"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;

I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."

John 10:10

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Thoughts on curriculum choices: The Basics

Now that I have my school plans coming together for next year, I want to flush out my reasons and philosophy about my choices a little more.

     We use Saxon Math because it seems to be the old time standard of a thorough math program.  It is not fancy or colorful, which to me can be distracting for the girls.  The program uses a lot of manipulatives for the younger grades.  Saxon 5/4 is the transition year for the student doing most of the lessons on his or her own with Mom checking in and clarifying when needed.  Before that, the lessons are completely scripted for the teacher although some explanation or expansion is sometimes necessary.  Saxon uses a spiral approach, meaning you work on a new concept, go on to something different the next day, then come back to the concept in a different way later.  However, there is a lot of review each day to complement the spiral approach.  Included in the review is fact practice, word problems, and mental math.  Although it is tempting to doubt your choices and try other programs, Saxon has worked well as a thorough and understandable math program for us so we are sticking with it.  It seems to me that jumping around with math programs could really produce some holes.
Last year, I came to a screeching halt with Madeline and math.  Although she understands new concepts easily and enjoys learning new concepts, she was struggling with having the basic math facts of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division down automatically.  We would drill and drill, which was not fun for either of us.  Then I discovered xtramath.org.  This has been a great add on to our math.  Everyday she (and Lydia) go online to their site and do about 10 minutes of math drill.  For some reason, doing it online instead of with Mom is more exciting.  Xtramath tracks how the girls are doing and does not let them proceed until they have mastered a fact.  It is the best math drill site I have found.  

     Until the girls reach CC Essentials, we use Writing With Ease (WWE) by Susan Wise Bauer.  WWE begins with simple copywork and one sentence narration exercises from children's literature.  Then it moves on to dictation from literature.  We use the workbook, which has every lesson laid out for the mom.  I really believe in making it as easy as possible for mom so that lessons actually get done.  We have loved WWE for the gradual increase in difficulty as the student moves on, and we also love the children's literature selections used.  It is exciting to encounter a selection from a book that we have already read and we have even found new books to read from WWE.  The copywork/narration/dictation method fits the classical model of learning and seems to transition to our writing program for 3rd/4th grade on up:  Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW).
     Last year was our first year to use IEW.  Madeline started out the year stating that writing was one of her least favorite subjects to finishing out the year as her favorite subject.  She learns the new "technique" in her Essentials class every week, then works on her assignment during the week at home.  It requires a lot of writing over the course of the year.  The premise of IEW is that you learn to write from other writings.  She learned how to construct a key word outline from another writing selection, and then had to write her own paper from that outline adding in dress ups, sentence openers, and other items from her checklist.  It covers creative writing, poetry, research papers, and other topical writing assignments.  Essentials uses the IEW history based lessons, which coincide with the history that CC is covering that year.  All my kids will go through IEW multiple times over their schooling career, until they hopefully master the skill of writing.

     My favorite book for teaching my girls to read is "The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading" (OPGTR) by Jessie Wise.  It is a very user friendly, phonics based program.  You can move as quick or slow as you want through the book.  When you are initially teaching a child to read, it is painful.  Sounding out small words, going over the same thing again and again is not "fun."  You wonder what you are doing wrong or if there is something wrong with the child.  But for both Madeline and Lydia, they reached a point where it really clicks and they take off reading.  At that point, we stop the formal reading lessons and I let them read, read, read whatever they want.  They are very soon out of the beginning readers and moving on to chapter books.  I have them read aloud to me every so often to make sure they are reading accurately and to help with reading fluency.  I also ask them questions about what they are reading to make sure they are comprehending and not just flying through books.  We continue with additional phonics rules through our spelling lessons.
  I have skipped over the beginning letter sounds as presented in OPGTR because that seems tedious and I spot check the girls to make sure they know their basic letter sounds before we start the book.  They learn the letters before actually beginning to read through our everyday life.  They learn the letter sounds through everyday life and by watching Leap Frog Letter Factory.  Okey dokey artichokey?  Seriously, that is how I have them learn the letter sounds.
     One of the most important aspects of teaching reading is instilling a love of reading in our home.  I am reading board books to them from day one.  They see Mark and I reading a lot.  We go to the library on a close to every week basis.  There are books everywhere around our house.  Because reading is a natural, fun, and important part of our life they are excited to learn to read.

     Although I have used "First Language Lessons" in the past, I have come to the conclusion that really memorizing the english grammar facts through Classical Conversations should provide a solid foundation for grammar.  Until they reach Essentials, we will not complete any formal grammar study but will really hammer in those english grammar facts.  That means they will know all the prepositions, helping verbs, linking verbs, principle parts of verbs, sentence structures, sentence patterns, noun definitions, pronouns, parts of speech, and more.  This will be an invaluable resource when it comes time to connect the dots in the analysis of english grammar.
     When they reach 3rd or 4th grade, they will begin Essentials of the English Language.  This is a complete grammar program where the student learns the ins and outs of english grammar.  He or she is in class once a week with a trained tutor, then practices sentence diagramming and analysis at home during the week.  The child will go through the program 3 or 4 times, learning the same thing every year but delving deeper every year.

     We use Spelling Workout workbooks because they were recommended in "The Well Trained Mind" when we first started school.  I like them because the child can complete the lessons on her own, then check in with Mom for a spelling test at some point.  Some weeks we do one lesson and a spelling test.  Other weeks, Madeline will finish 3 lessons but not finish a spelling test for a couple weeks.  We are flexible.  The lessons are centered around phonics rules, which I appreciate.  I know there are other more rigorous spelling programs out there, but this has worked for us thus far.  Madeline seems to be a natural speller and Lydia seems to be following in her footsteps.  So, instead of driving myself crazy researching new and better spelling programs, we're sticking with this because it works and is easy for me.

     This is another area where I chose a program when we started and am just going with it.  We use Zaner-Bloser handwriting workbooks.  I order the workbook for their grade level and we go through it.  I really can't tell you much about this program compared to others, other than the style seems pretty similar to how I learned.  While the girls complete the workbook sheets by themselves without too much instruction from me, I have found that I need to stay on top of them about holding the pencil correctly and following the rules for forming the letter.  

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