Category Archives: Third Grade Curriculum

Part 8: Finishing Our Third Grade Curriculum

Finishing up the ever-exciting commentary on our third grade curriculum!  <Smirk.>

Our third grade year is coming to a close in a few weeks.  Third grade was fun.  My daughter seemed to start as a young child and emerge with the makings of a young lady.  All of her prior skills sharpened, and she enthusiastically took on more complicated things and demanded more independence, every now and then reaching back to feel if I was still there.  Although intensely longing for her independence, when she reached back for my reassurance, I grabbed that precious, small but growing, hand and hugged it to me with all the strength, love, and guidance that I have.


My oldest daughter began learning cursive in first grade and we hit it really hard in second grade.  In third grade, we have been just been fine-tuning print and cursive handwriting along the way.  Why did we start cursive so young?  Let’s just say “backwards letters.”  I read somewhere that children struggling with printing backwards may do well with cursive, since you “can’t make cursive letters backwards.”  The concept in practice worked moderately well, but let me tell you, you can make cursive backwards!

For third-grade handwriting, I simply picked up a workbook or two at McDonald’s (no, kidding, Office Depot or somewhere like that, just nowhere “fancy” and certainly not expensive!) to remind ME how to make the letters, and we worked through them.  If I didn’t like the way some letters were presented in the book, I’d teach her my own way, or both ways and let her pick.  As long as she CAN write nicely and CANwpid-IMAG0516.jpg read cursive, I’m good.  We also picked up a cursive Jokes and Riddles practice book because my daughter has a great funny bone.

Aside from the handwriting workbooks, we just incorporate handwriting practice into other lessons.  For example, there will be times when I ask grammar to be done in her “best” handwriting.  Sometimes it is stunning.  Other times, well, you can clearly see my daughter hates the physical act of handwriting.

Aside:  Now, by the end of third grade, my daughter is finally, on her own, catching and correcting it when she makes backwards letters.  Usually, they say the formation of backwards letters should disappear by the end of second grade, so it was a bit disconcerting to see this still around during her third grade year.  However, my husband clearly remembers that he, too, had this problem as a child, so we just watched her closely for any other signs of learning barriers.


We have satisfactorily used The Story of the World (Susan Wise Bauer) for the last three years.  We are on Volume 3:  Early Modern Times.  The history book contains 42 concise, fairly interesting lessons, and we cover 0-3 lessons per week.  I also buy the Activity Book, which has maps, coloring pages, suggested reading, and hands-on project ideas.  There is also a “test” booklet, but we did not buy it because I like to quiz my children aloud to assess learning.  The activity book is chock-full of stuff to keep you super busy if you choose.  If we tried to do much in the way of supplemental reading or projects, we got behind this year.  In first and second grades, we had less other school material to cover, and we really threw ourselves into history and the recommended reading and projects.  Now that my daughter’s curriculum has broadened due to increased learning capacity, we stick basically with the history book lesson and move on.

Generally, I read the chapter aloud to both of my school-aged kids at the same time, making commentary, asking questions, and having the kids go to the map and show me the places we’re reading about.  (I invested in a huge wall map and I think it helps their geography knowledge a lot.  Well, at least it helps mine.)  While I read, they look at and/or color the activity pages.  Conversely,  they’ve got CDs with the lessons read aloud and you could check them out from the library or maybe purchase online.  This would free up some hands for supper making.  We rented them from the library sometimes, and the kids liked the break from mom.

There are four volumes of The Story of the World.  It is recommended to do one volume each year, and at the end of four years, begin the cycle again.  I believe I will stick with the curriculum, and hopefully begin incorporating more supplemental reading and projects as the girls gain independence.  Perhaps, then, in high school I can add in testing from the booklet.  I don’t know.  We’ll see.


Probably like most home school families, we count extracurricular activities as PE.  We have participated in formal dance, tae kwan do, gymnastics, basketball, and swimming activities.  Weight-bearing activity and sunshine are important for the physical body, and so anytime I can get my kids to play outside, we do.


I have two main religious homeschooling goals to accomplish before my kids leave my house.  One, that they know it is the love of Christ which bridges all divides they’ll ever face.  Two, that they learn some Bible history.  Currently we’re working on both, but we have far to go on the Bible history.  This year we memorized and wrote out all the verses on Sing the Word from A-Z and have been working through Egermeier’s Story BibleSing the Word has been enjoyable for us, and I love learning the memory verses to catchy music and singing, sometimes dancing around the room as we learn them.  Egermeier’s Story Bible brings the Bible alive on a personal level for the children, and even me.  Miscellaneous fun reading comes up on St. Patrick’s Day, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, as well as other days.  One book we all particularly enjoyed this year was Dangerous Journey:  The Story of Pilgrim’s Progress by Oliver Hunkin.  Spellbinding!

I guess that’s it.  I have not formally taught arts and crafts this year.  My kids do that on their own, above and beyond anything I could ever dream of or do.

If you care to comment, please do!  Or e-mail me with any questions about what we used for our third grade curriculum.

Part 7 of Our Third Grade Curriculum: Music

I’ve been going through my third grade daughter’s curriculum on the blog.  When I am trying to figure out (in other words, struggling) how to best teach my daughter(s), I enjoy reading what other people do, don’t do, and why they do or don’t do the things they do or don’t do (smile).  That’s what these posts are about.

Continuing on in the Description of Our Third Grade Curriculum

wpid-IMAG0463-1.jpgLearning an instrument isn’t really optional for my kids.  My daughter chose piano.  We tried outsourcing piano and taking lessons.  Outsourcing lessons still required me to stand there while my daughter practiced.  Now I’m about helping and nurturing.  I’ve read the Suzuki book and all that jazz.  But the girl wouldn’t strike an ivory unless I stood there to help for half an hour, and when I pointed out mistakes, she refused to fix them.  I had two kids in lessons.  Eventually I’ll have three.  So we scrapped the outsourcing.  Now we spend WAY less time on piano and music.  Not a good thing, but it is certainly less stressful.  We probably spend once or twice a week on piano and music.

