2011-2012 Curricula (2nd Semester)

After we decided to homeschool Amber for 5th grade I began to research curriculum.  I was looking for curriculum suitable to her learning style and my teaching style. We need curriculum that will keep her on track with her parochial school, should she return, while also preparing her to integrate easily into the Lutheran high school at 9th grade.  I also hoped for curriculum that would be interesting to her and possibly to me as well.  I managed to come up with a pretty good idea of what I was going to use. Then, we decided to start homeschooling 3 weeks into the 2nd semester of 4th grade.  Great.  What now?

Well, as luck would have it, I had purchased a copy of all of Amber's 4th grade textbooks (used) at the beginning of the school year.  There is a significant amount of homework in 4th grade and we live 30 minutes away from school.  Returning to retrieve a forgotten book wasn't going to happen.  Seeing the size of her textbooks also made me worry about the weight of all those books being put on her little 9/10 year old frame. Purchasing them used on Amazon was a good solution.  This also meant that for homeschooling all I needed to do was purchase the teacher's manuals (used again, on amazon).  We have added a few things of our own though.  I doubt we will use the majority of these next year, but it seemed better to finish off what she had started.

Fourth Grade Curriculum 
(Finishing Lutheran school curriculum)

Language Arts -World of Language - by Silver, Burdett, Ginn.  This is a fairly old book with a mid 1990's copyright.  It does seem to be effective and Amber really enjoys language and grammar. The down side is the way it was being used in her school.  There are many more writing assignments and ways to encourage better writing in this book than her school used.  We are, from here forward, going to use them all.  Amber's first school really had a much better approach to writing and it becomes evident in the older grades.

Math - Saxon Math 5/4 

I'm not really sure how I feel about Saxon Math. There are days that I like it, and there are days that I really hate it.  Amber has been using this since first grade. Both of her Lutheran schools used it.  Amber is also very good at math and catches on pretty fast.  So the repetition that is used in Saxon really turned her off in third grade. She started zoning out during math class and never knew much about the assignments or what was discussed.  Still she managed to pull off a high A in the class every quarter.  We will continue to use Saxon for 4th grade and into 5th grade as well (Saxon 6/5).  This one is almost a non-decision for me.  If Amber will ever return to her parochial school before high school, then it is best if we stay with Saxon so that she fits back in.  

Reading - MacMillan / McGraw-Hill Reading (2005)

This reading curriculum is used for both Reading and Spelling at Amber's previous school.  I purchased the teacher's manuals for the last 2 units (out of 6). That is all they had left to complete.  I also purchased the Practice workbook that was the same as the BLM teacher resource that had been used at her school.  Amber was able to pick up with her reading and spelling work exactly where she had left. Same assignments, same book, same everything.  I don't really have a problem with this curriculum. It is really geared toward classes, but it isn't too hard to change it for a single student.  Some of the stories Amber finds to be boring and very "baby-ish".  I'm not sure she can entirely get around that in a reading curriculum.  Still, we won't use it again next year.  It is too hard to buy all the needed items for a single student.  The total number of books required for a whole year is quite daunting with each of the 6 units having its own teacher's manual and there are also several workbooks needed.  Added to this is the fact that it is difficult to purchase them new; I'd have to track down a used copy of every teacher's guide and workbook.  So, while it seems to be a perfectly good curriculum, we won't be using it in 5th grade.

Science - Macmillan/ McGraw-Hill Science - FINISHED!

I do like this science curriculum.  It has a nice amount of information and the presentation in the student text book is colorful and informational.  There isn't a lot of fluff in them, but there are enough pictures to keep the student's interest.  Again, this is geared toward a class full of children, so the labs have to be adjusted some for a single child.  Still, it is possible and the Activity workbook has alternate labs that can be used as well.  I like that option. They show the same concept but sometimes the alternate labs are easier for me to pull together here.  I also purchased the "Reading Resources BLM" as well as the Activity workbook for this curriculum.  Those were the items being used in her school so she is still able to do the same style of assignments.  This also has the teacher's manual divided into multiple books.  I bought numbers 2 and 3 of 3.  Her teacher jumped around in the book, skipping quite a bit of it.  I'm sure there is a plan to do health for the last portion of the year and so some of this book had to be skipped due to time.  That's great, but they skipped sections of this book that Amber is very interested in.  Unfortunately, they spent the whole first quarter on life science, which she hates.  While all aspects of science are important, she should at least get to do what she likes.  The quarter of Life Science and quarter of Health with everything else mashed between isn't really endearing her to science.  We are now completing the last unit in the book, electricity and magnetism, and will then return to other skipped topics like Weather, Force, and basic physics.  

