Learning A-Z

There are a few curriculum-related items that I have been wanting to write about, but I have not had much time and I wanted to be sure to do them justice because they are really great products.  The first of these is Learning A-Z (learninga-z.com).  I was introduced to this site by P’s kindergarten teacher, who used the online books for him.  Basically, there are several different subscription-based products and while I liked them when I first took a look at the site, I was not sure that it was worth the very high (almost $100) price.  After using it for most of this year, I can say that it certainly has been worth the price for us and my only regret is not using it sooner.
 

Learning A-Z is made up of the following:

  • Reading A-Z – Printable leveled books, from pre-readers through fifth grade, both fiction and non-fiction
  • Raz-Kids – online leveled books
  • Vocabulary A-Z- printable vocabulary activities that correspond to the books (or words can be chosen on your own)
  • Writing A-Z – leveled writing resources for K through 6th grade
  • Science A-Z – leveled science resources for K through 6th grade
  • Headsprout – one decoding program for K through 2nd grade and another comprehension for 2nd grade and up

My experience has only included Reading A-Z and Vocabulary A-Z.  Since my budget is limited, I only planned on getting Reading A-Z and that was because it was on sale (10% off the $99.95 original price).  Even with the discount, I decided and undecided over and over again until the last minute.  When I purchased the Reading A-Z subscription, it offered an extra 5% off my order and any of the other products (plus the 10% off from the original sale price), so I decided to get Vocabulary A-Z, because I know that vocabulary is a weak area for both D and P, and it ended up costing me something like $25 extra for the one year subscription.

Some of the books we have used this year

Some of the books we have used this year for D and P

Reading A-Z: Why We Love It:

The best thing about Reading A-Z is the fact that they have so much variety!  I have probably used 100 books or more from this site this year, and I didn’t start using it until late fall.  When I signed up, I thought that I would just use whatever books they had on the two boys’ reading levels for reading comprehension, but I have actually used it more as a supplement for just about everything we have studied this year, especially in social studies and sometimes in science.  I type in a subject and the options will appear.  The results can be filtered by reading level or other criteria like fiction or non-fiction or you can search by the skill you want to work on (i.e. author’s purpose, cause and effect, etc.).  Each book comes with several comprehension activities and a quiz.
Here are a few other features:

  • – Books that focus on specific higher order thinking skills (books with lesson plans that focus on these things)
  • – Book “pairs,” which will give you two related books along with a guide for comparing and contrasting the two books
  • – Literature circle activities
  • – Practice with graphic organizers
  • – Comic/humor books
  • – Serial Books with characters that appear is a series of books
  • – Poetry – everything from a nursery rhymes for little ones to more sophisticated collections of poems for older students
  • – Books about current (or fairly current) events like Hurricane Sandy, the 2014 Olympics or recent oil spills
  • – Some classics like Frog and Toad, The Snowy Day, Little Bear and others
  • – Many come with complete lesson plans that emphasize reading strategies like visualization or summarizing
Foreign Language Learning

We also use Reading A-Z for our Spanish learning.  Many of the books have translations available in other languages, like Spanish or French and they also have some blank books, that only have pictures, no words.  I choose a book around first grade level in Spanish and we read it and make note cards for new words.  On another day I may give him a blank book and he can use his note cards to write his own sentences in Spanish on each page.

Multi-Level Learners

I know that many families teach their kids social studies and science together and just modify the activities for the level of each child.  I think that Reading A-Z would be especially useful for these families.  If, for example, you were studying Abe Lincoln, you could find books on several different reading levels about him.  Some books are even “multi-level” books, which have the same content on three different reading levels, so that three children could be reading the same book, but with vocabulary that is appropriate for that particular student.

Really, my only complaints about Reading A-Z are:

  1. It only goes up to a fifth grade level.
  2. I wish that all of the books had Spanish translations, not just some of them.
  3. It uses a lot of paper and ink because books are printed out.  You can save some by using the “pocketbook” versions, which are just smaller versions of the same thing, but on the longer books for older kids the font gets very small because there is a lot of text on each page.  You could also use the online program Raz-Kids, which are done totally online, but I like being able to write on the books and I do not want to pay almost $100 more for the Raz-Kids subscription.

Vocabulary A-Z

Vocabulary A-Z is primarily companion vocabulary program to Reading A-Z.  If a book is assigned in Reading A-Z, there is usually a vocabulary list to go along with it and activities can be printed out for the words on your list including definitions, example sentences, synonyms, antonyms, analogies, cloze sentences, some games and a quiz.  You can click the link and get a whole set of activities for your words.  I also discovered that you can make your own lists and if the word that you want is not in their huge database, you can add it in pretty quickly.

