Saturday, March 17, 2007

my life as a homeschooler, part 2c: the end, finally!

Math:

--Miquon Math and Cuisenaire rods, which I've described before. The workbook set covers grades 1-3.
--Saxon Math,4/5 and up. I haven't seen the Grades 1 & 2 books but have used Grade 3 some. Unless you're working with a child with difficulties in math, it seems a bit slow paced and probably more appropriate for one grade down. Saxon has a pretest for ascertaining the student's math level. The books have a 25-problem set per day and a lot of repetition, which is good for some students but may be exasperating to others. Since the arrangement of the problems allows it, I have, in the latter case, alternated evens and odds on daily work.
--The Key to...workbook series. These are step-by-step series of workbooks that lend themselves well to self-teaching as skills are broken down into steps. Topics available are Fractions, Decimals, Percents, Measurement (English units only, unfortunately,) Algebra, (mostly pre-algebra--it's a 4th-8th-grade course,) and Geometry. I think the geometry course is really cool, especially for visual and kinesthetic learners. No numbers are involved; students learn to construct and compare lines, angles, and different kinds of plane figures using only a compass and straightedge. Many homeschool suppliers sell these by the bundle along with Answers and Notes books, but Christian Book Distributors sells them either bundled or individually.

Science:
--DK, Eyewitness, National Geographic, and some others have published really cool books on different topics in Natural History. Your library probably has some.
Usborne has some really cool science books written at different reading levels. Lots of pictures, which we like.
--The Way Things Work, by David McCauley
Labs:
--The Backyard Scientist series is good for younger kids. Experiments are designed to use readily available household materials, so you don't have to go all over town chasing down some obscure chemical. Most of the stuff you probably have in your kitchen cabinets.
--You Can With Beakman and Jax (not sure if they're still around, but selected columns from the Sunday Comics series have been published in book form.)
--There are some more advanced level books of experiments and projects out there, but I haven't got a lot of practical experience with them. We have D's old Mr. Wizard book around here from when he was a kid, for instance. Right now, I'm using the McGraw-Hill general science books that came with the Calvert packages we bought for Son #2, which have "Quick Labs" that are usually pretty simple to put together.
--Most homeschool suppliers and some museum shops and educational toy companies have lab kits on specific topics, say, light or basic electrical circuits. Moderately-priced ones can be found, with a little diligence. These make good gifts as well, if the kid is motivated in that direction.

Other Stuff I Missed:
--Dictionary Skills workbooks from Weekly Reader were pretty good.
--English From the Roots Up is a really nice introduction to Greek and Latin roots that can be used in early or later grades. There are some spin-off products, like a set of flashcards (OTOH the book has instructions for making your own) and a game called Rummy Roots
--Where in the World? No, Carmen Sandiego doesn't figure in this one (although our kids used to enjoy her show.) But it is a really good game for teaching countries and their capitals and, if you stick with it long enough, facts like imports, exports, currency, language, and religions. Plus each country card has a flag on it.
--The Horrible Histories and Nasty Nature books are treatises on icky, yecchy, obnoxious facts that kids (especially boys aged 7-12) love. Good for keeping a pack of Cub Scouts quiet while waiting in line.
--Critical Thinking Press has really good critical thinking and logic workbooks. Scholastic and those companies that publish newstand puzzle books have cheap knockoffs of some of these that have the advantage of being, well, cheap.
--WFF 'n' Proof has for years produced some good logic games. They can be found online.
--In recent years there has been a proliferation of easy-to-read, illustrated biographies of people of note, which are very much enjoyed by kids once they have some basic reading skills. One we have is Theodoric's Rainbow, which tells of the monk Theodoric's (Dietrich of Freiburg) experiments to explain the visible spectrum. The illustrations provide a detailed and humorous look at life in a medieval monastery. Check your library, we've found quite a few there and new ones seem to come out regularly.

What I Think of Calvert:
--Since three years of Calvert is the only packaged curriculum I've ever used (Grades 5-7) I might as well put in a word about it. In general, I liked the program. Son #2 wasn't so crazy about it as there was a lot of work in it for him, but he learned from it in spite of himself. I chose Calvert school to begin with for several reasons: I had heard a quite a bit about it, I knew it had been around for a long time and was structured and traditional, The cost was acceptable, and I had a few options as to how to use it. Curriculum packages can be bought with or without teaching support; we forwent the teaching support but took the included tests (which I graded) anyway. Math can be bought separately, so we tried it the first year but soon went back to the Key To series (Son #2 maintains that I'm awful at explaining math, so the less I have to say on that subject, the better.) In general I would call Calvert a pretty good curriculum. It is highly structured and the work load is heavy enough that Son #2 was pretty much putting in a full school day by 7th grade--you don't slack off with this course. The reading load can be pretty heavy as well, so some modifications might be needed for kids with reading problems. Some of the textbooks I've reviewed positively above (though their U.S. History can't hold a candle to Joy Hakim's!) Son #2 was less than thrilled with some of the reading selections (for some reason, Anne of Green Gables just didn't speak to him,) but most selections were good. We tried their Spanish package but weren't crazy about it (I didn't care for the audio course speaker's accent) and as it is expensive I would suggest looking elsewhere for foreign languages. In short, a good curriculum, (skip the foregn languages,) but highly structured and work-intensive. Be sure that's what you're looking for before you write out the check. It probably works well for a self-motivated student (Based on what Darwin has said about his homeschooling experience I'm guessing that would be him,) or one who needs structure, but I could see it being onerous for a kid with learning difficulties or a more freewheeling learning style.

Hopefully, there are some ideas in all this text that will be useful. None of this, of course, is written in stone (duh! it's written in electrons!) Different kids have different learning styles, interests, strengths, and weaknesses. You are the expert on each of your children, and therefore the best judge of whether a given book or program is suitable. Homeschooling can give you a lot of freedom to experiment with different styles and learning materials, and choose what works. Along the way, you will undoubtedly discover your own favorites.

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3 Comments:

Blogger Darwin said...

Based on what Darwin has said about his homeschooling experience I'm guessing that would be him,

Heh. I mentioned the first year or two were rough between me and my parents, but I might have left out this involved me taking nearly two years to do Calvert 6th grade, and so skipping straight to 8th in order to catch up...

It is doable, but the load is pretty heavy and it's easy to get behind.

6:10 AM  
Blogger CMinor said...

I could see that happening, when one is a sixth grade boy. I rode herd on Hon. Son. Truth be told, I think we gave up on Anne of Green Gables, though.

For some reason they never seemed to pick literature about Space Troops fighting giant insects. Go figure!

8:12 AM  
Blogger Darwin said...

Starship Troopers all the way.

9:17 AM  

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