Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Homeschool Curriculum Review 2011

Last week we started school, and I thought a review of last year's curriculum might be helpful for other home schoolers out there who are deciding which books to use for their education.  I know I really like reading other mom's home school ideas!

Horizons K: Absolutely loved it.  The workbooks are colorful and interesting without being distracting, and there is a good balance of repetition and methodical increase in difficulty.  I used it the year before for Peter (he was in 2nd grade) and loved it then too.
Using it this year? Yes, for both Miss Boo (1st Grade) and Peter (3rd Grade)

Singapore Math 2nd Grade:  I really like the way Singapore Math is designed.  It stresses understanding math concepts instead of just relying purely on memorizing facts.  I found that it gave Peter a very solid grounding so that he was able to very quickly figure problems because he could grasp the way the math worked.  I looked over Singapore for Kindergarten, and I wouldn't really recommend it for that level because in my opinion it progressed very quickly.
     Although it might seem tedious, I have the kids do both Horizons Math and Singapore Math.  Singapore, in my opinion, does a slightly better job of teaching mathematical concepts, but the workbook problems aren't designed like most American math problems.  This is why we also do the Horizons math, because I want my kids to be able to also deal with math problems as they're presented in American classrooms.  Frankly, although it sometimes takes slightly longer for them to do math than if they only had one math curriculum, a few weeks into the school year they're just flying through their work because they have such a solid grounding.  After all, I can always cross out a few exercises on their page if they've shown they already understand it well.
     One thing I would note is that it was worthwhile (at least for me) to purchase the teacher editions along with the textbooks and workbooks.  For every other curriculum I used I didn't see the need, but Singapore math sometimes presents math problems in ways that are totally different than how I was taught, so the teacher editions helped me to understand how I needed to present the math concept to the kids.  Of course, math is not my strong suit, so I tend to rely more on aids with this subject area!
Using it this year? Yes, for both Breanna and Peter.

Saxon K and 2: I purchased Saxon because there's a lot of hype about this method, and in my opinion, it's vastly overrated.  Firstly, the pages are cheap and tissue thin, which becomes an issue when you have a left-handed son who is a bit of a klutz.  The work pages look boring and are not laid out in any methodical way that made it "easy on the eyes".  My son would show me his "completed" page, and there would usually be three or four problems to solve that he didn't notice because they were set in strange places on the page.  For boys who have trouble staying focused, Saxon's poorly (in my opinion) designed layout compounds the problem.
     Part of the reason why Saxon is recommended so often is the repetition and consistent review.  Having used Horizons math, I would say that Horizons has the same amount of review and repetition with the benefit of being more user-friendly for the child.
Using it this year? Definitely not.

Explode the Code Online for Kindergarten and 2nd Grade:  E.C. is a very well reviewed grammar and reading curriculum.  I personally felt that the online curriculum was an even better method than the traditional books.
     Firstly, it is set up in such a way that it's not usually necessary for me to be present for the kids to do their work.  Since I've got three kids to teach, it's nice to be able to stagger the subjects so that I can work with one child while the other one is doing work on their own.
     Secondly, the way the program is written, the child cannot progress until they've shown a high enough aptitude with the lesson.  That means they can repeat the lesson as necessary until they understand the concept.  This is one reason why the online method seems better than the traditional books.  On the flip side, if they understand the concept quickly they can progress through the lessons very fast.  Breanna, although technically being in Kindergarten, has an aptitude for reading and was doing first grade work for most of the year.  The cost is based annually, and so she was able to work on the higher grade at no additional cost, whereas if we were using books I would have had to purchase more materials.
     Thirdly, it's just plain fun.  The parent can set limits based on time or lessons finished, and then a reward is given called the "Fun Button".  This is a link that takes the kids to lots of fun little games.
     If I have any reservations it is that I was very disappointed with their customer service.  For a while the program kept crashing.  I later discovered this was due to a glitch in our internet provider service and not any fault of E.C., but what bothered me was that in the mean time, despite having contacted them three times they never once contacted me back.  To me this is just inexcusable and terrible business sense.
Using it this year? Yes for Breanna (1st grade) but not for Peter.  He's progressed to the point that just reading lots of books will most likely be enough.

