Our Classical Homeschool 2016-2017 Curriculum Review and Improvements

full curriculum review

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Choosing curriculum is really just making a good guess at what *will* work. We read reviews, we look at samples, but there’s no way to actually know if it is “for us” until we try it. I don’t want to get discouraged when we have to make changes mid-year. When I find that something isn’t for us I either try to sell it, find a creative way to use parts of it that will work for us, or I just chalk it up as a loss (donate it) and move on to something better. This year I’ve done a little bit of all the above.

I shared our curriculum choices for 2016-2017 school year back in September. We used all of the materials listed there; some we loved and some we didn’t really care for. I’m going to give a full review of each of them, and share a few improvements we have made since then.

Curriculum Review

Bible: Polished Cornerstones by Doorposts for our Biblical Womanhood character training, Truth and Grace Memory Book (This is what we use for a Children’s Catechism), daily Bible reading alone and out loud.

Review: I have enjoyed this choice. We just now found our rhythm with Polished Cornerstones, and are working through one to two projects a month. This book is the type of thing that we will still be working through in high school. It has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to Biblical womanhood, so much that it can seem a bit overwhelming, but the author suggests not trying to complete everything there, but simply selecting something and doing it well. That’s what we are doing. The Truth and Grace book is still a favorite. We use it daily and my older girls almost have the whole children’s catechism memorized, my younger girls (ages 3 and 2) have a third of it memorized. It’s a wonderful tool for parents to teach Scripture and truth to their children and give them a solid foundation; I highly recommend it. We have continued to read the Bible out loud and I have them read alone. As far as their reading the Scriptures alone, it is very student led, but I help them set goals and ask them what they are reading on their own and what they are learning from the Word. This often prompts amazing discussions. I love just randomly asking my girls at breakfast, “What have you been reading in God’s Word lately? What is He teaching you through it?” And other questions like that. I have added in some Scripture copy work (I have them write whatever we are currently memorizing and paint or draw a picture to go along with it) and Children’s Catechism copy work from Classical Copy work. (aff. link) I’m really liking the Children’s Catechism addition because it is independent and reinforces what we are already learning, not to mention that copywork has many benefits from a Language Arts perspective. It helps them learn proper sentence structure, spelling, and works their handwriting skills. You can take time to ask questions such as: “Can you point to the nouns?”, “Can you point to the pronouns?”, the verbs, adverbs, etc…Which really helps solidify all that Grammar memory work we are doing in Classical Conversations. It only take a few minutes to have a quick impromptu LA lesson with copywork.

All About Spelling, Writing with Ease, First Language Lessons curriculum review

Language Arts: Classical Conversations, First Language Lessons, and Writing with Ease

Review: Hold on to your hats ladies, this could get long. I’ll try not to be too wordy, but I have quite a few thoughts because First Language Lessons and Writing with Ease were just not for us, and I want to share why. In general they are a solid LA curriculum. They teach from a classical style (which I liked and enjoyed) and they are very simple to use.

However here were some of my qualms with these picks.

First Language Lessons is a curriculum that builds upon itself and you pretty much have to start at the beginning, but starting at the beginning was below the level of learning and capability of my 7 and 8 year old. We did most of book one and then just gave it up because it was too easy and therefore getting boring and redundant. I think that if we had started in kindergarten or first grade (at the latest) then First Language Lessons would have been a better fit.

Also, Classical Conversations covers what is taught from a classical grammar stand-point in FLL. My girls are already memorizing the parts of speech, the full list of prepositions, definitions of pronouns and adverbs, etc… We have a more Charlotte Mason approach to narrations and poetry, we just enjoy them together and read books that we like or that correlate with our Classical Conversations. So this made the book a bit redundant as well. We were already doing all of those things. Even in book 3 it starts sentence diagramming; well my oldest will be starting that in our CLE workbooks this year, and digging in more in Classical Conversations Essentials class next year. I just don’t feel like we need to double-dip. I don’t have time for that.