I endured 10 years of piano and can teach her a little.  All I ever learned, though, was to sight-read (my fault, not my great teacher’s fault).  No chords.  No understanding of scales.  Couldn’t pick out a simple melody if I tried.  I wish badly now that I could play a little by ear and accompany church choruses with some simple chording.  C’est la vie.  That’s why I homeschool.  To educate vicariously through my children.

So what do we do for music/piano?

1.  Practice playing melodies by ear.

  • I play a simple, short melody, and she must learn it over the course of the week until she makes no mistakes.  Melodies like “Go Tell Aunt Rhody”, “La Cucaracha”, or “On Top of Old Smoky.”  She doesn’t see music for this “ear” practicing.  On a rare occasion, we’ll get some staff paper and work on writing down the notes she played.

2.  After the melody is learned, she adds a few accompanying chords to it that sound nice to her.  I do not help with this.

3.  Major chords and scales.  This has been awesome.

  • Together we learned the pattern for the major scales (whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half).  We are working through each key now and playing its major scale.  She does great, and can play just about all of them.  I use Scales and Chords are Fun by David Hirschberg to check our work and fingering.  We don’t play the songs in the book.  Way too hard for her.
  • We learn the major chord for each scale/key and work a tad on inversions and arpeggios.
  • We try to identify the key and chords for the melodies with chords she plays.  We’re not so good at this.  But trying is half the battle.

4.  I choose a song for her to sight-read and work on.

  • If she’s weak on note recognition, we pull out some musical flashcards we bought at our local music store.  I put up a flash card and she has to play that note and tell me what it is.
  • For each song we sight-read, we discuss the meaning of the time signature and any other miscellaneous stuff.  What’s a measure?  What does “mf” or “ff” stand for?  What’s a tie?
  • We already had some books leftover from lessons:  Piano Adventures (Faber) and Alfred’s Basic Piano Library (Palmer, et al).  She made it through the books already before finishing formal piano lessons, but now we go through and really pick them apart and learn the “pieces of the pieces”.  However, she’s not really assigned a piece “to practice” that week.  I just pick one that’s simple enough for her to master in one lesson.  It’ll be interesting to see if her sight reading progresses naturally or not this way.

That’s it.  Although we’re not really progressing through a music curriculum, I feel she is learning a lot.  She already understands scales and chords way better than I did (even up until a year ago).  Piano is not a battle.  Maybe she’ll pick up a little playing by ear.  And when we decide to outsource again, she’ll have a grasp of the fundamentals of music.  Why do it this way?  Why not just pull her out altogether until she’s “ready”?  Or keep her in lessons and just tell her teacher she’s not practicing?

Although I can pick through any piece of music you put in front of me, I don’t understand a whit of music.  Well, not much anyway.  With ten years of lessons.  Part of the problem was my fear of failing.  I didn’t try to understand scales and chords because my teacher gave me a crutch:  the book.  If I could read the book, I couldn’t fail.  Never mind I was clueless.  And forget playing by ear–’cause that really would show my inadequacy.  Don’t make me try to play anything by ear or jazz something up with my own chording.  I might not do it right.  A cautious, people-pleasing, perfectionistic child may limit their musical abilities because of their fear of messing up.  For now, it feels right to work with my daughter in music, helping her to hopefully overcome fear of “not doing it right.”

Part 6 of Our Third Grade Curriculum: Dos Idiomas

Dos idiomas.  Two languages.  Spanish and English.  Like the Dora song.

Catchy music:  “I speak Spanish.  And English too.  I like them both.  What about you?”

We use a completely multi-modal approach to Spanish, focusing on speaking, not grammar.

Why teach a foreign language at a young age?  So they have twice as much to say, of course!

Objective:  Spanish (and English) fluency by junior high, with choice of a third language to be studied in high school.


Native Spanish speaker tutor twice weekly for one hour:  I read somewhere, don’t know where, that in order for a child to achieve language fluency, they need to hear a native speaker at least twice weekly.  We have found that our children’s Spanish improved by leaps and bounds when a Spanish teacher spends two hours a week immersing them.  I request that the Spanish teacher only speak Spanish, unless she sees severe frustration signs from the child.  I don’t care what the teacher does.  Each one has done different things with them.  Crafts.  Drawing.  Worksheets.  Reading aloud.  Starting seeds.  Flying a kite.  Flashcards.  Identifying toy foods.  Naming dinnerware.  Show and tell.  Mother May I?  Simon Says.  Candy Land.  But please speak in Spanish.

Parents endeavor to become more fluent in Spanish themselves:  Fourth year of medical school is the best year of your life.  The pressure is lifted as your staff doctors allow you to dedicate yourself towards getting accepted into your chosen specialty.  Some time is freed up.  Some medical students decide to have babies that year.  I decided to learn Spanish.  In Indiana, we were seeing huge numbers of Spanish-speaking immigrants who did not understand English.  What to do?  Learn Spanish!  My husband and I both worked to learn the language, and we still work to do so.  We use the broken Spanish we have around the house.  Smatters of Spanish.  Smatters of English.  Spanglish at its best.  The Spanish teacher (not tutor–my kids hear “tooter”–like in flatulence) helps me as much as the kids.  Our current Spanish teacher is great at forcing us to use our Spanish, as she has only been here in the United States for a couple of years.  Learning English is fresh in her brain.  She likes to torture us willing Americans by forcing us to use her beloved Spanish.  My husband and I used to talk in Spanish when we didn’t want the kids to understand.  That really motivated the girls to learn quickly so they could understand our secrets.  Another thing we do is attend the Spanish-speaking Sunday school class at church.  Talk about humbling.  My Spanish is probably at the level of a three-year old.  Unfortunately, it’s an adult class.  Oh!  Are they really saying something?  I just thought they were speaking in tongues!  Pardonnez-moi!  No.  Non.  Perdon!  Yeah.  That’s right.

