Goodbye, Second Grade! What Worked, and What Will Change

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What a way to end the year… second grade finishes out with us still quarantined in our homes, where we’ve been since the third week of March. I’m grateful that we have remained healthy, and that I’ve been able to transition my job as a guitar teacher to online formats (and my husband still has his job and is working from home), so we really don’t have anything to complain about. Life feels very surreal, though, as we miss our friends and family, avoid going to stores as much as possible, play in our yard or go on neighborhood walks instead of going to the park or to friends’ houses, and read the books from our own bookshelves instead of the library’s. Truthfully, I miss the library and coffee shops the most for our homeschooling routine, with museums right behind them!

Normally, we would end the year with a homeschool co-op expo, a guitar recital, and a May Day celebration. Since those were cancelled, Harmony recorded videos of her poetry and verses she memorized to send to friends and family. We still made May Day baskets, hung on our neighbor’s doors and delivered by car to a few folks nearby (we are getting good at distant porch conversations). We rewarded Harmony with a subscription to Curiosity Stream, a site that has hundreds of documentaries available on many history and science subjects, which is exactly what she has been loving lately. So far, we’ve watched a few shows on dinosaurs, and this afternoon she chose a documentary on mechanics in nature and biomimicry, since that was the subject of our Earth School quest today. 

So what worked for second grade, and what didn’t? While I started out more focused on the Wildwood Curriculum, I realized that we are far more eclectic, and will probably never follow a set program or curriculum or methodology. And that is okay! Here is a rundown:

Character Study: We read a lot more picture book biographies than I originally planned, which went along with Black History Month, Women’s History Month, different cultural celebrations, etc. and it was FANTASTIC! I’m definitely going to continue finding important themes to study for 3rd grade. These helped us learn about various character traits that are admirable. We read more Bible passages, too, for the seasons of Advent and Lent. Fables went really well; I started those in 1st grade, but she didn’t really understand them until 2nd grade.

Music: Every day, we started by listening to our monthly folk song, monthly hymn, a science song, a Spanish song, and any other music we chose to focus on. This was the perfect way to begin! We also learned solfege from Sing Solfa and practiced guitar (I’ve been teaching her since age five). Music is an important part of our learning time together.

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Memorization: Harmony memorized a modern poem (For These, For All Things Beautiful, by Linda Peavy), several Bible verses, a quote, and a classic poem (Rain In Summer, by Longfellow). The key to doing so was months of repetition. Even Adaline, at two years old, ended up memorizing them, too! We all enjoyed being able to say these together. Definitely a habit we will continue.

Reading: Even though Harmony can read quite well and was capable of reading chapter books and manga by the end of last summer, I still wanted to make sure she continued phonics practice and reading out loud, so I chose different books for her to read aloud for just a few minutes each day. We went through Nate the Great, Encyclopedia Brown, Bink and Gollie, Mercy Watson, and the Magic Tree House selections. Her reading skills improved, for sure.

Writing: She finished the Handwriting Without Tears first cursive workbook. We both liked their print book, but weren’t huge fans of the cursive set-up, so we won’t continue the same program next year. She likes being able to write in cursive, yet still finds it difficult. Her writing isn’t super messy, but isn’t very neat, so we will work on that for 3rd grade by copywork and using writing skills for applicable subjects. We had started out the year using Writing With Ease by Susan Bauer, but we dropped it by the second semester due to Harmony preferring to narrate passages we read from our actual literature (she didn’t like excerpts from books), and because the writing involved just seemed like extra busywork.

Spanish: We used the free online songs and videos from Rockalingua. It was simple, nothing complicated or involving writing, but she did a lot of memorization for the song lyrics, and got more used to hearing and saying Spanish words. We will begin DuoLingo Spanish lessons together in 3rd grade; I was waiting for her to become more comfortable with reading and writing first, so I’m excited to do this with her!

Literature: As I wrote earlier, we read a whole lot of picture books about famous people from many cultures or different religious or cultural or historical events, multiple times a week. Besides those, I read aloud many chapter books to her, including Schoolroom in the Parlor, Heidi, The Story of Doctor Dolittle (heavily abridged by me because RACISM, ugh), Understood Betsy, and The Secret Garden. We ended up not reading a lot of the folk tales from various cultures that I had planned, simply because we were reading so many other stories, and that’s okay; I have plans for including those books in our various history studies in the future. The most difficult part about reading was getting Adaline to not interrupt constantly! Harmony loves hearing books read aloud, so she listens to audio books every single day (not even kidding), and during our weeks in quarantine my mom has been reading aloud the Chronicles of Narnia to her through FaceTime almost daily, as well. I’m already compiling our list of books to read aloud for 3rd grade!

Math: Harmony did half of Teaching Textbooks Level 4. Originally, I had planned to have her do the entire program and finish by the end of the summer, but after seeing the benefit of letting her do less math so that she still found enjoyment in it, decided to ease up and let the second half of Level 4 be saved for 3rd grade. Harmony is ahead of where she needs to be at grade level, and I would far rather let her take a slower pace and still love numbers! She likes Teaching Textbooks and asked to continue the program once we start back up again in August.

