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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

This Year’s Flops in Our Homeschool

The school year is winding down and for the past month or so I’ve been evaluating what was good and what was, eh, not so good.
Later this week, I’m going to talk about the big successes in our homeschool, but today I’m going to talk about this year’s flops.
Maybe the samples seemed perfect. 
Maybe all your friends are using it.
Maybe it gets high praise on all the online forums.
Maybe you went over the whole thing before using it, and it resonated with you.  Ah, this is it!
But then you used it with your kids and the durn thing was a dud
Going over what didn’t work and why is a valuable lesson for home educators, as it provides us with important clues into how our kids learn and what their needs are. 
It can also help you learn more about yourself as a teacher.
So let’s take a look at what didn’t work for us.
Please note:  what didn’t work for us might be the perfect fit for you, that’s the beauty of an individual education.  The purpose of this post is not to bash any curricula or resources, but to talk about what did or didn’t work for us and why. 
Artistic Pursuits (grade 4-6, Book 1)
Why I wanted to like this one: 
  • All my online friends seem to love it.
  • I wanted an art curriculum that my oldest child (grade 6) could do on his own, so I could spend more time instructing his younger siblings.
  • I got a super deal on it used.
I was so psyched, I even bought all the necessary art supplies, so there would be no excuse to not do art.
But, he really didn’t do art.  Artistic Pursuits flopped in our homeschool because:
  • The project instructions are too vague.  My son didn’t learn any actual techniques to improve his drawing skills.
  • The treatment of the elements of art is too vague.  My son didn’t really learn anything new about art.
  • The art appreciation aspect is fine, but not very in-depth, and he found it uninteresting.
  • Art often didn’t get done at all, because my son simply wasn’t looking forward to doing this curriculum.  The projects didn’t inspire him.
In retrospect, it was a bad fit because the grade 4-6 curriculum definitely  wasn’t advanced enough for my child.  I should have considered the middle school or even high school level for him.  Maybe?  To be honest, I’ve decided to go a completely different direction for art this coming year.  His knowledge of things like perspective, shading, and other things is apparently advanced for the age level, something I had not realized at the time.  At least, it exceeds the expectations of this curriculum.  My son loves to draw and expressed a deep desire to improve his drawing skills.  This book didn’t help him achieve his goal.
That said
Grammar Made Easy:  Writing a Step Above
Why I wanted to like it:
  • Sentence diagramming in half a year---sign me up!
  • No worksheets, just hands on teaching and diagramming (good for my visual/hands-on learner).
  • Short, manageable lessons, with suggestions for “stick with you” explanations.
My oldest is a natural when it comes to the written language.  He writes grammatically without effort, but my husband and I agreed that some formal grammar instruction would be useful, especially in preparing him for foreign language studies.  David has a hard time memorizing things and hates worksheets, so I hoped that the visual and hands-on aspects of actually diagramming sentences would be more helpful.
Ok, he hated this one.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t dump curricula just because my kids don’t like it, because sometimes they don’t like things that are good for them.  But I didn’t enjoy teaching it much, either.
Why it flopped in our homeschool:
  • I did not feel confident teaching this curriculum.  I have a degree in English, but my own formal grammar training is lacking.  I can often tell you if something is grammatically correct, but I may not be able to state the rules behind it.  Grammar Made Easy didn’t fill the gap for me.  And since the assignments are not worksheets, but student created examples, I didn’t have an answer key to hide behind, so confidence is important.
  • Some of the lessons seemed illogically ordered (an element might be glazed over and then actually taught later in the book) and often an element would be introduced into a sample diagram without really explaining it.  Both my son and I need to understand the why behind things.  And while this book will show you how to diagram a sentence, it doesn’t really tell you why.  Why does this element go on a slanty line?  Why does this element have another line off of the slanty line and so on.
I’ll add that this is not an open and go type of curriculum.  You do need to read the explanations ahead of time and be prepared to teach them in your own way.  Now, I don’t have a problem with pre-reading and teaching or even teaching on the fly, but I found that because I lacked confidence in my understanding of the material, even after pre-reading, this was an obstacle for me. 
As a visual, big picture person, if I want to teach diagramming, I need a guide that incorporates the diagrams of sentences with full explanations of the diagrams within the body of the teaching material.  And more examples.  So Grammar Made Easy is a good resource, it just didn’t fit me as a teacher.
JUMP at Home Math, grade 2
Timberdoodle sells this series stating that the publisher does not consider this a complete math curriculum, but that they disagree (they do recommend adding Critical Thinking Co.’s Mathematical Reasoning to it).  I have to agree with the publisher on this one.
Why I wanted to like it:
  • It’s incredibly cheap (less than $20 if you include shipping).
  • It can be nearly self-lead if your child reads well, unless you do a lot of the game activities at the front of the book.
  • The pages are simple, and uncluttered, not at all intimidating.
  • It does require some critical thinking skills (something my workbook loving 2nd grader tries to avoid).
  • It has an element of mastery to it, so they aren’t doing a different topic every day.
Why it flopped in our homeschool:
  • It’s too easy.  My child flew through this book.  I did not add Mathematical Reasoning because I don’t like it.  I’m not going to talk about why right at this moment.
  • It’s not really a complete program, it’s meant to be more of a homework workbook for kids who attend school.  There are concepts that are not taught in there at all.
Now, the folks at JUMP do have a complete math program available (you need to order it from Canada, as JUMP is published by a Canadian company).   I’m not pursuing it simply because I would need to do my own thing completely for things like money and English measurements.  Plus, my daughter is way beyond  what they are teaching in certain areas (she’s already mastered telling time, for instance).   It simply doesn’t make sense for me to do that much modification.
What was good about using JUMP:
  • My daughter, who is a tad insecure, came to realize that she really is good at math.  It was worth it for that lesson alone.
  • I came to realize that she needed bigger challenges in this area.  I was babying her too much.
So, we are working towards a truly challenging (but not daunting) math program for her next year.  She really might be a math whiz.
I also used JUMP at Home, grade 1 with my 1st grade son.  The same things that made it not a good choice for my daughter made it a good choice for my son.  As a young 1st grader (he turned 6 after the school year started) who is slightly immature emotionally, the easiness of the book was a good bridge builder for him this year, but he will be using something different next year.

