Homeschool Curriculum Update – What we have loved and what we haven’t

I’ve blogged in the past lots of our plans for homeschooling, and I thought it might be helpful to give an update on how things have shaken out with various resources we use now that we’re 2 1/2 years into this journey.

My general approach is to overresearch and overanalyze before jumping in, so I didn’t anticipate making lots of curriculum changes… but there have been some along the way!

I’ll keep things relatively brief here. I tend towards overexplaining so I’ll try to keep that in check. I’ll gladly answer any specific questions you have in the comments. Please keep in mind that these are just my thoughts about what works for our family. Your mileage should vary for your own kids. 🙂

Reading / Spelling / Grammar

Free reading – 1 hour every afternoon. I fiercely protect this time and check out a big stack of chapter books from the library regularly to feed my kids’ appetite for books. I’ve found dozens of excellent resources for finding good literature, but one of my favorites is Exodus Books. It’s a print and mortar store that sells used books online and has amazing reviews and lists built into their catalog. Check out the left-hand sidebar on this page. It’s mind-blowingly helpful to have those lists all compiled!  We also read aloud as a family and use the facebook group for the Read-Aloud Revival Podcast as an invaluable resource for finding good books for different ages and stages.

Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons – I‘ve successfully taught two 3 year olds to read this way with spectacular results. However, I was a much better teacher for the second one because I knew the 72 basic phonograms taught by the Logic of English. They’re available free online along with the spelling rules, several of which really help with reading as well. Instead of calling lots of words “funny words” like the 100 Easy Lessons book instructs, I gave my daughter the real story. Beautiful.

Logic of English – This is our third year using Essentials and we still adore it. I have bought most of the supplementary stuff as well by this point (game tiles, game book, spelling journal) and we use it every day. My 4 year old happily joins in for most of it. This year we’ve added the grammar from the book and started using the free advanced spelling lists available online. Initially I thought we didn’t need the workbook but we’ve started using it and it’s awesome (though strictly optional). I’ve been going through the teacher training videos online and they are incredibly helpful! I’m a much better teacher now than I was just opening the book and going… though that worked out ok, too.

Math

Singapore Mathematics – AKA Primary Mathematics – We still use this and love this. Mackenzie (7) is nearing the end of 3A.

Here’s how we’ve used it: We started 1A when she was 4 1/2 and followed her lead, trying to do some each day. We completed 1B, 2A,and 2B the same way. I then had her do Challenging Word Problems Level 1, and I had her re-work all the level 2A and 2B textbook problems before starting 3A. I wanted her to be really solid on the basics.

*We also continue doing 1-3 kumon packets each week. Any math facts would work fine, but these packets sure are handy.

**In the last few months, we’ve scaled down the kumon and had our girls work through Xtra Math. We love that it’s a no-frills way to drill math facts and hone in on the ones that are problematic. I was surprised to see that my 7 year old, who whizzes through three digit addition problems was weak on a few facts. She was proud to get the addition certificate and is close to getting subtraction.

***We are mixing things up right now by using a day of Saxon 4/5 math textbook on Fridays. I think 4 days of Singapore, 1 day of something else (e.g. Khan Academy, Saxon, math games), and 1 kumon packet on Saturdays is a balance for us that works really well. I bought a used Saxon textbook for $4 and have definitely found the “spiral” approach for teaching is NOT a good fit for our family, but I enjoy mixing it up a bit so my kids get used to answering problems phrased differently than they find in Singapore books.

****We’ve fallen in love with the Singapore Intensive Practice books for Mackenzie as well. They are the “music” of math, with cool and interesting problems to work through. They’ve challenged her and encouraged her to dive deeper into whatever topic she’s doing in the regular Singapore books. We simply start the section in Intensive Practice when she finishes the section in the regular books. We’re having her do them on binder paper though, so the books can be used again for siblings. 🙂  I think this will make it so I don’t feel the need to repeat the textbook problems at the end of the year.  She’ll be ready to move on!

Science

We are finishing our Biology year of Real-Science-4-Kids and I’m honestly a bit underwhelmed with it. I wrote back here how thrilled I was with the idea of this curriculum, but so far it’s fallen short of my hopes. I do love that it teaches real science at a child’s level, but I would love to see MORE for the price of the books. We could read the whole textbook cover to cover in a short afternoon, which Mackenzie does as soon as I get the new one out for the year. The experiments aren’t anything superior to what you’d find online with a quick search. We’ll use physics and astronomy since I’ve already bought them, but I’ve lowered my expectations a bit.

I’m glad I got these on a steal. I wouldn’t recommend them at full price, but if you can find the textbooks used, go for it.

I’m going to snag Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding for next year and I’m optimistic it will be a better fit for us.

