Thursday, March 15, 2007

my life as a homeschooler, part 2b: more stuff we liked

On to the other subjects--

English Grammar and Composition:
--Mad Libs. Great for car rides and D has even used them for adult writing students.
--The Easy Grammar books. Start out by teaching you the prepositions (ideally to be memorized, although some of us here fall short of that goal) then, with minimal fluff, take you through the rules of grammar. Grade level about 3-6.
--Daily Grams. Quick drills in grammar; good in conjunction with Easy Grammar series.
--The Great Editing Adventure, if I could figure out what I did with it after our last move.
--A good spelling program. I have Dr. Fry's Spelling book, which has its weaknesses but is all right for building spelling vocabulary. Calvert was pretty good at middle school level, although we found flaws in some of their review puzzles. I got an early-level BJU book used from somebody that if I recall was phonics-based. It seemed like a terrific idea, except that I happened to have one of those oddball kids for whom any concept of phonics will always be foreign. Probably works for about 80-90% of the population, though. There are a number of programs and kits out there that look promising. Check out some homeschool supply companies' spelling sections and see what you like!
--Writing. I really, really like the Italic series, but there are a number of options out there to include traditional fancy-schmantzy Spenserian. (Most of my kids would lack the fine motor skills, I suspect.) If somebody gets really excited about handwriting, there are calligraphy kits! With my LD kid I ended up using a looped cursive course from Therapy Skillbuilders. I will probably never learn to love looped cursive, but it worked with what his occupational therapist was doing and did improve his chicken scratch somewhat. That and it was probably the most sensible method for looped cursive I've ever seen.
--Keyboarding. A good computer course is a must. I think all of ours are way out of date, so you'll have to check out the software stores on this one.

Social Studies--World History and Geography:
--The Usborne Time Travellers' Omnibus (Also sold as separate books) Illustrated tours of four differnt places/times in history: ancient Egypt, imperial Rome, Viking Scandinavia, and Medieval England. Simple language works for younger kids, but the material is not dumbed down.
--David MacCauley's books such as Castle,Cathedral, and City, which give in construction details and other facts about the times in which they are set.
--Stephen Beisty's cross-section books. (Can you tell we're visual thinkers?)
--Dorling-Kindersley's History of the World by Plantagenet Somerset Frye. Almost worth having for the author's name alone!
I've noticed that there seems to have been a proliferation of books on similar themes in recent years, written at different reading levels. I haven't checked them all out, obviously, but they seem fairly similar in terms of design and information. The good thing about this is, it shouldn't be hard to find good materials and the public library will probably have books you can use.
--Weekly Reader used to have a good set of map skills workbooks. They'd be worth checking out.
--The Calvert School curriculum uses Houghton Mifflin's middle school world history books A Message of Ancient Days and Across The Centuries, which aren't bad as textbooks go. They also have a set of world geography books for the same age level, by Silver Burdett and Ginn.
--A good world atlas. A "for kids" one is nice, but even one designed for adult use has its merits. We have a kid one, but when Baby wanted to look up the location of the Bavarian town where her violin was made, it was our 1970 Britannica ox-stunner that saved the day.

Social Studies--U.S. History and Geography:
--I could go on all day about Joy Hakim's series A History of Us. Baby just finished the last book, but I ain't sellin' these! They are by far the best, most thorough, most thoughtful and most interesting books on the subject out there. Their only negative, and what probably keeps them from seeing much general school use, is that the set of ten books would normally take about two years to get through in a classroom setting. (I think it took us slightly over a school year and a half.) The positives make the time spent worthwhile. Hakim, a journalist, loves the U.S. and loves history--that much is clear from her books. She was inspired to the task when on reviewing one of her kids' school history texts, she was appalled by how dull it was. She began to work on her own book, which grew like Topsy.
Hakim writes in an informal and witty tone sprinkled with funny observations and asides. From the first she makes clear her belief that the U.S. is "the most remarkable nation that has ever existed." She doesn't whitewash the bad, though; no kid who completes this series will be Pollyannish about his country's past. Nor, however, will he be cynical or pessimistic about its future.
Young factoid buffs will love this series for the many profiles of people and incidents that most school history books gloss over. Kids who read it through will learn about the Zenger libel case, the War of Jenkin's Ear, and the battle of Ft. Sullivan in Charleston Harbor; they will become acquainted with people like Eliza Pinkney, James Forten, Deborah Sampson, "Ox" Knox, "Box" Brown, Wilmer McLean, Ely Parker, Charles Eastman, and Mary Antin. The books are an embarrassment of riches when it comes to information.
Hakim's politics are probably a bit more liberal than my own, but with few exceptions (sorry, Joy, but I'm really not convinced that Ronald Reagan was a better actor than he was a president!) she makes a concerted effort to present history in as factual but as fair a manner as she can. Thus I've read a review of her books by a southerner who thought she did a pretty good job of chronicling the War Between the States (theah was nuthin' Civil about it) even though he didn't agree with all her conclusions about its root causes. Hakim acknowledges bias in writing with a frankness all journalists in the business today ought to have, yet manages to keep her own in check to an impressive degree.
The appendix at the end of each book is an extra bonus. Each appendix has a year-by-year chronology of events taking place during the time period covered and a list of suggested readings (I think her choices are very good.) Some volumes also have important documents (like the Bill of Rights) and personal remarks by Hakim about writing and studying history.
I would call these books a "definitely buy" even if your library has them. There is a softcover binding available if the hardcover cost seems daunting. Although they are written for fourth or fifth grade readers, your kids will not outgrow them, and you may find yourself reading them. I'd recommend them for older students taking GED or college placement tests.

Now that I'm done rhapsodizing, back to business.
--We have an old copy of Geosafari software that the kids have enjoyed. It had U.S. and world geography and history games on it and was really handy on days when I "just had to get something done" and needed not to be on lesson call.
--A Blank U.S. map. Websites that post curriculum helps often have these.
--Workbook publishers often have U.S. states books that can be incorporated into a U.S. geography study. We used one once, (which we no longer have, so I can't give publishing info) that had the states arranged by region. Thus the task could be accomplished in sections which simplified things considerably.

This is getting long again (one would think I'd have learned to edit by now!) and lunch must be fixed. Math, science, and whatever else is left next, same bat-time, same bat-channel! (Or thereabouts.)

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