level.) Last year, I felt like we really made Tapestry our own and found our rhythm, our stride. It felt good, like a fitted glove. Of course, when you end a year like that, it makes planning the next year exciting. I love the aspect of homeschooling where I trouble-shoot and research and find our answers, but the Lord knew I would be doing that in several other areas of our life; so homeschooling was off the hook. No massive revamping this year. With that said, preparing Tapestry for this year went really smoothly.
In summary, I love manilla folders. I keep 36 folders for our weekly “must-do” assignments like language and math and Latin. Then I keep a second set of folders for Tapestry that are labeled by Term (we do three 12 week terms) and by topic (I don’t cover everything; instead, I select the events and topics that will best suit my learners). All of our reading lists, media lists, and project papers are printed off and filed in these topic folders.
So here’s what it looks like. At the beginning of a week, I pull out two folders: the week we are in and the topic we are studying. Within the weekly folder, I pull out assignment pages and file into the kids’ daily pockets inside their binders (we use case-it binders with the accordion file inside). Within the topic folder, I look at my list all of the books and projects assigned for that topic and the number of weeks that I’ve guessed it will take us to complete (i.e. Titanic, 2 weeks). I then allocate those assignments that will fit with our week’s schedule. Last year, this method cut my weekly prep to about 30 to 45 minutes total! Both kids filed and ready to go in around a half hour. It was beautiful.
Tapestry’s reading lists are copyrighted, so I can’t share the specific book titles that we are using. However, I will list a couple of other resources I use to compare and substitute book titles. SimplyCharlotteMason.com has a book finder feature that I love. Just type in the event or person you are studying, the reading level of your students, and a great list of engaging living books is listed for you. My second resource is my local library online catalogue search feature. Again, I type in the event or person, narrow it to children’s resources, and voila! I love my local library. It has an enormous selection.
I also use SimplyCharlotteMason’s Story of America and Story of the Nations ebooks as my core. These are not Tapestry titles, but the table of contents make it very easy to assign chapters that fit what we are covering. And the books are very engaging. We love them.
I select my favorites. Depending on how long we intend to study a topic, for each week I will select one to two read-aloud titles, one to two independent reading titles per child (depending on the length of the book), and the rest will be assigned merely as reference, as in “let’s look at more pictures.”
I love audios. Awhile back I scored Diana Waring’s history audio from Answers in Genesis‘ history program. We love listening to these on the way back and forth to karate and co-op. So, on the days we don’t get to our reading, we are still getting to our history. And this is another very engaging resource.
Netflix is also a resource where I search for related films to what we are studying. We don’t always get to this, but it is great for those off-days or sick days to already have this list compiled.
Homeschool in the Woods is not a Tapestry resource either, but we LOVE these projects. I use the Time Traveler activities. We make notebooking pages using both the notebooking and lapbooking project ideas. Especially since my kids are finally old enough to do their own cutting and pasting, these have been really fun activities to assign. They work on these while I read-aloud. It keeps their fingers busy but doesn’t distract them from the reading.
I generally choose the projects that fit what we are studying, our time-frame, and my kids’ interests. I spend one long afternoon printing all of my chosen activities and filing into my topic folders. This saves me so much time during the school year.
I also have the Draw Through History titles. My son loves to draw; my daughter loves to trace. And it gives them some ideas for drawing and enhancing their notebook with images of what we are studying.
I mentioned that I note about how many weeks I think a topic will take us. Last year, this was very fluid. We moved on when our books were read and our projects were done. And I found that in the end, things balanced out. Some topics took longer than I estimated, and some topics didn’t take as long. If we read everything in a week, we moved on. If it took us five weeks, because of interest or illness, we took our time and enjoyed it all. Sometimes, it was just a dud, and rather than struggle through 3 more weeks of something we were not enjoying, we covered the basics and moved on.
I’m also sensitive to my kids’ reading interests. There were some books that my son just hated, and while I realize that not all learning can be interest-driven, I think at the younger levels, reading should be. Occasionally, I’d make a call that he just needed to get through a book. But if I made that call, I ensured that I had a very tantalizing book as a reward when he finished. There were books we didn’t read cover-to-cover. (Pause for you to gasp in horror.) We survived, and were no worse for that decision.
