Using "spine" texts for homeschooling

homeschool books

I am 13 years into this homeschool journey.  One thing I find myself coming back to, again and again is the use of a "spine" text for our studies.  If I could go back and do it all over, I would trust more in a spine text- to keep us moving, and then branch off into creativity as mood and time permitted.

I'm an eclectic homeschooler - loving a little bit of this and that and not afraid to try different things.  I am unorganized, creative- when my lack of organization doesn't hamper me, and lately- I think I might have A.D.D. -which I joke about, but only because if you don't laugh at yourself, you'll just cry, or be a grumpy head...  I wish I had realized my A.D.D. problem years ago, I think knowing I had a problem would have prompted me to lean harder on books/texts that work for me.  Strict schedules, I already know from failed attempts, over and over through the years- don't work for me.  A road-map, though, seems to work best.

I've gone back, over and over, to The Story of the World series for History.  Even when I have ventured into the world of boxed curriculum, with their beautiful and enticing schedules, I have chosen programs that utilize STOW because I realized, years ago, that this text simply "clicks" with me.

I think the magic of The Story of the World series is that it centers on a text that "gets it done".  The kids love the narrative, that is a big plus, but the magic is the fact that despite whatever chaos/boredom/lack of organization/ crisis  I am in the midst of (and believe me, it's a rotating string of events for me) I can pick up a volume of STOW and just read what is next.  If life is perfect and the stars are aligned, I can branch out and add in library books listed in the activity guide, or even do some of the activities.  At the very least, when chaos reigns supreme- I can read aloud, have the kids narrate and do a map page.

A thing of beauty.

I wish I had been more faithful to this method, I just didn't realize the genius in this structure- genius at least, for this A.D.D. mom.

At the tail-end of my homeschooling journey, I finally looked into the "What my ______ grader needs to know" series.  It is part of the Common Core series, which, to put it simply, is a set body of knowledge (or a scope and sequence) proposed for the entire country to use in public schools.  There is much debate about this idea, but you can see the advantage it could have for testing purposes and for families moving to different districts or different States.  This series by E.D. Hirsch follows the idea of the Common Core.  I started looking through it last week, and realized it could have worked for me in the same way that STOW works for me, by providing a spine or road map I could follow- to keep me moving instead of standing still.  Looking through the series, I saw good content for History, Literature,Culture, Geography, Science and the arts.  The content for Math and Language Arts, I felt, was not presented in a teachable way.  I think this series could be a really good spine for a homeschool family, and very economical too- a viable choice instead of the expensive boxed curriculum sets we all love to lust after.  (raising my hand- guilty here!)  I am thinking about using this series with Amie and Demi for geography, culture, Literature, Science and maybe the arts.

The beauty of a spine is the ability to slow down and branch-off when you want to delve into a subject more thoroughly or more creatively.

-just some thoughts, from a mom who is looking back now...

Do you have some favorite tried and true texts or programs you come back to over and over again?

Costume day

Meg and Josie dressed up for costume day at the Biola Star campus this Thursday.  I can't tell you enough how much I appreciate the classes they take with Biola Star - the academics are high, the teachers are wonderful and professional and sometimes tough.  (I need tough, I'm too easy-going around here...) Meg's Chemistry teacher is a professor at Concordia University.  Okay, in addition to the wonderful classes they take, the also get to participate in a sort-of campus life.  They get to have hot lunches if they want, get to eat with friends, have study hall and fun activities like prom.  This Thursday was costume day, with prizes going to best literary costume.  Meg won a prize last year by going as Katniss from the Hunger Games.


Josie decided to go as "The Grim Tickler" from Veggie Tales.  It was kind of cool that the other kids at Biola got the reference immediately.  Homeschool World has its own culture  :)


Meg dressed up as Lindsey Stirling, dubstep violinist.  Lindsey is Amie's favorite artist because she often wears miss-matched socks.  Amie has found a soul-sister.

We are going to see Lindsey Stirling in concert this month when her concert tour comes to So. California.  We are so excited.  Check her out, she is a talented and hard-working artist.  Her rise to success has been very grass-roots, it's exciting to watch her work getting more notice!

