Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Part 4B - A Reason for Spelling

I had intended to write about both the writing & spelling in my last post, but it was getting so long (& I was out of time) that I decided to write a separate post about spelling. My son Alex has been doing Level C of A Reason for Spelling this school year (2nd grade). I placed him into Level C because of his placement test results. Yes, this curriculum has placement tests for spelling. Sample lessons & placement tests There are so many things I love about this curriculum that I am hard-pressed to name them all, so I'll stick to several.

  1. Research-based activities: As an educator who loves to research, I loved seeing the objectives of the curriculum and the reasons behind them. In fact, there is a bibliography page of their research in the teacher notes.
  2. Teacher notes: The Teacher Guidebook contains a HUGE amount of notes & helps, including helps for ESL students. 
  3. Language Arts connection: Each lesson begins with a character story, and language arts skills are applied with the spelling words in activities such as proof-reading, alphabetizing, and other word forms. Oh! Can't forget the journaling activities. 
  4. Variety of practice: My son's former curriculum required him to orally spell the words and write them. That was all. Bo-ring! There are many different activities in each lesson. In fact I'd think that you'd be hard pressed to do them all, so it's nice to have a good selection to choose from. My favorite part of the activities in the learning style practice. Each week the teacher is given 4 different activities to in general, visual, auditory, and tactile styles. My son is an auditory learner, but I like mixing it up and giving him practice in other styles as well. 
  5. Christian-based: Each week has a verse (same verse as in corresponding A Reason for Writing textbook) as well as a character story/lesson that is emphasized in the lesson. 
Those are some of my favorite aspects of A Reason for Spelling. I am very happy with it and have already ordered Alex's materials for next school year (Pre-owned from www.abebooks.com too to save $$). Please check them out at their site www.areasonfor.com or your favorite textbook retailer, such as Rainbow Resource where I just won a $25 gift card for my review of this curriculum on their site! My Rainbow Resource Review

Part 4A - A Reason For published by The Concerned Group

I cannot remember if I found A Reason For curriculum while searching for new spelling or new writing material for my second grader Alex, but we now use both, as well as their writing curriculum for Will. Here is some information about their company from their website. ARF site

The Concerned Group Mission
Our Mission is to Equip Teachers and Inspire Students.

Our Primary Focus is to Publish and Distribute Educational Resources that meaningfully incorporate Scripture Values and provide options for Differentiated Instruction.

Our Ultimate Goal is to point to God as the source of all wisdom,
and to make learning fun for life.
In addition to the spelling & writing materials we use, A Reason For also includes science (Alex will use next year.) and guided readers (I am actually not familiar with that term.). 

First I will discuss the writing program. One plus is that there is just one Teacher's Edition for grades K-6, although I am not sure how much use you would get from it past the early grades. It does however, contain very helpful early writing information and helps. 

Will has been using the level K book this year, which is manuscript. (My son Alex learned cursive first and has beautiful cursive writing, but cannot form all manuscript letters correctly, so I wanted Will to learn manuscript first.) Each lesson consists of a 2 sided-paper with letter practice on the front and a coloring page on the back. For example the letter E may have an eagle to color. What's neat is that the Teacher's edition contains information about each animal/thing (All are pictures of things God created.) as well as optional additions to the picture (such as: glue on a feather). Lower case letters are introduced and periodically reviewed first, then uppercase. There are fewer lessons that a whole school year, allowing teachers/parents to choose when a child is "ready" to write. The book begins with pre-writing skills. I found the size of the writing to be about 1.5 times larger than the first Manuscript writing program I had tried, which was a good size for the developmental level of Will's fine motor control at the beginning of the year. (Research shows that boys develop fine motor control later than girls.) See curriculum samples here. Handwriting curriculum samples

The program starts with Level K, then moves to A which is approximately first grade. Levels K, A-B are manuscript with a T (transitional) Level to transition from manuscript to cursive. If you click on the samples link above, you can select Level T sample lesson to get more information on making the transition. Levels C-F are entirely in cursive & correspond to grades 3-6. I use Level C for my second grader because he already knows how to write in cursive. However, the line spacing is smaller than what he was doing at the beginning of the year in ABeka, so that took some adjustment period, as well as learning some new strokes on some of the letters. (ABeka cursive is very "loopy.") 