In spite of all that flexibility, I was amazed by how much my kids retained and learned. A little went a really long way.
What about discipline and teaching kids to push through the difficult stuff? I split my subjects into two categories: our discipline subjects like math, grammar, spelling; and our inspiration subjects like history, science, and reading. This helped me define my objectives. My discipline subjects were challenging but in short spurts (no more than 15-20 min. per lesson/subject). My inspiration subjects were kept inspiring and interesting and often took closer to an hour or hour and a half (hands-on projects take awhile). But again, I watched my kiddos. If they were engaged, we took our time. If their eyes were glossing over, it was time for lunch.
Children love to tell stories. My day is filled with little voices narrating what happened in the bedroom upstairs, what happened in the backyard, and what happened just 2 minutes ago at the table right in front of me.
Even Littlest has started this. The other day, he threw a piece of trash into a receptacle with a revolving lid. At the angle he was standing at, he got smacked in the head with the lid as he pushed down on it. I saw it happen, yet he turns to me and tells me exactly what I saw. “Da’ tash bonked ma head,” he said. He’s learning language by using it, by putting the events of his day into words.
That’s what narration is. It’s teaching knowledge and language through retelling, challenging the child to put his thoughts into spoken words. But because it’s spoken, he’s learning this skill without having the added worry of how to spell and punctuate those thoughts, at least not yet.
I mentioned before that Oldest has been a little hesitant to make the switch to narration. I know it’s a different thought-process than what he’s used to (regurgitating the right answers to my questions), so I’ve been patient with his transition. I’ve also seen, when he has been less self-conscious, what an enthusiastic narrator he is. Example:
“There was a fire [insert sound effect]. And the flames went up like [another sound effect]. The animals all ran away [he hops across my floor like a rabbit, screaming, ‘AHH!’].”
So here are some practical things I’m trying to make the transition smoother and to make narration more varied and appealing.
Draw pictures. This was our very first alternative when telling the story was simply too overwhelming at first. After I finished our reading, they chose a scene they remembered and illustrated it.
Act it out. Middlest sparked the whole idea when she suggested we make our own paddle boats to go along with the Paddle to the Sea audio-story we were listening to. The kids made their canoes, and then each day, they acted out the part of the story we’d just listened to. It was a huge turning point for Oldest, and their narrations were very detailed and enthusiastic. (See the example above!)
You Pick. One of the free resources at SimplyCharlotteMason.com is a narration bookmark, which includes a myriad of ideas for how to ask for narrations from your child. I printed off these bookmarks and gave one to Oldest to use in his independent reading. Then, I allowed him to read his bookmark and choose how he wanted to narrate his reading to me after he’d finished it on his own. Not only was it great accountability, allowing me to double-check that he’d read and comprehended, but he was much more willing when he had a choice in the matter.
How do I ask for a narration? Well, I’m still learning, and that bookmark has helped me quite a bit, too. But when I ask for a retelling, I try to do one of two things. First, chapter titles can be very helpful. If the chapter title is “Night in the Settlement,” then I ask “Describe what the first night at the settlement was like.” Another idea I’ve used is to reread the first couple of sentences (after I read the selection) and then pause and wait for them to continue the story.
One more idea I found simply hilarious and can’t wait to try was from one of Catherine Levison’s books. She said that when her children hesitated and resisted narrating, she’d say, “I guess our story was about a pink rabbit that met an elephant.” And her kids would rush to correct her.
One last thought here. I have not required Middlest to narrate. Sometimes after Oldest is finished I will ask her if she has something to add, but that’s usually because I can see her squirming with excitement about to burst with what she has to add.
This has been a very fun journey for all of us, including Oldest. And in just 3 weeks, I have seen both of their narrations and the details they include improve tremendously.
Being a former English and writing instructor, I have had a difficult time finding a grammar program that fits my expectations, especially for introductory (i.e. 2nd grade) grammar. I have very definite opinions about how I want to teach it and what I think it should include.
After an exhaustive search this summer, I feel like I’ve found the perfect blend of activities for our grammar intro.
Logic of English Essentials
Essentials is the program I am using with Oldest for his phonics and spelling, and it also integrates grammar into the lessons. The grammar is taught from his spelling words, which I love! He learns parts of speech, uses his spelling words to form dictation or copywork exercises, and labels those phrases with the parts of speech. Essentials is not the most colorful program I’ve seen, but I love its thoroughness.
