Friday, July 11, 2014

In Search of a Science Curriculum

We have enjoyed Sonlight for Alexa’s preschool and early pre-kindergarten, but we have decided that this will be our last year using Sonlight. There are several reasons for that decision, and I won’t get into them right now. I only mention it because if we were sticking with Sonlight, I would not now be in the process of researching and choosing curriculum for Alexa’s kindergarten year. (Yes, I know that won’t begin until fall 2015, over a year from now. However, next year will be fully occupied with our move. I need to be prepared with research before we arrive in the United States for home leave, during which time I hope to attend a homeschool convention and visit several libraries and bookstores, armed with the research that I’m beginning now so that I have an idea of what I want to see in person before I buy.)

Within the last week, after way too much research, a good bit of discussion, and some serious stress on my part, we chose a science curriculum. In this post, I’m going to review what we were looking for, describe the most appealing* options we considered, and finally, tell you what we chose. If you’re not interested in homeschooling or in science curriculum, you may not wish to read further.

In a perfect world, I would find the perfect science curriculum. (Spoiler: This is not a perfect world!) The curriculum would meet all of the following criteria:

  • Inexpensive
  • Involves a combination of textbooks, more interesting science-related books, and hands-on activities (demonstrations or experiments, nature walks, lap- or notebooking, and possibly workbooks). 
  • Complete and ready to go—all lesson plans, supplies, and books would arrive at my door neatly packaged in one big box.
  • Evolution and Old Earth assumptions would be taught explicitly, but ideally while recognizing that God set it all in motion or at the very least while refraining from disparaging religion. Bonus points for objectively presenting evidence for and against Old Earth and Young Earth viewpoints, as well as evolution, theistic evolution, and literal 7-day creationism. At the very least, the curriculum must not set up the false choice of “you can be a Christian or you can be a scientist, but you can’t be both.”
  • My preference: Rather than jumping around as most elementary “general science” courses do, the course would pick one area of science and cover it well. I would prefer a cycle of one year each of biology, earth and space science, chemistry, and physics.
  • Jeff’s preference, which I did not know until pretty late in my research: Rather than sticking with one topic for a full year, the curriculum would cover a variety of topics.

Do you notice all the contradictions? Inexpensive, yet including lots of moving parts and little to no planning on my part. Secular, yet religious or at least not hostile to religion. Covering one area in depth, yet covering all areas of science. That isn’t too much to ask, is it? (Spoiler alert: Turns out, it kind of is.)


Science in the … Series by Jay Wiles

  • First book: $39 from Berean Builders, with the option to buy a supply kit ($85) and a lapbook template ($18) from other vendors
  • Designed for grades K-6, with multiple ages able to use each book simultaneously
  • Presents science within a historical framework, with the first book an overview organized around the days of Creation, and following books focused on specific time frames. (Subsequent books cover the ancient world, the 16th and 17th centuries, the 18th century, and the 19th century).

I love the idea of this series. Each lesson is centered around a demonstration or experiment. The historical focus shows students that science is a process and demonstrates how scientific knowledge is built gradually over time, so even though it jumps from topic to topic, the organization should make sense.

However, there is one major problem with this curriculum: The author is an avowed Young Earth Creationist. He seems to be well respected by homeschoolers on both sides of this great divide, but even so, he does have a bias, and we believe it’s in the wrong direction. Reasons to Believe concludes in their review that this curriculum is not hostile to Old Earth theories, but neither is it compatible with them. If we believed in a young Earth, I would take a very close look at this curriculum—I took a pretty close look at it anyway!—but as it is, we had to move on.

Elemental Science (Classic Series) by Paige Hudson 

  • Preschool series (including kindergarten): two options, each $15 ebook or $27 print, with optional experiment kits ($38 or $42) from Elemental Science. Supporting books must be purchased separately from other sources, but there are not many and they are not expensive.
  • Traditional curriculum is available for preschool through grade 8, as well as online high school courses.
  • Each unit involves a demonstration or activity, text, narration, sketching, notebooking, and nature walks.
  • Preschool courses include a mix of topics; classic series follows with a year each of biology, earth and space science, chemistry, and physics.
  • The author is a Christian, but she uses materials that approach science from a secular view.

 I fell in love with this curriculum when I looked at the sample lessons available on the website. I’m not sure how rigorous it would be, but I am sure that Alexa and I would enjoy doing it, and at her age, it’s at least as important to inspire a love of science as it is to cram her head full of scientific facts and theories. This curriculum checks all of my boxes, and I was all set to use it … until Jeff surprised me with the revelation that he didn’t want each year to focus on a different subject. So I abandoned my obsession with Elemental Science and took a closer look at another option, one that I’d looked at superficially but not in depth because I was too caught up in this one to give it a chance.

