Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Homeschool Review: Sequential Spelling 1

Sequential Spelling 1 (workbook and teacher's guide)

We started using Sequential Spelling with First Son in third grade. Many Charlotte Mason homeschooling families don't explicitly teach spelling at all, instead relying on copywork, dictation, and narration exercises, along with an extensive reading list, to provide the knowledge of spelling. I think that might be sufficient for some children, but I was concerned about First Son who would tear up if I asked him to spell something he didn't think he knew how to spell. I wanted to give him lots of practice and, subsequently, confidence when spelling. (This desire is based at least in part on my own lack of confidence in spelling.)

Sequential Spelling provides, at the most basic level, lists of 25 related words to be spelling in a single session. Over the course of four days, the words are modified with prefixes and suffixes. For example, for day 65, the first five words are end, bend, lend, blend, depend. For day 66, the student would spell ends, bends, lends, blends, depends. For day 67, the words are ended, bent, lent, blended, depended. For day 68, the words are ending, bending, lending, blending, depending. (Words like could, should, wasn't, doesn't, and weren't will appear intermittently throughout the year, giving students lots of practice on some common irregularly spelled words.)

The method for presenting the spelling lists is an important part of the program. The teacher reads the word, uses it in a sentence, and reads it again. (I do have to come up with my own sentences, which is sometimes annoying and often entertaining for the children.) First the student spells the word as best as he or she can. Then the teacher spells the word for the student, showing clearly the base of the word family (for example, end) and the prefixes or suffixes using different colors. Then the student corrects his or her own work, immediately tracing the correct spelling while saying the letters, involving multiple senses.

There are regular evaluations, but I've never used them. Because I view every day as a test, I have a good idea how my children are faring.

There are 180 spelling lists provided in Sequential Spelling 1. We do spelling four days a week, so we would never get through 180 lists in one year. I also don't ask First Son to complete a Sequential Spelling list if he has a spelling list in Essentials that day. (Read about Essentials here.) I just picked up where we left off last year with First Son this year. First Daughter started Sequential Spelling 1 this year after she finished our reading book. Sequential Spelling 1 is recommended no earlier than second grade (and for all students new to the program, with recommendations to complete multiple lists in a day to move through the book faster rather than skipping the book), but she begged for spelling. (I warn her that complaining will lead me to drop it for the year.)

When First Son started the program, there was no student workbook, only a student response book. The student response book is basically a book of blank lines on which the students writes the spelling words on different pages so previous lists (with similar words) are not seen at the same time. Recently, the student workbook was released. I purchased one for First Daughter. In the new workbook, each odd numbered page provides lines for the day's spelling words. The other side of the page provides an exercise in which students can use the day's words. There are a variety of exercises: writing sentences, unscrambling words, completing sentences, word searches, even writing a rhyme or silly story. I think these exercises could be helpful, but might be unnecessary. First Daughter enjoys doing them, but I would probably skip them if she complained. In fact, one of the reasons I was initially attracted to this program was that there were no inane practice exercises or requirements that my child write the spelling words five times each. It is simple to skip the exercises, however, because they are not the heart of the program.

Using this program, I think students begin to get a sense for how spelling works in English without explicit instruction. It's almost like they discover it. If you like explicit instruction, though, it's easily added. Our Essentials curriculum introduces spelling rules and we see them played out with regular practice in our Sequential Spelling. I've seen First Son's face light up as he realizes how his spelling word follows the rules laid out in Essentials.

There is a DVD available that reads the words and then presents the correct spelling. I haven't used that myself, but a friend has found it very useful in her family.

Monday, October 28, 2013

A Field Trip

Ready to Learn (or to play with chalk)

Trying out the historical swing

Bad guys behind bars

Ready for a trip

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Catholic Company Book Review: The Queen and the Cross

The Queen and the Cross: The Story of Saint Helen
by Cornelia Mary Bilinsky

This book relates the legend of St. Helen and her journey to Jerusalem to find the cross on which Jesus died. It begins when her son has brought her to be Queen in Rome (leaving the details of how her husband divorced her to a note in the back, where parents can choose whether to share it). Through prayer, trust, and miracles, the true cross is found and identified.

