2017-2018 Curriculum Year-End Review

It’s the end of my son’s Kindergarten year so I thought it would be a great time for a year-end review of the curriculum we used this year. We took this past week off from school and this week we have officially transitioned to “summer school.” During summer school, my son will still do dictation/spelling (4 sentences from Spelling Plus dictation), a phonics page from MCP Plaid Phonics, and a math lesson from CLE.

So without further ado, below is a quick review of most of the curriculum we used this year.  If you are looking for something specific, here is a quick list of what is covered: Writing With Ease 1, First Language Lessons 1, 6 Trait Writing Level 1, Rod & Staff Math Level 2 (vs. CLE), MCP Plaid Phonics B, All About Spelling 1 & 2, Spelling Plus Critical Thinking Activities by Dale Seymour Publications , Beginning Geography by Evan Moore.

Writing With Ease 1

Writing With Ease is a great writing/reading comprehension curriculum for young children. The writer of Writing With Ease believes that children generally get a bad start to writing because they are asked to combine the physical act of writing with the mental act of forming thoughts before they are ready to do so.

The curriculum is divided into weeks, and each week into 4 days. Generally, the work for the 4 days is about the same novel and consists of two days of copywork and two days of narrations. At the end of the passage, the student is asked “What is one thing you remember about the passage?” On many of the days, the parent writes for the child. On some of the days, the parent writes for the children and then the student has to copy it.

All in all, I really enjoyed this curriculum and think it helped my son with the physical act of writing (copywork), oral reading comprehension (listening to the story and then answering questions) and forming thoughts (the narration.)

The drawback to the program is that, at least for WWE 1, it really lacks variety in the type of assignment. Every week is exactly the same. We really started to get tired of it after a while, but my son was really used to it and still wanted to do it almost everyday, despite being tired of it and not trying his best.  It became kind of a love-hate relationship.

We are definitely going to get Writing With Ease 2 (WWE 2), however, I am going to use it more as a supplement than a core curriculum.  (And introduce it as such so my son doesn’t get the idea that it should be an everyday thing.) Also, I will probably spread WWE 2, as a supplement over two or even three years. I do highly recommend the program, just know that the lessons can get monotonous.

First Language Lessons 1

This curriculum is an introductory grammar course with lessons mostly done orally. There is some copywork and other written work, but we often skipped it because it was redundant with Writing With Ease. In hindsight, this curriculum did not work for us. I mean, my son understands (with some prompting), the difference between a common noun and proper noun, nouns in general, adjectives, verbs, and even pronouns. However, it was very painful getting there! My son has severe ADHD (didn’t know at the time) and the oral scripted lessons without a worksheet to ground him and give him something to look at were painful. He could have learned the same things through songs or a game, or something like that.

The one thing I loved about the curriculum was the poetry memory work. I had no idea my son could memorize poems, but I discovered he has a great ability to do so. He can read a poem once or twice a day out loud and have it memorized by the end of the week. (I started giving him my own poetry memory work after we finished FLL.)

FLL does have several lessons that I feel don’t belong in the book, such as learning days of the week and months. I would feel most children ready for FLL would already know these things.

In conclusion, I recommend this program if it fits your children’s learning style!

(As a side note, next year we are trying out Classical Writing Primer which seems to be a combination of WWE and FLL plus some other things.)

6 Trait Writing 1

6 Trait Writing is more of a traditional writing curriculum that might be used in public school. Honestly, I was skeptical of the WWE method at one point and wanted to see how my son would do with a regular curriculum.  In hindsight, we probably could have skipped it as it was mostly busy work and my son didn’t learn very much from it.  The lessons were not geared towards a gifted child who sees things a bit differently and/or complicates things.

6 Trait Writing did not bring out my son’s best writing. I have seen him write much better using WWE or in his free time for fun. I definitely noticed that mixing the physical act of writing made it harder for him to form thoughts, so sometimes I wrote for him.

On a practical note, the workbook was very cumbersome to manage since it was printed on both sides, and I would have to flip back to ripped out/completed pages to find teacher instructions.  The layout was not very suited to homeschool use and definitely geared towards public school use (i.e. where the teacher is copying for many students.)

