2016-2017 Homeschool Curriculum Review

We haven’t yet moved into our next school year, but the planning for next year is coming along. This past year was our 7th homeschooling year. We had 4 official students and 1 who insisted on jumping into the fun with us. (Preschoolers do that from time to time. Sometimes they want to participate. Sometimes they don’t. Before age 6, we let them choose. Play time is learning time for that age, so I’m not comfortable pushing them toward rigorous studies just yet.) I figured I’d let you guys know what worked and what didn’t this school year. But I always like to give an update on what worked and what didn't, since my opinions may change by the time we get closer to the end.

Overall, we have used The Well Trained Mind throughout our schooling days. We’ve been a little more relaxed in the Grammar stage. Some of the suggested resources haven’t worked for us, so we have found alternatives that work.

I had two fifth graders this year, one third grader, one kindergartener, and one preschooler.

Math
We used Teaching Textbooks 5 and 3 for these guys this year. Teaching Textbooks has been the best math program for these guys. These two started with Singapore Math and then switched to Teaching Textbooks for fourth grade. We no longer buy the workbooks, because my kids only use the computer disc portion of the program. Each lesson is well explained, having them do practice problems as they go. If they don’t do well on a lesson, you can go in and delete the grade and let them try again. They get two tries at each problem, and the program explains how the answer is achieved. It gives immediate gratification, telling them if they are right or wrong on each problem before they move on. The kids do very well with this program. I have read some reviews that say the grade levels are off, but I have not found that to be the case. Each year starts off pretty easy, but builds back to more difficult concepts. So, a student may find it easy at first, but there is more challenge coming. My only issue with the program is the cardboard cases the CDs come in. I feel like for the price, they should come in some durable CD cases for long term use. I’ve had to move all our discs into a zippered CD case. That works, but for $99 a set (higher in the higher levels) they should come with something more durable than paper. The program keeps up with the grades and you can check them at any time. We don’t usually do grades, but since the kids were doing it all on their own, it helped me keep an eye on their progress.
We started the year with Essential Math K. He flew through it. It wasn’t a challenge for him at all. We switched to Life of Fred about halfway through the year. It introduced more complex topics and he liked the storytelling aspect. The preschooler joined us for these lessons, but will likely need to do them again.

Grammar
I signed the older two up for Wordly Wise Online through Homeschool Buyer’s Co-op. They didn’t like it. I didn’t like it. The program isn’t well laid out. It is very confusing and takes a lot of time per lesson. I also felt like they weren’t really learning much for the effort being put in. We stopped it mid-year and will not be picking it back up.
We also grabbed the new Writer’s In Residence program from Apologia. Each student needs their own book. And the books are hefty. While I like some of the content, overall, the program didn’t work well for us. For one, it isn’t well laid out. The grading rubric is confusing. Everything has to be graded, which is weird for us since we don’t really grade things. Some of the assignments were frivolous. Also, it got really messy. It is a huge workbook, so I expect all the work to be done in the book and fit in the book. But there were several times when things were cut out of the book (which annoys me greatly) or they had to paper clip extra pages into the book. I felt like they could have made it all work, but didn’t. If the kids are needing to use separate paper, I would have just liked it in textbook format with all the work being done on their own paper in a separate notebook. My kids did learn from the program, but it was far too parent intensive and far too convoluted. You will need at least one of the Teacher’s Guides. I won’t be continuing this program. Even if I wanted to, I can’t. They released Volume 1 of 4 last year but haven’t released Volume 2 yet. I have such mixed feelings on this program. Some of it is SO good. But then some of it is SO bad.

I kept my third grader signed up for Explode the Code online. I absolutely love that program. It has worked so unbelievably well for him. He enjoys it. It challenges him. He is finishing up the program now, so he won’t be using it next year. I’ll be looking at buying it again for our rising first grader, though.

History
Our history years aren’t lining up smoothly because we spent longer than a school year on Ancient history. We use Story of The World. This year, we started a history co-op with some other families in our church. That slowed us down considerably, so we didn’t finish a full year of history this year either. We finished up Story of The World 2 and then moved into Story of the World 3. We tried the audio version of Story of the World 2, but the kids hated it. They did not like listening to the CDs. So, we went back to me reading it to them from the book. When we started Story of The World 3, I added interactive notebooks. It would have worked well for just my kids, but in the co-op setting, it got a little hectic. We will be continuing Story of The World 3 next year, but these two will be moving into the Logic stage, so they will be adjusting how they do history. (Technically, the Logic Stage begins in 5th grade, but my kids needed an extra year of writing and grammar before they could really tackle outlines and summaries.)

