Sunday, September 30, 2012

Homeschool Curriculum: Reviews and Reflections

Many people have asked me about what curriculum I am using this year for school.  I feel like I have sent lots of emails/FB messages in response to that question, and I figured I would just write it all down here so that when people ask, I can direct them here, AND so that I can remember for myself years down the road when I wonder what the heck we did all year. =)


After the initial big decision to take the plunge into the world of home school, the next major decision we needed to make was to choose curriculum.  This was honestly quite stressful for me.  I was afraid that I wouldn't pick the right thing, or that I would end up choosing something that didn't work and end up having to purchase something else.  While I have spent many hours (years!) of my life teaching and implementing different curriculum, I've never had to PICK it - let alone for my OWN kids.  I was feeling the pressure.  What if I pick the wrong thing?  What if I spend hundreds of dollars on something and it doesn't even work!!??

As I looked into various options, I was confused, because a lot of the "Kindergarten" stuff seemed too easy for Caleb, yet skipping straight to 1st grade didn't seem to make the most sense either.

I asked lots of other homeschooling moms, spent lots of time researching options online, and went to a home school conference this past summer with 1 major goal: brave the massively large (and somewhat daunting) room filled with every possible curriculum option out there. 

After all of that, and coming to the realization that no matter what I picked we'd all (most likely) survive, I came to some decisions.

The 1st curriculum decision I made was that I didn't want to purchase a "curriculum package".  Going that route would sure make life a bit easier (for me), as such a package includes pretty much everything one would need for all subject areas (although needing to supplement in one or more areas is always a possibility).  But by NOT going with a pre-assembled "kit", I would have flexibility to pick-and-choose as well as have plenty of opportunity to plan my own lessons and activities (which I really enjoy doing).  Most importantly, this would allow me extra flexibility with meeting Caleb's (and Meredith's) needs. 

Once I made that decision, I knew the next step was to decide on what I was going to do for formal Reading/Phonics instruction as well as Math. For both of those important subjects, I knew I wanted something that we could go through at our own pace....something that would lend itself to flexibility.  A friend directed me to this site, which gave me lots of ideas with where to start in regards to selecting books, which was very helpful.'s an overview of what we are doing at this point!

PHONICS:  The Reading Lesson

Caleb came into this year already knowing the phonetic sounds of each letter, and able to recognize many words as well as read simple words by sounding them out.  So I knew I wanted something that would be a challenge for him (ie: I didn't want to spend an entire week on the letter A), yet I didn't want something so challenging that he became bored and frustrated.  The Reading Lesson has been great.  It is made up of 20 "lessons" which are each about 10-20 pages.  Each of these 20 lessons focuses on certain phonetic sounds, starting with simple ones and increasing in difficulty/complexity.  For example, the first lesson introduced the phonetic sounds of "c" (hard), '"o" (short), "s", "a" (short) and "t".  Eventually, long vowels, word combos, blends, etc. are introduced.  We are currently on Lesson 8, which is the long "i" sound, and the "st" blend.   I really like it, since we can go through at our own pace.  We went pretty quickly through the first lessons, since they were easy for Caleb, but it was still great review, practice, and confidence-building.  I am actually hoping to start this book with Meredith next year (age 4), and while we won't go through it as quickly as Caleb is, that's okay, because there's no time limit.  So far, this has been a great resource in teaching Caleb to read.  He is doing really well, and it's an easy book to navigate.


 Okay, we all love the BOB books.  I would actually recommend them to anyone out there with young readers, whether homeschooling or not!  They have been a GREAT supplement to our formal phonics instruction.  Each little book is a short story that is made up of words using only a certain number of phonetic sounds.  The really great thing about these books is that they are complete (and often funny) stories that Caleb can read.  While going through a Phonics book is just fine, it's so much more fun to actually be able to pick up a storybook and READ it!  We started out with just the first 2 boxes (Beginning Readers and Advanced Beginners) but quickly needed to place another order for some more.  Caleb was so excited the day that box was delivered with more books (be still, my literacy-loving heart!). He often uses these during independent reading time, as well as during his "read to Daddy" time every night. 

