This Year’s All-New Curricula Choices

Our 11th year of homeschooling has begun! We are in 11th grade and 7th grade. While not in my original plan, both girls have almost completely new curricula for this year.

Sissy, my junior, is still using Auralog’s Tell Me More for French. For Bible and English, she’s using guides from Hewitt Homeschooling. The “I Dare You” syllabus is for Bible and “World Literature 1 & 2” are for English. Both use real books instead of textbooks and require more papers and journaling than answering comprehension questions. She is also taking 2 dual-enrollment classes via the Internet from our local community college. They are “College Algebra,” which will fulfill her Algebra 2 requirement, and Astronomy 1, which will fulfill her last required science slot. So far, she thinks it’s “easy-peasy.” We’ll see how long that attitude lasts. She’s hoping to add a few more subjects to her load so she can finish early, but that’s still under discussion.

Kitty, my 7th grader, has had a bit of a shock to her system. Turns out 7th grade is a lot harder than 6th grade and takes a lot more time! She is using Sonlight’s Core 5, “Eastern Hemisphere,” for Bible, History, and Literature. I think she will enjoy it more as she gets into the groove of using the new curriculum. I think it’s great exposure to different cultures and different history than she’s had before. For English, she’s using Vocabulary from Classical Roots Book A, Fix It! Grammar, and WriteShop 1 (that will start in a few weeks when I teach a co-op class using it). For math, she’s still using Math-U-See, and has progressed to the Zeta stage. Kitty is thrilled that this year I’ve allowed her to do Spanish using Auralog’s Tell Me More series instead of Latin. A “Building Thinking Skills” workbook rounds out her curricula for the year.

As for me, I’m starting my first master’s class next week. I’ll be working towards an MA in English from ECU (East Carolina University) online. My first class is entitled “Research Methods in Technical and Professional Writing.” Yep, that title alone is almost enough to send me running for the woods! Really, I’m looking forward to it, although I’m nervous about being a student for the first time in a long time.

Q4U: What’s on your curricula shelves for this year? Same old stuff or new stuff? Let us know!


What’s Your Style?

What’s your homeschooling style? If you’re not sure, or if you’re curious about some of other styles out there, I thought I’d detail some of the highlights here for you. Of course, there are many variations, but I think these are the main styles.

Classical homeschooling is based on the classics, with three basic stages that correlate with how children learn at different ages: grammar, logic, and rhetoric. It’s methodical, rigorous, and the style that my family and I have embraced for many more reasons that I don’t have space to detail here. The Charlotte Mason method is more flexible, emphasizes nature and artistic studies, and uses a lot of narration. A pre-packed curriculum is just what it sounds like: everything you need in a box from one publisher, including lesson plans. Some of the more well-known publishers of pre-packaged curriculum include A Beka, Bob Jones, and Alpha & Omega. Unit studies focus on one key topic at a time—say, butterflies or moon landings—and encompass most of the required academic subjects. Homeschoolers who use some of this and some of that are classified as eclectic. They take what they see as the best of several different methods and/or publishers and craft a more custom educational experience. Relaxed or unschooling families are more child-centric and use real-life experiences to teach their children. They take each day as it comes and include more play and games than worksheets and grades.

I encourage you to take the time to explore each of these approaches and to think about your family’s current lifestyle. A number of books are available that detail each of these methods. Other books are available that will help you to figure out your children’s learning style. Knowing your children’s learning styles will enable you to tailor your homeschool teaching to your children, which will enable them to thrive.

So, what do styles have to do with organization? I’m so glad you asked! Your style will determine what kinds of materials you need, how you want to organize your space, and how your children learn best.

Q4U: What’s YOUR style?

P.S. – Please notice my new signature & my new blog button (feel free to use it to link back to my blog from your blog). Yes, it took me most of a day (plus a few emails from Jodi Wisenhunt), but I’m very proud of myself for figuring it all out!


Peace for a Piece of Language Arts

“Mom, Mom, come here my peace for the school play! Can you help me decide what to where?” “Yes, I’m looking foreword to seeing you act. Don’t practice so much you become horse!” It’s not a complement if someone asks if you die you’re hare. The plain with the American Idle in it crashed into the see.

Yikes! Have you seen similar erroneous sentences in your children’s writings? Do YOU struggle with its versus it’s or your versus you’re? I have to admit that those last two are my personal pet peeves in others’ writings. Struggle no longer! From the creators of All About Spelling come a brand new offering to help with word usage dilemmas: All About Homophones.

All About Homophones is a multi-grade, multi-learning style curriculum designed to take the pain out of teaching about words that sound alike, but are spelled differently and have different meanings. Have fun with games, cards, graphic organizers, worksheets, and more while teaching homophones in an engaging, relaxed, easy-to-remember way. The Tool Kit also contains a huge list of homophones separated by grade level to make it easy to make sure your kids are learning the appropriate words.

