Curriculum Potluck

Curriculum Potluck—Amber

Lutherans love a good potluck! Everyone brings something to share and, while you never know exactly what you’ll find, you know it will be good! In this series, we dish on curricula we have used. Pull up a chair and dig in!

The first homeschool curriculum I used was Five in a Row when my daughter was in kindergarten. It is a curriculum that is based on reading the same children’s picture book five days in a row and then doing various activities in different subject areas that are connected to the book. We had a lot of fun that year picking and choosing the various activities that we would do. Looking back, I think there were often too many choices for me as a busy mom with other little ones. We especially liked placing the “disks” for each book up on the map to show where the book took place. I still recommend this curriculum to moms whose oldest child is in kindergarten. With no supplementation, and picking and choosing a few activities here and there, it provides a great foundation for a play-based, book-rich education.

I have also used the Rod and Staff preschool/k workbooks for my young kids who wanted “school” books. They are nice little books to practice fine motor skills, rhyming, matching, etc.

I have taught three children to read with All About Reading. Teaching reading was one of my biggest fears when I wanted to start homeschooling. I decided to use AAR because of its Orton-Gillingham approach to phonics. It is also totally scripted for the teacher and uses a multi-sensory approach. I suspect that my second child has some sort of dyslexia or dysgraphia, but thankfully this approach to reading is what he would have needed anyway. I have taught three very different learners so far, and this program has worked great for all of them. I highly recommend it.

I have also used the Explode the Code workbooks to solidify phonics since there are no written exercises in All About Reading. They are inexpensive and you can see from the Table of Contents what each level covers and what book your child needs some practice with. One criticism: the illustrations are sometimes hard to decipher, as they are pretty quick sketches.

I have used Math-U-See for kindergarten and 1st grade for all three of my children. I like that it uses math blocks to really give a representation to numbers – that 5 means something. It also gives a good foundation in place value. I also like that it introduces word problems right away and makes math applicable to real life.

When my daughter was in 5th grade, I switched her into Teaching Textbooks, a computer-based program that uses CD-roms. The student watches a lesson and then completes all the problems on the computer. Not having to grade math was a blessing the 2 years she used Teaching Textbooks, but by the end of 6th grade I really felt like her retention of math facts and processes was not sticking with this type of learning. She also was not showing her work in an organized way, often doing it on an erasable boogie board, so we had struggles when I couldn’t see where she was going wrong. My son used Teaching Textbooks in 3rd grade, and he did fine with it.

When my oldest son was in 2nd grade he went from telling me math was his favorite subject to hating math. It turned out that he was not being challenged and disliked the repetitiveness of Math-U-See. I switched him for the rest of the year to Singapore Math. I did not have the teacher’s manual, so I probably did not give him the best experience with that curriculum. He just did the workbook, but he liked it much better since the math topic changed frequently.

When my oldest son was in 4th grade (last year) he started with Beast Academy. There is a student text that looks like a comic book where the concepts are taught in story form. Then there is a student workbook. Each level is broken down into four books, e.g. 4A, 4B, 4C, 4D. This program was perfect for his strengths in math and really challenges him. It is all problem-solving based. I often need to look at the solution before I can help him because of how unique the problems are.

Last year, my daughter used Principles of Mathematics from Master Books for her 7th grade year. I really liked the program, especially how it shows God’s hand in math concepts and is based on a lot of real-life applications. She will complete Principles of Mathematics level 2 for 8th grade and will have a firm foundation for Algebra in 9th grade.

Unit Study/All-in-One
For my daughter’s 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grades we used a program called Heart of Dakota. It was literature and living books based. I really liked the concept of basing everything off of a time period in history and using living books. Initially I really liked the curriculum and how it was all planned out. I did like the books they recommended as well. It required a lot of reading aloud by me, and at the time I had three younger children and we often fell behind. The plans are based on a 5-day-a-week plan and we just always seemed to be behind. I got very stressed when at the end of the week if we had taken a field trip or sick day we were not done. There was also a lot to do each day in the lessons and it would stress me out if I left a box “unchecked.” Some people love this program, and I do look at the books they use/recommend because they are high quality.

