Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Homeschool Curriculum Reviews

I want to do a homeschool post, if for nothing else than to have it written down. On the other hand, is it obnoxious for everyone else to have to pretend like they care? Or am I the only jerky person out there that doesn't really care what other people's kids are learning in school? I mean, the Christmas thing was fun for all, because we all celebrate Christmas, we all probably have some sort of European or other cultural ancestry that is fun to take a look at every now and then, and everyone loves cookies! But do you really care that my kids are learning about Ancient Egypt? Or the water cycle and weather? Well, when I start thinking about it, I think that maybe it's not so much that you care about what we're doing as how to do it if you want to do it. I haven't ever really thrown my two cents in there curriculum wise. My two cents is only worth about what two cents can get you at Tiffany's, but still, I'll throw it in. If everyone throws theirs in, sometimes it can add up to something. Please forgive me if I don't line up with you on something. This is all just based on my own brilliant and nearly infallible opinion. (Ha!) I have put the subject and the name of the curriculum in bold for easy skimming or for ease in finding a specific review. You have no obligation to read this, you know. I am sorry if this is horribly dull for most of you. 

We are aiming for a Classical Christian education. It has been about five years since I did all my fancy reading about Classical education, so I am not claiming to be any sort of expert. Plus, I'm only teaching second grade. Well, and I taught about half a year of kindergarten a few years ago. I am re-using some of my kindergarten curriculum now on August, just to occupy him and get him excited about learning. Everything else is somewhat above his level, but I bring it down when I can and hope he will glean a few things here and there. The other day I asked Amabel if she could remember who the first woman ruler of Egypt was. I figured she wouldn't get it as we had only been over it once and those Egyptians have hard names. She paused for long enough for me to realize she probably wasn't going to get it, and then I heard a giggling and enunciated "Hat-shep-sut" from the other room. Evidently, he is learning something. I thought it was pretty hilarious. 

The two things I have specifically for Kindergarten for August are from Veritas Press. I am using Saxon 1 for math and Veritas' Phonics Museum for phonics. I have to say that I don't like either. I am using them because I have them. When I ordered my kindergarten homeschool materials, I was so very first-time mom about it. I was determined to give Amabel a Rolls-Royce education. But just because something is supposed to be excellent, does not mean that it is remotely enjoyable for student or teacher. I felt that both curriculums were tedious and belabored every point to the point that both of us wanted to throw the books. 

Saxon Math, at least on the Kindergarten level, seems to me to be boring and colorless, and again, extremely tedious. This could be because I am always working from the teacher's manual which is extremely scripted. I have had people tell me "that's spiral review," but we have plenty of spiral review in our current curriculum and it is much more fun. These are children. Give them a picture of bunnies to count or something! There are plenty of exciting ways to teach Math. This is not one of those ways. 

Phonics Museum is miserable. It endeavors to be highly sophisticated and uses fine art to teach the letters. I learned A Apple, B Bell, etc. And I am all for the picture of apples being a lovely oil on canvas rather than a cartoon apple. That's great! And I love the idea of teaching with music. Hurray! What I was not prepared for was the grasping at straws approach. Y is a picture of Van Gogh's Sunflowers and stands for "yellow." Really? What child is going to see that and think "yellow?" The songs are so much worse though. They are so not catchy, and actually even a little annoying. We tried so hard to learn the first few songs last time, but we never got them. When I went to pull out the materials to teach August recently, I just left the CD in the box. We also did the first two weeks in two days. Now, August is older now than when I taught Amabel. She started kindergarten when she was four, actually. August is nearly six. But a week on A, followed by a week on M (yeah, they also don't teach the letters in order) is hardly necessary! The amount of work they expect from young children, especially in regard to penmanship, had Amabel in tears. I learned from that to really only have them write about five or six of a letter at a time. There is no point in getting them frustrated with themselves; they certainly won't improve through tears. I think the best course is to teach them with a lesson that is short enough for their attention span and ability, keep it fun, and then just keep reviewing and practicing over time. That is how I haven't had to order even new workbooks; we only did about half of the work for each lesson, so there are plenty of undone worksheets left over for August to do, even many superfluous review sheets as well. Otherwise, I totally would have sold my teacher's manuals and bought a new curriculum! I would say that if you are an intellectual, methodical perfectionist teaching an intellectual, methodical perfectionist, then go for it! Otherwise, let me help you find something you might like better. 

