Monday, June 27, 2011

What We Use

Homeschooling. Dictionary. com defines it as:
 –noun the practice of teaching one's own children at home, instead of sending them to school.
Sounds simple, right? The definition needs to add that if you choose this option for your children, you will doubt your sanity. You will question all of your choices: sports activities, co-op programs, church activities, organized youth groups, homeschool groups? The biggest thing I have questioned is our curriculum choices. And apparently so do a lot of other homeschoolers. I have been asked about what curriculum we use three times in the last month.

When we began homeschooling, Sam and I had the benefit of having attended homeschool conferences for six years prior, as vendors of wooden toys. I had been able to speak with representatives of curriculum publishers in a more focused and personal way than most conference attendees are able. I spent hours pouring over curriculum materials in our downtime at the conferences. The one I kept coming back to was Rod and Staff. It had answer keys, covered all the basics, was christian based, was mostly non-consumable (hard covered texts and few workbooks), and was affordable. It had teacher's manuals that just about dictated what needed to be said to teach the lessons. Something this nervous new homeschooler appreciated. We purchased the complete grade five curriculum for our first year.

After our first year, I gained confidence. I realized I didn't need to have all the information given to me. We began to look at other curriculum for the various subjects. Through trial and error we have settled on what we now use. Oh, I still look at other things, especially as Abby advances in levels. I evaluate how each kid is doing with each subject. We tweak things here and there, but we now have a basic set of curriculum we use.

So for those who want to know, this is what we use:

For my overall organization, I use Homeschool Tracker Plus. The basic version can be downloaded for free, the Plus version (with lots of additional features) is a one-time cost of $55. Yes, it took hours to create the lesson plans for each of the texts we use, but once it was created, with just a few clicks of the mouse, I can assign it to next kid in line! I love that it keeps track of grades, time spent, extra-curricular, etc. and can spit out a report on those things in just a few clicks. Rescheduling assignments because of "life", used to take so much time with pencil and paper, now I simply click a few buttons and all five of the girls are rescheduled at once!

Math: After trying several different math programs, we've settled on Teaching Textbooks. This program uses cd-roms which have the lessons, taught by math professionals, practice problems, and lesson exercises. For all grades below Algebra 1, the program has automatic grading of the lessons. (the automatic grading for the higher grades is currently in production)The kids know right away if they got a problem wrong. If a problem is answered incorrectly they get another chance to get it right. Then they can ask for the answer. Before giving the answer the "teachers" explain how to do that particular problem, so the kids can see where they made their mistake! (This "explaining of the correct answer" is in the higher grades without the auto-grading) This feature is a life saver for me, as I am not well versed in math!

History/Social Studies/Geography: I still use Rod and Staff for our history for the elementary grades. I really like their format, Biblical perspective, and the emphasis on maps and vocabulary skills. After completing sixth grade, we use an interest-based curriculum that I create with literature, lapbooks, and map workbooks. For example, Hannah (grade 7), has an interest in Africa, so her curriculum this year was based on Africa lapbook activities from Hands of  A Child, book recommendations from our town librarians (who are awesome and deserve a pay raise!!), and maps from Uncle Josh's Maps. Beginning in ninth grade we use Exploring America by Notgrass publishers. This curriculum combines, History, English composition, Literature, and Biblical Studies into one tidy package to be used over a two year period. For eleventh grade we use Teaching Geography through Literature. For twelfth grade we will be using Exploring Government, also by Notgrass Publishers.

Science: We used to use Rod and Staff's science curriculum up until the eighth grade. Once I discovered Apologia's science program, we switched all of the kids over. This program is wonderful! The writing of the texts is done in a style that is not intimidating to the kids. The activities and experiments mostly use regular around-the-house items. It is very hands-on and the "Creation Confirmation" sections are well written. The high school levels include the option for dissections and microscope work. The experiments on the higher levels do sometimes require special items, but nothing that is hard to locate or extremely expensive. I do recommend that the CD-Rom be purchased for at least the Chemistry. On it, the formulas and experiments are explained in a visual format that has been beneficial to my girls. For the younger girls, I also purchased the notebook journals. They enjoy making the projects and it gives them the opportunity to view the material a second time. For the high school kids I use the lapbooks from Knowledge Box.

English/Composition/Literature: This subject gets complicated since some of the other subjects cover it within their programs. Up through fifth grade we use Rod and Staff's English. They still teach sentence diagramming, and though my kids HATE it, they all know how to write a proper sentence because of it. Starting in sixth grade we move to Learning Language Arts through Literature. For ninth and tenth grades we use their American Literature course and British Literature Course. At that point their English credits are also coming from the History programs we use.  The girls seem to really like this curriculum as it covers all the literary genres and there is a little bit of something for each of them.

That is basically what we use. Every once in a while I'll find a workbook or lapbook that is interesting and we add that in too. I am sure we will always be tweaking as the kids get older. Not everything works for every kid. That's one of the benefits of homeschooling: each kid can use what works for their style of learning.

Disclaimer: I have not been paid by any of these companies...
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