I rotate vocabulary words, so that one week we may work on the words that are found in our social studies reading, while the next week we may work on the words in the novel we are discussing and the week after may be the vocabulary words from our writing program.  I have found that doing the activity packet (which is usually one or two pages of work per day) helps D really grasp the new vocabulary in a way that study cards or just writing out definitions do not.  Another important tip for new words is one that I learned from Lindamood Bell, and that is have your student make a clear mental image for each word.  If you can’t picture it, you can’t understand it.  Between visualizing and using the Vocabulary A-Z program, we are finally making good progress in vocabulary after trying many different methods with little success in previous years.

If you decide to try it out, they do have a free two week trial subscription, but the number of books you can download in that time is limited (so that you don’t just download 100 books to use throughout the year and then not subscribe).  I had done a trial several months before I subscribed, but I really didn’t understand how great it was until I had the full subscription.  Also, I found out about the sale by following them on facebook, so you may want to give that a try.

Starting Homeschool: Getting Connected/ Online Classes

This is the last post in the series, “Starting Homeschool.”  You may download the entire Starting Homeschool Guide here.

One of the classic concerns about homeschooling is the issue of socialization.  If you homeschool already, you are probably either laughing hysterically or getting very annoyed by that last statement.  Most of us know that there are more than enough ways to get connected if you homeschool your child(ren) both for them and for you.  If you are just getting started, here are some ideas for you.

Discussion Groups (ONLINE)

The Well Trained Mind

www.welltrainedmind.com
forums.welltrainedmind.com
Info/Forum for “Classical Method” of Homeschooling (very helpful for curriculum suggestions)

Facebook Groups

Search for what you are looking for: Special Needs Homeschool, Christian Homeschool, [your area] Homeschool, etc.

Yahoo Groups

groups.yahoo.com
Some local groups here for outings
Discussion groups for special interests/special needs

Meetup Groups – meetup.com (IN PERSON):

www.meetup.com

There are a more homeschool meetup groups than you can count including Christian, secular and special interest groups.  It is easy to search for one in your area or start one yourself!.

  • field trip groups
  • Co-ops (Most co-op sign-ups usually begin in about March/April)
  • parent groups

Another common concern is, “What will I do for high school?”  Many of us barely remember what we learned in high school chemistry or trigonometry.  How will we teach it to our kids?  What if my high school student is interested in things that I know nothing about?  Luckily, many community colleges allow high school students to take classes (called dual-enrollment) and there are also many online class options.  Sometimes a group of families will even hire a teacher or form a co-op for certain subjects.

Colleges Offering Free Classes for Your High School Student (or for you!)

These are not for college credit, but can still be a good option if you are not necessarily looking for the credit, but want to find an appropriate class for your older student.  There are actully many more available, but here are some ideas to get you started.  When seeking out classes like this, look for “open” courses, sometimes called “OpenCourseWare.”

Institution: Link:
Berkeley http://ocw.berkeley.edu/
Carnegie Mellon http://oli.cmu.edu/
Duke http://web.law.duke.edu/cspd/lectures/
Johns Hopkins School of Public Heath http://ocw.jhsph.edu/
MIT http://ocw.mit.edu/index.htm
Notre Dame http://ocw.nd.edu/
Stanford (Engineering) http://see.stanford.edu/
Tufts University http://ocw.tufts.edu/
UC Irvine http://ocw.uci.edu/
University of Massachusetts, Boston http://ocw.umb.edu/
University of WI – Eau Claire http://open.uwec.edu/
Utah State http://ocw.usu.edu/front-page
Yale http://oyc.yale.edu/
Various available on iTunes U* http://www.apple.com/education/ipad/itunes-u/

*There are many  colleges and universities that have lectures and some downloadable print content available on iTunes U.  I have listened to many of these lectures myself because, yes, I am just weird like that.

Other (paid) options to consider:
Many high school students take college classes online or at their local community college (known as dual enrollment), but I am not aware of any that are free.  Dual enrollment  can help your student get a jump start on college credits and can help them “prove” their ability as they apply for colleges after high school.

Starting Homeschool: Where to find what you need

Some of the best learning is not from a book!

Some of the best learning is not from a book!

This is the third of four parts in the “Starting Homeschool” series.  You can download the entire printable guide here: Starting Homeschool Guide.

