School Year Review


We finished our school year Thursday.  Here’s a year-in-review…

1. Saxon Math–loved it.  W (4th grade) transitioned to all independent work and learned a ton–long division, square roots, factors, exponents, to name a few.  L (1st grade) completed Level 2, and also learned so much–particularly multi-digit addition, beginning multiplication, and fractions.  M & B (PreK) completed Level K.  They kept a calendar,


and learned to count money and add and subtract without manipulatives.

2. Sonlight Reading–the best.  We started off with Catholic Heritage Curricula readers but found the beginning readers tedious and the 4th grade readers simplistic and overly moralizing.  Also, they were written at the end of the 19th century, when childhood mortality was pretty high, so there were several examples of children dying suddenly that presumably (sadly) were more normal to children of that era but fairly shocking to mine.  We switched to Sonlight grade 4/5 readers for W,


grade 1 readers and Explode the Code 1-3 for L,


and dabbled in grade K readers and ETC A-C for M & B.  Pretty much anything recommended by Sonlight is guaranteed to be a hit with my kids.

I hate to speak badly about a nice Catholic company like CHC, but the 1st grade readers followed no discernible phonics progression, were very confusing, and moved into whole-language methods pretty quickly.  I would not recommend them at all.

3. Language ArtsHandwriting without Tears is our pick for penmanship.  The slates are one of the most helpful features of the program.



One concern with the cursive program is that it is too plain.  W successfully added his own slant and style after completing the HWT Cursive workbook.


For composition and grammar, the older boys copied sentences from their reading, and orally summarized stories we read together.  W also used Spelling Workout, Writing with Ease, Language of God (wouldn’t use again), and Little Latin Readers (good, but the first to go when we got busy).

4.Religion–we use Faith & Life books to add meat to the catechism instruction they receive at our parish.  I liked the Image of God preschool workbooks for M & B too.

We read from the New Catholic Picture Bible (more of a storybook interpreting biblical stories) and The Children’s Bible (very close to the real thing).

St. Joan of Arc was the favorite saint studied this year.

We also attended a monthly co-op with our Catholic homeschool group and learned a lot about the rosary, compiled a box of symbols for all the mysteries, and created some beautiful artwork.


5. For history, W read Story of the World Vol. 2: The Middle Ages on his own, and we read a number of picture and chapter books about medieval times as a family, many from Sonlight Core C.  This year’s history covered both the Great Schism and the Protestant Reformation.  Personally, I thought Story of the World did a good job of dealing with both topics and staying neutral.  Some Catholics object to the titles “Bloody Mary” and “Good Queen Bess,” but the fact is, they earned those nicknames from their subjects for good reasons.  I am no expert on the subject, but as far as I can tell, Elizabeth I was, for her times, fairly religiously tolerant.  I can believe that it might have been nearly impossible to tell the difference between treasonous and faithful Catholics in Elizabethan England.  We definitely discussed St. Edmund Campion, a priest who was brutally martyred under Elizabeth’s orders.  And I would like to learn more about this time period before we come around to it again.

As a family, we read lots of medieval saint stories and some Sonlight-recommended books about missionaries in Asia.  Some Catholic users of Sonlight skip the Protestant missionary books, and we didn’t read all of them, but unless the missionaries are trying to convert Catholics, I think they are good stories to share.  My children’s grandparents were Protestant missionaries, so it’s part of their heritage too.  Their favorite babysitter is heading to college to become a Bible translator.  If there are any contemporary Catholic missionaries going into the jungles of southeast Asia to translate the Gospel into native languages, I haven’t heard of them.  If there were, we’d read their stories instead!

For geography, we find places we read about on the globe, and W had a map skills workbook.

I also read the following “social studies” books to the younger kids: People, Things People Do, and Richard Scarry’s Please and Thank you Book, as well as possibly every book our library carries about firefighters, animal rescue agencies, and police officers.

The one CHC material I highly recommend is the Character Building Cards.  We continue to use these to reinforce good behavior and etiquette with all the kids.

6. We started out with CHC Science grade 4 and grade 1.  They were okay, but the real science learning happened outside this year–on nature walks, Scout campouts,

Copy (2) of IMG_0995


in the garden,


at the zoo



and at monthly lab classes at the Natural History Museum.

The kids also collected specimens for our zoo’s “Swap Shop,” where they present their item and describe all they know about it to a zoo docent in exchange for points they can use to buy shells, bones, or even tiny gems.  N. is a science and math teacher and has accumulated a good collection of experiment materials and a decent microscope, so next year we will forgo another boring textbook, in favor of more field guides, nature studies, and lab classes.

The little ones also listened to The Year at Maple Hill Farm and The Berenstain Bears Big Book of Science and Nature.

7. All the extras…free tennis lessons at the park for P.E., co-op art and music classes, basic piano taught by me, French and drawing lessons with Papa, a kids’ book club, beautiful poems, silly poems, even sillier poems, and constant read-alouds and audiobooks of classic children’s literature...have I forgotten anything?

Ah yes, my own personal learning goals.  My plan for the year was to read Susan Wise Bauer’s adult version of Story of the World and a short stack of medieval classics.  And read all of W’s books and take care of a new baby!  Yeah, I made it through a few chapters of Augustine’s Confessions.  Hope springs eternal for the English major turned housewife.  Maybe I’ll read it on my new Kindle. 🙂



7 thoughts on “School Year Review

  1. Lindsey

    Catherine, this is a great rundown of your year! I loved it! Thank you for all the links. You encourage me in the subjects I am bad at keeping up any momentum on. So far, Story of the World is a hit this summer. I hope we can keep it going! I’m amazed by all you’ve done (if you’ve noticed, I’ve completely burned out on updating my blog, since our schedule and activity level just kind of fell apart this second semester). You’ve also given me a little push to check out more homeschooling publishers, like Sonlight, which I have basically dismissed in the past for not being Catholic. Thank you for your great assessments here of the materials you used!

  2. Yes, Lindsey, I’ve missed your blog! You are my biggest inspiration for nature study and notebooking. That is such a gift of yours (and your kids)! And Barbie has been my source for Sonlight. She inspired me to check them out, and I like them more and more as we read more of their books.

    Writing out everything we’ve done is a real help for my “not doing enough” voice always harping in the background!

  3. This is really, really helpful. I love reading others’ reviews of their school year and what materials worked well for their families. I haven’t heard much about Sonlight, but the literature looks great! I recall hearing about the CHC character-building cards in the past and that they only came with lesson plans, so I bought the lesson plans (used) but they didn’t have the cards and I forgot about them! I’m also glad to hear some reviews of Story of the World. And I love how you have a balanced respect for your protestant heritage, since many of us have family links to protestantism as well. Sounds like a successful year!

  4. Blair, the character building cards used to sold with the lesson plans, but this year they began selling them separately. Thanks for your comment!

  5. Something else that occurred to me (thank you Lindsey!) is that one reason some Catholics skip the Sonlight missionary stories is that some of them may be published by companies notorious for publishing anti-Catholic materials, and they don’t want to support those companies even if the books in question are fine. That hasn’t been an issue for me because I’ve purchased virtually all our books used on Amazon or at our Homeschool Store. This can actually be a concern with textbooks too, eg Horizons Math from Alpha Omega publishers (or so I hear).

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