Tuesday, August 30, 2011

3rd Grade and 1st Grade Home School Curriculum

The favorite question among home school moms at this time of the year is, "What curriculum are you using?" Being a normal home school mom, I've asked and answered that question numerous times during the last month.

I realize not all of my readers are home schoolers but most are moms who are interested in their child's education. Much of the curriculum we use would work great for a child that is falling behind in an area or is bored and would like a little advanced work during school breaks. I hope you find something useful in my reviews of our curriculum.

During the 2011-2012 school year I am teaching a 3rd grader, a 1st grader, a Pre-Kindergarten 5 and a (almost) 3 year old. How I do all of that and stay sane is the topic of another post; for now I'm limiting this post to my two big boys: 1st and 3rd grade.

Rhode Island law requires that I include: reading, writing, geography, arithmetic, civics, English, health and physical education. My boys use the same curriculum for every subject except Language Arts. This makes it MUCH easier for me!


You'll notice that science is NOT in the list of required curriculum; and "experts" wonder why we can't keep up with other developed nations academically! Regardless of what our state requires, we believe science is an important subject to teach.

This is our 3rd year using Apologia's Exploring Creation curriculum. We LOVE it! We are studying land animals which fits well with our history curriculum and makes for easy field trips to area zoos.


Last year we used Saxon, and hated it. Saxon is one of the gold standards for home schoolers. It's based on a spiral education philosophy, which I realize now does not work for us. This year we are using Math U See, and loving it!

Math U See (Alpha and Beta) is based on a mastery philosophy, meaning you don't move on to the next skill until you've mastered the current one. The teacher's kit comes with a book that explains how to teach each skill and a DVD of the author teaching each lesson to a classroom of students. The student workbook and test/activity book includes plenty of practice problems to insure the student masters the skill.

As expected, it is designed for the visual learner. I recommend you purchase the block manipulatives as they are the foundation of each lesson. My oldest is definitely a visual learner and my #2 boy is part visual and part kinesthetic (learn by doing) so both boys enjoy "playing" with the blocks during their math lesson.

Because we had such a terrible time with Saxon for the last two years, I decided to start both boys with the Alpha (or first grade) book. My plan is to finish Alpha the first semester and Beta (2nd grade) the second semester. My #2 boy is very math minded so I don't think he'll have difficulty keeping up. My 3rd grader is more word minded so doing 1st and 2nd grade work is OK for him.

Health and Physical Education

Both boys are involved in Cub Scouts this year. If you know the Cub Scout curriculum you know that they have a health component. We are looking into putting them into gymnastics and they will play baseball again in the spring.


I am combining civics and geography by using history and literature unit studies. I have purchased Soli Deo Gloria's Lewis & Clark and Westward Ho! Also, Progeny Press's Little House in the Big Woods, Little House on the Prairie and Farmer Boy study guides. In looking over each of these guides I think they are good starting point but I will be supplementing with other materials and children's books.

Language Arts

Handwriting Without Tears comes highly recommended so I'm giving it a try this year; and LOVING it! My 3rd grader is a leftie with dexterity issues. His penmanship is difficult to read so we are using the 1st grade workbooks with the hope of moving into 2nd grade next semester. He is NOT advancing to cursive this year.

My 1st grader has beautiful handwriting thanks to hours and hours of drawing and building with Legos. Unfortunately he's picked up a couple of penmanship bad habits so I'm hoping to correct those this year.

Handwriting Without Tears is designed to be very hands-on and offers a lot of extra multi-sensory components. I bought the teacher's guide and student workbooks as well as the Rock, Rap, Tap & Learn CD. My guys enjoy listening to the CD and dancing around our living room together. You could say we get our P.E. in while listening to handwriting. :)

Explode the Code is a fantastic phonics based workbook series. We are using 2-3 workbooks each year but you can go as fast or as slow as you want. I used this program last year to teach my #2 boy how to read and I'm using it again this year to begin teaching my 5 year old daughter to read. The boys are in different workbooks this year because Will's reading level is several grades ahead of Ben's. In fact, Will (3rd grade) finds the workbook super easy but I want to make sure he has a firm understanding of phonics.

Alpha and Omega LifePACs language arts is an all inclusive program. It covers handwriting, spelling, phonics, grammar rules and a few other skills that fall under language arts. I am only using this with Will (3rd grade). I think of it as my "security blanket" to make sure I don't miss anything for Will but I feel that it's kind of "a mile wide and an inch deep." It covers so many different areas that I feel Will doesn't get enough practice with key skills, which is why we use the other programs as well.

Write About Me/Write About My World is published by EPS School Specialty Publishing, the same publisher for Explode the Code. I am using these consumable workbooks with Ben (1st grade). Each page gives him a writing topic and space to write. It's a good introduction to grammar rules and creative expression.

As you can see I use a little bit of everything from a lot of different publishers. This is our 4th year of homeschooling and I've finally figured out what works best for me and for both of my boys. There are a couple of other workbooks and items we will add in as time allows over this year but for now this is our core curriculum.

So, what curriculum are you using?

