Just recently, I’ve had lots of questions about how we homeschool: what do we actually do on a day to day basis and how does it all work? And the truth of the matter is that whilst I can (and will, in some cases) show in detail how we do it, in reality what works for us might not be the best fit for someone else. The beauty of home education is the flexibility it offers, the ability to tailor your approach to exactly what best suits your own family’s needs.
There is no one “right” way of doing it. Some people prefer structure and plans, whilst others need a completely unstructured, free and child-led approach to learning. That being said, it’s useful to look at examples of what works for other people to aid the formation of your own plans. So, with that in mind, this post will share our plans for the current school year.
However, bear in mind that although we have a broad yearly plan, as I mentioned in this post, we don’t always stick to said plan and instead deviate off from time to time to investigate any current passions and interests of the children. In addition, I’m a huge believer of learning through travel and first-hand experiences. Should any such opportunities present themselves throughout the year, we’ll certainly drop our planned work schedule in preference for learning through life! For example, we’ve recently booked a last-minute trip to Marrakesh. Wandering the labyrinth of souks with their bright colours and unfamiliar smells and sights; or hiking through the wilderness of the High Atlas Mountains and discovering traditional Berber villages will most certainly broaden their minds and feed their imagination!
I’ve split our plans into four posts: English; Maths & Sports; The Arts & Languages; and Science & Humanities. Here are our plans for the first of these sections.
There are many different components of the English language and literature work we do – skills which have to be built up slowly over time, and which underpin many of the other subjects they do, and which no doubt will be essential in whatever career path they pursue. Such as being able to write a persuasive article, letter, or description, or put across your point of view, using accurate spelling, grammar and punctuation. Or being able to read passages and summarise the key points quickly and efficiently. Or finding just the right word to sum up a feeling either in a conversation or a written piece. Or being able to sit down and write a poem or story for pleasure or in Bean10’s case your first novel at the start of your career as an author. Or appreciating the joy of books as a source of relaxation. Or composing a brilliant argument for a case you’re trying to win. It’s all fairly fundamental stuff!
Breaking it down into each element, here’s what we plan to cover this year:
Bean8: Each week he rotates between one of the following selections:
- Writing & Rhetoric Book 2: Narrative I – for developing his story writing skills. The next chapter is about the use of monologues and dialogues in stories. Using an ancient Greek myth about Athena and Poseidon’s argument over after whom the town should be named as a basis, he’ll rewrite sentences, using synonyms or changing the subject etc; write a monologue about Athena’s thoughts as she imagines what gift to give to the Greek city; and amplify the myth by adding an extra piece of dialogue into the middle. His writing has improved substantially since using this book.
- The Creative Writer – we’re using the second half of this book to improve his poetry writing expertise. For example, this week it guides him through how to write a poem of concrete images about an abstract painting by Mark Rothko. By coincidence, learning about and creating abstract art has been their art focus this last week. The poetry should therefore (inadvertently) reinforce his learning in this area.
- KS2 English Non Fiction Writing – for practising writing factual reports, letters, adverts & flyers, diaries, discussing issues and writing about his point of view.
Bean10: She’s a natural writer and would happily be composing all day long if she could. Her current focus is writing her first novel, The Silver Stag Society, and I’m pretty much leaving her to it, not wishing to ruin her flow. She happily taps away on the laptop lost in her world of imagination. I know I’m her mother (and therefore her biggest champion), but I’ve been blown away by her writing ability. Here’s an extract from the story:
“Then, a scream erupted from her mouth. A wild scream. A scream to wake the dead. A scream filled with hatred, fear, longing and pain. But, as the ear-piercing noise ripped through the air, Molly’s shoulders did not sag. Her head was held high. Her body was stock still – not one quiver betrayed her terror, not one tear displayed her misery. And most of all, her eyes shone like two emeralds. They cut right through Valmortgomery. They locked eyes in a deathly staring contest. Molly, never blinking, raged at and insulted him using eye-power alone. Valmortgomery’s eyes in their slits were like two drops of blood in a black sea. They kept it up for three whole minutes circling, circling each other. Then Valmortgomery growled and tossed his head.”
Want to find out what happens? I know I certainly do!
On top of this, she’s also working her way through Writing with Skill, Level 1 each week (we also have the instructor’s guide). This is a combination of comprehension and writing assignments, involving:
- summarising excerpts from great literature;
- learning to outline and compose written pieces in a variety of styles, such as scientific descriptions and discoveries; historical events; descriptions of places and people; character descriptions and biographical sketches;
- beginning literary criticism: prose – reviewing protagonists/antagonists, supporting characters and idea stories;
- starting literary criticism: poetry – looking at sound, meter and narrative.
It’s an extremely comprehensive curriculum and one of our favourites.
In addition to the above, later in the year, we plan to use Mr Bruff’s Guide to GCSE English Language (another excellent resource) to examine the key aspects of an effective newspaper article, letter and speech, and practise writing some pieces of her own.
It sounds a lot, but this is her passion – she’s honestly never happier than when she’s writing.
Bean8: Once a week, he completes a lesson from each of the following:
- Writing with Ease, Level 3 – he’s been using and enjoying this curriculum since he left school in Reception. Each lesson is composed of a couple of passages from high quality literature (we often end up buying the book as he’s desperate to find out what happens next!), which he reads and answers comprehension questions on. Next, he writes a three-sentence summary on the excerpt. Then, there’s a couple of dictation sentences for him to write, usually centred around a grammatical point, such as for example, the use of adverbs.
- Bond Comprehension Papers 9-10 years – these questions are a little bit of a stretch for him at the moment, so we work through them together practising finding implicit information from the text and quoting segments where appropriate.