As the name implies, students are giving "A Reason for Writing," which I really liked, rather than just pages upon pages of random text. Each week's lesson Days 1-4 in on a 2-sided sheet. Students practice letters and words from the Scripture thought of the week on Days 1-3. On Day 4, students trace the entire thought On Day 5, students choose a border sheet from the back of the book and write the thought in their best writing. Then they color the border. Students are encouraged to share the completed sheet as a way of ministering to others. Wow! I love that what is usually a boring, tedious subject has been changed into a way our kids can minister to others! The Scripture thought is a paraphrase from The Living Bible, chosen for its simple vocabulary. Parents/teachers are encouraged to look up the verse in the version of the Bible they use at home.

As  KJV only user, I struggled with how to explain this to my son, but ended up simply telling him this was a paraphrase, and since it was not a direct quote from the Bible we use, we would not include the reference. I think that works. It also gave me a chance to discuss the need for care to not change the meaning of the Bible and stuff like that. Overall I have been really happy with this program and plan to use it again next year. 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Part 3 - Alpha Omega Publications

Before I began homeschooling, I had heard of AOP, but was not familiar with them. When I first saw them at a homeschool convention, I actually was confused by their different brands, but as I began to investigate, I became a quick fan!

Unlike many other "one size fits all" textbook publishers, AOP has several brands of materials, which allows users to customize their homeschooler's education in a way that works best. (Yep, you can see already why I like AOP.) Like A Beka and Bob Jones, they offer an accredited homeschool program. They even offer student IDs and "school" merchandise. How fun! You can get more info on the Academy here. AO Academy info Their brand options include Monarch, which is online, Switched-On Schoolhouse, which is on CD-Rom, Lifepac, mastery based and  independent work-styled (I think of it as ACE with instruction!), Weaver, which is unit based so the whole family can study together, and Horizons, which uses a short-spiral method and workbooks. Check them all out at www.aophomeschooling.com.

As you may have gleaned from my blog, my youngest son Will is gifted in mathematics. He is the reason we are homeschooling, because I did not feel the traditional classroom would be a good fit for him. He is also very active and a hands-on learner, so I searched for awhile to find a math curriculum that would be a good fit for him. I chose Horizons and love it so much that his brother will do it next year as well. Some things I love about the Horizons math program:

  • The short spiral - I think I actually prefer spiral-based learning over mastery, although I haven't really done as much research on the matter as I'd like (Yes, I love to research.) There is a simple explanation in this article. Choosing a Math Curriculum (be careful of the ads on this page). Spiral learning provides a wide variety of topics, which I think is good for younger children. Plus there is a lot of review. Horizons has a very definite approach to their spiral - you can see it all planned out in the teacher edition. 
  • The colorful variety of activities on each page - Again, Will is completing several different activities on each page, which helps keep his interest. The pages are very colorful, and they do not include any explanation, just practice. The teacher's edition provides the instruction and review activities, and is quite thorough, even down to goals & objectives for each lesson. You can see a sample of the student book here. Math grade 1 student page sample (Yes, my K4 student is in first grade math. See why we're homeschooling?
  • The placement test - AOP offers a variety of placement tests for their curriculum, which really helps parents determine the best grade level for their child. This is great for gifted or slow learners, as well as students transferring from another style curriculum. See the options here. Placement tests
  • The emphasis on manipulatives - Will is a hands-on learner and needs to "see" how things work. Once  he gets it, he's got it. For example place value - seeing the group of 10 straws helped him visualize what "groups of 10" meant. I had to show him ONE TIME, but he has to physically see or handle it for it to stick. I will add here that I recommend getting manipulatives as you go along, rather than all up front. I used a list of suggested items to purchase a bunch of stuff when I bought the curriculum, but haven't used most of it yet, and some lessons he did not need the manipulative at all. Here is a great place to pick up the manipulatives though. www.rainbowresource.com
We have had such success with the Math program, that I have also ordered their Phonics & Reading and Health programs for Kindergarten next year. 

