Tag Archives: curricula

Excuse Me, But…

Unless you have a child who loves to do bookish schoolwork from dawn to dusk (Yes, I know there are a few.) or are only using everything really piecemeal, then pardon me if I’m dubious that you’re really using those three full history programs, four full grammar programs, five math programs, a health program, a geography program, and, of course, three logic programs “for fun” that you have listed on your blog/Facebook/forum thread.

I’m guilty of multiple programs sometimes. Mushroom uses Miquon, but I throw in a little Math Mammoth or MEP sometimes and use the Right Start games pretty regularly as well as some iPad drill and practice programs.

However, if I was to try and do First Language Lessons, Writing with Ease, Michael Clay Thomas Language Arts, Growing with Grammar, Institute for Excellence in Writing and Bravewriter (Yes, I’ve seen people list that they’re going to do them all!) then there’s no way my children would love school or writing. And if we tried to do Story of the World and Story of US at the same time, then there’s no way we’d ever get truly focused on any flow with history.

I guess that’s just it. While I’m often tempted to buy and try several things, I’m learning that it’s much better to do one thing thoroughly than five things (no matter how great they all are) in bits. One of the important things I really took from Handwriting Without Tears (Who knew a handwriting program could have education philosophy applicable to so much!) is that less is more. Make children do less, but demand more each time. Slow it down, do it right. Don’t try to rush or cram everything in and work with more purpose.

Sometimes, you can assemble your own program with different parts of things, of course.  I use different resources to create our science program, for example.  And everyone has to do what works for them and their children. However, if you’ve just listed that you’ll be doing six math programs and broadcast it to the internets, then pardon me if I’m quietly rolling my eyes.


A Tale of Two Boys

As Mushroom and BalletBoy get older, I’m seeing their learning styles differentiate more and more.  They’ve always been in different places on many things.  I’ve posted in the past about how BalletBoy surged ahead of Mushroom in reading pretty early on, for example.  However, as they get older, their individuality comes into play more and more.

Right now, at least, Mushroom is thriving with read alouds.  He has been more articulate and has improved so much at narrations.  As he has relaxed with schoolwork in the last few weeks, he has shown his ability to make connections and really think about things.  His handwriting is nice, if slow.  In fact, he does everything pretty slowly and deliberately, but when he does something creative, it’s wonderful.  He is finally enjoying math again, but only when it’s playful and loose.  He has been doing a lot more with Miquon lately.  His reading is improving, but it’s still slow.  He doesn’t read for pleasure yet because his confidence isn’t good enough.

BalletBoy enjoys stories read aloud, but he increasingly gets less from our history and science read alouds.  I’ve just started giving him his own reading material on those subjects, which he doesn’t love, but can do quickly enough and seems to retain much better.  His writing is fast and he generally does all his work quickly.  With math, he has been doing well with Math Mammoth’s ample practice.  He likes doing logic problems.  He is picky with books, but he reads well on his own when he finds something he’s into.

Both wonderful kids.  But different kids.

In a perfect world, I would give BalletBoy more school reading, keep him doing Math Mammoth and the Singapore Challenging Word Problems, and push him to do a little more free reading.  I would cuddle Mushroom on the sofa and read aloud to him all the time, let him just do Miquon Math, play games and read living math books, and give him extra narrations to do.

The problem is, there’s not quite enough school time for me to facilitate both those approaches.  Plus, there’s the comparisons issue.  I work with them on it, and I think they’re really not that bad about it, but it’s still there.  The more I change what curricula they each use, the harder it can be for them.

I’m not sure how much I’m going to differentiate for them.  Hopefully I’ll find the tightrope line between tailoring so much it takes too much out of me and tailoring enough that they get to realize their strengths.  The sweet spot where they both stay challenged and don’t fall behind yet aren’t pushed to do things they can’t or compare themselves to each other in ways that don’t seem to help.

In Which I Go Crazy Ordering for Next Year

Okay, I suppose it’s not that bad, but I just went a little bonkers ordering things for next year.  I should constrain myself.  I’m trying.  But new curricula is just so gosh darned fun.  Here’s what went into my shopping basket, in case you’re curious.

New Explode the Code books for both BalletBoy and Mushroom.  I got the excellent tip that it’s sometimes a good idea to do book 4 out of order.  In retrospect, I wish we had done it that way for BalletBoy.  He can read the words in the book fine, but the phonics concepts behind it – open and closed syllables, for example – were just too much for him to understand.  So I’m already planning to start Mushroom on book 5 when he finishes book 3, hopefully in the fall.

Critical Thinking:
We have loved both Lollipop Logic and Logic Safari from Prufrock Press.  I got them Analogies for Beginners to add to that.  I also discovered Tin Man Press, and have ordered Wakeruppers, which looks like it might be good for fun critical thinking activities.

I know.  I know.  I need to stop product hopping for writing.  But when I saw Tin Man Press’s book Just Write (which, strangely, has the same name as another program we’ve used and liked so-so) I had high hopes for it.  So add that to the cart.

Despite their appeal for me, I know both MEP and Singapore Math wouldn’t be right for us.  We bombed out of MEP and I understand why it didn’t work for my kids.  On the other hand, I couldn’t give up on the idea of adding in more conceptual and challenging thinking to our Math Mammoth routine.  We already do some Miquon on the side and we all enjoy that.  However, I ordered the Singapore Challenging Word Problems to do on occasion as well.