Bean10: As her English skills are so advanced, I’ve created a set of bespoke English language lessons focused on parts of the GCSE requirements, namely identifying explicit and implicit information in texts and understanding how the writer has achieved certain effects with the use of: words/phrases, language features and sentence forms. We’ll look at literary techniques, tone and style using Mr Bruff’s Guide to GCSE English Language, this GCSE AQA English Language workbook and this GCSE English Language & Literature guide. Some of the literary techniques such as hyperbole and assonance are explained really well in a book a friend of mine bought for me: The Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth, so we’ll add this resource in too.
Bean8: I’ll be honest and say this is not his favourite subject, but his spelling skills are very good. We use All About Spelling, and he’s on Level 6. The last couple of lessons have taught him rules about whether to use the ‘cal’ or ‘cle’ spelling to make the ‘cul’ sound at the end of words.
Bean10: This year, she’ll spend less time on spelling and more on vocabulary. I’ve factored in only thirty minutes per week to review her problem words, along with tricky words from these books: Schofield & Sims Spelling 6 and Complete Graded Spelling Lists from Yrs 1-6.
Bean8: Here again I’ve opted for a ready-made curriculum which is comprehensive, fun and easy-to-use: First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind (he’s half-way through Level 3). You need the instructor’s guide too. The lessons are super short (around 15 mins) and include review of work already covered to ensure mastery of the topics taught. There’s also some poetry memorisation which is a favourite of them both.
Bean10: She’s almost completed Level 4 of the same curriculum (here’s the instructor’s guide) and will then move onto Grammar for the Well-Trained Mind. For this, I’ve invested in this Core Instructor Text, the Purple Workbook, the Purple Workbook Key and the Grammar Guidebook. I would highly recommend this curriculum – to be honest I’ve already learned quite a lot of new information myself!
Bean8: I use a set of home-made vocabulary cards, the selection of which I found here, with a simple definition and a couple of synonyms and antonyms for each. He learns three new ones a couple of times a week.
Bean10: I’ve selected some interesting and relevant vocabulary/affixes for her to learn from the vocabulary part of the British Literature course on Easy Peasy All-In-One Homeschool (it’s free!). After this, she’ll start working through this book: Vocabulary from Classical Roots A.
Both: They choose a couple of cards from this selection: Latin and Greek Root Word Cards from English from the Roots Up Volume II, each week in our morning basket. As an example, they’ve recently learned the Latin adjective malus, meaning bad, ugly, evil, ill. Connected to this root are the following English words: malady, dismal, malaria, malevolent, malice, malign and Malapropism, for which they’ll learn the definitions.
They are both voracious readers, so really my only job is to make sure we have enough, good material to meet their needs! There’s three parts to our reading time:
- Individual reading of their choice – tends to be non-fiction for Bean8 and fiction for Bean10 and is totally self-led. Bean8 is currently reading Pages & Co, Tilly and the Bookwanderers by Anna James and Bean10, Pages & Co, Tilly and the Lost Fairy Tales by the same author, and they’re both currently hooked on the Week Junior.
- Stretch reading – I encourage them to select a slightly more advanced novel, poetry book or non-fiction selection to read three times a week. Bean10 is reading A Christmas Carol and Bean8 Journey to the Centre of the Earth.
- Read aloud – this includes audiobooks in the car (we’re currently listening to Philip Pullman’s Shadow in the North); a novel before bed (we’ve just enjoyed The Cheshire Cheese Cat, A Dickens of a Tale by Carmen Agra Deedy); and a variety of living history, science and art books in our morning basket.
A large part of our morning basket work is focused on either poetry or specifically the works of Shakespeare and involves memorisation and studying the meaning of the selected pieces. I also factor in weeks for review of poems or Shakespearean passages previously memorised.
For the first part of the year, our focus will be Shakespeare. We use this book: How to Teach your Children Shakespeare by Ken Ludwig, which is an excellent resource (see this post). We’re about half-way through and will study passages from Henry IV, Part 1, As You Like It and Henry V. They’ve just learned part of Falstaff’s dialogue from Act II, Scene IV (If sack and sugar be a fault…), using the explanations in the book to decipher the meaning of the prose. This chapter of the book also gives an overview of the plot, puts the speech in context, and explores the character of Falstaff in more detail. Normally, some literary technique is highlighted – in this case, the use of repetition of the line: “Banish not him thy Harry’s company,” to emphasize the importance of the banishment issue.
In addition to this, where possible we watch Royal Shakespeare Company productions of the speeches they’re learning and read the play itself. Oxford School Shakespeare books, such as As You Like It, are a good choice here. They include the full, unabridged text, with notes alongside to explain unfamiliar words or references, along with a synopsis and commentary of each scene.
For the second part of the year, we’ll study selected poems, such as London by William Blake or Learn the Prelude: Stealing the Boat by William Wordsworth. To help with this, we use the AQA Anthology of Poetry: Power and Conflict. This book discusses the background to the history of the poem; information about the form, structure, and language used; as well as the feelings and attitudes expressed. Questions at the end help them consider the impact of the poem.
In the past, we’ve also used this book: The Harp and the Laurel Wreath, an anthology of poems with study questions to discuss together. With the poem Daffodils by William Wordsworth for example, we talked about whether the poem was lyric or narrative and the differences; what the rhyme scheme was; what figure of speech was found in the first stanza; and what other thought, other than the picture of the daffodils, the poet expresses, at least implicitly.
So, there we have it – quite a meaty one for the first post! In the next post, I’ll show you what we do for maths and in the field of sport.