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The “Right” Curriculum for My Homeschool
Written by Amber Marie | January 17, 2018
Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commision if you click through and make a purchase. To read my full disclosure policy click here.
In an earlier post, “Math, Reading, Writing…Oh My!”, I talked about the criteria I follow when selecting a curriculum. Today, I will share what curriculums I am currently using with my 5-year-old son that hit one or all the marks on my list.
Disclaimer: These are the curriculums I use in my homeschool and in my professional opinion, believe to be good resources. However, not every curriculum is right for every homeschool. I suggest you create a criteria of your own and do a little research to help find what might work best for your children.
I discovered AAR while searching the web for an engaging reading curriculum that included some pre-reading practice. AAR fit the bill. It has five levels: pre-reading and levels one through four. All levels include engaging lessons on all key components of reading. As a former educator, this was a characteristic of the curriculum that caught my eye, I covet a well-rounded reading experience. There are five key components to reading and they are:
- Phonological Awareness – identifying and manipulating parts of oral language such as words, syllables, and onsets and rimes.
- Phonics and Decoding – relating letters or groups of letters with their pronunciation and converting written words into spoken words.
- Fluency – the ability to read with at least three key elements: accurate reading of connected text at a conversational rate with appropriate prosody or expression.
- Vocabulary – the knowledge of a word and how to use it.
- Comprehension – extracting meaning from what you read
AAR includes all of these components throughout each level and does so in a multisensory way. Your child will use sight, sound, and touch in each lesson. I also love that each lesson builds upon prior lessons from earlier in the level. This allows for new connections to be built on background knowledge obtained from earlier concepts.
Currently, my son is working on the Pre-reading Level program. I began with this level because I wanted to ensure he had a solid grasp recognizing letters before moving into letter sounds and blends. I immediately saw the benefits of this program within the first week.To start, Ziggy, a zebra puppet, caught my sons attention like I never imagined. This excitement added to the enjoyment of learning to read. He enjoys all parts of the lessons, especially those which include Ziggy (mostly games focusing on phonological awareness).
AAR lessons are simple and straightforward and include materials that enhance the learning experience. Our lessons begin by working through a coloring page then singing the alphabet song while pointing to the provided alphabet chart. After, we move to a game with Ziggy focused on rhyming (or another reading skill) and end with a read-aloud from their beautifully printed black and white picture books. One can choose to enhance the learning with other activities such as crafts that can be found in the back of the teacher books.
For some testimony, before starting AAR, my son had no sense of rhyming words, and after that first week, he was rhyming left and right. We are now learning letter sounds. I can’t wait to see what gains my son makes next.
If you’d like to learn more about the program from other homeschoolers, check out the links below. These are the articles I visited during my research and found to be very helpful in my final decision.
Before I considered homeschooling, I had visited a Classical Conversations community outside Annapolis, MD during one of their open houses. I watched in amazement at the different levels (see below) and how, from the youngest to the oldest student, there was a consistency I had not seen in public schools during my teaching years.
Fast forward three years, and now I am part of a community here in the DC Area. This is my first year using Classical Conversations as part of our daily homeschool curriculum and I am loving it. The curriculum is filled with songs, kinesthetics (through hand motions), the arts, and science experiments. I love how well rounded the program truly is.
If you have never heard of Classical Conversations before reading this post, here is a quick rundown of the program:
- Classical Conversations is a homeschool community-based empire (they are everywhere…even overseas).
- They believe in three principles of education: the classical education approach, Christian foundations, and fellowship through a community.
- Classical Conversations is broken into different levels (age groups) based on the Classical Education model:
- Grammar Stage – Foundations
- Dialectic Stage – Essentials, Challenge A, and Challenge B
- Rhetoric Stage – Challenge I and Challenge II
- Parents are the primary teacher, but tutors (paid volunteer parents) introduce new grammar each week and facilitate the learning for that specific community day.
To gain more detailed information about this program, check out their article “What is Classical Conversations” on their website.
