Other subjects

What about other subjects? Here is how we’re approaching them:

Math

We use RightStart math, which I wholeheartedly endorse. This is our fourth year using it, and my children have excellent mathematical thinking skills and a firm grasp on their math facts.

The pros of the program: it is completely scripted (which makes me happy!); the kids love it (it uses a lot of games); it is very effective; it spirals through concepts, allowing for continual growth; it has a thorough scope and sequence. I love that it is focused on interaction and conversation as a way of learning math.

The potential challenges: it requires a lot of teacher-student interaction, so it could be time-intensive for a household with a lot of children to teach; it’s an expensive up-front investment to buy the entire manipulatives set — but you only need one per household for the entire program.

Reading, spelling, grammar

For learning to read and spell, we’ve used All About Reading and All About Spelling. They use a phonics-approach and have been very effective for both my children. They are scripted (yay!). Once the children can demonstrate competent reading and spelling, we have moved on from doing these kinds of lessons.

We have yet to study grammar beyond immersion in good texts. I plan to begin that work in 5th grade with Junior Analytical Grammar.

Handwriting & copywork

I started both kids with the beginning Handwriting Without Tears workbooks, which are excellent for teaching the very first steps of letter formation. Then we switched to the Getty-Dubay workbooks for learning italic handwriting. Handwriting is still a work in progress in our house! It took my son years to be comfortable writing at all, which is part of why I’m so grateful for learning methods and curricula that don’t require lots of writing in the early years. Soon I want to switch us from handwriting workbooks to copywork such as having the kids each keep their own “Commonplace” notebooks (collections of favorite quotes and poems from their reading).

Foreign Language

This subject can be such a challenge if the teacher doesn’t themselves feel confident in a foreign language! I’ve struggled to know how to teach my children Spanish, some years not even trying at all. So many programs are translation-based, which is a method I’m not excited about (it rarely leads to actual fluency). This year, however, we’ve begun using the ULAT program by Steve Nesbitt, which so far I love. It is an immersion-based program that uses online videos and lessons. I am excited about how much Spanish we get to hear in the course of the lessons. The kids sometimes feel overwhelmed by hearing so much that they don’t understand and they don’t always understand the miming he uses. But we are doing it together, which allows me to help my children interpret as necessary. It is very affordable too. The ULAT offers lessons in Spanish, French, and English.

Geography

To me, studying history naturally leads to studying geography. Many of our books include maps and talk at length about the movement of people around the world, how different people live in different places and times, etc. — all geography! I address how we use maps in our ongoing studies in the page about family timelines and history maps. However, I have also done more intentional map work with both children. With Dottie, we’ve worked through Rand McNally’s Beginner Geography & Maps Activity Workbook (we did this together). Rusty has had a long love of geography and used to spend hours looking at maps with my husband, but to make sure he has complete knowledge of country names, etc., I’ve also had him work through the blank maps in The World Reference & Maps Form by Evan Moor. Our family also enjoys playing The World Game, a card game. Map puzzles have also been a fun way to spend time becoming familiar with the shape different places.

Music

Music is very important to me personally and I’ve always sung with the kids. Our family has also hosted regular “singing circles” for friends (often the children end up just playing, but I usually would open these gatherings with a few singing games just for the kids). Now that they are older, they are both studying the piano. This is an area where I’m happy to outsource the learning! I help them at home with their practicing to some extent. I also have been working through some of the music theory games offered through Music Mind Games, which is an excellent program but somewhat expensive and requires some musical background knowledge to use effectively. We also listen to classical music regularly and very much enjoy the podcast Classics for Kids, which provides an excellent introduction to composers and classical music (and is free!). Mostly, with music I just aim for immersion through a family culture of music making and appreciation!

Art & handicrafts & picture study

We take a casual, organic approach to art and handicrafts. I always have high quality materials available for the children (paints, markers, colored pencils, colored paper), and sometimes I initiate projects for all of us to do together, but more often I just build in lots of time and space for them to make what they want. They go through phases of making lots of art and then phases of being interested in other pursuits.

Drawing in our nature notebooks is also a regular part of our nature outing routine. We talk a lot about how we can draw from life and also from our heads and that both are valuable for different purposes!

Honestly, I need to do more handicrafts with my kids! But we do a lot of hands-on things together, especially gardening and cooking. And in the winter I’ll usually buy some kind of craft kit for them to do (such as the classic woven potholder loom). We also decorate the house for special occasions.

We also do picture study, one artist per term. I recommend Ambleside Online’s resources on this topic.