Wednesday, May 13, 2015

2014-2015 Curriculum Reviews!

Goodness.  This year just really got away from me! I always have the best intentions to keep my blog active and going. And every year, I start strong, finish invisibly! But, I hopefully will always get around to my curriculum reviews and choices for the coming year, because I know it is helpful for me, and hopefully, for some of you as well!

So, from my blog post last summer, these were my choices for this past school year:

In Language:
-McGuffey Readers
-Beginning Reasoning and Reading
-New American Cursive
-All About Spelling Levels 4 and 5
-Classical Writing Aesop A/B

In Logic:
-Math-U-See Gamma and Delta
-Song School Latin 2 (this is arguable both language and logic)
-Yamaha Piano lessons

In Content:
-Daily Bible readings with Westminster Catechism songs and Training Hearts, Teaching Minds by Starr Mead
-Tapestry of Grace Year 4 Upper Grammar!
-Harmony Fine Arts Year 4: Modern Times
-Apologia Chemistry and Physics
*NONE of these affiliate links (except the All About Spelling), I just do it cause I love ya! ;)

Okay, so.  Let's get started.

1. McGuffey Readers:  I have always really loved these books.  I've used them as reading practice, comprehension practice, outline practice, copyworb and more.  But we have not used them very regularly this year.  I have been growing a lot as a teacher, and while I think these do have their place, I am leaning more toward living books, real literature.  These are well written, but short snippets.  They do have their place for morality teaching, but we have slightly out grown them in terms of our language arts needs. I'll keep them around and encourage the kids to look at them, or pull them out to find an essay to outline.  But won't schedule it in next year on a weekly basis.

2.  Beginning Reasoning and Reading:  This books series great!  It is divided into four sections: Word Meaning, Sentence Meaning, Paragraph Meaning, and Reasoning Skills.  They teach kids how to understand the point of different sentences, main ideas of paragraphs, how to judge opinions, determine if a paragraph offers enough information, and more.  We completed the whole first book this year, not realizing ideally you would spread it out over two years.  So we won't use it next year, because the next book, Reasoning and Reading 1, is recommended for grades 5-6.  Luke is a young 5th grader, and Kiryn a very young 4th grade next year.  So we'll put this on hold, and pick it back up the following year.  I do plan to work through all three books, and will spread them out a little more next time! :)

3.  New American Cursive:  I'm still very satisfied with these books.  Luke finished the second book this year, Kiryn is halfway through it.  We do handwriting once a week, and its pretty self-directed for me, no planning, just open the book and complete the next page or two or three.  Simple, and easy.

4. Classical Writing Aesop: Okay.  I love the idea of this writing program.  Well, it's more than a writing program. It's a full language arts/literature/classic books program.  It was working really well for us, although a little boring and dry. I did have a problem with some of the ways the fables were re-worked, or the fable choices in some chapters.  Just not what I would have preferred for them to learn, given the treasure trove of Aesop's work.  Overall though, I appreciated the approach to writing the program offers, and thought Classical Writing was the most thorough program out there.  Halfway through the year though, as I was looking ahead at the scope and sequence for 5th, 6th, 7th and beyond, I realized that the intensity quickly ramps up.  In the upper years and in high school, there is a lot of literary analysis and reading required.  That is great. I love it. But I was looking at it realizing: I can do Classical Writing, or I can do Tapestry of Grace. I can't do both.  So of course, that was a pretty easy choice for me.  My goals for my kids revolve more around understanding the development of the world and God's story, and not as much around the development of literature itself and the ability to write. I don't necessarily need to turn out Pulitzer price winning writers from 12th grade. ;)  But I would like to give them the foundation to turn themselves into that, if that is something they love and are gifted at.  So I decided in the middle of this year that I couldn't complete the Classical Writing series, I would inevitably choose Tapestry over CW.  So since I knew I wasn't going to continue with it, and I had been eyeing for a year or more the new Writing & Rhetoric from Classical Academic Press, I did something I almost never do. I abandoned CW mid-year, and bought Writing & Rhetoric Fable.  I decided to start at the beginning of W&R, and I'm so glad I did.  We finished the first book this spring semester, and it was just delightful.  It was a breath of fresh air, let me tell you!  Delightful illustrations, well-written commentary, recaps of the skills taught in each lesson in the teacher's book.   We are in the last few lessons now, and the kids have studied 12 different fables, I think, and they're spending the next two weeks, crafting their own fable.  I love how it has worked up to a big project where they will use all the skills they've gained to create something of their own.  I loved the fable choices, the lessons they taught, everything.  Each week includes reading a fable, telling it back, talking about it, writing exercises, including copywork, dictation, sentence play, copiousness, and more.  It is systematic, but not boring or dry.  Excellent, and I am very excited to continue with it next year!