Spanish CDs in car: 

  • We listen to Boca Beth .  We bought ALL of the Boca Beth CDs and DVDs.  If they were records (anyone know what I’m talking about here?) they’d have grooves lined in them.  Beth’s a Southerner speaking Spanish.  I always wondered how that sounded.  Now I know.  Beth piggy-backs the two languages (English and Spanish) in the exact same song.  Back-to-back right there together in your brain.  The phrases and subjects she chooses are common and useful.  Her customer service is impeccable.  Once I had to call her help-number when the internet wasn’t working right and my order was messed up.  Oh, my!  I got to talk to Boca Beth!  She answered the phone!  I told my girls and we all swooned!  Anyhow, she is clearly a Christian, and I know that may deter some of my atheist/agnostic friends (yes, I’m a Christian failure–I have some of those around still)–but I have to say that the material is SO good and she does not preach to you (or your kids).  Most CDs have no mention of Christianity so just steer away from those that do if it bothers you that much.  So really, check it out–Christian and non-Christian alike–let’s learn together!  I highly recommend Boca Beth.  You can see clips on You Tube too if you want a sample.
  • We also listen to Professor Pocket’s Silly Farm Adventure in the car.  Another great CD to play in the car.  However, it seems that it may be out of print and costs a pretty penny.  But if you can find it on the cheap, worth buying.  Or if you have some extra curriculum cash lying around it’s probably worth it.  They incorporate English conversation between an unaccented English (but clearly bilingual) speaker and an accented, native bilingual speaker.  Parts of their English conversation is repeated by the native speaker in Spanish.  The songs are in Spanish and fun, fun, fun.  If you don’t know any Spanish, you won’t always know what the songs are saying.  As we learn more and more Spanish, we understand more and more of the songs.  But the songs are super catchy.

Spanish DVD Programs:

  • Boca Beth has some great DVDs that mirror the songs on her CDs.  And you can order this silly, cute little puppet that the children, for some reason, love.  His name is Boca (Spanish for mouth) and he is seen in the DVDs.  My kids get their “Boca’s” out when we watch the DVDs.  We bought all the DVDs.  Her personality is contagious, and I just love to watch her dance and smile.  It’s infectious!  She seems to be just one of those people.
  • La Clase Divertida  (click on the name to pull it up) is another Spanish curriculum we invested in.  I picked it up back at a South Carolina Homeschool convention.  I actually met Senor Gamache there.  So cool.  Forget all these other superstars!  To talk to Boca Beth and meet Senor Gamache, well, that’s the tops.  We have purchased the first two levels.  Each level has a DVD with about 15 or so lessons.  The DVD lessons cover language, culture, and an activity.  Besides the language DVDs, included in the boxed kits are workbooks and items needed to complete a craft.  It’s a nicely packaged curriculum.  We like it a lot.  We used it when the girls were 5 and 3, but since they were too young to write, we just stuck with the craft and watching the DVD lessons.  We redid the first boxed kit earlier this year, and we sped through it (girls were 8 and 6).  We bought the second level, and it ramps it up a lot.  Wished there was a bit of a middle ground between the first and second levels.  We have taken the second level more slowly.  Senor Gamache’s curriculum is also from a Christian world view, which may bother some.  But again, a good curriculum is a good curriculum, and this is a good one.  My kids look at him and say, “He’s nice.”  As if they even know him.  Whatever.
  • Whistlefritz makes bilingual DVDs.  We have purchased one of them:  Inside and Out.  We liked it, particularly my 4 year old. I notice she really picks up the accent and calls the little mouse “Freetzie”  even though you and I want to say the short I sound, “Fritzie.”  So that’s worth something.  My older kids watched it a couple of times, and they aren’t too interested in any more times.  But it’s a cute DVD.  Looks like there are bunches more of them.
  • Muzzy, the well-marketed language program, was our first acquisition for audiovisual Spanish learning.  It’s okay.  The kids liked to watch it.  They still will watch it occasionally.  In the multi-modal approach we use, it is beneficial.  Boca Beth and Whhistlefritz do a better job of bridging the gap for a child learning to be bilingual.  I firmly believe in the immersion technique, but Muzzy doesn’t make the grade.  Its’ really just a cute cartoon in Spanish.  You can find those on YouTube or by changing your settings on your kids’ DVDs.  So if you’re short on cash, not worth the investment.

Favorite Movies in Spanish:  We watch Cinderella, Puff the Magic Dragon, and Tangled in Spanish sometimes in the afternoon and I have to get something done and they’re asking for TV.  As the kids already know what’s happening, it’s a nice way to work Spanish in.  For the older kids, put on the subtitles, too!  Either in Spanish or English.

Computer Programs:  With our teacher twice weekly, Spanish DVDs, CDs in the car, and mom and dad speaking Spanish as much as we can, we’re getting by without a computer program this year.  I rely on them if we are between Spanish teachers, although I’m thinking about getting them back in working order.  They’re a pain in the butt to reload when your computer crashes, as did ours.  Rosetta Stone is touted and touted, but my favorite is Visual Link Spanish  .  A wonderful program.  How could you not like a program with a “Burrito Builder” and catchy music.  If I had my druthers, I’d pick this over Rosetta Stone.  We have both, but currently right now they are collecting dust.  I plan to get them in working order again over the next few months, and maybe I can post a good review.

Free Online Spanish Games:  It took me a long time, but here is a site that engages kids, is easy to use, doesn’t take forever to load, and speaks some Spanish for them to hear. If I find more good sites, I’ll post them.  There are some more boring sites for older students for grammar and such, but this site I listed is great for kids (and I listen in too).

