Tuesday, August 13, 2013

HOMESCHOOL CURRICULUM: THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE OK, Part 1

Now that I have your attention, let me clarify that I realize there is no ‘one size fits all curriculum’.  What I deem as “OK”, you may love; what I deem as “good”, you may not like at all.  Different curricula fit different learning and teaching styles.  You have to find what works best for you and your student(s). But, as homeschoolers, I realize we like to know what others have used and what they thought about it.

This will be a two-part post on curriculum. Check back on Saturday (or follow me) to get Part 2.

CURRICULUM – EARLY YEARS
For more than 12 years I had a student in the elementary grades. I used a variety of curricula over that time span. A few books made the cut to be used every time; some publishers were only used in the beginning of my schooling or later.

One thing I ALWAYS did, from toddler through middle school, was read aloud. Every day at naptime and bedtime I read several books to the children. Some were picture books, some were chapter books, but I always read to them. I think this made a huge difference in their language skills. Read to your children! Even after they can read to themselves, continue reading to them - choose books that are above their reading level and read to them.

Learning at Home by Ann Ward - preschool and kindergarten

I used this with my two oldest children. The curriculum used books from the library, which cut down on costs. I liked that every lesson for every day was planned. It included every subject also. This was a nice feature for a brand new homeschooler just getting her feet wet. I did not use the reading information in this book. I used Alpha Phonics, instead. I liked the calendar time that is suggested every day. The repetition helped with learning days of the week and months of the year. As with any curriculum, make it work for you - use what you like, change what you don't. This book is out of print but might be available used. The book I had was spiral bound.
Another option that I like (that came out after I was past teaching this stage) is My Father's World curriculum.

Alpha-Phonics by Samuel Blumenfeld

Product Details
I taught all of my children to read with this book. Once your children can recognize their letters and are familiar with the sounds, they are ready to start reading. This book gets them reading quickly. It starts with the short 'a' sound and adds consonants to make words. One lesson a day is plenty, but if your student wants to continue, two or more lessons is fine. There is a CD-ROM version available now, but I would not recommend it. I liked having one-on-one reading time with my child in my lap. I think they looked forward to that 'mom time’, too. Find your favorite comfy chair and teach your child to read.

Grade 1 Phonics Workbook Unit 1
Along with Alpha Phonics I used the Rod & Staff Phonics curriculum for 1st & 2nd grade. This gives children a solid background in phonics and helps them with their reading and spelling. It is a very thorough and affordable curriculum. I used this with all my children, too.
The link provided lists products for the Phonics and the Reading program from Rod & Staff.  I did use the Reading program for about half of my students.  It has readers and workbooks to help with reading comprehension. Rod & Staff curriculum can be purchased online at www.milestonebooks.com




Italic Handwriting Series by Getty and Dubay

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Penmanship is a dying art since students think they will just use a computer, but there is still a need for legible writing. Don't skip this important skill!

I have used a couple different penmanship books, but I really like the Italic Handwriting Series by Getty and Dubay. It teaches a natural print that easily converts to cursive. It provides short daily practice lessons. Students who use this curriculum develop very nice readable penmanship.  I have my students do daily penmanship through 6th grade (Book G).

Draw Write Now by Marie Hablitzel and Kim Stitzer 

 Product Details
This combines handwriting with drawing lessons. Each of the eight books covers a different topic, so students are learning other topics, too. For example, Book Three is about Native Americans, North America, and the Pilgrims. This is a fun handwriting course, especially for children who like to draw and color. The drawing lessons are very easy to follow.  We liked this more for the art lessons than the penmanship.


Rod & Staff Grammar

 Grade 4 English
I have used Rod & Staff Grammar from the beginning of my homeschooling. A couple times I thought I would try something else, but I have always returned to Rod & Staff. I have learned my lesson and will not stray anymore! Rod & Staff is very thorough grammar. It builds on concepts from one year to the next. It does include writing lessons so students get some writing practice. Students who complete Rod and Staff grammar through the 8th grade will be very grounded – better than most college students. Rod & Staff recently released a 9th and 10th grade book that I purchased for my two high school students still at home. It provides good review and an opportunity to retain grammar skills through high school. It has more writing exercises since high school students need to be doing a lot of writing.


Vocabulary from Classical Roots

by Nancy Flowers and Norma Fifer 
Product Details
Your students need to have some type of vocabulary program. Vocabulary from Classical Roots teaches prefixes, suffixes, and root words as well as the language of origin. This helps students decipher the meaning of a word if they know the meaning of the root words, prefixes, and suffixes. We did a lesson per week. Daily vocabulary helps your student painlessly prepare for standardized tests. This is available for grades 4-11.

Bob Jones University Press Spelling

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I used this some during the elementary years. My favorite aspect of this curriculum was the weekly journaling for 5th grade students. Students are given a prompt and then write a journal letter to mom. Mom then writes an encouraging response to the student and chooses 1-3 misspelled words for the student to add to their word bank (a list of words to learn). My students used a spiral notebook for their journal. It is fun to go back and read those now that they are older. Priceless memories.

Spelling Power, Fourth Edition

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After using Bob Jones I switched to Spelling Power. This curriculum allowed me to use the same book for all my students. They were given a placement test at the beginning of each year. The concept behind Spelling Power also makes a lot of sense to me. Students are given words to spell from the list and they only study the ones they miss. This way, they don't spend a week 'learning' to spell words they already know how to spell. Spelling Power also provides a list of fun activities to help learn the missed words. This whole process takes about 10 minutes per day.
Abeka For first grade, I used some Abeka curriculum because someone let me borrow it. It was OK, but I didn't like that it was written for a classroom setting with multiple children. The only subject I stuck with was Abeka Math. I used the Abeka math workbooks with my children through 3rd grade and then I switched to:
 

Saxon Math An Incremental Development

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Saxon has a placement test online that will help you determine where to start with their math books, beginning with Math 54.

I like Saxon because it is written to the student and provides constant review of concepts. We used Saxon Math from Saxon 54 all the way through Saxon Advanced Math.
Some educators look at the Saxon books and say, “It doesn't have Geometry!” Saxon does not have a separate geometry book, but they incorporate geometry into their Algebra and Advanced math texts, so students are getting geometry.

I cover more subjects and upper grades in Part 2.  

There seems to be new curriculum introduced every day.  What have you used?  What did you like?  What did you not like?


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