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I’ve been away from the blog long enough to start getting antsy emails from you all! I apologize for the long time off, we’ve been busy trying to finish up the spring. Next week is our last week before we take off for our Oregon coast vacation, and when we come back, in June we start up once again on a slightly lighter Summer 2011 load.

To catch up on what we’ve been up to the past month, I’ll spam my own blog with updates!


Starting with Reading/Phonics, we started the very last Explode the Code phonics workbook last month. This is book 8, which covers suffixes and endings. We are doing two pages a day and will finish the book and be done with ETC forever sometime this July 2011.

Working on the table together instead of her individual small desk has worked out wonderfully. (We switched to work on a large table this spring.) Yes, as you can see, sometimes she still needs dollies and lollies!


We’ve also started the last book of Beyond the Code, book 4. Not so impressed with this series, but we’ll be finishing it next week. I wouldn’t have made her do BTC if she read on her own everyday.

As for independent reading (not pushed by Mom), Satori sporadically reads, but when she does, nothing can stop her. She’ll lie down on the floor of a Barnes and Noble for an hour to read. A few weeks ago she was reading a Narnia book. This week she’s reading Matilda by Roald Dahl.


Singapore Math has been a total hit in our household. It seems I haven’t posted about it in two months, so here’s a quick catchup on how we’re doing. We spent several weeks on the 1A book that I hadn’t planned on, but I’m glad we got that foundation. You may remember the photos and video I posted in March of her doing addition/subtraction using manipulatives and other unusual methods. That hard work has paid off! She can now do lots of math in her head! She does it just for fun even, like at the grocery store. The past few months she’s been showing off her multiplication skills, her negative number skills, and other things we’ve never tackled officially.

I’m amazed at what a change Singapore math has made in my daughter. The Today Show did a feature on Singapore Math last week. Here’s an article from Singapore Math Source that explains more.

We are now in 1B, and finally covered the introduction to Multiplication and Division. We used manipulatives to demonstrate the concept. I’ll blog more about Singapore math in a future post.

I’ll cover our updates in Spelling, Grammar, Logic and Art in another post.

Handwriting Changes

As for handwriting, Satori got bored with HWT Cursive, so we are trying out Getty-Dubay Italics handwriting. She’s been so excited, but so far, their Book B is pretty simple. We could probably have done just as well using our StartWrite software. We’ll zip through it, and move on to C next month, which also covers italics. The last book covers calligraphy, which I think Satori will love. I also hope to improve my handwriting with this program, they have books for adults as well. I’ll talk more about my reasons for switching in a future post.


We finished Write Source Grade 1 and will be starting grade 2. I just heard that BraveWriter will be offering a program for ages 5-8, so I’ll be sure to check that out soon.


We’re somewhat slacking on History, but plan to focus on it this summer to finish Ancient Times and start SOTW The Middle Ages in the fall.


We’re finishing up our animal studies in RSO Life and will be moving on to the Plant Kingdom this summer. We’ve taken lots of field trips (photos will be shared) to see animals. Our spring vacation should provide ample opportunity to view more life as well!

Last time I blogged about Explode the Code (ETC), it was last June and we were in ETC book 3. Four and a half books later, we are in the middle of Book 7. We have used ETC as a phonics supplement, and now that our main reading program has ended, I guess we are using this as our main phonics program. Still, Satori has learned all the rules, so this is all just a great review for us. We love the silly sentences and crazy drawings. She inserts her own examples and makes me smile.

For most books we’ve done 4 pages a day, but starting in Book 7, we’ve slowed down to just a 2-page spread per day. It just takes 5 minutes and is great review for phonics, reading, writing, spelling, handwriting, and vocabulary.

Some words are getting tougher. She has her Children’s Dictionary near her desk, and she looks up new words frequently. She used to ask me what the new words are, but now I’m happy she’s starting to use a dictionary. I think some of the words they use are not in a normal 6 year old’s vocabulary. Then again, a 6 year old probably normally doesn’t work on Book 7. Here are some examples of words she’s had to look up: sledgehammer, drawbridge, gadget, pledge, beachcomber, knickers, slipknots, and glisten.

If you notice the above page (click to see bigger), she still sometimes inserts her own silly exercises for me to do when I correct the pages. (I could have sworn I blogged about that last year.) Today’s lesson was a picture of a vampire, and I had to choose from these: “Ema dresses up like a vampire.” OR “Ema is a vampire.” While I was sitting there puzzled, she came over and pointed out her clue she gave me – a sun in the sky. She said Ema isn’t a real vampire because vampires don’t go out in the sun. 🙂

Satori doesn’t talk about vampires much, but I though the problem was pretty cute.