SIGHT WORDS: "Popcorn Words"

I've been working with Caleb on sight words (high-frequency words) occasionally over the past year and I wanted to continue with that.  High-frequency words are words that appear often in text, and are sometimes hard to phonetically sound out (darn English language!).  So, I really wanted to make sure that these were incorporated into daily learning, to enhance his overall reading abilities.

Enter:  Popcorn Words =)

I was trying to think of a way to teach these that would be fun for the kids, and I immediately thought of the popcorn words idea.   The kids LOVE popcorn, so I knew they would like this.  In the picture above is the first set of words we did this year (most of which Caleb already knew, but I wanted to start out slow and easy and fun).  So each day, we practice these words, and occasionally "pop like popcorn" to identify/spell them.  Once Caleb has mastered a set of words, I put up a new set and then use the "old" ones for review. Sometimes, I will refer to them as "sight words" or "word wall words" (that's the former teacher in me!), and Caleb will correct me and remind me that they are popcorn words. =)


This book has simple poems that incorporate the sight words as we learn them, and build on ones learned previously.  It requires Caleb to write the "popcorn word" multiple times in one poem, and then practice reading it repeatedly, as it appears multiple times in the poem.  It also provides another way to practice reading skills.

MATH: Horizons for Kindergarten

In the research I did, it appeared that most of the Math workbooks were quite similar, so it was just a matter of picking something.  So far, the Horizons workbooks have been nice.  Once again, we can go through it at our own pace and take time to supplement/instruct on various topics as needed.  I like it because it continually reviews things from previous lessons, even when introducing new concepts.  The graphics are nice (I am picky about what a page layout looks like!), which is a bonus. 

MATH: Daily Word Problems (Grade 1)

 Each day, we actually start off our Math time with one of the word problems from this book.  It calls for some higher level thinking and problem-solving, and I love the way it is set up - just ONE a day!  I actually went with the 1st grade book for this, and although Caleb can't yet read all of the text independently, and some of the problems require skills that we haven't yet got to, it's working out really well, and allows me an additional opportunity to introduce those new skills in a quick, easy, and low-stress situation.

MATH:  Manipulatives

At various times throughout our Math lessons, we will use different manipulatives to learn and reinforce.  One of my favorite things to use is pattern blocks, which was one of my first home school purchases this summer.  They can be used to make pictures/designs (as seen here), but there are so many other uses for them as well:  sorting, patterns, shape/color identification, comparing/contrasting, fractions, etc.

HANDWRITING: A Reason for Handwriting (Level A - 1st Grade)

Ok.  So.....handwriting is NOT Caleb's favorite thing ever.  I chose this 1st grade handwriting book, as opposed to the Kinder option, because I assumed that since Caleb has already known how to write all of the upper and lower case letters for over a year, the Kindergarten book would be too simple.  But, while we have started this book, we haven't gotten too far.  Caleb really doesn't enjoy practicing letters without a purpose.  So for right now, I am incorporating handwriting into other parts of our his Math books, he practices correct number formation frequently, and we practice correct letter formations during times he's writing words elsewhere (story-writing, writing his name, spelling words, etc.).  But, I am not worrying too much about his penmanship at this point.  What I do love about this book (and all of the levels in this series) is that it incorporates Scripture, so eventually, the kiddos will be writing out Bible verses for their handwriting practice.  I plan to get back into this book soon. =)


At this point, I am just using various opportunities throughout our days to teach Caleb about sentence structure as well as how to put sentences together to make a story.

For example, here are a couple of things from our recent Apples unit in which Caleb had to write sentences/a story.

 WRITING: Daily Journal

Something we've recently started is a Daily Journal, where Caleb will have an opportunity to draw a picture as well as write about his picture.  Or vice-versa - he can write first and then make a picture to go with what he wrote.  Some days, I'll have a "prompt" for him to go on (ie: write about someone in your family), and other days he can just draw/write what he wants.


Because I enjoy planning lessons and crafts and activities, I didn't purchase a set curriculum for either Social Studies or Science.  I am actually doing things like you might see in a traditional Kindergarten classroom....each week or two weeks, we have a new thematic unit, which will incorporate all sorts of Science, Social Studies, seasonal, holiday, etc. themes.  So far this year, we have had All About Me, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, and an Apples unit.

