Tag Archives: curriculum choices

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.

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.

Not Back to School

I’m pretty much putting some icing on the cake, getting us all ready for the “school” year to start.  The kids are in summer camp as I write, but next week the public schools go back and my most favorite co-op has agreed to meet at our usual island (no, that’s not a metaphor, we have meeting place on a certain woodsy island nearby) on Monday to kick things off for a week of just hanging out.  Plus, there’s sort of a fall feel in the air.  By the way, weird weather we’re having, huh?

So, here it is, the obligatory what are our plans posting:

  • Math: MEP, with lots of other stuff thrown in for enrichment, including probably some Miquon.
  • History: Story of the World 2, which covers the Dark Ages through the end of the Sixteenth Century.  We mostly use the book as a loose jumping off point and don’t have the Activity Guide to go with it.
  • Science: I never found what I wanted, so I made my own plans.  The kids were interested in doing physical science, so I made a curriculum map using the Usborne Science Encyclopedia as a spine.  It relies heavily on the Magic Schoolbus and Let’s Read and Find Out series.  I may actually post it here abouts at some point for others to use if they’re interested.
  • Handwriting: Handwriting Without Tears for grade 1
  • Reading for BalletBoy: A little Explode the Code 3 and 4, a few games and lots of books, books, books.
  • Reading for Mushroom: I had gotten Explode the Code’s online program thinking that it would be a good thing for him to work on getting up to speed on some of the basics he’s missing while I worked with BalletBoy on actual books.  Just from the times they’ve played it, I can already see that it’s going to be the opposite.  It’s good for BalletBoy to work on some of the gaps he missed as he flew through reading mostly on his own in kindy, but it’s useless for Mushroom, who has already cannily figured out somehow how to game it without learning a darn thing.  I’m sure he’ll still use it some, along with Starfall and a some other online reading games.  We’re back to the BOB books and we’re going to start over with some more basic phonics work in a more deliberate way.

We’re also pretty out and about every day with something to do.  BalletBoy will continue with Ballet.  Mushroom wants to start the drums.  Both boys will probably take a homeschool art class or two and they attend the free theater classes offered by a local performing arts organization.  We’re doing soccer again.  These choices have been really hard this time around.  BalletBoy expressed an interest in doing the violin but it was tough to get the right class and the price boggled my mind so in the end we decided against it, though BalletBoy says he wants to reconsider for next year, which I’m totally open to doing.  He’s a young 1st grader and I want him to focus on ballet as his daily practice thing.

Then, of course, we have our wonderful two co-op groups.  But that’s enough for now.  Next week I’m sure I’ll be posting love poems about being back together with some of my favorite homeschool moms.