What We Are Learning

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Fall – 2017


homeschool middle schoolMy oldest starts 6th grade — middle school — this fall. It’s also our first official year of homeschooling. I let her choose what she wanted to study this year. The sky is the limit and she can learn about anything her little heart desires, right?! That said, she does have some areas that she needs to work on, namely penmanship, math facts, and reading (or, rather, developing a renewed interest in and enjoyment of reading). Most topics below are at the middle school level; some are below to fill specific ‘holes’.


Penmanship – Isabella has beautiful handwriting — when she puts effort into it. The PS stopped teaching penmanship after 3rd grade and her handwriting went downhill dramatically after that. My goal here was to give her daily practice options that are fun and help get her in the habit of writing … legibly!

We bought “Can-Do Cursive” (Handwriting Without Tears for 5th grade and up), but we are also adding some fun stuff into the mix. Learning can be fun, right?! Well, we live for it so we included pages from the free workbook, “Writing Our Rights”, because it is pretty awesome and promotes some rad #GirlPower. We also use silly ‘bubble letter’ pages from “How to be the Best Bubble Writer in the World EVER!”

To round her penmanship options out and squeeze a little extra learning in there, I created a series of copywork pages based on STEM and Maker quotes, and another set on idioms. Just 5 – 10 minutes of practice each day should make a big difference.

Spelling – PS stopped teaching spelling after 3rd grade — ugh!! — and Isabella has some serious holes. She can spell big words, but misses basic sight words. We are going to start our year running through the Fry Word Lists and seeing how many of those 1,000 she can actually spell. Then, we will combine those with some vocab from her unit studies and a few Marie’s Words from Rainbow Resource into weekly tests. I am hoping she likes the Marie’s Words. She is a visual learner and those cards should be right up her alley.

Isabella does well with daily quizzes, fun worksheets, and a weekly test so I plan to continue that plan. I’ll make crossword puzzles, load words into Spelling City, and create search-a-words.

Writing – As a ‘creative’, writing is one area where Isabella really excels. She could finish NaNoWriMo in a week – LOL. I plan on going light this year to allow more time to bring the other areas up to speed. She will, however, have one writing prompt a week for creative writing. We bought Rory’s Story Cubes and we love this slot machine app from Scholastic. As a fan of graphic novels, she also loves filling in blank comic strips. I’m happy to oblige.

While book reviews and literature studies are de rigeur in middle school, we need to work on actually ‘liking’ to read so its off the list for now. We may write a more formal research paper in May, but she really is above grade level. It can wait.

Grammar – Like writing, Isabella is above grade level in grammar. We bought Daily Grams, Daily Paragraph Editing and some Mad Libs for a few minutes of practice each day. I also created lists for her to complete like, 10 adjectives that begin with the letter ‘A’ and 15 ways to write ‘said’, which help with vocabulary, writing, and grammar.

Reading – Our goals for reading this year are very simple: learn to love it! Assignments will be based on texts chosen for our unit studies and any pleasure reading she chooses. Isabella knew how to read at 3 — all her own doing — and then lost interest almost immediately after starting Kindergarten in public school. Long story short, she is (finally) self-selecting books that are more in-depth and closer to her grade level.

“A Wrinkle in Time” is on our list for January so we can read it — or listen to it — together before the March 9th release of the movie. I’m not sure if it will be a novel study or a little ‘book club’ with just the two of us. I may also add Brave Writer’s ‘Fall Movie Discussion Club‘ because the theme is time travel. Fun, right?!

I’ve been inspired to do Poetry Teatime (also from BraveWriter) once a month. We both enjoy poetry and — really — just don’t get the chance to read it very often. I haven’t decided on the texts yet, but it will probably be a mix between classic and fun-loving.

Critical Thinking – This is another area where Isabella really shines and we have some entertaining daily worksheets planned to keep that shine alive, including Extreme Dot-to-Dot, sudoku, Ultimate Mazes, Perplexors, Word Rebuses, Critical Thinking Detective, and Word Ladders. Some of these she actually does in her free time and has no idea that she is learning. Shhhhh!


All of my daughters are nerdy science girls with goals of careers in science-related fields. Isabella even taught her public school’s 4th grade class the unit on circuits – seriously! With that in mind, I let Isabella pick her science for 6th grade; she’s going to study them all eventually, right!? Plus, she begged for the one topic she hasn’t touched on yet in public school – chemistry. I ordered R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey’s Chemistry.  While this book is a Level One, which is geared for 2nd-5th, I feel she will still get a lot out of this text. Most of the other chemistry classes are geared towards high school. Plus, we can augment each lesson with my growing list of TED talks, games, experiments, coloring books, and even these awesome building blocks to round out her learning. I’ll post more details as we get into it.


