Wednesday, April 24, 2013

2012/2013 Curriculum Wrap-Up

We are just about done with our school year, so it's time for another Curriculum Wrap-Up post!  I think we have finally zeroed in on what works for us.  For the first time, there is absolutely nothing that just didn't work at all.  The things we plan to ditch aren't necessarily bad, just not a perfect fit for our needs.  I'm no longer wasting money on useless curriculum though, I finally have enough experience to avoid things that just won't work for us.  If you're new to homeschooling, take took 3 full years to reach this point!!

Quick background: These are the materials that we used for an 8 year old, strong reader in 3rd grade and a 5 year old, math-minded kindergartner.

Here is the final list of what we used and what I thought about it (most links are affiliate links, clicking them will not raise prices for you, but will give me a small commission if you choose to make a purchase).  Previous years' reviews can be found by clicking the "homeschool freebies" link on the left sidebar.

RightStart Math: I am still very happy with this program.  Sierra has now done levels B, C and D and Sedona has finished level A and started level B.  I feel like they are getting a great foundation in math and understanding the why of what they're doing rather than blindly following an algorithm that was given to them.  Now that Sedona has gone through Level A, I wish I hadn't skipped it with Sierra.  According to the placement test, Sierra needed to start on Level B, but it was pretty difficult for her as she had to work through a lot of frustration and drop bad habits she had developed.  If I had it to do over again, I would have gone ahead and started at Level A with Sierra in first grade, and just worked through it a little faster.  The review would have been helpful and while it would have been easy for her, it would have built her confidence. Had I done this, I think we should could have finished Levels A and B in 9-12 months.  Sierra definitely has to work at math, while it comes easier to Sedona.  Right Start has worked well for both of them.

All About Spelling: Beyond thrilled with this program and wish I'd known about it sooner!  Sierra struggles with spelling and other things we had tried did not work.  We started with Level 1 and worked through that and Level 2, plus started Level 3 this year.  The beginning was very easy for her, but there were key rules she picked up that she didn't know, so I think it was necessary to work through it.  She generally did really well with spelling tests in earlier years, but she never retained the information.  Simply learning words was also too random for her, even though they were always consolidated into logical groups.  All About Spelling gives her specific rules to follow and while it seems like a lot to remember at first, as you work through the program, it starts to stick just because you are using them so much.  I have learned rules and skills that have helped me with my own spelling too, I wish my teachers had used this program when I was a kid!  I thought I would get to start this with Sedona this year too, but she wasn't quite ready.  She will do well with Level 1 next year, I think.

All About Reading: Sedona completed Level 1 this year.  I'm not quite as happy with this as I am with All About Spelling, but I still like it and will gladly move on to Level 2 and use this again when it's time to teach Secora.  My main complaint is that the books use the type of "a" you see here on the screen.  That's really confusing for a younger child who is also learning how to print the letter a in her handwriting.  Even now, Sedona sometimes thinks the "a" is an "e".  I'd rather the type match basic print that kids this age are learning.  Also, there are fluency practice sheets on a regular basis.  These need to be done, but there are too many words on a page.  We could never read a whole page in a sitting, and Sedona quickly learned that and then dreaded them every time she saw them.  I think it felt like failure to her.  So I wish the program started with shorter fluency worksheets at the beginning and worked up to longer ones so it wasn't as discouraging.  Over all though, the method and ease of just following the directions in the book when teaching are both fabulous.  Going into homeschooling, teaching a child how to read was my biggest concern.  Had I known this program was out there, I wouldn't have worried so much.

Science Odyssey, Earth and Space Level 1: The geology part of this curriculum was really good for Sierra and taught her a lot of new information.  The astronomy part was much too easy and she and I were both bored with it.  I finally got to the point where I flipped through the book asking her the end-of-lab questions and once I verified she knew all the information, we skipped that entire section.  We really liked Life Science last year, so I want to give chemistry a try with her next year, but I'm worried it might be too easy as well.  Keep in mind, Josh and I are both scientists, so there's been no shortage of science talk in this house and our kids are starting with more science knowledge than is probably typical.  Sierra's bedtime stories as a baby were chapters of Josh's grad school biochem book while he was doing homework.  If you're looking for a secular science curriculum, this is a good place to start.  I think going forward, I will do earth and astronomy with Sedona for 1st grade, life science for 2nd grade, and chemistry for 3rd grade.  I'm not really sure where I'm going to go after that, I need to do some research.

Evan Moor 6-Trait Writing:This has gone better than what we've tried for grammar/punctuation/writing in the past, but I wasn't thrilled.  I think perhaps my standards are off, I may be expecting more than I should for 3rd grade writing.  We're planning to bite the bullet and try out Institute for Excellence in Writing next year.

Level 1 Early Modern History: I've been creating our own history curriculum and it's available for free to anyone who wants to use it or parts of it.  Since it was already tailored to our needs to begin with, of course I was happy with it!  In particular, the Evan Moor History Pockets we used this year were really enjoyable.  I plan to add more to our collection and will probably try out their Literature Pockets with Sedona next year.

Rosetta Stone Spanish, Homeschool version: Sierra is working on Level 2 now and Sedona started Level 1.  I'm still happy with this program and plan to buy Rosetta Stone again when we're ready for another language. 

Reading: Most of Sierra's reading was tied into her history (and the books are listed on that lesson plan).  She also did a lot of independent reading.  She likes to read, so I take her to the library and let her follow her own interests rather than over assigning books that just make her dread reading time.  We did read The Candymakers, which we just discussed as she went along.  We also read  Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, which I created a set of worksheets for (available for free here).

Music: We continued working through John W. Schaum piano books.  We also utilized the free music theory workbooks available at G Major Music Theory.  I had her take an old theory test available on the Texas Music Teachers Association website (which she had no trouble with) to be sure we're still on the right track.

Handwriting: Sierra wanted to learn cursive this year, so we did that on our own.  She did rather well, but her print has not neatened up very much at all.  She still forms her letters backwards and has a poor understanding of correct letter placement in the line space.  I am going to be purchasing Handwriting Without Tears for both girls for next year.

Evan Moor Geography: Sierra loves these books, so we've kept with them.  There is a strong focus on map reading and I want her to branch out from that, so we will probably do something different for geography next year, but I'm not sure what yet.

Art: We followed our own art plan (lesson plans free here). We didn't do all of the projects, but having a plan definitely made it easier for me to include art on a regular basis.  Next year, we will try mixing in more information about different artists.

All in all, it was a good year!!  The other important thing we finally got right was to work ahead.  At the beginning of the school year, we are all eager and excited.  By the time April rolls around, we are all done and more interested in playing outside than doing any seat work.  In the past I had kept Sierra from working too far ahead because I didn't want her to get years ahead.  I'm over that now.  My goal for next year is to have the whole year for each subject planned out, provide her with those plans, and let her go as fast as she wants to.  When she finishes a subject, I'll give her the choice of being done until the next fall or starting the next year's work. 

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