The one thing I liked about the program is that it had a social thinking aspect that I think benefitted my son.  For example, thinking about “feeling words” and how people “feel” when certain things happen. We probably could get this through other means though.

Even though we benefitted little from the curriculum, my son really enjoyed doing the pages and I would have to pull the book away from him sometimes so we could move onto other projects. I think he just enjoyed how easy the worksheets were (they did get harder towards the end.)

Overall, I would not recommend this program.

Rod & Staff Math 2 (vs. CLE 2)

I have talked about Rod & Staff math a lot on this blog and I still really like it, but things started to break down for us a bit in Level 2. There were way too many two and three digit column addition and subtraction problems in the lessons and in general, the lessons did not have enough variety and my son started really dreading math. Switching math programs immediately was one of the first things I did when we got his ADHD diagnosis. The program just wasn’t working for him. We have since switched to CLE 2, book 4 and things are going great so far!   He loves the checklist at the beginning that tells us what we need to do. He used to really not like flash card time (and we didn’t do it often) but now he loves it because the checklist says to do it! And he is really proud of himself when he finishes all of the flash cards in under 5 minutes. He is even taking to the speed drills and really improving in his math facts.  CLE does seem like a bit more work to be honest, but he likes it better and doesn’t get too bored at any one question type.   Despite the belief that Rod & Staff is behind and CLE is ahead, my son easily transitioned to Book 4 of CLE from being halfway through with Rod & Staff Level 2.   (However, I did supplement Rod & Staff quite a bit. I will not need any more supplements with CLE!)

MCP Plaid Phonics B

MCP Plaid Phonics is a traditional workbook and gets the job done. I think doing the phonics worksheets regularly has helped my son to be a natural speller.   When we took a couple months off of the book, his spelling started to slip. He seems to learn spelling more from memory of the words and extrapolating his own rules through analyzing words/following patterns. A phonics workbook definitely supports this.   We are using Book C now, and then we will probably stop with the phonics worksheets unless my son could benefit from the review.

All About Spelling 1 & 2

We did Levels 1 and 2 this year. The hardest part about this program, for my son at least, was memorizing the rules – the spelling words were the easy part. I stuck with the program thinking that someday knowing these rules would help him spell harder words, but I think the rules just confused him and then left his memory. When he did memorize the rules, he wouldn’t stop to think about how to apply them before spelling a word. Its just not how his brain works.

About halfway through Level 2, I stopped teaching the rules entirely and just did the spelling lists. He knew almost all of the words anyway.

Also, we never used the tiles – I just wrote on paper. We stopped segmenting words from the very beginning. We never really used the AAS spelling system the way it was supposed to be used. I have heard it said that AAS is mostly for the struggling speller and overkill for the intuitive speller. I would have to agree. We are now using Spelling Plus!

Spelling Plus

To use Spelling Plus as a homeschooler, you really only need the Dictation book. The main spelling book isn’t really needed, though its does have some interesting information in it. The Homonym book is also optional, however, I am finding it useful when my son misspells a specific homonym in the dictations. When that happens, I give him the homonym worksheet the next day in place of his usual phonics worksheets.

With that said, Spelling Plus is really just a spelling list with a sort of “spiral” set of dictation sentences for each list. Since we are in summer school, I am giving my son dictation sentences where he knows most of the words, and since we are also focusing on proper capitalization, etc. If and when we do hit a spot where there are words he needs to study (we are at the beginning of the second grade list now.) we probably won’t do spelling practice and dictation on the same day since that would be too much for 1st grade!

We will keep doing this program for a while, but at some point, I want to switch to Spelling Power.   One thing I don’t like about Spelling Plus is that it only teaches the most commonly used words in English writing, which means more challenging vocabulary is left out.   As my son gets older we will probably do  spelling/vocabulary and dictation separately so he can also learn more challenging words.

