Progress Report: Build Your Library, 6th Grade 2020

If you’ve been following along, you know that we switched to the Build Your Library curriculum this year. Now that we’ve been in school for about eight weeks, I thought I’d give a progress report on how it’s going.

SPOILER ALERT: I love this curriculum!

Quick caveat: Just a reminder that I have replaced the Literature & Writing portion with Brave Writer due to my kids’ very different needs as writers. So, this review only covers Poetry, History, History readers, Science and Art.

I loved all of Emily Cook’s choices for the Civil War unit, which we just completed. Both of my kids had “covered” the Civil War in public school, but they really didn’t even know the basics about why the war was fought, what years it happened or the names of any major actors. In other words, they hadn’t really connected with it or developed any relationships with these historical figures. After reading the books in this curriculum and watching the recommended documentaries, I am happy to report that my kids not only understand the reasons behind the Civil War and when it happened, they talk about Harriet Tubman, Ulysses Grant and Abraham Lincoln as if they know them personally! They also know the Confederate side with Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee. It’s so awesome!

I have personally really enjoyed the historical fiction included in this curriculum’s Civil War unit. My favorite so far was March Toward Thunder by Joseph Bruchac, but there have been several very good ones. The first one in the Westward Expansion unit, however, is too childish for this age group, in my opinion (The Prairie Thief).

Ending this unit on the Civil War right when the election happened had an interesting side effect. We are a politically independent family. We are not “moderates”; We have strong opinions that fall on both sides of the political divide and therefore can’t belong to either party. We talk openly with the kids about politics and encourage them to come to their own conclusions about the issues. We watched the acceptance speeches by VP-elect Kamala Harris and President-elect Joe Biden, and my kids showed a lot of interest in Kamala. My daughter, in particular, hung on her every word. It was incredible to see because this daughter of mine is obsessed with K-pop, dancing and writing, but generally has zero interest in politics. Our conversation afterward revealed that the kids’ history lessons had had a positive impact on their understanding of politics. It was a very satisfying moment as a homeschool teacher, and I credit Build Your Library’s creator, Emily, with making that possible!

I specifically want to call out a topic that my son brought up. He said, “Everyone thinks that their side is the good guys and the other side is the bad guys.” This week we are transitioning to the topic of Westward expansion and “Cowboys vs. Indians,” and he repeated this idea just this morning. I am really happy to see that a side effect of this curriculum and our conversations is that my kids understand this. Both sides think they are the “good guys.” Isn’t that true today as well?

Ok, enough political musing! How about the rest of the curriculum? I don’t particularly like how art is handled in this curriculum. I much prefer the Ambleside Online (and true Charlotte Mason approach) of studying a single artist’s works over a semester. In Build Your Library, you study an artist one week and do a related art project during the following week. It’s fine, but it’s not ideal. I’ve ended up lingering on one artist longer, which requires skipping other artists, and letting the kids experiment with their artistic approach over more days than scheduled.

My son’s Robe Goldberg machine design, “The Drummer.”
My daughter’s depiction of the same Rube Goldberg machine,
which they built together.

Poetry. We’ve read poems by Edgar Allen Poe over this semester. I love that Emily maintained Charlotte Mason’s true approach here, and my kids really seem to have a good understanding of Poe’s aesthetic and his approach to poetry. Of course, it’s hard not to love “The Raven” and his other poems that were clearly written to be read aloud!

Science. The Real Science Odyssey textbook is very well done. My only complaint is that we can’t keep up with it as scheduled. We are currently two chapters “behind.” An entire chapter is scheduled to be read in one day, which is impossible for us to accomplish because the ideas are complicated, and I have ended up making each section or two into a full day’s lesson instead. I tried to keep up at first, but my kids didn’t retain any information, so that is why I adapted. The labs are very hands-on!

My son and daughter,
learning to use the spectroscopes that they built from household objects

The science readers have been a mixed bag. I thought the first one was too childish for this age group (George and the Big Bang), but the next two were perfect. The documentaries have been excellent, and we have enjoyed them as a whole family!

There is no nature study included in the Build Your Library science curriculum. However, it is part of the Brave Writer curriculum, so I incorporate it according to that schedule instead.

Overall, this curriculum has enhanced our school days tremendously! It is very easy to plan because it has a day-by-day lesson plan and all I have to do is read far enough ahead to make sure I have already ordered the books that we need.

The biggest benefit of this curriculum is that it includes many different perspectives, including minority perspectives and the point of view of the “bad guys” of history. The downside is that we aren’t reading books that were written closer to that time period, but instead are reading all modern books with quotes from original sources, and therefore it all gets interpreted through a “modern” lens. I might occasionally wish to hop over to Ambleside Online and look for a classic text to supplement the modern ones.

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