5. Math-U-See: Yay, y'all! This is the first year I have not looked around for a new math program!!  I am confidently sticking with Math-U-See next year.  Levi started Primer in January, and he's almost done with it! He loves Mr. Steve so much, he said the other day, "Mom, I want my hair like Mr. Steve's." If you haven't seen Mr. Steve, go to the MUS website, and you'll get a chuckle that Levi wants his hair. :) Yay for Math-U-See!

6. Song School Latin 2:  I am still just delighted with this program.  The kids both love learning Latin, because Song School Latin makes it fun.  We had the DVD this year, which was a huge benefit.  Even Levi and Meryn love watching the video!  We got into more grammar this year, and I am impressed at how well Luke and Kiryn are retaining it.  They have really mastered a lot of the vocabulary.  Last weekend, we were in town at a restaurant.  Kiryn came out of the bathroom and said, "Mom, I think some people here know Latin, because a sign in the bathroom said, "Llavo."  That means wash!"  They are finding Latin words and roots everywhere, and understanding how English words are derived. It's so much fun.

7.  Bible: We have enjoyed our laid back approach to Bible this year.  We've been reading through The Child's Storybook Bible, by Catherine Vos, a chapter a day, and then reading the devotion from Training Hearts, Teaching Minds, and learning the catechism song for the week.  Simple and easy, and enriching.

8.  Tapestry of Grace Year 4:  We are finished with our first four year cycle!  Upper Grammar has been much more challenging for us than Lower Grammar. I struggled in the second and third unit, feeling like I needed to be doing more and more of Tapestry, all the map work, lap books, vocabulary and more.  This spring, I've kind of gone down a rabbit hole though, of teaching from rest, thanks to Sarah Mackenzie at Amongst Lovely Things, and Christopher Perrin and his lectures on schole (Greek for leisure, the opposite of work).  I have learned so much, and have so much more to learn. I have a list of books on classical educational philosophy about a mile long I want to start reading over the summer.  But so far, it has left me very much chilled out and wanting to enjoy the next few years we have before we get into Dialectic level learning. I want to just relax and enjoy stories and nature, life, art, games, relationships with each other.  Uh oh, maybe I'm becoming more Charlotte Mason than Classical! :)  Nope.  But really, I have chilled a lot about Tapestry, and we are just enjoying the story of history, and projects that make it come alive, and giving our diligence and hard work to Latin and Math, mostly, right now.

9.  Harmony Fine Arts: I confess, I have not always seen the incredible value in art and its importance in the curriculum.  If there's something that gives, it's art in our house.  I'm ashamed to say it, but, there it is.  As I've been learning about the importance of contemplating truth, goodness, and beauty, I've realized, art is non-negotiable.  We have to get around to it regularly. I've also read a lot about Morning Time from Cindy Rollins, as a time set aside to begin each day with that truth, goodness, and beauty, admiring and contemplating it.  We have implemented a Morning Time for the past few months, and having a plan for art and music is crucial for me.  Harmony Fine Arts is a great plan. : )  It incorporates artist and composer biographies, podcasts to listen to, links to YouTube videos of music, coloring pages, art prints, drawing lessons and assignments and more.  We have really truly enjoyed our study of it this year! (Though we are far from completing the lessons, since we got behind.)

