#myrivetedclassroom 2017-18

This year we’re starting our 9th year of homeschooling, and I can’t tell you how thankful we are for every single year, especially as our boys embark on 4th and 7th grades this year. Homeschooling is something we’re passionate about in the Orr family, and while we’ve consciously made sacrifices year after year to make it happen, we know it’s a blessing to be able to homeschool even for one year, not to mention 9. And while no two years have looked the same, this time we decided to change up our curriculum and finally get on board with some online learning, so this Mama was nervous about school for the first time in a long time.


Over the past 9 years, we have used all sorts of materials, resources, and curriculums, and our norm has become changing up things a bit from year to year, but this time, since the boys are older and since my full-time job responsibilities are increasing (I’ve worked for a Georgia-based non-profit for over 8 years now, mostly from home in the past 4 years) and Matthew’s picking up work for many months out of the year as well, we decided we’d try some online classes so that learning can go on even when both parents are tied up.


This was a huge step for us because I love to teach and haven’t been willing to give up the flexibility and roadschooling opportunities we’ve had in the past so that they could stay on track with a certain program (which excludes us from the free online public school that Georgia offers). Also, I like to homeschool with as many free and low-cost options as possible, so we don’t have a big budget for school (which excludes us from opportunities with a lot of private online schools). So, when we decided to seriously consider online classes, I spent hours on weekends searching and talking to sales representatives from all sorts of programs and landed on 3 possibilities – k12, International Connections Academy, and Christian Educators. In the end, the prices seemed most reasonable for doing 3 classes for each of our boys with k12, but after we registered, we found that their cost for materials (above the monthly cost of classes) were a bigger investment than we had planned, and when I looked closely at the materials we would be purchasing, I realized there may be a better fit for us elsewhere, and there was – Time for Learning for just $35/month that covers 3-4 subjects + a free Saxon Math online program with Virtual Homeschooling Group! (What a different it makes to have homeschooling Mama friends!!)


So, here are the things we settled on for #myrivetedclassroom 2017-2018 (my name for our little Airstream schoolroom, even though we do as much as we can outside), and after 3 weeks in, it’s going so well I’m wondering why we didn’t do this before! (with a few tweaks, of course) Here are a few details for those out there who are interested and who might be wondering if homeschool is even possible these days, and if it is, what it might look like.


Language Arts: Our standardized test scores this year were great (what a relief!), but Language Arts was our weak point, so we’re doing that first every morning and using Time for Learning‘s Language Arts programs. So far, this is going great – each of our boys is learning language arts concepts right on their level and they have an opportunity to do writing assignments within the platform via the Writing Odyssey. Yes, the lessons have animation elements that are a bit cheesy, but my guys love them, and with quiz/test scores immediately available, they can re-watch any lessons they don’t get the first time and re-take any quizzes/tests they need to. My favorite thing about this is that the kids can learn with or without Mom and Dad, but we can still plug in and help and reinforce learning when possible. And, if/when we have a day with bad connectivity or if/when we run out of lessons online (or lose our patience for screens), we’ll dig back into our Big Fat Notebook for Language Arts – we love it too!


Science: We’re using Time for Learning for Science, and it’s pretty good. The 4th grade curriculum is a lot more reading than we thought it would be, but it works well with a little help from Mom and Dad, and the quizzes seem to be pretty on-point for 4th grade. The 7th grade curriculum has the animation elements that I wish the 4th grade curriculum had, and the content seems a little behind what I was expecting, but we’re going to speed through and build some confidence and note-taking skills (a new thing for us), focus on the research and writing assignments with Odyssey Writer, and move on up when we need to. Overall, it’s still so nice that they can do learning alone and I can jump in when needed and/or when I can. And, if/when we have a day with bad connectivity or if/when we run out of lessons online (or lose our patience for screens), we’ll dig back into our Big Fat Notebook for Science – we love it too!


Social Studies/History: We’re using Time for Learning for Social Studies/History too, and it’s very similar to the Science – lots of reading for 4th grade and the 7th grade has animation elements I wish the 4th grade had, but the content has valuable elements and an opportunity to build note-taking skills and research/writing skills too. While we’ve already learned many of the concepts being covered, the details are required for quizzes and tests, so my boys are growing in those areas and this curriculum provides them with a place to do that. And, if/when we have a day with bad connectivity or if/when we run out of lessons online (or lose our patience for screens), we’ll dig back into our Big Fat Notebook for World History – we love it too!