So for Second Grade for Amabel now we are doing Bible, History, Art, Latin, Science, Arithmetic, and English (broken down into spelling, phonics, reading, grammar, and cursive). I have stuck with Veritas Press' ideas and curriculum on Bible, History, Art, and Latin. I am really happy with all of it. But for the 3 R's, I have used A Beka. This is not a popular choice in my neck of the woods, but I have to say that I adore it. I had it as a child and knew it was good then. We moved around a lot and every time that I got away from A Beka and then came back to it at a different school, I was way behind. If we moved and got away from it again, I was bored, until I came back to it, and then I was behind again. So basically, I feel like A Beka is a good, strong curriculum compared to most of the others I was exposed to as a child, at least on the elementary level. I had A Beka grammar and have been a grammar geek ever since. It was just a really good foundation that somehow got me interested and excited as well. Alright, how about some specifics? 

I have chosen Song School Latin for Amabel this year, which is the primer for Latin for Children. I liked this curriculum a lot better that Latina Christiana which is ecclesiastical (and therefore sounded dreadfully boring to me), but of course, everyone has their own opinion. I am very pleased with our experience this year. It is so fun and even August and Elspeth are learning some of the songs and the words. Everyone looks forward to Latin! 

I have also gone with a lot of Veritas' Bible and History curriculum. Because it is Classical, there is no one text book- there are a ton of different sources. This is a little bit of a pain in the neck for the teacher sometimes, but we are all really learning a lot. August loves learning about the pyramids and mummies and that makes learning about Joseph and Moses that much more intriguing for him as well. There is no way anyone could afford everything that Veritas recommends. We have the cards they have designed and have them hanging clothesline style for a timeline. It has very been nice to not have to make a timeline. The cards also refer to some of the books with relevant information and include the page numbers. It's the closest thing I have to a teacher's manual! Having no idea which books would be most valuable to us, I decided to go through the recommendations for all of the elementary grades and picked books that could be used year after year, and chose only a couple of inexpensive paperbacks that had particular information on Egypt. One book that has been a huge hit with me and the children is A Child's History of the World. I had to skip the first few chapters because it was all weird and evolution-y and caveman-y, but then it forged ahead into a beautifully done storybook like telling of real recorded events in history. It is even written from a Christian perspective in that it talks about our God being the God. So I am confused by the evolution hooey, but whatever. We will use this book for years. I love it. And I couldn't neglect to mention the kids' favorite book, Usborne Time Traveler. This book has a long section on each of Knights and Castles, Vikings, Ancient Romans, and Ancient Egyptians. George and I looked at this book and immediately knew it would be a favorite forever. The drawings are amazingly detailed and there are characters that go from page to page to make it a little easier to get into the culture. There is so much information on every page, and all in bright colors and kid-friendly illustration. They could look at it for hours. To prevent arguing, I recommend one copy per child! We have a few other interesting books, but these are the two I highly highly recommend, even if you aren't homeschooling. For Bible, which is relevant to whatever we are studying in History, I just actually read them the Bible. I am really glad that I decided to do this, and I'm not even sure what made me decide it. But they can totally handle it. There is no need to flannel graph everything for children. I did skip Lot and his daughters, Judah and Tamar, and Dinah though, for obvious reasons. I do have to stop and explain things, but I am glad they are getting used to hearing the Scripture daily and don't have to have everything put in story Bible style - though I absolutely love a good story Bible, and use two of my favorites from time to time to review and give them a few more pictures to look at. 

For Art, we are loving the St. Louis County Library. I have used some of the Veritas recommendations but checked them out rather than purchasing them. We started a formal art study only recently. We read From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler just for fun while Amabel and I were sick. It was a little over her head, but I didn't realize it would be until we were already into it, and she definitely got it enough to where she wanted to stay with it.  If you remember the book, it is about two children who run away to live in The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. There is a newly acquired statue there that may or may not have been done by Michelangelo, and the kids go on a sleuthing adventure to find out the truth. With all of the talk about the Italian Renaissance and Michelangelo, I figured we might as well jump in and study the master himself. We have since moved on to Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci. There is a great book called Discovering Great Artists that has been so much fun to use. It has dozens of artists throughout history, listed by period and then alphabetically, with a blurb on each one and at least one art project after their style. It has the coolest ideas. We have also all (particularly August though) really enjoyed Michael Venezia's different biographies on the various artists and Laurence Anholt's books on artists as well (though we have not been able to use him for anything but da Vinci recently, we have read his books on the Impressionists in the past with pleasure). We have had so much fun doing art with some sort of guideline. Sometimes you need just one or two rules to get your creative juices flowing. For Michelangelo, we lay down on our backs and painted onto paper taped underneath a table to get what it must have been like to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. We also painted our own frescoes (subject- any scene from the book of Genesis) using plaster of Paris. We tried these again with Raphael (subject- a Madonna) because they didn't work so well the first time. We also painted dragons one day and read St. George and the Dragon. I got this very well received idea from this blog

Okay, so that didn't take long! Except that it took forever. 