Science
We found a really awesome Science curriculum that works alongside Story of The World so well. Berean Builders Science is chronological science, studied by scientist and discovery. That has made so much more sense to my kids and given them a better understanding of how we come to know what we know. I’ll admit, they watched a few too many documentaries that had distorted their view of science. Because each documentary presents everything as fact, not theory. Then the documentaries would contradict one another or come from an atheistic world view. My kids became super skeptical and I was having difficulty drawing them back into the subject. The Berean Science books have been perfect to hook them back in. We started using Science in the Scientific Revolution along with Story of the World 3. There are experiments to better understand the discoveries made. It has been awesome. The kids love it, they are actually engaged, and they better understand the scientific process and how new discoveries change the way we see the world.

Handwriting
I have never used a proper handwriting program. However, my kids really needed it. They were having a lot of trouble writing clearly enough to communicate their ideas. So, I opted for an actual handwriting book. I chose Patriotic Penmanship. I liked the selected quotes. I decided to keep my third grader in print writing because he was only 7 and he needed some reinforcement on the proper way to make letters. One of my fifth graders did introductory cursive and the other did her proper grade. The workbooks are great. I had them work on a two page spread, one lesson, each week. Day one they would just practice making a letter. Day two they would practice key words. Day three they would work on a full phrase or two. Day four they would write the entire quote. It didn’t take more than a few minutes each day and I simply asked for very hard work for those few minutes. All of them have improved their handwriting significantly with just a little work each day. I will definitely be ordering Patriotic Penmanship workbooks again this year. Each child needs their own workbook as they are consumable.

Bible
For our Bible study for the older kids, we used Herein Is Love: Genesis. This one has a lot more lessons in it than the Leviticus book. The kids really enjoyed it and I think they learned a lot. It does a great job of weaving the whole story into the beginning story.
For the Little Guys, we used the Jesus Calling Storybook. I was not as in love with this Storybook Bible as I was with the Jesus Storybook Bible. It has little notes from Jesus, but they are worded oddly and it makes it a little difficult to follow in a read aloud format. But the kids liked it and they did learn.

Geography
We used my Operation World geography plan. It went really well. It helped open my kids’ worldview and show them more than what is outside their front door. I was really happy with how it went and will continue it next year.

Kindergarten
I purchased Alpha Tales and Phonics Tales at Costco for the little guys. We did not get into the Phonics Tales. It will really be a toss up this year if we do that book or The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Reading. I’m not sure which will work better for these guys.
I also signed them up for ABCMouse.com mid year. They have loved it. They can use their tablets to play. I signed up for the assessments, as well, but found that portion pretty worthless.

Reading
I basically let the kids pick what they wanted to read this year instead of using the reading list from Well Trained Mind. Turned out, that was a mistake. Well, the kids really loved reading, but they essentially spent the year reading junk books. I did strongly suggest a few classics that they did read and enjoy. The third grader loved the Roald Dahl books we have and finished all the Magic Treehouse books we own, plus ventured over to the Imagination Station books. The fifth graders read Peter Pan and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. They also read some Judy Bloom. But they did read a bunch of Goosebumps books and other junk type books. Next year, I’ll separate the required reading and the fun reading a bit more.

I kept track of everything in a composition notebook that I used like a bullet journal for schooling. This helped the planning significantly. I’ll be doing the same again because it worked so well. Though I’ll likely opt for a real bullet journal this year. (I’ve been using a bullet journal for a class I am taking and another one for the upcoming 2018 year. I’m liking the customization so much more than a standard planner. I also have one that I’ve been using alongside my 2017 planner for notes and things. I do like having separate planners for each of those areas, since I feel like everything together just gets too cluttered.)

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Modern Curriculum Press Phonics: Level A Review

Modern Curriculum Press Phonics, also referred to as MCP Plaid.

I use The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home (Third Edition) as the basis of homeschooling for my children. We started teaching reading with The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading. It is a great program, but my kids just didn’t care for it like I wanted them to. My daughter did very well with that program learning all her letter sounds, but once she moved into the reading section, she stalled. She is very work book oriented, so I bought this workbook as a supplement for her phonics. Once it arrived and she started using it, I quickly realized it was all she really needed.

It reminds me of Explode the Code 1, but I actually like MCP Phonics better. The worksheets are full color, though the paper is a bit on the thin side. I would recommend buying a new book for each student. The range on the level A is pretty broad. I’d start this book once they had letter recognition and letter sounds learned. Then you’ll use this work book for beginning to put words together (well, it actually begins with recognizing beginning and ending letters of words) through contractions. It is a very good first grade phonics program. (Though I do start mine about halfway through Kindergarten and then work it through 1st grade.)

I liked the book so much, I bought another for my Kindergarten son to go ahead and start. (Since he had just recently completed learning all his letter sounds.) I tore out all the pages and placed them in a 1″ binder, so I could better keep up with their work.

