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.


Visualizing and Verbalizing® at Home

I originally said that I would not post the V/V® steps on this blog because I found a PowerPoint presentation that already had a good summary of the steps here.  However, I recently discovered the V/V® training videos uploaded by someone to youtube.  Before I went through the V/V® training, I wanted to implement V/V® at home, but I had a very hard time understanding what it should look like.  I did see that they sold (expensive!) training videos, but I was not sure if they were worth the money.  If you are like I was (interested in the program, but are a little unsure), this post should be a real help to you.  With the manual, a few workbooks and these videos demonstrating the most important steps, it will be much easier to do V/V® at home, either in your homeschool program, during the summer, or after school.  Again, please don’t rely on this alone to do the program.  This should give you a better picture of the program and can accompany the manual and other materials from Gander Publishing.

****UPDATE:  Sorry, readers, it looks like the person who uploaded the V/V instructional videos (not me!) did not actually have permission to do so, which has resulted in youtube removing the videos from their site for copyright infringement and the empty links have been removed.  If you want to purchase the videos, they are available here.  They are expensive, but if you’ve never actually seen V/V in action, it could be worth it.

Here is my post about some general Lindamood Bell® information and here (below) is a very brief summary of the steps with the videos illustrating those steps:

Visualizing and Verbalizing® Steps

1. Set the Climate

Tell your student what you are doing and why.  Make a small simple drawing to illustrate.

2. Picture to Picture

Student looks at a simple picture and describes it so that the clinician has the same image in their head.  The student should use the structure words (see below) as prompts for further details.  Compare the images and point out missing/misrepresented element in a non-confrontational way.

The Structure Words are:


3. Word Imaging

The student makes a mental image of a familiar noun.  The student describes his/her own mental image to produce the same image in the clinician’s mind.  Use structure words to probe for more details.  Compare images.

4. Single Sentence Imaging

The first sentence of a paragraph is read aloud by clinician or student.  The student makes a detailed mental image and describes it to the clinician alone, then goes into more detail using structure words.  The clinician guides the student to an image consistent with the text.

 5. Sentence by Sentence Imaging

After the first image is established, the image is changed with each sentence, always based on the original image.  Structure words are usually used to probe for details on the first sentence only.  The student describes changes in his/her mental image as the sentences progress.  It is here that the multi-colored felt pieces are used.  Each one represents an image and at the end, the student reviews the paragraph, sentence image by sentence image, referencing the felt pieces and then summarizes.

6. Sentence by Sentence with HOTs

Same as above, but HOTs (Higher Order Thinking questions) are incorporated (inference, predictions, etc.).

7. Multiple Sentence Imaging with HOTs

Images are now described multiple sentences at a time (2-3) and each image is a felt piece.

8. Whole Paragraph Imaging with HOTs

The student reads or hears and entire paragraph at a time and images.

9. Paragraph by Paragraph Imaging w/ HOTs

Images are now described a paragraph at a time (2-3) and each paragraph image is a felt piece.

10. Page Imaging with HOTs

Imaging is described a page at a time, instead of small steps.

I hope that something here has been a help to you as you teach your child(ren)!

Curriculum we used for D (just finished 4th grade)

I know that over the last few years I have wanted to know what others use for homeschooling and I have been through the long process of finding what works for us, so here is my list of what we used for 4th grade. It was very successful for us.

We have used Math U See all the way. I love the DVDs and I love the fact that they work on one skill, taught to mastery, not a little of this and a little of that. I also like that in the DVDs he explains why things work in math much better than I ever could. I do actually enjoy math, but I am not great at explaining it, so this is a perfect fit for us.

We use the Spectrum workbooks to review grammar and punctuation rules and we do Daily Paragraph Editing to apply it. In the paragraph editing I can see what we really need to work on.

We use Spectrum Reading for daily short stories with comprehension questions and we read about ten longer books a year. I use my “What Your Child Should Learn in ..” book, the Sonlight book list and other lists from the internet to find about ten books that I think D will enjoy and I try to include at least a few historical fiction books or biographies that overlap with what we are learning in history.
I usually start out reading the first chapter or so out loud and I check for comprehension along the way. If he seems to have a good grasp, I let him read a certain amount each day on his own and later discuss it with me and answer comprehension and vocabulary questions.
Some of the books that we read were:
Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Lunch Money, From the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler, Across Five Aprils, and others.
Visualizing and Verbalizing has been a great program for reading comprehension. It asks the student to constantly visualize what he or she  is reading in a very deliberate way and it is so effective! It is so much better than anything else we have tried and I cannot recommend it enough for anyone that struggles with comprehension.  You can go to the Lindamood-Bell Centers and pay over $100 per hour to have a tutor teach this to your child or you can order the materials yourself from Gander Publishing (the manual and the workbooks) and you will see that it is a very scripted program and you can really do it on your own.  It is still not cheap, but no where near the price in the centers.
Spectrum Workbooks: http://www.amazon.com/Spectrum/e/B007E5BVRA/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

We quickly went through a Spectrum Phonics workbook this year for review, but most of the time we did the Seeing Stars workbooks from Gander Publishing. This is another a program offered by Lindamood-Bell and it is also very scripted. It has really improved D’s spelling, even though he was not especially struggling in that area.
We also have a “Spelling Box” that we use for any word that he has spelled wrong. It helps him at least try to spell things correctly and helps us not waste time on words he knows. We go through it at least once a day and once he get the word correct five times it gets removed from the box.

