This column will be the first in a series of age appropriate homeschool curriculum that I have first hand experience with. Some will be positive and some will be negative since a lot of times we are using a company without any real knowledge of their quality or view of multiculturalism and politically correct language. All products have web pages or an online homeschool store that sponsors their products, so doing a web search will yield at least one place to order if you are interested. Since most of the WN homeschoolers I have come in contact with have younger children I will limit this issue to pre-kindergarten through third grade.
Pre-K and K – My Father’s World – This is what I used for kindergarten with my son. It’s Christian and it isn’t real cheap, BUT- I did like it, it was well organized, had great ideas in the teacher’s manual, and came with a lot of stuff he really enjoyed. One of the things he liked best was the textured letter manipulatives that he could pick up and spell out words with. He actually asked to play with those when he wasn’t “in school”. You can completely leave out all mention of the Bible, so the fact that it is Christian based doesn’t really matter. It is a high quality complete curriculum for the entire year but easy to add or delete parts into or out of when ordering.
Another complete curriculum that moms seem to like a lot is Five in a Row. I really don’t know much about it, except it is literature based and a lot of moms on various forums seem to love it. I have a feeling its Christian based. Learn to read program at Starfall.com. I used this and it was very successful. You can print directly off the internet for no cost, or tell them you are a teacher and get the printed books in color at very nominal cost.
First -Third Grade Reading – I am HOOKED on Pathway Readers and I won’t be using another reading program until after third grade. I love these books and workbooks. They are written for Amish Parochial Schools and they start in first grade and go through the eighth grade when Amish kids stop going to school. This is an advanced program and if you don’t start your kids out in the first grade level, be sure to take the placement test as they actually expect your children to be SMART and progress daily. THERE IS NO MENTION OF GOD AT ALL IN THIS PROGRAM. Only morals, respect for family, hard work, and honesty are taught. This is our second year using Pathway. Each year comes with two to three hardback readers and they also have coordinating workbooks that teach phonics, new vocabulary and reading comprehension for each story. Excellent academics and very affordable when considering how much stuff you get.
Another curriculum I have heard great reviews about but have not used myself are Bob Books. They are Christian based and I am not really sure of the content, but I hear they work fabulous for early reading. (I used Dick and Jane for beginning reading, and it worked fine too).
First –Third Grade Science – Little kids need to appreciate science at an early age and have positive experiences so that they might actually WANT to discover the wonders of advanced biology and chemistry. You don’t have to try hard, kids LOVE science, it is only when they realize that it involves math that they get turned off. So the object of primary science is to do lots of experiments. I don’t think it matters what subject you do every year as long as it gets covered eventually. We skipped science until the reading was accomplished and it is important to note that all other subjects are secondary to reading at this age. I don’t think there are any curriculums that won’t agree with WN (they can get a little preachy when it comes to evolution). Some of the secular books I have enjoyed using are the following…
Evan-Moor Publishers have some wonderful things but these are specifically designed for classroom teachers, so you will be making copies of the black line originals when you order them. Thankfully, they are not real expensive. Try primary Science or ScienceWorks for Kids. They have many more, but I have only used these two. Another wonderful science resource I use a lot, especially for high school, is Home Training Tools. They are a mail order company that specializes in homeschool science and they ship very quickly, have great sales and regular prices, and have just about anything you could ever need for science.
First –Third Grade History – I sort of follow the classical method, but as I do with all things in life, I change it around to suit me. This plug is again for Evan-Moor materials as they have a fun, informative and hands-on set of workbooks called History Pockets. Love them. Nothing more needs to be said. You can easily follow the Classical curriculum with these books and I have spoken to a representative at Evan-Moor and they are going to be putting out more books January 2005. Ancient Rome will be one of them. They already have Ancient Greece and ancient Egypt. She also made it very clear that they are interested in catering more to homeschoolers, so if you have a suggestion they seem to be very open to hearing about it.
They are also very affordable, but again, they are geared for classroom teachers and you will need to photocopy the pages that involve cutting. When complete, your child will have a “book” relating to the subject they are studying. I haven’t done anything with Colonial America or the “ Indians” so I can’t guarantee that the materials are WN friendly. The others seem to be.
I have to mention here that History is the hardest subject to find secular materials for in homeschool, so don’t expect to find many if you do a search. I do have a set of great secular history books for 5-8th grades, so next issue I will get into those more. If Christian based education is your thing, try Sonlight Curriculum for history. (Very expensive, but I hear it’s wonderful, like top of the line, wonderful).