Moving right along, I'll just go ahead and elaborate just a little bit on A Beka Arithmetic. I read a lot of reviews for this curriculum before I bought it. I figured a lot can change in ten or twenty years and Amabel and I are really not very alike so what worked well for me could not work so well for her. The biggest problem people seemed to have with it was that it is hard. While it is harder than some stuff, I don't think it is inappropriately hard. I may think differently for another of my children, but I know Amabel is moving along at a comfortable pace. And I am glad to see her mastering new concepts instead of becoming bored with too much of the same thing. I see the word "gifted" all the time associated with this curriculum. I was not alarmed by that term, but I guess it could be intimidating to someone else. I just figure it's people wanting to brag about how smart their kid is! Anyway, if you know you have a child that has a hard time grasping new math concepts, this curriculum may not be a good fit. I am only saying that because of the people who reviewed it that way. My experience has been that it is a lot of fun, full of colorful pictures and even holiday appropriate pages (it was actually the inspiration for my Christmas Around the World study), and offers fabulous lesson plans for teachers with all sorts of ideas for manipulatives and scripts to explain new concepts, plus tons of review so they continue to work with old concepts while learning to grasp the new. Amabel is about thirty lessons shy of completing second grade and has learned multiplication and division up to three- I think they learn both up to five before the year is out- fractions, perimeter, graphs, temperature, money, time, English and metric measures, etc. this year, just to give you an idea. I don't know how that stacks up to Saxon or anything else, but I feel pretty good about all she has accomplished. 

And now for A Beka Language Arts. First of all, I didn't get the readers, even though my reader with "The Melancholy Pig" in it was A Beka. I am letting her read more of what she wants. Right now, she is working through an old mystery series called The Happy Hollisters. She has also recently read The Secret Garden, Misty of Chincoteague and some of the subsequent books in that series. Why am I telling you this? The point is that I didn't care to buy her readers when I can just get her something from the library. However, we have their phonics, cursive, language (grammar), and spelling curriculum books. The spelling is silly. It is entirely too easy, in my opinion. We finished the entire book weeks ago. I don't think there was a word in there she couldn't already spell. Here again though, many reviews say the curriculum is too hard. We have ended up using words from our other lessons to supplement. Last week she spelled Michelangelo, Renaissance, pyramid, mummies, Cheops, Menes, Zoser, etc. She got it all right too. So maybe she is just good at spelling- she has a pretty good memory.  However, the grammar and phonics books are great. The phonics is really easy for her, but it keeps her thinking about the rules and the "special sounds" in our language. I think that kind of thing helps later on when spelling gets trickier. The grammar book is really strong with creative writing. Amabel hates creative writing. But they come up with fun exercises and she is gradually becoming less intimidated by it. Earlier in the year, they had her just writing a sentence here or there. Now she is supposed to write whole stories at least once a week. Of course, I tell her that means six sentences or sometimes eight if I feel like it's something she could have a lot to say about. I am glad it is built in to her workbook and not something I have to add in extra because it would be hard to make her do it as an extra thing when she struggles with it so much. But because it's right there on the sheet, it's just not up for discussion, she does it. And she is getting a lot better without even realizing it. Today she wrote about catching a goldfish, a puffer fish, and a clown fish all in the Meramec River. How cute is that?! The penmanship book for this grade basically just teaches cursive. I waited a while to teach Amabel cursive because her manuscript is so poor. I finally just started anyway, and it turns out that she has this lovely cursive as soon as she puts pen to paper. I guess printing just isn't her thing. I can't wait to get through the whole alphabet so she can just move on to writing in cursive for good. I don't know how you could have a bad book for teaching cursive, but this one is just fine to me. It goes letter by letter, organized from the easiest to write (lowercase L) and moving along through the harder. There is also plenty of practice for connecting letters together as new ones are learned. There are fun pictures on every page as well, and the lines gradually get smaller so they learn to write normal sized over time. 

