Every year, on every chat board on which I participate, curriculum threads are hugely popular–and I can see why. From my perspective, it’s helpful to see what others are using with their kids (especially knowing how similar or different their educational philosophies are to mine), what novel products I can research, how much each family anticipates accomplishing for kids of each grade level. So, in the spirit of sharing the joy, here’s what we’ve used (or plan to use) to date, listed by “school year” (though we go year-round, I mentally/verbally change their grade when the local schools start); I didn’t list grade level, since it’s merely a formality and doesn’t generally match the materials used:
I quickly discovered that my kids had no interest in any formal preschool-y activity I tried to organize, no matter how fun I thought it was. They wanted choice. But they definitely wanted Mommy attention, especially in those golden moments when their little brother was napping. To that end, each evening I would set out several activity options for “big kid time” during the first 30 minutes of the little guy’s afternoon nap. Each kid could choose one activity for us to do together. (After that 30 minutes it was my cleaning time, which they could help with or opt out of and play on their own.) I rotated activities, generally giving four options each day. I did a lot of searching on Pinterest and trying to find activities that would help my kids work on a developing skill or stretch their capabilities. I tried to plan activities that would help them develop gross and fine motor skills, social skills, literacy skills, basic math skills, and general world knowledge. Activities included the following:
- Craft projects – seasonal, thematic (something they were interested in) or free-play with materials their brother would otherwise eat
- Games – not only board or card games, but hide-and-seek, obstacle courses, ball play
- Science activities – baking, water play, gardening, magnifying glasses, simple experiments
- Literacy activities – Letter/word bingo, Progressive Phonics, tracing pages, read-alouds
- Math activities – I purchased RightStart level A in the spring of 2013 because my oldest was so interested in numbers and I wasn’t sure how to help him develop that passion in an age-appropriate way. The year he was 4, we worked through the first half of the material in RS-A completely informally, though play and discussion.
I didn’t start any official work until my oldest turned 5 in the late fall of 2013. At that point he was writing a ton and heartily refusing my gentle corrections to his atrocious letter formation. Thus, late 2013 saw our first formal curriculum: handwriting. After handwriting became solid, we added a little math (his choice) in the spring of 2014 and then moved from handwriting to phonics-based spelling, since both older kids had learned to read on their own and I wanted some direct phonics instruction to prevent any future reading issues.
It was at this time that I also introduced bedtime free-reading, an idea I’d seen someone mention online as an ideal way to allow for later bedtimes without eating into parents’ precious evening time.
- Getty-Dubay Handwriting books A and B (see my blog post for my likes and dislikes of this program)
- Right Start Math – end of level A and start of level B
- All About Spelling Level 1
- Lots of read-alouds, especially related to science and the planets in particular, as well as other activities similar to the prior year
This year we added quite a bit of material initially before dialing it down midway through the year to address Peatie’s ADHD. I also discovered that I have a strong desire to tweak every curriculum I use.
- Right Start Math – second half of level B and all of level C (except Peatie did C double-time and Goobie bailed halfway through C because it was super review-heavy and they were tired of the games)
- All About Spelling Levels 2-3 – We sped through these levels, making me question whether the expense was worth it. At least I can use them for all three kids…
- Institute for Excellence in Writing’s (IEW) Bible Heroes – Everyone loved it at the beginning, but we waned in the many weeks of story sequence, so I sped up the end.
- Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding (BFSU)-inspired science
- Mom-designed prehistory and ancient history
This was the year I separated Peatie and Goober for math; her competitive spirit combined with his calculation speed (she’s very mathy, just not as fast at it) made for many tears. Even the separation wasn’t enough to overcome her distress, and we actually took a several-month math hiatus in the spring, allowing Peatie to play on Prodigy Math while Goober completely detoxed for a while and we just followed their interests academically with six-week study blocks. Pookie mostly tagged along, participating where he could and heading off to imagine, do puzzle pages, or play on Starfall or MathSeeds if he lost interest.
- Singapore Math 2A&B -3A for Goober, similar to Right Start in presentation but more get-er-done worksheet style like she wanted rather than the RS games she was getting so frustrated by. We ended up using only the workbooks, since most of the concepts were ones she’d already seen in Right Start–I was just trying to step back to reduce her anxiety.