  I planned out our year of units based around holidays, seasons, Caleb's interests and other things that I just think will be fun.  Throughout the rest of the year, we'll learn about the solar system, volcanoes, arctic animals, the USA, and geography....among other things! I am hoping to do a blog post after we finish each unit, which is a fun way for me to reflect on what we did.  You can find those by clicking here.


Every morning, we start the day with Calendar Time, most of which is geared toward Meredith right now.  At this point, our Calendar Time consists of:
  • prayer, 
  • the Pledge of Allegiance, 
  • placing today's date on the calendar and reciting/writing the date in its entirety (Today is Monday, October 1, 2012, etc.), 
  • talking about things like "yesterday" and "tomorrow", 
  • singing songs (Days of the Week, 12 Months in a Year, any thematic songs we might have, etc.)
  • practicing Bible verses, 
  • hundreds chart activities (we've been working on rote counting to 100, counting by 10s and 5s, and will soon be working on counting by 2s)
  • discussing/charting the day's weather 
example of a page in our weather chart journal
I have seen some really neat ideas on some other blogs/sites for how I can make Calendar Time a bit more challenging for Caleb, so I am hoping to implement some of those things soon.

PRESCHOOL:  Meredith =)

Obviously, most of my efforts this year went into planning for Kindergarten.  Meredith already has a good grasp on most of the "preschool basics" (she's got her letters, most phonetic sounds, shapes, numbers, counting, 1-to-1 correspondence, colors, etc. down), so what I am focusing on with her is just more awareness of all of those things as well as fine motor skills such as cutting, tracing, etc.  She loves to "do school", so I am just trying to make life fun for her. =)  She loves Calendar Time, and working in her "school books", as well as anything that involves glue.  She responds so well to pretty much anything I put in front of her...doesn't take too much to please this one.

She has some "workbooks" that she works through, and loves:

L-R: Kelley Wingate Preschool Skills, Kumon's My 1st Book of Tracing, and Usborne Wipe-Clean Alphabet
And, most things that I plan in regards to our thematic units, Meredith is able to do as well, or I make a modified version for her.

She also does Busy Bags at times, which are a lot of fun for her.  I participated in a "Busy Bag Exchange" in the Spring, and we have a bin full of activities that she can do independently:

Oh, and I like to take advantage of free printables on websites like this one.

I imagine that as the year goes on, I'll be adjusting things as needed.  But, that's a basic overview of what we've got going on currently.

There are many days when I feel like what I am doing is not enough.  I look at other homeschooling moms, and at what they are doing, and think to myself I wish I could teach my kids like they can or, I wish I could come up with the cool ideas that they come up with.  But, at the end of the day, I absolutely need to remember that it doesn't matter what others are doing.  Yes, it's important to seek wisdom and counsel at times.  And I am VERY thankful for those moms out there who share their "stuff" with the world via the web.  But ultimately, I need to not forget that what matters most is that I am doing my best for my kids, as well as I know how.

There are plenty of other great curriculum options out there, and I have a feeling that if we decide to home school again next year, I will be getting one of those "curriculum kits" for Caleb's 1st grade year.  But, this is what we have for today, and it seems to be working.  The kids are learning, and everyone seems to be having fun.  Most days. =)

Some sites I like to check out:

Friday, September 28, 2012

Our Little Golfer

There's lot of excitement around here because of the Ryder Cup, which is being held at Medinah Country Club, about 15 minutes from our house.

As exciting as something like that is, we are quite partial to our own little golfer, who had golf lessons tonight.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Unit Theme: Apples!

We have had a lot of apple-y fun these past 2 weeks.  We've learned about apples, picked apples, done apple crafts, made apple pie, and eaten apples (although, that is nothing out-of-the-ordinary).

Bulletin board after week 1....I think I need a bigger one?!
Some All-About-Apples Books:
We enjoyed reading these, and using them as resources for some of our apple activities.

Apple Tree Sequencing:
Using sentences directly from Our Apple Tree, as well as the pictures in the book as reference, the kiddos illustrated the changes each season brings to the apple tree.

