Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Reflecting on First Grade

At the beginning of the school year, I wrote out some goals for first grade, more as a way to keep us focused than on meeting every checkpoint perfectly. Although we've been learning together from the beginning, this was our first year homeschooling when he otherwise would have been in public school.

I've probably learned more than my little guy has. Not just about everything we studied, but how to present the information so that it appeals to him and grabs his attention in the unique way that he learns.

He has surprised me at every turn. When I would set up an artsy project or a colorfully FUN way to teach phonics, he would show me how he learns things: through kinetically acting out a word, a phoneme, a math problem, a science inquiry, a historical event...

Here he is pretending to be Paleowolf from Jan Brett's The First Dog. We made a cave behind our couch and painted pictures of animals on the wall. He loved snuggling in there and imagining what cave-life was like.

Below are the goals for first grade and what we did with them:

Language Arts


1. to be able to read (aloud and silently) books appropriate for first grade
2. to enjoy literature
3. to be able to narrate a story, event, or observation
4. to be able to clearly recite at least 5 poems
5. to be able to write his own sentences, stories, descriptions, and poems
6. to be able to identify phonetic sounds, especially blend sounds
7. to recognize a variety of sight words
8. to be able to understand the use of basic punctuation
9. to appreciate world literature and a multicultural perspective

Our major goal this year was for Aidyn to learn to read fluidly. Prior to first grade, he could read a handful of sight words and easy c-v-c words. In the middle of the school year, he was not progressing as quickly as expected and dyslexia became a concern. But after testing through the school, we found that he is actually ahead (in language skills) than his first grade peers, but his reading was lagging. So I ditched the colorful, fun approach and started using Victory Drills, timed readings, along with real world easy readers (no more cat-sat-on-the-mat).

I thought Victory Drills would be dry and boring... where's all the color and pizzazz? But he LOVED the black-and-white approach so I'm more than happy to accommodate.

Since using Victory Drills, his reading has exploded. He can now read many sight words, phonemic blends, long vowels, digraphs, etc. Not only that, but he is more excited to read for himself, though he still won't pick up a book and read without encouragement, but that's okay.

I am thrilled that he enjoys literature. We read many rich stories from a home- and multicultural perspective. We learned about cave life and friendship with Jan Brett's The First Dog. We traveled to modern day Egypt with The Day of Ahmed's Secret, ancient Egypt with Magic Tree House: Mummies in the Morning, all around the world for How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World and to the ice lakes of Canada in The Very Last First Time. We learned about New England's coastal towns and how to paint jellies when we read Night of the Moonjellies and all about diligence when we shared Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel.

We read several warm holiday books including Cranberry Thanksgiving, Cranberry Christmas, Great Joy, The Polar Express, The Christmas Reindeer, among others.

We cuddled together for long stretches of time with Geronimo Stilton, Magic Tree House, and Goosebumps books.

We read many poems, folk tales like "The Five Chinese Brothers" and fairy tales like "The Emperor's New Clothes," "Rumpelstiltskin," and "The Pied Piper of Hamlin."

If anything, this year we brought so many beautiful stories to life in our home and sparked a current of wonder for all the other stories and tales that await.

History and Geography


1. to learn fascinating stories and events from the past
2. to have a basic understanding of the chronology of history
3. to learn about early people and civilizations as well as world religions
4. to learn about early America
5. to recognize famous symbols and figures (e.g. the flag, White House)
6. to have a basic understanding of his own community
7. to learn map symbols and terms, directions on a map, location of continents and oceans and some rivers and lakes, including local bodies of water
8. to be able to describe at least 3 nature walks or 3 vistas
9. to understand basic directions in terms of his own location, where the sun rises and sets, etc.

With history and geography, we started with Story of the World, but it felt a little out of reach. The muck of details was too much for Aidyn, who preferred only the basics. As such, we blended history in with the literature we read. We read stories about cave people and early civilization, ancient and modern Egyptians, India, Africa's savanna and rainforest and community in Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel  and Katy and the Big Snow. In November, we learned about the pilgrims crossing the Atlantic on the Mayflower, and in February we learned about Abraham Lincoln's childhood.

All during the year, we explored our world map by plotting pictures in places that were represented in our reading. We have pictures for India, the Great Barrier Reef, New England, Ungava Bay in Canada, England, France, Sri Lanka (the pear-shaped island!), Jamaica, Italy and Norway.