  • Series of 3 books ($25-$35 each, or $10 each for Kindle), each of which provides lesson plans for 3 years (K-2, 3-5, and 6-8). Lab or other supplemental materials must be acquired elsewhere.
  • The curriculum weaves together four “threads”—Nature of Matter (Chemistry), Life Science, Physical Science, and Earth and Space Science—with the goal of helping students understand how science as a whole is interrelated.
  • Involves demonstrations and experiments, lapbooking for younger students, and notebooking for older students. Also includes a list of optional books for supplemental reading.
  • Completely secular.

When I first looked at this curriculum, I rejected it out of hand. There are very few things to make me run away from a curriculum as quickly as seeing on almost every review some variation of the statement, “This is no open-and-go curriculum. It requires a LOT of preparation from the teacher!” Consider that “complete and ready to go” box of mine not only not checked but turning red, flashing, and wailing an alarm!

However, I also saw that this curriculum has several users with extensive scientific training themselves, and they love these books. Their reviews say that it inspires students to think scientifically, not merely to memorize facts (though it requires that as well); that it presents high level concepts in ways that their young children understand and remember; and that they and their children love doing science with this curriculum. Frankly, I realized from my first look that this curriculum probably is the most comprehensive one available; I just didn’t care because I went into a mild panic at the very thought of using it.

Jeff, on the other hand, had no such reservations. He likes to say that all of science comes back to physics, and this curriculum may well agree. He recognized that this option would be more difficult for me, and he said we could use something else. I knew, though, that we wouldn’t agree on anything else—nothing else will provide the depth I want, the variety Jeff wants, the interconnectedness we both prefer, and Old Earth perspective we require. This one is the best choice for us. So I joined the Yahoo support group moderated by Dr. Nebel himself, asked a question or two on my homeschool forum, and ordered the first book.

I know it’s crazy early to be buying curriculum for fall 2015, but hey … that wailing siren in my head won’t be quiet until I’ve made at least a preliminary implementation plan, which I can’t do until I have the book. I need some mental peace and quiet, so I need that book, crazy early or not. In the meantime, if you notice me mumbling about threads and lesson order and supplemental reading and where I can buy magnet sets or microscopes, please just roll your eyes and look away. I’ll be ok, I promise.

*The less appealing options we considered included the following:

  •  NOEO Science—similar to Elemental Science, but it didn’t have a year for Earth and Space Science, and it didn’t have anything for kindergarten. If I hadn’t seen Elemental Science first, I would have considered NOEO more strongly.
  • Nancy Larson Science—a crazy expensive, all-inclusive program for grades K-4. Reviewers either love it or hate it. I suspect I would hate it, as I only got halfway through my perusal of the sample lesson before I had to stop. The extreme scriptedness of the lessons was annoying, but I could handle it. What I could not handle was the insultingly condescending tone of the script.
  • Real Science 4 Kids—a unit study approach, which would have gotten very expensive by requiring the purchase of 2-3 units per year. Reviews also lamented that it did not require much critical thinking, only fact memorization.
  • Christian Schools International—one of the few explicitly Christian options that teaches from an Old Earth viewpoint. Reasons to Believe has very positive things to say about its integration of faith and science, but it lacks depth and rigor and requires supplementation.
  • Houghton Mifflin Science Homeschool—reasonably priced secular option. Nothing stellar or horrible about it, other than that most of the best things about it are online, and I don’t want to have a problem doing a science lesson because the internet went out, or be required to complete the curriculum in one year or lose access to vital online content, or have problems using it because reviews said that it’s ridiculously difficult to set up the online access.
  • R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey—reasonably priced, secular program that objectively checks most of my boxes … I just wasn’t drawn to it and could not force myself to feel strongly one way or the other about it. I found part of the sample lesson annoyingly cutesy, but otherwise have no idea why it didn’t make my top picks list. I’m sure it’s great for some families, just not for ours.
  • Behold and See Science by Catholic Heritage Curricula—inexpensive, Christian worktext program that is not hostile to Old Earth or theistic evolution. However, it reportedly is light on content.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Letters to My Daughter: Four

Dear sweet Alexa,

Today is a special day. Four years ago today, you entered this world. You arrived four weeks early, so small, and already cautious. You were born face forward, watching where you were going, and once you could see the world awaiting you, you paused for a while to scope it out. From the day we brought you home, you wanted to be held securely at all times. If you fell asleep in our arms and we tried to put you down, you woke up crying. Eventually your father and I clued in to the fact that the best place for you to sleep was nestled securely between us, where you felt safe and loved.

