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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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.