1. to understand the scientific process (question, hypothesis, test, conclusion/new hypothesis)
2. to feel comfortable with science experiments
3. to learn about living things and their environments, including habitats, diets, simple classifications, the food chain, diversity, and effects of habitat destruction
4. to understand the basics of the human body, major body systems and parts
5. to understand the basics of matter, electricity, astronomy, and the earth
6. to collect and identify at least 5 plants (wildflowers, leaves, etc) and describe them and say where they can be found
7. to be able to identify and describe at least 6 types of birds
8. to be able to describe the habits of at least 3 animals he observes daily (pets or outdoor animals)

It took less than a week to discover that the science textbook provided to us was way too boring and hands-off for this little scientist. Instead, we blended science in with everything else. We took many nature walks (and sketched insects and trees), conducted several messy science experiments, invited Bill Nye on our TV regularly, laughed at many Beakman's World shows, and watched nearly every episode of Magic School Bus.

He made water tornadoes, made water bend with static electricity, played with the effect of weightlessness,

simulated crater collisions with his moon dough, experimented with centrifugal force, did the sink or float experiment for the gazillionth time, observed his own pets (including his often-shedding leopard gecko), visited the zoo, and gently handled insects.

I am so happy that science is something he lights up for, looks forward to, and gets carried away with. He always has more questions than I have answers to, which gives us lots of practice to look things up, investigate for ourselves, and hypothesize (just not always in that order!).



1. to learn basic addition and subtraction facts
2. to understand place values
3. to feel comfortable with basic fractions and "math language" (more than, less than, greater than, equal to, etc.)
4. to classify objects by size, function, color, shape, etc.
5. to recognize number patterns
6. to read, write, and count from 0-100
7. to count by twos, fives, and tens
8. to comfortably use signs +, -, <, >, and =
9. to use bar graphs and picture graphs
10. to understand the basics of money value, measurements, and geometry

I'm happy to report that Aidyn has met each of these goals, except we haven't formally worked with measurement (with a ruler) or geometry. Addition and subtraction came pretty easily to him, as did most of the other math skills, but we learned that he does not care for the busy, colorful math pages. He prefers the black-and-white straightforward math pages, and if I "test" him, he gets excited about getting the best score in the quickest time possible (who IS this kid?). So next year we are switching to Saxon for a good ole year of black-and-white math.

Handwriting and Spelling


1. to improve his penmanship and control of a writing tool
2. to be able to spell at least 20 words without relying on "sounding out"
3. to feel comfortable writing

He still writes like a doctor, but his penmanship is slowly but surely improving. I could proclaim that all this writing practice has helped his handwriting, but I think I owe much credit to his Nintendo 3DS. His fine motor skills have improved as well as his spatial reasoning. He has never been a "Let's color!" type of kid (he actually dislikes coloring), so I had a difficult time finding something minute he could work on to exercise those fine motor muscles.

At this point, I haven't been drilling the spelling tests because I want him to build confidence in himself in a writer, even if every other word is misspelled. He used to stick with "I like this. I see that." type of sentences, so I needed to help him express himself more in writing. Setting rules on writing at this point would've killed any creative freedom. Now he writes longer, funnier sentences like "The sandbeast is native to the desert" (as I scratch my head and wonder what the heck a sandbeast is).

His favorite writing activity is if I give him two words (the more bizarre the better) and let him form a sentence or two with them. He dislikes dictation/copywork, but doing it has helped him understand the basics of punctuation.

At the beginning of this year, I wouldn't have said that he was "comfortable with writing," and now I would say that he is definitely having fun with it.

Art and Music


1. to appreciate art and music
2. to understand the connection between art and people
3. to recognize different shapes in nature and art
4. to recognize the use of texture and style in different art forms
5. to experiment artistically
6. to be exposed to a wide range of art and music
7. to understand the basic elements of music
8. to see various works of art in person
9. to attend and hear a musical performance, play, or concert

For a guy that doesn't care much for coloring and probably wouldn't pick up a paintbrush on his own, he grew so much in his artistic abilities. All year we attended a parent-child art and craft class where we made cute projects together, like a Christmas wreath from rice, a "mouse" mouse pad, a V-Day necklace, a gingerbread house, and more.

For half the year, he took a more sophisticated art class at a local gallery and experimented with many different tools and techniques including ink, charcoal, fancy-shmancy paint, watercolors, and more all while studying a specific artist.