- Art of Problem Solving’s Beast Academy 3A-C for Peatie. He would have easily finished the whole level, but several months math-free messed that up. This program was perfect for this kid who kept asking for “hard math.” It was funny and engaging, but super challenging, with great variety and no busy work.
- Michael Clay Thompson (MCT) Language Arts, Island Level – This is absolutely AWESOME. The kids learned all their basic parts of speech through story, learned how good grammar is connected to good writing, and got a great foundation in understanding the dynamics of poetry. You have to be willing to decide your own pace, though, so it’s not for everyone.
- NaNoWriMo writing, plus heavy editing in January (I will NOT make the mistake of signing myself up again. That 30,000 words nearly killed me.)
- Spanish language intro, mostly through Salsa Spanish (videos by Georgia Public Broadcasting, available free through their website)
- Various unit studies in the spring, including sewing, drawing, typing (using BBC’s Dance Mat), The Chemistry of Cooking, Dinosaurs, Maps and Mapping, Solutions and Crystallization
Because we’ve had such an enjoyable time following the kids’ interests this spring, I hesitated to leave that method; however, I do see value in consistent study of math and language arts, in particular, for this age level. Thus, the plan for the 2016-17 school year is to consistently work on math and language arts while allowing the kids to choose two additional subjects to continue our six-week unit studies.
- Right Start A for Pookie, taken slowly and playfully and combined with MathSeeds (subscription site), DragonBox Numbers (paid app), and Starfall games (inexpensive subscription site)–he can pick his activity for the day.
- Beast Academy 3 for Goobie–she’s declared herself ready. I plan to take it slow and sprinkle in some light work from Bedtime Math and other easy resources.
- Beast Academy 3D-4 for Peatie, continuing on last year’s success and likely in continued combination with Prodigy Math (free online math RPG), which he loves.
- Language Arts – This is one area where I simply can’t commit to one curriculum; I find myself using different resources for different purposes. I started with grand aspirations to include more elements, but I soon dialed it back to these basics.
- IEW’s Fix-It Grammar (The Nose Tree) for some simple, consistent work on basic editing. (I was very pleased that the copywork also served to improve both their spelling and the complexity of the sentences in their writing!)
- Writing using concepts from both IEW and Bravewriter, with a special emphasis on writing in November for NaNoWriMo.
- Continued review of cursive (random workbook) and typing (Dance Mat, Typing.com, or in-use).
- Pookie will get to choose from All About Spelling activities, Progressive Phonics read-togethers, and handwriting practice with Getty-Dubay Book A.
- Spanish – Midway through the year, I decided that I really did want the kids to do more than watch Spanish-language videos. I signed them up for Duolingo, which they loved…for a while. And while Goobie seems to have genuinely learned some of the content, Peatie’s pronunciation is horrible (and they deem it correct!) and he doesn’t seem to retain much beyond the basics–nor grasp the patterns he’s supposed to be seeing in order to choose the correct verb or adjective form.
- All the rest of our academics will be primarily based on the kids’ interests. I’ll try to remember to record their selections below and link to what we use in our studies.
This is the first year I’ll have three kids fully in the work rotation, though Pookie did some light daily work for the last half of the previous year.
- Right Start B for Pookie, supplemented with some Prodigy (free online math RPG) and Dragonbox Numbers/Algebra (paid apps)
- Beast Academy 4 for Goobie. Though level 3 often brought her to tears, she did fine with the concepts and was very proud of her successes especially because of the level of challenge. I’m going to encourage some fact practice to increase her computation speed and accuracy, though she is getting stronger on this. I’ll probably give her the choice of worksheets, Xtramath.com, or an app. **Update: Halfway through the year, she was getting really tired of constant challenge. I purchased Math Mammoth 4 for her, and she’s been thrilled with the straightforward work. I think the incremental nature of the book is also great for her, boosting her confidence by ramping up the difficulty slowly rather than tossing her into the deep end.