Security—safety—seems to be more important to you than it is to many other children. You’re cautious. You watch other children and get to know them through their interactions with others long before you decide to reveal your own personality to them. You don’t like to get too far from Mama and Daddy; especially in unfamiliar situations, you prefer to stay close to us. Sometimes I worry that your need to feel secure is so strong that it prevents you from enjoying life, from taking those risks that make life fun and exciting.

But over the last year, you’ve grown. You’ve developed a fondness for exploring: first in the safety of our basement, and then in a local park, where you surprised me with your willingness to wander far from me. You’ve made a couple of friends and seem to realize that people other than Mama and Daddy can be trustworthy, too.

Every day, you look more like a little girl and less like the baby we welcomed four years ago. Every day, you speak more clearly, with longer and more complex sentences, so that we rarely have to interpret your words for others anymore. Every day, you seem to understand more and more about the world around you.

And your personality is growing in leaps and bounds. You’ve shown a generous spirit—you were so upset when I carelessly mentioned that some children didn’t have toys; you cried and immediately started picking out toys to give to this toyless child whom you’d never met because “a child should have a hundred toys,” as you tearfully proclaimed. Your desire to help is powerful, as is your delight when you’re able to do so.  Your curiosity about the world is matched only by the strength of your developing will … a will that I pray that you and I together will learn to control and to guide into constructive purposes.

I will not pretend that it always is easy to parent you, Alexa. That strong will of yours can make it challenging. But I would have it no other way. The same determination and resolve—dare I say stubbornness?—that gets you sent into time out so frequently now will help you to stand firm later, when you’re standing up for what’s right.

I see glimpses of your future in your current struggles and in your current triumphs. It’s a good future. You are growing into your name, Alexa Ruth, Defender Friend. You are strong willed enough, and growing brave enough, to stand up for what is right. You are sensitive and generous, and when you decide to let people in, to let people see you and know you, you will be a good friend.

You’re still growing, still developing. You’re still a little girl—and I love the little girl that you are—but you are growing into a big girl, and I love the glimpses of that big girl, too. I am so grateful to God for having given me these last four years with you. I am so excited to see what happens in you, how you grow and develop, who you become, in these coming years.

Happy birthday, my sweet Lexa. Your daddy and I love you.


Sunday, June 22, 2014

Albania: We Did It!

When I was a background investigator, my main job requirement was to gather information. Subject and source interviews, of course, were key components of my investigations. Unlike records checks, however, the people whom I interviewed did not have a standard, unchanging presentation of information—the information that they provided would vary with a multitude of factors: their mood that day, their goals for the interview, their sense of comfort and rapport with the investigator. I quickly learned to evaluate my source and change my self-presentation in order to increase the likelihood of the source feeling comfortable and unguarded with me. For example, when I interviewed a formerly successful businessman about his financial difficulties or a proud man about his moral failures, my best option was to be professional and detached, so there was no hint of judgment or pity; these men were not speaking with a woman, only with an unfeeling government drone little different from a computer or the forms on which they originally had disclosed their problems. Others in similar situations telegraphed that they felt more comfortable opening up to a sympathetic witness, so that is exactly what they got from me. When I interviewed a young soldier about his record of misbehavior while under the influence of alcohol, I smiled and laughed at his antics along with him, all the while discreetly taking copious notes and encouraging him to tell me more. When I left these interviews, I reverted to neutral—to myself, unchanged from my brief metamorphosis into whomever I needed to be for that interview.

One of my investigations involved a young man, a first generation American; his parents had immigrated to the United States from Albania. He was highly involved in an Albanian cultural center, and many of my source interviews were of others who were passionate about Albania, Albanian culture, and the welfare of the Albanian people. The day I interviewed the leader of the cultural center, I came into the room cautiously, ready to figure out whom I needed to be for this interview, but expecting that I would need to show some interest in Albania in order to help this man feel comfortable with me. I had extra time in my schedule that day, so I assumed that my best course of action would be to allow him to extol the virtues of Albania for several minutes before guiding the conversation to the subject of the interview. I was right in that assumption, but I was wrong in my assumption that I would be able to speak with this man about Albania and leave the room caring as little about it as I had when I walked in. He was so eloquent and descriptive in his praise of his beloved homeland—he made it sound like a fairytale land full of friendly people, stunning natural beauty, and rich historical sites that simply begged to be explored. I did eventually work the conversation around to my subject and got the information I needed, but I left that room with more than just information about my subject: I left it with a burning desire to visit Albania.

