Ditching What Doesn’t Work and Finding What Does

When we began our first-grade spelling lessons last year, it took me a little while to figure out that what we were doing wasn’t working for my daughter. Did she protest when I brought out her spelling book? No. Did she drag her heels and take forever to complete her work? No. Was she enjoying her lessons? Yes, she was. So what could possibly be the problem? While I want my children to enjoy their learning, a smiling face isn’t always the best indication of a successful learning experience. You see, learning has to actually happen!

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When choosing and planning our studies, I always consult my trusty copy of The Well Trained Mind. I’ve already mentioned that I love this book and it has greatly influenced my educational philosophy and material selection. I lean heavily toward the classical camp of homeschooling, but I also appreciate many of the other approaches especially Charlotte Mason.  Anyways, I think that the WTM really misses the boat on this one. My copy, the newest edition available, recommends Spelling Workout.  The problem we had using Spelling Workout was that there didn’t appear to be much rhyme or reason to how it was teaching spelling. And that it wasn’t really TEACHING anything actually. It seems to be your standard workbook and might work well for some kids who are already good spellers. But it failed to teach my daughter ANY spelling rules and suffice it to say that my daughter had zero retention of any of the material covered. I would hazard a guess that if the WTM is ever revised a fourth time it will recommend All About Spelling.

I must say that I was totally wrong in believing that a child who reads well, loves books and is exposed to quality literature will automatically spell well.

So after our SWO flop last winter, I started looking into other options. There is a lot of buzz in homeschool circles about All About Spelling. Everywhere I looked people were recommending it and All About Learning Press’ reading curriculum All About Reading.  I hesitated in purchasing the curriculum though, for two reasons: the first being that I had never seen or handled the curriculum myself; and second that it is a very costly program. Spelling Workout A can be purchased for $18, and each subsequent workbook is approximately the same cost. To get started with AAS in comparison, you need to plunk down $29 for a starter kit and then $38 for Level 1. Subsequent levels are in the ballpark of $50 each! And then you have to factor in shipping from a curriculum supplier as it is not available on Amazon.

So I spent the winter trying to do spelling on my own. I have zero knowledge of spelling rules and am myself not a great speller. There are graded spelling lists available online, and these I taught in the method commonly in use in public schools (according to a friend who is both a parent of young elementary children and a public school teacher). At the start of the week, I would do a pretest. My daughter would get approximately 5-7 out of 10 words correct. On day two she would copy the words. On day three she would alphabetize the list. On day four she would build the words with letter tiles. I was trying to add some multi-sensory experience to our learning a la AAS 😉 I used these tiles. On the final day, I would re-test her. And this is where it got interesting – she would get the same or almost the same score as she had on the first day BUT SHE DIDN’T ALWAYS SPELL THE SAME WORDS WRONG! She was often spelling words incorrectly that she had previously gotten right. And vice versa.

So after several months, we quit spelling altogether and I just kept thinking about AAS.

This fall I had the opportunity to purchase the AAS Basic Interactive Kit (starter kit) and Level 1 used. So I jumped on it and we have been enjoying it. And most importantly, my daughter is LEARNING from it. So am I, and that my friends, is what this learning mama is all about! We have cruised through Level 1 which I think is about a first-grade level, and are one lesson away from being finished. So without further ado, I will show you how we have been using our All About Spelling Level 1:

Ditching What Doesn't Work and Finding What Does - Our experience switching to AAS from Spelling Workout. www.learningmama.com
We begin with REVIEW

We begin each lesson by reviewing our Phonogram Cards, Sound Cards, and Key Cards. Then we review 10 spelling words from our cards in the “mastered” section. I try to shuffle them well so there is a good mix of all the recent rules we have learned.