You Tube:  Ahhhh.  You Tube.  Poetry recitation.  Piano music.  Spanish.  What don’t you have?  You Tube has lots of cartoon video in Spanish.  I found a Muzzy section on there, some “Caillou”, and “Sesame Street” (Plazo Sesamo).  There’s also a good one called “Pocoyo.”  Now, we watch a lot of “Kirikou” on there in Spanish.  Who is Kirikou?  He is one cute little African boy.  It may not appeal to some people’s sensibilities, as it is about an African tribe, and although it’s a cartoon, the women look just like they did in National Geographic when you gah-gahed over it as a child.  Clothes are scant.  There’s a foiling character who is a bit scary looking and casts spells and such.  But it doesn’t scare my kids, and I explain to them a little bit about African culture and climate (what little I know).  And you can find the cartoon in Spanish (and many other languages as well).

Flashcards:  I bought Usborne Spanish Flashcards.  I don’t like them.  The word is right there on front of the card with the picture and is too big to cover easily.  I bought eeBoo Spanish Flash Cards.  Love them.  Big size.  Beautiful drawings and color.  High quality cardstock.  One side is Spanish and the other side is exactly the same in English.  A picture, the word, and a short sentence with the word is on each side.  Our Spanish teacher uses them a lot.

Phonics book:  We don’t focus on written Spanish much, but I bought Juguemos a leer from Amazon awhile ago.  It is difficult to find and may be pricey.  We are slowly working through it.  It is actually a phonics reading primer and workbook they use in Mexico elementary students.  My kids read the primer with the Spanish teacher.  I muddle through the workbook with them slowly and surely.  They like it and don’t complain.

Library books:  We check out Spanish library books.  They read them with the teacher.  I’ll read some to my 4-year-old, but she always says, “English.  English.”

Time is running short.  I could type on and on.  I just want to add a note on the advertising-gimic of “immersion.”  None of those DVDs, CDs, or computer programs provide true immersion.  Parents provide immersion by repeatedly surrounding children with lots of diverse, rich material in whatever it is they want the child to learn.  Repeatedly.  Day in.  Day out.  Ideally, we would pack up for months and go to Spain or Mexico, and my children would be immersed in Spanish language.  They’d speak it within months.  The best we can do for now is to provide a native teacher, DVDs, CDs, our own attempts at language (my kids correct us now!!!!!!!), books, and striking up conversations with strangers who look like they speak Spanish.  Only to find out they’re Korean.  Embrace life.

Part 5 of Our Third Grade Curriculum: Reading

Said the schooled kid to the homeschooled kid with thick-laden haughty sarcasm,

Of course you have time to read more. You’re homeschooled.”

–Not my vignette, but it has stuck in my mind from something I read a few years ago.

Read and Be Read To

Jim Trelease’s The Read Aloud Handboook, which I received 7 years ago from a wise, well-seasoned pediatrician colleague of mine in Kentucky after the birth of my second daughter, breaks reading success down to a simple formula:

  •  Read
  •  Be read to.

Read and be read to.  It’s that simple, and it summarizes our reading curriculum for third grade and all grades up to this point.  Our reading curriculum consists of silent reading by the children and read aloud by mom to the kids.

Although my copy of Trelease’s book is now worn, marked up, and dog-eared, as a still-working physician mother of a newborn and 20 month old married to an orthopedic fellow, I kindly thanked my colleague and thought, “I’ll never find time to read this!”  Plus, I was already an advocate of reading aloud.  Why would I need to read it?

But one early, early morning as I nursed the baby over my morning cup of coffee there it was still lying on the kitchen table, never stashed away somewhere yet.  So I started reading it.  And read it each morning over my early coffee-nursing session and carried it around the house to finish it at opportune times.  And read-aloud became much more to me than just a simple bedtime story!

The Read-Aloud Handbook

The Read-Aloud Handbook,  in addition to its great anecdotes and personal opinions from the author, actually helps to quantify and provide convincing statistics to support read aloud as an invaluable tool to develop reading skills.  It pulls together and cites research studies and reports supporting reading to improve measurable knowledge.  At the end, Trelease provides a “Treasury of Read-Alouds”,  lists of recommended books (picture books, short books, novels, and poetry) with a synopsis, related literature, and recommended listening ages for each book.  After finishing The Read-Aloud Handbook, I felt thoroughly comfortable with a “read and be read to” based-curriculum, and my choice of read-alouds most often come from the lists so helpfully provided in the book.  Of all the books he recommends for reading-aloud, we’ve only not finished one.  His selections seem to be right-on.  His age recommendations mostly correct.  When we pick out our own read-alouds, we’re only about fifty-fifty on its success.  So his lists of recommended books are very helpful.

“An essential element in reading aloud is what you choose to read aloud.  Not all books are worth reading aloud…The style of writing–if it’s convoluted or the sentence structure too complex for the tongue or ear–can make your read-aloud choice unsuccessful…the aim of the Treasury is to list books whose subject matter, style, and structure make successful read-alouds.” Jim Trelease from The Read-Aloud Handbook, 4th ed.

In addition to reading aloud, the book covers silent reading.  Again, the statistics are astounding and speak for themselves.  But what I really appreciated was his helpful advice on stepping back, and letting the child choose the silent reading selections ON THEIR OWN.  I need to hear this.  I want to hand them books and say, “Read this.  It’s important.  It’s a good one.”  Or, “Read this chapter book.  Get out of those baby books.  You can read better than that.”  What I do instead is pick out a few books on our library trip and put them in the library bag with their own selections.  If they choose to read them, fine.  If not, I silently return them.  I love to ask them about what they read.  If I have time, I love to read what they’re reading.  We don’t do book reports much yet.  Maybe one or two a year.  But I hear an awful lot verbally about what’s happening in these books.

He Who Pees First Does Not Pee Best

My oldest daughter has always loved stories, but she never took an early interest in reading.  Not a bit.  It required all of my self-discipline to not scream and yell because I knew she was capable, and I was afraid the kid would never learn to read!  She would listen attentively and answer my questions about whatever I read to her (usually from the Read-Aloud Handbook selections) and often ask me to read to her whatever I might be reading myself at the time.  But read something herself!  Uh-uh.  No way.  Not having it.  Wouldn’t alternate every other line with me.  Wouldn’t read Learn to Read in 100 Easy Lessons with me.  Pre-school passed.  Kindergarten passed.  First grade passed.  My wonderful mother-in-law reassured me, “M1 will love to read.  She loves stories.”  And she was right.