Another issue I had with FLL is that it can only be done with me. It is not something I can assign as independent work, and that simply doesn’t work for me. In “Large Family Logistics” (one of my favorite homemaking books ever), it suggests that large family mamas choose main subjects that can be done as independent work (for the most part). I didn’t really heed that advice until lately, and it makes a huge difference in what we can accomplish in a day! If you are having a hard time “getting it all done”, then I suggest finding curriculum that can be done independently. For kinder through second you will still need to be a good bit hands on in lessons, but by third grade they should be able to do a lot by themselves.

I am keeping my FLL set (I have levels 1-3), and I may use them when my younger crew starts working through kindergarten. If I do end up using them, I will alter the memory work portions to match CC memory work so as to not confuse them, but I will just cross that bridge when I get there. I also may use parts of them to teach certain concepts such as sentence diagramming or the poems or narration practice alone. They are a good tool in general. I always have to remind myself that I’m the one in charge of the curriculum and I don’t have to use it as the author suggests, I can use it in a way that best suits our trajectory and vision. (add that to the long list of reasons why I love homeschooling! )

Writing with Ease: I did not care for this curriculum at all! It is classical and would teach the child well from an academic stand-point, but from a spiritual stand-point I was not okay with what was being presented to my children in the material. Many of the authors and stories selected will only be things I will place before my children in later years, not for the purpose of enjoyment, but instead to search the Scriptures and discern through the writings. Another issue I had even with the selections I would approve of is that they were only bits and pieces of them. I want my children to be exposed to the whole story if I’m going to read them something. The only good thing I can say about the curriculum is that it taught me a good system for reading a passage, having my student narrate by using questions to draw out what is important, and helping them write narrations correctly. I like the concept of scribing for younger students so they can copy it until they learn to write for themselves. This allows even the youngest little readers (or listeners) to write narrations. I am now using this concept to do narrations on our own in the Charlotte Mason style mentioned above. I hope to share my narration system in a future blog post because my children practically beg to do it, and it’s a really wonderful addition to our homeschool. Below is a photo of them working on some narrations from “Black Beauty”, “The Courage of Sarah Noble”, and “The Green Ember”. We loved all of those books by the way if you’re looking for some good reads for your kiddos. The things I love most about our new method are: I get to pick the material, we read the material from beginning to end, we enjoy the benefits of the WWE method, and we add art which always makes school work fun for us!

Narrations and art.

Classical Conversations:  Still love it! It’s such a good system, and I am continuing to press into the grammar memory work for CC because I know it will be of vital importance in essentials class, much of what they memorize in CC will be memorized even more in chart form later. (Mama’s been looking ahead, prepping for next year.) They truly learn so much through this program. I use the science and history memory work to guide our science and history lessons at home. I hope to share my simple system for doing this in a later post.

Improvements/ Changes: I purchased Christian Light Education Language Arts. It is a workbook format that can be done independently (for the most part). It is classical in format because it teaches from phonograms, spelling rules, grammar rules, etc… and then it has the student work through the concepts dealing with those rules. Each lesson has a grammar, spelling, and handwriting section. Some of that is a bit redundant because we do copywork, CC, and All About Spelling, but I find it to be good reinforcement in those areas that overlap because of the independent nature of it and the way it expands on it and brings it down to the age appropriate level. As a whole, I love it!!!! I may even need to do a whole separate blog post on CLE because this curriculum has won my heart. LA was our first switch, and then I started changing our other subjects to it as well. Their format really jives with me and my girls. It’s simple to use, independent, yet rigorous. Every homeschool mom knows that is a winning combination!

We love Christian Light Education!

Reading: Both of my girls are reading well so no formal reading curriculum is needed anymore. Woohoo! We used “Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons“, and loved it for both! One of my children had to go through it a few times, but it did the job! For reading, we will practice reading aloud, reading alone, and narration from living books, classics, and biographies for children. I also have them participate in reading the Scripture out loud. My 3rd grader will be reading through the New Testament for the second time independently. I may start my 2nd grader reading through the New Testament the second half of the year depending on her progress, we will just play it by ear and see if she is ready then.