We have talked about finding your philosophy/method of learning here, and we talked about some of the best known publishers of homeschool curriculum here.  Now we have a list that I could only call “Other Resources.”  There are online “stores” here as well as blogs from people that develop homeschool supplements, online classes, sites that direct you to free resources, video supplements for certain topics, and more.

If you have any other places that you love to use, feel free to add them in the comments so I can check it out.

Other Homeschool Resources

ABC Ya
abcya.com
educational games

All Kids Network
http://www.allkidsnetwork.com
lots of free worksheets and ideas

Amazon (of course)
http://www.amazon.com
new and used curriculum/supplements

Ambleside Online
http://www.amblesideonline.org
Totally free complete curriculum (yes, really), Charlotte Mason-style, Christian

BrainPop
brainpop.com (for 3rd grade & up)
brainpopjr.com (for K-3rd)
We use this free through our school district, but I did have a subscription at one time.  It is another expensive one, but it really has so many topics and the companion activities are good.  Here is a list of the BrainPopJr topics (K-3rd) http://www.brainpop.com/educators/community/bp-jr-topic/?brainpop-subject=all
sometimes on sale at Homeschool Buyers Co-op

Christian Book Distributors (CBD)
http://www.christianbook.com
Traditional Curriculum/Book Sellers (usually have some downloadable/pdf versions, but mainly hardcopy).  Look for sales and free shipping specials.

Code
http://www.code.org
free code/programming lessons

Code Academy
http://www.codecademy.com/learn
free code/programming lessons

Code Monster
http://www.crunchzilla.com/code-monster
free code/programming lessons

Confessions of a Homeschooler
http://www.confessionsofahomeschooler.com
Blog by a homeschool mom who creates curriculum – very good and affordable for complete preschool program and supplements (music, literature and others) for older elementary students

CurrClick
http://www.currclick.com
Downloadable curriculum and supplements and online classes

Deep Space Sparkle
http://www.deepspacesparkle.com
Really great art class ideas

Easy Peasy
allinonehomeschool.com
Totally free complete curriculum (yes, really), Christian

Ebay (of course)
http://www.ebay.com
new and used curriculum/supplements

Education.com
http://www.education.com
printable supplements (lots)

Educents
http://www.educents.com
Hardcopy and downloadable curriculum and supplements

Enchanted Learning
http://www.enchantedlearning.com
some free, LOTs of printables with subscription

Evan Moor Teacher File Box
http://www.evan-moor.com/t/teacher-file-box
subscription-based, access to their workbooks, must be printed from their site, cannot download pdfs, sometimes on sale at Homeschool Buyers Co-op

Exodus Books
http://www.exodusbooks.com
Traditional Curriculum/Book Sellers (usually have some downloadable/pdf versions, but mainly hardcopy)  New and used available

Free Homeschool Deals
http://www.freehomeschooldeals.com
Alerts you to free and very cheap resources (great site!)

Freely Educate
http://www.freelyeducate.com/
Blog with GREAT free resources (sometimes they repeat)

Homeschool Buyers Co-op
http://www.homeschoolbuyersco-op.org
Group discounts on curriculum/supplements (deals are rotated throughout the year), Free homeschool ID too!

Homeschool Classifieds
http://www.homeschoolclassifieds.com
Used curriculum (anything and everything)

Homeschool Freebie of the Day
http://www.homeschoolfreebie.wholesomechildhood.com
They will send you an email once a week with a free downloadable resource for each day of the coming week.  I usually don’t download them, but every once in a while there is something good.  Christian, very conservative

Howard Hughes Medical Institute
http://www.hhmi.org/educational-materials
FREE educational materials.  They don’t even charge you for shipping!  High quality dvds and other materials (all from a secular perspective).  Middles school and up.

Internet 4 Classrooms
http://www.internet4classrooms.com
Online activities to supplement your learning

Khan Academy
http://www.khanacademy.com
Free online learning.  Main emphasis is math, but also science lessons also.

Learning A to Z
learninga-z.com
Free trial.  Basically, these are leveled readers.  This is by far the most expensive resource we use, but we can use it for all three kids for Reading, Social Studies and Spanish.  We also added the vocabulary one, which creates a vocabulary lesson for many of the books.  We use probably well over 100 books a year from this site, so it is worth it for me. My review is coming.

Muzzy
Muzzy Languages
Free through our library.  Online language learning.

PBS
pbslearningmedia.org
A ton of classroom ideas for PBS documentaries, some ready-made lesson plans that can be adapted for homeschool.  Sign up to get access.

Rainbow Resource
http://www.rainbowresource.com
Traditional Curriculum/Book Sellers (usually have some downloadable/pdf versions, but mainly hardcopy)
(new and used)  They also have a free GIGANTIC catalog they will send you if you request it.