Check her out on Youtube:

my favorites are Come With Us - which include other famous youtube artists, it took us a while to catch on to that, there are links are on the video  - Phantom of the Opera and Crystalize.  It's hard to pick a favorite, really.

I think I love this song, because when I first met Sky, way back when we were sixteen, he was really into rap music. Hard to believe. This rap-song is the sort he liked, clean and fun.  Takes me back to our younger days....  :)

The post where I spill about what worked, what didn't 2011/12

Here's where it gets real, friends.  Homeschool plans 2011-2012: What really happened-


Okay, homeschool mom in the field, reporting back....

My Plans:  The 3 youngest Students [together]

Bible: Possessing the Land (5th grade) Positive Action for Christ Curriculum

Sonlight History Core D  intro to American History (was called Core 3) [History, Geography and literature]

Wordly Wise (vocabulary)                                  Abeka cursive handwriting

Writing with Ease 2 by Susan Wise Bauer

R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Chemistry level 1- Pandia Press

The Reality:

Sonlight American History - we slogged through this and got to week 19 or so.  I wasn't even really following the schedule anymore, just looking to see what book came next and if we wanted to do it.  I ended up using mostly "A History of U.S.A." workbooks from this core and then reading from "A story of US" series from Core 100 and doing narrations.  I don't have the whole Core3, what I have I've had stored away for a few years, so I don't feel bad about wasting money.   For next year, I am moving over to My Father's World- I was able to look through their TM at a conference and it looked easier to use.  They have an American History year we will be using.

Worldly Wise- didn't use much.  Writing With Ease 2- I still like it, we got about half-way through, we will keep using this through the Summer.

R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Chemistry - found it delightful, Amie loved it but we only got to Chapter 2.  Instead, for Science we ended up using Teacher Created Resources Nonfiction reading workbook- I just picked the Science topics.  Bible- didn't get done much, will do some soul-seaching and planning for next year.

Individual Studies- 3 youngers:

MCT Grammar Island , Sentence Island, Practice Island, Music of the Spheres (poetry) etc.  - did a few chapters but decided the sit down one-on-one format was too difficult for me to follow through. I also was sad to see little retention in my kids.  I ordered Shurley Grammar 4 and began using it in May, will continue through the Summer. Instead, I used mostly the workbooks I had for standardized testing prep- I relied heavily on Daily Warm-ups: Language skills by Teacher Created Resources. It was easy to use. (I like easy)

Math: *Math: Math-U-See      *Horizons Math  *Mad Dog Math (multiplication)  it was all good, I was pleased with our picks and will continue using these.  This was our first year supplementing MUS with Horizons math- I was really pleased with Horizons, it was colorful, very easy to use, I hardly ever had to use the manual.  MUS was our main text, moving through Horizons was slow, we will continue with it through the Summer.

The Highschoolers: The plans-

Math: Math-U-See -Algebra I, Algebra II     Switched on Schoolhouse H.S. English  (minus essay assignments)

Switched on Schoolhouse HS Earth Science  Biology- Biola Star Program

Intro to Composition: Biola Star Program (Josie)  Inklings-Biola Star (Meg)

The Reality: 

I continue to be pleased with Math-U-See, we will stick with it through High School.  The Biola Star program continues to shine (pun intended) and I am so thankful for these classes.  Josie's composition class centered around IEW writing and also included grammar.

Switched on Schoolhouse English and HS Earth Science:  The Earth Science was a big fail.  Doing it on the computer drove me nuts.  I need to be able to look through the book, see where she is at, what is upcoming and how I can plan to add any projects/reports.  I had to order a study guide to use with this to flesh out the content.  I have decided that for my next 9th graders (Earth Science is required in Ca) I will be putting them in the Earth Science class at Biola which is geared for Jr. High, but I've heard the text and content is demanding enough for HS.  At least it will be easier to use and document (and will have a lab)

Switched on Schoolhouse English- I had the same problem using it on the computer, I ended up ordering the lifepac units for the 2nd semester which seemed to be exactly the same as the computer version.  It was better having the units in my hands- but we will not be using these again for High School.  I added on a few meaty books with sparks notes to this program for my 9th grader and 11th grader.  Switched on Schoolhouse English got us through the required subject for reporting purposes, but we had no joy using it, and English has always, always been my favorite subject.  My only joy came through reading The gift of the Magi, The Scarlett Letter and To Kill a Mockingbird on our own, with the help of Sparks notes for the 2 novels.