Even adding back in topics for Science, we still needed to do something more.  I also wanted her to do some Health this year. After researching, I decided on LIFEPAC Health Quest.  It is divided into units by topic, each having its own book.  There is a unit on Body Systems, Mental Health, Healthy Eating and Exercise, How to react in an emergency (first aid, disaster reaction, bleeding, etc), and How to be a Good Steward of God's Creation.   The set comes with a teacher's manual that covers all the topics in one book, but the student texts are divided into 5 smaller books.  The set is designed to take up one semester, but I'm doing it one unit at a time. We may have time for two units in 4th grade and complete remainder in 5th grade.  Maybe some will even wait for 6th grade, if we homeschool that long.  It is rated for grades 4-7 and some of the reviews I read said the later units really work best for the older portion of the age range.  I'm not sure I agree with that, after looking over our copy, but we don't have time for the whole set this year anyway.

Also using 2 books from Concordia Publishing House (CPH) for personal physical development. Where Do Babies Come From? (Girl's edition), and  How You Are Changing  (Girl's edition).

The first one is for 7-9 year olds (Amber is 10), but this book leads well into the next book. After reviewing the books, I decided that the second one starts out a little weirdly if you haven't prepared for it.  I'm not entirely sure how prepared Amber is.  That's sad to say, but they have had classes at school on physical changes but she wasn't interested in sharing what she learned.  I foresee this being a difficult topic since Amber doesn't want to admit that she is growing up.

Social Studies - 
Social Studies Alive - Regions of Our Country

In all honestly, I don't like this book one bit.  It is very thin, seems to gloss over everything and require quite a bit of additional information to be provided by the teacher.  I did get the teacher's guides for this book - again there are multiple teacher's guides. The teacher's guides are not that great either.  Amber was able to keep her Interactive Notebook for this curriculum and that has helped us some. It has a nice idea of presenting the regions of the country as a tour.  Unfortunately, that's about all you are doing.  Brief tour with few details.  This is most definitely geared for classroom use and many times there is no way to modify the activities for one child, unless she develops multiple personalities. Still we are forging forward, but there is no way we will use it any longer than absolutely necessary.   

Scott Foresman Social Studies - Missouri

Since fourth grade is when all the children in Missouri study the history of the state, Amber also had a thin book on Missouri. It is a very new book too. The most expensive one I had to purchase back at the beginning of the school year.  The class at school bounced back and forth between their two social studies books this year, interspersing Missouri history with their regional studies of the United States. That is just fine.  I also do like this book, but did not get a teacher's guide for it.  We will just go through the remainder of the book and do several additional Missouri field trips.  This is one area where I probably didn't even need the text book, but it is nice to have.

My plan for next year, 5th grade, was to use AO LIFEPAC history curriculum to fill in the gap left by the odd 4th grade regions study started at her parochial school and then continue on to the BJU 5th grade Heritage studies.  About a month into our homeschooling (end of February) we realized that the Social Studies Regions wasn't working at all and had been a huge disappointment even while Amber was in her parochial school.  We came to the decision to drop her regions study altogether and just start on the LIFEPAC now in 4th grade.  We are skipping the early sections of the LIFEPAC history because Amber has done early North American settling and the Colonial times in several grades already. Instead, we are starting with the Revolutionary War in the LIFEPAC and will move as far forward as time allows the rest of this year, leaving the remainder of Missouri history for late April or May when the weather is more cooperative for field trips.

