Friday, May 24, 2013

Our Curriculum- Our Thoughts

I LOVE curriculum!  I love researching it, learning about it, seeing it, and getting my hands on it.  I know it's a bit nerdy.  

This past year we did more, in terms of using curriculum than we have before.  Will we do it again?  Not sure! (more on that another time).  But for now I thought I would give you a glimpse into what we used and what we thought!

"God Time"- we used Children Desiring God's study called "Jesus, What a Savior! A Study for Children on Redemption" by Jill Nelson.  Since it was our first time using this curriculum we bought the entire teaching kit.  However, if using it for homeschooling you would be fine buying the Leader's Edition along with the printed resources and a workbook for each child (this is what we plan to do next).  I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this curriculum!  The girls loved it too.  It was so theologically solid and sound-yet in a way that the girls could comprehend and own.  The lessons did take some prep and many times we had to modify the activities because they were meant for more of a classroom approach (aka more than 2 kids).  But towards the end we were able to basically dialogue through most of it, using the printed resources to guide us!  We first tried to do one lesson a week.  But the girls were wanting to learn more and move ahead.  So we decided to do a lesson in about 2-3 days.  We would start the first day of the lesson and do the class time activity (experiencing the principle), then we would read the part from scripture that the lesson was about (there are guides in the lesson plans for you to paraphrase but we loved digging strait into the Word and reading strait from it), finally we would go over the memory verse and the key themes for the lesson.  That was the first day of the lesson. The second day we would go back and review what we talked about the day before, review the memory verse, review the key themes, and then do the coloring/activity page in their workbook.  If we needed or wanted a third day we would review the key themes again, the memory work again, and then do one of the extra activities that they provided in the Teacher's kit.  What I loved MOST about this specific curriculum was that it taught the girls (and reminded me) some hard things.  It emphasized our sin and sinful hearts and our NEED for a Savior.  Without comprehending what a desperate state our sinful hearts are in you cannot fully grasp the greatness of our Savior and the magnitude of His sacrifice!  This curriculum did an EXCELLENT job teaching this!  You can take a closer look at the scope and sequence here!

"Math"- we used Saxon Math again.  This year Marissa did Saxon 1 and Kjerstin did Saxon 2.  When the year started it took us almost an hour and a half to get our math work done.  We started with the meeting time and did our calendar work and they filled out their "meeting strips".  As they learned more information and had more to do on their meeting strips each day it took more and more time.  After the meeting time we would learn the lesson together and then we would do the facts sheet and then the lesson sheet.  Each lesson sheet has 2 sides to it.  We only did 1 and the girls are both doing great with their math, actually I think if I had made them do both sides they would have had a little resentment towards it.  I love the focus on the foundations of understanding numbers, values, and math facts!  I also love how they tie in the clocks, money, geometry, and other non-numerical aspects of mathematics into the lessons.  By the end of the year we only did the calendar time, would review some counting, and we would orally go over some of the things that were on the meeting strip.  Then we would learn the lesson, do the timed math facts, and then work on the worksheet.  We got our time down to about 50 minutes!  If all went well ;)  At this point we have not completely finished the books (gasp) and we are still toying with the idea of completely finishing them or not.  The beginning of each level is a review of the previous level, so they will not be "hurt" if we don't finish the books.  But there is something fulfilling and rewarding about completely finishing a curriculum. So we will see!

"Reading"- we used "The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading" by Jessie Wise and Sara Buffington.  The girls both started this book about 2 years ago.  We have done it a little differently in that we go through a lesson and we don't really move on until they have a pretty good grasp of it.  Several times with both girls we have completed a section and then gone back to the beginning or middle and done that part of the section over before moving on. Kjerstin is now at the point where she is nearly completed with the book and it really is not "teaching" her anything because she is a very fluent reader- but it is good to expose her to the rules and teachings of the way words are read.  Each day we would sit down together and go through their lesson they were at in the book and then afterwards they would pick a book to read.  Sometimes we would do Bob books that correlated with where they were at in the lessons and sometimes they picked leveled reader books from the library to read.  Kjerstin took off in her reading and got bored with many of the leveled reader books and so she will pick picture books to read on her own time and we have begun a new reading adventure.  
After her reading lesson is over we go to this book: "First Favorites Comprehension Guide Volume 2" by Laurie Detweiler from Veritas Press.  I decided to order this comprehension guide and try it out to see what we thought.  We check each book out from the library but you can order the bundle of books that are for this comprehension guide.  We check out the book and then she will do a few activity pages each day for the book she read until she is ready to move on to the next book.  It was becoming very clear to me that she comprehends what she is reading quite well and doesn't necessarily need this guide to help her comprehend the story.  But I do believe it is good practice for her as she will need to know how to do these sorts of activities for longer and more intense pieces of literature.  There is a next book for second grade and I think we may finish this book and do the next favorites book before moving on to chapter books.