While I haven't read every saint story, I have read quite a few. This is the first I've seen on St. Helen for young children. It would be appropriate to read aloud to all ages. I also liked the illustrations of St. Helen. Though she is a Queen, she seems like a beautiful grandmother, someone anyone could approach.

I appreciate how Pauline Books and Media have published this book in hardcover. They last so much better than paperbacks, especially in families with multiple children.

This would be a good book to share with children on St. Helen's feast day, August 18th, or for the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on September 14th. (You could read the book while munching on delicious hot cross buns.)

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an objective review. This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on The Queen and the Cross-The Story of St. Helen. The Catholic Company is the best resource for all your seasonal needs such as First Communion gifts as well as ideas and gifts for the special papal Year of Faith.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

September 2013 Book Report

The Catholic Prayer Book compiled by Msgr. Michael Buckley and edited by Tony Castle
(a review for The Catholic Company)

Fairchild Family Series by Rebecca Caudill (purchased copies, three directly from the publisher, Bethlehem Books)

Poetic Knowledge by James S. Taylor (Kansas Dad's copy, which I think was a gift from a fellow professor)

Bambinelli Sunday by Amy Welborn (a review for The Catholic Company)

The Children's Homer by Padraic Colum (purchased from Sacred Heart Books and Gifts)

The Mass and the Saints by Thomas Crean, O.P. is a book I bought the spring before First Son began his First Communion that would have been the spring of 2011. It's too bad I didn't have time to read it that year because it really did provide some insight for me into the depth of meaning of the Mass. For each part of the Mass, the author has compiled quotes from saints and doctors of the church and other theologians and early writers. It follows the Latin Mass, but I found it interesting how much applied to the new Roman Missal. I carried my copy to the pool last summer and it got wet so I can't swap it on PaperBackSwap. Let me know if you'd be interested in reading it and I'll see about getting it to you. (purchased from the publisher)

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain is a classic, of course, though not one I had read before. I am still considering it for First Son to read next year (in fifth grade) for independent reading. I think he would enjoy parts of it and there are benefits to being familiar with the story, but I have to admit I had some problems myself, in particular with the treatment of Tom's relationship with Becky Thatcher. It's unlikely First Son would notice that very much. It's probably the sort of book that appeals more to boys in general than to mothers. (free Kindle edition)

The Saint Book for Parents, Teachers, Homilists, Storytellers, and Children by Mary Reed Newland is an older book of saints. I thought it was fine, though I wouldn't give it to my children to read. There are quite a few stories that assume a knowledge of mature relationships (nothing inappropriate is mentioned, it's just not something my young children would understand yet). Overall, though, I think there are better saint books, especially for younger children, and this one can be hard to find because it's out of print. (

The Catholic Mother's Helper in Training Her Children by Sister Mary, IHM, Sister Mary Roberta, OP, and Sister Mary Rosary, OP, is a series of lessons in which a mother (I suppose other caregiver as well) retells stories of the saints or from the Bible, both to impart knowledge of the Bible stories and to encourage virtuous behavior. Overall, I found the stories acceptable and easily adapted to a more modern household, if that's you're desire, but I think they are unnecessary in our home. In many ways, our Catechesis of the Good Shepherd classes do much the same thing, but I think they are even better. If, however, you do not have access to Catechesis of the Good Shepherd and want some way to bring these stories to life without creating a lot of materials yourself, this book might be a good place to start. It seems to be a little hard to find. I could probably be persuaded to share my copy if anyone local is interested in looking it over. (gifted from a former homeschooling mom)