Saylor Foundation
saylor.org
Free online classes (K-12 classes launched in 2013)

Scholastic
http://printables.scholastic.com/printables/home
subscription based, large variety of subjects/grades

Spectrum (Carson Dellosa) workbooks
http://www.carsondellosa.com/cd2/searchcatalog.aspx?k=brand:Spectrum
good for review or extra practice, not teaching concepts in detail

Starfall
http://www.starfall.com
Lots of free early learning activities (Preschool-1st grade)

Super Teacher Worksheets
http://www.superteacherworksheets.com
subscription-based, printable worksheets/supplements (lots)

Teachers Pay Teachers
http://www.teacherspayteachers.com
printables created by teachers
Newsletter sends you 10 free each week

Time 4 Learning
http://www.time4learning.com
Free two week trial.  We have used parts of this site for different subjects.  In my opinion, it’s better for the younger years (Pre-K, K, 1st) but the kids usually love it.  You can cancel at any time. Sometimes I have used it over the summer as a review.

TumbleBooks
http://www.tumblebooks.com
Online books (mostly little kids) Read to them or read on their own.  Pairs fiction with non-fiction.  We use this free thorough the school district and the library also has a free subscription.

Vocabulary Spelling City
http://www.spellingcity.com
Subscription-based spelling and vocabulary activities.  Some activities are free.

Well Trained Mind
forums.welltrainedmind.com/classifieds/
Used curriculum – mostly classical education

Youth Digital
http://www.youthdigital.com/
computer classes/video game design (expensive but very good)
sometimes on sale at Homeschool Buyers Co-op

Starting Homeschool: Curriculum Overload

(continuing the Starting Homeschool series)

You can download the whole ten page guide here:  Starting Homeschool Guide , which has all of the information in this series in a format is a little easier to read and a blank planning page here: school year planner page.

Tips to Save You Time, Money and Frustration  When Choosing Curriculum:

When it comes to homeschool curriculum, there are the all-in-one sets that have everything (or almost everything ) you need for a year and then there are publishers that specialize in one or two subjects alone.  I have found that most people start out using a big set of complete curriculum.  That is a perfectly fine place to start if that is what you decide (especially you buy it used), since it would be very difficult to match your child(ren) to the perfect curriculum until you work with them on a daily basis and find their specific strengths and weaknesses and until you get to know what is available.  Here are some things to keep in mind when choosing curriculum:

  • Take note of the things that are not going as well as you would like or specific areas where they may be struggling and ask around if anyone else has had a similar situation.  That is where the discussion groups are very helpful.  Others may know of something that addresses that very issue.
  • Most sites have at least some things for free – some more than others.  If you sign up for their “newsletters,” many of them will send you free printables.  Most will require you create an account with a password, even for things that are free, but I have not had an issue with spam from any of these.  For sites that are for teachers, just enter “Homeschool” as the name of your school if they don’t have an option already for homeschoolers.  Some blogs have free downloadable resources, especially for younger children.
  • Most subscription sites have free trials.
  • Lots of workbooks (like Spectrum workbooks or Evan Moor Daily Practice workbooks have the option of purchasing a PDF download instead of the actual printed book.  This helps if you have more than one child, because you can re-use it when the next child needs it by just printing them out again or if you want to review.
  • Focus on the “3 R’s” (Reading, WRiting and ‘Rithmetic)  If you have strong readers and writers that can do math, everything else will be okay!  History, Science and all the rest are important, but the foundations are reading, writing and math.  If they are not strong readers it is hard to acquire the information in other subjects (not impossible, but harder) and it is more difficult to show what they know if they are not strong writers.
  • If you are thinking of homeschooling only for a few years, you may want to check out your state’s standards or common core online for your child’s grade so that they are learning the same things as their peers.  If it will be more long term, it may not matter to you.  You can also take a look at the “What Your ____ Grader Needs to Know” books.  They are available in most libraries.
  •   I have put together three charts to give you an overview of the materials that I have used or looked into at one time or another:
  1. Major publishers of “all inclusive” sets (below)
  2. Major publishers specializing in certain subject areas (below)
  3. Supplements and lesser known sources (coming – this one has more than you can imagine)

Of course there are many more not listed here, but these are the ones that I am most familiar with.  We use materials from many different companies and have found a great mix that works well for us.  The advantage of homeschool is that you can give your child what they need, not what a typical child needs at their age.  It’s not about being ahead or behind.  It’s about providing just the right challenge exactly where they need it.