Over the summer we may still work on the reading lessons.  It would be nice to keep up the practice with Marissa (plus she loves it) and Kjerstin would finish the book before the fall which would allow her more time to read harder books that she would enjoy.  Once again...we shall see!

"Language"- we used "First Language Lessons" Level 1 by Jessie Wise.  We had this book in the fall and started going through it and I thought it was not very thorough.  I was used to Shirley Grammar books.  We would sit and do a lesson and it would only take about 3-5 minutes.  There was not any writing in the beginning.  I thought surely I was doing something wrong.  So we set it aside and I tried to do some research.  Then I kind of forgot about it.  Finally in November, I met another mom that used it and said that we were doing it correctly and that as we got into the book more- the writing would begin.  December came and I decided we needed to get back into it.  I LOVE it!  I love it because it is a short and sweet time of working on grammar skills and that is all the time you need.  Kjerstin completely understands and memorizes what she needs to for these lessons...and did I mention it takes almost NO time?  We are not quite finished with the book because of our delay at the beginning.  But we are going to finish it up because she needs to start level 2 in the fall.  As the book has progressed it has produced copy work and narrative exercises for her to do but it is interesting enough to keep her attention.  Marissa will start level 1 next year, but the poor girl has much of it memorized already from listening to Kjerstin!

"Handwriting"-we used Handwriting Without Tears.  Both girls were these teeny tiny two year olds when they asked me to start teaching them how to write.  I winged it at first and then a friend told me that she used Handwriting Without Tears with her kids.  I looked into it and decided to try it.  AWESOME!  Because the student workbooks are so great at teaching the kids the proper strokes and ways to make the letters you don't really need to buy the teaching guide!  I also liked how it wasn't overkill and the girls didn't have to write each letter like 20 bazillion times.  They wrote it enough to feel comfortable writing it.  Plus there were fun pictures.  For us it moves at just the right pace.  Marissa completed the orange book this past year and Kjerstin whizzed through the yellow and the blue books.  Now she is begging me to move on to the red book which is cursive.  I just ordered it today...summer fun!  ;)

Up to this point I have covered what I will call our "core".  The next pieces to our homeschooling puzzle are pieces that I am giving us more freedom in.  Also you may notice I do not have spelling in our "core".  Well we were about 3 months into the year and I realized I had completely forgotten about it!  So I scrambled to see what I wanted to do.  I knew of a few curricula that I loved and would love to use but didn't know if they would be a good fit for Kjerstin, for our homeschooling, and for the way that she was learning how to read.  I wanted a spelling program that would jive with her reading program.  Finding that was hard!  So as a last resort out of desperation I found some free lists on the internet!  We would go over the list together and the rule that was being covered and she was BORED out of her mind!  It was like a joke.  We did the tests and the sentence dictation and then finally it was over kill.  I mainly was wanting her to be comfortable with spelling tests since I knew that next year she would most likely be taking them and they might be challenging for her.  By the end when she would have the entire spelling test list memorized and tell me what word was going to come next so she could spell it...I thought- this is a waste of our time!  So we stopped.  Amazingly she is a great speller!  But spelling will be added to our "core" next year.

