Overview of 2015’s Learning Lab

By on Jan 2, 2015 in Lesson Plans and Overviews, Other Things | 2 comments

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On Monday we begin our structured learning program for 2015. Our official education year runs from the first January Monday after New Year’s Day until the day before Thanksgiving. This year we completed some more lesson plans after Thanksgiving because we got a little behind after I had an emergency c-section with my fourth child. There were a few reasons I selected this particular schedule: (1) the holiday season between Thanksgiving and New Years Day is packed full of many different holiday celebrations and visitors, (2) we need a lengthier break at some point and this corresponds with holidays that my husband gets off, so we can spend more time together as a family, and (3) we are able to “give the gift of education” at Christmas with all the different components for the next year wrapped up under the tree after purchasing them at a discount on Cyber Monday or other holiday sales.

Unwrapping the “gift of education” this year was so fun. I had a great time selecting different items for us to explore this year in our learning lab. Both the kids and I are very excited about the next ten months! I found some new programs to try with the kids that seemed more catered to their particular learning styles; we try to hit the three main different sensory learning styles by including auditory, visual, and kinesthetic components to each lesson plan. We also tackle the same concept through multiple media until we are all sure that we understand. In this sense, I definitely focus on mastery of concepts, which the kids say they enjoy.

Every time I pull out my lesson plans and/or my teacher’s manual, I get so very excited, and today I’m going over the upcoming weeks plans, so of course I’m completely stoked!

Structured Plans for 2015


These structured plans are just for the Bigs (10 and 8). My Littles (2 and 9 months) play while we are doing our lesson plans, and I find complementary activities for them so that they feel included.

Language Arts

Time: ten hours per week


This year, for the first time, we are using a curriculum by Mosdos Press: Opal. There is a student text, student workbook, and teacher’s guide. The program combines literature and language arts education through reading selections, lessons, and discussion points with selections of twenty-two short stories, one novella, three biographies, one long narrative poem, seventeen poetry selections, one drama piece, and two nonfiction essays. There are also vocabulary sections and author biographies. The workbook has word games, puzzles, skills activities, and writing activities. Each selection has six workbook pages.


We are continuing to use resources from Sequential Spelling by AVKO, but supplementing with All About Spelling. AVKO has worked well for one of my children, but the other has been struggling. We are trying AAS to see how it works for that particular child. All About Spelling uses a multi-sensory approach with manipulatives.


We are trying out Michael Clay Thompson’s Grammar Island program this year. We are using the components Building Language, Grammar Island, Practice Island, and Music of the Hemispheres. We are not using the literature or writing components of the program. The kids thought that the program we used last year (Easy Grammar) was very boring. It was perfectly fine as a program, but they just weren’t interested. We’ll see how MCT goes this year. I also wanted to add some sort of diagramming component, although MCT uses a different diagramming style than the traditional.


We are continuing to use IEW’s excellent program: Student Writing Intensive Level A. We have had an amazing level of success using this program. The kids went from crying every time we talked about writing (right out of public school), to looking forward to this segment of our day. They’ve put together some really neat compositions. I can’t praise this program enough.


My daughter has been begging to learn cursive, so I picked up some Zaner-Bloser workbooks that include the transition to cursive.


Time: one hour per day per kid

We use RightStart Math’s programs and the kids will be completing their applicable levels and playing the suggested math-related card games. The curriculum comes complete with worksheets, manipulatives, and suggested activities for furthering their learning.

Once a week we will also be doing a combined math lesson from Life of Fred Apples. This is a trial to see what we think of the program.

Fine Arts, Other, & Secondary Languages

Music. Time: varies.

We do not have a specific music program at this time, although we do leave the piano out and plugged in so that the kids can noodle away whenever they want (which is often). We also continue to expose them to all different kinds of music and have the entire Classical Kids collection. Next year I would like to tackle a more specific music curriculum or lessons.

Art. Time: three hours per week

We are finishing up Drawing with Children with this year. The kids have really enjoyed exploring art in this way. We also use and practice our art skills in a variety of media in our science and history lessons and do weekly nature journal entries with writing and sketches. Lastly, the kids participate in an art course that explores art through the lens of history at the Northfield Arts Guild.

