I thought I'd take a few minutes and share what worked and what didn't this year, curriculum-wise. The longer I'm at this homeschooling thing, the less I'm willing to toss plans or change curricula. I've become more careful about selecting materials, and more mindful before I reject one that we had chosen in favor of another.
It does seem a bit inevitable, though- the need to rethink a resource or two. Plans change, students grow, one size doesn't fit all. We have to be flexible and pay attention to what our kids need and what we are realistically able to offer them.
I'm going to tell you what I thought were "hits" and "misses" on our curriculum shelf this year. Do keep in mind that just because I label something a "miss," it certainly doesn't mean that I think the curriculum itself is bad. Probably any curriculum could work for anyone- I'm pretty convinced that successful homeschooling is more about a happy and peaceful mother running a happy and peaceful home than about specific materials and resources. In fact, I know several families who have been very successful using the exact same materials that didn't meet our own needs this year. I'm not telling you what to use/not use, or how to homeschool. Only you can decide that! I'm just a touch point, sharing a bit of our experience in case it's helpful to anyone else.
All that said, here's what stands out to me this year:
I used both the reading and the writing set with Snapdragon this year. The reading portion was a huge hit. Very game-based and strong on phonics with some sight words in there too (I prefer programs that use both methods, not just one or the other). I never heard one complaint about this program from my boy. It did the trick, too- his reading skills took off once we started this program. My biggest caveat is that this resource is quite mom-intensive. All beginning reading programs require mom, of course, but this one seemed to take more mom-time than others we have used. I felt it was time well spent, but this is not a program I would use if I was in a survival year or had lots of littles underfoot.
The writing portion was just okay. It did a great job of teaching how to properly form letters, and the stories that went along with were quite helpful. I'm not a huge fan of teaching young children stylistic techniques, so I should have just skipped those parts; I didn't, and we kind of petered out halfway through the program. The copywork did seem to be a good fit for my son, and I loved how this program dovetails so perfectly with All About Spelling.
I still haven't seen a spelling curriculum that comes close to this one. It's just brilliant, plain and simple. Emphasis is on spelling rules, not word lists. Memorizing the rules and putting them into practice is where success in this program comes from. I thought we were going to ditch this program next year, just because I'm going to be so short on mom-time, but I'm not sure I can. I'm coming up with ways of making it less time-intensive, instead (by ditching the tiles, for one, and just working on a small white board).
I bought the lab kit to go with, but we never even opened it. Honestly, I grumbled against (and put off using) this program most of the year, until I read Low-Key Science without Lesson Plans. Then, a light bulb turned on. Using the book as a read-aloud only has been fantastic, and I'm surprised at how much the kids are learning and retaining this way. Because I believe elementary science should be mostly poetic knowledge (reading about, observing, collecting, classifying, and delighting in nature), I'm able to scrap the experiments entirely and just let this book delight us with its language. My kids are all still young enough that experiments are not where the best learning is happening, anyway.
I really like this poetry program from IEW. I love the mastery focus, and I love that my kids can now recite several poems perfectly, without forgetting any they learned before. I never once used the CD, so I really just recommend getting the book. You can save a boatload of money that way.
For extra reading practice, Snap enjoyed a reader from the All About Reading series. These are the best phonics-based early readers I've seen yet. The illustrations are nice, the stories are not mind-numbing (I mean, one can only handle so many Bob Books before her brain begins to melt, right?), and the incremental steps up from one skill to another are well done. All around, a win. I'll keep working with Snap on these until he is fluent.
This is conceptual math (think RightStart without the financial outlay or the mom-directed teaching) that the kids can do independently on the computer. Next year it will serve as a math supplement for all three. I have been so impressed with how this program has improved my kids' math understanding. It's not a complete math curriculum, but as far as supplements go- it's top notch.
I'm not sure if I should include this, because it's not so much a curriculum resource as it is just a really really great read-aloud. But I can't say enough good things about it, so it's making the list anyway. This will be one we'll re-read every single year from here on out. The depth of this book! The imagery! It's really just a beautiful way to talk to kids about the sacraments and our life in Christ.
I don't often recommend this puppy because it's so spendy. For math drill that can happen every day and get the job done, though, it works. My kids neither love nor hate it. It just is. Which is pretty much how math facts are anyway, right?
|Having a toddler to chase? A definite hit. No miss there! ;)|
Oof. We had to learn this one the hard way. We've used this program for the last three years, but just recently discovered that it just wasn't giving us the results we wanted. I know many kids succeed using it, but for my students it was not a good fit. They were able to score 100% on the tests without actually mastering the concepts, and that is a recipe for disaster when it comes to math. I really, really wanted this program to work for us, because the layout is so mom-friendly, especially when things are busy (or say, you're having twins...). Alas. This one definitely won't make the cut here again.
What?!?! Did I really just say an IEW writing program was a "miss" at our house??? I did. You can all pick your jaws up off the floor. ;) Look, I adore Andrew Pudewa and I'm a huge, huge, huge IEW fan. But. This year I have a one-year-old and am pregnant with twins. There is only so much mom-teaching I can do. I bought this for Prim (5th grade), and she liked it. Mr. Pudewa is a fantastic teacher, and the DVDs are both helpful and hilarious. The assignments are great. The program itself rocks; I just couldn't pull it off with any regularity, so it kept getting shuffled to the bottom of the priority list. Writing is a bit too important to get shuffled off the daily schedule. I've decided that for this season in life, we need a program that requires a bit less of my hand-holding and can get done every single day, no matter what.
I absolutely still recommend this program for folks looking for a great elementary writing program. Just maybe not if you happen to be pregnant with twins and chasing a toddler at the same time. Unless you're supermom or something, which I am most certainly not. ;)
I am not sold on this spelling program, so I'm adding it here to the "miss" list. I do that hesitantly, though, because my student who used it (Prim) is an excellent speller. I think that has more to do with her voracious reading habits and natural abilities, though, than it does with the program. I found the jingles in this program awkward and forced. Prim didn't memorize any of them, and she memorizes things fairly quickly and easily.
On the flip side, this program only took about 10 minutes a day, and she did it completely independently. I'm just not sure if it was busywork or if it was actually helpful. I don't plan to use it again- my rising 4th and 3rd graders will continue to use All About Spelling instead (see above), and Prim will drop spelling as a formal class. We'll just work on spelling words as they come up in her writing. Like I said, she's something of a natural speller, anyway.
State-by-State Notebooking Pages
We just got bored, that's all there is to it. Or at least, I did. I wasn't sure the kids were learning much anyway, although that's my general impression of lapbooking/notebooking activities- that they look impressive but don't do a whole lot for mastery learning. Instead, we channeled our geography energy toward memorizing the U.S. states & capitals, as well as their locations on a map.
|Unrelated photo of Primrose, posy, and a Popsicle. Just because.|
I'm working on a post about what we'll use next year. It's that time of year where we all like to compare notes. I'm hoping to get that up soon. In the meantime, we limp to the finish lines, my friends! Keep on keepin' on!