The Inklings class:  (English composition/Literature/Humanities) Biola Star program

This program was stellar.  I watched Meg's writing abilities soar, her reasoning abilities sky-rocket, enjoyment- discussion- logic-argument- it was all there.  I loved this class.  Unfortunately, it was a giant reading load, and mega-writing due every week.  As much as I loved her growth, we became alarmed as her other studies suffered, she got behind in her Algebra II studies and was not practicing her violin.  We had her drop the class at the end of the first semester.  I was sad to see it go, but she needs a strong Math finish.  It was also an expensive class, it was a relief to not pay the fee 2nd semester (total honesty here)

Biology with Biola Star was great, I loved all the lab work and projects they did (that I didn't have to...more honesty)

So, all the hits and misses at The Cliffs of Insanity Day School and St. Jenn's School for Exceptional Teens.  I'll set up our plans for 2012-2013 soon and put it under the homeschool tab at the top.

So friends, what were your hits and disasters?  Spill! 

a quick check-in

Hey bloggy friends!  Oh my, boy have I been absent, and-how! So, much going on...where to start?  First up, it is year-end for our homeschooling.  I am finishing up projects with my high schoolers and having last meetings.

I started exercising daily- more than my sporadic walks around the block.  I am trying to gear up to start P90x but felt that I needed to do something first, since I was pretty much starting from couch-potato status.

I'm doing well with it, so far.  I've lost 4 lbs but seem to be stalled out there.  I really, really hate being on a diet, I just want it to be over quick so I can go back to gluttony.  Gluttony involving breads, chocolate and bagels preferred....


where was I??

Ahem.  I went to a photography class last weekend.  Finally, someone took physical hold of my nikon and showed me how to find all the menus on it and how to change all the settings!  Insert rolling smiley face here>>

I went to the Great Homeschool Convention in Long Beach tonight.  I've been so busy I was only able to get there for an evening session.  I will be there tomorrow, too.

It has been something like 9 years since I last attended a homeschool convention (stuff for a later post) -and I am so excited to be at this one.  I forgot how much I love to hold new curriculum in my hot little hands!  I spent some time visiting the My Father's World booth, looking over their high school courses and chatting with the nice ladies there.  Oh, somebody please stop me!!!  I just can't give up the great hope of one day finding the ultimate curriculum that I wouldn't need to tweak to death!!

A girl can dream.

I hope you all have a great Memorial weekend, I am looking forward to things slowing down and to getting back into the blogging groove, I miss my blog-friends!

Happy trails, friends!  :)

Homeschool beat -what is hip and happening

okay, all that is hip and happening [in my mind]...!  Hey, homeschool's cool!


er, not homeschool related, but I have to show you the legs of my reclaimed wood farmhouse table.  Sky is experimenting with this yellow first, with a top-coat of white, and then distressing/ rubbing some of the paint off.  I'll keep you all posted, because I know you are as excited and impressed as I am! ... I am so excited about my new table, it makes me smile every time I think about it!


I swear, thesis papers and Science projects will make me old before my time....  Meg made this wonderful (hey, I'm her mom-but I think it came out really good!) model of a prokaryotic cell.  It's a soda bottle with jello.  She scooped out the cytoplasm jello and then laid in a red jello cylinder with a plastic chain inside for the nucleoid.  I didn't think it would work!  That'll teach me to doubt Meg's creativity!  Still, I kind of grit my teeth when it's science project time.  Sue me.


So I packed up the car with one jello prokaryotic cell model in a bucket and one hen in a cat carrier on my front seat. Don't ask. Just believe me when I say that it really happened.

Homeschool beat is anarchy beat, [word].


Meg took her hen, Dapples to her Biola Star Biology class.  They are studying birds right now.  This just happened to collide with homeschool Science fair project day. Because, I live in a constant state of hecticness (yes, I just made up a word)  Did this all really happen this week?  Yes.  Homeschool's cool & happening- [word].

How is your week shaping up, bloggy friends?