Math: We are huge fans of Saxon math because of the way the concepts build gradually, and because of the way the problem sets encourage students to refer back to previous lessons for help. I truly believe that because of our work with Saxon last year, my boys are more confident and capable math students (and they don’t hate it as bad as they used to either). So, this year, Saxon was a no-brainer for us, and I ordered the text books on Amazon for $6-10 each (amazingly cheap!), but I wasn’t too happy that I would have to manually grade the problem sets every day again like I did last year (that’s why the books are so cheap – no answer keys). And then, another homeschool mom told me about Virtual Homeschool Group, a volunteer-based site that offers Saxon math problem sets online with video lessons, immediate grading for every problem and tools to help when they get stuck. We tried it and loved it immediately – our 7th grader even moved up a half step so that he could participate too (Saxon 87 isn’t available online, but Algebra 1/2 is, and since he really was ready for the step up, we moved him up immediately).  For those interested, the Time for Learning subscription we pay for does include Math lessons, but we don’t use them because of our love for Saxon.


Spelling/Vocabulary: While spelling and vocabulary are built into the Time for Learning subjects, I know that my boys need more practice and daily study with weekly quizzes. I also know that they thrive with spelling and vocabulary flash cards, and that they like doing it together for a bit of competition. So, since the Sylvan cards we loved last year only go up to 5th grade, we bought the SparkNotes English Vocabulary study cards, and we use 15 cards per week, do different activities with them (write them, define them, write definitions for them, call them out, etc.) and we have a vocabulary and spelling quiz with them on Fridays – or whenever, according to our schedule. This method is pretty basic, but I can’t begin to tell you the different it’s made for my now 7th grader over the past 3 years. So, when something works, why change it, right?


Literature: While I do love the resources we’ve found in other areas, literature is still an area where I’m on my on a bit, and really, I’m okay with that since my early college days were spent learning how to be a high school Lit teacher (before I found my love for Sociology). So, for each kid I assign a book that appears on a reliable age-appropriate reading list (or they pick), and they read for 45+ minutes per day and write a journal entry about what they read or to answer a writing prompt daily. Then, when they finish the book, they write a book report. Here’s where we may end up spending a bit of money this year, but with the savings of online class prices, we’ll spring for it. We use libraries as much as possible, of course, but this is difficult when we travel fast, even with online library services. So, when there are books on the list we can’t find at the library (in-person or online), to Barnes and Noble we go! (and I’m definitely not complaining)


Writing: Thankfully, Time for Learning has some really good writing assignments built into the Language Arts, Science and Social Studies content, but honestly, I feel my boys need to write every single day. So, we do journal writing prompts and book reports (see notes above in Literature).


Art: If you know us at all, you know that we’re in love with Art for Kids Hub‘s drawing lessons and how-to videos. We’ve been using them for years and are members now, and still use them a lot each week. However, this year, since we’re Time for Learning members, we have access to their Time for Art curriculum that includes Art History and other things, so we’re hoping to dive into that once we get our other subject areas down pat.


Physical Education: I consider this one a given for us, and honestly I don’t often make plans for it because we’re always hiking or swimming or doing something outside. And when we can’t, we do calisthenics or walking to get our wiggles out. However, we’re hoping to get the boys into baseball this year, so we’re on the lookout for resources to help them learn and get ready to play little league perhaps for the very first time. If anyone has any resources to share, please do!


Foreign Language: In the past we haven’t been very diligent about foreign language because we just haven’t had time with all of the other things we’re doing, but this year, I let each of my boys pick what language they’d like to learn and start with DuoLingo. So, my 7th grader chose Greek, and my 4th grader chose French. While this seems to be working pretty well for my 7th grader (although it’s difficult to see results really), my 4th grader is having a hard time. So, we’re picking up some YouTube videos, going to keep at it with DuoLingo, and we’ll reassess in a couple of weeks to see if we need to change course. I’m also going to look into the Rosetta Stone discount that’s offered with our subscription to Time for Learning too. Anyone who has ideas or things that have worked for you, feel free to comment!


Bible: We’re planning to use all sorts of different things for Bible this year, but we’re starting with the Action Bible again because our boys still love it. I think the most important thing we do for Bible is talk to our kids about Jesus and continue to search for good relationships for them and ourselves in a church family. Our favorite resource for conversation guidance and Biblical guidance in this area? iMom, of course (tried and true – be sure to sign up for their daily expresso minute emails!)


Supplies: How do you survive living, working, and learning in 200 square feet as a family of 4 now that both kids have online classes, many of which have loud elements? We recognized this as a potential challenge and went ahead and invested in Sony headsets for everyone – yay! An added benefit is that the boys love them for their screen time as well, so I believe it makes them like school a little more too.


Portfolio/Tracking: While Georgia doesn’t require a detailed portfolio for homeschool students, we keep one anyway, and the way we track things is prioritized by what’s important to us. So, I created a few tracking sheets that I fill out monthly to show what we’ve covered on each of our 180 school days throughout the year, where we’ve traveled as a family, what field trips we’ve done, how we’re tracking on spelling and vocabulary, what books each of us are reading, and what new things we’re introducing as well as what ideas I’m cooking up for future weeks/months. We also keep our notebooks, and the Time for Learning platform also keeps track of all assignments and quiz/test scores in the portfolio section too.



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