ETC Book 7 introduces a paragraph story with comprehension questions to answer. Each 9 page lesson includes a story like this.

There are also a couple crossword puzzles, although I think there’s just two in all of Book 7.

Since it looked like I didn’t blog about books 4-6, I will say that out of all the books Satori’s done, the only book she needed extra practice with was Book 4. It covers words with 3 syllables, and had Satori dividing them into syllables. She wasn’t getting them all correct, so I broke down and purchased 4 1/2. The 1/2 books are extra practice books.

We finished Book 4, and went on to Book 5 and 6, but then we went back to complete Book 4 1/2. By this time, she was much more comfortable working with multi-syllable words. All her syllable work in All-About-Spelling has paid off, and she polished off Book 4 1/2 much more easily than her first time around.

Here’s another sample page from book 4, where she includes her extra exercises for her mother. 🙂

We’re on a big ETC kick! Explode the Code is an inexpensive phonics workbook series, that is great to supplement our reading program. Since we’re almost finished with our formal phonics (OPG), we’re back to these workbooks and just started ETC 3. This level will be all review in terms of phonics/reading, and we’ll be hitting ETC 4 later this summer, which will be closer to her current level.

ETC 3 introduces handy little rules which enforce what we already know. For example, “If a little word ends in y, the y says long-i.”

If Satori didn’t like these workbooks, I wouldn’t make her do them, but she totally loves them. She asks to do them everyday lately. She averages 6-8 pages a day right now, that would be 2-3 page spreads like this. Oops, I forgot to take a photo of an example of one of their sentence pages. Last spring, the sentences were just too much for a new reader, now they’re a breeze. We always laugh at the sentences/pictures. 🙂

She always makes sure to put a smile on my face or a laugh in my day when I correct the pages. She can find a way to insert a joke or something cute in almost everything she touches.

So we’re enjoying our ETC program right now and seeing I just ordered ETC 4-8, I hope we continue to do them, especially when our phonics program ends. As you can see above, they’re also great to supplement handwriting, spelling and even a bit of vocabulary.

I was a bit premature on my “First Week Back” post, and only when I realized that homeschooling forums/email lists are all talking about their first complete week back on Friday (not as early as Wednesday), did I decide to do a Part II!

I’m excited about all the new curriculum we are adding to our year (and leaving out things we never got to last fall). We’re starting the subjects Writing, Grammar and Vocabulary. Today I’ll cover the writing.

We are using The Complete Writer: Writing With Ease: Strong Fundamentals by Susan Wise Bauer. For those of you who don’t know that name, she’s the one who has inspired our method of classical education homeschooling, and we have all of her curriculum (reading, history, grammar, writing). Before you make the mistake I did, the hardcover book linked above is repeated in the companion Student Workbook. The lessons are totally scripted in the workbook, with tear-out pages for the student to write as well. In fact, the hardcover book isn’t as complete as the workbook, so it’s not needed. I actually downloaded the PDF file of the student pages ($9.50), so now all I have to do is print out using my printer, unlimited copies for my family! These worksheet pages don’t need to be downloaded or bought, you can make your own easily. Next time around, I’ve learned my lesson and will only download the complete Workbook 2 PDF file.

Each week covers 4 lessons to gently introduce a first grader to copywork and narration. Monday our copywork consisted of “Pa owned a pig.” This took Satori only a few seconds, so we just wrote it over one more time, focusing on proper capitalization and a period for the sentence. I am debating whether to use our StartWrite software in HWT font for her copywork pages…

The narration consisted of reading a short fable, and then asking several questions. Answers are required to be in complete sentences. I am going to try and speak in complete sentences more often myself, and minimize my use of contractions, to assist Satori in proper language.

We’re trying to keep lessons 20 minutes or less for the big subjects like Reading and Math, and under 10 minutes for the  easy stuff like Handwriting, Writing, and Grammar. Here’s my little reminder tool we’re using, I love it! As you can see, our Reading lesson (OPG) just took 8 minutes to complete, and since it is a Friday, I was okay with that. I do not require her to read every single sentence though, we do a quick review, cover the new rule, read all the new words, and then read a couple sentences.

Satori continued to make me laugh throughout the week…

We still have the occasional inversions on “g” and “p”, but I’m told this will be completely normal these first few years. We’re going over printing lowercase once again in Handwriting Without Tears, and this time we’re going through it very slowly.

One curriculum decision I was going to make was to ditch ETC workbooks completely (pictures shown above and below). However, Satori said she enjoyed doing them. Since we are so far behind in these workbooks compared to her actual reading level, we’re going to go through them at an even more accelerated pace. I’m choosing just two pages out of each lesson, and these lessons will cover a multitude of subjects – reading, handwriting, and spelling!