The All About Homophones Web site includes FREE samples and how-to-teach articles. The creator is so sure that you will absolutely love All About Homophones that she offers a thirty-day, no-questions-asked, money-back guarantee. You can purchase a hard copy for $29.95 and an e-book version that you can download right away for $27.95. Either way, it’s a bargain for a great tool you can use with all your children for many years.


Think Child, Think!

Higher test scores, here we come! An oft-repeated mantra in our house is “Think child, think!” While the Building Thinking Skills series may not help your kids remember to brush their teeth in the morning, it will help them to use their noggins to think through school stuff.

The Critical Thinking Company has been teaching thinking skills in core subject areas for fifty years. What is critical thinking anyway? “Critical thinking is identifying and evaluating evidence to guide decision making. A critical thinker uses in-depth analysis of evidence to make decisions and communicate his beliefs clearly and accurately.” Isn’t that what we as homeschoolers want for our kids? I sure do! I want my kids to think through not only test answers, but also life decisions. I want to raise independent learners. Using Building Thinking Skills will help accomplish these goals.

The hefty workbooks can be photocopied for use within your own family, making the $29.99 a worthwhile investment. My fifth grader test-drove Level 2 for grades 4–6. She looked forward to her assignments and breezed through them every day. My ninth grader, who has unhappily used other logic curricula, happily worked on the Level 3 Verbal book. The books are incremental and teach skills in a non-threatening manner. Kids have so much fun completing the assignments that they don’t even realize they’re learning critical thinking skills they’ll use throughout their lives.


Core Learning = Your Ticket for the Technology Boat!

Core Learning products (CD-ROM programs) make computer learning fun for all ages! The technology boat is cruising quickly through exciting destinations. Don’t miss the boat!

“Core Learning’s mission is to provide effective learning solutions for the development of fundamental knowledge and skills. Its primary focus of skill development is in areas that both support higher order thinking, but also proved important life skills. Products address key elementary and middle school curriculum areas in math, English language arts, health, art, and technology. Core Learning also publishes software to help develop critical thinking skills and maintain mental processing capabilities in young and mature adults.” Core Learning has been the recipient of many awards.

Do your kids love to play on the computer? Do your kids love to create beautiful art projects? Now they can do both with Core Learning’s brand new Crayola Art Studio! It is VERY easy to use and the tools produce realistic images. My kids (ages 10 and 13) continually clamor to use it. The Crayola Art Studio sells for only $24.95. The Corefx super-duper program allows you to draw, paint, animate, and edit photos on three different levels. It sells for $59.95. The new Creativity Express software sells for only $30 and is a COMPLETE visual arts curriculum for grades K to 8. It meets national standards and can be used by multiple students year after year. What a deal! You can download a FREE three-day trial of the Crayola Art Studio here: http://www.core-learning.com/pt_downloadrequest.asp?demo=artstudio&Title=Crayola%20Art%20Studio

The Health Series includes a program for kids and a program for families. Both are family-friendly, interactive, have cute, engaging, animated guides through the body, and cover a variety of topics appropriate for each age group. The Family Health Series offers five volumes: The Body, Illnesses & Injury, Staying Healthy, Becoming an Adult, and Emotional Health. It is $150 for the set of five topics on one CD-ROM, or get an individual title for $39.95. The Kids Health Series (for ages 7–10) offers two volumes: Explore Your Body, and Explore Your Health. It is $39.95 for both topics on one CD-ROM, or $29.95 for a single topic.

The Math and Language Arts series are extensive. Check out their offerings at http://www.core-learning.com/. The math series offers printed workbooks, textbooks, and help guides in addition to the computer programs. These courses are geared towards kids in grades 3 to 8, but may also be used for advanced younger students or remedial older students. The Language Arts series are geared for grades 2 to 6 and are comprehensive introductions and references to English grammar and writing skills. The lessons in all the series are engaging and interactive. Assessments enable exact placement; test results can be printed, and the lessons meet national standards. The CDs run about $49.95 each—a bargain price for a complete curriculum!


The Perfect Math Tutor!

Do you wish you had a private math tutor who was available at any hour of the day or night? Do you wish you could find a math program your kids would actually like? Do you wish you could find an effective math program that based its recommendations on personalized assessments? Wishes granted!

What: ALEKS is an interactive, math learning Web site subscription service.

Pros: ALEKS uses a very specific assessment for each child to pinpoint exact strengths and weaknesses. It lets kids choose topics to review based on ongoing assessments. It’s totally interactive and explains each topic as kids go along. It sends parents a VERY detailed, weekly report straight to their inboxes. ALEKS reinforces what is being taught in your chosen math curriculum. Kids love using the computer and won’t even realize they’re learning since they’re having so much fun on ALEKS.

Cons: The assessment takes a long time for each child to complete. You kids may not want to return to their dry, dusty workbooks.