Major Publishers of “All Inclusive” sets

Tip:     Almost all of these publishers will send you a free catalog and most will let you see samples online,
so look at the catalogs, see what appeals to you and check out the best ones online.

A Beka: http://www.abeka.com
Christian, academically rigorous curriculum, all subjects

AOP (Alpha Omega Publications): http://www.aophomeschooling.com
Christian, very popular
They offer traditional (book based), online, and software

Bob Jones: http://www.bjupresshomeschool.com
Christian, now offer distance learning   options as well as traditional

Five in a Row: http://www.fiveinarow.com
Literature based, mostly for early primary
Also have “Before Five in a Row” for preschool and ” Beyond Five in a Row” for later

k12 (independent route): http://www.k12.com/courses#.UusKqbS5iHM
You can also use it   “independently.”  You pay for   the class (or classes) and they send you all the books and access to the site   for a year.  We used this for our first   full year of homeschooling and occasionally for certain subjects along the   way. Very thorough curriculum, high quality materials.

k12 (through public charter school or their own private school): http://www.k12.com/enroll-or-buy/find-a-school-and-enroll#.UusKmrS5iHM
Secular, complete virtual school complete   with a teacher to grade work and have class once a week at a brick and mortar   school.  These are often charter   schools and are free to people who live in the districts that offer it.  It can be rigid and time consuming because   you have to do it “their way.”

Rod and Staff: no official website, available at multiple sites
conservative Christian curriculum, style is   old-fashioned, many people use just language arts from Rod and Staff

Sonlight: http://www.sonlight.com
Christian, literature based complete   curriculum
We use their book lists every year for novels, historical fiction and   biographies.

Veritas Press: http://www.veritaspress.com
classical curriculum

Heart of Dakota: http://www.heartofdakota.com
Charlotte Mason/ Unit Study

My Father’s World: http://www.mfwbooks.com
Christian, Literature-based, clear lesson   plans. different content for different ages/grades

Tapestry of Grace: http://www.tapestryofgrace.com/explore/bigideas.php
some classical style elements, integrated   unit studies, can combine ages/grades

Common Publishers for Individual Subject Areas:

American Chemical Society: http://www.middleschoolchemistry.com
free, secular middle school chemistry curriculum by the American Chemical Society

Apologia: http://www.apologia.com
science, very popular with Christian homeschoolers, young earth, no climate change

Explode the Code: eps.schoolspecialty.com
reading/phonics

Family Time Fitness: http://www.familytimefitness.com
PE, includes the whole family, written materials and videos

Handwriting without Tears: http://www.hwtears.com/hwt
printing and cursive, very popular in schools

Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW): http://www.iew.com
amazing writing curriculum
Review is coming for this one!

Life of Fred: lifeoffredmath.com
narrative approach to math, many use it to supplement

Math Mammoth: http://www.mathmammoth.com
math curriculum

Math U See: http://www.mathusee.com
I have reviewed this here.  We LOVE MUS!

McGuffey’s Readers: free here: http://www.learn-to-read-prince-george.com/McGuffey-readers.html
old (think 1800’s) school books, popular with Charlotte Mason homeschoolers

Primary Language Lessons: http://www.amazon.com/Primary-Language-Lessons-Emma-Serl/dp/0965273512:
popular with Charlotte Mason homeschoolers

Real Science for Kids: http://www.gravitaspublications.com/products
Science, author is a Christian, but does not address evolution/creationism.

Real Science Odyssey: http://www.pandiapress.com/?page_id=50
Science lesson told in a story, labs, popular with Classical homeschoolers

Right Start Math: http://www.rightstartmath.com
math curriculum

Saxon: saxonhomeschool.hmhco.com
popular math curriculum

See Time Fly: http://www.ganderpublishing.com/Visualizing-and-Verbalizing/See-Time-Fly-History-Series.html
Review is coming for this one!  This is a little-known but EXCELLENT set of history books, good middle school follow up to Story of the World for those that use the classical method.

Shurley English: https://www.shurley.com
grammar

Singapore Math: http://www.singaporemath.com
very popular math program

Teaching Textbooks: http://www.teachingtextbooks.com:
math curriculum

For those of you that already homeschool, I would love to hear about YOUR favorite resources in the comments!

Starting Homeschool: First Steps

Spring is coming (although there is little evidence of that here) and every year the homeschooling groups get a sudden influx of parents who are realizing that they are unhappy with the way this school year went and are now considering homeschool.  This is especially true of the special needs groups, as IEP meetings happen and parents are not satisfied with where their child’s education is going.  For all of you who are considering homeschool or have already decided in that direction, I have put together some resources to help you get started.  We’ll start with some general information and I will include more detailed information in the weeks to come.