New Lands (Chronicles of Egg #2) by Geoff Rodkey is the second in a series I started reading as a preview for First Son. This book might be even better than the first and they are both definitely on his list for summer reading next year (when he'll be between fourth and fifth grades). Egg's romantic relationship (mostly imaginary) is still outside First Son's interests, but I think he'll love the action and adventure. The friendships Egg develops are worthwhile, too. (library copy)

The Blight of Muirwood by Jeff Wheeler is also the second in a series. It's a fantasy tale of supernatural battles of good and evil and the end of the world (in Noah's sense). I think it's written for young adults, but I've enjoyed the books. I'm not pre-reading them for the children, just enjoying them as a bit of fun reading. (borrowed for free from the Kindle Owners' Lending Library)

Books in Progress (and date started)

Friday, October 18, 2013

Book Review: Tending the Heart of Virtue

Tending the Heart of Virtue: How Classic Stories Awaken a Child's Moral Imagination
by Vigen Guroian

This book begins by arguing that contemporary American society is neglecting to teach children virtues. Then the author argues that fairy tales offer the perfect model for teaching these neglected virtues.
The great fairy tales and fantasy stories capture the meaning of morality through vivid depictions of the struggle between good and evil, where characters must make difficult choices between right and wrong or heroes and villains contest the very fate of imaginary worlds.
These stories provide a way for children to see how virtues like honesty and self-sacrifice play out in an imaginary world, with consequences that affirm the virtuous and, often, punish those who are less so.
Mere instruction in morality is not sufficient to nurture the virtues. It might even backfire, especially when the presentation is heavily exhortative and the pupil's will is coerced. Instead, a compelling vision of the goodness of goodness itself needs to be presented in a way that is attractive and stirs the imagination.  A good moral education addresses both the cognitive and affective dimensions of human nature. Stories are an irreplaceable medium for this kind of moral education--that is, the education of character.
Later, he says:
Much of what passes for moral education fails to nurture the moral imagination. Yet, only a pedagogy that awakens and enlivens the moral imagination will persuade the child or the student that courage is the ultimate test of good character, that honesty is essential for trust and harmony among persons, and that humility and a magnanimous spirit are good greater than the prizes won by selfishness, pride, or the unscrupulous exercise of position and power. 
Once the author has established that virtues are necessary and not currently taught in a reliable way, he continues by providing examples from specific fairy tales and other classic stories like Bambi and Pinocchio.

With quotes of C.S. Lewis and Josef Pieper, this book fits well with the thoughts and philosophy of Poetic Knowledge. I didn't agree with all of his selections (Kenneth Grahame's The Reluctant Dragon is one I refuse to share with the children, given the disparaging depiction of St. George), but overall I thought this book presented a good argument for reading fairy tales, even those that may seem harsh to our modern parent ears, to our children and providing them with the opportunity to discuss the actions of the characters within them. While only a relatively small number of tales are discussed in depth, the ideas can be generalized to many fairy tales.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

First Daughter's Birthday Post - Turning Seven!

First Daughter turned seven a few weeks ago. I remember how we called her "Baby Girl" until long after Second Daughter was born. And now she's seven.

She loves to talk. Kansas Dad was telling me about how she wanted to sit next to him on the bed and read while he worked but she just couldn't keep herself from commenting on everything in her book, in the room, on her mind. I imagine some day we'll wish desperately to know what she's thinking, but we have almost the opposite problem now.

She loves playing make-believe with her brother. They dash from one end of the living room to the other saying things like, "Now I jump up to hit you with my sword but I miss and fall down instead!" and "You're trying to convince me to team up with you against the bad guys but I'm not sure I trust you."

She had a Hello Kitty birthday party, but her favorite present was this huge Ninjago set with a dragon.

She also loves to play with Playmobil figures with her sister. They have elaborate plots involving school (both in a classroom and homeschooling), mermaids, princesses, and many many babies.

First Daughter loves to bake and cook. I try to include her when I bake something, but she'd be in the kitchen all day long if I had enough patience. She's just getting proficient enough to read recipes, but often she still likes me to read them for her. Mostly she likes to make dessert, of course.I keep telling myself I should give her the responsibility for our bread in the bread machine.