First – Third Grade Math –I use three things consistently in our math program. Singapore math, The Quarter Mile, and manipulatives. Singapore math – comes from Singapore where students consistently score highest in the world in mathematics. It’s good, cheap, they have a TON of supplements, and it’s DIFFERENT. All goes well up until about 5th grade and suddenly you start asking where your kids were the past few years and how do you find the ratio of workers needed on weekdays versus weekends to build 7 miles of brick wall if they work 5 hours a day on weekends and 8 hours a day on weekdays and build 3 feet in 3 hours 7 minutes. Yeah, that WAS a real problem. I’m not bad at math and these “kids” could kick my butt. The teacher’s/solutions manuals are a must after 4th grade due to the complex word problems. Sad isn’t it. The downside to this program is that in the early grades they forget to spell out for you that your kids MUST memorize all addition and subtraction facts in Book 1. They start multiplication and division in Book 2. This program is advanced compared to American schools and typically you buy a grade lower because they are just plain better at teaching math than we are, and kids are a year older in the same grades. We are still finishing book 1A and will only finish book 1B this year (second grade) if we are lucky.
So Singapore is a challenge, and if your kid needs more repetition, supplement with a software program called The Quarter Mile Math. Go to the web site and read the testimonials. It’s all true. My son loves it, he “races” over and over again getting lots of practice in only a few minutes, and it really works on memorization of facts. The downside is that the whole program is costly, but they have divided it up into age groups, which are a lot more financially manageable.
Math manipulatives – I supplement with these in order to teach math facts. I have basic math linking cubes but you could use blocks, sticks, Legos, crayons. Anything that they can sort and count, add and subtract etc. will do.
I have to mention Saxon Math just because it is SO popular in homeschooling. I haven’t used it, so I can’t comment based on personal experience, but typically your kid is either a Saxon type or a Singapore type. Singapore is challenging, especially in the later grades and lots of parents get frustrated with it and switch to Saxon. Saxon is much more homeschool friendly and doesn’t really require the parent to be a math wiz. It has a lot of repetition built in, so a program like Quarter Mile is probably not necessary, even for kids who don’t “get” math immediately. Some kids will get bored with it, so it’s a judgment call that parents need to make. Saxon seems much more expensive to me. Both Saxon and Singapore get expensive in the upper grades, but I think Singapore is more economical for the primary grades.
Extras – Once your child is reading well, start introducing foreign language. Formal Latin can be started as early as kindergarten. Latina Prima (very early years) or Latina Christiana (third grade and up) from Memoria Press are wonderful Latin programs. You could also just buy the Latina Christiana and spread the books (there are two of them) over 4 years. Excellent programs, excellent website, VERY friendly customer service and VERY prompt shipping…but you know there’s a downside, also expensive if you get all the bells and whistles like DVD teachers, flash cards, wall charts, pronunciation tapes, and teacher’s manual. Excellent teacher’s manual also.
I hear this program is also wonderful; Rosetta Stone, and they have multiple languages. But one look at the price tag and suddenly Latina Christiana looks downright reasonable! (Too bad they only have Latin.)
Stay away from Power Glide Foreign Languages, I haven’t used it, but I don’t hear good things from other moms. I tend to hear that it was confusing, went way too fast, and the children didn’t take to it naturally.
Art and Writing can be combined in one very innovative format. With “Draw, Write Now” kids are introduced to drawing while writing a few facts about the animal or thing they are learning to draw on the same page. I ordered this, but if you are comfortable drawing and have the time, why not make your own?
Music is hard to do unless you are a musician or have the money to pay for lessons, but the recorder or Irish Tin Whistle are great first instruments that anyone can learn. Check into the local recreation department of your city because we got 12 weeks of guitar lessons for $78.
Curriculums to watch out for or companies to stay away from.
Watch out for…
Pre-packaged curriculum like Abeka, Alpha Omega Switched on Schoolhouse and Lifpacs (we are using LifPac for 9th grade Home Economics but we aren’t even grading it). They sound so easy and well put together…but chances are one or more parts of the “package” won’t work for your child, plus they cost a lot of money.
Eps Books – I admit I use them because they are cheap and pretty good, but I don’t really like them. VERY multi-cultural. The high school grammar and vocabulary is GREAT, but you might want to stay away from the phonics series Explode the Code and early reading even though you may hear wonderful things about them.They have too many politically correct pictures and “ideas” for me. Pathway reading and phonics are much more advanced and never mention other races at all.
Greenleaf Press – has some really bad customer service. I LOVE their products, but almost all can be found cheaper in other places. They NEVER answer their phone. If this changes and they improve (I left some nasty messages when it took them 6 weeks to deliver half of my order to the wrong address) let me know.
Don’t be tempted after homeschooling your first year and being frustrated, to sign up for one of the following online “homeschools”…Take it from me, the people who run these schools have a bad reputation and were in a lot of legal trouble in Pennsylvania. The same two people run both Grace Academy and Jubilee Academy. I am positive they have another online school under a different name, but I cannot recall it at the moment. When writing this article, I did a search to find the exact names of the operators of these schools, and found that they had changed their websites and no longer offer this information. Only a few months ago they BOASTED about their experience in academics and listed EVERY teacher they employed, so obviously something is still going on.
I hope this has given some of you a reliable idea of what to expect from a few of the MANY choices in homeschool curriculums. In the next issue of Homefront I will discuss curriculum for 4th through 8th grades.