Apple Tree Craft: 
Crumpled brown paper trunk (what's better than crumpling up paper?), sponge-painted leaves, pop-poms for the apples.

Caleb wrote a story about his apple tree using a combination of words he already knows how to read/spell and some words he spelled using "inventive" spelling.  I love seeing his mind work!  Last week, we learned that "ee" and "ea" make the long "e" sound.  So naturally, "yummy" should be spelled "yumee". =)

"My apple tree is foll (full) of apples.  My tree has yumee (yummy) apples.  I like apples."
Apple Jacks Graphing:

Unit Songs:  
For every unit, we have 1 (or more) songs/poems that we sing each morning.  While merely singing the fun songs is enough to appeal to Meredith, it is also good Reading practice for Caleb.  Many of the words in the songs we sing are quickly becoming familiar to him, and for a child learning to read, singing/reciting something with rhythm and/or rhyme is very beneficial for fluency!  The kids love to find "popcorn words" (high frequency words) in the songs, and really love using the sticky notes to identify them.  And, they better never forget how to spell "apple"!

M wanted to me "take videos" of her singing these apples songs. =)

Caleb's preschool teacher often sent these types of books home with the kids, and it was always fun to read them together, and hear Caleb read them to us.  They are simple, and repetitious, which also helps with reading fluency.

I put together two different versions of "I Like Apples", one for M and one for C.

Meredith's is very simple.  Each page says "I see a __________ apple." (insert color word) and she had to color the apple appropriately.
Caleb's has more complicated sentences, but I used words that he can read.  For example: "I see a red apple in the tree".  Or, "I see a yellow apple on my hand."  He had to create the illustrations himself, to match the sentence.
Apple Jacks Counting:
Using more Apple Jacks, Meredith counted out enough for each already-labeled cube in the ice cream tray (numbers are written on the bottom).  Meredith loves to count, and is really quite good at it, so she enjoyed this.  I love that she actually turned it into a pattern activity as well, alternating between green and red.

Parts of An Apple Labeling:

Caleb' addition to making his diagram, he also answered 2 questions: How many parts of an apple are there? and What are the parts of an apple called?
 Seed to Tree Sequencing:

Meredith's (don't mind the 2 upside-down trees!)
 Sensory Bin:
I added some Autumn-related items (fake apples, gourds, pine cones, leaves, and acorns)  to our rice/beans bin (and transferred everything to a larger container!) and the kids could seriously play with this stuff for hours.  They just love it.  Most times, I don't give them any direction with this - I just let them play and pretend and scoop and dump.  Other times, I have them do more intentional things, such as sort or count or compare/contrast.

Stuffed Apple Craft:
Click here for the simple instructions for making this!

Johnny Appleseed:
We used this book as our reference as we learned about Johnny Appleseed.

Character Organizer:
Caleb answered some simple questions about Johnny Appleseed, and drew a picture of him.

The 3 main questions at the bottom flip up to reveal...
...the answers.
 Appleseed Counting:
Meredith counted out appleseeds (pre-cut from construction paper) to place on the appropriately numbered apple (die-cuts from the teacher store that I labeled).

Ten Apples Up on Top:
This is a really fun Dr. Seuss book (aren't all his books fun?!).  There are soooo many activities that you could do with this story.  Another really great aspect to this book is that it is great for a child learning to read (as many Dr. Seuss books are).  Caleb could read about 90% of the words in this book all on his own.  It's so fun to see him transfer all he is learning into reading a "real" book!

Apples (Stickers) Graphing:

Apples Up On Top of ME Craft:

Apple Stamping:

Finished products of the apple stamping (Meredith's are on the left and Caleb's are on the right):

Burlap "flags":


Unit Verse:

With all of the verse memorization the kids are working on for AWANA, I am not really stressing memorization with our unit verses.  But, we do recite the theme verse every day, and discuss what it means.

For our Apples Unit, our theme verse was:
Psalm 17:8 - Keep me as the apple of your eye. 

And...Shane makes his Bible verse debut. I love how he "finishes" the verse....sort of. =)


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