I happen to have this program because my mom saved it from the days when my sister and I were homeschooled. While I am not using this program in its entirety right now, I have loved using some elements of it as we learn grammar in our Essentials. For instance, the parts of speech cards are a fun kinesthetic way to label the parts of speech. (Don’t own Winston Grammar cards? You could always make your own.)
Tapestry of Grace
This is our core curriculum for the humanities. It incorporates some basic grammar and progressive writing activities that tie in with our history studies. Though I wasn’t comfortable using the Tapestry “Writing Aids” as our only grammar, I have loved using the ideas to supplement what we are doing. One of the activities, for instance, is to make a word bank. Each part of speech has a card it’s own color, but Oldest gets to choose the word to write on that part of speech card. For example, Oldest is working on nouns for his word bank right now. We are using red index cards, and he gets to think of the nouns to write on each card. Most of these nouns are coming from our history or his own reading: knights, dragons, King Arthur, sword, hero, rain, dog, etc.
I’ve been excited not only about what he is learning but how much fun he’s having learning it. He’s not just filling out a worksheet; he’s finding grammar in his everyday. What could be better than that!
I’ve grown up with phonics all my life—learned it, used it, taught it, explored variations of it. And yet, I have absolutely been blown away by the Logic of English phonics.
I received the Essentials Teacher Manual, one Essentials cursive student workbook, and one set of Basic Phonograms flashcards to review with my children. And every time I open the book I have a new epiphany. This program is hands-down amazing.
“The Logic of English Essentials curriculum includes 40 lessons, introducing 74 Basic Phonograms and 30 Spelling Rules. While the spelling list includes 480 of the most frequently used words, students learn thousands of additional words with the lessons as they learn how to write compound words and add prefixes and suffixes to form derivatives.”~ from the website
In other words, this program is very comprehensive and thorough while breaking the concepts down into easy-to-handle lessons. It’s phonics, spelling, and grammar all in one.
The lessons are not intended to be completed all in one day. Rather, you can take as much or as little time as your student needs to master the material. Each lesson is divided into three parts: phonics, spelling, and grammar. While the program is intended for older students and adults, there are plenty of helps and suggestions for younger students.
For the last few weeks, I’ve been working through the Essentials program in two different ways. Middlest is working on the material through the Intro of the book before Lesson 1. We’ve been working on phonemic awareness activities and phonograms. Oldest has been working through the complete program, taking roughly 10 days to finish a lesson (working 15-20 minutes a day).
Unique features of curriculum:
The most obvious is that it really explains and makes sense of the language. The curriculum claims that 98% of all the English “exceptions” can be explained with phonics; and I’m now convinced that’s true. Her approach to phonics is very logical and progresses steadily, eliminating nearly all of the traditional “sight words.”
This program has suggested activities that appeal to all modes of learning. A lot of curriculums claim that, but this particular curriculum makes it easy to see and choose the activities that fit your child. Even the layout of this curriculum makes sense! Activities are coded for each learning style.
The program blends phonics, spelling, and grammar into each lesson. The phonograms are incorporated into the spelling list, the spelling words are incorporated into the grammar lesson, and the spelling and grammar is solidified with simple dictation and composition activities at the end of the lesson.
This program is intended to be user-friendly for any age, young to adult. There are plenty of kid-friendly activities, but the curriculum and the material would not be insulting to an older student or adult. The author has provided sample schedules for dividing the lessons into daily assignments based on the age of your student.
The author Denise Eide, in her video presentations, describes readers as either intuitive or logical. Intuitive readers have a feel for language, and usually do not struggle when presented with an exception or variation on a rule. Logical readers, however, need all the information up front and struggle considerably when a word does not follow a memorized rule.
I am learning this first-hand. My son was definitely an intuitive reader; he could easily read words and phonograms we hadn’t even covered yet. He had a “feel” for language. My daughter, on the other hand, is apparently a logical learner. She struggles with exceptions, and I long gave up trying to teach her any sight words.
How has this curriculum worked for both of my learners? My son’s spelling frustrations have turned to absolute delight as he explores and understands the language, and my daughter has absolutely flourished.
Here’s a break-down of a daily lesson in Essentials.
