Monday, June 13, 2011

Surprise Favorites from our 2010-11 Home School Year

As a first-time home schooler, I found the choices overwhelming: who much time would we have? What would we like to do? I knew I had three girls with three different learning styles and there would be no way to find a single curriculum that suited all of them. That was is one of the biggest blessings of home school for us: we don't have to use just one.

The many programs available were a great help. I wonder if I would have liked math more as a child if it had been taught in my learning style?

Faith and I both guessed (correctly) that Teaching Textbooks (TT) would be a good fit. She doesn't love math and found the computer animation made it more fun. We also both like that there wasn't an extraneous amount of practice: just enough review plus new work to learn the concepts and advance. With two other kids to teach, I liked that the computer program taught the lesson, making math a mostly-independent subject for Faith.

Hope and Mercy both started the year with Math-U-See at grade level. Mercy finished the year before Christmas and was ready to go on. Hope stayed on pace for the whole year but surprised me by breezing through the lessons with solid comprehension. I think that means it is a perfect fit for her with its multi-sensory approach. She also learns best from me obliquely so it was great we could watch the lesson together on the DVD instead of have me teach it directly. (She is using the Math-U-See blocks to do a Calculadder worksheet in my previous post.)

The whole multi-sensory thing was lost on Mercy, though. We found she likes her math straight up with lots of practice pages because she enjoys computation. So Mercy switched to Horizons with its TWO! (she was thrilled) workbooks per year. Mercy was doing Faith's TT 5 over her shoulder every day, begging to get TT herself  "just for fun." So we got Mercy TT 3 (the lowest level available), which she finds is not a lot more challenging than Horizons 2.

The surprise winner in the math category: Calculadder, a timed worksheet program which drills math facts.

I know it looks hokey. But ignore the old-fashioned factor. I purchased all the levels on a single CD so I could only print only as many worksheets as I needed. All three girls could do their drills simultaneously even though they were working at different levels and advancing at their own pace. That made Calculadder the easiest, most productive, 5 minutes of my home school day.

I love art and confess to having great ambitions for adventures like making our own paint from crushed pigment and egg yolk. But after the beginning of the year, art just didn't happen except for projects that appealed to the girls and they completed on their own. (The art supplies they could not have done without: cardboard boxes, tape and blank paper.)

To call a coloring book "art" is quite a stretch. But at the recommendation of a friend who said her girls loved to color while she read aloud to them, I purchased two Melissa and Doug Coloring Pads:

Forget the sophistication of the Dover historical coloring books, which is what I had imagined my children using. Nice line drawings of butterflies or princesses or a cow and calf in a field were all the girls wanted. (There is also a version for boys.) The paper is bright white and heavy enough to stand up to markers. Think of coloring not as art but as fine motor practice!

This is what redeemed our year as "art theory and history." It was an impulse purchase on clearance at Timberdoodle, but was the most popular software in the house this year:
Price shop! I think I paid $8 and don't think you need to pay more than $15 despite the list price. My only complaint is that one of the main characters has an annoyingly nasal voice --which I listened to a lot because all three girls (ages 6-11) used this over and over again. A demo is available on the developer's website and all of us hope they are working on a follow-up edition.

It seems to be a universal problem that children who learn to read early quickly run out of age- (emotionally) appropriate literature. Our local library has hundreds of graded easy-reader titles but the plots are inane. And while Mercy liked The Boxcar Children series, unlike Faith who hit that reading level later and read every single one, Mercy could only identify with Benny; the exploits of the older sibs. (who largely carry the story lines) were over her head.

The solution for Mercy was a happy accident. I purchased a set of the Abeka Second Grade readers from a friend mostly because she practically gave them away. When I began culling our extra books for a home school book sale, the set of Abeka readers was on the top of the pile. Mercy found them and came to me with a handful of dollar bills, asking if she could buy them. "I love these books, Mom! I want to read them all and I didn't even know we had them!"

I let her keep them and for the past few months they have been her go-to books for reading on her own. Now that I have read a few myself, I can see why. The print is large and well-spaced. There are just enough illustrations to break up the text. But the illustrations are incidental; they don't supply information the child should be picking up from the words. The stories are very high-interest: folk tales from around the world, historical stories, nature stories, Bible stories. The subject matter is conservative and the stories are not emotionally loaded. The vocabulary is challenging (and above what my library would grade as second grade), but leveled by a list of less-familiar words at the beginning of each story.

The only draw-back is that in the Bible stories, Jesus and his disciples speak King James:

"How many loaves have ye? Go and see," said Jesus.

Andrew, one of his disciples, said, "There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves and two small fishes, but what are they among so many?"

If your children will be reading the Bible in King James, this is probably a helpful introduction. But Mercy reads ESV and finds it funny that, to her way of thinking, "Jesus talks like the Puritans!"

To see for yourself, go to the online Abeka catalog, choose a grade level, then within the "Readers" click on a book for a View-Inside feature. They are a little pricey new, but used curriculum websites like Second Harvest have a good selection. It will be worth it to us to own more of these since Hope's emotional maturity lags behind her age so we will stay challenged for appropriate books for a while. I find both girls can handle more emotionally-mature books if we read them aloud. But I'm happy to have gentler (yet not stupid) books they can read on their own while they build fluency and discernment.

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