2017-2018 Preschool- First Grade Curriculum Review

Since we are winding down with the school year, I figured it was time to update you on my thoughts on the curriculum we used this school year. Now, we technically school year round, so we aren’t really done with the year, but we are winding down and I’m planning next year already.

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You can find my post about our plans here. As usual, some aspects of the plan changed, but for the most part, this is what we stuck with.

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Turns out my Preschool/First Grade kids were the most problematic in terms of finding and sticking to a curriculum. My first grader started the year unable to read. He is currently barely reading CVC words. He is just struggling with reading. It isn’t clicking just yet. In my experience, kids who struggle with reading seem to struggle for ages, then something clicks and they speed through and “catch up” extremely quickly. I am waiting for the “clicking” moment for my first grader. I decided halfway through the year that while I would keep putting phonics in front of them, we weren’t going to stop our world because they couldn’t read or remember all their letters.

Life of Fred

Turns out my little kids did not care for Life of Fred. They thought it was funny, but they weren’t really learning much from it. I had it from a pervious child who did really well with it, so I was a little surprised that it wasn’t working for these kids. We read it anyway, but it was pretty clear they weren’t learning much from it, simply being entertained. We may pull it out again when they are a little older and see how they like it, but for now, we’re setting it aside.

Math Games

I made a box of math games at the beginning of the semester. (I promise I will get around to making a post about it!) It worked out really well for the most part. Each game had several “levels” of play. They really enjoyed it and it was easy for me to take out while the toddler napped and let them have some hands on math fun.

Fairy Tales

For our first term, we went through Fairy Tales. We pulled from several books, including Time Lord Fairy Tales. I expected that to be their favorite, but it had no pictures, so it was a little difficult for the little kids to imagine. The love Doctor Who, but the books were a little difficult for their level. I appreciated them. Their favorite Fairy Tale book ended up being Mary Engelbreit’s Nursery and Fairy Tales Collection.  We read Hans Christian Anderson, Grimm’s, and a few more. I added activities in to go along with the stories. I just looked them up on Pinterest. They liked the snack activities best. The bog kids were constantly asking to sit in.

Peter Rabbit

During our second term, we read through all the Peter Rabbit books. The boys were very into it. Add in a squirrel and rabbit hand puppet to use as a narrator, and we had a hit on our hands. I also bought them each a Peter Rabbit Coloring book that we colored throughout the term. The coloring book was a picture by picture version of Peter Rabbit. It is just that story. I expected it to have more characters in the Peter Rabbit world, but it did not. However, the boys did enjoy the coloring books.

Winnie the Pooh

For the third term, we read through Winnie the Pooh. For this, they bring their own bears to story time. I contemplated buying them each a classic Pooh bear, but ultimately, since they eat have a bear given to them at birth, we used their own bears. I had a lot pf ideas for this unit, but ended up deciding to stick with the simplicity of story time with bear. The boys are loving it. The big kids are jealous.

Phonics

We did use Alpha Tales and Phonics Tales. We really like Alpha Tales. Phonics Tales, not so much. I think Bob Books are better. We used Alphabetimals Coloring books. The boys loved them. I ended up having to buy the toddler one, too. When they finished those, I bought them each The Garden Fairy Alphabet Coloring Book. These are pretty detailed for younger kids. My boys liked them, but they did not love them. My oldest daughter would have loved them at that age. But the boys weren’t as excited about the fairies and the flowers. After they finished those up, I bought them each a Little ABC Coloring Book. These are much smaller coloring books, but the boys LOVED them. They loved the small size and the simpler pictures. They really enjoyed the alphabet coloring books, so I will probably keep that up next year. The Letter Factory DVD was also in high rotation. I didn’t have the Fridge Phonics set with it this time, just a set of magnetic letters. I really think the combination of the Letter Factory and the Fridge Phonics makes learning letter sounds so easy and simple.  My ABC Bible Verses was a surprising hit, as well. I think it was a stretch to consider it an alphabet book, but we liked the wholesome stories about a brother and sister and how they learned certain Bible verses. It was a good start to our “class time” but it didn’t really reinforce letters so much as it did Bible verses and character building. We will likely try out My ABC Verses from the Psalms next school year because the boys did really like it.

We tried numerous apps and games on the tablets that I just didn’t think worked. They loved them. I didn’t think they were learning anything. Some of them were just too repetitive and didn’t get on to the next thing for them to learn more than the A sound in a month. Some of them just had too many bells and whistles. ABC Mouse was one the boys liked, but they didn’t learn anything with. Veritas Press Phonics Museum was good, but the boys didn’t enjoy it as much. Homer I loved the books and music, but the program itself was far too slow moving. (I still have my Homer subscription because of the books. I screen share from my iPad to our home TV through an app on the Xbox called AirPlay. I also do this with Kindle books for kids. I throw them on the screen so they can see the pictures easily while I read.)

Science

The little boys sat in on our morning basket time, so they did get some science there. Other than that, we read selections from The Handbook of Nature Study and took nature walks. They loved doing this. Though, in the suburbs, there is only so much nature you’re really going to encounter. But we talked about weather, trees, seasons, dirt, rocks, and wind. We also read through the Kingfisher Animal Encyclopedia. Whatever our letter of the day would be, we’d pick an animal with that letter. While they enjoyed it that way, I think an animal encyclopedia goes best with weekly zoo trips, which we did not do this year. I’m looking to do that next year, though Topher is trying to convince me that the natural history museum will be more fun. (Because it has dinosaurs.)

Critical Thinking

We got Critical and Creative Level One for these little guys. I honestly did not like this level as much as I like the higher levels. There was a lot of content that was assumed a young child would know that my young children did not know. They don’t know much about Hanukah. They don’t know much about commercialized Christmas. They don’t know about a traditional school setting. We ended up having to skip a lot of the beginning content because it was just stuff they didn’t know. And since this was about logic skills, I didn’t see why it would be necessary to teach them about the topic just for them to complete the thinking skills work. I also liked skipping around in the book because you want to do the Halloween section around Halloween (if you want to do it at all). You want to cover Fall at the beginning of Fall. I’m not sure if we’ll continue the Critical and Creative books next year. I liked them, but I didn’t like them. They were good in terms of teaching logic, but I didn’t actually like the content and the books. If that makes any sense at all.

Ransom

Overall, we didn’t make as much progress this year with this age as I thought we would. They had a lot of fun. We read a lot of books. So, the exposure was certainly there. I wouldn’t consider it a failed year, because they really were engaged and exposed to a whole host of new ideas. But as far as their skills in reading and math, they’ll need another year to work that out. So, Ransom will stay in the “little kid class” next year and not move up into the “Upper Grammar” stage. Again, there is nothing wrong with this at all. This is just my assessment of where they are and then using that to plan for next year. My kids usually work from “Lower Grammar” where I do more Kindergarten and “little kid” stuff with them. Once they are reading proficiently and have a grasp on basic math concepts and numbers, they move into “Upper Grammar”. They get more independent in this phase and have to read a lot more books and have a much more in depth math program. After “Upper Grammar”, they move into the “Logic Stage”, which is their middle school years. They read a lot. They write a lot more. They are much, much more independent. After that, they’ll move into the “Rhetoric Stage”, also known as high school. We don’t have any that far yet, so I’m not sure what that will entail, but I am currently thinking dual enrollment will be in their future. We’ll see.

Topher & Pip

But the boys are right where they are. And where they are is where they are “supposed” to be. That is part of the beauty of homeschooling. Their education is hand made for them, so their progress is the right progress. No matter how fast or slow. No matter how lopsided it may seem. They are where they are “supposed” to be.

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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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