The Curriculum Choice

April 21, 2009

Writing a Family Mission Statement

Filed under: Homeschool philosophies, Organizing, Written by Brenda — Brenda @ 7:40 pm

womansilhouettesmlSomething I always recommend to new homeschoolers is to write a family mission statement. The value of a mission statement for a new homeschooling family is irreplaceable. I also strongly believe that Mom and Dad need to sit down apart from each other (or vow not to peek) and write separate lists of what is important to them. Then, convene together and take the time to discuss and learn from each other. For seasoned homeschoolers, a good idea is to go over your mission statement each year and see if anything has changed.

Below is a list of things to think about discussing for your mission statement. These are a starting point and you should certainly add to and take away as you see fit.

  • religion, will all, none or some of your books be written from your religious background? Will you expose your children to other religions.
  • budgeting, will you be budgeting school books or using the library?
  • sports, are athletics important to your family and who will be involved?
  • socialization, are you concerned with whom your children are around, and are you planning on creating the type of “socialization” that you believe is good for your child?
  • philosophy, which philosophy do you lean towards? (Do your homework)
  • college, are you raising college bound children or not?
  • involvement, who will be involved in raising and educating your children? (hubby, you, friends, family, other moms, co-ops, state standards)
  • siblings, will you be educating siblings together or separate?
  • history, history is a messy ugly story some times, how will you teach history?
  • timeframe, will you homeschool for two years, until high school or all the way through?

A mission statement may also include future goals that you want to set for each child and character traits that you want to instill in your children. Take the time to work through these issues before they become issues of contentment. Being on the same page as your husband is the best place to be when homeschooling and raising children in general and if there are things that you can not agree on, I would advise to leave it alone. Address it at a later time and be happy with the things that you have agreed on!
Written by Brenda

The Curriculum Choice



April 20, 2009

Math-U-See Review

Filed under: Curriculum choices, math, Written by Brenda — Brenda @ 1:38 am


Math-U-See is a mastery based math program.  This means that it teaches math concepts to mastery.  This is very different from the spiral approach, which spirals through math concepts adding harder equations as the years progress.  (Saxon would be a good example of a spiral approach).  Understanding the difference between the two approaches can be key to picking the right math curriculum for your student.

The great thing about MUS is that each book teaches one math concept from beginning to end, meaning that in the addition book, Alpha, your student will be adding multiple rows and learning place value extensively.  Next, Beta teaches subtraction.  Gamma is multiplication.  Delta teaches division, then Epsilon covers fractions and Epsilon decimals.  As the years progress they do cover previously learned concepts.

Division requires a student to be able to multiply and subtract, so why teach division until the student masters the previous concepts?  That’s something I never understood about traditional textbooks.

Other things I like about MUS:

  • DVD lessons for you to watch or student
  • enough practice per lesson to master the concept yet not overwhelm the child
  • review pages for previously learned concepts
  • great price
  • time, money, measurement, geometry are woven into the lessons
  • word problems on every worksheet

I’ve used MUS from Primer – Zeta and have never thought twice about switching because of content.  I think MUS is a wonderful math curriculum and my children have liked it also. Please visit the site for more information on placement.

Written by Brenda

The Curriculum Choice

April 16, 2009

Phonics Curricula Reviews

Filed under: Curriculum choices, language arts, phonics, Written by Brenda — Brenda @ 8:56 pm

Explode the Code

I have used a myriad of Phonics programs, but have found myself drawn back to ETC which is what I used for my first born when he was in K.  ETC and Get Ready, Get Set, and Go for the Code are simple enough that you can add in extra activities based on what your child needs.  I love using the Pocket Wall Chart for games!  These consumable workbooks are an inexpensive way to teach phonics.  I would recommend getting a little set of readers, like the Bob books as you begin these workbooks.

For more information go to the EPS website.

The Phonics Museum, by Veritas Press

I was a big advocate for The Phonics Museum when it first came out.  What I didn’t know at the time, that I know now is that my first son was a natural reader, so The Phonics Museum was easy for him.  When my second son came along, I started singing a different tune about the Phonics Museum.  If you do not have a natural reader (a child that doesn’t pick up reading quickly and effortlessly) then Phonics Museum may not be the best choice for you unless you are willing to supplement like I was forced to do.

First, I had to supplement the readers, because although the readers are pretty, historical and intriguing they are difficult to understand and do not make for a good introduction to reading.  I supplemented with Bob books and Now I’m Reading mini books.  There are 4 volumes.  Secondly, the teachers manual is written for a class room so I was modifying that to fit a home school. One thing I want to point out is that this whopping $190 curriculum has all the bells and whistles if you are willing to give it a try.  Finally, I had to supplement with Phonics Pathways because he was still struggling. It took us 2 years to complete the first grade year. It could have very well taken us 2 years to finish any complete phonics curriculum, but I truly believe it moved too fast for the average child.  We did, however, enjoy the songs and the tiles that you use to build words. These extras also took extra time. I would say phonics took us an hour a day.

