Monday, October 17, 2011

Our homeschool curriculum this year: a review

Last year I homeschooled my daughter with a mixture of books and curriculum.  Because she was struggling with first grade work and refused to read, I decided to backtrack a bit, taking the emphasis off workbooks and focusing instead on reading a variety of interesting books out loud to her.  I hoped it would eventually encourage her to try reading again. For read-alouds I used Five in A Row as my main resource, reading  most of the books in Volume I and following their suggestions for math, science, copywork and other subjects.  We also made a variety of lapbooks using free materials found in Homeschool Share, EnchantedLearning, Danielle's Place, DLTK-Kids and many other sources. Finally, we played a variety of games to memorize sight words and learn phonics.

I think this casual approach worked because by last spring, she started trying to read again. Granted, she was not reading at the level of a second grader, but she was reading!    I decided that this year we would switch to a homeschool curriculum that offered lesson plans, but could not decide between Seton's program or Kolbe's program.  Here's what I finally decided upon, along with a brief review of my opinion of the materials and lesson plans.  Hopefully this will help others who are trying to decide what program(s) to use with their second grader.

Today I'll cover our core subjects, which we do at least four days a week.  

Morning Prayer
We start every day with prayer.  Last year I created a variety of prayer rings to help her learn prayers like the Morning Offering, Act of Contrition, and several different litanies.  This year, I decided to use LTP's Children's Daily Prayer as our main resource.  Each day, it offers suggestions for an opening prayer, a psalm, the day's Gospel reading, silent reflection and closing prayer.  The prayers use simple words so my daughter can read many of the sections.  We take turns reading the various sections. 

What a difference a year makes! Last year she fussed and whined when we did phonics, so I discontinued using a workbook. Instead, we played a variety of file folder games to reinforce letter sounds. This year I went back to using a workbook, and am  I'm amazed that phonics is now her favorite subject! We're following the Kolbe second grade lesson plan and working our way through the Pearson Phonics Book B. The lesson plan calls for one to two pages each day in the workbook, but she wants to do more, so some days she does as many as five pages!

We are also Using Kolbe's second grade lesson plan for spelling.  Each week she gets 12 new words to review and study from Monday to Thursday. A final written test is given on Fridays.  It was a bit too challenging for her; the first two weeks she did poorly on the final exam, spelling only one or two words out of 12 correctly.  So now we study each list for two weeks. I give her six words each week. If a word is  easy and she masters it quickly, I replace it with another word in Kolbe's list for that week. At the end of two weeks we take a final written exam with all 12 words. This has worked much better and she doesn't become overwhelmed by six new words like she did when she saw 12 new words.

We are using Seton's second grade lesson plan and the These Are Our Neighbors reader. We both love it! Its charming illustrations and gentle moral message reminds me of the reader I used when I was learning to read. In fact, I think it was an older version of this book that motivated me to read!
I was a reluctant reader until my grandmother, who was a Catholic grade school teacher, showed me the Faith and Freedom reader she used in her classroom. I loved the stories in it!  She lent it to me and told me that if I could read it all by the next time she saw me, she would give me the book to keep.  Three months later, I was reading the entire book by myself.  I still cherish the first book I ever read!
The book centers around two grade school siblings--Joan and Mark--and their family.  She loves reading about their daily life and their adventures.  She feels sad when they have to move because their dad lost his job, and she laughs at the nice surprise they do for a homebound neighbor. 
The reading specialist at the school told me that These Are Our Neighbors was too difficult for my daughter and she should be using beginning readers that emphasized phonics and sight words. But my daughter didn't like those type of books because the stories were basically nonsensical rhymes ("Cat likes to sit on his red mat next to Rat"). She asked me if we could go back to reading These Are Our Neighbors. I read the whole six page story to her first. She then reads three of the pages back to me. It takes us two days to read each story but she doesn't get frustrated or overwhelmed and continues to stay motivated.  She wants to finish the story so she can find out what happens in the next story. Eventually I will increase the number of pages she reads to me each day until she can read a full story.
We used Right Start Math last year.  She loved all the manipulatives, but the lessons were so long that she grew bored and frustrated. I read many positive reviews about Math U See, so we switched to it this year.  
This curriculum is built around DVD lessons and specially designed blocks.  I started with the Primary level, which is really too easy for my daughter, but I find it's always better to start with a lower level for her. It tends to build her confidence:  "this is easy!  I can do this!"  She then wants to move onto harder things. We will be moving onto the Alpha level later this week, after we finish reviewing the DVD lessons. 

Read Alouds
I try to read at least 30 minutes each day to her.  I use a mixture of different books depending on her interests, classics I would like her to hear, and other subjects we are studying.  
We started the year by reading King of the Golden City   I used the study edition of the book, which has helpful discussion questions at the end of every chapter.  Although the book can be a bit deep at times, my daughter understood the basic idea and would ask questions about Dilecta and her choices throughout our day.  I think this is a book that could be  revisited every year; as the child grows older its meaning and symbolism will grow, too.  I will be encouraging my sixth grader to read it, too!
We are currently working on Catholic Tales for Boys and Girls.   The stories are interesting, but some of the verbiage is a bit dated. However, I love the morals that are built into each story.  It's another book that I'll be encouraging my sixth grader to read!
We began learning about U.S. geography last week, so I also started reading Children of the U.S.A.  



  1. Interesting, your daughter sounds like my son (1st grade now). We have spelling "tests" on a whiteboard. I've also had to slow down on the reading and am now using Hooked on Phonics as a review/confidence builder (using K, level 2 books). He does enjoy his Catholic Heritage readers though. We do take two days to read one little book. Math is a little confusing at the moment. The book he is using seems to be jumping ahead faster than he's grasping it. He's ok with manipulatives but take those away and it's more of a struggle. Maybe he needs more visualization? Is Math-U-See like that? I was lookint at the website and it seems more thorough/hands-on (and not just in a fill in the answer kind of way).

  2. Nicole,

    Math U See is hands on, but not as much as Right Start Math was. But I switched because I thought we needed to try something new, and my daughter liked the fact that she could watch a short video and then do the work with the manipulatives. We started with primary level which is very easy. You can watch the short video, then have him do a couple of exercises in the workbook (using the manipulatives). There are many pages in the workbook to cover each subject, so you could have him do a couple of pages each day for about a week or so before moving on. I haven't found the "perfect" math program for her yet but she seems to like this. Thanks for visiting my blog; hopping over to see yours now!