Ditching What Doesn't Work and Finding What Does - Our experience switching to AAS from Spelling Workout. www.learningmama.com
Pleased with her hard work!
Ditching What Isn't Working and Finding What Does - our experience switching from Spelling Workout to All About Spelling www.learningmama.com
First step of learning a new concept – using the letter tiles to build the words

Next, I demonstrate the new teaching using the letter tiles. The letter tiles are really great – read all about why they are so great on the All About Learning Press Blog. Then my daughter practices a few words using the tiles. The instructor’s guide specifies that the student is to spell all 10 words in the list using the tiles before moving on to writing them by hand. Since my daughter is finding the words really easy and doesn’t like using the tiles very much, I allow her to move along quite quickly to writing. She loves the dry erase markers!

Ditching What Doesn't Work and Finding What Does - Our experience switching to AAS from Spelling Workout. www.learningmama.com
After learning the new concept using the tiles, we practice with the markers. Today we learned to make words plural by adding s or es. Here she is erasing the e she added in error to the word “truck”.

The last step in each lesson is dictation. At this point I dictate to her a few of the phrases, she repeats it back to me and then writes them down. This is working really well for her as we have just begun dictation in both our writing and grammar programs. Ditching What Doesn't Work and Finding What Does - Our experience switching to AAS from Spelling Workout. www.learningmama.com And when we are all done, my daughter enjoys making a picture out of the words! She decorates the board to her heart’s content and then little sister has the fun of erasing the whole thing.Ditching What Doesn't Work and Finding What Does - Our experience switching to AAS from Spelling Workout. www.learningmama.com And just in time, look what came in the mail this week! Level 2 &  3 which I ordered from The Learning House:Ditching What Doesn't Work and Finding What Does - Our experience switching to AAS from Spelling Workout. www.learningmama.com Ditching What Doesn't Work and Finding What Does - Our experience switching to AAS from Spelling Workout. www.learningmama.com Here is the whole Level 2, complete with all the cards I get to separate and assemble into my review box. I didn’t get to do that last time as the previous owner had done it for me. My daughter is curious what the “jail” is for. Is it for words she keeps spelling wrong? Or is for words that break the spelling rules? We will soon find out!

And it is worth noting that this curriculum is quite popular and holds it’s value well so I should be able to resell it when we are done. It is almost completely non-consumable as well, with the exception of the progress charts and certificates, which we don’t use anyway. So the cost of the program will be spread out between my three girls.  I would have had to re-purchase SWO workbooks for each child, so in the end, this one might actually be cheaper, and re-sellable!

Update:  I’ve now been using AAS for several years and am midway through Level 4 with my oldest (fourth grade) and preparing to start my first grader. It’s an excellent program — and it is now included in the recommended resources for the fourth edition of The Well-Trained Mind.

It’s All Fun and Games…

Along with my “second grader” I am also “schooling” an active 4 year old.  If we were public schooling, she would have started JK this fall which is now full day, every day school. But that’s not how we roll around here 😉

At the beginning of September, this fun loving, free spirited gal could only identify a handful of letters of the alphabet. In contrast, her big sis at this age new all of her letters and “what they say”.  I wasn’t exactly worried, but I did feel a little uncertain. I felt a little guilt that this sweet gal of mine doesn’t get near the amount of attention and one on one time that big sister did. She didn’t get half the read aloud time. To my dismay, she often gets just one little story from Mama a day. Big sister has loved books from birth and we read HOURS a day. So I was wondering if this slower start to reading and less voracious appetite for books was due to my neglect or if it is just a difference in development or preference.

I am so pleased however, and encouraged, that within the span of 3 short months my little gal has almost perfected letter recognition and sounds!  Did we start a phonics program? Buy some boxed curriculum? Nope!  All that has changed in our day to day around here is once a week she helps me give baby sister a bath while big sister is at  piano lessons. And while baby splashes to her heart’s content, she plays with the foam alphabet letters putting them into alphabetical order and telling me what sounds they make. She also watches Leap Frog Letter Factory while I put baby sister to bed. Ahem. Carry on.

So what do we do for preschool around here?

