Wednesday, July 30, 2014

What We're Using This Year: Curriculum Choices 2014-2015

Time for some curriculum talk perhaps?
The past few months I've been reassessing and planning for our new school year.  I had the intention of continuing some lessons over the summer like I did last year but gave up.  I needed a break more than they did and despite the fact that I've had one for two months now, I'm still finding it hard to get excited for the new year.  But often when I just sit down and force myself to write things out, I find that changes and I begin to stir up a little of that motivation for the new year.  Here's hoping anyway!  I've actually been considering starting up again in the next week or so if I can get lists for the kids typed and printed out.  Our summer weather has been decidedly NOT summer weather and it seems silly to not take advantage of the many rainy days and the listlessness that's been creeping in around here.

My brain is too tired from looking into and second guessing every curriculum over the years and at this point in the homeschooling journey I feel good about using what I know works and resting in the fact that curriculum is not the be all and end all of my children's education.  I'm even okay with...textbooks.  I know.  Hey, if a textbook is good and your children learn from it, then use it.  At least I'm learning that anyway.  The success of our year resides much less in the choice of the ever-elusive "perfect" text and much more in my own discipline and intuition.  So, here's what I *think* we'll be using this year as well as some notes on how they will be used.

John Paul
(Grade 5ish - Age 10)

For some reason Singapore does not make level 6 Home Instructor's Guide in the Standards Edition.  I don't know why.  It's weird.  And the normal teacher's guide is really expensive and unnecessary.  I've barely used the Guides for the other grades but they have the answer keys.  Also, I DON'T use the textbooks for any of the levels anymore.  At all.  We use only the workbooks and since I feel confident in teaching math and assessing how well they're understanding it, that is enough for us.  So we're using the U.S. Edition for level 6.  Their level 6 seems to be basically a review of level 5 so we'll use that until I figure out what we'll be switching to for algebra and higher math.  Because they're small, it will probably be in the next half a year or so.  I decided not to keep going with Singapore for the next level once I learned that their new texts are all being redesigned to fit with Common Core.  Running the opposite direction here.  So far I've gotten recommendations for Teaching Textbooks (yikes!  Expensive!  Is it worth it?) and Life of Fred (which doesn't look comprehensive enough for me).  Any others to look into?

I ended up being happy as I think I can be with a grammar program so we'll continue it.  I like that it's easy to use and doesn't involve a million books.  It incorporates poetry, diagramming, grammar vocabulary.

I don't think we'll be doing a formal spelling program this year.  I plan on involving them in the spelling bee again and using those words and study as our spelling for the year.  Plus, lots of reading which is John Paul's favorite go-to pastime anyway.  I think that's one of the best ways to teach spelling and they don't even realize it's happening.

The plan is to have him write every day.  Either copy work or working on a letter to his sponsored friend or an essay or within another subject.  I think the best writing program is an active reading life filled with great books and I have no doubt he's getting his fill.

After much debate I decided to stick with Memoria Press and not switch to Latin for Children.  I'm still unsure about it but I love how their company emphasizes Christian Latin and learning Latin prayers which is the main reason I want my kids learning Latin anyway.  It's not as well designed as it could be, perhaps (at least Latina Christiana wasn't...perhaps First Form is better), but I didn't like that CAP's program doesn't emphasize that and defaults to a classical pronunciation rather than ecclesiastical.  Plus, not gonna lie, it looks a tad bit cartoony for me and I couldn't get a good handle on what level John Paul should get.  We'll see how it goes!  I'll be using the DVDs again to be the teacher.

We're actually doing science this year.  At least that's the plan.  I'm a little apprehensive because I have it planned for the afternoon loop when I'm normally trying desperately not to fall asleep and it requires that I actually do something.  I was going to have the boys start the Biology 101 program because the Chemistry 101 was such a hit but I learned that it teaches from a creationist standpoint which really surprises me and is really disappointing.  (I still recommend the Chemistry, though!)  So, I found out about this Elemental Science program, got an unbelievable (and rare) deal on Ebay and we're going to try it out.  Logic Stage for John Paul, Grammar Stage for Michael and David.  Napping stage for Luke. 

Story of the World Volume 4 (Audiobook)
We love these audiobooks and again, another Ebay deal.  I got it a few weeks ago and I'm pretty sure John Paul has listened to all the CDs already.