If we keep the accelerated pace up, we should be caught up in ETC Book 3 or 4 to her reading level by late spring.

This very Explode the Code workbook was one of the very first workbooks I purchased last spring once I decided to homeschool Satori. If you’re new to homeschooling, it won’t take you long before you hear about this program. Once we got it, Satori did a few pages out of it, but then I decided not to follow a “workbooky” style and set it away for months.

Then, a reader of my blog mentioned them and out they came again! This time I got the 3 pre-books, which Satori whizzed through quickly. Finally, we are on the book 1, which is still too simple for us, but I love the review. I love the handwriting practice too. Here’s a sample page she did today.


Satori just turned 5 last month and the past few months we hadn’t done much schooling at all, but I am proud that she is finally to the point where she automatically writes in lowercase for most words.

Speaking of handwriting, we use Handwriting Without Tears program and have finished their Kindergarten book. I am going to go through the rest of December reviewing some of her problem letters and doing simple copywork. She still sometimes writes “g” backwords, and does a few letters incorrectly, which will slow her down in the long run. Letters like “p” she doesn’t write below the line sometimes. “z” is sometimes written backward as well. The rest of her letters are acceptable, but we also need to learn to write on the correct lines. We need to practice on the HWT’s special paper that has only two lines. We’re going to address these inefficiencies this month, and then start with HWT’s Grade 1 book next semester, starting January 2010.

You may have noticed that at one point I had listed Explode the Code (ETC) phonics program up on our curriculum. I had these all set to go as a supplement to our OPG reading program. However, the “Get Ready, Get Set, Go for the Code” books were just too simple for Satori at the time. She honestly learned all her letters and sounds in one night, by watching a Leapfrog video!

So over the summer we started our Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching reading program, but it can be dull. She gets each concept very fast. However, even though she masters the new sounds quickly, it is altogether a different thing to be able to read sentences fluently! She sounds them out. She can sound them out quickly, but nonetheless, sounding out words detracts from fluently reading/comprehending books.

Explode the Code workbooks

Explode the Code workbooks

So we’re taking a break from our normal reading program! Back to Explode the Code. We’re going to try these again, as she likes her HWT handwriting workbook so much, maybe this fall she’ll get into these workbooks.

Unfortunately, she has progressed to ETC  book level 3 now. The ones sitting on top of the above pile, that we already have on hand, are the A-C “Get Ready” books which covers consonants, which she knows very well already. But we’re going to try to go through them anyway superfast, like we do our HWT workbooks. In fact, she goes through her handwriting books so fast that we do need to stop and practice now. And luckily, ETC books cover lowercase letter handwriting practice! If it wasn’t for the handwriting instruction in ETC, I would probably wait until we got book 3 in.

We haven’t learned lowercase “f” yet in our HWT book, but we went over it today in her ETC workbook.  You can see she needs practice! But not too entirely bad for a 4 year old’s first time writing “f”s…

lowercase "f"

lowercase "f"

I am not sure how it will work out going through these early books (A-C), but I did order Explode the Code Books 2-5 last night, which takes us way beyond what we’ve learned so far in OPG.

Get Ready for The Code A
Consonants b, f, k, m, r, and t

Get Set for The Code B
Consonants d, h, j, n, p, and s

Go for The Code C
Consonants c, g, l, q, v, w, x, y, and z

Books 1 and 1 ½
Consonant review
Short vowel sounds

Books 2 and 2 ½
Initial and final consonant blends

Books 3 and 3 ½
Long vowels including silent –e
Digraphs (sh, th, wh, ch, ng, ck)
Trigraphs (-tch)
Vowel digraphs (ee-ea, ai-ay, oa-ow)

Books 4 and 4 ½
Compound words
Common endings (-ful, -ing, -est, -ed, -ness)
Syllable types (open, closed, ending in -y and -le, diphthong, and three-syllable words

Books 5 and 5 ½
Word families (all-alk, old-olt-oll, ild-ind, qu words)
3-letter blends (thr, shr, scr, str, spr, spi)
Diphthong -ey
Three sounds of -ed

Books 6 and 6 ½
-controlled vowels (ar, or, er, ir, ur)
Diphthongs (oo, oi-oy, ou-ow, au-aw, ew-ui-ue-ou)
Vowel digraphs (ea, ie, igh)

Book 7
Soft c and g
Silent consonants
Word patterns (ear, ei, eigh)
Digraph ph

Book 8
Advanced suffixes and endings