July 24, 2013

Great Curriculum Adventure

Hello!  I know, I know.  I'm a bad blogging momma.  I haven't posted a "real", substantive blog in over a month.  But, as I wrote in my previous post, we've just been so darn busy!  Little League, All Stars, three summer camps, vehicle purchasing, Vacation Bible School, birthdays... just... crazy.    But I'm back now.

One of the main things keeping my so busy this past month was researching and purchasing new curriculum for the 2013-14 school year, which officially began on July 1st.  We aren't doing any formal lessons yet, but we've had a few trips and events that we count toward our required hours, and we'll also be visiting the NASA Glenn Visitors Center and Great Lakes Science Center.  I'll probably post about that when we return.

For this post, I thought I'd share with you the curriculum and resources I chose for this school year.  Up to now, we've been using a lot of Alpha Omega's materials - Lifepac, Horizons, and Monarch - for several subjects, which worked well for us, and we enjoyed, but this year I wanted to try something different.  I wanted to find resources that are more engaging, visually as well as in content, and that I felt "fit" my boys personalities better.

Here it is.  The Great Home School Curriculum Adventure!

We've been using the curriculum our local school district used - Scott Foresman/Addison Wesley - but it's just not working for my almost 11-year-old.  He struggles with math, and I'm not good at it myself, so this year I decided to try something different.  After a lot of research, and finding an smoking good deal at a home school curriculum sale in June, we're going to try Bob Jones University Press' Math 5.  My son is actually beginning 6th grade this year, but as I thumbed through BJU's Math 5, I realized it contains a lot of things that Foresman/Wesley covers in their 6th grade books.  The format seems comprehensive enough.  Hopefully it will be a good fit for us.
My 8-year-old, on the other hand, has taken to math like a duck to water.  He can look at a workbook page and pretty much figure it all out on his own, without much help from me.  He completed his 2nd grade Foresman/Wesley text at the end of our 3rd quarter last school year, so we're already into the 3rd grade text before the new school year even begins.  We'll be sticking with that for him until such a time as it no longer works for us.
Up to now, for both boys, we've used Scott Foresman Reading Street, which our local school district used as well.  It covers reading, grammar, vocabulary, spelling, and writing.  We only used it for grammar, though, and found it to not be a good fit for us. To take care of reading, we had the boys read from books of their choice for 30 minutes each day.  For writing, I came up with various book report, essay, and creative writing projects.  I gleaned the ideas from Pinterest.  For penmanship, we used Alpha Omega's Horizons curriculum, which wasn't bad, but was just copy work, and didn't really help teach the boys how to write their letters properly.  Plus, they hated it.  Finally, for spelling and vocabulary, we took words from throughout each week that the boys had difficulty with and created a list of 10 or so words each week for them to study and memorize.  Another method that was okay, but didn't really help the boys learn to spell properly.

This year, I found some different resources that I think will better suit our needs, and even look like a lot of fun!  Because, for my boys, if it's not colorful and filled with fun activities, they tune out.

For reading, we'll use the Reading Detective series by the Critical Thinking Co.  The appeal of these books is they are set up like the reading section of most standardized state tests.  I know, I know.  What's the point of home schooling if you're just going to teach to the public school's standards?  Here in New York, we are required to test our children at certain points, and they must score at or above the 33rd percentile in order to continue with home schooling without being put on probation, which basically means that if you can't prove your kid is improving, then they can stop you from home schooling.  With that said, my boys struggle a little with reading comprehension.  They both read above grade level, but when it comes to retaining the information they've read, well... it's not happening.  So, the Reading Detective books will, hopefully, help us out in that area.

For spelling, I decided it's time to use a formal resource rather than just winging it, because the boys aren't gleaning much from rote memorization of spelling words.  We'll be using Spelling by Bob Jones University Press.  Various activities are utilized to help the boys learn how to spell words properly, including crossword puzzles, matching, fill-in-the-blank, and more.  At this point, anything is better than the nothing we've been doing, so I have high hopes for this.

Penmanship.  While the format isn't much different from Alpha Omega's Horizons curriculum, A Reason for Handwriting by Carol Ann Retzer, a part of the A Reason for... series, is much more colorful and enticing.  It also includes what they call Border Pages where the boys can write a final copy of their scripture verse and then decorate it for display.  Artwork is something my boys love, so this aspect may motivate them to do their best.
Writing.  After much research, I found Jump In: a workbook for reluctant and eager writers from Apologia.  Honestly, what clinched this for me was the title itself.  Both my boys are extremely reluctant writers.  It's a miserable task just to get them to write a simple paragraph.  Apart from that, the format looks like no other writing curriculum I've seen.  I'm excited about this one, and I think it has potential to make writing less painful for my boys.  We shall see.
Finally, to help my boys gain a greater grasp of grammar, we'll use both Grammar Minutes by Creative Teaching Press and The Language Mechanic by the Critical Thinking Company.  The ability to utilize English grammar properly is important, in my opinion.  These days, grammar has taken a back seat to the language of texting and Facebook.  In my opinion, a person who has the ability to speak and write properly but chooses not to ends up sounding ignorant.  Unfortunately, the coming generation isn't being taught properly, and not many people seem to care.  I want my boys to know how to speak and write properly, to understand its importance, and to care.