Why I think LAUSD sold its soul

I live in Southern California, close to LA.  The Los Angeles Unified School District sex scandal(s) -yes, plural...have been all over talk radio (and I imagine t.v. news) here.  The firestorm began with the news of the teacher with the photos taken in the classroom and then day after day it seemed a new teacher made the news.  Parents are horrified and outraged.  Sadly, LAUSD continues on its path of cover-up, fear of lawsuit (from the union members not from the parents) and keeping parents in the dark.  I feel so bad for parents in Los Angeles who have no other option than public school.  Huge, bloated LAUSD is a glaring example of the largess and incompetence of bureaucracy gone amuck. After all the spin, the excuses, the whining of the superintendent that they are doing the best they can...the lining up of the teacher's union to fight for the teachers' jobs and benefits- the part that just fries me, as a parent- is the fact that a huge school-full of adults (trained, professional adults I might add) looked the other way.  For more than a decade this creepy man was hanging out with little kids, giving out treats and special closed door parties (at school) - and no teacher/staff checked up on it.  No teacher/staff tried to peek into the classroom to see what was going on, to wonder why the door was locked. Parents came to the school to complain about creepy, strange behavior and were brushed off.  Children were treated as liars.

Somewhere, sometime, the administration and teaching staff at this school sold their soul and decided that having a place to work and benefits to collect was the reason LAUSD exists, not teaching and serving children and families. When a bureaucracy exists to feed itself, and the workers become the clients, not the children they teach- that organization buries itself.

As a mother, I just cannot fathom the evil of turning a blind-eye.

Today, while serving in Children's church, I bumped into a man walking the hall of the children's ministry building as I walked back from making copies.  I was surprised to see him there, thinking that I didn't realize he had children.  In fact, I was pretty sure he did not have children.  I dropped my copies off and then planted myself on a bench, overlooking the room he walked into. This door led to the preschool room and the preschool bathrooms.  I sat and waited to see where he would go and if he would walk out with a child.  He came out a few minutes later, without any offspring and coming from the preschool bathrooms.

It was probably innocent and misguided (didn't want to use the main bathroom for some reason, didn't realize as a single man that he would not be welcome there) but, as a mom with mom-radar, I had to speak to the director.  I spoke up so other parent-workers could keep a watch out.

This is what someone who cares for children does.  Someone who cares for children checks and double checks.  Someone who cares for children stops what they are doing and takes the time to make sure everything is as it should be.  Someone who cares for children makes a show of watching everything, so the monsters know they will not get away with anything.

The teachers and staff at Miramonte Elementary School in Los Angeles did not care.  They did not check.  They looked the other way.  The teachers and staff at Miramonte Elementary did not care about what was going on, but they do care about their jobs and benefits.  God save the children.  I hope the parents of LAUSD will research options and place their children elsewhere.

Ca standardized test prep at {Home}

I am one of those homeschoolers who doesn't put much stock in standardized testing.  I am not a fan of the large amounts of time public schools now spend studying to pass the tests.  I am not a fan of cutting out subjects such as art, History, Science, music- that will not be tested that year.  I am not a fan of some of the hard to understand questions on the tests, or of having to pick the more right "politically correct" answer from 2 or 3 possibly correct answers.  I also think it is hard to measure learning, there are so many variables that go into the equation- how much of the curriculum was covered before testing? Did the teacher branch out deeper into some subjects but missed others?  Were many of the kids sick that year, or did they arrive in the classroom already behind?

So, yes, I disagree with the mania and emphasis and carrot/stick application of the No Child Left Behind act.

And yet, my kids will need to be tested.  Yes, they will be taking the SAT's in highschool.  We homeschool using a public Charter School program that is made up entirely of homeschool families.  We do have to test every year because we use a charter school.  My approach has been to downplay the whole thing, and just show up on testing day with some yummy snacks.  Yeah, that's it.

Until this year, that is.  Last year, Meg scored very high on her standardized tests.  And yes, it went to my head a bit, and made me feel really good, I admit it.  Not that we did anything different, we did not prepare for testing at all.  She just did really well.

And it went to my head. I already mentioned that part, yes?  I liked how it felt.  I liked that I had concrete proof of their learning and retention.  So, with all that, I decided to do it a bit different this year, and study a bit for testing.

