A Mosaic in the Making

Curriculum Observations From Early On

Nicki Black  June 16 2010 02:32:52 AM
The following are some of my thoughts from a couple years ago on the curriculum we used, geared to the beginning homeschooling family. You know, things I wish I knew about, but in the end, I'm glad we found our groove and figured out what worked for us. We spent a bit more money than we needed to, but it was a good learning experience.

At our daughter's prior school, they used ABeka for most everything. It is an aggressive curriculum and runs about 2 grades above in difficulty than the mainstream public school curriculum, according to the school's Elementary Principal. For that we liked it. However, it does not do a good job in going into depth of the topics or applying scripture to the lessons if you are trying to use it for a homeschool curriculum. There is some scripture and it is wholesome, but if your child is an explorer and more of a visual learner, whereas they want more descriptions and/or examples of a subject, or need to know how to apply it to everyday life, and if they learn more by doing and seeing rather than being drilled, then ABeka is probably not right for you. To speak more of the drilling, we also did not like that aspect of ABeka's curriculum, especially in math. DD hates speed drills and memorizing facts and figures like a drone. ABeka math has timed drills throughout. Really no insight or why ___ x ___ = ____, but rather "memorize it and move on" is their technique.

ABeka also does not give a good "script" for you - the teacher. You just have to figure out how to teach all the concepts on your own, without really any help or suggestions from the curriculum. I didn't like that at all.

ABeka also uses/suggests a timed system of delivery. Because you are homeschooling and do not have to follow their suggestions or planners that they offer, this may be a moot point. But if you choose to, they suggest teaching a whole lesson in a subject in like 15 or 20 or 30 minute slots and then moving quickly on to the next subject. Well, that doesn't leave a lot of room for exploration, labs, Q/A, etc with your child. We found it restricting and really not beneficial for an active learning and flexible environment.

DD's old school also used Shurley English. Horrible!! Very aggressive, yet very user UN-friendly, even with the homeschool curriculum. Not to mention, it is very expensive (about $80 for 1 student book and 1 teachers book). We purchased the homeschool curriculum last year, used it for about 2 weeks, and gave up because it's so complicated to navigate. And it's ugly. It has no pictures, and it's in black and white. Its only good quality was that it came with a CD with grammar jingles, which DD loved and still remembers. But you can buy jingles anywhere or make your own.

After a lot of additional research on our own time, this is a description of what we use, and why:

Spelling and Health/Safety/Manners:
We stayed (for now) with ABeka Spelling. It was still aggressive, and it was pictorial, in color, and proved to be pretty interesting with real words (not dumbing down anything, like I've seen in other curriculums). Health was also very pictorial and we feel it gave a good deal of information appropriate to a 3rd grader, although limited in scripture and Biblical references and applications.

English, Science, Heritage Studies (History,) Bible, and Math:
We are using Bob Jones University Press. We love it. It is very Christ-centered and uses scripture references and life applications in nearly everything. It is very user friendly. We compared it to many other curriculums and kept coming back to BJU for it's great layout, in-depth lessons, usability, pictures, labs, and additional resources.

I really like the science and math curriculum, for in the back of the teachers book, it gives the full scripture verses/references that it uses throughout the chapters, and how to apply these to the lessons and to your life. The math curriculum also gives in-depth math definitions and additional teaching helps in the back of the teacher's manual. The science curriculum also has fun labs, using materials that you have around the house or things you can obtain very easily. Whatever you don't have in the house, with a little creativity, it's also pretty easy to come up with substitutes with no problem. Compared to ABeka science, BJU wins hands down, just on information content alone. ABeka science was way below par in that category.

Heritage Studies (history) is one of our favorite curriculums. Again, a lot of scripture throughout and in-depth information. For example, when we learned about the late 1700's in France, we built a Bastille in this unit out of a shoebox and toilet paper rolls. Fun stuff like that, coupled with important historical information that a child can and needs to understand, runs throughout the curriculum. We also used our Lincoln Logs last year to build a log cabin (to coincide with our Thanksgiving unit) in the traditional style, with little ropes (yarn). It was a great visual tool.

Also, when we were in Washington DC, we found that the Smithsonian has curriculum for sale that they put together. It's very inexpensive and has a lot of worthwhile labs. We purchased several grades-worth for hardly any money - roughly $10 a book. This cost covered the materials for the Smithsonian to print it for you. You can download scores and scores of other curriculums FOR FREE directly from their website: http://www.smithsonianeducation.org/educators/

For the classical arts, we also have taken online workshops from Lukeion (http://www.lukeion.org). Classes are taught from a Christian husband/wife team of archaeologists. The workshops were fabulous and fun and informative and span the age levels, and you can even get credit for them to apply toward a transcript. They are planning an archaeological cruise for 2008 for families (with children over 7 yrs).

I really like Diana Waring's (http://www.dianawaring.com) curriculum on history from a Biblical perspective, but we have not used it personally. It is something we will use in the coming year.

Maps & Geography:
We are using American Education Publishing. It is secular, but the activities and information is fine and encompassing. Obviously it has a lot of mapping activities both in the book and labs outside of the classroom, so it's very hands-on. We supplement with other activities we come up with ourselves. We also really like Google Earth as a resource. http://Earth.Google.com .

Our park district also does nature-related programming throughout the year, which is also a good supplement.

Other Bible:
We use multiple curriculums and resources for Bible studies, each offering a different topic or activity or flavor in delivery. I really like the Book Links Journey into Literature Series, by Journey Fourth. For about $10, you get a book and a folder of activities and question starters about the book and topic. Right now we are studying missionary Gladys Alward, who worked in China. You preface each chapter with Q/A provided for you to get your child thinking about what they're about to hear, and then it usually follows up with an activity.

Standardized/Achievement Testing:
It's necessary to check with your state to see what your requirements are, but most states do require some kind of standardized testing at the end of the year. We decided to use FLO (http://www.familylearning.org/), and went with the California Achievement Test - Full Battery (CAT-5). FLO representatives were very easy to work with, ordering from their website was simple, and they had exceptionally quick turnaround for the results. The CAT test can also be administered by a parent, if necessary. Most of the other tests we found did not allow a parent to do this. So the cost savings on not having to hire an outside agency to administer the tests were a big appeal. But there are many places to purchase standardized tests online. And any homeschool bookstore staff will also be able to point you in the right direction.

We have a Barnes and Noble educators discount card, which gives us a savings of 25% and more on educational items. During the year they have additional offers for educators, saving you even more money.

USE YOUR PUBLIC LIBRARY! It is an invaluable resource! I also encourage you to get your child(ren) involved in the numerous bookclubs, contests, and academic activities that the library offers.  
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