Stuff We Liked
We haven’t used this program a ton, but both the kids and I like it. It’s an older math program which uses the “old new math.” It’s very conceptual and skips around topics. It’s intended to be somewhat child led and focuses on discovery. For whatever reason, they never seem to get frustrated when they use it. They think of it as “fun math.” The Cuisenaire Rods are an integral part of the program and they like to use them with it.
We’ve also really enjoyed the downloadable program Math Mammoth. We have the blue series, which breaks up the math into single topic workbooks. We’ve finished the core of the first grade curriculum with this program and done many of the other topics as well. The program asks kids to do a lot of problems, but we skip some if the kids are getting them all correct. It asks the kids to slowly use different methods to build up to a thorough understanding. The program has actually really grown on me as we’ve gotten farther with it. Initially, I felt like it didn’t have enough conceptually and that it was too simple. Now, I’ve begun to see how it asks the kids to think through things in different ways until they really get it.
This isn’t more than a simple little workbook, and one that the kids finished relatively quickly. However, it gave them a nice introduction to logic problems, analogies, and the like. We liked it so much that I also got the author’s other workbook, Logic Safari, though we haven’t started that yet.
Mushroom used this free online program very briefly at the start of the year in order to get a boost. It teaches the early phonics rules and then provides readers where the child and parent read together. We liked the method and ended up transferring it to other books as well, which helped him for awhile. I wish it went further into more complex phonics, but it ends pretty quickly so its usefulness is limited.
The Library Curriculum
Really, the thing we like the best is the library curriculum. We go almost every week. Mushroom gets a few early readers. BalletBoy considers whether he’s willing to read any of the chapter books I spread in front of him. I comb the nonfiction shelves for my mental checklist of things: co-op topics, history, science, living math books, and any unexpected gems. From the library we get many of the supplementary things I use constantly: the Janice VanCleave experiment books, the Mitsamisa Anno math books, the Let’s Read and Find Out science picture books, the various history project books, the piles of poetry books, the fairy tales and everything else.
Stuff We Did Not Like
Explode the Code Online
Even with the Homeschool Buyer’s Co-op discount, it’s not worth it in my opinion. I’ve posted a little about this before, but it is so strongly focused on speed over accuracy that it just didn’t work for us. Plus, the pictures or even the vocabulary was too obscure for the kids. Somehow, that’s cute in the workbook, but less cute when you’re being timed and playing on the computer. Then there’s the typing component. Most six year olds don’t know how to type and I’ve even read things that talk about how typing may be bad for kids this age. My final straw was when Mushroom, who can’t read nearly as well as BalletBoy, managed to surpass his brother simply by playing it like a video game. That was it. We got less than a month’s use out of it.
This was so bad, that it didn’t even make it to get used by the kids. It was offered free a few months ago and I downloaded it. It’s a computer program for teaching phonics. The program made my computer look like it had traveled back in time a full decade. There were not enough menu functions so there was limited control. It wasn’t interactive, which meant it was basically just a poorly made video. I don’t get why anyone would ever pay the price tag they attached to this. Maybe if it was 1997 this would look somehow innovative?
The Jury’s Out
I love it. It’s free, it’s challenging, and it’s a bit outside the box. On the other hand, it made the kids cry. That pretty much sums it up.
Story of the World
Well, I had a whole post about this one. We like many things about it and we love history, but finally giving in and getting the Activity Guide was a total waste. Many of the things we like best are the things I supplement with: crafts, picture books, and field trips. And I’m really questioning whether the academic goal of emphasizing the “great men” over any social history is something that I can find useful as a history spine going forward.
Explode the Code
This time I’m talking about the workbooks. I think they’re a solid way to practice phonics and I like many of the aspects of them. However, they were difficult for Mushroom to use just learning and too easy for BalletBoy who can already read all the words in them. At first I thought they were giving BalletBoy a solid foundation of phonics to back up his reading skills. Now, seeing that his spelling isn’t improving at all, I’m less enamored with them. However, Mushroom has gotten into more of a flow with them. We’ll see how it comes out.
Handwriting Without Tears
Last year, we really enjoyed doing this program for kindergarten and liked the way that it introduced handwriting gently (though I can’t say it was completely without tears for my sometimes oversensitive boys). This year, the kids finished the workbook super quickly and I realized that they needed more practice that isn’t really there to get from writing well with the example in front of you to writing well when you’re just writing. However, I still kind of love their font. I refuse to listen to the naysayers on that front. It’s a lovely font, really.