Thursday, June 2, 2011

What I Use and Why - Curriculum

"Hi, I'm Amy and I'm a curriculum addict." I think it's the school teacher / book junkie / nerd combo that makes me such a fan of checking out curriculum and constantly supplementing with all kinds of things. I didn't have much freedom in this arena when I was a classroom teacher so this has been new territory for me and I have been having too much fun. I've lost lots and lots of sleep surfing and adding to my stockpile of web bookmarks and ideas. Truthfully, far more than I will be able to realistically implement. Maybe if I had full time household help so that all I had to do was teach and write...(moment to dream, please). OK, I'm back.

One thing that I have noticed that all home schooling mommas (and the occasional dad) do is to ask, "What are you using for (insert subject / topic / theme here)?" I love these discussions. I usually pick up all kinds of information that I might not have otherwise since it usually involves some sort of evaluation from an actual user - invaluable information to me. I actually dropped one publisher off my radar because of one of these conversations; how nice to do that BEFORE I invested any $$. I also feel no guilt because no matter how many rave reviews that any curriculum gets, it must work for your family. That's right - family. You have to take into account so many things - your child's preferred learning method, your teaching method, time required to prep and teach, budget and so on. When I found out that Singapore Math was going to require me to relearn how to add (just to get started), I said "no way". I knew that I didn't have the time (or the brain capacity) to teach this well. This is not a "dis" of Singapore; it gets rave reviews. I just know that realistically, it will not work for me as a teacher or for Baker who is more of a visual / hands-on learner. As a result, I felt comfortable investing in a different curriculum. The ultimate result will be the same - a working knowledge of math and numbers in general. The process of getting there will be much easier for both of us and maybe we can both have better attitudes about math! It's still work but it's not overwhelming for either of us.

One thing that I have really considered was to see how far I could get without purchasing actual books. There are endless resources on the web that you could teach and/or learn most anything with a computer, a good internet connection, a printer, paper, writing utensils and a library card. I found out rather quickly that doing this requires far more time than I have to devote to it unless my husband takes over all household chores or I give up sleeping. Neither of us is willing to make that sort of sacrifice. I have also found that I crave the security of an actual book to guide me; old school, yes, but that's how I roll. Again, this is a curriculum option for our family that works perfectly as far as budget but not at all in terms of time and teaching style.A few years from now, I might be able to go book free but not right now.

A disclaimer for this post: I'm reviewing just what we use right now. I'm not qualified as a curriculum specialist but I never seem to be short of opinions. In a personal conversation, I would share what I have rejected and why if you asked me but no need to do that here. Since I'm a planner / organizer by nature, I lean toward curriculum that has well organized materials which some of the more free spirits might see as stifling or boring. I am not receiving any sort of compensation for the purchase of any of these materials through this post. I provided the links as a courtesy so no worries if you don't buy through these links. Brad does Bible Study Fellowship with Baker so I haven't taught any specific Bible curriculum. He has lots of memory verses from BSF, Upward Sports, school group and church so we might go over those on any given day.
Update: I am now an affiliate with CurrClick and All About Spelling. Any click-y love you give me is appreciated. It helps fund my addiction - I mean supplies...

So, without further ado, the Loften Academy curriculum roll call...
Math U See
I can't say enough about this one. Baker went from dreading math to wanting to do it first. It's very hands-on and very visual. It builds a very strong base of the basics of the decimal 10 number system. The teacher's manual is very easy to follow and even has game suggestions. It also includes a DVD to assist you and your student(s). Don't let the black-and-white, utilitarian pages throw you. Baker doesn't even notice. He's too busy working and since he can be easily distracted by pictures, it has been a good thing. The program is leveled but is not tied to a specific grade so the student doesn't get upset that he's working below or above grade level; he won't know. You can move as fast or as slow as needed. There is plenty of practice opportunities in the books and on-line.
It is a bit on the pricey side. Thanks to a friend who loaned us their blocks set (since they don't need it right now) and finding teacher and student comb-bound sets for the level I wanted to start with on clearance on the site, the price for us to try this out was very reasonable.