Review: I changed my mind on this, for now. I still have them read the above mentioned things, but I decided to add in a formal reading curriculum, and I chose to go with Christian Light Education for this as well. The Reading is a workbook format and comes with a hard back reader..The stories are all Gospel and  Biblical character centered, they include a Scripture that each one is based on, and they are written on the grade level of the child. The stories are not twaddle, they use good age appropriate language and sentence structure. The lessons have vocabulary and dictionary practice as well as reading and answering questions about the stories. I love them! All of the stories in the reader have been so good, one even made me cry. (or perhaps that was end of pregnancy hormones, but either way, the stories are good.) I love that they inspire children to share the Gospel and demonstrate many different ways that children can serve in their homes and churches and be kind to one another. The workbooks also have the students memorize the verse for each story; the Scriptures are all in King James version and while we tend to use NASB or ESV as a family I really appreciate how this curriculum works through the vocabulary in the King James and helps students understand what it is saying. I think this is very valuable since many of the best Christian authors from the past use and quote King James Scriptures. So although we aren’t a KJV preferred family, I do really like that this is a part of the curriculum because in a few years I hope my girls are able to pick up John Bunyan, Richard Baxter, and John Owen and soak them up.

Spelling: All About Spelling and Spelling Power (aff links)

Review: I love All About Spelling even though it is teacher led and can’t be done independently. I have All About Spelling levels 1 and 2 which in my estimation would work best as a first and second grade curriculum (although level 1 could definitely be kindergarten as well). My oldest daughter flew through level 1, but she is a third grader. This is another building type curriculum that you pretty much have to start at the beginning. Since the phonograms and spelling rules memorization were all new to her this wasn’t redundant or boring. The words were all small and she already knew how to spell them without “knowing the rules”, but it still helped solidify everything and allowed us to move on to the next level. I want to do a more full review on AAS one day, but for now just know we love it and we’re keeping it. Spelling Power I have looked through and watched youtube tutorials on how to use it, but have not started yet. I plan to move from AAS level 2 to Spelling Power. It was recommended by Classical Conversations and is designed to be used from third grade through high school. It’s a pretty huge book and definitely not cheap, but it’s a one time purchase you can use with all your children. I’m looking forward to digging into that soon.  I don’t do spelling with my girls every day which is why I love that Spelling practice and testing is included every day in their CLE Language Arts. I aim to do spelling lessons in All About Spelling once or twice a week.

Handwriting: Classical Conversations prescripts cursive workbooks, Writing with Ease. We currently write in print, but will hopefully move to cursive this year with my third grader for notebooking and Writing With Ease. We are wrapping up Simply Charlotte Mason Print to Cursive Write the Proverbs with my 3rd grader; she has worked on it all summer, and it was great!

Review:  The CC prescripts was a good purchase, we are still working through those. I have my girls practice the cursive and color the pictures while listening to Story of the World. I already shared thoughts on WWE. In it’s place I’ve added the catechism copywork (aff link) mentioned above in Bible, as well as our narrations writing, and CLE handwriting portions.

History: Classical Conversations, Story of the World (aff link), and other biographies and books on our CC topics (here’s one of my favorites, actually all from this series are great!) We do CC related reading from the Story of the World books as well as listen through the audio books straight through.

Review: I am loving everything about these choices! They are a wonderful fit for us! Some people may object to exposing their children to all of the dirty parts of history and legends of false gods that SOTW does, and since I’m very picky about these types of things it may come as a surprise that I like these books so much, but my perspective is that history is very different than fantasy. Humans are evil apart from the saving work of the Holy Spirit; they set up false gods and start wars that kill thousands and thousands of people. It is a sad truth, but I don’t think our children need to be shielded from this. I believe we as parents/ educators must guide them through it and help them understand it. And it isn’t for entertainment purposes that I expose them to these things, it’s to educate them. That to me makes all the difference in the world.

Science: Classical Conversations, reference books, nature journaling and classification guides (like this one). We will also be drawing a labeling drawings from the beautiful book Nature Anatomy. (go look inside, it’s gorgeous!) Eventually we will add in a formal science, I’m leaning toward apologia, but that will be 5th or 6th grade and it will be done independently.

Review: Still loving this approach as well. I purchased the CLE science thinking I might use something more formal, but it was too much on top of all we are already doing. I may use the CLE science in the summer when we aren’t working through our CC science.

