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: 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

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

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!