This past year, we used Alpha Omega's curriculums for history.  Lifepacs for my youngest and Monarch online for my oldest.  The Lifepacs worked just fine, and my son enjoyed them.  The Monarch online curriculum, though, didn't work for my oldest.  While he enjoys working on the computer, he was too easily distracted and, if left on his own for even a few minutes, would not pay attention to what he was doing, which led him to not retain any of the information he was learning.

Since civics is a requirement in New York, I decided to try something new with both boys.  Something that we could all do together, would allow me to help the boys keep on track, and would meet our civics requirement.  To cover these bases, I found the Uncle Sam and You curriculum from the Notgrass company.  What I like about this is the student workbook that accompanies it.  Jam packed with fun activities to reinforce each lesson, it might make learning history fun.
Science is another subject for which we used Alpha Omega's curriculum - Lifepacs for my youngest and Monarch online for my oldest.  Just as with history, the Lifepacs were good for Noah, but the online curriculum just didn't work for Brandt.

This year, both boys will study the same curriculum - Exploring Creation with Astronomy from Apologia.  It's a straight-forward study of the sun, moon, planets, and space travel.  Both boys are fans of anything outer space, so they should enjoy it.  But, as with our history curriculum, what I like most about our science curriculum is the notebooking journal that accompanies it.  It's filled with facts, activities, projects, mini books, vocabulary crosswords, and more - making learning fun.
This is one subject on which we don't spend a lot of formal lesson time.  I feel that this subject is easily covered just by everyday, real life teachable moments concerning nutrition, hygiene, safety, etc.  New York does require teaching about substance abuse, diseases, a few other things that don't always come up in a typical day.  For that, we're turning to Alpha Omega's Monarch online curriculum.  It's appropriate for both my 8- and 10-year-old boys, and they can work on it together without the need for me to do a formal lesson with them.
As with spelling, in the past, we've just winged it.  I pulled many ideas from Pinterest and came up with several on my own.  I began my college career as an art major, so this subject is a little easier for me to facilitate without much need for formal curriculum.  However, I find that I'm running out of ideas.  So, this year, we'll try out Art with a Purpose Artpacs by Myron and Rachel Weaver.  Not sure what I think of these at first glance, but we'll give them a try, at least.
Yet another subject that we haven't used a formal curriculum for.  Sending the boys outdoors to run, walk, hike, swim, bike, sled, play ball, etc., seems plenty to me.  On rainy days, they often turn on the Wii and play an active game such as Dance, Dance Revolution or Active Life Explorer.  We'll continue with all those, but this year we'll be adding a formal basketball curriculum to the mix - Family Time Fitness' basketball module.  Both boys have attended a local summer basketball camp and enjoy the sport more than any other.  I figured we might as well take something they love and make it count toward our schooling.  I'm not real sure how it will work, though, since it's an online curriculum, and we'll need to trek downtown to use the school's outdoor basketball court.
Last year, the boys began piano lessons, which I am thankful for, because trying to teach them guitar with the limited knowledge I have was agonizing.  They both progressed well, and even though they don't want to, they're going to continue with lessons again this year.  Their teacher will also be adding music history and theory this year, so all our bases are covered.  The books she's chosen are Bastien Piano Basics by James Bastien, Master Theory by Charles S. Peters and Paul Yoder, and Meet the Great Composers by June Montgomery and Maurice Hinson.  I know nothing about these, but I trust their teacher.

While New York doesn't require this subject, it's important to us that our boys build their lives on a firm, biblical foundation.  Last  year we fell a little short in this area, so this year, we're going to try Who am I? And What am I Doing Here? which is part of the What We Believe series from Apologia Press.  This is another curriculum accompanied by a notebooking journal.  Have you noticed a theme here yet?  I really love the notebooking journals we'll be using this year.  I think it will get the boys more involved in their learning and make it more enjoyable for all of us.
Another subject not required by New York State, but I want to give my boys a leg up for high school, since our plan (for  now) is to return them to public school in 9th grade.  Hopefully, they'll have learned enough Spanish to avoid having to take it in high school and maybe take courses more relevant to their future career goals.

Last year, we used Alpha Omega's Monarch online beginner Spanish curriculum, which was perfect for my boys.  The problem, though, is I could not find a Spanish curriculum that fell between that and high school level Spanish.  So, this year, we're resorting to Google and Pinterest and random home schooling blogs for various online Spanish lessons.  Hopefully we'll be able to find enough for the boys to remember what they've already learned as well as grow further in their knowledge.

Phew!  There you have it.  This year is sure to be a curriculum adventure.  Lots of new strategies and ideas.  I'm praying it all falls into place and works for us.

Have you used any of these resources?  If so, how did they work for you?  Do you have any suggestions for a first-time user?  Let me know what you think, and feel free to tell me about your own great curriculum adventures!

No comments:

Post a Comment