For Will, I have also been using Lifepac's K Language Arts this year, which covers phonics, reading, some basic grammar topics, writing, and skills like color and shape identification. The material is not introduced as quickly as in the Horizons curriculum, which is why I chose Lifepac for K4 and will do the Horizons in K (Horizons does offer what looks to be a really excellent preschool curriculum.) 

The K Language Arts seems different than the older grades' materials, but I like the idea of Lifepac - independent work + an instructor. As stated in their Scope & Sequence Lifepac S&S their curriculum is "not a self-study course." When I think of self-study curriculum, I think of Accelerated Christian Education (ACE). Some aspects are similar, like the self-tests and tests for each unit, but there is teacher instruction as well, albeit more limited than say Horizons.  Ten units comprise a year, but the units can be purchased separately or mixed & matched between grade levels. Lots of options with Lifepac.

Will's K Language Arts course is a little bit different though; obviously a non-reader cannot do much independent work. His is comprised of 2 workbooks and a teacher's guide. Each lesson has the main teaching suggestions as well as a lengthy list of extended activities. I LOVE this, because it allows me to vary the way I present the material. There are some activities I do with each lesson, others I do from time to time. There are activities for different ability levels as well. One I have tried several times, and Will is just not ready for that, so we'll try again in a few weeks (have to keep reminding myself he is in K4 and doing mostly advanced work, but isn't advanced in some areas). 

As a homeschooling mom of two (so far) I recognize that the time will come that they will need to do more independent work that what they are doing now. In light of that, I am working towards Alex being able to work independently. We are going to try Lifepac's 3rd grade History & Geography next year, so I will be able to comment on the regular Lifepacs then. But I like what I see so far in the sample material, as well as the one I ordered used from used book powerhouse ABE Books.ABE I am not familiar with AOP's other brands, but please comment if you have used them. There is plenty of information on the AOP website, such as a comparison of all the brands and samples of teacher editions and student workbooks. Thanks for reading! Part 4 will be coming soon, featuring the "A Reason For" curriculum from The Concerned Group. 

Part 3 coming up but first an explanation. . . .

Before I begin this next part of the series, I feel the need to explain something that I have mentioned in several of my posts. I know some of my readers understand this, but I feel that others may not, so I want to clarify. When discussing Christian-perspective materials, you may see me mention "KJV" or "not KJV." This refers to the King James version of the Bible, which was published in 1611 by King James of England, who wanted to get the Bible into the hands of the common people, so he had it translated out of the original languages to English. I consider this to be the most accurate English translation (although I do not believe God "inspired" the translators as some in my circle believe), and it is the only one we use in our household. However, not all Christians share this view, so there are many, many resources that use different versions. I do not have a problem using those resources, because I could always look up the verses in my own Bible if I wasn't familiar with them. I consider those to be Bible "paraphrases," or as I explain to my boys, "putting the Bible into your own words."  I really don't even mind versions that change Archaic language to modern words, like "thees" and "thous" to "you." But what I do have a problem with is versions that change the MEANING of the verses. Anyway, that's another soapbox. I have found the KJV users tend to be pickier about what other versions they use, so I mention whether something is KJV or not for those people. I know some who will not use any materials that quote another version of the Bible; I feel that is like "throwing the baby out with the bath water." God promises His Word will not return void, and I feel that those materials can be useful as well.

The way I handle other versions of the Bible in our curriculum is to explain to my boys that someone put the Bible into different words. We have to be careful when we do that so that we don't change the meaning. That would be wrong. If we use materials with a different version, we do not include the reference, because, in my mind, that is not the actual Word of God, it is a paraphrase. You may disagree, which is fine with me. The Bible does not address Bible versions so it's one of those issues we have to use principles from the Bible to decide our stand on it. I do not feel that it should divide believers either. Oops, getting back on the soapbox. I'll quit now. Onto the next part of the series. . . .

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Part 2 - ABeka Book

A Beka Bookwww.abeka.com  produces amazing homeschool and Christian school materials and has for many, many years. Founded by Arlin & Beka Horton, pioneers in the Christian school movement and developed in the Christian school they founded in 1954, Pensacola Christian Academy. A Beka is used in homeschools and Christian schools worldwide. I suspect many of my readers are familiar with A Beka (ABB) so I won't spend much time on their history, but check out their "distinctives" here Distinctives - a very interesting read, as is their section on "research and development."  R&D

These two sections of their website help explain why their materials are great, but let me share some reasons they are great for homeschoolers.