Critical Thinking Activities by Dale Seymour Publications

This is a very expensive workbook at around $22, but its worth every penny. It is filled with so many fun and challenging critical thinking activities for children.   The book is 1/3 pattern challenges, 1/3 visual challenges, and 1/3 logical challenges. There is just so much in this book that we have worked on it for a while, set it aside, worked on it for a while, set it aside and we are still not done. There are a few activities that my son is a bit young for, but for the most part it is just such a wonderful book, and considering the quality content, a great deal!

Beginning Geography by Evan Moore

We loved the first 1/3 of this book, which was just focused on map skills, but the rest of the workbook seemed more suited to classroom use.  Instead of purchasing Beginning Geography, I would recommend Map Skills by Teacher Created Resources.  I just purchased Level 2 and it looks like everything we liked about Beginning Geography without the stuff we didn’t.  It was also much cheaper!

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Homeschooling Kindergarten: The First Month in Review

Despite being pregnant, the first month of homeschooling kindergarten has gone pretty well.  I feel like homeschooling is one of the only things I can actually do right now!  I’m sure we will have to slow down for a few weeks as the baby will be here next Friday, but I’m so glad we got started in early August to get a good routine down before the big change.

Since I know other homeschoolers enjoy seeing what other families are doing…This is what we are doing for Kindergarten.  Technically, this would be considered advanced/accelerated Kindergarten, but nonetheless my son is registered for “Kindergarten” this year.

So the first thing I have been doing each day is writing out our agenda for the day.  We check it off as the day goes.  So the lists below are exactly what I put on the daily agenda for my son.   We don’t always get to do “read aloud” during the school day, but we have three different books going right now so reading gets done at some point.  My husband is reading The Horse and His Boy to our son when he puts him to bed, I am reading Little House in the Big Woods to our son when we do read aloud or I put him to bed (can’t always now due to pregnancy symptoms), and my son himself is reading Farmer Boy (also by Laura Ingalls Wilder) but will ask me to read to him from that too.    We each have our own book to be in charge of…strange, but true!

The first book we read and finished during school was Mr. Poppers Penguins.  We were doing this each day for read aloud until my pregnancy got a bit harder and we had less time.  Initially, I had printed out a study guide to go with it and my son was also doing out loud comprehension questions about each chapter, but I decided to get rid of that because we do that already for Writing With Ease 1 (narration every other day) and I didn’t want him to get burnt out.  So now we just read together.

Schedule on Monday / Wednesday / Friday (These are our “full” school days. Also, transition time and getting my son to focus makes things take way longer sometimes.  A few times, I’ve been surprised at how quickly we got it all done.)

  • Breakfast
  • Prayers
  • Brush Teeth / Get Dressed
  • Start School (School Prayer, Saint’s Life (one from Prologue of Ohrid), Bible Memory Verse) (10 min)
  • Geography (Classical Conversations weekly review )(5 min)
  • Handwriting (Getty Dubay Italic Book B) (5 min)
  • First Language Lessons 1 (5 to 10 min)
  • Writing With Ease 1 (5 to 15 min)
  • All About Spelling  (10 min)
  • Break / Lunch or Lunch /Break depending on time
  • MCP Plaid Phonics Level B worksheet (5 min)
  • Rod and Staff Math Level 1(10 to 20 min) – supplementing with Horizons and Singapore 1 workbooks
  • Read Aloud sometime during the rest of the day
  • Piano Practice sometime during rest of the day but not on Fridays (10 min)

Tuesday

  • Classical Conversations
  • Math (10 to 20 min)
  • Piano Practice (10 min)
  • Read aloud

Thursday (This is also a shorter day due to afternoon activities, but what we do might vary)

  • Breakfast
  • Prayers
  • Brush Teeth / Get Dressed
  • Start School (School Prayer, Saint’s Life (one from Prologue of Ohrid), Bible Memory Verse) (10 min)
  • Handwriting
  • All About Spelling 1
  • Phonics
  • Math
  • Piano Lesson
  • Little Gym

Once my son gets in the routine of homeschool kindergarten and things are taking less time, we will add in some more “elective” subjects such as art, science, and foreign language.  My son asks to do science and I keep telling him I will buy him a curriculum in December if he does a good with the first half of the year.  When I first started homeschooling my son…just starting school, which included a short school prayer, reading a Saints Life and doing a Bible Memory verse could seriously take up to 30 minutes due to his distractibility.  Now it only takes 5 to 10 minutes so I know as time goes on we will finish our subjects more quickly and have time for more “fun” subjects.