10.  Apologia Chemistry and Physics:  Over the past four years, we have covered science in a schedule recommended in The Well-Trained Mind: biology, earth science and astronomy, chemistry, then physics.  I've used a variety of programs, but mostly Elemental Science, which I really loved.  I had always planned to move to Apologia for upper level science, because I had always heard such wonderful things about it.  When I wasn't totally thrilled with the Elemental Science Chemistry, I decided to switch to Apologia Chemistry and Physics in the middle of last year.  We have plodded our way through the Apologia Chemistry and Physics book for the past three semesters.  Let me tell you, this book was not for us.  I have another Apologia book (Zoology 1), and I just can't get myself excited about it, either.

I think there are two reasons it just does NOT work for us.  First, I know it says it is written for K-6th grade.  But seriously, it's not.  :)  I'm thinking possibly 5th-8th grade.  Maybe 4th -7th if I'm being generous.  The readings are not very engaging, filled with factual data and information that was just sometimes not well explained, in my opinion.  Secondly, the lessons are super long, without much direction as to how to arrange them.  If I went by the suggested schedule, we'd spend two weeks on each lesson.  The first week on a lesson, we'd spend about 3 hours reading aloud from the textbook, and then doing a few pages in the notebook journal.  The second week, we'd have slightly less reading, but would have multiple experiments to try back to back.  There wasn't a good flow to the book, and the lessons just went on for too long for us.  I'm a planner, but even after a year and a half, I never could figure out a way to plan this book to make it flow well and be logical.  We will not be continuing with Apologia Science. I may consider it again when we get to 7th grade and we would be using the books written by Dr. Jay Wile.  But am abandoning the Fulbright books for good. : )

Thanks so much for being interested and making it through this!  Let me know your thoughts!  While these programs work or don't work for us, that does not at all mean they will work or not work for you and your family! So examine the curriculum carefully.  Download samples, compare it to others in the same category.  Write the company and ask questions.  But most importantly, determine your own goals for your kids, your school year, and yourself, and let all your choices be guided by those things! Blessings as you hunt for goodies for next year!


  1. I always appreciate your curriculum reviews and I'm so glad you posted them again. We met years ago in Wake Forest before Kiryn was born when you were waiting to go overseas.
    My kids are similar ages to yours. My school aged kids are 9 and 7 and also have a 4 year old and an infant.
    I absolutely agree with you about Apologia Chemistry and Physics. We abandoned it midway and I felt so guilty. My kids said the enjoyed it but their faces were glazed over whenever I was reading it to them and they weren't retaining anything. I got to a point where I just wanted to quit science all together. I did a little research and ended up going a completely different route for us and it has been perfect! We have been so enjoying Sassafras Science Adventures from Elemental Science. It's not going to turn my kids into scientists (and that's fine!) but they are working so diligently and learning more than we were with Apologia. And I don't dread science anymore! I don't know how long we'll use Sassafras, but I'm not switching any time soon!
    I have been planning to switching to Writing and Rhetoric and Reasoning and Reading. I'm so glad to have those choices affirmed.
    My 9 year old has been completing Imitations in Writing by Logos and while it's served its purpose, we need something more now. After 2 years of it, we need a better program. He's also been using Wordly Wise for 2 or 3 years and I like the look of Reasoning and Reading.
    We too love Math-U-See and I feel like it has made me such a better math teacher than I would have been without it. Levi's comment is hilarious.

  2. Jessica! It's so good to hear from you! I was hoping you'd check in. :) I am SO Glad you're loving Sassafrass Science! It was at the top of my list, and I was planning to use it this coming year, it looks so delightful. But when I downloaded and studied the Zoology book, I realized, thanks to Wild Kratts, my kids know most of it already! :( While I know it would have been fine to repeat, or to skip to the Anatomy book, I opted to go a different route next year. I'll post about it in the choices page. :) I'm excited to see how you like the CAP programs! Blessings!