Spelling Workout for 2nd Grade: Handyman worked on this with Peter, so I don't really have a lot of input.  From the little bit I did see, I wasn't too terribly impressed with the layout, but Handyman seemed to think it was fine.
Using it this year? Yes, but with reservations, ha ha!

Apologia Science: This didn't work out well for us.  The book came highly recommended by other moms I talked to, but for my age of kids it was just too, well, boring.  It was too "text book"-ish.  I think perhaps next year it will be perfect for my kids, but when we tried it we found it too wordy and perhaps a bit too detailed.
Using it this year? No, but planning to try it again next year.

Growing with Grammar: I used level 1 for Peter, although technically he should have been on level 2 (my mistake when ordering it).  I found it nice and simple with the right amount of review while also continuing to advance.
Using it this year? Yes, for both Peter and Breanna

Music for Little Mozarts: Here I feel like I'm on a very solid footing, as I've been teaching music lessons for 14 years.  If you're thinking of teaching your child beginner piano, whether you know anything about music or not, I'd highly recommend starting with this book if your child is 5 or younger.  When kids are small they are able to pick up musical terms and information like whole notes, counting rhythms, and learning notes on the staff.  This method teaches them that while giving them time to develop finger dexterity.  It's so simple that anyone can teach this, but if you do play the piano, there are fun duet parts that can be played along with the student's music.  The characters of Beethoven Bear and Mozart Mouse (along with several others) are cute and there is an accompanying story about these little personalities with each song.
     I'd recommend getting the method book along with the theory book.  The CD isn't necessary in my opinion unless you know nothing about piano and need the help, and the Performance Book is simply to add more songs in case your child wants more music to play but isn't able to progress to the next level of difficulty.
Using it this year? Yes for Gabe (who just turned 4) and Breanna (will soon be 7).

Premier Piano Course: I absolutely love this series by Alfred Publishing.  The visual design of the books is interesting without being distracting, the songs are beautiful or just plain fun, and the accompanying duet parts enhance a simple piece into something stunning.  The way the method books progress in difficulty is the best I've ever seen, providing a seamless transition from one new concept to another.  I usually have students purchase the Method Book and the Theory Book, with the Performance Book being optional.  My recommendations for the Performance book and the CD are the same as with Music for Little Mozarts.  Use this with a child above the age of 6.  If they're older than 8, they're progress very quickly through the first book and hit their stride in the second.
Using it this year? Yes.

Have you used any of these books?  Do you have any ideas you'd like to share?  I'd love to hear them!


Mom said...

Totally agree with your view on Saxon. The best thing about Saxon is it reviews every day; but there is no consistency in the presentation, and the student learns What to do but not Why to do and thus can't apply concepts because they haven't learned any. I used it once, much to my dismay.

Ellen said...

OMW!! I know this is news for most people as we haven't exactly advertised it, but we are homeschooling the girls this year and I'm excited to see your thoughts on some of the things we purchased!! We are doing Singapore Math - but after reading this, I'm intrigued that you use multiple methods... may have to look into Horizons to possibly supplement? We are also doing Spelling Workout, Explode the Code online (for Lilli mostly). What did you use for Social Studies, if you don't mind me asking. We ended up with History Odyssey - which is very classical in nature so it uses a lot of literature and books that we will borrow from the library. For this year, we ended up purchasing the R.E.A.L. Science which was highly recommended to us and we like the look of what we have received so far. The girls are not starting until the 27th but are VERY excited! Matt is actually going to do the bulk of the teaching, but I will do some writing/reading with them in the evenings. He has blown me away w/ his lesson planning, organization, and ideas so far. I think he's going to do an amazing job. We didn't feel that Lil would survive another year in the school with her health being what it was and really, we just knew h'schooling was going to be a better option for our kids for several reasons. I wish it was me teaching them, but that may happen down the road. Even if it doesn't, I know we're doing the right thing. I have gotten a few odd looks - since I'm a teacher in a public school and all - but we couldn't be happier. ;) Choosing the math was the HARDEST thing for us - we went back and forth a hundred times. We hope we're as happy and content w/ Singapore. Hope you are all well!! Praying for you!