We are casually, going through these workbooks, starting at the beginning of February:

Spectrum California Test Prep grade 4

Spectrum California Test Prep grade 6

(I found a lack of materials for test prep for High School...)

Daily Warm Ups: Language Skills grade 4

Flash Kids Language Arts test prep grade 8 (the highest level I could find for Josie-grade 9)

9th+ Grade Use it! Don't Lose it! Daily Language practice (for Meg, grade 11)

I am surprised to find I am enjoying working slowly through these books with the kids.  In the past, when I've glanced through these sort of books, I've turned up my nose, because there is no teaching helps or explanations for the questions and subjects. But, I am finding that I am totally capable of explaining the concepts as we move through them.  I like that I am pushed to address some skills that we are not covering, it's good to be stretched some, yes?

How about you?  Do you *Homeschool parents and also *public school parents- do any special prepping for testing season?Are you a public school parent who afterschools some?  Please share your wisdom :)

thinking, thinking...

So, where to start?

  • I've been very busy with our back to homeschool. Complications from using 2 different charter schools, several different outside lessons and Biola Star Program classes for my's actually more than my brain can handle. Somehow I keep all the balls spinning, but the casualty seems to be my concentration.  Hence, no blogging.  I sit here in front of my computer and either sit passively reading twitter and homeschool message boards...or sit here and think  "I should be cleaning/organizing something..."
  • Homeschool book organizing progress: the books I am done with have been put neatly into boxes awaiting storage. Problem: they cannot be stored because I need bigger boxes to store them correctly.  So I have a few open boxes of books sitting on the floor in front of my neat bookshelf.

Um, yeah.

  • We had orientation for Biola Star high school classes. This year we have both Meg and Josie taking classes.  Orientation day found me volunteering with registration.  I was set up at the table where we figure out how many study hall periods your kids need and how much to charge you.  Remember- homeschoolers tend to have more than the average number of children. Remember-I am not a math person.  Remember- I have anemia brain +mommy brain + blond brain.  I am also shy and seem to becoming more introvert as I age. It was stellar, really...
  • We went to Meg's Inklings class open house thingy.  This is the very high academic /high expectation / literature class I was so excited about.  This is the class I am re-living the high school experience I would have loved...and this is the class that Meg begged us to drop after we went to the orientation a few weeks ago.  So....we go to this before school starts meeting, and the tutor is not there. His lovely/very intelligent wife was standing in his place.  She is a graduate of this program and has taught it herself.  She was very impressive..but she couldn't answer any questions about when stuff was due.  I sat in the classroom and listened to several kids hyperventilate about when stuff is due or overdue and realized I had no idea any of it was due or overdue.  I hate that feeling of being clueless in a room full of people and being the mom, so I shouldn't be, yeah. I went home and wanted to drop it.

The class hasn't even started yet and we have multiple assignments turned in but possibly late...and a writing assignment I have no clue about and 3 syllabi that say slightly different/vague things.  Sigh.  Big sigh.

  • Remember that we quit teaching Sunday School?  (I'll wait till you click over) well, we were allowed to quit but then asked to consider teaching 6 th grade where we'd only have 4 kids.  So, we reconsidered.  Jury is still out there, but I think we are not being allowed to quit...
  • I live in a wonderful neighborhood, think The Wonder Years...and on a nice, quiet street with great neighbors.  The only stand-outs are the college boys who rent 2 doors down..but after a rough start they have settled down quite a bit. A wild hot tub party till 1 a.m. every now and then is not as bad as it could be, nor as bad as it was the first few months they were here. Until last night.  In a drunken crowd they let off illegal fireworks at 3:30 a.m.  Lovely.  I almost went over and went all Anne of Green Gables or possibly all Amy Ponds on them... I can do a great "Oy!"  but just rolled over praying it would stop or that someone else would call the police.  From the screams and yells a few minutes later we think someone's husband might have went over and used good-ole-fashioned neighborhood justice instead...we can only hope.
  • The Bible college boys are back on Sunday nights for dinner, yay!
  • Josie started back to fencing class, the kids are back to piano class.  We hit the pool instead of the beach this week.
  • Sky took me to an Angels game yesterday. We won, whoo-hoo!

So, how are things with you?