I haven't bought this yet (it's expensive!) but I'm excited about the series and I think it will dovetail nicely with learning about the Modern Age through the Story of the World with the younger boys.  I much prefer to all be learning about the same general topic.  It'll help keep me a little bit saner, at least.

I'll be starting a more formal religion lesson just to make sure we cover some of the things I wouldn't necessarily think to cover.  I didn't feel it was needed in the younger grades since so much of what is included in formal religion programs I was just doing naturally (teaching prayers, learning about the Mass, memorizing Scripture, etc.).  But I think now we'll at least use this program as a framework and backdrop to ensure he's ready for deeper Theology in high school.

Memory Work
Classically Catholic Memory Beta Year
We don't use all of this program but I do appreciate the text for giving me memory work for the kids to do during breakfast.  So, I'll be picking and choosing (mostly history, science, and catechism) to use for memory work.

Continuing Suzuki piano lessons once a week and integrating classical music through the radio station and the Music Masters CDs.
And, of course, the occasional kitchen dance party :)

We'll be continuing our bi-monthly art classes with a local teacher.  Drawing, painting, skills, etc.

I'll be using this once a week, I hope, to have all of us memorize a bit of the bard.

I gave this to John Paul for his birthday and I think he's read it all already.  But we'll hopefully go back through together and maybe (?) read a play or two together.

(Grade 2ish - Age 7)

Singapore Math 2A/B (Standards Edition)
We already started this last year and I anticipate he'll be moving on to 3 by late winter/early spring.  Singapore works well for us.


Simple daily copywork time using memory work material and as a discipline method as needed :)

Finding books he and I both like and reading them together.  I'd like that to happen every day.

Prima Latina
I'm a tad nervous to start Michael on this but I think it might be worth a shot.  I tend to underestimate that kid and he tends to be okay with that :)

Biology for the Grammar Stage
Again...we'll see.  I really wish the chapters in the different levels were aligned to use within a family.  But I think I'll be able to jump around chapters so that we're all studying the same general topic.  I'm not as motivated to do this with the younger kiddos because overdoing science in the early years seems so silly.  They learn so much more just on their own.  But since I'll be working with John Paul anyway, we'll try it and see, I think.  Honestly, I can see this being the first to fall come November... (How's that for a great attitude? ;)

Story of the World Volume 4 as above.
With Michael I anticipate using some of the corresponding activity book as well.  He and David really enjoy coloring the pictures.
Ummm...nothing formal?  Daily Mass, Scripture memory work, Latin prayers, normal integrated Catholic life...that's enough, right?

I'm toying with the idea of starting Michael with formal piano.  He hasn't been ready up to this point  and I couldn't justify spending the money for lessons.  But soon, I think?  Either that or I'm thinking of checking in with our musically inclined neighbors to discuss whether guitar lessons would ever be an option which Michael would prefer.  We'll see!

Spelling/Memory Work/Art:
See John Paul's above

(Kindergartenish - Age 5)

He slowly started this last year and we'll be working more through it this year.

Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons
We started this last year at his request but haven't picked it up in a long time.  This year we'll finish it and I'm hoping it'll all click well.  There are hundreds of reading programs out there, many a whole lot more complicated than this.  I really appreciate how straightforward and non-fussy this is.

No formal handwriting program in this house, just some good handwriting paper.  It's sort of like, "here's how you make a D.  Can you make a whole line of those?" and a whole lot more of just integrating it into the child's innate desire to random lists and birthday cards and notes to all counts.  

Latin/Science/History/Memory Work/Music/Art
I have no doubt he'll be tagging along voluntarily with the older brothers for a whole lot of this but I don't require anything more than that at this stage.

I still would like to add some geography in there somehow but maybe sneaky homeschool mom can use online geography games as a reward for lessons completed and win in all the ways.

Phew.  So that worked a little bit.  I don't feel as unmotivated.  But maybe just a wee bit more overwhelmed.
All in His hands.

Just so you know, I'm linking to Amazon (and if you buy anything through that link, I get a small commission to run this place here) but in full disclosure most of my curricula I do get much cheaper through Ebay.

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  1. Somewhere on the Elemental Website, or perhaps in the teacher guide they layout what Chapters in each level overlap...I wish I could remember where but I know it's there! On another note, thank you for being with Jill. I was a great consolation to the whole family, especially my mother and I, that you were there.