R having fun

Where to start:

1.  Research the requirements in your state.
Do you need to do standardized testing?  Are you required to register somewhere?  Here is a good starting point: http://www.hslda.org/laws/

2.  Learn about on the different homeschool methods (brief chart below).
There are books about most of them, but you can also read some of the many homeschool blogs that will tell you why they love their particular style of homeschooling.  Be sure to read many different perspectives so that you get a complete picture of the pros and cons of each, although most people don’t stick to one strictly.

3.  Look at the curriculum available.
Many places will send you catalogs and you can see samples online.  If you attend a homeschool convention you can also see them in person.  Some maybe available at teacher’s supply stores, but most are not.

4.  Do some planning.
What do you want your kids to learn this year?  Here is how I planned P’s first grade year https://hupostasis.wordpress.com/2013/06/06/planning-first-grade-homeschool and here is our fifth grade plan for D https://hupostasis.wordpress.com/2013/07/03/on-to-fifth-grade.  You don’t have to be as detailed as I am, but it is a good idea to figure out where you are going so that you can evaluate which are the correct tools to get you there.  It helps you avoid the mid-year feeling of “Why did I waste so much time on that?”

5.  Jump in!
Start with some things that are light and fun to get used to the idea of learning at home.  Use summer break to do some fun science experiments or projects.  I would strongly advise against spending a lot of money your first year because you will find that what you thought would be great may not work as well as you thought for your kids.  If you really want to try something that is a little expensive, try getting it used.

6.  BE FLEXIBLE! 
Changing your plan is not a sign of failure!  Don’t feel bad if you need to scrap something you thought would be great and go in another direction.  Homeschool in real life is usually nothing like what you imagined in your head.

Method Description More info:
Classical Based on The Trivium – Little ones are in the “Grammar Stage” (learning basics to build on), the “Logic Stage” at about middle school (learning the way things fit together, more analytical), High School is ” Rhetoric Stage” where students perfect their skills and learn to communicate their now more sophisticated knowledge well.  Four year cycles of learning, most also learn Latin. The Well Trained Mind (by Susan Wise Bauer)
Charlotte Mason Heavy emphasis on the Humanities, especially literature.  Uses narration and copywork, many CM homeschoolers do a lot of unit studies. Charlotte Mason’s Original Homeschooling Series
Unschooling Following the child’s lead in what he/she wants to learn, not requiring anything in particular, but encouraging their own curiosity. The Underground History of American Education (by John Taylor Gatto)
Eclectic A mix of different methods This describes most homeschoolers that I know.
Traditional Based on what children usually do in public schools a traditional school environment
Unit Study Integrating all subjects into areas of study.  A study of the rainforest might include a science study of what plants/animals live in the rainforest, literature based on someone’s life in the rainforest, math problems adding up jungle animals and geography lessons locating rainforests on a map. Usually a mix of unschooling ideas (follow what they love) and Charlotte Mason.  It is also a way to teach children in different grades with the same content but different assignments for each child.
Delayed Academics Young children simply explore their world (like unschooling), with no pressure to read, write and do academics until they show interest. Better Late than Early (by Raymond and Dorothy Moore)
Literature-Based All areas (except math usually) are explored through literature.  Biographies and historical fiction are used for social studies and math. Sonlight is probably the most well known curriculum that uses this method.  Charlotte Mason is often literature-based.

Homeschool Curriculum Review: Math-U-See

I have read many homeschool curriculum reviews and while it is nice to hear that people like or don’t like a certain program, I need to know WHY because my kids are probably different than your kids.  After all, that is one of the reasons most of us homeschool, right?

One of the most debated curriculum choices is Math-U-See.  People either love it or hate it or only love it for certain grades.  The people that don’t love it usually fell that way because they believe that it is not rigorous enough and to be honest, I felt that may be true in the past (although not anymore).

The first thing you must know about Math U See, is that it teaches in a linear way and concepts are taught to mastery.  Many math programs are a mile wide and an inch deep.  In first grade they touch on rote counting, counting objects, more than/less than, place value, adding, subtracting, time, measurement, fractions, skip counting, writing numbers, shapes, 2D and 3D, and other concepts.  Because there is so much ground to cover, the curriculum skips around a lot.  Two weeks on one subject and then two weeks on something unrelated, which really does not help the student retain the information.