* 2010-2011 Homeschool Curriculum for Kindergarten and 2nd Grade.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Princess Party Ideas

Today is my daughter's 5th birthday. Last night she lay in her bed yelling, "I TURN 5 TOMORROW! I TURN 5 TOMORROW! I TURN 5 TOMORROW!!" You could say she's a little excited about it.

Five is a big birthday at our house so Ellie hosted 7 of her friends for a party on Friday. Ellie and I discussed every aspect of her party multiple times. In other words, she about wore me out talking about her party!

For activities we colored Princess printables I found online. Then I painted fingernails with quick dry polish; sparkly pink was the polish of choice for the day. One word of advice - be sure to ask moms if this is OK. One girl at our party had never had her nails painted before. I still feel a little bad about taking away this "first" from her mom. It just never occurred to me to ask about it ahead of time.

We also used sparkly foam heart and flower stickers to decorate wands and Princess hats. The wands come from the dollar store and the hats were from A.C. Moore. 

The hats were a huge hit with all the girls. They were plain cone shaped party hats. Ahead of time I snipped the point off, cut strips of tulle and threaded them through the cone. A large knot on the inside keeps the tulle from pulling out.

After all our decorating we played Pin the Jewel on the Crown (see behind Ellie). This game didn't go over well with the girls. They just didn't seem to understand the point or enjoy the blindfold and spinning.

Ellie and I looked at hundreds of cake images via Google to decide on her cake. She really liked a simple cake with just Disney princess figures on top. Cake decorating is not one of my talents so I rejoiced that she wanted such a simple cake.

I found a collection of the Princesses at Toys R Us (along with shoes and dresses). The set became an early present for her so we could decorate the cake. I also found the candy decorations at A.C. Moore in the cake department. It's pretty pitiful looking but Ellie loved it and that's what matters.

For thank you bags Ellie decorated plain pink bags with Princess stickers. Then we filled them with Princess items we found at the dollar store. Here's my big tip for party planning - ALWAYS check your local dollar store! We bought 20 pack cups, plates and napkins for $1 each. They even had princess napkins and cups! MUCH cheaper than a party store!

Ellie had a wonderful time celebrating her 5th birthday with all of her friends. I on the other hand am still wondering how my baby girl can possibly be five!!!

Have you hosted a Princess Party? What ideas did you use?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Why home school?

"Wow. I could never do that!"

I assume from this statement that strangers, acquaintances and friends believe I am Super Mom with an endless supply of patience, creativity, and energy. After all, how else could I home school a 3rd grader, 1st grader, Preschool 5 year old and a Preschool (almost) 3 year old?

Let me dispel the myth right now.

Home school moms are not Super Moms. We are not endowed with super-patience, super-creativity or super-energy. We are ordinary moms who yell at our child when he calls his sister a derogatory nickname (It's unfortunate that smelly rhymes with Ellie.) and use a DVD to babysit our children while we sneak in an afternoon nap. Maybe that last one is just me.

If we're just regular run-off-the-mill moms, why do we choose to home school? Why do we postpone careers, give up lunch dates with other moms, and add lesson planning to our mom workload?

I won't presume to speak for other home school moms but I'll share with you why I made this choice.*

First, I believe home schooling is the best way for my children to learn my values. My children are with me almost 24/7 which allows for countless opportunities to instruct and model my beliefs. Also, I don't have to compete with differing attitudes and ideas of a classroom teacher.

Please don't misunderstand me. I am not anti-teachers. My mom worked as an elementary teacher for years and I trained to be a high school social studies teacher. Also, I am NOT saying that parents can't pass on their values to publicly/privately schooled children. I am saying it is harder and requires a great deal of intentionality.

Next I enjoy the home school lifestyle. I determine what time we start our day, not a bus schedule. I plan our school calendar to include breaks when it's convenient for us. And, best of all, we take frequent field trips to nearly deserted museums and aquariums!

Finally, I believe homeschooling makes it easier to shelter my children from information and attitudes that they are not prepared to handle. As my children grow and mature I equip them to handle the situations of life that they will face. That's my job as their mom. It's also my job to shelter them from situations that they are not mature enough to understand or respond to correctly.

Homeschooling doesn't mean I control every conversation, every relationship or every interaction my children have. Instead, it reduces the list of unknowns to a manageable size. Instead of a school day's worth of interactions to discuss with my child I only have a Cub Scout's meeting (2 hours) worth to talk about. Like I said before, I'm NOT saying it isn't possible to shelter a publicly/privately schooled child. I am saying is that it is harder and requires a great deal of intentionality.

So, why do I home school? Because it makes teaching and training my children easier for me. Not to mention homeschooling allows me to stay in pajamas until noon avoid crazy pick-up/drop-off school lines.

Disclaimer: I understand that some of the above is controversial and you may have strong or negative thoughts and feelings about what I've shared. Please understand you are not going to change my mind. However, we can agree to disagree and have a friendly discussion in the comments. Unfriendly or unkind comments against homeschooling or against schools/teachers will not be published.

*I did not make the educational choice for my children alone. My husband and I decided together to home school. We both agree on the above reasons, well, maybe not the pajama one. :)

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