Thought I'd take a bit of time to reflect on the homeschooling materials we used this year, but for myself and for others who might be wondering what curriculum to use for their families. This is a list of "what worked" and "what didn't work" for us. I homeschool my nine year old daughter, who has some learning challenges. She is working at about second grade level.
Our plans for next fall:
I think we may use this resource again next year but supplement it with readings from her children's bible, especially since she is eager to read lately.
We followed Kolbe's second grade lesson plan for phonics and used Pearson Phonics Book B. For half of the year, she really liked it and would whip through the pages, even begging me to do more when I wanted her to stop at two pages. But by mid-year, the work became harder and she started rebelling and throwing major temper tantrums when I mentioned phonics. I enrolled her in a phonics course offered by a local tutoring company and that seemed to break up the monotony. Since that time we've gone back to playing phonics games or using Time4Learning.
Time4Learning is a paid website that features games and contests which help a child learn phonics, language arts, math and other subjects. an online She really enjoys the games and activities on Time4Learning, so I recommend it to parents whose children are tired of the workbook/textbook routine.
Our plans for next fall:
We recently joined a homeschooling co-op, so this fall she will be taking a reading/phonics class there once a week and given homework to do the other days of the week. I will occasionally supplement with Time4Learning and may try again to sneak in some pages from Pearson Phonics. (It's the perseverance part of my personality that doesn't like to leave things unfinished!)
We used Kolbe's second grade lesson plan for spelling. They recommend 12 new words a week. It was too overwhelming for her. So I broke each weekly list up into two parts and we covered six words each week, completing the full list over two weeks. That seemed to work better.
About mid-year, she began vehemently rebelling against spelling, so I decided to step back from it for a couple of months. I've noticed that she is again starting to show an interest in spelling, so I think we will pick up where we left off over the summer and hopefully finish up the second grade spelling plan by mid-year. I tend to stress out over uncompleted lesson plans, so I need to keep my own attitude "in check" and constantly remind myself that God is guiding her and she will learn these things when she is ready.
Over the summer, we will finish up the third book recommended in the second grade lesson plan: A Book of Sanctity. I'm thrilled that she has begun independently taking that book and reading it to herself and her dolls!
Our plans for fall:
We will definitely be using Seton's third grade readers next year and are really looking forward to it.
For a month, she took math tutoring sessions at our local Mathnasium. But there was just too much activity there, with kids coming in and going all the time. I don't think she got much out of it.
We were doing some math on Time4Learning, but she complained it was too hard. When I looked on the parent reports, it appeared that she was guessing or just jumping out of exercises without completing them.
About a month ago, I discovered Dreambox Learning on Homeschool Buyer's Co-op. Like Time4Learning, it is an online website with games that teach math concepts. But unlike Time4Learning, the program actually continually evaluates a child's progress and difficulties (based on answers to games). Using that information, it will adapt the problems to help the child get better in certain skills. If a child is proficient in an area, it will skip ahead to give her more challenge. Kids are motivated by earning "tokens" to use with online carnival games. They also win a variety of virtual prizes and certificates which can be printed out and saved.
I decided to try the free 14-day trial. I'm thrilled that this method seems to be working for my daughter! I can already tell that her understanding of basic math concepts is much better. She loves using the online "manipulatives" like the abacus. I also like that Dream Box sends an email note to parent each time their child has been online, telling what the child did and how she is progressing. Their parent dashboard has a chart showing the concepts to be covered, percentage that the child has completed, etc. It's been very helpful to me.
Our plans for this summer and fall:
Our trial expires in a couple of days but I think I will switch to the paid version by subscribing through Homeschool Buyer's Co-op. (Right now, they offer a great deal on the annual subscription!) I plan to use it throughout the summer.
I liked Cynthia's version because it has "fill in the blank" sections would not require my daughter to re-copy sentences (something she greatly dislikes right now). However, she preferred the large, full color illustrations in the Hillside version and said she wouldn't mind re-copying sentences in her journal. (We'll see--maybe I'll just have her do one or two sentences rather than the 8-10 in some of the lessons.)