Winter Promise – Language Arts Programs

wpfreesamplesFor my third son, I ditched the Phonics Museum because of all the tweaking I was doing and found Winter Promise which incorporates Explode the Code workbooks and other file folder games and mini books. I liked this approach and we used their Fast Track Phonics and First Grade Language Arts in one year plus a little through the summer. I like how Winter Promise uses different resources for a complete phonics program. Their daily schedule is easy to follow and they have created some really cute phonics cards that go with their program. Winter Promise is currently what I use for two of my children.  For more information on all their themed and subject programs go to

Written by Brenda

The Curriculum Choice

April 12, 2009

Phonetic Zoo – spelling

Filed under: Curriculum choices, language arts, Written by Brenda — Brenda @ 10:30 pm

Phonetic Zoo, Excellence in Spelling

 This is another great program put forth by the Institute for Excellence in Writing. Phonetic Zoo has been wonderful tool for me as a mother to many to put my time in to the fun subjects, like history and science. Spelling can be mundane and boring for all people involved, but the Phonetic Zoo has made this an independent program for the student for grades 3rd and up. The animal theme concept is better for the younger children, but I hear no complaints from my oldest. When each lesson is mastered, you can choose to give them an animal card to collect or hang proudly on their wall.

The core of this program is the lesson cards. Each card has is a separate lesson with a rule, jingle or hint to help you remember the spelling rule. (I will say that some of these are confusing until you decipher them a little, but that can be a fun puzzle too). There are a list of 15 words, no matter what level you may be on (A, B or C). The levels get more difficult as they go up. The second component to this program are the CD’s. The CD has the voices of two alternate people giving the spelling quiz. This auditory component is priceless.

The first day you explain the rule, go over the words and make note of the part of the rule being explained. Older children do not need your help with this. The remainder of the lesson is completed by them. Then they listen to the CD and write the words down how they believe they are to be spelled. Then the next track on the CD helps them correct it. The next day they quiz themselves again, if they get 100% two days in a row then they move to the next lesson. They continue to take the quiz every day until they master the list 2 times in a row.

What I like about this program is that they give the rule, jingle or hint after every 3 words. This helps them memorize it. I also like that the CD’s are doing the quizzing and checking for me. This virtually makes this an independent program!

Here are the 2 things that I added to this program to make it work for me. For my student that doesn’t click really well with spelling, I have him choose an activity to help him remember his spelling words from a list like this:

  • Linking it together – wiring words on strips of construction paper and linking them
  • Colorful spelling – use different colored markers for each letter when spelling the words
  • Keeping in shape – write the words inside a simple shape, like a tree, over and over again
  • Ribbon spelling – use a ribbon to outline each spelling word in the air
  • Bend and shape – use pipe cleaners to make each letter of a word
  • By the color – write consonants in red and vowels in blue
  • Spell back – spell the words on a willing persons back
  • Poof its gone – write the words on a dry erase or chalk boards, then erase them with your fingers as you spell them again
  • Alphabet stamps – use rubber stamps to spell the words

I have also used the Spelling Power notebooks instead of a regular notebook. These are great in that on the backside of the quiz there is a part where they can write a sentence with the miss-spelled word and a little system to help them memorize the word, by covering it up and spelling it. Also the lines are on the page according to level, so you can get one with fatter lines for younger writers. For more information on the Phonetic Zoo click here.

Written by Brenda


The Curriculum Choice

April 8, 2009

Using Dictation as a Grammar Tool

Filed under: charlotte mason, language arts, Written by Brenda — Brenda @ 4:08 am
What is dictation?

Dictation is the practice of reading a passage to your child and having them dictate, or write it down.  You first read the whole passage, then you break it down into bite size chunks for them.  After they complete the passage you next check the spelling, punctuation and possibly correct the handwriting if needed.

How can I work dictation into our homeschool? Do I need a special book?

Here’s a few tips and suggestions for you. Pick a passage from a literature book that you are reading for history or for a family read-aloud. Read it out loud and have your child write what they hear. Then go over necessary spelling and grammatical mistakes. Then talk about the uniqueness of the sentence. There are sure to be some grammar pointers in there somewhere. Often, I get questions about punctuation marks (: or ; for instance) and anything I can’t explain, I simply look these up in a grammar reference.

Pick a poem that you are currently memorizing – or start memorizing one! Or, pick a well-loved poem and have them copy it first, this may take several days. Then one day dictate it and have them write it. Go over the poem as I mentioned above.

How about a hymn? Hymns have wonderful vocabulary. There are sure to be some words that you can look up (or have an older student look up on their own). And of course, Bible verses are great for dictation too. Especially ones that you are trying to commit to memory.

How about science? Is there something really neat that you read about in science that maybe sparked an interest in your child? Something from a living book or a science encyclopedia would work well.