Lastly, let's talk Science. I saved Science for last because I do not like Science. My first ever C was in Science, in Chemistry my senior year in high school. I took Chemistry with the sophomores because I had put it off for so long. I like Biology okay, I guess. I dated a guy who was pre-vet in college and he helped me ace, and even kind of enjoy, college Biology. But let's just recognize that Abby is not a science minded person; Abby is extremely right-brained. Nonetheless, Abby must teach science to the offspring. So what kind of science would you guess Abby would teach since Classical education doesn't bother people with science until the Logic stage (sweet!)? If you guessed Charlotte Mason, you're exactly right. Charlotte Mason is actually fairly similar to Classical in a lot of ways.  The only problem is that Charlotte Mason involves all manner of outdoor exploration. I have no idea what I'm doing outside. We have friends that we go hiking with who know what every plant, rock, and critter is. They are always turning up rocks looking for snakes and having a good ole time just being in their element. I have no idea what anything is. I tell them this is probably only the fourth time I've ever been hiking in my life. Running is another thing; I ran outdoors every day in high school and college. But I was running, I never stopped to see what kind of moss that was on the side of a tree. Anyway, I am a nature idiot. So what I do is subscribe to blogs of all sorts of people who love nature and explore nature and even come up with spiffy little lesson plans to teach about nature. Basically, I cheat. This blog is my favorite. She lists all manner of books, both non-fiction and fiction, websites, experiments and activities, and even Scripture lessons to incorporate. This blog is more free spirited; the lady just really really loves nature. I think it is a thing for moms with all boys. Go moms with all boys! God knew that I would be horrible for a gaggle of just boys. I would have been smocking for them til they were ten and making them bake cookies when they should've been wrestling. Luckily, I get my girly fix with my girls so that I can free August up to be a man. Okay, well, I just looked and it appears she may have an older daughter, and that blows my theory out of the water. Either way, I do not have the nature loving gene. It is a little embarrassing, but we knew I was bound to be imperfect somehow (Ha ha!) Anyway, that second blog is just some lady who explores outside like two hours every day and learns all manner of amazing things that I will never know. She inspires me to pay attention though, and to point things out to the kids. I mean, I know what a hyacinth is, but they don't. I may not know much about nature, but I can hold my own with five year olds! We are also currently keeping a weather chart, have just learned about the water cycle, and are moving on to learn about thunder and lightning over the next few days. They say March is a great time to teach about weather because it changes so much from day to day. The snow we had Sunday morning and the near seventy degree temperatures we are expecting later this week kind of back that theory up, I'd say. 

Anyway, that's my spiel. I may sound horribly incompetent or ignorant, but this is what we do. Feel free to leave any sort of comment or question, agree or disagree. But I am thinking this is more or less just a reference post that will be nice to have. It may not be worth all the time I have spent on it, but I am glad I finally "wrote" it all down. 


e.c. said...

yea for getting that all down! You are doing a lot!

Missy said...

Hey Abby! Thanks for the post! I am, Lord willing, going to home-school Peyton. She'll only be in pre-K next year, but I love to hear everyone's ideas and what they like and don't like. Sounds like you are doing a wonderful job! Hope y'all are well! :)

Brandy said...

I just came across your blog and had a great time reading what you are doing with school. I am a homeschooling mom of 4 boys. My oldest is just wrapping up Kindergarten and so I am up to my eyeballs in curriculum choices for next year :0) We are following some of the Well Trained Mind and some of Charlotte Mason. I'll have to check back here to follow what you think about things as the year progresses. Thanks for taking time to type out your thoughts!

Brandy said...

Oh, I forgot to mention that we have a lot of the same friends! My husband Jeremy and I have lived in St Louis a good bit. We went to Providence and Cornerstone and attended Covenant. I saw your blog on Lori Shaffers blog.

Abby said...

Hey Brandy! I remember your blog. You had that great post a couple of weeks/months back about the seven year old little boy who was the typical oldest child "genius." I loved that post. It's funny that now you have found me here :)

Hey Missy! I don't even want to think that Peyton will be old enough to homeschool! I can't believe it! And I just checked your blog. I can't believe Asher is almost one! He's adorable!

Brandy said...

Abby, I am glad that you referenced that old post on my blog because I just went back and read it. Just what I needed! I also re-read your post and looked up some of your book recommendations (I had a little more time this time around). I found some I can't wait to get. Thanks!


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