Looking Back on 2020: A Homeschool End-of-Year Review (Part 1)

2020 has been quite a doozy so far, hasn’t it?

Most of us are still reeling from the unexpected spin COVID-19 put on the last few months of this school year. And just when we thought things were looking up, we find ourselves in the midst of another set of trials and civil unrest.

It seems like a lifetime ago that I was planning out our curricula and wondering what the year would bring. I definitely didn’t expect all this!

Though it’s not easy to focus in the middle of all this uncertainty, it’s still important to pause and reflect on the last year. We might not know what the future holds (do we ever?) but we do know what has already happened. And we can start there to learn what we can to prepare and plan for the year ahead despite the societal chaos swirling around us.

Since my family started homeschooling seven years ago I’ve tried to do regular mid-year and year-end reviews to figure out what worked and what didn’t work for each of my kids (and for me, too). It’s a preliminary step as I begin planning the resources we’ll use the following year. 

What you won’t find in this post are detailed reviews of each curricula. Instead, I’ll cover a brief summary of what we used for each subject and then walk through what worked and didn’t work for us. 

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History & Geography

History has always been a subject all of my kids study together. The Story of the World curriculum has been perfect for our mixed-age setting. This year we used Story of the World Volume 3: Early Modern Times with the accompanying Volume 3 Activity Book. I also tried using the audiobook for the first time. 

Story of the World Volume 3 homeschool history curriculum book, activity book, audiobook
Our well-loved Story of the World Volume 3 curriculum

Part way through the year, we were in a rut and did a mini unit of Drive-Thru History: American History as a change of pace.

Drive Thru History: American History videos from SchoolhouseTeachers.com

What Worked

Overall, SotW works very well for us. My 5th grade son (“Oldest” – sorry, cutesy nicknames aren’t my thing) and 2nd grade son (“Middle”) both enjoy the narrative style of the book (as opposed to textbook-style chunks of content) and our whole family loves the activities in the Activity Guide

The audiobook was also a success. Although my boys both think the reader makes everything too dramatic, they both voted to get the Volume 4 audiobook for next year. That’s a relief for me. Then I don’t have to figure out how to pronounce words like “Waitangi” and “Tecumseh.”

It was also a fun change of pace to do the Drive-Thru History (DTH) American History videos this past winter. We all needed a little something to get us out of our mid-year rut and the DTH videos happened to overlap with the timeframe we were studying in SotW. Although my boys probably didn’t retain as much with the fast-paced videos as they usually do with our regular work, it was worth it to keep morale high.

What Needs to Change

My boys are full of curiosity and questions. This is a good thing. But it makes it almost impossible to get through a chapter without constant interruption. In the future, I need to set better boundaries about interruptions and make them save questions until the end of a section (or at least a paragraph)! 

My three-year-old daughter (“Youngest”) was a nomadic, occasional participant (that is, she wandered in and out of the room and sometimes colored a history coloring page).

Homeschool preschool SotW history artwork
Shaka, King of the Zulus…. you look so…. purple

At times this was too distracting for her brothers. I’ll need to find better ways to intentionally include and occupy the preschooler

Science

We’ve used Dr. Nebel’s curriculum, Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding (BFSU), for most of our science so far. This year we were working through the first half of BFSU Volume II. 

Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding Vol. II by Dr. Nebel - homeschool science curriculum
Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding Vol. II by Dr. Nebel

What Worked

I absolutely love the content of this series of books. It’s the only science curriculum I’ve found that presents science in a logical sequence (similar to the way math builds on prior learning). And this year I think I’ve finally found a way to minimize the main downsides I’ve experienced with these books! 

Quick backstory: Teacher prep time has always been high for me with BFSU since it’s written in a narrative style to the teacher. And, it doesn’t come with worksheets or student manuals. Instead, the author encourages students to make their own science notebooks. But my kids are young and easily overwhelmed by a blank page. 

I’ve always spent a lot of time typing teacher notes for myself, creating worksheets or notebook page templates and generally just spending way too much time on prep work. 

This year I decided to try simply highlighting the sections I wanted to read to the kids and writing notes in the margin about coordinating activities/experiments. I was worried this would be too unstructured for me but it worked! Simple notes to myself were enough to guide our discussion and I didn’t need to waste time reinventing the wheel.

For each chapter I also created quick “Goals” sheets with about 4-7 goals or requirements for their notebooks. I wasn’t sure if this would work either but they loved it!

Homeschool science notebook goals sheet for Cells lesson
A little direction helps younger kids start notebooking

By listing a few expectations, they had enough direction to guide their notebooking but still plenty of room for creativity. The added benefit is that it took me just a few minutes to customize a list of objectives (which were already listed in the book) instead of taking hours creating templates and printables from scratch. 

What Needs to Change

Again, Youngest, being only three, was half-participant and half-distractor during science lessons. This should get easier as she gets older, but I’ll definitely need to find age-appropriate ways to include our preschooler next year.

Now that I know I can get away with just some highlighting and notes in the teacher’s book, I’d like to streamline teacher prep as much as possible and have it all done during summer so I can just “open and go” during the school year.

I’d also like to be more prepared with correlating books and videos that I can strew around the house. I always have such great intentions when it comes to regular trips to the library… *sigh*

Bible

Our Bible study this year was a combination of AWANA books, reading through Psalms & Proverbs and watching RightNowMedia videos.

What Worked

I think our approach this year worked really well for us. My kids got structured Bible study through AWANA and regular Bible reading time at home (as a family and individually).

Homeschool kids AWANA T&T Discovery of Grace handbooks
My boys’ AWANA Truth & Training (T&T) handbooks

And our once-a-week RightNowMedia videos were entertaining while still presenting Biblical teaching and character training.

What Needs to Change

Just like my own Bible study, our Bible reading was a little haphazard this year. We did go through much of Psalms and Proverbs but it was in a “pick a Psalm, any Psalm” kind of way. Moving forward I want to work through Bible books in a more systematic way with them. 


So far, we’ve covered History/Geography, Science and Bible. Stay tuned for the next post when I finish up our 2020 End-of-Year Review and share what worked and didn’t work for math, language arts, logic and more!

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Looking back on 2020: A homeschool end-of-year review

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