This is an area where we have had real problems in the past. We used “Vocabulary Packets: Greek and Latin Roots” and “Vocabulary Packets: Greek and Latin Prefixes and Suffixes” this year. They were both good and helped him understand the idea of using parts of the word to understand its meaning. We are going to try Red Hot Root Words for next year and we have used Wordly Wise in the past, but it is hard to figure out what level to order because they changed their system a few years ago.


We have tried many writing programs and have not had real success with them. D can complete the assignment, but I feel that his writing is lacking maturity. We have just started the Student Writing Intensive, Level A from IEW (Institute for Excellence in Writing), and so far, so good. They are very expensive, but the resale value is very high, so you could buy it used and sell it for almost the same price next year. We are working on it over the summer.


We have always used Handwriting Without Tears, but I have to say I am not that strict about it. As long as he knows how to write, that is fine. Next year I want to focus on typing.

Next year D will be going to public school for the afternoons only. There he will have Social Studies, Science and specials (Art, Music, Library, PE)
I feel a little conflicted about this decision, but we are going to try it and see how it goes. He really loved the co-op that he went to this year and he did not want to go back to school full time, so we are trying this so that if he does want to take a class or two in middle school he will know some of the kids.

We have used different resources for History/Social Studies this year and I have to say that D’s grasp of history is much better than mine was at his age!
Basically, I look at the Illinois Standards for Social Studies for his grade and make a list of what I want to teach him and I use the following resources to teach those concepts:
Story of the World Vol. 3 (Bauer) and we used the pdf workbook (http://www.susanwisebauer.com/books/the-story-of-the-world/)
See Time Fly. Vol. 1-3. This is an EXCELLENT (although expensive) set of books put out by Gander Publishing. They are especially good for those using Visualizing and Verbalizing. The stories are interesting and well written and they do not allow the reader to disengage from the text. The reading level is probably more middle school level, but we were still able to use it successfully. http://www.ganderpublishing.com/Visualizing-and-Verbalizing/See-Time-Fly-History-Series.html
BrainPop – Oh, how I love thee, BrainPop! We use BrainPop to supplement everything – grammar, writing, social studies, science, even math occasionally. The videos are great. They are not dumbed-down and D loves them. He even watches them for fun on his own. There is a vocabulary list for the student to fill out on just about every video and there are creative assignments for them also. The vocabulary lists have helped D to learn to understand the meaning of words by the context – such an important skill!
– Videos and books from our local library.
– We also used a Spectrum Geography book for the first few months of school to learn about each region in the US and memorize the states and their capitals. We used some library videos, puzzles, etc. too for this. http://www.amazon.com/Spectrum/e/B007E5BVRA/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1
I have really enjoyed teaching Social Studies, but this will be one of the classes he will be taking in public school next year. I hope he doesn’t forget all he learned!

This year we started using “Real Science 4 Kids” (Level 1) and I am pretty satisfied. It is supposed to be a middle school curriculum, but I think maybe 3rd to 5th grade would be more appropriate. They used to call the levels Pre-Level 1 (for K-4), Level 1 (for middle school) and Level 2 (for high school), but now they have new labels that are clearer (Focus on Elementary, Focus on Middle and Focus on High School). We did the entire Level 1 Chemistry book and half of the Biology book.
We generally have science two days a week and it takes us three sessions to get through a chapter.
1. For the first session we read the first half of the chapter together and D helps me find the most important points to write down or the main idea of each paragraph.
2. In the second session we review our notes about the first half and then read and take notes on the second half of the chapter.
3. In the third session we review our notes (which I have typed up) and we do the experiment and review activity.
For the most part the materials for the experiments were common items that were easy to get and not expensive. I had planned to finish Biology and to do Physics next year, but we will be sending him to school for science next year.
We use BrainPop and Bill Nye the Science Guy videos for reinforcement.

Well, I did originally have an art plan, but then a mom in the area offered to do art classes, so I just let him do that, which he really loved.

D was in a choir at co-op, which is what we did for music this year. Last year we worked on reading music and a few other things. Next year he’ll have Music at school.

I do have curriculum (Family Time Fitness) which looks great that I got when there was a really great sale, but I have never actually used it because D had PE at our co-op this year.

We have gone through a middle school workbook and try to make D speak the Spanish that he knows, but I have to admit that this has been one of our less successful areas, so I will refrain from making any recommendations here.

Other resources:
We used Enchanted Learning quite a bit to supplement in many areas for all ages http://www.enchantedlearning.com
YouTube, of course has videos on anything and everything (www.youtube.com)
Khan Academy can be useful (www.khanacademy.org)
If you have an iPad there are also (usually some free) apps for learning most skills

Here are some places that I buy used curriculum:
Yahoo Groups for used curriculum
If you are on the IEW families yahoo group, you can join their resale group also.
I haven’t used this one yet, but just discovered: MUSSwap Yahoo Group for used Math U See Curriculum