Religion - One in Christ (Concordia Publishing House)

Again, Amber was able to keep her workbook from religion class, so it was a pretty easy decision to continue with it.  I'm not entirely sure that I am 100% pleased with this curriculum.  Yes, it is Lutheran (MO-Synod) and presents everything as we believe.  Yes, it goes through the Bible stories and has some life application exercises.  Still, it feels lacking and simplistic.  Almost like they believe these children still incapable of understanding anything above a Kindergarten level. At one point during my research for 5th grade I considered using One in Christ for next year.  I hadn't seen an example of it, but thought that maybe it would work. It is fairly new and Amber mentioned it was what they used at school.  Previously, her schools had used the CPH Voyages curriculum, but One in Christ is new and her school switched to it.   I have to say, I'm glad I didn't ultimately have my heart set on it.  It is expensive to use for just one student and not worth the price. I'm still undecided for next year's curriculum, but definitely know it won't be One in Christ. I may have to patch something together myself using several CPH products.

Foreign Language - Latin for Children, Primer A

Amber has always loved foreign language study. Her first school did Spanish, starting in first grade. She LOVED it.  Her second school didn't really do foreign language at all.  They had a fledgling program for the middle school, but nothing that she would get into for years still.  I have taught Amber some German at home as well.  We decided to take advantage of her homeschooling time to start a foreign language. Amber decided, after giving it much thought, that Latin was where her interest is right now.  I can entirely agree.  Her foreign language instruction was originally to start in 5th grade.  Again,  she had different ideas and begged to start immediately.  Why put off something fun like Latin? 

After some research I decided to try Latin for Children, Primer A.  It is rated for grades 3 - 8.  Several reviews indicated that 3rd and 4th grades are a little young for some kids in this curriculum.  Amber has previous experience with foreign language instruction and the desire to learn. I'm not worried about her age.  Honestly, I'm afraid it might be a little young for her, but I don't want to push her into a language program that is overly difficult at this age. 

Now that we have used this curriculum for a couple of weeks, I have some comments about it.  First, we both really enjoy using it and have been happy with the lessons.  The lessons are designed for 5 days for each chapter.  Each chapter has a specific verb / or class of verbs to conjugate, a vocabulary list, and a grammar lesson.  We only have 3 Latin lessons a week, because that was all the time we had in our existing schedule.  However, this also means that Amber has extra time to work on the vocabulary compared to if we did a chapter per week, as suggested.  It might be a little fast at this age (4th grade) to rush through everything in one week. I would fear that she would not grasp everything as well as she needs to progress to the next chapter. Each chapter very much builds on the previous. 

The grammar is a little difficult for Amber to catch on the first go too.  Some of the grammar being introduced she doesn't even know in English yet making it extremely foreign to her. Thankfully, it is presented in a very simple format and easy enough for me to work with her. Occasionally, the book even states that the student need not worry about the specifics of how the more advanced grammar works yet, but to just memorize the various conjugations and wait for a later lesson.  I'm OK with that for the early lessons.  If the child knows how to conjugate the verbs, explaining when to use each tense can wait for later.

The curriculum set came with a DVD that goes over the verb conjugation, vocabulary and grammar for each chapter in a nice, easy to understand discussion.  We view the video on day one of each chapter and then review the book lessons ourselves for the remaining days.  Having learned foreign languages myself, I pretty much understand all the grammar in Latin and I am only working on a vocabulary base.

The curriculum also came with a CD of chants to help the kids remember their verb conjugation and vocabulary for each chapter. I put the whole thing on Amber's iPod and she has been diligently listening to it each week.  The curriculum lets you select between the Classical or Ecclesiastical pronunciation for Latin. We have chosen the Classical, so those are the DVD and CD tracks that we use. 

There is also an Activity book that has entertaining mazes, word searches, crossword puzzles and other activities for each chapter.  These are fun ways to enforce the vocabulary without the dullness of regurgitation style worksheets (which they also have in the workbook, if that's your thing). 

So far, I have to say we are very happy with this curriculum and plan to continue to use it through all the levels.  As long as you are willing to help a child not fully versed yet in grammar concepts (infinitive & perfect tenses) work through the grammar portions it is perfectly suited to children 3rd grade and up. 

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