I think 1) some children’s brains developmentally take longer to decode words and develop reading strength and speed and 2) kids can understand so much more than they’re capable of reading–and that may bother some of them a lot.

“Finland has higher reading scores than the U.S., despite that its laws forbid the formal teaching of reading until the child is seven years of age.”  The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease, 4th edition, quoting from Gerald W. Bracey, “American Students Near the Top in Reading” Phi Delta Kappan

“According to experts who have studied children’s listening skills, it is a reasonable assertion that reading and listening skills begin to converge at about eighth grade.  Until then, they usually listen on a higher level than they read on.  Therefore, children can hear and understand stories that are more complicated and more interesting than anything they could read on their own–which has to be one of God’s greatest blessings for first-graders.  The last thing you want first-graders thinking is what they’re reading in first grade is as good as books are going to get!”  The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease, 4th editon

In Closing

As long as I am making a point to read aloud to them nearly daily, I feel comfortable and confident with our reading program.  When I stop doing that, which happens occasionally as certain interferences arise, I feel unsettled inside.  I know I’m dropping the ball.  We high-tail it back to my comfort zone ASAP–right there on the comfy, cozy couch. DPP_0355

And lately, I’ve been trying to make it a point to read written material in a book to myself for them to see.  As I’ve taken to researching nutritional issues on the computer, they’ve started to want to be on the computer, the phone, and the Kindle more and more–like me.  So back to basics, model the behavior which I want to see.  And that means I’ve also taken to handwriting my blog posts in a spiral bound notebook.  Ouch!


Part 4 of “Our Third Grade Curriculum”: Poetry

As I’ve already posted on poetry in Fill Their Minds With Words, Make Them Their Own:  Poetry,  I will provide a brief update on our poetry curriculum.  I continue to be amazed at the children’s capacity to memorize poetry.  I have one who can memorize anything:  recipes, shopping lists, secret codes.  And I have one who forgets the days of the week.  They are in third grade and first grade.  Before we started poetry, I completely underestimated their ability to memorize and appreciate complex poetry.  Now it’s in there.  Forever, snippets of these poems will pop into their minds as the occasion arises!

Poems memorized since the last poetry post include:

“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost 

  • 1.   YouTube reference:  A great reading by a small child that is fun and motivating for kids to watch!
  • 2.  We discussed the interesting rhyming scheme of this poem.  Each third line of the stanzas does not rhyme and sets up the         rhyming scheme for the next stanza.  Until the last, which all rhymes.  Forgive me, I do not know the appropriate words to discuss poetry yet.  We just memorize them for now!
  • 3.  I chose this piece because we are in the deep of winter in this part of the states, as well as for its beauty.
  • 4.  We looked at some phonics using this poem.  We’ve been working on the letter Y as a vowel, and we went through the poem looking for examples.  We also talked about the two sounds OO can make, and the sounds WH makes.  We could have went on and on.

“Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven” by William Butler Yeats (pronounced “Yates”–I was ignorant, had to look that up.)

  • 1.  YouTube reference:  Our favorite reading on YouTube was by Sir Anthony Hawkins.
  • 2.  This poem is in the Mensa for Kids poetry collection and thus has a nice little bit on Yeats, the poem’s meaning, and a way to go about memorizing it.  I really like the Mensa for Kids poetry collection and printed out all of it.  Some selections we will not do until the girls are older.  But I have been absolutely astounded at their enjoyment of memorizing these poems and their ability to do so!  The Mensa poems seem too advanced, but after giving them a try, I’m glad I did!  We pick and choose poems from it.
  • 3.  To bring this poem to their level, I talked about how they bring me their artwork to see.  “Do you like it, Mommy?”  “Of course I do!  It’s great!”  We talk about what if I said, “No.  I don’t like the color of your princess’s dress.  I wouldn’t have colored it that way.  You didn’t do a very good job.”  How would they feel?  And what if they told me they wanted to be an astronaut, and I said, “No.  You’re not good enough in math.  You can never be an astronaut.”  Finally, I told them that I was going to lay their favorite shirt on the ground outside and asked them how they would walk on it.  Would they stamp on it?  Run on it?  Why not?
  • 4.  We connected this poem to two other poems we have learned, “Hope” by Emily Dickinson and “Dreams” by Langston Hughes.
  • 5.  Lastly, we painted an illustration of this poem using tempera paint, some gold and silver oil paint, and glitter.
  • 6.  The kids chose this poem from a reading of a few poems.  I was surprised, but it worked into a great unit study!


How we learn a new poem:

  • The first day we “live with the poem”:  I read it aloud to them a couple of times then have them repeat the first line or two after me.  And put it away.
  • The second day we “live with the poem”:  I read the poem again to them.  They each get a copy of the poem and we read it aloud together or have them take turns with stanzas or lines.  I repeat a few lines and have them repeat the lines back to me without looking at their papers.  I push them as hard as I can without frustrating them AT ALL.  We may talk about the meaning, alliteration, and imagery.
  • The third day we “live with a poem”:  They repeat as much as they can from memory with my prompts.  We look up the poem being read on YouTube and watch a couple of different readers/presentations and pick a favorite.  This can really be a fun time full of giggling as contributor’s recitations can be quite different from your recitation interpretation!  We then repeat as much as we can or say it together.
  • The fourth day we “live with a poem”:  We work on trouble lines, reading them, repeating them, singing them, drawing them, whatever it takes.  We attempt to recite as much as we can.  Watch YouTube again if it seems like it will benefit them.
  • The fifth day we “live with the poem”:  I read the poem aloud.  I ask them to recite as much as they can from memory.
  • The sixth day we “live with the poem”:  By now most of the poem is memorized.  We continue working on the poem until perfected.  Sometimes we’ll look at the phonics in the poem and grammar of the poem, tying it into our other lessons.  I may have them circle long E sounds or long I sounds.  Point out capitalization.

