My Favorite Things: Homeschool Elementary Curricula

Introducing “My Favorite Things”

For those of you who know me, you know I’m a connector.  I love to connect people with people or people with resources.  That’s why we started Daughters 4 God.  If I was blessed with the opportunity to chat with you over a cup of mint hot chocolate at Starbucks, you’d hear about my new favorite book I’m reading, or about a website I came across, or about someone I know who might be able to help you accomplish the project you’re working on.  I’m really not out to sell anything (which is why I’m such a poor business woman! J), I merely want to support others as they walk out what God has called them to do.

This month, we are launching a series entitled, “My Favorite Things.”  I can’t say that I’ll include an article in the series every month, but my goal is to share the things that have blessed our family.   Most all of my favorite things came by recommendation of a friend.  I can also say that some of my friends have steered me away from what could’ve been a bad choice.  I hope that some of my favorite things will bless your family and maybe even become your favorites, too!

My Favorite Things:  Elementary Homeschool Curricula

Sing, Spell, Read & Write My friend Christine recommended this wonderful curriculum to me as I was planning for Kindergarten.  There are actually two kits—preschool and first grade.  I used the first grade set with all four of the girls when they were in Kindergarten, even though they represent several different learning styles.  Since I was a first year homeschooling parent, I appreciated that the kit was so complete.  My box included:  a teacher’s manual, two consumable student workbooks which included phonics and handwriting practice, 17 paperback student readers, cassette tapes, WORD-O (Bingo) game, two Go Fish Phonics card games (one for solo sounds and another for blends), vowel flash cards, a colorful Raceway chart to track progress, and a cardboard treasure chest full of prizes.  It was (and still is) a little pricey, but was very cost effective for a larger family since I could reuse everything but the workbooks--and the prizes.  The girls enjoyed it so much; they insist that they will be buying it to teach their own children. Why I like it: We had so much fun learning to read; I believe it gave the girls a love for reading that continues to this day.  I loved that their reading books corresponded directly with the sounds they were learning, setting them up for success.  It was a simple yet comprehensive system to integrate phonics, reading, spelling, and handwriting.

Winston Grammar Some homeschool moms dread teaching grammar, but not this mom.  Having used this program with all four girls, I found that it suited any learning style, but was particularly effective with a child who needed  a “hands on” approach.  The Basic program comes with a student workbook, a teacher’s manual and a pack of cards.  There is a pre-test to diagnose current skill, 30 weekly lessons of about 12-13 problems, four quizzes interspersed throughout the lessons, and a final test.   Each lesson includes the introduction and explanation of a part of speech using a specially designed card.  Students choose one card to represent each word of the sentence, making a line of cards on their desk.   For example, lesson 1 introduces articles.  An article card is red, so each of the “a’s,” “an’s,” and “the’s” in the sentence would have a red card.  All the other words would have black cards, indicating they haven’t been learned yet.  Students then mark their workbooks according to the markings on the card.  (An article has a check above it)  Most every week a new card is added until students can identify every part of speech and what they modify.  The last quarter of the book teaches noun functions using another set of cards.  Not only did the girls enjoy the program, they quickly learned the material and retained it. Why I like it: Most students don’t enjoy learning grammar, but each one of my girls looked forward to Winston Grammar.  It required little involvement form me and gave the girls tools to be successful as they studied independently.  As their understanding of grammar improved, I also saw a marked improvement in their writing skills.

The Learnables Elementary foreign language study just didn’t fit in our budget for the first few girls, but I rethought my decision when we began language studies in high school with our oldest.  When the youngest was in fifth grade, we wanted to begin a language but didn’t want to invest in Rosetta Stone.  Instead, we purchased the Learnables Level 1 CD-Rom  for French.  The concept is similar but not nearly as comprehensive.  No writing is required and no written words are shown.  Students look at pictures while the native speaker says either a word or phrase to describe the picture.  There is a 10 question quiz at the end of each of the 10 units.  I found that Abigail looked forward to her French lesson on the computer and began to apply her new vocabulary in her daily life.  At $50, it was a fairly inexpensive way to launch our foreign language study. Why I like it: I want my children to have the experience of communicating with someone who is not speaking English. The Learnables allows children to understand sentences spoken by a native speaker of a foreign language.  It fuels the interest for further language study which can be a benefit in sharing the gospel with those who haven’t heard.

Mystery of History 1 (MOH 1) My friend Allison called me for some homeschool advice and just happened to mention a new  history curriculum that had  just been released.  With girls ages 12, 10, 7 and 5  years, I was looking for a history curriculum we could all do together.  Frankly, that’s all I had time for.  Blending traditional ancient history and biblical history to create one seamless timeline of study from creation to Christ, MOH 1 was a perfect fit for our family.  There were three, short read-aloud lessons per week with a follow-up activity for elementary students, middle students, and older students.  I appreciated lesson plans that built on what they had learned in the lesson, giving them an assignment that was interesting and age-appropriate.  Map work, weekly quizzes or reviews, and other various activities required reproducible pages included in the teacher’s guide.  (These are now available separately on CD Rom.)  A helpful appendix references the lesson number and recommended literature, media, or other resources that we were able to find at our public library.  I used the literature recommendations for scheduling literature to supplement our language arts. One unique activity from MOH 1 that we did together was to keep a timeline in a 3-ring, 3x5-card notebook.  We created a 3x5 card for each person or event we studied.  On one side, we wrote the date(s); on the other side, the older girls wrote a description in their own words and the younger girls drew a picture with colored pencils.  Sometimes I used the cards as flash cards (around what date did this happen?) or I shuffled the cards and asked the girls to put them in the order in which they happened.  I can still see them crawling around on the floor with 20-plus 3x5 cards framing the perimeter of our family room! The following year  we used MOH 2--same basic set-up with slightly longer lessons, but the Dark Ages were not nearly as appealing and it was hard to maintain motivation.  Since MOH 3 had not yet been released, we had no choice but to change to another program.  MOH3, covering the Renaissance, has since been released.  When last I heard, future plans were to release a MOH 4 and 5 to complete the series. Why I like it: It saved me a ton of work!  My lessons, activity sheets, map work, timeline and lesson plans were all in one place.  The lesson was short enough for the younger ones, and the older ones developed skills in research and writing.  I felt that we learned how to integrate biblical people and events and the traditional secular history that is taught in public schools.

Considering God’s Creation

As a high school student, I nearly failed biology and never took chemistry.  I was desperate for a homeschool science program that I could teach—and enjoy.  My friend Susan, previously an elementary school teacher and a homeschooling mom of three daughters, recommended Considering God’s Creation.  I liked the simplicity—one teacher’s book, one student’s book, and one cassette tape (now on CD).  I also liked singing songs about science.  You memorize things so effortlessly.  (Remember Schoolhouse Rock on Saturday mornings?)  I had to take some time to divide the chapters up in specific lessons, but there was very little planning.  The read-aloud lessons were filed with scripture and simple explanations of why evolution isn’t true.   We removed the perforated pages and put them in a 3-ring binder, one for each student.  There was a lot of coloring, cutting and gluing projects in the workbook, which made it fun for the older ones, but challenging for the younger ones (younger than 2nd grade).  With a little extra help and supervision, everyone enjoyed science—even me! Why I like it: We all learned so much about so many areas of science--rocks, the solar system, living organisms and the human body.  The student book included instructions and supplies for games and hands on activities that made science fun.  I wish the kids were younger.  I’d do it again!

Next month, look for my favorite middle/high school homeschool curriculum.