Language Arts
Starting in 5th grade my daughter has been using The Good and the Beautiful Language Arts. I like that it incorporates writing, grammar, spelling, geography, poetry and art into one curriculum. She does one lesson a day and gets varied practice in those disciplines. The levels do not correspond to grade levels, so be sure to do the practice test. It is filled with beautiful pictures and I like that there is a built-in variety of things like writing exercises, sentence diagramming, dictation and more. We will keep using this for her for the foreseeable future. My son tried the Good and the Beautiful for 3rd grade and barely tolerated it. He was using their old format of organizing by lessons versus “days.” He also thought it was “girly.”

For 4th grade my son used Master Books, Language Arts for a Living Education. He liked it much better! There are cycles of five lessons that go through reading comprehension, grammar, spelling, writing. It is kind of repetitive at times in my opinion, but I am still pleased. He will use it again for 5th grade and my 2nd grade son will also be using this for LA for the upcoming year. I think I found a winner on this one! I like the Charlotte Mason-esque approach and I just supplement it with having them do some silent reading from good book lists.

My daughter has been doing Notgrass History for the last few years. She likes doing “workbook” stuff and their programs have two levels of comprehension books that go with it. I like the use of primary source documents. I think we will again keep this publisher through high school since it seems to be a good fit for her.

My son started using America’s Story 1 last year from Master Books. He doesn’t love it, but he tolerates it. I really like the format. Short readings. Varied activities. He does things like journal entries and narrations. I can definitely see sticking with this series, too.

My favorite thing we do for science is Nature Study with NaturExplorers studies and No Sweat Nature Study (live and pdfs), both from Cindy at Our Journey Westward. The children do nature journals with the live classes and learn so much. The subscription for live classes comes with free access to all her pdf studies which are also wonderful.

My children starting in kindergarten have taken homeschool classes at a local science lab. I don’t like messes and experiments, so I LOVE this option and I do not regret doing some “outsourcing” for science and keeping some of my homeschool budget for these classes.

Fine Arts
I have purchased Fine Arts prints from Enrichment Studies. I hang these up throughout the house in clear sleeves and this gives the kids a nice exposure to lots of fine art throughout the year. I have also used her Daily Art and Daily Music “Sounds Bites” studies. For a small fee, she emails a daily video that is either related to the composer or artist that you are studying.

I have also purchased some curriculum from SQUILT. They have lots of good resources for composer study and music appreciation.

Bible Study
We have read Egermeier’s Bible Story Book and the Jesus Storybook Bible to our children.

My favorite devotion books are the Little Visits with God books. I have the 50th anniversary edition of the first book and an old edition of More Little Visits with God and Little Visits for Families. They are full of excellent theology and the gospel. There is a devotion story, questions to discuss the story, a section of scripture to read, and then a prayer that I say and the children repeat phrase by phrase.

We have been using the 10-Minute Bible Journey this last year in Morning Time and it is well-done.

During our Morning Time we have completed several of the Not Consumed Bible studies. I like that they have various age levels so they can have their own version of the study to write in, but we can do the study together as a group. There have not been many instances of any theology I have had to address.  We also use their JOY Prayer Cards and I love them.

Seeds Family Worship is great music that is just scripture set to music. They also have DVD’s to learn hand motions to some of the songs.

I also have enjoyed many of the resources I have learned about from Pam Barnhill’s Morning Time plans and blog as well as her podcast.

One of my favorite authors who also has a podcast and was a homeschool mom is Sally Clarkson. She is so encouraging! Sarah Mackenzie has a blog and podcast called Read-Aloud Revival that have given me many book ideas for both read-alouds and independent reading for my children. She finds many wholesome books that are newer. I have one child that particularly does not enjoy historical fiction, but is an avid reader. I often just go to the podcast show notes for the book recommendations. She also has great recommendations for good audio books. My boys love to listen to audiobooks while they play Lego, and listening to books totally “counts!”

Amber Richards
Amber Richards lives in Eau Claire, WI with her loving and supportive husband, Jason, and their four children, ages 4, 7, 10, and 12.  She loves Jesus and enjoys reading, chocolate, singing, theater, and her side gig of selling handmade goods made by women freed from human trafficking.

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