At home, we had many art projects, including the jelly paintings,

the solar system painting,

nature collage, apple stamp painting, and others.

We were all over the board with music, though we didn't focus on any one musician or style. We sampled many kinds of music from classical to kids' songs, his absolute favorite being "The Ants Go Marching," which I'm sure we heard a million times!

Next year, I'd like to focus on specific musicians/styles for more in-depth learning.

Physical Education/ Health


1. to move his body every day whether in play, for sport or exercise
2. to achieve new abilities and routines (sit-ups, racing games, martial art moves, etc.)
3. to feel accomplished/healthy after movement
4. to equate movement with health and fun
5. to be able to discriminate between healthy and unhealthy choices
6. to continue to practice good hygiene and construct personal health goals
7. to be able to identify healthy food and their basic nutritional worth (i.e, oranges have vitamin C, which helps me from getting sick/ eating carrots is good for keeping my eyes healthy)

Except in times of sickness, Aidyn played outside and inside every day. We're lucky that his 20 closest friends live all around us, so there is always someone to play with. Aside from regular stuff, like riding bikes and playing tag, Aidyn was in a karate class for most of the year. He liked it at first, but halfway through he started wanting something more active. He pushed through to almost the end, but next year we are signing him up for a tumbling class.

Halfway through the year, we enrolled him in a PE class with other homeschoolers, and this is by far his favorite class. They play sports, do strength training, leap on trampolines, and run through obstacle courses.

In our day-to-day life, he has grown in good hygiene practices and continually makes healthy choices. Recently he asked if we could learn about food and the power of food, so we started learning about all kinds of fruits and why they are good for our bodies. All throughout the year, he has been helping in the kitchen:

Making Chicka Chick Boom Boom Sticks.

Busting open a coconut and pouring out the milk.

Making applesauce.

Chopping cranberries for Grandmother's Famous Cranberry Bread.

Making snowpeople pancakes.

Making a menu and being the waiter during our Moonjellies party.

Making play-dough all by himself.

We've also gone on many field trips this year, including The Bone Room in Berkeley, The Candy Vault in Sonora, Apple Hill in Placer, Disneyland and California Adventures, Forestiere Underground Gardens and the Chaffee Zoo in Fresno, Lancaster (desert) for a race, Charlie Brown Farms, and The Musical Road in Lancaster.

Natural history store in Berkeley

Up in a tree in Berkeley

with Grandma at the Candy Vault in Sonora, Ca.

Nature walks.

Apple Hill in Placer, Ca.

Apple-picking at a U-Pick Farm.

Disneyland/California Adventures

Bowling alley.

Chaffee Zoo in Fresno, Ca.

with Grandma at Forestiere Underground Gardens.

5k race at the Jethawks' Stadium in Lancaster, Ca.

Charlie Brown Farms in Littlerock, Ca.

Another Disneyland trip.

Although it was a very experimental first year, we had a blast! Every single day wasn't peachy, but most days were fulfilling, exciting, and memorable, and there were some days where everything was right in the world, where some science project carried him through to the evening or lit up his face in such a way that he wanted to learn more and do more. We had many snuggly days, reading stories together on the couch, explorative days outside tracking a line of ants or running through a corn field, warm days baking bread in the kitchen, fun-in-the-sun days at Disneyland, and days where we really played hooky and went to a candy shop or spent the day making half a million paper airplanes or building ships out of cardboard.

As we wind down for this year, we're thinking about next year. I've already asked Aidyn to start thinking about what he wants to learn this year, and I've no doubt he will choose some exciting things for us to delve into!


  1. What an incredible year you have had! I learn so much reading your blog. We have just finished our first year of homeschooling and I'm also reflecting on what we've done and thinking hard about how to change and improve next year. I will be coming back to this post for ideas. I love the goals you set and the creative ways you have achieved them while learning more and more about how Aidyn learns best. When will you start second grade?

  2. Thank you, Jody! I've learned so much this year and I hope I can apply all I've discovered to second grade. We start second grade in mid-August, but the summer will be filled with fun reads, hikes, outdoor fun, and family time. :) How about you, any summer plans?

    1. A big move is in our plans for summer but as of yet we don't know where we are moving to. I'm not sure when we'll start our second year of preschool - probably not until we are settled into our new home but I'm looking forward to reading about what you and Aidyn get up to.