1-Ease of use: Their curriculum guides lay everything out step by step for teachers: what to put on the board (We use individual whiteboards.), what to review, what to say, how to explain. Teacher keys even tell you how many points to take off for each test question. Because the books are proven at PCA, the teacher's planning work is all done for you, by master teachers who use proven methods.

2- Options for homeschoolers: Buy the books, do the teaching yourself, & keep your own records. Lease DVDs or purchase a Livestream subscription and have master teachers teach your child via the screen. Do this & keep your records or enroll in the accredited A Beka Academy, where your child can even go to a special graduation ceremony in Florida when that time comes, whether you do the teaching or they do. Lots of options!

3 - There are lots of live meetings and materials displays at conventions and around the country where you can see and feel the materials before ordering. There are package discounts and financing options available as well.

4 - ABB curriculum uses a spiral learning style where material is introduced in sections, reviewed, left alone for awhile and then built upon later. ABB also teaches reading via an intensive phonics program which builds a strong foundation for reading. There is a lot of drill and repetition.

5 - ABB materials use the KJV 100%.

While I love ABB materials, I have found that they are not the best fit for our family and will only be using them for Alex's language arts, some LA supplement material for Will, and some K supplement material for Will for next year. Now, remember my WHYs. What's the main one? To provide a customized education for my boys, right? Alex used these materials 100% for 3 years in our church's Christian school and received an EXCELLENT foundation in reading and math! However, due to their strong emphasis on review, I found that some of the materials did not provide much of a challenge for him this year. Because it is important to me to customize his education experience, I want him to be challenged. Therefore, I started researching other curriculum to meet that goal. I feel that I have the knowledge base to be able to make wise decisions about curriculum and really pick it apart to see how it meets my goals and educational philosophy. My youngest son Will is very smart, but very much a hands-on learner. You might remember the hands-on program we used at the beginning of the school year. I feel that ABB plays to other learning styles in a stronger way than to Will's hands-on style. So while I don't feel this is the best fit for our family, I'm not "throwing the baby out with the bath water" either. I haven't found a LA program I like for Alex better than this one, so we're sticking to it. In my research it's THE BEST for HIM; the one I'm using for Will is not as strong as this one, but teaches in a way that HE NEEDS to learn, so I'll take less material for a better grasp.

Changing from this wonderful material was one of the hardest decisions I had to make in our homeschool journey this year, especially since I received 2 degrees from the college that helps publish it. I know it's quality material; it's what I mostly learned in K-12. However, it takes me back to my WHYs and doing what is best for my kids. I hope this blog post helps you in your decision to do what is best for your children.

Part 1 - Bible Study Guide

Teaching my children about God is one of the most important  jobs I have as a parent, so I wanted to find a special tool to help me do that. I had never heard of Bible Study Guide, but literally found them through a Google search of "homeschool Bible curriculum multiple ages" or something like that. I really wanted to find a Bible curriculum that my boys could do together, despite their age difference (second grade & K4). I have a lot of good things to say about this curriculum and plan to continue using it through the summer and into next year.

Their website www.biblestudyguide.com describes the curriculum like this:
The Bible Study Guide is a Bible curriculum that takes all ages through the Bible at the same time, studying some Old Testament and some New Testament each year.
Students learn the "big picture" of the story of the Bible, in-depth knowledge of the Bible and, best of all, how to apply it to their lives.
1 - For me obviously the biggest "pro" is that my 2 boys can study the same content with grade-appropriate material. Will uses the Beginner Level Material (K3-K5) while Alex uses the Intermediate Material (gr. 3-4). I chose a higher level for him because of his exposure to a lot of Bible teaching already in Sunday School, children's church, AWANA, & 3 years in Christian school. The one "con" I have fits here too. It has been a little tricky to "teach" both at the same time, as their application activities are different and require different instructions from me, but I think our system is working.

2 - The material is cost effective. The website recommends materials based on how many students you are teaching whether your own family or in a class setting. We pay just $5.95 per set of 26 lessons. The only level that requires a teacher guide for homeschooling is Primary level. Each set of student pages has a page of teacher instructions. I also purchased the Bible Book Summary Cards and music CD (sung lyrics only).