Getting Ready for our first “official” school year!

After having unofficially homeschooled my son since last August (but in some ways longer than that!), I am very excited to officially register my son for homeschool next month for Kindergarten!  I have a lot of things to consider for this first official year…

Not the least of which is, after 3.5 years of infertility and believing we could have no more children, I am now 21 weeks pregnant with a little boy!  I am very excited -we are all every excited! However, I’ll be the first to admit that pregnancy is not what I’d call “fun” by any stretch of the means (and sometimes its very hard) though I hear it is fun for a few people out there!  I’m feeling baby move a bit, but I have an anterior placenta yet again so it might be a few more weeks before I can really feel him move.

So in August when we start up at Classical Conversations again, I’ll be 36 weeks pregnant…I was only able to keep working with my first son until 37 weeks, so I’m wondering how I’ll keep up with my 5 year old for those last few weeks! (Having considered my options and risk, I’ll be having a repeat C-section unless baby comes early so I’ll know it will just be a few weeks at that point!).

So this summer, I need to get a nursery ready and a homeschool curriculum ready!.  I found a core subjects list from the Well Trained Mind website that I found helpful…so I am going to start using this post as my working list to make sure I have all my bases covered for the upcoming year.  (We will still do some school during the summer like most homeschooling families do, but ramp it up come the school year and make it daily for the first time.)

Subject List, Work-in-Progress

Orthodoxy: Morning Prayer, Weekly Bible Verse, Daily Saints Life, Potamitis Publishing coloring books, Children’s Bible stories that make sense given church calendar, etc.

Math – finish Rod & Staff 1 as base, with supplement of Singapore/Mammoth Math.  Recently used Life of Fred- Apples. Loved it!  We will continue with Rod & Staff 2 after 1 and then supplement with Life of Fred, Singapore/Mammoth Math.

History – Being Kindergarten, I’ll make it simple and follow the Classical Conversations curriculum for upcoming Cycle 3 and just do history once a week or so, this year providing brief context and maybe coloring sheet for the week’s history sentence. (Honestly, I’m not crazy about Classical Conversations but while we are paying for it for a least one more year, I’ll use it as a guide for a few subjects.)

Geography – Review Memory work for Classical Conversations Cycle 3 with Trivium at the Table Placements.  (The geography portion of CC is one part of the memory work  I really like).

Science – To go with Cycle 3, I purchased an Anatomy game used and will use the simple anatomy workbook recommended by CC.  I don’t think we will do a full science curriculum this year.

Phonics: Modern Curriculum Press Phonics Level B

Grammar: First Language Lessons Level 1 (by Well Trained Mind) and Rod & Staff English 2 (since I obtained it at a curriculum sale…we will not write out all the exercises.)

Writing: Writing With Ease Level

Spelling: All About Spelling Level 1

Reading/Literature/Comprehension:  Read alouds/free time reading/not sure- I might have to put something myself together for this that fits his reading level and his maturity level

Handwriting/Copywork: Saints of the Church copywork by Paidea Classics and Getty Dubay Italic Program starting with book B

Spanish:  CD to listen to in the car, like SongSchool Spanish

Music: Piano Lessons

Art: Discovering Great Artists book and art projects as time allows

Physical Education:  Hopefully continuing in boys gymnastics

I’m not sure how it will all play out with a new baby and doing first grade level work with a kindergarten attention span…but I’m sure we won’t do all of the subjects every day in the least, aside from Math and Spelling/Phonics.

I take it back, Rod & Staff math!

So earlier this year, I posted some criticism of Rod & Staff math and it possibly being too easy and repetitive after my son completed Math-U-See Primer.  Was this a mistake!

Rod & Staff is kind of boring and needs to be tweaked and supplemented to make it interesting, but it is a very solid and slow building program perfect for someone my son’s age.

