Choosing Homeschool Curriculum for Grades K to 6

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Homeschooling Encouragement Article by Harriet Yoder

Choosing Homeschool Curriculum

Parents ask me about teaching reading or math. It can be overwhelming to think about teaching numbers and words. There are all kinds of gimmicky flashy products which promise to help. I don’t think most of it is necessary and it is definitely expensive. If you have a child with learning problems, one who is having difficulty in a particular area, or a large number of children then some of these things might be a good investment.

The suggestions I am making apply to the average child. Obviously, bright children will be able to do these things faster while late maturing children or those with learning problems may take longer. The basic foundation for any learning is a strong base of phonics, reading and basic math skills. If there are chunks of information (bricks) missing at this level, the wall of learning your child is building will crumble at a higher level.

I knew one mom who was only able to teach her oldest son for 7th and 8th grades. She was prompted to teach him at home because he had major learning problems. They devoted his seventh grade year to filling in the cracks. She re-taught him handwriting and basic math, and helped with his reading comprehension. It was frustrating for them to have to spend the first year “doing nothing” new. She even had to teach him to write coherent paragraphs after she taught him to write good sentences. However, when her husband insisted that the son go to public high school, he was prepared. He wasn’t a straight A student but he made good grades and went to college! His handwriting is beautiful! (1/30/03 Just found out that he is is his second year of law school! Isn’t God good!)

Fortunately, most of you will not have to deal with repairing the damage. If you do your job in the early grades and lay a good foundation for learning, your child will be successful in the later grades, no matter where he is or what he studies.

What do you need to teach in the first few grades? Here is a listing of suggested goals for this age group.

Bible and Prayer

The foundation of any education has to be the Rock! “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.” Matthew 6:33 As a family, we try to read Bible, pray, and praise the Lord together every day. We don’t always succeed. It is really hard when you don’t grow up doing that as my husband and I did. Bibles were for Sunday. This has been a great struggle for us. We are more diligent than we were a few years ago and progress is being made.

We ask one child to bless the reading of the Word. Then my husband reads the Bible, explaining passages or asking questions. We then pray one at a time for the needs of the day and when we can we gather around the piano (but it could be the stereo) and praise the Lord with music.

One thing I have learned is that every Bible reading session may not a spiritual high. I guess I expected every devotion to be a major spiritual experience for everyone every day. Real life is that some days everything clicks into place – everything relates to what is in the Bible and that some days it does not seem very spiritual. The Word does not return void. Whether it feels spiritual or not, it is an act of obedience to read the Bible and God will bless your efforts.

I can not tell by physical appearance how the day’s devotion impacted children. I do know that as we have become more regular with our devotions, the younger children can pray better prayers and are more sensitive to the needs of others than I would have expected them to be for their ages.

Obedience

If your children obey, teaching them is much easier. If you are having problems is this area, one good book to read is Child Training Tips by Reb Bradley. Many books are available on this subject. Pray for wisdom. Ask several couples who have obedient children how they accomplished the task.

Diligence

The child should be trained to work on an assignment until he is finished. The first part of a lesson should be as well done as the last part — not hurried at the end in order to finish. All the lessons for a day don’t have to be done at one sitting, but the child should know that you don’t play until the work is complete (although “recess” is a good refresher if progress is being made). My husband works at home so when he goes into town, he usually asks me who is available to accompany him. Translation: the one(s) who finished school for the day gets the prize!. That is a great motivation for diligence!

I would suggest not going to any outside activities unless and until the assigned work is done for the day. It is well worth missing a swimming lesson, field trip, or park day to make the point. This also works for chores. The house has to be clean before we go out. And if it isn’t, it is because I wasn’t diligent in enforcing the rule. When the children know I mean it, they comply.

The ultimate goal is to train your children to be able to pace themselves. For example, my older daughter knows what is expected during the school year. She has learned to plan her school work around the rest of her activities. I no longer have to check her every day. She’s learned that if she works ahead, it frees up time later!

Self Motivation

By the time your child is fluently reading he should be able to read instructions in the book, do the problems, answer the questions, and perform the assignment mostly on his own. That is a major goal of mine. After all, a person must have the ability to learn and find out things for himself if he wants to be successful in college or business. You should be there to check the work, answer questions, tutor as needed, and monitor progress.

Preschool Curriculum

Several options are available for teaching your preschooler at home. The Christian Liberty Preschool curriculum is well planned and economical. It is easy to use, colorful, and your preschooler will learn the basics such as numbers, colors, and letters.

Horizons Preschool Curriculum is another complete program. There are several choices with this new curriculum. The most basic is to purchase the Horizons Preschool Curriculum Set which includes the Teacher’s Guide, student workbooks and music CD. You can add the multimedia resources by purchasing the complete set. If you already have a preschool curriculum, the Horizons Preschool Multimedia Set is a great addition if you want to supplement it with interactive, character based, Christian multimedia content.