3- My boys are learning SO MUCH about the Bible,  not just stories. Let me walk you through a typical lesson for each boy .

Will's Sing & Remember section reviews content from each section of stories we've studied over & over again. Lesson 36 which we just finished asks about Lesson 1! This section also has students sing songs (There is an optional CD.) such as praise songs, Sunday school type songs, and songs that teach.  The Learn the Basics teaches a Biblical time line (I do not use this with Will) and information such as the books of the Bible. All of this is on one side of the Student Page. On the same side is the Get Active introduction activity (I do sometimes) and the application picture & discussion thoughts. The back side contains the story. There are Scripture references for me to read or I can use the included story paraphrase to tell the story (usually what I do for Will). Each story has a panel with cartoon-type illustrations, with things for Will to do in each pane. For example, if someone is mad, he may color their face red. God is illustrated by a cloud that says "God," which Will is always instructed to color yellow. Simple DOing things. See an example of the Beginner pages here. Beginner student pages sample

Alex's lesson has a Remember It? section where he is asked questions on the past stories. Sometimes it's fill in the blank, sometimes matching, things like that. He also has a Memory Workout section where he reviews stuff like books of the Bible and Bible Book Summary Cards (optional visuals that teach a summary of each book of the Bible). The Guess What. .. section teaches a definition of a word or defines a custom in the Bible. For example, you may know that Joseph was in charge of everything in Potifar's house except what he ate, but did you know that is because in their culture Egyptians did not eat with Hebrews? I didn't, but my 7 year old learned that! Alex's front side also contains a Get Active activity like Will's, an Apply It section, as well as a Prayer List (We do not do these parts as often as I'd like us to.). The front also contains my favorite part - Time Line or Map (every 3rd lesson). Alex is learning how all these stories relate to each other on a timeline of Biblical history as well as learning a LOT of Bible geography. The back contains the story panel too, but with age appropriate activities. Where Will is coloring or circling, Alex is labeling, underlining, matching, and drawing. These kinesthetic (hands-on) activities really imprint these stories in my boys' minds. See an example if Intermediate pages here. Intermediate student pages sample

4 - This may sound funny to you, but I like that the male characters do not look sissy or have long hair. Think about the Bible illustrations you've seen and you know what I mean.

5 - Another plus is that since no Scripture is actually printed on the pages, users are free to use whatever version of the Bible they choose.

Our review, story time, and application time takes about 30 minutes, which is our longest class of the day, but the most important, so I do not mind. If we are pressed for me, we sometimes do the review work one day and the story the next.

My Homeschool Curriculum Preface to 4 Part Series

I am a terrible blogger, but I do not promise you a daily or a frequent blog ever. I love reading; I love sharing what I've read. I will do it when I can. And I have not forgotten about those books I mentioned in my last post; I just think this is more important.

Today I am starting a series of blogs about the curriculum I use homeschooling my boys. I think it's a great time of year for this, as my homeschooling friends and friends who may be considering homeschool are starting to think about next year. Or maybe you're not, but I am! The reason I have recently solidified my curriculum choices for next year is that I am trying to buy used/preowned or take advantage of sales/convention specials. So far I have saved close to $200.

Before I began, let me preface that your WHYS of homeschooling are a very important factor in the curriculum you choose. When I started homeschool this fall, my why for my son Will was different than for my son Alex. Alex was basically just along for the ride, and I wasn't sure that I was going to like the ride, so I ordered pretty much all the same material he would be using if he had continued at our church's Christian school, where he attended last year. A number of my friends homeschool because they cannot afford a private school's price tag, because they live too far away from their local Christian school, because public school is not an option that meshes with their belief system, or because there is no Christian school in their area. . . those reasons are different than mine, and those reasons allow for different curriculum choices. I get that and don't knock their reasons or their curriculum. I wish they'd stop feeling like they have to defend their choices to me; it makes me feel awkward.

One of my main WHYS is "to give my sons an customized education that fits them as individuals." That being said, I will take the next four posts to share the curriculum I use with my boys and why I have chosen it for our program. Happy Reading!