  2. Love this, Mary. We have lots of the same stuff. :) I like your philosophy on the younger grades, especially.

  3. No! I love Singapore! What will we do? I'd love to hear your thoughts on Math and Common Core. Does it matter a lot for Math? I'm probably just hoping not to switch ...

    1. I think it does. The way they explain math is INSANE. I'm not an expert by any means but I know enough to be very very suspicious. And just on principle I don't like the federal government intruding into education. As far as Singapore itself, they now have a "common core aligned" program but I'm hoping and praying that the normal Standards edition will still be available. For now, it is. I plan from now on to have the boys use a separate notebook for work and answers so that the workbook remains clean and reusable. I should've been doing that anyway to save money but now I'll also be doing it in case they decide to discontinue the normal edition we've been using.

  4. This all looks so great Mary! I was just wondering about the Singapore Math, I used it last year for first grade with my two oldest and I found it challenging to teach. I was so confused with all the different books and not knowing when to move to the next step, and I found that it was hard to explain simple concepts through the style. Am I doing something wrong? Do you find a way to simplify all the books together? Or is this simply not for me? Thanks!

    1. I don't use all their books. In fact, so far I've ONLY needed to use the workbook for actual teaching. The first few years I bought the textbooks and felt like it was overkill and we stopped using them after a few weeks. I since sold all of them on Ebay :) I use the Home Instructor's Guide almost solely for the answer keys but once in a great while, I'll use it to clarify something I don't remember or am confused by. That said, math was always a strong subject for me and I enjoy teaching it so I was comfortable just using the workbook and knowing whether or not they were truly getting it. And for me, for math I don't worry TOO much about them understanding the theory behind it. For now, they just need to know how to do it and understand just some of the logic behind it. Someone who is not a math person might need to rely on the Guide a bit more. I tend to teach the way it makes sense to me and am okay with that but I do see my kids using different approaches to get the right answer and I think the way the workbook lays things out in the primary years helps with that. Does that make sense at all?

    2. Yeah, it does. It was working well for the kids, I just found it exhausting going back and forth between workbook, textbook, home instructors guide and thought: there has to be a simpler way than what I'm doing! I really wanted to just do the workbook because I'm mostly fine teaching as the workbook goes but felt like I needed a break. I prefer their way of laying out the concepts in an incremental way rather than other workbook programs, so maybe I'll give it another try now that I've had a break from it. I guess I seconded guessed myself also in that I felt as if they weren't getting a handle on a concept in the amount of practice the workbook gave as well. Any other tips?

    3. Yeah, I'm learning that programs that involve too many books or too much stuff overwhelm me, too. Which is why it was freeing to just toss the texts and use their materials the way I wanted to. I guess my only tips are to make sure their strong in their math facts. Understanding the "theory" behind adding or subtracting is important but rather simple. What will set them up well for higher levels is if they can then get their addition/subtraction/multiplication facts down pat.

  5. Mary this is my first time to comment, but I have read your blog for a while. I used LOF last year for math for my children(grades 7,4,1) along with rays arithmetic and it seemed to work for us. LOF does seem kind of "light - weight" at first, but as you get into the harder concepts it becomes more challenging while still being fun. Ray's arithmetic(which I discovered after listening to a talk given by Andrew Kern) is an arithmetic series that was popular in the 1800s. It is a more straight forward approach. After trying different programs this is what has worked for us and it definitely does not follow anything to do with common core. I hope this is helpful. :)

    1. Hi Jana! Ray's looks so neat! I'm happy with Singapore for the early years now as long as we can keep getting the same edition. Do you have any experience with Ray's Algebra and up? There doesn't seem to be much online about it. I'd love to use LOF as a supplement. I think my older son would eat it up but I just haven't been able to stomach the cost yet! I should keep looking on Ebay because everyone says it helps so much with theory. Or maybe a good thing to ask the grandparents for for Christmas :) Thank you!

  6. No, I do not have experience with the upper levels.....we have not gotten there yet. However, we are planning on continuing with it. We just started homeschooling last year and had to backup a little in math for our oldest because his math instruction had nor been very good. My husband used to teach high school math and he really likes ray's because it teaches kids how to use their brain instead of a calculator.