Kindergarten Curriculum

There are many Homeschool Kindergarten Curriculum choices available. Most of the major homeschool curriculum publishers have kindergarten programs.

Reading

Lay the foundation for phonics with a good phonics program. Readers are nice but the library has many easy reader books or you could use the Bible like Susanna Wesley did. Reading aloud with your children is one of the most beneficial learning activities.

You can pay big bucks for a fancy reading program that works. However, most of us don’t have it. We have taught our nine children to read. I am helping with a couple of the grandchildren. That doesn’t make me an expert — I wouldn’t dream of teaching a room full of first graders to read. However, I have enough experience with phonics to know that a basic inexpensive curriculum can be sufficient. If you don’t know phonics, complete programs range in price from around $40 to several hundred dollars. You should be able to purchase a complete program for under $200. An excellent series of reading workbooks is Explode the Code the whole series should be under $65.00. They can be purchased separately.

We also like Phonogram Cards for helping children learn the phonics rules.

The best method for teaching reading is one that uses phonics and is multi-sensory. See the word, say the word, touch (write) the word, and hear the word. If the child has any type of dyslexic tendencies, this method is best for teaching because it helps compensate for weak areas. I have noticed that some children seem to take longer to read using phonics. I have one friend who had a ten year old tested for various disorders because he was still reading very slowly. Whatever else the doctor found out about the boy, he did tell the mother that her son certainly knew his phonics!

Common Sense Press has updated its Learning Language Arts Through Literature program. The Common Sense Reading Program Blue Book(1st grade $95.00) and Red Book (2nd grade $85.00) covers language arts including reading. That makes the price reasonable. The student workbook is the only consumable and you can purchase extra workbooks.

Any one of those programs can be a starting point. The main goal of reading is to have a child who loves to read books. How sad it is to see people who know how to read but were taught in such a way that they hate reading. One of the nice things about homeschooling is that these children love to read!

Handwriting

For handwriting practice you can purchase an inexpensive consumable handwriting book or you can have your child copy words from the reader, the Bible, or other book you choose. Or you can simply write words for your child to copy. It is nice to have some half dot lined paper. The 3/8″ to 1/2″ size is best for little hands. Think about it. Do you want to write letters two or three inches high? This is about the same size ratio to your hand as those 1″ lines are to a little person’s hand. Wal-Mart has some inexpensive tablets for this.

Two popular handwriting programs for homeschoolers are Portland Italic Handwriting Series (an italic handwriting program for the child who likes printing) and A Reason For Handwriting (a more traditional manuscript and cursive handwriting).

Spelling

Do you need a spelling book? After your child has started to read and can spell 25-50 words, then Spelling Power would be a good investment. It can be used for all levels through 12th grade. I have tried three or four other spelling programs and this one is the best. My children like spelling now. Spelling Power concentrates on the words you need to learn. While it is priced at $50, you can use the program for all of your children through all the grades. Optional student notebooks are available but the book includes reproducible forms if you have access to a copier.

Another option is the other Spelling Power by Curriculum Associates. This program is based on the most commonly used words (around 3,000 in the series.) One nice feature is that the word list is shorter than the traditional spelling curriculum. Toward the end of the week, additional words are added that have a connection with the original group. Another feature that makes this program appealing is the short, varied exercises that are designed to help the student learn the words.

Spelling the Easy Way from Barron’s is around $13. It contains a review of all the major spelling rules and offers help for older spellers who are struggling. Another alternative for the first few grades is to make up your own spelling words to dictate to the child. I did rhyming words with sounds we were studying for one child who was having a hard time blending sounds. Look, book, cook, hook, nook, took, and rook, or at, bat, cat, fat, hat, mat, gnat, pat, rat, sat, vat, etc. Later, I read an article by Samuel Blumenfeld which said children who are having a hard time with reading will benefit from just such an exercise. They really need spelling practice to improve reading skills.

Writing

When children can form sentences and ideas faster than they can spell or write, they need help to capture them. That is why dictation is helpful. Have him dictate a letter to a friend or relative while you write it down. Then he can recopy it at his own speed knowing that his original thoughts were preserved. I usually let a child dictate until he reaches the age when he realizes it is easier to do it himself than to wait for me.

At this point I encourage him to write the words and I help him spell the hard words. How? I sound the word out slowly and ask the child what letter makes that sound. Piece by piece the child gets the word spelled. I don’t tell them how to spell it, I just tell them if they guessed the correct letter. By hearing me pronounce the word as if I were sounding it out, the child gets the drift of how to spell phonetically.

You could also let the child use a recorder to tape what he wants to say and help him write it later. The idea is to capture the thoughts before they are forgotten. Whatever method helps your child to do this is alright.