We spend about 20-30 minutes maximum on poetry about 4 days per week.  An investment I find invaluable.  Something I never would have believed.

You are what you eat!  Eat well!

You are what you read!  Read well!

Part 3 of “Our Third Grade Curriculum”: Spelling and Phonics

I have posted a long vowel chart with all the letter combinations I could think of that formed those sounds:  Long Vowel Chart.

Today M1, my third grader, and I did a brief, oral phonics review.  I started with the letter A, and I asked her to tell me all the sounds she could think of that the letter A made and word examples.  Next came B.  Then C.  And so on.  We proceeded through the entire alphabet in this manner.

  • “A says short ‘a’ like cat, long ‘a’ like cake, ‘a’ as in ball…”
  • “B says /b/…”
  • “C says /s/ like city, /k/ cat…”

Some days, we reverse that a bit.  I will say a sound, and she must then list all the letter or letter combinations that can say that sound, giving me word examples.

  •  Me:  “What makes the sound of long A?”
    M1:   “‘A’ as in ‘a’, ‘ay’ as in ‘day’, ‘ea’ as in ‘steak’, ‘eigh’ as in eight, ‘a consonant e’ as in ‘make’,  ‘ai’ as in ‘daisy’, ‘ei’ (veil), and ‘ey’ as in ‘they’, and I can’t remember the rest!”
  • Me:  “How about the sound /h/?”
    M1:  “An ‘h’ as in ‘heat’ and ‘wh’ as in ‘who’.”
  • Me:  “And how about /k/?”
    M1:  “A ‘ck’ as in ‘back’, ‘ch’ as in ‘Christmas’, ‘c’ as in car, and ‘k’ as in kitten.”

About a year ago I decided to embark on my own phonics and spelling curriculum for my daughters.  We had already finished consonants and short vowels.  We had worked through an Abeka first grade phonics primer and supplemented with Explode The Code books.  I had just bought Spelling Workout, and we had started through it.  Well, when we hit long vowel sound a , I just knew I couldn’t take it any longer.  Only one lesson devoted to long vowel sound A.  Only ten words; only two letter combinations , “a_e” and “ai”.  Sure, later in the book, “vowel pairs” were introduced and “ay” was introduced.  But what about “eigh”, “ey”, and “ea”, which all can say long vowel sound A?   Abeka phonics, Explode the Code phonics, and Spelling Workout do not present the letter combinations that can make the vowel sounds together as a group.  They are spaced too far out in sequence and may even be in separate books.  Some consonants make more than one sound (or even two sounds), and the possible sounds were presented in disparate lessons–and maybe only the most common sound was presented. Mary learned “s” says /s/ as in “yes.”  Later on she learned that “s” can say /z/ as in hers.  Certain brains don’t learn this way.  These brains want to know all the ways to do it all at once.  Why not present it this way?  Each curriculum has some great strengths, but they just don’t seem to put it all together.  Not comprehensive and not logically sequential! Or if it’s comprehensive, it’s not logical.  Or if it’s logical, it’s not comprehensive.  That it be logical, sequential, and comprehensive is important to me.

You see, M1’s father, a highly intelligent orthopedic surgeon (basing this biased statement on grades, board scores, and absolute level of smart-alecness), struggled in early elementary language arts.  Hated it.  Struggled with the material.  Struggled with his teachers.  A terrible reader and speller until sixth grade.  Then at 11 years old, his reading miraculously kicked in, escalating him from the absolute lowest reading class to the highest reading class.  He remembers distinctly the feeling of reading all coming together for him.  Spelling, on the other hand, well, it continues to stink!  He doesn’t know the combinations of letters that can come together to make the sounds.  Sure, he knows some, but as his reading skills developed past the point where phonics and spelling were being taught formally, he has huge gaps.  Clearly not in understanding or reasoning.

It seems crazy that, I on the other hand, following the exact same curriculum and having the exact same teachers as my husband, excelled at both reading and spelling.  In fact, I won my school’s fifth grade spelling bee.  I was always in the highest reading classes.  My husband and I attended the exact same elementary school!  We both did great in college and medical school?  What gives?  Why were our elementary language arts experiences so polar opposite?  As M1’s brain seems to follow her father’s brain wave patterns, alarm bells were going off all around me as we struggled through Abeka, Explode the Code, and Spelling Workout.  It wasn’t working for her.  As I searched and learned, I stumbled across Uncovering the Logic of English by Denise Eide.  Lines from her book jumped out at me:

Logical students do not tolerate inconsistent rules.  The smattering of phonics usually given to them is not only unhelpful; it is damaging…But why don’t all students struggle?…Though intuition [in young, learning students] is a great strength, their logical/literal counterparts who are attuned to detail should not be marginalized.  Teaching both [all] sounds right from the beginning allows all students to succeed and prevents student and teacher frustration by eliminating unnecessary exceptions…If they [students] can learn advanced mathematics, physics, chemistry, business structures, and even other languages, they can easily learn the 104 pieces that explain English.” (pp 27 and 28, 1st edition)

Aha!  Intuition versus logic.  I am intuitive.  It’ll work out fine.  Brandon is not.  Show me how it will work out fine.

Rather than waste time and money on a new, published curriculum, I decided that with the internet, the books we already owned, and the couple of books I purchased to help me understand phonics, we could master phonics and spelling in a logical, sequential way.  To make sure I wasn’t missing anything due to my independent streak and superiority complex, in addition to Uncovering the Logic of English by Denise Eide, I bought Handy English Encoder Decoder by Harvey Bluedorn.  I read Uncovering the Logic of English from cover to cover right away.  Absolutely wonderful.  It will be my checklist as I continue homeschooling my three children.  My girls will have a great grasp of the English phonics and spelling system if I make sure and hit each point in this book.  I don’t plan to do it in one year.  I plan to layer it in from first grade through probably fifth or sixth grade–unless the child masters it all early.  Layer, layer, layer.  My first grader doesn’t really get it, but as we repeat it each year, I believe she will grasp more each time.  M1, my third grader, seems to be really grasping it.