Latin: Classical Conversations and Sing Song Latin DVDs and Text with CD

Review: I really like this curriculum for a beginner Latin. The DVDs are great, even my 3 year old likes to watch them. The text is a workbook and is more appropriate for my third grader. I plan to use the DVDs for grades K-2 and have my 3rd graders and up use the workbooks. I will likely start a more rigorous Latin program in 5th grade. I’m not sure our family will be doing the Challenge program at CC so I’m not concerned with meeting a certain deadline with Latin; we will go at our own pace with it. I also want to teach my children Spanish and Greek, but we haven’t started those endeavors yet. Feel free to message me some good curriculum picks for those if you know of any.

Math: Classical Conversations and Teaching Textbooks (for my 3rd grader), Splash Math, and math practice worksheets (from workbooks like this one), math fact flash cards, and working with manipulatives (this is the set we have by Saxon and we love it).

Review: I worked through many workbooks and taught some basic concepts to my second grader, and I knew I wanted to find her a formal curriculum eventually. I really enjoyed Teaching Textbooks and so did my daughter. We are still using it actually. However, it wasn’t as rigorous a math as I would like. Also, I want them to work math on paper; I feel like that is a very valuable skill set. It will probably be no surprise (after all my CLE praise) that I purchased CLE as our math. I absolutely LOVE it! The format is similar to Saxon, but it is WAY better for me because it is much more independent than Saxon, and the layout is much more clear and user friendly in my opinion. I still have my daughter working through the Teaching Textbooks 3rd grade since she was almost finished. Some days I have her do a TT lesson in the morning and her CLE lesson in the afternoon. I definitely think there may be value in both approaches. We also really love Khan Academy! When CLE introduces a new concept, I often find the videos on Khan and have my children watch them. It just helps to reinforce.

Classical Conversations Geography

Geography: Classical Conversations and we will use the method described in the geography chapter in The Core.

Review: This has worked great for us thus far! :) A whole blog posts could be spent on geography, but basically we do map tracing, labeling of the weekly memory work, and singing memory songs using hand motions and trying to visualize it in our heads. (I say “we” because I am very much learning geography for the first time along with my girls, it has never been a strong subject for me.)

Art: Classical Conversations, Drawing with Children, and See the Light. We will also play around on Art Hub a little bit for fun.

Review: I love that CC does little art things with the children because honestly, we haven’t used the other choices from above as much as I had planned. I am planning to do See the Light over the summer when CC ends. We do have a lot of art in our lives though because my children are naturally drawn to it, and I just let them paint or create on their own initiative. We also use art in our narratives, Scripture copywork, map tracing, and nature journals so although it’s quite informal right now, they are getting a lot of it.

Working on a "Black Beauty" narration.

Music: Classical Conversations, hymn singing/memorization, they are both learning to play the ukulele, and we may add piano lessons (not sure yet though). I also use Faber Music flash cards to teach music symbols, note names, rhythms, and basic theory.

Review: CC has some basic music theory during the six weeks of tin whistle and they also spend six weeks learning about the orchestra and classical composers. I really like this as a basic elementary age introduction. I ended up giving my girls piano lessons myself once a week. Eventually I will put them in lessons because there is value in learning from someone besides mom. I think the accountability serves them well when learning music. The ukulele is still a fun addition. I don’t give them formal lessons, just teach them chords and print them tabs and chords to songs and hymns that we know. They love to sit around and pluck on them learning to play and sing along to their favorite songs. I think this is the best way to learn an instrument like ukulele or guitar. They will mostly teach themselves because of the thrill of being able to play and enjoy it. That’s how I learned, so I believe in the method.

All in All a Good Year So Far. 

I have really enjoyed the year so far. The changes and improvements haven’t even felt like bumps in the road really. I know they were learning even when using the materials that didn’t work for us, and it feels good to be in the thick of working through our new selections. Each year at Classical Conversations causes me to love it more and to catch more and more of the vision. It definitely helps to shape our homeschool and to give me direction in my teaching.

So that pretty much wraps up this review, except that I ditched the planner as well and have now started bullet journaling for all of my planning, and I love it!!! That is also a blog post to come another day.

I hope you enjoyed the review and, if you found this helpful I would love for you to pin the photo below to save and share with your friends. Thanks.

Classical Homeschool Review : First Language Lessons, Writing with Ease, All About Spelling, Story of the World, Classical Conversations, and more.