After being initially disappointed by Rod & Staff Level 1, I purchased the Horizon’s curriculum.  While I did like it enough, I thought the program was geared towards a normal aged 1st grader (i.e. age 7, not 4 1/2).  Within the first 20 lessons or so, children are already being asked to begin memorizing math facts through 20.  My son was good at doing these problems on the number line, but I wasn’t about to have him start memorizing his facts through 20 before having them down through 10.  I had reviewed the placement information on the Horizons website and it definitely put him at the 1st grade level, but perhaps it has to do with the age.  1st graders are usually 7 and doing a full day of school and have more time to learn, where he just did school for an hour or so 3 to 4 days a week.  So I stopped the curriculum and got Mammoth Math!

Everyone raves about Mammoth Math and I definitely see the strength of the program.  There were parts of it my son really enjoyed and so far we are through page 50 of Level 1 in the middle of addition fact 9.   But I could see that he was starting to dread math and shut down, when he initially liked it!  I think there were a few things at play.  One….Mammoth Math is kind of boring in its own way: many problems on a page, little colors, not geared towards 4 year olds.  Second, it seems that half of the problems were solving for the unknown.  I have no idea how this concept works for other children, but my son, who seems to catch on to math well, seemed to grow fatigued by the constant having to count and count again to figure out the unknown, and switch his brain from regular addition which he is still mastering.  I think by the end of it he was actually beginning to see the merit of memorizing math facts so the problems would stop being so tedious!  In any case, it was mostly the near constant solving for the unknown and his dread of it, that made me say on Friday, “Phineas, you said Rod & Staff was too easy, but now you have seen a really hard program, would you like to go back to Rod & Staff and maybe go back to this one when it can be more fun?”  He gave a relieved, “Yes!”   The other thing I think that was a play is his young age, while he completed all of the prerequisites for the challenges of first grade math, he might not be ready maturity-wise or development-wise to charge ahead in math (he is now 4 years, 10 months) and may need more time to just stay at the level he is at with small jumps in difficultly.  That is why we are going back to Rod & Staff math…and I couldn’t be more relieved!

Through the recommendation of some other homeschool moms, I am going to try supplementing with a free online curriculum called MEP that will add the conceptual  and “fun” component to math that Rod & Staff is lacking.

Well, there you go…hopefully our math journey will help someone else make a curriculum decision!

Review of Rod & Staff math

classifieds-50399-0-19727500-1483465617_medCertain parts of Math-U-See Primer were difficult to get through, but I have to admit that it was well worth it.   My son memorized way more addition facts than I thought he would and can easily write his numbers now, with few errors.  The hardest part about Math-U-See Primer was all of the number writing for skip counting, but it really paid off!

We started “Semester 2” yesterday and I pulled out the Rod & Staff level 1 we had ordered. Unfortunately, I just don’t think its going to work for us.  Even though its supposed to be for Grade 1, it really seems like its for children who have no experience or very little experience with math.  The problems start out so easy and the book moves so slow!  The lesson plans in the teacher’s manual are pretty pointless for a homeschool environment for a child who already understands numbers and math conceptually.  After Math-U-See Primer, I thought I would start him at Lesson 15 in Rod & Staff, but then saw that he was ready for Lesson 37.  So even with that, it moves REALLY slow.  The curriculum spends like a week on each “Fact Family.”  That might be fine for children who are just learning math, but Grade 1?  I will just be skipping around lessons so my son can cover the core, useful content and then we will transition to Horizons Math which I have read is more challenging. (And if that doesn’t work, maybe Singapore, and then back to Math U See?).  So with that said, I think Rod & Staff would be an awesome curriculum for a non-math inclined child who enjoys mastery, repetition, and requires the lesson plan provided to understand the math fact taught.  (My son and I are both kinesthetic learners…so he just wants to get right to working on the problems to learn the new thing and I totally get it!)

One thing I do like about Rod & Staff is all of the extra worksheets they provide.  Since they are “extra” I am able to gauge where my son is using them, without having to use the actual workbook pages for that.   I’m not sure how typical this is or not, but after we put my son to bed around 7:45/8:00pm, he stays up for about 2 hours and will often “work” on something and sometimes it is math worksheets.  (Sometimes it is making cards for people…could be anything!)  I like that I can give him a stack of worksheets to take to his room…well, we have done this the last two days at least!