Currently, we are two weeks into our second semester, and after looking back on the first, I feel there is a large benefit to this program. Not only does my son complete weekly science experiments involving chemistry and biology, but he creates art based on different artistic methods or from examples of famous artists such as Norman Rockwell. He has learned (as best as a five-year-old can) how to play a tin whistle and the basics of music theory. He has memorized facts about history, science, math, Latin, English, and geography all through songs and games. Does Classical Conversations check my criteria boxes? Heck yes it does!
What amazes me most, I’m only in the beginning stages of Classical Conversations. I can’t fathom what my oldest (and eventually my youngest) will be capable of in three, five, or even ten years. I’m in awe of the Challenge (middle/high school age) students in my community and the amazing projects they complete. It fills me with excitement for the future.
As for math, I did not start with a curriculum in hand. Rather, I attempted to create my own lessons and develop a curriculum schedule by using “Home Learning Year by Year” as my guide. The book provided great insight into the math concepts a child should be learning at each age. I used this book as a reference for pulling together ideas for games, worksheets, manipulatives, and activities. I spent hours searching Pinterest for materials to enhance my son’s learning. All this in an effort to give my son a well-rounded start to understanding math. I quickly became burnt-out and began researching different curriculums.
Math Lessons for a Living Education was a start in the right direction. It has a story-based approach to teaching new concepts and relates math skills to real-life situations. For example, Level 1 (the level my son is working on), has two children who are visiting their grandparent’s farm.
Some of the math lessons children learn through the stories are:
- counting the number of vegetables in the garden
- working with place value by harvesting carrots in groups of ten
- basic addition and subtraction with grandma’s cookies
Math Lessons for a Living Education also follows a cross-curricular approach (teaching across multiple subjects) by including science and social studies throughout. For example, when your child is learning about patterns, the program spends time introducing life cycles and other patterns in nature. During my years as a teacher, mixing-in subjects was highly encouraged as it connects and reinforces various concepts learned.
The manipulatives are simple to pull together and not costly. For level 1, the place value village includes a set of jars or cups and dry beans. There are printables in the back of the book you will use, such as a clock and hundreds chart. The manipulatives are very minimalistic which I appreciate as the vast array of learning tools that are available can sometimes be overwhelming. Personally, I already have a hundreds board with tiles along with a large Judy clock which I will be using with this curriculum. Overall, I am happy with our experience.
Another math curriculum I have my eye on, and will be acquiring shortly (from my aunt) is RightStart Math. RightStart Math is a combination of spiral and mastery curriculum. Spiral curriculums cover the same material year after year in ever-widening circles, with the anticipation that increased exposures will eventually lead to mastery of the basics. Mastery approach builds sequentially and states that there is no need to move to the next step until the preceding one is mastered. RightStart Math combines the positives of both these approaches to make for a more cohesive math foundation.
RightStart Math also uses hands-on learning, visualization, and language for building a strong foundation in number sense. As a former educator, I saw time and time again students who lacked a solid understanding of number sense, or the fluidity and flexibility one has with numbers. These students would struggle with some of the most basic math problems and had an even harder time adding new concepts to the broken background knowledge they possessed. RightStart Math focuses not on rote memorization of facts or counting, but instead the understanding of what numbers represent and how to visualize them mentally and physically. Needless to say, I cannot wait to get my hands on this program and get started.
The curriculums I’ve mentioned above fit my criteria. I know there are many other curriculums out there that probably come close, but for the moment, these programs are what I plan on using for the foreseeable future. As I suggested in the last curriculum post, find what you value most for your child’s education and create a list of those criteria. Then search Google, Facebook, and forums to find what best fits your homeschool and your children. Remember, it is okay to try a curriculum and find it doesn’t work for your family. This is bound to happen as there are so many options available for all subjects. However, I believe if you put time into researching and trying to find curriculums that align with your values, you will avoid the stress of replacing a curriculum you have started. Good luck with your search.
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Are you using a curriculum you love? Are you using one of the curriculums above and want to share more? Do so in the comments below.
**Please keep them positive as disrespectful comments will be removed.