Not much.  When Big Sister was preschool age we were reading A LOT. I used booklists from Ambleside online, Sonlight and Five in a Row/Before Five in a Row. We spent hours a day reading. Once she had her letter sounds all figured out, we started in with Bob Books, but that’s as intense as it got. My current preschooler is not getting all that attention from Mommy due to my needing to work with her older sister and take care of her ever wakeful baby sister. Although she would love nothing more than to play all day (which would be OK with me) she doesn’t like being alone so she joins her big sister at the table for all of her school time. We call this “Table Time”. Here she works on worksheets, makes puzzles, colours, plays with play-dough, or uses some of the lovely learning kits/busy bags I have put together using the help of Pinterest.

Don’t you just love Pinterest?!

 

preschool learningHere are the links to the preschool/kinder booklists we have used. I continue to use the Classical Education Loop’s list of 1000 Good Books for my second grader as well as the books listed in the Ambleside online curriculum:

 Five in a Row

Before Five in a Row

Sonlight PreK 

Sonlight Kindergarten: 

Classical Education Support Loop’s List of Good Books:  

Ambleside Online Year 0

 

Also invaluable resources for helping you find good quality literature for your children are the following books:

Honey for a Child’s Heart By Gladys Hunt.

The Read Aloud Handbook   By Jim Trelease

What to Read When By Pam Allyn

“Mom, can we do History?”

We’ve just begun the second volume of Susan Wise Bauer’s Story of the World. My original plan was to complete one volume each year. We would begin in first grade and make our way through history from the ancients all the way to our current times in a four year cycle as out lined in The Well Trained Mind (I love that book!). SOTW however, is 42 chapters long, and with a move, a pregnancy and a new baby all during the “school year” we didn’t complete it until just before Christmas. And we school year round.  So while we will be studying history in chronological order, I doubt we will cover it in 4 years. At this rate, it will be more like 6 years! History is the most favoured subject around here though, so we don’t want to miss a thing.

Story of the World is really a great curriculum – it can be as simple or in depth as you want it to be depending on the age, maturity or interest of your students. For a very simple, story based approach, the text could be read chapter by chapter.  We typically read one chapter a week and complete the review questions section by section. Then my daughter narrates each section to me as I write it down, and then she illustrates it. The activity book also presents so many options to take your learning to deeper levels. To continue with a simply book/literature based approach, the activity guide provides extensive book lists for further historical or literature reading.  To incorporate geography, use the maps and mapwork provided. There are also numerous colouring pages to give little hands something to do while you read the chapters or the supplemental reading listed. For fun, and to help the children “experience” history, there are also numerous activity suggestions some of which require special supplies (such as building clay tablets, making your own papyrus or mummifying a chicken) or everyday things you already have (building a pyramid out of legos). There are even recipes and costume suggestions so your family can experience an African/Indian/Monk’s feast.  I must confess I haven’t done any of the more exciting suggestions due to my own laziness.

This year I purchased the recommended colouring book A Coloring Book of the Middle Ages which I think will be well received by my girls. I also bought The Usborne Encyclopedia of World History  (internet linked) which I wish I had last year when we were doing the ancients.  We’ve already used some of the links and my oldest has really enjoyed the online history crossword puzzles listed there.

A final addition to our SOTW history studies this year is the lapbook I found online. Lapbooks for all four volumes are available from the blog Carrot Top x 3  It doesn’t require very much work on the part of my second grader, but it will give her something to cut, colour and glue while I’m doing read alouds.

We are really looking forward to learning all about the middle ages this year using the above mentioned resources, and I’ll be sure to post updates and pictures of our learning as we go along!

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Story of the World – Volume 2: The Middle Ages 

 

Favorite Curriculum 2016
 

Back in the Groove!

I love our boring ordinary life!  We took two full weeks off for the holidays this year and I’m glad to say that our first week back to the “same old, same old” has gone well. Baby Girl took decent naps, we got a lot of our table work completed and we even had some fun!  Our usual Friday morning homeschool group was cancelled due to a large snowfall in the weather forecast but we enjoyed the day anyways. Playing in the snow, enjoying “lemon ice”, tea time and a science experiment seemed to have more than made up for the initial disappointment.

Exploring water currents as the hot water rises above the cold.
Exploring water currents as the hot water rises above the cold.

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