- Beast Academy 5 for Peatie. Level 4 continued to be a just-right challenge for this kid, though it took him forever to plod through. This year I’m assigning a chapter each month and helping him to set daily goals. He could use a little more speed on his multiplication, so I’ll give him the same options as Goobie for fact practice. He’s also asking for more math, though he can’t articulate exactly what he wants on that front. He’s finished Dragonbox Algebra 5+ and is happily working on Dragonbox Elements (geometry) with a stated desire to get Dragonbox Algebra 12+ once he masters Elements. He’s eager to get back to Prodigy and has been obsessively watching all of the math-related videos on BrainPop. I’m not sure what else to offer at this point.
- Language Arts
- All About Spelling (Level 1) will be his primary means to work on phonics, spelling, and handwriting. **Update: While he LOVED the flash cards (phonemes and spelling rules), he absolutely hated the dictations. I switched to having him do copywork from our read-alouds.
- For work on a random rotation of skills, I picked up a clearance workbook that covers phonics concepts, basic writing/grammar, and reading comprehension. Since he likes workbooks, it seemed like a perfect solution to round out his instruction.
- He’ll continue to select his own reading material for free reading time, and he’ll read aloud to me a few times a week.
- In addition, he’s almost certain to listen in to his siblings’ MCT lessons and participate in any writing projects they do.
- Peatie and Goober
- IEW’s Fix-It Grammar worked so well for us last year that we’ll keep at it and do Robin Hood this year. I think I may have them do two sentences twice a week so that we can fit in some of the other things I have planned. (Update: They HATED the Robin Hood story, and so did I. Robin was not at all likeable and the story was pretty boring and obnoxious, so it wasn’t fun. Halfway through the year I let them bail and just picked up speed with the other books of MCT–see below.)
- I plan to start MCT’s Town Level and work through Grammar Town before starting up Fix-It for the year. We’ll analyze sentences on the days we’re not doing Fix-It, and we’ll keep going with the writing, poetry, and vocab.
- Our writing focus will continue to be on projects I generate based on whatever else we’re studying. We’ll definitely participate in NaNoWriMo again, and I’m hoping to do more varieties of writing (how-to, descriptive, persuasive, 5-paragraph essays) instead of merely narrative/creative.
- Spanish – As I mentioned in last year’s post, I haven’t been thrilled with the results I’m seeing from Duolingo. The only Spanish classes available in my area are for preschoolers, but I’m hoping I can hire a high school or college student to do some little immersion activities with my kids each week in addition to Spanish videos. My focus for the year is going to be on speaking and understanding; grammar, reading, etc. can come later. **Update: No luck on finding a tutor for kids. I think I have found a class for next year, but for right now I have them reviewing vocab via apps and books and watching a Spanish show (alternating between Salsa and kids TV shows) every day.
- Everything else – We’ve reached a point where there’s not always a specific topic the kids are dying to learn about, but they’re interested in most topics I choose so long as we don’t stick with one ad nauseum. For my sanity’s sake, I’ve decided to rotate through the following subjects, spending a week or a few weeks on each.
- Geography – Someone mentioned a 2016 Focus on the Family summer activity book featuring blurbs about 50 different countries around the world. I’m using that as a jumping-off point for geography and culture studies. We’ll do a little map work, read a little about the culture, make a meal, and create an art project based on the art of that country. In addition, the kids periodically enjoy doing the US and World Map puzzles, playing Stack the States/Countries (paid apps), and filling in blank maps as far as they can. To top it off, we’ll do some review of basic map skills and learn about landforms.
- Science – I’ll probably keep choosing topics at random based on what I think will appeal. So far I’m thinking space (again!), force/motion, electricity, and animals. I’m thinking that next year I may get more organized/deliberate with science and history.
- History – As above, I’m picking and choosing at random for now. Right now I’m thinking we may cover the Gold Rush/westward expansion and Texas history.
- Music/Art/PE – Pookie plans to take another yearlong dance class, play soccer in the fall, and perhaps start drum lessons in the spring. Goobie’s plans are identical except she’s planning on flute instead of drums. Peatie will continue gymnastics and classical guitar lessons and frequent bike rides with Daddy. In addition, Grandma has volunteered to take the kids for one day a week and cover their basics (math and language arts) plus do some dedicated music, art, and PE with them. I’m thrilled!