I continue to use Spelling Workout, Explode the Code, and internet sources for worksheets in each area that we cover.  And I peruse them routinely to make sure I’m not excluding anything I need to cover.  I have Spelling Workout B, and I will not purchase the next books in this series.  However, I did buy all of the Explode the Code books, and I will continue picking and choosing what I need from them throughout the upcoming years.  Although I wish the curriculum was more sequential and grouped topics differently, I really like the lessons and do feel they are pretty comprehensive.  I use the words from the lessons as spelling “tests.”

Let me here point out that I don’t see the point of separating spelling from phonics.  I absolutely see the difference between decoding (reading and phonics) and encoding (spelling), but something in me doesn’t think they should be separated.  However, from my own experience (n=2, this means sample size of 2, which does not really make it a good study!), I clearly see that decoding and early phonics come first.  My first grader is an awesome decoder but not so great encoder–YET.  I firmly believe it is developmental and will come as I feed the machine.  Again, no sources to quote.  Somebody may be able to enlighten me.  I am pleased with my third grader’s interest and progression in spelling and phonics.

In upcoming posts, I will post the tables that I have/am constructing for us to learn from.  We have been hammering the long vowels intermittently for the last year to year and a half.  If you think that’s too long, perhaps you’ve oversimplified long vowels.  The more complicated long vowel spelling patterns she has seen–but we have not focused on.  But when we see a word in a poem or read-aloud, I point out the unique spelling pattern and show it to her on the chart.

And early on, we really liked our set of pretty complete flashcards.  We used those quite a bit last year.  We have one set just for vowels and one set for consonants.  I found once she knew these, she had mastered a lot.

Our phonics/spelling also includes segments in the past and in the future on:  consonants, blends, diphthongs, “r” controlled words, schwa sounds, syllables, some rules, and some etymology (as it applies to helping us understand phonics/spelling).  I will post our summaries in future posts.

Part 2 of “Our Third Grade Curriculum”: Grammar

Although neglected for five years of pharmacy school, four years of medical school, three years of residency, and six years of my medical career, grammar was a favorite subject of mine in high school.  I loved punctuation and how moving a comma or adding a colon or pushing in a hyphen changed the feeling of a sentence.  So sad to say my grammar wasted away with disuse.  Oh, well.  I’ll live vicariously through my children’s education!  Ha!

Our choice for grammar has been Easy Grammar:  Grade 3 with accompanying Daily Grams Student Workbook-Grade 3 (with the answer key) to complement it by Wanda C. Phillips .  What do I love about this program?  Two things:
1.  It’s concise.  Short.  Brief.  And doesn’t take M1, my daughter, forever to complete!  Like maybe 10-15 minutes tops!
2.  The worksheets are cumulative, reminding me of Saxon math.

Let me break it down just a bit:

Easy Grammar:  Grade 3 textbook:   Presents the grammar lesson and gives practice problems focused on that particular lesson.  It also has teaching tips and the answers.

Daily Grams Student Workbook-Grade 3:  Compiled only of 180 brief (about 5 questions per page) cumulative worksheets reviewing the material of The Easy Grammar:  Grade 3 text.  The worksheets cumulatively review the material from the Easy Grammar textbook.  Conveniently, the Daily Grams also provide brief grammatical rule summaries in case she has happened to forget the particular grammar lesson from the textbook.  Sometimes we’ll do a couple worksheets in a day, skipping the questions she absolutely knows.

How does M1 like it?  Her words:  “Grammar is easy!”  Yippee!!

The program focuses mostly on “the rules” of grammar summarized in a very brief fashion.  There is little to no creative writing, although in the Daily Grams there are daily exercises where the student combines two sentences of varying lengths and types.  I don’t mind the lack of creative writing because we supplement Easy Grammar with our own writing exercises.  Oh, boy that sounds great!  “Writing exercises”.  Ha!  What I mean is we write either a letter or a short story once a week.  And since my daughter dislikes the physical act of handwriting, these are typically 3-4 sentences long.  But it’s enough to reinforce her grammar textbook’s information.

I feel teaching grammar an integral part of my curriculum at this age and have not considered leaving it out.  However, I have one homeschooling friend who is an editor.  She still has not started formal grammar for her 4th grade son.  She feels it can wait until he actively pursues creative writing over the next year or two.  But she’s an editor.  I’m a doctor.  I don’t teach formal science yet in my curriculum probably for the same reason she doesn’t actively teach a section on grammar.  I just promote curiosity and reinforce math and reading, skills necessary to excel in science, and teach a little science here and there as the opportunity arises in our learning.  But, I have to brush up on the grammar!  So I’m not able to remember and point out “imperative” sentences and comma rules like my friend can on a whim!

Easy Grammar works for us, and I’m glad to have stumbled onto it by the recommendation of a fellow homeschooling mom (not the editor–a piano teacher).

Part 1 of “Our Third Grade Curriculum”: Saxon Math

I think it’s fun to see what other kids are learning, public schooled, private schooled, or homeschooled!  So I thought I’d post our third grade curriculum and then use subsequent posts to comment on each component of our curriculum.  Plus, I remember when I first started homeschooling how helpful it was when I read blogs (that was before I knew what a blog was…I don’t know what I thought I was reading…a web page?…du-uh!) about people’s curriculums.  When I started homeschooling in South Carolina, submission of your curriculum was required and using other homeschoolers’ suggestions was beyond helpful!