So overall it seems that ordering Rod & Staff Math was a homeschoolers beginners mistake!  We will definitely do some of the curriculum, but after that I’d rather just reinforce his math facts with flash cards once a week, while using math lessons that are more challenging and fast paced.

My review of Math-U-See Primer

mathusee

I think the main reason I chose to start with Math-U-See for my son’s math curriculum is because I loved the name.  Calling a textbook “primer” makes me think of a one-room schoolhouse in the 1800s.  The second reason is because it has a great reputation online – people seem to really like it or they don’t.  I think I may fall into the “don’t” category.  Before continuing with my review, I wanted to note that I did not buy anything else other than the Primer student workbook.  When we needed manipulatives, I just used things around the house.

Primer is the first workbook available from Math-U-See and is often referred to as the “pre-school,” and sometimes “kindergarten,” workbook by people online.  One issue with that is that it does start out that way but the early lessons go very fast if a child has already mastered counting that they will soon be doing math that is a stretch for a pre-schooler.  My son is four and four months and definitely math inclined.  The book moves so quickly that my son is already working on math problems like 100 + 300 and most recently solving for the unknown!  (As in blank  + 3 = 7) Am I wrong or is this stretching pre-school/kindergarten math?  I would at least think this would be towards the second half of kindergarten so the first half of the book should take more than 6 weeks to get though, right!

They do say on the website that Primer is supposed to be a ‘gentle introduction to math” so mastery is not necessarily the goal.  Perhaps it could have been easier if I had watched some of the videos, but I just did my best to explain things to him.

Here are a few other things I didn’t care for in Math-U-See:

  • It is not a complete curriculum for the year.  There are 30 lessons which at most take a week to get through.  (However, the rest of the year could be spent in review or moving to a new level.)
  • I’d rather have the lessons just be the suggested work for one day, rather than a whole section. It’s motivating to complete one lesson a day, or to be getting through a chapter, and demotivating to spend a week on one lesson.  So I’d rather the lessons be called “Chapters.”
  • I have not seen the other levels, but Primer did not include enough worksheets  for mastery, or near mastery, for some of the harder concepts.  I feel a curriculum should provide enough work for an average student to gain mastery.  Skipping extra problems because you don’t need them is motivating (we did this earlier on in the lessons) but having to get extra problems because the curriculum does not provide enough is demotivating.
  • My son is motivated by math problems written traditionally, which he somehow sees as real math, and is less motivated by how Math-U-See writes some of their problems.
  • The Primer level is marketed for pre-school/kindergarten age but requires A LOT of handwriting in the skip counting sections, so math has become for us number writing practice and math practice.  On one hand this is a good thing, but it has caused some frustration to my son.  Two lessons from now, he will be skip counting 2’s, 5’s, and 10’s at random and having to write out all of the numbers himself.  He is mentally there but I am dreading keeping him motivated to write it all out!  I try to only correct him if he writes a number backwards, completely illegible, or reverses the numbers in a two-digit number, otherwise we wouldn’t get anywhere!
  • I’m not interested in a program that requires watching a DVD for it to work well…on top of that, I don’t own a DVD player.

Good things about Primer:

  • The workbook is already 3 whole punched and the pages are easily taken out.
  • It is a good “introductory” math worbook as far as conceptually understanding addition, skip counting, etc.
  • It has been useful in teaching the one’s place, ten’s place, hundred’s place etc.. My son can read any number up to 999 after using this book (with errors at times of course, but he understands it.)
  • Each lessons ends with one or two fun pages that motivate my son to continue with the standard practice and review pages.

So, with all that said, in nine more lessons of Math-U-See Primer, we will take a week off of math (if my son wants to) and then start with Rod & Staff Level 1.  (We will probably skip the first 10 lessons or so…).  I am also planning to order the first CLE Sunrise and Sonlight Horizons workbooks for supplementation.  We’ll see how this new plan goes!

Hope this review of Math-U-See Primer helps someone!