If your child gets stuck, you can ask questions about the work in progress. “What happens next? How did he do that? How does it look, feel, sound, taste, or smell? What would you do differently? What else do you want to tell Grandma?” This should get you started with creative writing.

Wordsmith Apprentice from Common Sense Press is a good program for 4th to 6th grades. It is a methodical introduction to writing based on creating newspaper type articles. It sells for around $15.

Frode Jensen has updated Format Writing! Though I haven’t seen it yet, I expect the revised edition to be the same quality as his other revised books have been. Format Writing is an excellent text to use for college bound students who need to learn to write great papers efficiently.

Grammar

There are some nice English workbooks for second and third grade. Daily Guided Teaching for 2/3 from ISHA (Easy Grammar), Simply Grammar, and English for the Thoughtful Child are all books that you could use for two years.

Daily Grams and Easy Grammar are available for each grade from 2nd through 6th grade plus. These are very homeschool friendly with a high retention level. I highly recommend these having used them for my children.

The Journey to Grammar Land series by Frode Jenson from Wordsmiths is grammar in a story for 5th to 7th graders. Wordsmith also has combined the old General Punctuation and Major Punctuation into a wonderful text called Jensen’s Punctuation! It will help you solve most of your punctuation problems, but it is for use with Jr. high and up.

Arithmetic

I am in the age group that was still taught real math (not new) and phonics. I still remember some of the lessons I was taught. I guess that is why I like a nice orderly math book and not some of the jumbled up math texts that I have seen. Just looking at some of them makes me feel dyslexic. If I was a child and had to learn from some of these, I would hate math. But since I had good teaching, I like math and know a good book when I see one.

Bob Jones University Press has always done a good job with math. Their elementary math textbooks are economically priced and homeschool friendly. They have a new series of books for math practice for grades 1-6: Math Reviews Activity Book. BJUP Elementary Math

Horizons Math, is a good choice if your child likes variety. Modern Curriculum Press has a good program for K-6 that is reasonably priced. They are consumable until 6th grade.

Another math curriculum which worked well with our boys was Developmental Math. I used their placement tests to find the proper level for each one. They appreciated the logical approach and the visual pictures for most of the problems. Unfortunately, these are hard to find. We have a limited selection.

The Key Curriculum Series from Key Curriculum Press has great math workbooks for Fractions, Decimals, Measurement, Metric Measurement, Geometry, Percents, and Algebra. Each lesson is thorough and has lots of problems for reinforcement. The Algebra is great for high schoolers who need to do Algebra to satisfy graduation requirements. It is also great for college bound students as a pre Algebra course.

For manipulatives, I use some one centimeter blocks and a rod track (50 or 100 cm) for adding and subtracting. Later I use a set of base 10 blocks for borrowing or carrying (alias renaming and regrouping). For teaching time, use a real analog clock and the digital one on your microwave or radio. And money? Use real money! It’s cheap because when you sell it, you get all your money back!

Cuisenaire rods are helpful for skip counting and fractions. You can get a small set for under fifteen dollars, but these are not absolutely necessary.

If a child is having a tough time in a particular area, I use math game books for activities and games on that subject. I also might purchase or make a manipulative if it would help.

I try to use consumable textbooks as long as possible. When we do switch to hardbacks, I give my students graph paper. The little squares help the child to keep numbers in the right column and promotes neatness. This reduces the number of errors due to messy copying.

Science and History

Real books and multi-level teaching. Read to them. Let them read good historical fiction at their reading level. There are several early reader series that have easy to read biographies, historical fiction, even science stories. You can select books on a subject that interests the child. The Sowers Series is a wonderful series with biographies about famous people with good character. Again either read aloud to the child(ren) or give him the book to read.

Check the historical books that you read for science topics. For example, in G. A. Henty’s, Cat of Bubastes, topics such as irrigation, deserts, and crocodiles are discussed in the context of the story. Select related science books and read them along with the historical book. Instant multi-level unit study which covers history and science.

If you look at most science and history books for elementary grades, they are very simple and if you noted the topics, you could check a book out for each one and cover the material better.

If you feel the need for more structure in history, I would recommend the Mystery of History series.

The Young Explorers Series from Apologia Educational offers a notebooking approach with a creation science perspective.

Science in the Beginning is new from Dr. Jay L. Wile. It is a hands-on, multilevel science course for grades K-6. Your student will study science as it was created based on the Creation week in Genesis. There’s a hands-on activity for each lesson. This is a plus if your student is a hands-on learner.

Great Science Adventures from Common Sense Press is a topical science series for homeschoolers in K-8. We used the The World of Tools and Technology with hands-on projects and activities. At $22.00 each, the books in the series are well worth the price. Currently available are books on plants, space, insects, human body, and tools with more in the works.

The BJU Press Elementary Science Curriculum offers a traditional approach to science with a textbook, activities pages or workbook, teacher’s guide, and tests. We’ve used this and the children enjoy the activities.

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