Our current curriculum includes the following:

  • Math
  • Grammar
  • Spelling/Phonics
  • Poetry
  • Reading
  • Music
  • Spanish
  • Handwriting
  • History
  • Art
  • Physical Education
  • Religion

Mathematics:  Saxon Math is my choice.  It is cut and dry.  Doesn’t make too much effort to pretend to be fluffy.   I was a Saxon-trained math student starting in sixth grade until I finished high school calculus.  Not naturally math-brained, as a student, I found Saxon Math to be divine.  It provided good explanations, and then proceeded in a cumulative fashion so that I was never allowed to forget what I had learned six weeks ago.  Because I would have.

Saxon isn’t colorful.  It isn’t cute.  It isn’t creative. M1 (my daughter) does one worksheet daily as I sit across from her at our school table.  The worksheets are actually two-sided:  one to “do at school” and one to do at “home” with a parent.  I have never found that she needs to do both sides of the worksheet, as they are near-perfect images of each other.  In fact, even on the worksheet she does daily, we will skip problems that she could do backwards and blindfolded.  I remember my teacher skipping problems she knew we had mastered–so I know it’s okay to skip!  (Which you inherently know anyway, but it’s good to have a model you trust!).

M1 is a third grader, and in another month, we will finish Saxon Math 3 (it is November).  We will proceed to Saxon Math 54.  I have homeschooling friends whose children are also in third grade and started Saxon Math 54 at the beginning of the third grade.  They skipped Saxon Math Kindergarten when they began homeschooling and just started in Saxon Math 1 in kindergarten.  I chose to not skip the books, but to rather accelerate through the books according to skill level, which means we may end and start a book anytime in the school year.  We usually finish a book, and then skip about 1/4 to 3/8 of the book that follows for the next grade level (because they repeat so much).

I have found in math, if M1 doesn’t understand a concept, it really doesn’t do any good to pound it in or drill it in.  It is developmental.  If I wait a month, she’ll have the concept down in a heartbeat with no contribution from me.  It just came.  The necessary neurons just finally developed and connected.  So rather than torture her or me trying to push her through an advanced book, I chose to take it at her level.  Where we are at in Saxon Math 3 feels good for her and me.  It is right at her edge of understanding.  If it’s too easy, we’ll do several worksheets in a day–but only 2-3 problems on the sheet that she may need further work on.  When we are “right at her edge”, we do a worksheet daily–most all of it.  When I’m seeing a lack of understanding of concepts, I’ll slow math down to 2-3 lessons a week until the remote starts clicking again, taking time to brush up on math facts or do hands-on fun math activities.   I do not do all the lesson material listed in the teacher’s manual.  I peruse it periodically, take notes on anything I am missing by just doing the worksheets, and then ask her those things throughout the week to assess understanding.

We supplement Saxon with some good old-fashioned flash cards.  M1 knows her facts, but she has to think about them, and, unfortunately for her, I see the place for plain-old rote memorization in math.  Not just “thinking about it.”   Remember, I was NOT a natural math-student.  My teachers complained to my mom when I was in 5th grade that I needed to stop counting on my fingers.  So my terrific mom drilled me over and over until I was blue in the face while she watched “Quincy” and “General Hospital” on TV.  Am I dating myself?  Anyway, in order for me to progress with more complex math concepts, I had to KNOW that 8 +7 was 15.  Or else, I got so hung up on what 8 plus 7 was that I would not even get to the next level where 0.8 + 0.7 is 1.5!  In homeschooling we have a little more time to spend, but I don’t plan to get up into algebra II and realize the kid still has to think about 8 + 7 or 8X7.  And it is our goal is to progress through calculus in our homeschool curriculum before I send her off for secondary education.  Whether she becomes a medical doctor, engineer, or communications major.

By the way, M1 has difficulty focusing.  She knows it.  I know it.  Saxon Math knows it.  Whether it’s Saxon Math or M1, I don’t know. But for us, this is NOT a curriculum to be done solo.  I can’t just hand her the worksheet and say “do it” (like I do my first grader).  There are days I sit by her moving my finger to the next problem as she finishes the last problem.  Even with the math fact pages.  My first grader doesn’t have this focus issue, so I’m thinking it’s an M1 problem.  I just resign myself to the fact that math won’t get done until I am there with her.  My husband says he had this attention and focus problem in elementary school as well; he remembers outgrowing it at about 4th grade.  So I’m just hanging in there.  Dreaming about the days when I can fold laundry while the kids do their math worksheets.  I do not do much on the computer with math.  I’m pretty old-fashoined.  But the other day, I saw something I may check out from Saxon Math.  It’s called D.I.V.E.  I read about it on another blog:

So, I’m pleased with our Saxon Math Curriculum for our math curriculum.  I plan to use Saxon Math through Calculus, and I sure do look forward to more advanced math!  I so look forward to high school homeschooling.  My patience for elementary school education strains my every being!  There’s nothing like a good challenge!

Update:  About a month ago we moved on to Saxon 5/4.  We skipped about the last 15 lessons or so in the book 3.  No good reason, other than I knew from past experience that the subsequent book would review for about 1/3 of the year!!  And it does.  Usually I skip ahead until the problems are not so much review for them.  M1 doesn’t want to skip lessons in the Saxon 5/4, but it is too easy.  It basically drops back to addition and subtraction!!  So I skip lessons when I can sneak it by her.  However, the simplicity seems to really be building her confidence, which is great, especially because I wasn’t even aware of a lack of confidence on her part in math.

Any questions you have about Saxon Math?  ASK AWAY!

Addendum:  It is now April, and we have transitioned to the Saxon 5/4 book, at about Lesson 45 or so.  My daughter REALLY  was doing horrible on her timed tests.  She always has.  It was torture for her and I.  What we decided to try was a 20 problem timed test with 1 minute time limit.  She seemed to know the facts very well, but she didn’t have the needed focus and concentration for the 5 minute test.  She nailed the 20 problem timed test and asked to do it again immediately upon finishing because she thought it was so much fun.  So we’ll keep doing abbreviated timed tests for as long as we need to to build her confidence and focus.  Then maybe we’ll try a longer test again.