History

We are still really happy with our choice of using a history spine as the basis for our studies. We read the great story of history together, and then read extra books from the library, make a timeline, etc. as we go. It’s low-key and enjoyable. I use both books I mentioned in my previous post, and we also checked out The Story of the World audiobook from the library and enjoyed that as well. Even if you don’t homeschool, that or “A Little History of the World” as an audiobook would be a great listen for the family.

Logic

Mind Benders from the Critical Thinking Company – Mackenzie does these occasionally and is now finished with Book 2. I’m definitely underwhelmed with the series thus far. I already bought Book 3 before discovering I didn’t like them, and I keep them available in a binder for fun, but I don’t incorporate them into our school time.

Piano

The first book or two of Alfred was helpful for teaching sight reading, but now Mackenzie just uses the Alfred series for free play. I teach her the Suzuki repertoire during lesson and practice time.
(I’m not Suzuki-trained or anything, but I wanted her to work on mastering music that was worth learning so we switched to Suzuki books+CDs about 8 months ago and we both love it. I’m mid-way through Book 2 and she’s mid-way through Book 1.)

Spanish

Rosetta Stone was not a good choice for us for language learning. This deserves a post of its own, but I’m convinced that it can help with fluency ONLY for those who understand the basic grammar of the language. Mackenzie was able to guess the correct pictures but had no real understanding of anything that was going on after months of using this. I realized she was only learning what I taught her myself (pronunciation of each sound in Spanish, some fundamental grammar rules, etc.)

Art

We are still using and loving Artistic Pursuits. One book has lasted us this whole time because we just do art once a week and often find something related online we’d like to try or repeat previous lessons we’ve enjoyed. The book has really helped us learn and create together using mediums I never would have explored on my own. It was pricey but has been great for us. We’ll move on to Book 2 in the fall.

The Rest

– We also do scripture, quote, poem, and hymn mastery work every morning.

– We do memory work one other time during the day, using the information from Classical Conversations as our foundation. We memorize the 5 kingdoms of living things, the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World, the major groups of invertebrates, the squares up to 15×15, the 8 parts of speech, etc. Little kids love to memorize and their brains are like sponges! I can’t believe how much faster and longer they retain things than I do.

– We don’t do “scripture picture journalling” (mentioned back here) anymore, but I think it’s a great option and we may come back to it in the future.

– We do some great Geography and Character lessons around here as well.

– Mackenzie has been learning to type using Typing.com  and it’s a great no-frills way to teach proper typing.  She loves it.  There are typing games available on the site, but that’s usually an afterthought/optional thing for after the real work is done.

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About beanland

Scott is a family practice doctor and Anne is a full-time mother and teacher to three beautiful girls and one boy.
This entry was posted in Curriculum, Homeschooling, Life as we know it. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Homeschool Curriculum Update – What we have loved and what we haven’t

  1. Anita says:

    Thank you!

    Like

  2. Pingback: Our Homeschool Curriculum 2013 – 2014 | Adventures in Beanland

  3. katrina says:

    thanks for sharing.

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  4. katrina says:

    How are you finding the Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding textbook and have you looked at an of the Singapore Science text books? Would be interested to know what either are like. Best.

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    • beanland says:

      We are loving Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding with two exceptions and a caveat. 🙂

      First, the caveat: We’ve only been doing it for four weeks, though I have read through a lot of the book and I’m excited for what is ahead as well.

      Now the exceptions: As I expected, it is NOT “open and go” so looking a few lessons ahead and making some notes in my book is important if I want our science lessons to actually happen during a hectic school day. Also, the book lists that accompany each lesson are pretty lame. I was hoping for a more curated list of particularly well-done children’s books, but the lists so far have turned out to be just what you’d find if you pulled at random from the non-fiction section on the topic at hand. I’d far prefer fewer recommendations that are higher quality. I’ll likely just ignore the lists for future lessons. Not a huge deal.

      I had actually never heard of Singapore Science textbooks, but after just a quick look they don’t seem like they’d be a good fit for us. It turns out I’m not a big fan of textbook + workbook for elementary science. I much prefer discussion + relevant experiments based on real-life stuff around the house and the backyard. It’s definitely a trade-off because “open and go” happens more consistently around here. But I’d rather do less science but do it in a way that ignites my kids’ curiosity and builds observation skills, than consistent science that is dry and lifeless. (ALL elementary science textbooks are probably not lifeless… but most I’ve seen are.)

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  5. katrina says:

    Thanks for the great explanation, I think I will buy the book.

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  6. katrina says:

    Got the book and love it. You might like this as an “open and go” workbook to go alongside your instruction https://www.sapeducation.com.au/sites/fivesenseseducation.com.au/files/Conquer%20Science%20For%20Primary%20Levels%203%3A4%20Sample%20Pages.pdf

    Hope all going well in the Beanland household. 🙂

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