The phonograms lessons are a mix of drill and experiencing the sounds. In other words, the student is allowed to really understand what the sound is doing and why. Vowels are the sounds we can sing or sustain, the sounds that can be made louder and softer. For instance, I asked my daughter if she would be able to yell /b/ or /m/ from across the yard and have me hear her inside the house. No, of course not. But if she yelled /a/, I would definitely hear her (and often do, I might add).
This experiencing the sounds has been phenomenal with both of the kids. We talk about what part of our mouth is actually making the sound (tip of the tongue, back of the tongue, teeth, or lips) and whether the sound is voiced or unvoiced (s and z; b and p, for instance). We’ve even gotten a mirror and looked to see what our mouths are doing. It has really helped her with some of the tough-to-tell-apart sounds like e and i.
There is also a terrific emphasis on phonemic awareness, a concept I really knew very little about before we began this program. I always thought that phonemic awareness had to do with “reading readiness” and whether your child was interested in reading. But these exercises really help a child to understand how to break a word into its individual sounds and how to “glue” those sounds back together. Game ideas include variations on “I Spy” and “Charades” and more.
Doing these exercises has solved a lot of the reading issues I was having with Middlest, like random guessing at words rather than sounding them out. What I thought was a personality conflict between the two of us was actually a gap in her learning! And she has loved our time together with these game and activity ideas.
In addition to drilling the flashcards (or we often used their Phonics with Phonograms app), the student is given several suggested kinesthetic and auditory activities to reinforce those sounds.
Here’s where I could park for a long time. The method for teaching spelling is like nothing I’ve ever seen. I love it!
The spelling words provided, about 15 for each lesson, follow both the phonograms and the spelling rules introduced within the lesson. In other words, not only are the phonograms taught to help the student read the sounds, but spelling rules are also taught in the same lesson to help the child know when to use those sounds in writing and spelling.
The student is taught how to think through the sounds in a word before he attempts to spell it. “How many syllables?” “Let’s sound out each syllable.” You then coach your student through the phonograms and the letters that make those sounds, having him mark the word as he spells it.
The student book provides a place for the words to be written, a page that is similar to his own dictionary page. The student writes the word by syllables on the blanks provided. Then, throughout the lessons, he refers back to this page to add more information: the part of speech, the plural spelling, and the past tense spelling of the word.
There are also suggested activities for making spelling cards on 3×5 cards that can be used in the grammar lesson. We did both of these activities on different days during the week. As my son becomes more comfortable with the process, I could easily assign him to do his spelling cards independently after we have done the list together.
As in the phonics approach, the spelling rules are both drilled and explored. In other words, there is a flashcard for the rule that you will review and require the student to learn. However, the exercises are geared toward exploring the rule and learning how and why it works. For instance, several similar words will be shown, and as the student studies the words, you help him to see the similarities in those words. (Deck, duck, stick, lick—”CK is used only after a single vowel which says its short sound.”) Then, several suggested games and activities allow him to think of his own words that follow the rule.
One area where my son has really struggled this year is understanding when and how to add suffixes. A terrific feature of this program is that in addition to learned rules, there is also a flowchart that allows a student to ask questions and logically follow a process for deciding how the word should change.
The rules are very thorough and can, in some instances, tend to be complicated. But the combination of both memorizing and exploring the rules through a variety of activities helps to make even the more complicated ideas memorable.
There are both spelling rule and grammar rule flashcards available for purchase. However, we made our own to fit our 3×5 card system.
The spelling words are further taught within the grammar lesson, so I will continue explaining that process below.
Within each lesson, one or more grammar concepts are introduced. For instance, in Lesson 1 the concept of both nouns and singular/plural were introduced. Again, I loved how the spelling words were the foundation for this lesson.
The student is asked to find the words in his list that are nouns, label them on his spelling list, and/or draw a red box around them on the spelling cards. Another suggested activity was to allow the student to illustrate the nouns in his list. Then, an exercise in the student workbook had him spell both the singular and plural form of the spelling words using the grammar rule that had been given.
To me this was priceless. The student is not simply memorizing a list of words but actively using those words in their different variations.
Other activities include creating phrases by combining words from the spelling list, either by dictation or by copying phrases made with the spelling cards, providing opportunity for both copywork and dictation depending on the your child’s level of ability.