You may also notice that we do not have a writing curriculum as well.  We have decided to work on our handwriting skills and to establish a good foundation in handwriting before we jump into lengthy writings.  The girls both have times where they want to write lists of things or stories or write letters.  So we use that time for writing.  Also in the Language Lessons book and in Kjerstin's comprehension guides there is writing that is done.  I do not want kids that hate is such a powerful tool and a great form of self expression.  I want them to value it, treasure it, and use it to their benefit.  So we are waiting a year more or so to really get into a more intense writing curriculum.

Now, on to the rest...
This my friends, is my guide.  My bible for homeschooling if you will.  Or at least it has been.  This book helped me to understand what to introduce when.  Due to my Type A personality I like things to be in order. So naturally I fell in love with the idea of teaching History in order and teaching Science in a way that correlated with History.  Fabulous!  The more I learned about Classical Education the more I realized that was what I believed inside and was looking for.  Only now I didn't have to reinvent the had already been done!  Fabulous again!

"History"- we used Story of The World (or SOTW in the homeschool world).  We started with volume 1, which is Ancient History and got the Activity guide to go with it.  In the beginning of the year we did one chapter a week.  We would read the chapter all in one day or in two days if it was long and then we would spend the next day doing the narration exercises, map work, and coloring page that went along with the chapter.  The girls loved it and we had a lot of fun.  I loved learning it all too (since I didn't really remember it from when I was young).  The book is written in a story format and flows quite nicely.  The further we got into the book the more we wanted to read it like a story and not treat it like a text.  Come January that is exactly what we did.  We sat together and read from it each day, either a chapter or part of a chapter.  The girls could then follow the story and seemed to comprehend what was happening much better than when we "studied" it more in depth.  We would try later in the day to pull out the activity book and color the page or do the map.  But for the most part we followed the story.  The girls LOVE our world map and so we would frequently be at it looking up other things and we would also look to see where we were reading about in SOTW.  Oh, there were board games or paper crafts to make- the girls LOVED those and magically seem to remember more of the details of those historical events!

"Science"- we followed the model set up in The Well Trained Mind and were to study animals, the human body, and plants this first year.  If I remember correctly it was to be 10 weeks on animals, 10 weeks on the human body, and 6 weeks on plants or gardening.  The kids studied many animals the last 2 years because they were in love with all things animal.  Plus we had a zoo pass to a SUPER amazing zoo in our country (thanks Grandma and Grandpa!).  Studying animals was a little tricky.  We made lists of animals they wanted to learn more about and then tried to find as many books and science type videos about them.  Since we have moved away from that fabulous zoo it would sometimes be sad to remember visiting all the cool animals at our old zoo.  Studying the human body was also a bit tricky because they have already learned a lot about their bodies!  They get curious and so we teach them.  Plus we have family members or friends that are having babies and what not...they ask questions and we provide answers.  So they are pretty well versed.  We went through a few human body encyclopedias and they asked a few questions but really they weren't into it that much.  Since we have concluded our science time the questions have been flying!  They are so curious about food, food groups, how food is digested, what food is healthy and so on.  So we are "off roading" if you will and are learning about that.  For our gardening or plants unit- well last summer when we lived with Matt's parents the girls were "gardening girls" all day long all summer long.  But our family is going to plant our very first family garden this the lessons continue!

"Fine Arts"- umm we totally failed in this!  We did a lot of crafty things.  Lots of painting times, coloring times, drawing times.  A lot of freestyle action going on.  But not really a lot of studying per-say.

"Music"- the kids were exposed to a large variety of music between my classical pieces during work, quiet times, praise music during MANY moments, and then Matt exposed the kids to Sandstorm.   Those all count right?!?  

Clearly these last two are lacking...

For the most part I am pretty happy with how our year turned out.  It was definitely a big change to have such extreme structure in the beginning.  It was also very hard to have our support system gone from us.  But we have survived and have learned a lot!  As for next year...well we are still processing this year!  There are many things we all liked and were happy about and there were some things that we may want to do differently.

We'll just have to see!

But I can say- we have things in the works!

More to come!!!


Jackie P said...

We use Vocabulary Spelling City for spelling, handwriting practice, and vocabulary. They have a free version, but we upgraded last year because we wanted more vocabulary. It comes with other perks as well.


Alicia-Marie Christensen said...

Thank you so much for your recommendation! I will have to look into it!
Thank you again!

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