Math U See’s Alpha book (usually done in first grade) focuses on single digit addition and subtraction.  Period.  Now, in truth, it does teach many of the subjects mentioned above, but it is all within the context of single digit addition and subtraction.  So, skip counting is covered, but might be approached as 5+5+5 when first introduced.  The concepts build on one another and follow a logical order.  When D was younger, I worried about this because I thought that he may have difficulty if he returned to public school because Math U See may not cover some of those things until later (when they fall logically).  However, I came to realize that because math curriculum in schools tended to skip around so much, most of the information had to be covered again the next year and maybe a third year after that before the students actually mastered it!  If he had to take a standardized test, he would have probably missed a few, but who cares?  I have no absolutely desire to teach to a test.  By the time he takes the SAT or ACT, it will be covered!

 Here are the “primary” levels available:
Primer – This is an optional kindergarten level math.  It is the least “linear” of all the levels and introduces a variety of subjects.  This is the only level where you are “allowed” to move on even if your student does not totally “get” the concept.
Alpha – Single-digit addition and subtraction
Beta – Multi-digit addition and subtraction
Gamma – Single and multiple digit multiplication
Delta – Single and multiple digit division
Epsilon – Fractions
Zeta – Decimals
These are considered “secondary math”:
Pre-Algebra
Algebra 1
Geometry
Algebra 2
Pre-Calculus
Calculus

There is also a consumer math class called “Stewardship.”

If you are wondering where they introduce time or square roots or some other subject, you can take a look at the scope and sequence at the mathusee.com site.  It is all in there, but it is taught where it should be taught logically, not just to check a box for some state standards checklist.  For example, D is finishing up Epsilon right now.  The area of a circle is taught with Pi as 22/7 because Epsilon is all about fractions.  They also teach prime numbers here because you need to find factors for fractions.

How it works:

Each lesson (30 lessons per book) has a DVD of Steve Demme (creator of MUS) teaching the lesson.  He is teaching kids, so they have some of the same (right and wrong) responses that your kids may have.  He explains the concept and shows it visually with the blocks and usually gives several examples.  The parent should watch the DVD lesson and LATER either watch it with their child, so that they can do the block activities along with them and check for comprehension or the parent can just teach it to the student.  To be honest, I just let D watch it now that he is older and then I watch it over his shoulder so that I can help him.  For P, I watch but don’t show him the video.  I teach it to him all myself.

Some good things:

  • Concepts are taught in logical order.  Retention is better because lesson build on one anther
  • It is multi-sensory.  It is especially visual, which works really well for my boys and for many kids on the spectrum (and others who are not).
  • You know what to expect.  Each lesson has six pages and a test.  The first three are “Lesson Practice,” which focus on the concept just taught.  The last three are “Systematic Review,” which starts with problems from the current lesson and then gives many review problems.  Because you know what is coming, you can tailor it to your student.  If D gets every problem correct on page one, he can skip one of the lesson review pages.  If he gets 100% correct on the first Systematic Review page, he can skip to the test.  This keeps you from wasting time.
  •  Steve Demme is a very good teacher!  I actually like math, but I am not very good at teaching it.  Usually it just kind of makes sense to me, so it can be hard for me to explain it.  Even though I do enjoy math, I have understood it better after watching the videos.  (Isn’t that true for most homeschool subjects though?)
  •  The program is thorough.  In the beginning I had my doubts, but I have now heard from many, many parents that used MUS all the way through Calculus that did very well (often better than their peers) when they got to the college level.
  •  It seems easy!  I think  this is one of the reasons that some people doubt that it is rigorous enough.  Concepts are added slowly, one at a time, so that it seems very easy.  Many of us think, “I don’t remember math being this simple!”
  •  There are many used copies for sale (especially of the DVDs, Teacher’s Manuals and the Test Booklets).  There are the Spiral Bound versions, the 2004 versions, the 2009 versions and the new 2012 versions.  However, they all work together!  The old DVD with the new workbook is fine.  They don’t change the lessons.  This has been great because I usually buy everything used easily except the student workbook, which I buy almost always have to buy new (comes with the test booklet).

