Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Curriculum choices

Seriously, that title is garbage, but I got nothing.  I'm willing to take suggestions, if you have any!

Last year, since we were totally new, I just made things up as I went along.  Homeschooling sort of happened on the spur of the moment and I didn't have much time for research before we were in it.  It was a little like jumping off the high dive without taking swimming lessons first!  We survived it, but it was kind of dicey.
Image courtesy of tungphoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I didn't want to start throwing money around, only to find out that I hated what we bought and needed something different, so I used free resources off the internet.  There are several sites that offer free full curriculums but I wasn't sure where we were going and I wasn't able to wrap my head around them at the time.  Mostly, I printed free worksheets from a million different websites and didn't have much direction because I wanted them to learn all the things.

This year, we've narrowed our focus quite a bit and I did purchase some curriculums.  I also had time to review some of the free sites and make choices that work for us.

For math, we've started using Virtual Homeschool Group and I really like it.  It works like a coop, with teachers, but all online, at our own pace.  They use Saxon books and do a video for each lesson, so the kids can watch those, read the lesson in the book, and email the teacher or attend open office hours to get help.  They automatically grade all the assignments, there are review questions from previous assignments on each lesson, and there are weekly tests.  It doesn't require much from me, other than answering questions they have during the class or tech trouble shooting.  They have a lot of classes in other subjects, including live classes for discussions, that I'm going to look into for the future, but for now, I'm digging the math.  This is completely free and run solely by volunteers, although they do accept donations to cover the costs associated with running the site.  Parents can also volunteer for various jobs, but it isn't required.

Price: Free.  Donations and volunteers accepted. Book is sold separately. Full set, including tests is about $70 on Amazon.  Student edition is currently running about $3.00 on Amazon. 

Term: One school year, online but book would be reusable.

Writing is something both kids struggle with, so I wanted to make sure that we had something that provided them a solid writing foundation.  Besides their general struggles, I feel like they both have massive gaps in what they SHOULD know about language, because mechanics of writing just isn't taught in public school any more.  I did some research and polled a few homeschool groups I'm part of and settled on Winning With Writing, which is part of the Growing with Grammar series.  I went with the 4th grade curriculum, even though it younger than either of them.  It wasn't so young that they felt insulted but it started at a point that they need practice at.  It is really the basics of writing, including paragraph creation, planning what to write, writing quotes, etc. I like that it still has the dashed lines to help them get control of their handwriting before moving on.  It is a grab and go curriculum, divided into lessons and days.  These are workbooks, so they aren't reusable or shareable, but the price is totally reasonable for a full year of writing instruction.  It comes with an answer book, but the reality is, you still need to know the basics yourself.  Most of the lessons involve actual writing and you have to grade them, since answers can vary.  It is just the basics though, so it should still be easy enough to grade. 

Price: $26.99 for one student.  $24.99 for additional student books.

Term: One school year, not reusable. 

Spelling is another subject that the kids struggle with.  WF is dyslexic, which causes him to have a hard time with spelling correctly.  I did a lot of research on spelling programs for dyslexics and the general consensus was All About Spelling was the way to go.  Pretty much everyone loves it and I can see why.  You need to get a teacher manual, a student kit for each level and a single interactive kit.  Teacher manuals and interactive kits can be used by multiple students, but they recommend getting each child their own student kit.  Since each kids needs to practice different things, it would be difficult to keep track without having separate kits, but it could be done if money is a major concern.  It comes with magnets to stick to the backs of the letter tiles and we use an old white board to hold all of ours but you can just store them in a ziplock bag and dump them on the table each day.

This is a multi-sensory approach, so they are saying things, hearing things, moving tiles with their hands, writing things, etc.  We started with level one and the words are too easy.  I'm not disappointed that we started with the very easy level, because we flew through it and I know that they have a solid base to continue.  