Cost: ALEKS can be purchased month-to-month for $19.95 per month, $99.95 for 6 months, or $179.95 for 12 months. Family discounts are available for 6 and 12-month subscriptions when purchasing for multiple students.

Bottom line: We love it! My kids actually asked to work on math—but only on the ALEKS Web site. An in-person math tutor would cost a lot more and not be as accessible.


All About Spelling–And Then Some

Ever forget a spelling rule? You won’t forget again after using All About Spelling with your kids, and neither will they. I wish it had been available when my youngest daughter was struggling through spelling in first and second grades.

All About Spelling offers a phonetic, multi-sensory, no-fail approach to spelling. It is the most thorough and well-organized spelling program I have ever seen (in over eight years of homeschooling). “All About Spelling approaches spelling as a thinking subject, not merely as a subject for memorization.” It is a great program for tactile and auditory learners, as well as for children with auditory processing disorders. It can be used as a phonics program in addition to a spelling program. It is thorough and reusable for other children in your family. If you want to teach more than one child at a time, just make sure you purchase a separate materials packet for each child in order to ensure complete customization of the program.

All About Spelling costs more than a cheap spelling workbook, but it is well worth it if you’ve got a struggling or reluctant learner. Costs: Levels 1 & 2 are $29.95 each for the teacher and materials packet set. Levels 3 & 4 are $39.95 for each set. The letter tiles (essential to the program) are $9.95. The magnets for the letter tiles (helpful for keeping your tiles organized on a magnetic board or cookie sheet) are $5.95. The phonogram CD is $14.95—this will ensure that each phoneme is pronounced, and therefore spelled, correctly. This item is especially helpful for those who live in areas of the country which have strong accents (i.e., the drawl of southerners, or the dropped r’s of New Englanders).

Bethany’s bottom line: the All About Spelling program is great for beginning readers and spellers; it is very comprehensive and you’ll be thrilled with the results.


Time 4 Learning Review

Do the words “time for school” bring groans from your technologically savvy children? With Time 4 Learning, you’ll never hear “I wish I could do my schoolwork on the computer” again. Time 4 Learning brings core curriculum straight to your computer for grades Preschool–8 with no software to install.

How it works: Your children each get their own login with daily, new, multimedia lessons, interactive exercises, assessments, and printable worksheets. The snapshot reports provide an ongoing record of activities and progress. Parents can use Time 4 Learning for enrichment, as core curriculum for homeschooled students, or as part of an overall homeschool program. The lessons and assessments are self-paced and national standards based. The curriculum is based on CompassLearning Odyssey.

Pros: It’s interactive. It can be a complete curriculum or a supplement. It comes with a 14-day money-back guarantee. Kids can work at their own pace and be on different levels in different subjects; the computer tracks kids’ progress and generates reports for parents. It covers math, language arts, social studies and science and it’s based on national standards. Parents can have full control in assigning which lessons kids work on each day. It has a fun playground area with games as a reward for finishing schoolwork. A new Christian parent-discussion forum has been added.

Cons: There were some instances of what our family considers crude humor. If you’re looking for a Christian program, this is not it—it is clearly secular. The science curriculum promotes evolution. I found the parent/teacher area and lesson plans hard to navigate. It didn’t hold my fifth grader’s attention.

Cost: $19.95/month for the first child; the second child is an additional $14.95/month. Time 4 Learning could be a cost-effective way to cover the basics if that’s all you’re using. If you’re using it as a supplement, the monthly fees could really add up.


The Tutor Review

How do I make sure my children are getting a well-rounded education? Where can I find all the extras that were once standards in a complete education without cluttering my bookshelf and depleting my wallet? The answer to these questions and many more is The Tutor.

The Tutor promises to be a tool to provide “a richer and fuller education experience for [your] children.” It focuses on art, music, geography, classic literature, elocution and more. Every quarterly issue is packed with a wide variety of subjects in each category. Some sections concentrate on one theme (like ants in the Nature section of Volume 1), while other segments have different topics.

But, you may wonder, how many trips to the library will I need to make in order to find the music resources and art prints recommended in The Tutor? None! Your purchase of The Tutor includes two CDs containing all of the referenced music (full-length pieces, not just samples) and six full-color art prints on nice paper by the featured artist.

The Tutor is not dated and not a rigid curriculum. A plethora of information (nearly 200 pages) makes it useful for as long as you wish, although four issues are published each year. Spiral bound books with sticky-finger-proof covers will last for years to come and all age groups will find something useful.

What’s not to like? Nothing. So far we’ve dabbled in the art, music and literature sections and are really looking forward to diving in deeper into other topics. The only thing that would make The Tutor more user friendly is the addition of a more detailed index for easier referencing.

How can you get The Tutor? Check out The Home Educator Tutor Web site. Each issue of The Tutor costs $24.95 (plus s/h). If you prefer to download it, the cost is $15 and includes the art prints, but not the music. The music is available to purchase for downloading separately, though. The bottom line is that The Tutor is worth every penny, just like your children’s education.