The grammar rules introduced in the next lessons not only apply to the current list for that lesson but also refer back to previous lessons. For example, in Lesson Two, adjectives are introduced. The student labels adjectives in both List 2 and List 1. Everything in this program builds logically and smoothly.
The program does not come with tests and quizzes per se, but assessments are worked into the curriculum every fifth lesson. Even this, however, really reflected the teacher’s heart that the author has. Her assessments require the student to show not just that he can repeat a drilled list of words but that he can use those words in various forms; and built within the assessments are lots of additional activities to reinforce trouble spots.
You are not simply drilling and testing. You are teaching and assessing and teaching some more.
On the Logic of English blog, Denise has also provided alternate lessons, either to add more challenging words or to help a student who might need a little more practice with a particular rule. Again, to me this really reflects her heart for those using her material. She has a passion for helping students understand the language.
Logic of English Essentials curriculum makes sense, in every way! From the phonograms and rules to the layout and teaching methods. Your child will never again complain that English is a language that doesn’t follow the rules.
Is there anything I didn’t like? Not really, but there are a few points that might be an issue for some.
There is not an easy way to go back to lesson material for reference. There is no index, and the table of contents provides only the lesson number. When trying to find information, I instead went to the website to the teacher training video which provided page numbers for the teacher manual.
There are no readers that accompany the Essentials curriculum. This would be one reason why I would hesitate to recommend this for younger beginning readers; reading practice is limited. For those first-time readers and pre-readers, I would recommend investigating the Foundations curriculum that Logic of English is currently working on.
This is a curriculum that will require teacher involvement, particularly with younger students. That said, the lessons are well scripted for the teacher; and as the teacher and student become familiar with the process, there are opportunities for the student to work independently. The lessons also allow the teacher to customize how long the lesson will last each day and over how many days the lesson will continue.
Bottom line, I love this program. I was impressed by the website and videos and have been equally impressed by the curriculum. I have learned a ton, and I’ve been surrounded by phonics my whole life!
In fact, I love this program so much that I am discontinuing our current program (phonics, language, and spelling) with Oldest and switching him to this next fall. And I’m seriously considering switching Middlest to the Foundations curriculum, geared for the younger students, when it prints. (That’s saying a lot, folks, since I have a very long-standing relationship with our current program.)
Want to see more? The Logic of English website provides great samples of both the teacher manual and the student workbook (available in cursive or manuscript) as well as a video tour of the lessons. Also, the teacher training videos available for free on her website give you a very comprehensive look at the program’s approach to both phonics and spelling.
Whether you are looking for a spelling/language program for your young reader, a remedial program for your older reader, or a literacy program for adults, Essentials is a fantastic solution. And if you are needing a curriculum for your beginning or emerging reader, be sure to investigate the Logic of English’s new Foundations program.
Disclaimer: I received these materials for free for the purpose of review. I was not paid or compensated for a positive review, and all the opinions in this post are my own.
It’s been awhile since I’ve gone over our core subjects (reading, math, etc.) and shared what we are doing and how that is going. So I thought, over the next few posts, I’d give you a tour beginning with Oldest who is in first grade this year.
A Beka has been my go-to for reading, math, spelling, and handwriting for him this year. And for those of you who were along for the ride through all of our math frustrations last year, this year has gone incredibly smoothly so far.
Phonics: Oldest is using Letters and Sounds 1 for his phonics workbook. He works one side of a page each day on his own, learns a new flashcard phonics sound each day, and reviews his other sounds. Together, we go over the lesson for that day from the curriculum, and I have been following the curriculum more closely this year than last year, though I still don’t follow it to the letter. It does let me know when (and how) to teach syllables, homonyms, and alphabetical order. We also take a test once a week over his phonics and spelling. He spends 10 min. on his worksheet and 15 min. max on his flashcards; together, we probably spend 30 min. on reading and language concepts.
For his reading, I have mix of things I do. First, I have him read any related Bible work that fits in with our Tapestry history lessons. He reads out of the Seek and Find Bible, which has been perfect for his level of reading and understanding. Then, I’ll have him read any books from our Tapestry reading list that are on his level. If there aren’t any, then he will either read a library book (we’ve loved the Billy and Blaze series of books, and I throw in a few science-themed books here, too), or he’ll read from his A Beka first grade reader.