Latin. Time: two-and-a-half hours per week

This year we are trying a new program from Classical Academic Press: Latin for Children Level AThis program comes with a student text that has written lesson plans with explanations and mnemonic aids such as charts and songs, a student workbook with exercises and tests, an answer key for the teacher, a three-DVD lesson plan set, two CDs with chants on them, an activity book with games and puzzles, a history reader that allows students to translate Latin stories about Ancient Greece and Rome to English, and a subscription to the HeadventureLand website that has games, stories, and animated videos full of Latin!

Physical Education. Time: minimum of two-and-a-half hours per week

We do a lot of different activities for physical education, but also have Family Time Fitness Core 1 for when we aren’t feeling inspired.

Logic. Time: thirty minutes per week

We are using Building Critical Thinking Skills Level 1 this year in preparation for eventually studying formal logic.


Earth Science and Astronomy. Time: five hours per week

This year we are using several resources to cover this topic and I also sourced, on top of the activities and demonstrations included in the below curricula, a telescope, rock polishing kit, geodes to break open, and astronaut food. I stumbled across The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Atom in the Known Universe and had to get it as well.

We are finishing up The Sassafras Science Adventures Volume One Zoology from our animal studies in 2014. This program studies animals by biome/habitat, which relates well to our earth science units. This is a fictional novel about two twins who hate science until their science-loving uncle invites zip lines that allow the twins to travel all over the world learning about scientific topics as they go. They write down information in their SCIDAT Logbook and that keys the zip line in to whether or not they’re finished with any one area, and then they move on. As the twins are learning about scientific topics, the readers are as well, and the readers also note things in their SCIDAT Logbook along with the twins. Additional hands-on activities, science demonstrations, book suggestions, poster design suggestions, copywork and dictation assignments, memory work assignments, and several possible lesson plan structures are included in the Sassafras Guide to Zoology Teacher’s Manual. The main spines and resources are:

We are also using Earth Science & Astronomy for the Grammar Stage by Elemental Science (the company that produces the Sassafras twins adventure novels). This is a thirty-six week long lesson plan intended for classical home school programs with a teacher’s manual, student workbook, and quizzes. The curriculum includes scientific demonstrations, science-oriented book suggestions, notebooking, multi-week projects and activities that help children to cement together related information, memorization, and several possible lesson plans. Lapbooking plans are available, but I don’t use those (too time consuming!). Information covered includes: planet earth; oceans, rivers, and lakes; biomes; earthquakes and volcanoes; mountains, islands, and glaciers; caring for Earth; weather; sun and atmosphere; seasons and climates; weather and wind; water cycle and clouds; storms and rain; extreme weather; rocks, minerals, and caves; types of rock; weathering; fossils; the sun; planets in our solar system – including dwarf planets; asteroids, meteoroids, and comets; stars; constellations; telescopes and satellites; trips to space; scientist biographies. The main spines and resources (for our age group) are:

The third resource we are using is R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Earth & Space. We are moving away from R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey in favor of Elemental Science, but already had purchased this curriculum. Each unit of RSO has an overview, scientific definitions, labs, and lab sheets. We will use some of the labs and “Big Ideas” from RSO. Units include: weather changes; the water cycle; air surrounds the Earth; Earth’s surface is changing; what is inside the earth?; rocks are made of minerals; the Earth recycles rock; weathering; soil and dirt; moon; sun; planets; space.

History and Geography

Medieval Ages. Time: five hours per week

We are using Pandia Press’ History Odyssey: Medieval Ages (500 CE to 1600 CE) as our main guide to exploring this time period from the fall of Rome to Shakespeare. This study guide with detailed lesson plans should take approximately one year (a suggested thirty-six week schedule) to complete and includes blackline history maps, hands-on activity suggestions, and lists of applicable books to check out from the library. As the children express interest in particular topics, I add more related activities either from the resources or things I find on the Internet and we use the internet-linked encyclopedia to find websites that showcase ruins, museums, and interactive information about the topic. We also watch related videos through Netflix or Amazon Prime. The main spines and resources are:


  1. Heather

    November 1, 2015

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    What did you think of Mosdos Press Opal? I am thinking of purchasing it for my 3rd grader.

    • Jen

      November 2, 2015

      Post a Reply

      I really like it. There is a lot of information, but you can pick and choose which parts you want to teach. I really like the teacher’s manual for the additional background information. It prompts me to discuss things like foreshadowing or rising action where I might not think of it on my own. We also did the workbook and have enjoyed that, although the textbook itself has a section at the end of each chapter that has a lot of the same ideas as the workbook (in the form of questions that you answer on your own piece of paper).

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