- Self-Selected – I added this in the spring when I was exhausted from planning two mom-generated units at a time, and the kids were delighted. Sometimes they spend a whole week of their self-selected time working on a particular project–progressing in the piano book, writing a story, sewing–while other times they rotate through puzzles, brain teasers, art projects, and other passions. We only do self-selected time on days when we don’t have an afternoon activity, since otherwise we get too crunched for time–especially since self-selected activities usually take longer than mom-assigned work.
We were all excited about a one-day-a-week enrichment program we found: Spanish, art, reader’s theater, martial arts, and science. But within a month we were pretty disappointed in the program. Though we had heard so many people rave about it, the kids didn’t really get much content; they watched a lot of YouTube videos, and filled out a bunch of worksheets, but covered little of the promised content and with almost none of the hands-on learning we were promised. So we bailed after one semester and my mom saved the day with weekly Grandma School, at which she did history, hands-on science experiments, and reader’s theater. I planned weekly art projects that the kids loved far better than the follow-the-instructions projects they’d been getting, we signed them up for a twice-a-week homeschool martial arts class they adore (the teacher at the enrichment school made two of my kids cry repeatedly), and we found a retired Spanish teacher who got the kids actually speaking Spanish rather than memorizing the same vocabulary over and over again. So despite the frustration and disappointment, our year turned into a win on many fronts.
- Singapore Primary Mathematics 2-3 for Pookie. He flew through Level 2; but certain parts of Level 3 (memorizing all the multiplication facts, long multiplication and division) threw him for a loop. Since he’s begging to do Beast Academy, though, I’m not too worried; I’ll just start him at Beast 3A and he’ll hit it all again and hopefully be more receptive the second time through.
- Math Mammoth 5 for Goobie. She continued to only do about half of the problems in the book, but she rarely has trouble so I rarely make her do more than she wants to do.
- Beast Academy 5 and Art of Problem Solving PreAlgebra for Peatie. I was worried about the transition from cute cartoons to boring, heavy textbook, so I thought I’d have him alternate what he did. In the end, he LOVED the AoPS PreAlgebra book and never quite finished Beast 5D. Since he only works for 30 minutes a day (3-4 days per week), he’s not flying through PreAlg, but we’re in no real hurry. He started it in late fall and is more than halfway through.
- Language Arts
- I wanted Pookie to like Fix-It Grammar: The Nose Tree because it worked so well for his siblings, but copying a single sentence was like torture for this child–so much so that we had him evaluated for dysgraphia and spent a few months in OT (though I think she decided it’s mostly super low muscle tone–she never actually sat with me and discussed her findings). He worked through some of a language arts workbook I got from Sam’s Club and listened in to all the stuff his siblings did and picked up a bunch of it, but I’m going to have to find some more explicit spelling and mechanics for next year that involves minimal writing to minimize frustration.
- MCT Town Level didn’t get finished last spring, so I continued to work through it this fall. We got through half of Caesar’s English before Christmas and finished everything else. Since November was NaNoWriMo and we do editing and publishing in January, we never finished the second half of CE. The kids did a level of Editor in Chief, which I found rather disappointing (instruction was a long list no one wanted to read, they could just keep clicking and guessing until they got the right answer, and there were several errors in the text that weren’t ones they were supposed to fix). They also did random usage and mechanics worksheets from a Sam’s Club workbook, and we did a fun word-a-day Vocabulary Cartoons book for the spring semester.
- All the rest
- I went back to ancient history since it had been so long since we’d studied it. We got up to ancient Rome by Thanksgiving. In December and January we did a study of early US history (through the Revolutionary War, since we were headed to visit Boston over Christmas), and then Grandma took over with a return to ancient history.
- We were relying on the enrichment program for science; when that failed us, Grandma took over. Though she preferred random fun experiments to any set curriculum, the kids were definitely engaged.
- Our weekly Spanish tutor gave me a middle school workbook to go through with the kids between sessions, and we really hit this hard in the spring. I’ll back off once they have some of the basics down, but I want my kids to be competent in at least one language other than English.
- All three kids are in martial arts twice a week. In addition, Goobie took a yearlong dance class and Peatie continued piano lessons.