  7. Mary
    Thanks for the outline of your curriculum choices! I will ONLY have 1 home this year...but he's my youngest and now's my chance to finally have some of that "alone time" with him! I'll so miss having everyone's time, it's time, but now, as Sept approaches, while I know they'll adjust ...I know they will, I'm the one who will have the hard time.... Sometimes I just long for the good old days of HSing where we read read read and discussed and did our own thing w/o having to submit labs and tests and etc to the SD and "prove" that the kids were learning/excelling so they could be considered for certain programs in honors and so much "easier" those days....but then again, they're growing up and needing independence and honestly, the challenge that the high school can offer......I'm tapped out in certain subject areas after 11 years of doing this and I know when to throw in the towel! I know many HS longer but I have my limits..... Never thought I'd say that.
    So, I've had your post sitting in my inbox until this Am when I can focus and really read your options and look into them. Even tho my kids have been in a few full length Shakes[eare plays, I bought the HT Teach Your Child Sh thru your link bc they really only have dramaturgy through those select plays....I need more exposure.....Love that. I keep getting it from the lib, but now I'll have it on hand.

    I wanted to ask you abt First Lang Lessons, Mary. Grammar.English, etc is my "thing." it's my area but it's also the subject I'm drowning in in books and materials...sometimes less is more and it's not that way with Eng/grammar around I hesitate to buy even MORE. But I've been toying with the 1st Lang lessons for a while. Timmy is entering gr very bright and capable in the area of grammar but is severely dyslexic....So his writing needs a huge other words, he can state a grammar rule, but the applying of it...not so much...and his frustration level rises as he writes...he is very slow and methodical. I like the series though, from what I've heard....can I ask-- is the instructor guide necessary? And for him, entering gr 6 ( ish) I'm thinking from the "have a look inside" tab that level 5 or even 6 is suitable for him...4 looks "too" easy based on what we've done so far. I have to look further bc I don't see those levels...maybe go to the Bauer site. I usually choose a grammatical element to focus on as well as an author/poet/genre per month but I like that this seems to have done all the work for me.
    I have to still iron out what I'll be using for his phonics/spelling/dyslexia ....not loving what I've used in the past, but he has made strides recently.

    But the TM for FLL? Necessary? good tips in there or can I do w/o it?

    Thanks Mary...I'll check back. Right now I've 2 drafts going in open blogger windows but I'd like to do my own curr choices post soon, mainly so that I can clarify my self ( ! ) what the heck I'm doing across all sub areas!

    havea great day, friend!


    1. Wow! It's going to be so different with just one! But I hope and think it will be a really grace-filled time for both of you.

      Unfortunately, you can't do it without the Teacher's book...that's actually the main part of the program. You *may* be able to do without the workbook, though. I don't think I could but you might be able to? I wish I could just scrap all formal grammar and let them read a ton and get it through osmosis but I think that'll leave too many holes.

    2. Thanks Mary~~ That's really helpful! I think I'll just jump in and order the whole thing. It looks like a good fit!

      Have a great day, friend!

  8. I think LOF is worth the cost - even as a supplement. Sydney reads it likes it's a novel and she is not Math person at all. The great thing about LOF is that they have held their value so far, so you'll likely be able to sell them and get your money back. But even if have 4 kids and they would all get so much from them. Definitely ask for them for Christmas at the very least!

    I want to know more about Singapore and the direction they are going... We use Singapore.

    I'd love to know your opinion about the Elemental Science...I got the grammar stage for Chemistry and Biology last year and am not impressed with the layout. I find myself going from this book to that book..and I didn't like that I had to buy (or borrow) the books that the lessons were based on. We've done a few lessons from each and the content is good, but the layout is annoying to me. I much prefer to have everything in one place (like Language Lessons).

    I am planning to do some Shakespeare this year's crazy how similar our curriculum is to yours. I'm going to try something new this year, though, with our schedule. I'm hoping to do SOTW 3 or 4 times a week for 2 months. Then we'll switch to Shakespeare and do that 3 or 4 times a week for 2 months. Then switch to something else.

    Planning our year is my project for August...

    1. Yeah, I think the boys would love LOF. I will add that to the wish list!

      I saw on the Singapore website their release of the newer CC books and that they were discontinuing their older math programs in favor of CC materials. I believe I did a search, too, and found some discussions on message boards (maybe the well-trained mind forums?) and found some information there, too.

      I really feel like that science program may be the first to go once I get overwhelmed in a few months for exactly that reason. I was even nervous listing it here because I felt like I was committing! I love the idea of certain methods but the amount of books and back and forth that some involve is very stressful to me. But I'd like to think I'll give it a good try first!


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