Spelling: We’ve used the A Beka Spelling and Poetry 1 book for this. He has largely tackled these lists on his own this year, while I supervise to make sure he is learning his list with the exercises provided in the book. If I test him and he did not learn the words on his own (which has only happened once this year with the “ight” and “ite” words, a tough list for him), then I take an extra week on the list and go over it with him everyday. Not only does this free me up a little bit, but it’s teaching him some independence; he’s learning to learn without my help.
Handwriting: He spends a total of 10 min. a day on this and works from two resources. First, he’s learning cursive this year out of the K4 book (shh! don’t tell him it’s K4) that I purchased his K4 year and then scrapped because it was too difficult for his motor skills at the time. He does one side of a page each day and will finish the whole alphabet any day now! I’ve also had him do some copywork from the Primary Arts of Language program that I reviewed earlier this year.
Arithmetic: I have really found A Beka to be much more consistent and enjoyable this year compared to last year. Everyday the amount of work is the same, and it allows us to keep a regular pace that seems much more realistic than last year. Each day he does one side of a page on his own (about 10 min. of work) and one side of a page with me during our “together” time. Together, we go over his flashcards, review and cover new concepts following the daily curriculum, take a speed drill (a timed math quiz), and complete his math work page. Depending on the day, this will take us 30 min. to 45 min. He also does Reflex, which I am still extremely impressed with. Not only does he still love this program, but I think it is also a key reason why math has not been the nightmare it was last year. I highly recommend this.
How do I organize his work pages? I have pocket dividers in a 3-ring binder with the days of the week marked on the divider. At the beginning of the week, I pull his pages for every subject out of his workbooks and file them into these dividers. I also place new flashcards in these pockets. We call these his “pocket pages,” and he starts each day with 30 min. to complete all of his independent work pages (10 min. for phonics, 10 min. for math, and 10 min. for handwriting). Later in the day, he has an additional 30 min. to review flashcards for phonics and history and to go over his spelling list.
*I want to mention one more thing here. He is not on the same lesson in every subject, which I’m totally okay with. He whizzes through all things reading and phonics; it’s his strength. Because of that, we actually began first grade phonics in March/April of last year. He is on lesson 104 in phonics as I write this. Math took us awhile to finish up because I didn’t move on until I knew he understood the lesson. Thus, we finished kindergarten math in August of last year. So that means, that we are on lesson 83 in arithmetic. Because I have done the same thing with spelling, taking the time we need for him to actually learn the words, we are on list 17, not the list that the curriculum says we should be doing. For me, the curriculum is a guide not a tyrant. I use it to help me stay on track, but I don’t let it dictate where we must be.*
And that’s our first grade tour of the core subjects. If you ever have questions, please feel free to email me. There is a link under my bio in the right sidebar. I’d love to hear from you!
What do you love to use for teaching the core subjects?
There are two items in our homeschool that are always the envy of our school room: the wipeboard and the chalkboard. I’m not sure what it is, but any lesson done on one of these boards is suddenly spectacular. Knowing this, I take advantage of it whenever I can, skipping the worksheets and bringing out the chalk (or dry erase markers).
When the oldest had a language lesson on compound words, we brought out the chalkboard and colored chalk. I wrote a few examples on the board, did a couple together, then had him divide the word into its two parts on his own.
But then, if he gets a chalkboard lesson, Middlest is begging to use the chalkboard, too.
Middlest is beginning to sound out short vowel words. Because she has been singing her blends for nearly a year now, ever since her older brother started, she’s learning blends super fast. I’ve got her on a relaxed pace of one new blend each week, but she is usually reading that blend (without having to sound it out) by the second day. To add a little bit of a challenge, I’m starting to give her short vowel words to work on. Sometimes we do these lessons on our felt board; other times, I bring out the chalk.
Typically, I’ll write the blend first and have her read it or sound it out. Then, I’ll had a final letter to make a word. For instance, be then bed; to then tot; da then dad; li then lip; etc. She loves this game.
I love that they both love learning; and one of these beautiful days, I’m going to take our chalk lessons outside to the sidewalk. If compound words on a chalkboard is fun, how much more fun to work on them with sidewalk chalk in the driveway!
What items add excitement to your homeschool lessons?