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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

This Year’s Curriculum Successes

I love it when the stuff we spent money on works out great, don’t you?  Here’s a brief look at some of the things we used this year have been real successes in our homeschool.

Mapping the World with Art
I credit Ellen McHenry’s mapping program with my oldest child’s great strides towards doing more independent work this year.  Seriously, it has been a (nearly) perfect fit for him.  Yes!
What we liked about it:
  • Combines history and geography into a nice little package.
  • Can be done entirely independently by the student, if you so choose.
  • Its 3 components (readings, map drawings, and activities) provide plenty of variety and make it easy to break the lessons up over the course of a week.
  • I like 30 lessons.  30 lessons is good because somehow or other, we NEVER complete a full lesson in a week.  Having a cushion is nice.
  • Readings are of manageable length (more on that in a bit), at 2 pages with graphics and diagrams.
  • There’s a wide variety of activities suggested, from Youtube vids, to games, to edible maps, and more.
  • Map drawing instructions are provided both in step-by-step printed form (with photographs), and as videos on DVD.
  • Map drawing instructions accentuate the visual:  she will often point out how this or that particular country looks like a particular animal or group of animals---great for visual kids.
  • The price is right for a year of social studies ($25- about $50 depending on if you buy it in print form on on cd-rom).
What I tweaked (hey, I tweak everything):
  • Ellen does not provide discussion questions for the readings, and that was perfectly fine.  I have my son do written narrations.
  • I break up the readings.  Rather than having him do all the reading in one day, I have him read about a third of the reading each day, and write at least a sentence to narrate.  I found that he retained much more this way (and he actually typically writes more than a sentence), and he still had 2 days a week to do the maps and any activities.  His narratives improved greatly with this change and he became much more enthusiastic.
  • We don’t do all the activities, and on weeks that we are really busy, we skip them, with the understanding that we can do them sometime in the future.  I have a feeling we’ll be doing some this summer.
Math Mammoth
JUMP at Home may not have been a good fit for my 2nd grader, and Life of Fred may have bombed with my 6th grader, but the good news is that Math Mammoth helped us pick up some of the mathematical pieces.

What we like about it:
  • Math Mammoth has both full grade levels and separate topics available.  I chose to go use the 2nd grade level with my 2nd grader (after giving her the unit tests, areas of mastery we skipped), but I was able to concentrate on specific topics for my 6th graders to help him with gaps in his math training and to shore up areas of weakness.  He’s still playing a little bit of catch up, but the good news is that he’s getting it.
  • Available for instant download and can be printed for all your kiddos (printed worktexts are available, too).
  • All the instruction is in the worktext, so I don’t have to hunt through a teacher’s manual.
  • Very thorough, encourages mental math, and thinking outside of the box.
  • Encourages hands-on exploration.  My daughter had a ball discovering how many cups in a quart and comparing milliliters to cups by taking out a bucket full of cups and containers in the backyard and filling them with water and so on.  It’s not all like that, but there are web resources given and game suggestions.
  • Inexpensive, as far a math programs go, especially considering you can reuse it (some single topics sell for as little as $3 for download, I think, a full year grade level is about $40).
What makes it less than perfect (and I'm not certain we will continue with it):
  • This is more about me than the curriculum---I am hesitant to not assign all the problems.  Really, doing all the problems would be overkill.  Beating a dead horse overkill.  I try to go through and circle the problems I want them to complete, but even then it can sometimes be too much.
  • Some of the pages are simply too packed with stuff.  It makes it difficult for a distractible child to concentrate.  My 1st grader simply can’t handle the 1st grade curriculum at all.  He’s capable of doing it, but the print is too small for him and the places for his answer are too cramped.  And he likes pictures.  Math Mammoth is a little plain in that regard (hey, who can afford to print all those pretty pictures, anyway?).  My 6th grader has some trouble with this, also.
Overall, I don't think MM is the perfect math curriculum, but it was a life saver when we needed to switch from what we were using.

Key to Fractions
I've talked before about my oldest child's difficulties in math and he's spent the year working on "catching up."  One of the best curriculum choices we made this year was the Key to Fractions 4 workbook series.
Why it worked for him:
  • Plenty of white space on the pages, he really has trouble when pages are packed with problems or cluttered looking.
  • Each workbook is thin and doable.
  • The concepts are taken bit by bit and slowly built on top of each other, there are no sudden jumps.
  • This is mastery based with lots a review, which seems to work well for him.
  • Very inexpensive, the 4 workbook set plus answer key cost around $15.

One caveat:  I did find that Key to was sometimes lacking in the explanation of why department (and I had to draw on my meager brain cells to explain why a particular technique worked more than once).  My kid is a "big picture" kind of thinker, so the concentration on the how to do it versus how it all fits into life bothered him.

But he does know his fractions, now, and that's a good thing. 

Sequential Spelling
There was a time when I though that All About Spelling was the perfect spelling program.  I still like AAS, but I’ve come to recognize its limitations.  My 2nd grader completed levels 1 & 2 and started 3, but it quickly became clear that she had outgrown it and needed a different approach.  So, we decided to try AVKO’s Sequential Spelling, and I’m so glad we did. (Note, my 1st grader is using AAS Level 1)
Why is works in our homeschool:
  • It takes about 15 minutes a day and then spelling is done.
  • The student corrects her own work (no painful red marks).  After she writes the word, you write the correct spelling on a white board or some such and she compares---good way to train her eyes for editing.
  • Painless, built in repetition.
  • I can still draw on the spelling rules she’s learned to explain her mistakes.
  • No manipulatives to lose and Mary hates manipulatives anyway.
  • It’s vocabulary stretching!  There are words on the level 1 lists that I guarantee that you won’t see on a typical 2nd grade spelling list, not necessarily because they are hard, but because they are not particularly common.  Example:  spats, shouldered, omit, emit… (be prepared to do some defining ;0)
  • Reasonably priced.  Each level costs about $15 if you stick with just the book (DVDs and student answer books are optional and unnecessary).
There’s precious little that I’ve tweaked on this one.
  • Occasionally I will throw in a word from a previous lesson that I know is hard for her.
  • Occasionally I will throw in a word she has misspelled in her other work.
  • I have her write any words she had to correct in a sentence.
I See Sam Little Readers
Peter (age 6) became an independent reader this year, and I credit I See Sam with that.
What we like:
  • The readers are little carry-with-you books.
  • The characters are cute and likeable.
  • There’s a slow, gentle progression.
  • There’s an emphasis on mastering before moving on to the next book.
  • There’s no need for a cumbersome teacher’s manual.
We did add some things.  Like and other easy to read books, but I See Sam really got Peter started on the road to independent reading.

These are the big curriculum successes in our homeschool this year (there are other minor ones, too), the things that were definitely money well spent.

What curriculum really worked for you this year?

You might also like:
This Year's Flops in Our Homeschool

Disclosure:  The I See Sam Little Readers were a product that I originally received for review last year.  I continue to use them because they work.  This post was unsolicited and I was not compensated in any way for mentioning them here.

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed your posts on what worked and what didn't especially because you pointed out why!


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