For younger children, some good ideas are:

  • Days and months
  • Address
  • Short verse
  • Sentence from a beloved book
  • Names of family members
  • A poem (do a little every day)
Get creative! You don’t need a book telling you what to dictate. Make it a more natural fit with what you are already doing. It will enhance your studies and seal a grammar lesson in the mind of your child.

The Curriculum Choice

April 3, 2009

Cycle of Sciences

Filed under: Science, Written by Brenda — Brenda @ 5:15 pm

4 Year Rotation of Science

1.) Life Science – animals, human beings and plants
2.) Earth science and astronomy
3.) Chemistry
4.) Physics
This has taken the guess work out of what our main science focus will be for a particular year. If you are worried about learning how you were taught in school, with small segments of different sciences each year, I want to share with you what I learned. You can not get very in-depth with a particular subject if you are skimming the surface each year. But, to do a thorough study, depending on the age of your child, you are able to dig deeper and understand more. Plus, the child has time to get into what you are studying. Often when you study something for a few weeks, they are just really understanding it when you are done and ready to move on. The tricky year for me is the life science year. So, to be honest with you I have gone into the summer on that year and into a portion of the next year. If you are still worried about them getting bored, or them not learning a wide array of topics for that year, there are plenty of other opportunities to use other fields of science as you are teaching to one specifically. For example while teaching chemistry I have been able to also talk about physics, biology and earth science as we went very thoroughly through the periodic table and learned what each element was found in.
I don’t worry about missing something because I know that after 4 years we would have (theoretically) touched on all the sciences. I have children that took an interest in marine biology and now I send them to a marine biology camp during the summer, another child interested in robotics has a robotics camp to look forward to in the future. I also have one interested in archaeology and they ALL like to dig, so we are going on a local dig soon and on our next family vacation we are stopping to dig at a real site in VA, all day with a scientist. We also have started nature journaling which requires us to be outdoors observing each week and this will be an ongoing life science study for many weeks to come. So there are other times to pursue other science interests if we cannot “get to it” during our school time. That’s what homeschooling is all about to me. It’s been a lifestyle change. We learn all the time, in everything we do. And while doing it, we enjoy each other’s company. If you are homeschooling for the long haul I would like to encourage you to keep some sort of cycle of the sciences. It lifts the burden of what to teach next and gives you the freedom to be creative within certain parameters.
Side note to moms not sure if you will homeschool next year: If you are not sure that you are able to homeschool for more then a year or two, I would stick with the traditional textbook style curriculum so that your child is not behind when they re-enter. That’s my opinion.

March 27, 2009

living books

Filed under: Curriculum choices, Literature, Living books, Written by Brenda — Brenda @ 8:12 pm

Living Books

We use living books for many subjects of our homeschool. I have found, over the years, that literature guides come in handy for me to be able to get the most out of a well-written book (especially if I haven’t read it yet). First of all, let me say that I do not use literature guides all year. Our history curriculum (Tapestry of Grace) keeps us reading a lot of great “living” books every week. I have been blessed to find literature guides for several of our recommended history books, so I save them for when it’s time. When I pick up these guides, I keep them on the shelf in hopes of using about 3 a year. Also, I have found that with having 5 children, and 3 that can read, it keeps them paying attention when we read round-robin style (taking turns). Of course the 7 yr. old doesn’t read as much as the 12 yr. old, but he pays attention waiting diligently for his turn. These books that I am recommending, we have at least 2 copies, sometimes 4, of the book. When we are studying a book together, I like to schedule in an hour of reading time several days a week for 3 weeks. We are often home on the weekends, so weekends are an option, if our school week is packed with other activities.

My favorite study guides are from the following places:

My favorite books, that we have used literature guides for, are here:

Click here to view books.

The Curriculum Choice


March 16, 2009

New to Homeschooling?

Filed under: Curriculum choices, Homeschool philosophies, Written by Brenda — Brenda @ 6:30 pm

little_logo7The Homeschool Diner’s click-o-matic guide to choosing a homeschool approach may be just what you need if you are not sure as to which direction you need to head in.  You can click here to get there!

The Click-O-Matic approach to looking at curriculum may help you find
just what you’ve been looking for!  If you see descriptions that match your
student — take a look at the approaches recommended for that  characteristic, and then
“Click” on the ones you’d like to read more about.

The Curriculum Choice

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February 6, 2009

The Curriculum Choice

Filed under: Curriculum choices, Written by Brenda — Brenda @ 3:22 am

Choosing the right curriculum is tricky.  Are you new to homeschooling or are you thinking about educating your children at home?  Or, are you searching to find that perfect fit to add to your school?  I’m compiling a list of homeschool reviews that should help you find the right fit for your ecclectic homeschool. Visit often, as new reviews will be posted weekly.  In the future there will be reviews from various moms using different philosophies.  For now, the reviews all compliment a Classical or Charlotte Mason designed home school.  I only write reviews on curriculum that we have personally used for atleast 6 months.  I’m working my way through our current curriculum and I will go back and review things we have used in the past.  I am dedicated to being honest so that you will be able to find the best fit for your family’s needs.


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