Some possible drawbacks:

  • It CAN be hard to switch to MUS if you have already done a few years in another curriculum.
    One reason for that is that MUS expects you to MASTER the skill taught that year.  After Gamma, the student should be able to do, for example, 8,758 x 6,241.  Some curriculums may not go that far.  They may teach only to the hundreds or thousands times tens.  MUS advises you to go back and fill in the gaps because math should be sequential and you should not move on until one skill is mastered.  I started doing the Beta book with D in second grade.  By the end of October I decided that homeschooling was not a good idea for that year and ended up sending him to public school.  At the end of the year, I decided to homeschool again, so I thought we would do a quick review of Beta over the summer.  Well, it turned out that although he did well in school, he did not know everything in the Beta book, so we just started where we left off and ended up finishing Beta about half way through third grade.  Then we moved on to Gamma.  I hated the idea of being “behind,” but I knew that it was better for him to really know the material.  Now we are ahead because working through the summer worked so well, that we have kept it up every year.  We move less quickly in the summer – usually just one page a day, one unit every two weeks, but we never totally stop. 
  •  It can be expensive.  Once you get the Teacher’s Pack (Teacher’s Manual and DVD) and the Student Pack (Workbook and Test Booklet), if you buy it new every year it is expensive.  You also have to buy the blocks, but that is pretty much it for the manipulative until you reach Gamma, so they will last you several years.
  •  Some things are not done the way you remember them (the way we used to do them in school), so you do need to watch the videos, even if you are good at math.
  •  Some people find it the predictability monotonous.

Personally, I HIGHLY recommend MUS, especially for learners that are not primarily auditory learners.  After using Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Epsilon, I think I have a pretty good picture of the program.  It is worth the money for us (even on our limited budget) and I can’t imagine ever switching to another curriculum for math.

Here are some MUS-related links to help you make your decision:
www.Mathusee.com (official website)
Math U See’s YouTube channel (a great resource for FAQ and demos!)
Math U See’s Facebook page https://facebook.com/mathusee
Math U See related yahoo groups (not officially sponsored by MUS):
http://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/MUSSwap/info (for people wanting to buy or sell used MUS materials)

Language-Expanding Exercise for my Hyperlexic Boy

We have been busily preparing for our new school year, and I have not had much time for blog posts, but I want to post something that may help others of you that have hyperlexic (or even not reading yet if you just do this exercise out loud) children that need to expand their language.

You can’t really say that P is non-verbal.  He can definitely talk.  If he thinks you may have a cookie hidden somewhere, he will break out in one of his most common lines: “[Mom], Can I have a ____ (fill in sugary snack here), please.”  That is not a problem.  He can also read anything you put in front of him (although you may not understand well because of his articulation issues and he may not understand the meaning of all the words).  What I am trying to help him do, is to EXPAND his communication.

Lindamood-Bell uses the Talkies program for just this purpose, but he is really still at the very beginning levels because of some receptive language issues, so we needed something to help him understand how to describe what he sees (concrete and then later images brought to mind).  They use a modified version of the “structure words” in Visualizing and Verbalizing.

In V/V, the structure words are: What, Size, Color, Number, Shape, Where, Movement, Mood, Background, Perspective, When, and Sound.  Talkies simplifies it to: What, Color, Number, Shape, Size, Where, Movement.  I also have cards that I got here, that give a visual cue when needed. We use the nice, simple pictures in the “Picture to Picture Book,” to describe images, but I have also been using videos that P loves and making questions that get at those same ideas in the Talkies structure words.  We have a subscription to Amazon Prime and we use videos that are free with Prime, but you could use whatever videos you have.

Here is an example of one that we used this week:

Super Why: The Gingerbread Boy
Minute 0:00 through 2:05

0:08 What is the boy’s name?
The boy’s name is _____________________.
0:10 What size is the boy?
The boy is _____________________.
1:00 How many Super Readers are there?
  There are _______________________Super Readers.
1:10 What are the Super Readers doing?
They are _________________________.
1:41 Where are the children?
The children are at the ___________________________.
 
1:54 What color is the question mark?
The question mark is ____________________________.
 
2:05 What is the weather in Storybook Village?
The weather is ____________________________________.

We read the questions together and he fills in the answer.  If he is unsure what a question is asking, we looks at our structure word cards for a clue.  We started this last year, about mid-year and he had a tough time with most of the questions and needed lots of help.  Now he almost never needs help and I have seen him watching the video more closely, instead of passively.  He is excited to fill in the correct answers and I have made them just a little more difficult, but he has kept up.  I usually make one sheet of questions for each day of the week (from just one episode per week), so that one episode will have about 30 questions.

I have been so excited about this exercise and wanted to share it because it uses something he is interested in, helps him observe and describe (rather than using language for requesting all the time), increases his attention, and models proper questions and sentence structure.  I am hoping to soon be able to leave more blanks for him to form the sentence more independently.

If you would like to see the whole week’s questions, I am including it here: Super why gingerbread boy season 3 episode 5.
Feel free to try it yourself or modify it for your own lessons.  Sorry for any typos!  These are usually done at 11 or 12 at night!