MF does it in the spirit it is intended and has made some serious progress in her ability to spell.  WF is a typical teenager and gripes about how "baby-ish" it is and we've had a few arguments about how he just needs to do it in order to move on.  He's doing better now, but he still growls and rolls his eyes about it pretty regularly.  Besides the multi sensory (which is good for my fidgeters), I like the repeated practice, including periodic reviews of things they've mastered.  I also love the "rules" for spelling, like C says /s/ before E, I, Y and /k/ the rest of the time.  I don't ever remember being taught stuff like that, you just memorized that celery and cake both started with C.  

After you pop out the cards and organize them in your storage box (you can get official AAS boxes that fit perfectly or 4x6 photo storage boxes hold all the cards nicely), with the included dividers, it pretty much grab and go.  The manuel tells you exactly what to practice, the concepts you are teaching and even provides a script for how to teach it.  It is very easy to execute from the teacher perspective.

They also have All About Reading for younger learners, but those are way way too young for my kids.  I looked at them, but they just didn't have any real value for us.  They dovetail nicely with the spelling curriculum though and there are notes in each spelling lesson about what reading lessons to use, so if you have young, non readers, they would be perfect together.

Price: Level 1 material, including teacher manual and card set $29.95. Additional card sets for additional students $14.95 each.  Interactive kit $22.85.  Materials are reusable for younger students. 

Term: We completed lesson 1 in 4 weeks and will likely complete lesson 2 in a similar time frame.  Younger students would need to spend more time on each lesson and levels would take longer to complete.  I'd venture to guess probably 1-2 levels a year for younger students.

For Social Studies, we are learning about all the countries of Epcot in anticipation of our trip to Disney.  This is the most boring thing I've ever done and I hate it.  I DREAD teaching social studies each week and I CAN NOT wait until we go, so we can do something that doesn't suck, when we get back! I was a history major back in the day.  I love social studies and this is killing me.  Once we get back, we will be using Easy Peasy All in one Homeschool.  I told the kids they could pick what they wanted to study and I just went to the website and assigned the section of history.  MF is going to learn about the Civil War and WF picked World War II.

We are also using Easy Peasy for Science for both kids.  Again, they picked the subjects they wanted to learn about, MF picked zoology (shocker, I know) and WF picked Biology.  The lessons include a variety of activities, like reading, videos, and hands on learning so they aren't getting bored reading and answering questions every day.  

The thing to note about Easy Peasy is that it is Christian based.  For social studies, that hasn't presented any problems but science is a little more of an issue.  I've tried to preview the stuff they've done so far, but I've also cautioned them that they might run across something that is contrary to our beliefs and that they should take it with a grain of salt and continue with the lesson. 

Easy Peasy is free of charge and besides covering multiple topics in science and social studies, they do offer full curriculum for grades K-8 and have a high school site they just recently started as well.  

Price: Free. Donations are accepted.

Term: One school year. Everything is online, so multiple students could use it.

The elective they picked this year is French.  MF wants to live in Paris when she grows up and WF wants to know what is being said in his video game (he is not the first homeschooler that picked a language based on a video game LOL).  Neither took into account that I took 3 years of Spanish in high school and know like three words in French! :) I've decided to learn it with them and we are using Duolingo.  I do exactly zero with this, except tech troubleshooting.  Because I don't speak it, at all, I'm no help to them.  I do like the website.  It provides lots of positive feed back when I get things right and the characters are cute.  

It is free, which is great, but the language selection is somewhat limited.  They have some user created languages that they have added, but I decided to stay with the actual language courses, which kept us to a handful of European languages (much to WF's annoyance, since he was looking at Russian or Irish originally). I do have issues with the microphone portion of it but I'm not sure where the problem lies.  I don't know if I have a microphone problem or if my accent is bad or what is going on, but most of the spoken portions get rejected a few times before it will accept my answer.  The kids don't seem to have the same problems, so it might just be me.  

Price: Free
Term: Lifetime or fluency in the language.  

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