She has recently decided she prefers egg whites for breakfast, so Kansas Dad cooks them up just for her.

She begs for more lessons, every day, though she's just as likely to decide she's more interested in something else than coming to work with me when it's time. She's easily moving through second grade math. She's a natural narrator (see the paragraph on talking above). She seems to particularly enjoy Clare's Costly Cookie, asking regularly if I will read another chapter or let her read ahead. She also loves our family read-aloud books. She finished her official reading lessons a few days after her birthday and has finished reading nearly all of the Ramona books on her own. She begged me to start spelling, so we did. I threaten almost every day to set it aside for the year when she complains that she doesn't know how to spell the words.

Both First Daughter and First Son are practicing their typing every day. They'd happily play typing games all day long, but I limit them to two, after they finish their typing course and XtraMath for the day. She also loves to pull out a book or Wii game box and copy from it onto a "blank sheet of paper" on Google Docs.

at the State Fair
Inspired by a friend in Boston, we recently started offering Certificates of Deposit from our "family bank" to the children with an insanely high interest rate and short terms. First Son wasn't willing to constrict himself by buying one, but she was thrilled with the rate of return and bought one immediately. Then she asked me at least five times a day for five days when it would mature. (It's just a few days after her birthday; it worked out well for her because we don't generally allow the children to buy much around their birthdays anyway because they're too likely to purchase something someone wants to give as a gift.)

She asked for a Hello Kitty party. It's a shame to plan a birthday around a brand, but birthdays are meant to be indulged and it did make it easy to decorate. A dear friend of mine made her birthday cake so I could concentrate on...well, everything else. Her parties are always nice affairs with a few girls and relative quiet. (She would love a tea party...she just needs to learn to love drinking tea.)

She loves popsicles, yogurt, smoothies, guacamole, enchiladas, lightly seasoned poultry and meats (as opposed to anything in casseroles or doused with a sauce), white rice, pasta, and bread. She loves the crusty bread I make, though sometimes leaves the crust. She especially loves bread that's still warm from the oven or bread machine. Of course she loves getting frozen yogurt with all the toppings at our favorite restaurant. She likes to choose three flavors and mix them up together, and those three flavors are never anything I'd mix. She really likes the pineapple flavor. Her favorite candy might be Skittles but she still has her Pez collection.

She loves to dress in skirts and dresses. She was even willing to practice riding her bike in a dress, until we told her she needed to change. She and First Son each received new (and first) bikes a week or so after her birthday. She's learning to ride without training wheels and doing a great job. She loves the bike and would ride every day but she has to learn on a smoother service than our gravel driveway before she can ride much at home. Her bike helmet is pink, of course, and her pads are Hello Kitty, thanks to a generous aunt and uncle.

birthday girl, with a pancake bigger than her head

 She loves going places and being out and about. She's the only one who signed up for soccer this year and she adores it. A friend of mine commented that she's always smiling on the field, and it's true. Sometimes she scores, but she always smiles.

For All Saint's Day she wants to dress as her favorite saint, who remains St. Therese of the Child Jesus. Her feast day, October 1st, is also First Daughter's baptism anniversary, so they share a special bond. She and Second Daughter went with me to Goodwill to find cloths and linens to put together all the costumes. She was pretty helpful. (Second Daughter was not.) For Halloween, she hopes to be Hello Kitty, who is pretty different from St. Therese.

on her baptism anniversary
First Daughter was a wonderful help to me this fall amidst Kansas Dad's bountiful tomato harvest. Despite irritation from the juice, she loved to boil the tomatoes, drop them in ice water, and peel the skins off for me. All I had to do was chop them! Of course, she chattered away the whole time and gleefully showed First Son and Second Daughter everything she was doing.

She thinks she knows everything. We often joke she thinks we have three parents in the family, but it is nice when she happily takes on some task like washing the lunch dishes.


May God bless you in the coming year, our first and oldest daughter!