For those who aren't familiar with Primary Language Lessons: it is a language arts drill book written in the early 20th century which combines picture study, writing and composition exercises, memorization, poetry and more. It is suggested in several homeschooling curricula including Mother of Divine Grace, and Mater Amabilis Charlotte Mason. You can read reviews about it here and here.
Because my daughter has nice printing penmanship (when she wants to!) I skipped right to the cursive portion of Seton's Handwriting 2 course. I have mixed feelings about this book. I think it provides great practice, but my daughter quickly grew bored of it. We started to skip it when she began tantruming about school this winter.
Our plans for the fall:
She is again expressing interest in learning to write cursive again, but I think I will combine this book with spelling, and emphasize learning to write words that she is interested in. (For instance, she is really interested in American Girl Dolls right now, so we're learning to write the dolls' names in cursive.) I'm still looking for ways to motivate her so that she wants to learn cursive.
Our plans for the fall:
I love teaching geography, but using a workbook like this also made it a bit boring for me! I am pulling together a U.S. geography study for this summer, which we will continue through next year. I plan to use Cantering the Country and supplement it with living books. Inspired by Jessica's "State by State Baking" study (see her Shower of Roses website), we'll also be doing some cooking for each state, using Eat Your Way Through the U.S.A. and The United States Cookbook: Fabulous Foods and Fascinating Facts From All 50 States.
I'll encourage her to make notebook pages for each state. I'm hoping to compile them into two or three 3-ring binders so she can add additional facts, photos, drawings, etc. whenever she finds out something interesting about each state.
I planned to use Apologia's Exploring Creation with Astronomy but for various reasons we did not progress far into the book. I think I'll reintroduce it in a couple of years. My daughter has become very interested in learning about birds, so this spring I switched to Apologia's Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day: Exploring Creation with Zoology 1. She's really enjoyed the nature hikes, adding a couple of bird feeders to our yard, and determining which bird seed is most popular with the birds in our neighborhood.
We have also been "bird watching" online regularly. Our favorite spots are the Ustream live feeds from an eagle's nest in Decorah, Iowa and Cornell University's live feeds of a Red-Tailed Hawk nest and a Great Blue Heron nest. It's been fascinating to watch the eggs hatch and see how birds nurture and care for their young!
Our plans for the fall: We will continue working through Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day throughout the summer and fall. I'm hoping we get through the insect unit before the cool days of fall!
We attempted Connecting with History, Volume I, but didn't get very far. I think it is a good program but perhaps better done with older kids. I really needed the lesson plans laid out, but it really just makes suggestions using a broad outline. I hope to bring it back off the shelf in a year.
Our plans for the fall: In the fall, my daughter will be attending a homeschool co-op class based on Addy, the American Girl doll who lived during the time of the Civil war. They will be reading the various Addy stories, making crafts and doing a variety of activities. I've decided to springboard off this and take the summer to learn more about the Civil War with both kids. We will be reading living books and picture books and doing a variety of activities that will help them see what it was like to live during the time of the Civil War. Since it's the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, there are quite a few learning opportunities at various museums and battlefields around the United States. The Civil War Traveler website lists some of them. I'm hoping that we can visit a Civil War re-enactment sometime this summer.
Besides twice weekly Mass and an hour in the adoration chapel, my daughter attended the catechism class I taught for our parish. The parish used the RCL Benziger's Blest Are We program. However, I deviated quite a bit from the book, instead using my Catechesis of the Good Shepherd materials and presentations.
Our plans for the fall: I purchased The Great Adventure: Kids from Ascension Press, and we will be using that to learn more about salvation history and better understand the books of the Bible. I'll also be using my "Books of the Bible" CGS materials and perhaps memorize a song about the books of the Bible.
Wow! It looks like I'm being overly ambitious again! I just love exploring the world with all the wonderful resources that are available to homeschoolers today. Now I just need to pray that I keep it in perspective and let the learning evolve as my daughter is ready for it. Slow and steady...!