Monday, April 19, 2010

How We Tweaked the First Year

Now that we are looking forward to finishing up our first year of homeschooling, I thought it might be appropriate to share how our original curriculum plan changed. Our original plan included Five in a Row, Horizons K Math, Spelling Workout, MCP Plaid Phonics, Critical Thinking: Reading, Thinking and Reasoning Skills, reading aloud from library books, BJU Science, literature-based Social Studies, and piano lessons.

Five in a Row: We have absolutely adored this program. Occasionally, we do only three or four readings rather than five--sometimes because of our schedule, and sometimes because I am just not happy with the book-of-the-week or it lessons. But Grasshopper often will say, "This book is going to be six or seven in a row!" (or even ten if she is especially excited about it).

I have made a couple of changes in how we approach it, though. I found after we completed the first volume that Grasshopper wanted to remember which vocabulary words went with which book, and she wanted to look through artwork that she did. So I started to keep a binder. I photocopy each book's cover and type the vocabulary words on the back. Then we place her artwork behind it in the binder. Additionally, I have added copywork using sentences from her FIAR books.

Horizons K Math: We chose Horizons K, because it was said to be an advanced but gentle approach to math. We have found that to be absolutely true. However, with the spiral approach, we find that we are practicing counting in the same lesson as subtraction and counting money. So I am finding that we are having to eliminate some of the sections.

Grasshopper has consistently said that she did not like math, but she recently started to do extra math at night. Around the same time, she began asking to do subtraction and multiplication. I ordinarily would have dismissed her request, but I had recently been lurking in an e-mail forum where they were discussing the merits of letting kids jump ahead when they ask for it. So I bought her a multiplication book, and she got really excited about it. So she is continuing to do Horizons some days and working out of the multiplication book on other days. I don't know how long she will stick with the multiplication or how far she will be able to take it, but she seems happy with it for now.

Additionally, I have decided not to continue with Horizons for next year. Grasshopper still is not crazy about math (though is good at it). What she really likes is one-on-one time with adults and reading. So I have chosen to do CSMP next year, which incorporates a lot of games and stories into the curriculum. I hoping that this will help her to better love math.

MCP Plaid Phonics: By Thanksgiving, I decided to ditch the phonics program. It took her so long to do it, and her reading level was soaring beyond what she was doing in phonics. I decided that what she needed was just a phonics-based spelling program.

Spelling Workout: Grasshopper was having trouble with all of the writing, so we began doing this program orally. It is working acceptably well for the moment, as she is doing well on the spelling tests and sometimes even wants to work ahead. But I am not very happy with the curriculum, as I feel that it focuses more on writing practice than on spelling practice. I still have the next Spelling Workout level here, so we will probably continue until we finish that book, but then I will have to research spelling programs at that point.

Critical Thinking: Reading, Thinking and Reasoning Skills: We only do this once per week, but Grasshopper really loves these worksheets. They address some fairly advanced skills in a way suitable for a very young child. I would love to continue with this series, but I don't know if we will have time in our schedule for it next year.

Handwriting: I had hoped that I would not have to give Grasshopper separate handwriting worksheets, thinking it would be burdensome. I hate to say that I should have listened to everyone who warned that it is easier to focus only on handwriting. Doing three worksheets a day was just drudgery for Grasshopper. I eliminated phonics and spelling worksheets and added in copywork, taken from her Five in a Row book for the week, and she is quite happy with it. She gets it done quickly, and her writing stamina is noticeably increasing.

Reading: Grasshopper continues to read to me daily from library books. She has occasionally started to read things on her own. She asks questions about vocabulary and content she does not understand. At this point, this is working well for us, and I do not think that a formal reading program will be necessary.

BJU Science: I was quite happy with this science curriculum--until I bought Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding by Dr. Bernard Nebel. I bought it for next year, but after reading through it, I decided to dump BJU and jump into BFSU.

Literature-based social studies: We are still doing this, but in a very different way than I had anticipated. I thought that I would use lesson plans from books that are literature-based, but I found that this just did not provide broad enough coverage of topics and was just too time consuming. Our social studies have evolved into Grasshopper choosing a topic (usually a country but sometimes a historical figure), and then I get books for her on that topic. I do online searches for both fiction and non-fiction. I have gotten pretty good at spotting the books that will appeal to both her academic level and interests. She has become very good at world geography, a great background for starting a classical world history program next year (Tapestry of Grace):

Fine Arts: I started to teach Grasshopper how to play the piano. It was a bit of a leap of faith since I don't play. But she is doing quite well. I keep lessons down to 10-15 minutes, and we do not always get around to a lesson every week. But she will sporadically sit at the piano and practice for a few minutes here and there. She is enjoying it, and she has a natural talent for it. But I am trying my best to avoid pushing her. I will continue to teach her until I think she can endure a 30-minute lesson, at which point we will seek out a real teacher.


  1. How are you teaching her to play piano? Are you using anything in particular?

  2. We are using the John W. Schaum Piano Course, Pre-A The Green Book. Another book that I have, which is even more basic is Alfred's Basis Prep Course for the Young Beginner. But I didn't use this one, because I felt that it moved too slowly.

    I should add that I did play flute for several years, so I can read music fairly well. I don't think I could teach piano to my daughter without that background. And she is very quickly outgrowing what I can teach her. We will probably need a real teacher in the fall.


Latter-day Homeschooling