I’m sure I’ll be doing more science ordering, but so far, I’ve racked up a bunch of books that look promising for our upcoming geology and earth science year, including Shaping the Earth, Let’s Go Rock Collecting, and How to Dig a Hole to the Other Side of the World.  I also ordered us a barometer for studying the weather, an indulgence I probably wouldn’t have done if not for the fact that Mushroom is my little budding meteorologist.  I also got an excitingly large rock and mineral set, one which, like the microscope we own, I hope will be good enough to take us into study in high school, and is therefore worth the investment.  Finally, while I usually don’t buy posters, I had seen this one of the elements elsewhere and loved it, so I splurged on it.

We’re doing our own thing for American history next year.  I have been slowly racking up books, including The American Story, the Smithsonian’s Children’s Encyclopedia of American History, as well as some of the Jean Fritz books, the Betsy Maestro books the library didn’t have, and several of the books in the If You Lived With the… series that deal with Native Americans.  I also ordered More than Moccasins.

The vast majority of books I ordered came from Abebooks, which is my favored used book buying site.  And, of course, all of this is just to add on to things we already have and will continue to use, like Math Mammoth, Miquon Math, and The Usborne Science Encyclopedia.  Now…  to go make more room on the shelves for when the postman arrives.  Or possibly enter some sort of recovery program.  Hi, my name is Farrar and I’m a curriculum junkie.

Dear Curriculum Writers, Don’t Use Comic Sans!

The other day, a homeschool curriculum I had vaguely considered was mentioned on a forum I read.  I felt compelled to point out that the entire curriculum was in comic sans.  Do you know what comic sans is?  It’s a font.  An unattractive, massively overused, completely unserious font that is loathed by most graphic designers.  Over the next couple of days, I thought about it and realized that it’s not just one or two curricula.  A surprising number of independently produced curricula use comic sans.  Numerous times over the last year or so I have had the experience of looking at a set of curriculum samples and realizing that the book I was considering was in comic sans and feeling a sense of turn off and disappointment.  I don’t assume that just because a press is small or independent that the quality of their writing, research, methodology or suggested educational activities are inferior.  On the other hand, the quality of their graphic design seems to be.  I wouldn’t want to base my buying choices on the font, but when I’m looking around, deciding what to use, I will freely admit it.  When I see comic sans, my first reaction is to close the samples window and move on.

The following curricula all use comic sans either as their primary font or heavily in their design scheme.  I’m sure there are others as well, but these happen to be ones where I noticed it over the last few months when I looked at their curriculum samples.

  • Ellen McHenry’s Basement Workshop
  • R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey
  • The Lab of Mr. Q
  • Progressive Phonics
  • Noeo
  • Writing Tales
  • Nancy Larson Science

I’m not trying to be cruel or petty.  Font choice and design is actually important to me.  I know my little blog isn’t the prettiest with its “I am completely free” limitations, and I freely admit that I’m no expert, but I do notice and appreciate good design.  Most of the programs listed above are respected programs which I heard good things about (they may not be the programs for us, but I clicked over to look at each one of them at some point because someone said they liked it).  Design isn’t just judging a book by its cover.  It can influence how we think and feel as well as ease of use.  It conveys a certain mood and attitude.  Let me tell you, the mood of comic sans isn’t really the mood I want for our homeschool.

So, if by some off chance any aspiring curriculum writers happen to be reading my blog, don’t use comic sans.  Please.  If you think its appropriate, maybe use one of these fonts instead.

Spring Curriculum Round Up

Stuff We Liked

Miquon Math
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.

Math Mammoth
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.

Lollipop Logic
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.

Progressive Phonics
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

Mathematics Enhancement ProgrammeVolume 2: The Middle Ages

MEP Math
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.

I queued this post up last week (eek, now you know my terrible blogging secret, which is that I blog ahead of time and schedule my posts!) but then had to go out of town unexpectedly.  So, a slow week here, but I have more curriculum thoughts, a science post, and I’m sure some book reviews for next week.

What Do You Need a Curriculum For?

The other day, I saw someone ask on a certain homeschooling forum for help finding a curriculum to teach her kids how to do their chores and learn home economics.  If I recall, the kids were in early elementary school.  I bit my tongue (or held my fingers?) and didn’t respond with something snarky like, “Good grief, just print out a chore chart and be done with it!”

I feel perfectly confident that there will be gaps in my kids’ learning.  However, there’s going to be gaps whether I buy a curriculum or not.  There’s going to be gaps whether they’re homeschooled or schooled.  Everyone has things they really ought to have learned but didn’t.  Conversely, everyone has things they learned that they really didn’t need to unless they happen to be on Jeopardy.

The other day, Through the Wardrobe posted about how you just don’t need a creative writing curriculum.  Here, here!  However, that got me thinking.  All my life, I’ve written and read books for pleasure.  The world of words is a comfortable one for me.  In my former life, I taught humanities.  I feel no intimidation about needing a curriculum for humanities.  We have books, like Story of the World, to use as guidelines for history, but I don’t feel married to them.  We don’t even have guidebooks for reading writing, unless you count the handwriting practice books.  Nor can I imagine getting any.

On the other hand, we have two math curricula we’re drawing from and I probably overplanned science in my zeal to make it a bit more organized this year.  I wonder how much of that reflects my level of comfort with those subjects.  I don’t worry about English or history because those are things I know the best.  Math and science are interesting and fun to me, but they’re not the subjects that I excelled at in school.  I haven’t taken a formal math class since high school (I do not count the odd, if inspiring, math seminar I took at Mount Holyoke as “formal”) and I’ve never in my life studied physics formally, which is essentially our science topic for the year.