All About Spelling
This is a new addition for us. So far, I'm very impressed. It incorporates every learning style, the teacher's manual is well-laid out and spelling and phonics are taught together, not separately. This has saved me a lot of planning time since I was going back and forth between books trying to coordinate this myself. Yippee! (I still haven't figured out why more publishers don't intertwine the spelling/phonics/reading programs but I digress.) There is a companion reading program called "All About Reading" but since Baker is already reading, it was suggested on the web site that I skip it so I did.  The basic starter supplies are meant to be used for many years; a big plus to me. I purchased the student and teacher manuals and kit as well as the magnets and cards box. I'm so glad that I did. The price came out to be about the same as the separate spelling and phonics programs that I ended up not being so impressed with after all. It is designed to move at the pace of the student and has plenty of review built in. This program is also labeled as levels not grades; again a great advantage when your child is working above or below their specific grade level. It also has a 1 year money back guarantee, lots of free reports and emails for additional advice and support.
FYI, it will work best with a magnetic chalk or white board that's about 2 feet long or so (measurements are in the teacher's guide) so the alphabet tiles can be lined up. I had one already that is a little smaller than suggested but it works fine for us.

Story of the World
There are quite a few history programs out there that are wonderful. This just happens to be the one that our classical education group uses. I really like it and so does Baker. I told my hubby that if I had learned history in this way, I would have found it much more interesting and more would have stuck with me through the years. I think the author does a great job of presenting the major religions in a balanced way. I feel this is important since as Christians, we need to be educated about all religions, not just Christianity. It's amazing how much those other religions have influenced cultures and history through the ages. The teacher's manual / activity book is well worth the extra money in my opinion. It gives recommendations for encyclopedias and literature suggestions, countless activities, maps, color sheets and on and on. I just found the chapter review cards in the back of the book that we will use to make a timeline on the school room wall. I wish I had found this sooner! I can imagine a whole time line wall that would be a multi-year project with Biblical figures, inventors, musicians and so on. There are activity suggestions for all ages which is great when schooling multiple levels together.
There are so many resources and activities that we can't do them all. It can be a bit overwhelming. The reading book is a lower reading level but the same authors have released higher level history texts which I'm tempted to get just for my own reading "pleasure" (o.k., really just so my son doesn't begin to show me up too soon). The focus is really on the political and religious side of history so very little comes up in the way of artists, musicians and so forth. These could be added in as you study those disciplines - which is really how the classical method is meant to be taught.

Handwriting Without Tears
This is a curriculum that was pre-chosen by our classical education group. And now the state of Arkansas will be using this in all public schools so we were just ahead of the game by a couple of years. I like it. I think it is well laid out and in an order that builds on the development of the writing strokes not alphabetical order like many programs do. The on-line and off-line support for this program is tremendous! It's reasonably priced and easy to teach. I think it's fun; Baker not so much. But, he is a boy and I have yet to see any boy that actually enjoys handwriting. Cursive is not introduced until 3rd grade so he has plenty of time to develop good printing habits. I know some students (girls, of course) that skipped a year and went to cursive early. That is not a problem with this program. One thing that is great is that there are instructions for left and right handers. Since I'm a lefty who was taught to angle my paper correctly, it was natural to me but I know that a lot of right-handed parents really struggle with teaching a lefty. (Just for the record, Baker is a right-hander even though Brad and I are both lefties; ironic, huh?)

Now you know my core curriculum for a classically educated 1st grader. Again, there is SO much great stuff out there and I have not had experience with most of it; that would be impossible. Please don't see this post as some sort of promotion or endorsement. If you have something that works for your family, then by all means keep it. Don't change just for the sake of change. There is NO SUCH THING as the "perfect" material. I just get asked often what I use and why and I know how much us home school mommas like to chat about such things. I'll cover some of the supplemental curriculum in a later post. I will also do a post on our new science curriculum when we begin using it in the fall. I'm excited about it and hoping it lives up to my expectations.

If you have a blog and have posted about curriculum, please share some linky love so I can check it out!


  1. You've got great choices here, from one curriculum addict to another. Hope you have a happy school year and oh yeah I'm following!!!

  2. I love Math U See. It makes so much sense to me (and my son!). I'm glad you're finding what works for you :-)

  3. Great post! Not to feed into your addiction or anything ;), but I posted my curriculum picks for the year here:

  4. I love it, Amy! I am thinking that AAS might be in the top 3 programs on the HOTM Blog Hop so far! Folks are LOVIN' THAT! I wish you all the best this year!! I'm here by way of the HOTM blog hop, and I hope you'll stop by and see what all we (will hopefully) be up to this year!

  5. I found you through the blog hop, and I think we have similar curriculum taste. I think you might just be a little further along in the journey than me. My daughter is only 4.

  6. Hi! I'm a "curriculum addict" also. lol!!! My house proves it. My oldest is going into 10th grade, so you can imagine how much curriculum I have. :) I hope you have a wonderful year.