Another thing that didn't work for us:
Life of Fred, Fractions
I'm already bordering on writing a book here (okay, at least a pamphlet), but I already talked about why we dropped Life of Fred here, so I don't have to repeat myself.  Oh, if you're astute, you'll notice that I also talk there about how Math Mammoth didn't work out for us...and yet later this week I'm going to talk about how it is working for us now.  Ha ha, because life is an ever changing thing, never say never and all that jazz. ;0)

Sometimes the reason something didn’t work is because we didn’t actually use it. Obviously something won’t work if you don’t use it, right?  There’s really nothing wrong with this curriculum, it simply didn’t fit us.
Art Adventures at Home Level 1
Oy, what’s with the art this year?
Why I wanted to like it:
  • Because even though I’m an artistic person, I’m really bad about doing art with the younger children.  Cutting and pasting doesn’t appeal to me and a simple guide seemed to be the way to go.
  • The necessary materials are relatively inexpensive and easy to get.
  • It was super cheap (I got it on PaperbackSwap!).
It flopped in our homeschool because:
  • I didn’t use it.
That sounds lame, right?  Art Adventures at Home has 3 years of lessons in one book, so it should be a real economical choice for the younger grades.  But every time I open the book, my brain says “ugh.”  Why is that? 
The book is very “unvisual” (remember, I’m a very visual person, myself), and I simply have trouble teaching from the framework given.  That, and the few projects we did try, the kids didn’t find very interesting.  So it sat there on the shelf and stared at me while I “forgot” to schedule it.  All year long.
But, the children did do art, it just wasn’t from this curriculum.  And I came to realize that I didn’t really need a written out art curriculum for the early grades.  Both Peter and Emma are constant draw-ers and makers of paper crafts (they can while away a whole afternoon with some paper, crayons, scissors, and tape).  And Mary would much rather make something with beads or knit something.  They were all exploring art, just not formally, but that’s what works well in our homeschool.
So, what definitely didn’t work for you this year?

You might also like:
 This Year's Curriculum Successes


  1. We love Artistic Pursuits, but we are using the first book with simple introduction to art. We didn't have any major flops this year, surpisingly.

  2. This was our first year and I didn't really have a concrete plan of what we were going to I guess that's the part of it that didn't work for us. Or at least won't work for us next year as we'll have more grade levels plus an infant.

    So next year, I'm going to have real lesson plans and real text and workbooks and a real(ish) schedule and we'll cross our fingers that everyone comes out happy on the other side :)

  3. @Mary- Artistic Pursuits may have been a better fit for my younger kids, too. I've found that I have to re-evaluate things each year to see where everyone's at in ability and needs.

    @Dwija- You'll find your rhythm. ;0) It may take a little more time and some experimenting, but you'll get it. Keep in mind that a routine (as opposed to a strict schedule) may be sufficient. And also keep in mind that not all curricula consists of traditional textbooks and workbooks---find the style that fits your family and your philosophy of education. Unschooling, for instance, wouldn't work for my brood, but neither would having their noses in textbooks all day. And you have multiple kids, sometimes what works for one totally does not work for another. Good luck in your journey. ;0)

  4. This is really good to know! I am always trying to find "just the right thing" in many different subjects for my youngest student.

    Your list of flops helps!

    Mrs. White
    The Legacy of Home

  5. Thank you, Mrs. White. I like it when other people can learn from my mistakes, too. ;0)


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