Holes, holes, and more holes. Isabella comprehends higher math, like algebra, but doesn’t know her ‘math facts’ and still uses her fingers to count. She is also a visual learner who absolutely hates repetition. I researched every math curriculum and, while many seem great, I have to go with what I think will work best for her. We are going to start the year way back in the beginning with Life of Fred‘s “Apples”and want to work our way through “Mineshaft”. If we do math 5 days a week, all year long, we can (hopefully) get her holes filled in with all sorts of math. While L.O.F. is not 100% secular (among other things), it’s the right choice for her.


Unit Studies – As a writer and history lover, I’ll be creating some unit studies for Isabella based on her requested areas of study. Her list is long, but this year we should be able to get through unit studies on Japan, the 1980s, the Rainforest, the Gold Rush and a class that I am calling “Intro to Global Citizenship” which will focus on Kiva.org projects and philanthropy. ‘Japan’ is available now. As I write the others, I’ll add them to our EduHacking store for download.

Geography – With a sister that works for one of the largest international aid organizations in the world, I’d be remiss if my children weren’t knowledgeable about geography. Their aunt has been to 35 counties and counting! With that in mind, we bought “Daily Geography” workbooks as well as books from the “Draw the _____” series that tie into our unit studies.

Women Studies – My husband and I are determined to show our daughters examples of strong women throughout history — many of whom have been overlooked in history books. Once a week, I’ll throw a ‘mini hack’ out at Isabella on a famous woman. Think of it as a tiny unit study that you can finish in 30 minutes or less. You can find all sorts of Mini Hacks available for free download here.


I am so pro-Latin its ridiculous. There are so many reasons why a base of Latin understanding is important for future studies, but I don’t want to go into that here. We are using “Minimus” twice a week and Rosetta Stone twice a week. I am not sure which is going to click more as they both have different approaches (one is textbook learning, one is more conversational). I also bought “Latin Everywhere, Every Day” to use once a week. It’s all about Latin phrases that we use in every day life. Carpe diem, people!


Isabella loves the theater so we were planning on starting off with this fabulous class by another homeschool mom, “Intro to Musicals“, but it’s geared to a younger crowd. Plus, we’ve seen all the selections already. We decided to wing it on our own and are starting with an in depth look at the musical “Cats” as well as its inspiration, T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats”. The plan is to watch and discuss 5 or 6 musicals, and then move on to Squilt’s composer series.

Isabella is also auditioning for a community-based children’s choir and learning the ukulele through this online course at Raising DaVinci’s blog.


Art projects and art history are embedded into our unit studies, but you have to expect an art history girl (that’s me!) to augment with as much art as possible. Plus, Isabella is a VERY talented artist. She is constantly drawing something!

I plan on adding pages of zentangles, mandalas and doodles in with her daily work and doing projects from one of my favorite art blogs, Deep Space Sparkle. Additionally, we joined two art subscription boxes, ArtSnacks and SketchBox.

If we want even more art, I have two classes dog-eared for this year, “Animate Your Drawings” on JAM and any of the zentagle classes here.


Isabella is pretty active. She power walks with me in the mornings and will have swimming lessons/open swim at the local YMCA once public school starts up again. She also wants to sign up for martial arts, a musical theater dance class, and … curling! We live in northern Minnesota now and its offered every Sunday night at the community center. She and her sisters are excited to learn more about it so … why not?!


There is a ton of work on Isabella’s plate and we are establishing a new routine so I left off extra tech for fall. While many classes she is taking involve tech or require working online, we don’t have a dedicated class for fall. That said, she knows Scratch, TinkerCAD and some HTML. I’m sure by January, once we are more comfortable in our routine, we will add an HTML class from Udemy as well as an online keyboarding class.

I’ve developed a pretty awesome, in-home makerspace that I’m calling our ‘Tinker Table’. You can see more here or on Instagram, but it is pretty much a changing display based on a bi-weekly theme for all sorts of hands-on things to tinker, build, and create with. Think ‘sensory bin’ for middle school.


I have grandiose plans of putting all of the above into monthly workbooks. I’ll post more when that part is done.

That’s it – our first year of a hacked education. I’m sure it will morph and change throughout the year, and I’ll add more photos as our purchases come in. Overall, though, we are both pretty happy with it. What are YOU learning this year?