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.

Review of Alpha-phonics, etc

alphaphonics

 

What can I say about Alpha-phonics?!  It’s been an amazing program for teaching my son how to read.  We started the program when he was around 4 years and 2 months on Lesson 1. I had never taught anyone to read before, and I thought, well “here it goes…let’s see what happens!”

To my surprise, he started learning to read almost immediately! He already knew the letters and their sounds for the most part, so it was just a matter of him understanding how to blend them all together, all of the rules, etc.  There were times earlier on where I had to really struggle with him to do the lessons (they aren’t particularly colorful or fun) but we persevered and I could tell that it was working very well.  The hardest lesson to get through of the whole book was definitely Lesson 14.  It contains 5 pages of C-V-C “words.”  However, they are not all words, but syllables rather that could all be part of words.  We had to split this lesson over a whole week back then.  Some people might not appreciate that the child is reading nonsense words, but I really think this lesson helped prepare him for seeing all sorts of letter combinations while reading.

My son is now flying through the lessons and will sometimes complete two a day.  Since we started, we have only done this 3 days a week, or 4 if Classical Conversations is not in session.  8 months later we have about 35 more lessons to go and my son is reading at an early second grade level.  (I have figured this out using the Scholastic Book Wizard tool and entering the books he is reading on his own.)

For many of the earlier lessons, I wrote them on the white board.  It made the long lists of words more approachable for my son.   Sometimes I would let him erase the words after he read them…we would try different things to keep him engaged and focused depending on the day.  Also, sometimes as I wrote his reading lesson on the board, he would write one for me on other the board from one of his other phonics books (we have two small ones instead of one big one…way cheaper!).  So he would practice his writing for the day while he thought he was actually just playing! At this point, he is often reading straight from the book and putting dots by the words he has read and this gives him a sense of accomplishment.

I cannot recommend Alpha-phonics highly enough.  It has given my son an amazing start in his reading and language arts journey.  Next up for us is beginning All About Spelling in his first official homeschool year – Kindergarten!

Review of McRuffy Press- Language Arts Kindergarten Transition Package

img_1955After my son and I got tired of using a retired version of Steck-Vaughn Phonics Level A that I found for free at a bookstore, I decided to look for the next phonics program for us.  After learning about McRuffy Press from the Cathy Duffy Reviews site, I decided to give it a try.

The McRuffy Press Kindergarten Transition package comes with a Teacher’s Manual, Student Workbook, 10 Color Readers, Resource Package and a Handwriting Book for an additional cost.  Overall, I am very pleased with the program and I am glad that I purchased it.  I think it is a perfect supplement to our current homeschool routine for now. It is certainly helping my to son to gain confidence with long vowels.  (We started on lesson 111..for fun we read the first 4 readers and went through the questions.)   While I like the program, I do not think that we will continue with the complete 1st grade program.

It is important to know that to get the most from the program, you should follow the daily lesson schedule which is somewhat scripted. For each week, there is one reader, one or two new phonics rules learned, and everything else pertains to this reader.  The handwriting sentence is related, the spelling words are related, the workbook pages are related.  This is something that, in theory I really like.  The problem is that my son is only 4.5 years old and while he is advancing in other areas, I do not want to start him in spelling so that removes a big portion of what makes the lesson plans hold together and makes the curriculum worth the money.   The McRuffy Press curriculum also moves a little slow for where my son is currently at with reading since we are also using Alphaphonics.   My son is naturally good at blending consonants even though he is still getting fluent with long vowels.  So while the lesson plans say to split the book reading in two days, my son reads the book and answers the questions on the first day and one the second day he completes all of the workbook pages.   (He also does a corresponding handwriting page each day).  So its easy for us to turn the 5 day weekly unit curriculum to a 2 or 3 day curriculum…Which makes the program seem more costly.

Also, while I thought I liked the idea of my son practicing handwriting on something that wasn’t too important (since I have baggage with having to copy My Utmost for His Highest to improve my terrible handwriting as a child!), I have realized I may be wrong here.  My son seems to know he is writing something trivial and does not seem to enjoy it as much as he usually enjoys writing.  My son likes to write. He will write throughout the day on his own and ask how to write words.  So I am thinking if I find something he considers special to write and gently correct it, that will work better for him.  I know my son wants to write well, but has good days and bad days, so I only correct his copy-work if a letter is completely illegible, backwards, missing words, missing capitals etc.  I certainly don’t correct for perfection of letter formation at this age!  (And how can I when I still have pretty poor handwriting myself?!)

Below you will find a “pros” and “cons” list which I hope will help inform your own purchasing decision:

Pros

  • The readers are awesome!  The stories are cute, clever and my son really enjoys them.  Simple pictures that inspire some critical thinking.  (i.e.  Did the cake fly into the cage when the ape fell or did the ape bring the cake to the lion?)  There are times when we have to infer what happens “between scenes.” especially to act the story out.  I also love the simple reading comprehension questions in the teacher’s manual, but I think I may have learned how to write my own now.  I would love to buy just the 1st grade readers, but pricing on the McRuffy website really makes it cost effective to buy the whole curriculum rather than to piece meal it.
  • The resource packet includes some games (however, we never used them as the directions were too complicated for where my son is at right now).  It also includes coloring pages and character cut outs for each weekly reader.  When we have finished with the lessons for the week, I give my son the reader to put in his “learning to read” basket, along with the two activity pages and he really enjoys this.  (This and the cute readers are why I am tempted to by the first grade curriculum!)

Cons

  • The rhythm of the program revolves around spelling tests, even in the second half of kindergarten, so if you have an early learner like mine and are not ready to add spelling, the rhythm may not work for you.
  • Having all components tied to together can be very helpful or it can slow down learning in certain areas
  • The cost is great if the all of the components work for you, but may be pricey if it does not.

With all that said, I still think it is a very good curriculum and I would recommend it to anyone that wants short, well-planned lessons, to move at an easy-going pace throughout the school year, with cute readers and fun activities included.

Hope this review helps someone!