World History: Curiosity Chronicles: Ancient History, was a HUGE hit. Harmony loved the narration aspect of the textbook (it has two characters narrating each chapter back and forth, but I simply held up bookmark pictures for them and used different “voices” when I read it aloud to her), she loved the civilizations we learned about, she loved the projects we did, and she had fun putting together our timeline! She wasn’t as excited about the discussion questions and map work, but after looking back on it, she told me she would like it more if we simply discussed the chapters verbally instead of writing down the answers, and would prefer to not do the map work, but just look at a globe or map to find the locations mentioned. So that’s what we’ll do for the Middle Ages in 3rd grade, because she has already asked me to get that curriculum! I really appreciated how culturally diverse the program is; the author has done a great job of showcasing many different places, not making the focus Eurocentric, and showing how there were a lot of social, ethical, and technological advancements made by many cultures all over the world. Harmony loved Ancient History so much that she has already re-read the entire textbook on her own, once we finished the final chapter two weeks ago. She also really got into watching documentaries about the various civilizations we read about, which I’m totally fine with… who knew I would have a kid just as thrilled about seeing Mayan temples and Chinese tombs as I am!


Science: Sadly, we missed out on the final weeks of our homeschool co-op science class due to the stay at home order being issued for Missouri, but the teacher for Harmony’s class is continuing to give out the projects and lessons they were going to learn, so Harmony has enjoyed finishing her studies in botany. They have two more Zoom meetings to finalize their class! Harmony has diligently been writing down definitions of words like “chlorophyll”, “venation”, “angiosperm”, “stomata”, and “transpiration” in her nature journal, documenting the results of our science experiments, and watching her bean plants grow and change. We will be doing some leaf collecting this week!

Art: This class was also sadly cut short; Harmony was disappointed to miss learning more about drawing. Fortunately, my mom has done some amazing lessons for Harmony over FaceTime, teaching her how to draw birds and other subjects, and Harmony has continued to draw dragons and her favorite genre, abstract art, a whole lot on her own for fun! My mom, sister, Harmony, and I also started doing projects from the Brave Artists Club together, which have been awesome. It will be nice when we can actually work on art *together* instead of seeing each other through screens! Harmony loves art a lot, and makes creative, interesting projects or pictures almost every day.

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Nature Study: Since Harmony’s science class had been learning about botany this semester, and it was super cold and often raining outdoors during the winter, our nature excursions were few and far between over the last few months. Harmony was fine with this; we ended up going to more coffee shops to read and do school together, or going to a museum (St. Louis has soooo many free, cool places to visit), rather than going on a nature hike when Adaline could stay with my mom for a while. We will continue nature journaling in 3rd grade, and hopefully be able to go out on more hikes again soon!

American History: I’ve already written about the difficulty I had with finding any kind of curriculum for this subject that is diverse, inclusive, and not white-washed, but I did put together my own list of books that would take us through the first wave of Indigenous people groups coming into the North American continent thousands of years ago, the progression of other civilizations entering the country for exploration and conquest, and the European groups colonizing the Eastern coast. We got into the beginning stages of the American Revolution, and ended our studies with the Declaration of Independence. I used the show Liberty Kids to structure our studies about the beginning of the United States, and really like the various perspectives offered in the episodes. I must say that I learned a lot, right alongside my daughter. I have a deeper appreciation for the fight for independence the settlers went through to bring freedom to the colonies of America, but feel a lot of sorrow at the many injustices done to Black people, the many Native American tribes, and women, who also desired to be included in the liberties that ended up being primarily for white men. I am VERY happy to say that Blossom and Root has created an American history curriculum that looks amazing,and seems to be everything that I was looking for! I only wish that we had had this available at the beginning of last year, but I’m glad it exists now! I’m trying to plan our 3rd grade schedule, and haven’t yet figured out whether we will continue American history studies this next year or whether we will focus on Missouri history and geography instead, so if we decide not to do the Blossom and Root curriculum yet, it’ll be waiting for us in 4th grade.

Harmony and I are both happy with how our year of 2nd grade went. I always ask her what she liked, what she wished went differently, and what she would like to do more of in the future. I’ll be choosing various curricula and programs over the next few months for 3rd grade.

Adaline was a force to be reckoned with, the entire time! She was often disruptive, usually difficult because she doesn’t like me paying attention to anyone other than her, and always loud. However, after many days of working with her, by the end she was content to be included in our studies as much as we could, or play or draw while we did school. I need to write a different post about her, and what her path of learning as a toddler looks like! She is brilliant, loves to memorize, knows her alphabet and how to count up to twenty, can sing entire songs, talks incredibly well, and loves to be read to as much as possible.

Over the summer, Harmony will be doing some light math review from a 3rd grade workbook that she found interesting, reading books (we are crossing our fingers for libraries to open back up for their summer reading programs), watching Curiosity Stream shows, and doing whatever other projects she likes. We will continue doing Earth School from TED-ED until the middle of June together. I have a few books I was hoping to read aloud to her, too, including The Hobbit, which I promised to start over the summer. We’ll keep playing and listening to music, of course. Going outside to play and go on walks is a daily occurrence. She has a limited amount of time to play Minecraft and a few iPad games, and there are always pictures to draw, books she likes to read on her own, games to play, LEGO to build, and many other fun things to try!

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This summer will certainly look different than we had originally thought it would, as the world and our own city figures out how to handle the pandemic, but we are looking forward to figuring it out and being together as a family. Learning doesn’t stop just because we are on summer break, or because we are under a stay-at-home order, or because we don’t have the resources or locations we thought would be available. Learning is everywhere and all the time!

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