The book also comes with cards for letters and sight words along with an envelope for storage. You could very easily use these to teach your child his/her letters and letter sounds before beginning the workbook pages.

I highly recommend this phonics program. It is a little more on the “traditional” side of schooling. It has “name” and “date” places on each page and is geared for a classroom setting (with letters to go home with kids to parents). However, I find it works very well in a homeschooling setting.

Kindergarten Objectives

As most of you know, we began our homeschool journey this year. Homeschool preschool quickly became homeschool kindergarten. Both older kids were quickly beyond what I considered to be a preschool level. And since they both enjoy “doing school” we kept going with Kindergarten.

I started with both kids working together, but they quickly split in their abilities. Imogene will probably meet all our Kindergarten objectives this year and move into her grade one studies. Aidan will probably take a bit more time to meet the objectives. He likes to play with ideas for a while before moving on. She likes to master something and move on quickly. The great thing with homeschooling is they can each learn their way. There is no need to stick to a set schedule. No need to slow Imogene down or force Aidan along.

I sat down and typed up all my learning objectives for Kindergarten. I know many homeschoolers don’t do that. Many of them do their curriculum and move on. And that is fine. But for me, I like an objectives list. I like a list I can check the things off as they learn them. That is one of the disadvantages, in my opinion, of classical education. You have so many sources you are pulling from and no one set curriculum guide, that it is easy for things to get forgotten. It is easy to skip something or to keep pushing beyond what is really necessary, because you had no written goals. I like to have goals that I can see that this is working for them. Yes, when they finish their math curriculum (Essential Math Kindergarten – Singapore Math) they will have met each and every objective for math. Yes, when they finish their reading book (The Ordinary Parent’s Guide To Teaching Reading) they will have met all their objectives for reading. (Actually, they’ll meet all their Kindergarten objectives about two-thirds of the way through the book.)

There are some things you’ll notice about my objectives. One is that I really only have one goal for reading that is broken down into smaller mini-goals, so I can see their progress over time. Another is that I don’t include any history or science in my objectives. Why? Well, while we do cover history and science things, we do so in an organic way. We read about the things they are interested in. There are no set goals for them to reach in history or science in kindergarten. You may disagree, but in my world, you’re done with Kindergarten, not when you can use a map, but when you can read and add. Your objectives might be different than mine. In fact, they probably are. But I include the things I think are important and exclude the extras, that yes, they know, but no, don’t mean their done with kindergarten. They know the different classifications of animals (mammals, reptiles, birds, etc.). They know about animal habitats and the food chain. Another homeschooler might do botany in kindergarten and know many different things about plants. Another homeschooler might dabble in physical sciences and do experiments with light, magnets, and sound. Another homeschooler may skip science all together. Any of those things are fine. To me, at this age, science and history are extras. They learn about the things they are interested in at this point. I’ve got no set goals for them. You’ll also notice I include Bible and Religion objectives. That is not a common area to include in a kindergarten list, but those are the base things we think our children should know. I want them to know what we believe from a very early age, then later they can begin to understand the why.

My Kindergarten Objectives

 

Reading

      1. Know all upper- and lower-case letters by sight.
      2. Know all short vowel sounds.
      3. Know all consonant sounds.
      4. Be able to read CVC words.
      5. Read sight words: “the”, “I”, “a”.
      6. Read VC words.
      7. Read CVCC words.
      8. Read CCVC words.
      9. Read words containing digraphs. (sh, ch, tch, etc.)
      10. Read 3-consonant beginning blends. (spr, spl)
      11. Know long vowel sounds.
      12. Read simple words with long vowels/silent e.
      13. Read sight word: “have”.
      14. Know hard and soft “C” and “G” sounds.
      15. Read CVVC words.

*Overall reading goal is to be reading quickly and fluently.

 

Writing

      1. Know how to hold a pencil.
      2. Write all upper- and lower-case letters.
      3. Write numbers 1-10.
      4. Be able to copy short sentences.

 

Math

      1. Be able to group objects into sets.
      2. Identify and continue simple repeating patterns.
      3. Be able to count from 1 to 30.
      4. Understand one-to-one correspondence.
      5. Identify ordinal positions first through fifth.
      6. Be able to add and subtract numbers from 1 to 10. (Can use manipulatives.)
      7. Understand the concept of one half.
      8. Know the meaning of + and – signs.
      9. Invent and solve simple word problems.
      10. Make and interpret simple graphs.
      11. Identify pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters.
      12. Be able to compare length, weight, and capacity.
      13. Know what a thermometer is and be able to make simple hotter than/colder than comparisons.
      14. Tell time to the hour.
      15. Know and be able to draw basic shapes. (square, rectangle, triangle, and circle.)

 

Bible/Religion

      1. Know the three persons of the Trinity and their relationship to one another.
      2. Know that there is an Old and New Testament and know when each was written. (Before and After Jesus)
      3. Be able to say The Lord’s Prayer.
      4. Be able to say The Apostle’s Creed.
      5. Be able to recite The Ten Commandments.

 

Other

      1. Know their basic colors. (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, black, white, brown, pink, and gray.)
      2. Know the definitions of “title”, “author”, and “illustrator.”
      3. Know what year it is.
      4. Recognize and write their own name.
      5. Know what city and state they live in.
      6. Know the names of the members of their immediate family and their relationship to them.
      7. Know the days of the week in order.
      8. Know their right from their left.

         

 

Homeschool Beginnings

As you know (well, maybe you don’t), The Pastor and I have begun homeschooling the Goblins. We have been very fortunate that most of our family, friends, and church family are familiar and supportive of homeschooling. That, in and of itself, is a blessing. It is difficult to start down a path when you know most people are watching you embark like you’re nuts.

However, embarking on homeschooling is difficult. Really. There are as many ways to homeschool as there are kids doing it. Every family has their way that works for them and each kid within that family responds to it in their own way. I’ve been reading up on homeschooling for years. Yes. Years. I finally narrowed it down to the method we like as a family, that fits our particular goals for education and our personality as a family. Now, I get to choose curriculum. Yay! (And that was a sarcastic “Yay!”)

So, I narrowed it down to classical education. Of course, I’m bound to be a bit eclectic, I know myself well enough to know that. And we’ve begun our reading book and our preschool zoology studies. (So much fun!) Now, what else?

I’ve been wrestling with various math choices. There are many. I’ve narrowed it down to a handful. Miquon Math is one option, in fact, it is the strongest option at the moment. I’m also considering Singapore Math, Developmental Math, and Math U See– in that order. (And to be honest, Math U See is at the end of the list only because of the dumb way they spell their program name.)

I’m also trying to decide on a handwriting program. I like Italics,  but the Pastor is skeptical. He seems to be leaning more toward Handwriting Without Tears or some other program that is more traditional. I just want the kids to have pretty handwriting, isn’t that the point of a handwriting program?

We will be adding math and handwriting to our school routine this fall, at least for Imogene. I think Aidan may be ready to begin math, but I doubt he’ll have the motor skills for handwriting just yet. He is taking to reading pretty well. I actually did not expect him to pick up on it so quickly. I was pretty confident I would have to start over again with him at some later date, but he is hanging in there and keeping up.

I know everyone has their own way and I know everyone thinks their way is the best way. If you have your best way and you want to share, feel free! (Especially if you have some advice on some of the programs we are considering!) I am also working on our reading list. We’re almost at 50 books read since May. Fascinating, I know.

Preschool

We officially started “Homeschool Preschool” a couple weeks ago. I had planned on waiting to do anything “formal” for another year, but the kids were begging me. (When can we learn to read? When can we do that book? When can we have school? Will you teach me?)

I had read A Well Trained Mind and decided we’d go that route. It makes the most sense to me. It seems the most compatible to my education philosophy and the easiest classical route to implement. Of course, the book doesn’t have you doing any “formal” education until the kids are 6. Not that you don’t teach them anything before then, but that learning and teaching before then is more “informal” and unstructured.

Well, the Goblets (term coined by The Pastor’s 5th grade class) were itching for something- anything- structured. So, I decided to start small. Our goal for the summer is for them (the two bigger ones) to learn to read. We also decided to get started on science, because they are EXTREMELY interested in scientific matters.

For reading, I snagged The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading on Amazon. It is a complete reading program. The Goblets seem to like it. The lessons are very short and each reviews the lesson before.  The Princess wanted to do the whole book in one day so she could commence with the reading. However, I told her we should take it slow. So, we have been making letter pillows each day to go with the letter of the day.  The kids love that. Imogene has also been writing her letters, though the book doesn’t call for that. (I may need to go ahead and get her a handwriting book since she is wanting to go that route.)

For science, I decided it was the perfect time to begin Zoology. Why zoology? Well, it is first in The Well Trained Mind and we did buy The Princess zoo passes for her birthday! We’ve been following The Kingfisher First Encyclopedia of Animals, covering one topic a week. We started broad and we’ll move to more specific topics later. (Last week we covered habitats. Next week we’ll cover defense mechanisms.) We supplement each week with books from the library. And, of course, we visit the zoo weekly to look into our topic further and in person. The kids are really enjoying it. I’m really excited to see them loving learning so much.

Examining a baby elephant statue.

Getting up close and personal with the animals.

Loving his letter E pillow.