That night, I asked Jeff what the possibility was of us being able to travel to Albania one day. “Slim to none.” I sighed and set about my business of doing interviews, putting Albania out of my mind.

Yesterday, we visited Albania.

Part of the castle from which Skanderbeg defended Albania from the Ottomans
It was a simple day trip. A 3-hour drive from Prishtina to Kruje. A drive on a good highway through the stunning beauty of the mountains separating Kosovo and Albania. A short drive on a well-maintained highway through the plains, skirting the mountain range that rose majestically just a few miles away. A steep and winding drive on a narrow road from the plains high into the mountains. A walk along a rough cobblestone street lined with souvenir shops and continuing up a steep, slippery path to an ancient fortress. Lunch in the most picturesque of locations—under a canopy, with a view of the mountainside dropping away into plains, and the sweetest outdoor playground I’ve ever seen nestled safely in the courtyard of an ancient stone building that has been converted into a restaurant. Then a walk around a surprisingly small ancient fortress situated atop the hill, with stunning views in every direction. A short tour of a beautiful museum featuring a gorgeous terrace. A slow walk back down to the car, stopping in multiple shops and picking up some new treasures … and some ice cream. A drive back down the mountain—with some exploration of a few narrow, steep, dirt “roads” before we decided to ignore the GPS until we made our own way back to the main road down. Then a three hour drive back to Prishtina, where we capped off the day with an indulgent meal at the best Albanian restaurant we’ve ever visited: Tiffany’s, in case you’re ever in the area and want to taste Albanian food at its finest.

A depiction of Skanderbeg and his army

And the refrain running through my mind now, as I reflect on a day that seemed so unlikely all those years ago when I first asked Jeff if we could visit Albania one day? Well, my daughter is watching Dora the Explorer right now, and her song seems to fit the situation: “We did it!”

Our new treasures: a Kosovar woman and an Illyrian soldier

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Our Homeschool Preschool

We are almost finished with our first year of homeschool, which I’m considering Alexa’s preschool year. We should finish up this academic year in three weeks—at least we’ll finish the most structured part of it, and we’ll carry the rest over to her PreK year. Before we started, I wrote a little about our plan for this first year of doing school at home. This post can be considered an update*, a statement of what we actually did, what we liked about it, and what we need to tweak for next year. I’m organizing this post in the way that Alexa and I currently talk about “doing school”—by type of school, or subject.

Bible and Phonics School

We started out the year using the Little Hands to Heaven curriculum published by Heart of Dakota. At first, I made an effort to do every recommended activity, though I skipped some art projects because I had not made it to the local art supply store yet. I honestly don’t recall how long I did every activity. I do recall that I started dropping activities when Alexa’s enthusiasm for school started wearing thin, and I recall the first regularly scheduled activity that I dropped: the creation of a counting book—which I dropped primarily because it required too much preparation on my part, due to our lack of magazine subscriptions (required for finding pictures to cut out). Then I started dropping other activities for which I did not see much point, or which seemed designed to work better with a small group of students rather than a singleton. At this point, we regularly read the Bible story and do the finger play, which reinforces the Bible stories and the letter we’re learning that week.  I regularly use the “Letter Hide and Seek” pages, in which the student searches through the enlarged text to find the letter of the week. I use some, but not all, of the letter familiarization exercises—she’s already so familiar with the shapes of the letters that she just doesn’t get much out of most of them.

I am glad that we purchased this curriculum. It has provided an excellent overview of the Bible for Alexa, mostly because of the wisely chosen New Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes and the clever finger plays—though I do admit to changing a few isolated motions and words here and there to make the rhythm work better. I also enjoyed most of the weekly devotionals. However, much of the luster of the rest of the program faded rather quickly. The math activities, art projects, and drama activities often seemed like a bit of a stretch to me; they sometimes seemed only peripherally related to either the Bible story or the subject they were meant to cover. I do believe that this curriculum would work better with younger children, but Alexa was right in the middle of the recommended age range. We will not be continuing with the next curriculum by this publisher after we finish Little Hands to Heaven three weeks from today.

Literature School (also includes Science)

The core of our literature school is Sonlight’s Preschool Full-Grade Package (formerly P3/4 Multisubject Package).  When we started with this program, I was enthralled with the stories. Unfortunately, Alexa was not so enthralled with most of them, at least not the ones scheduled for first trimester reading. As the year has progressed, though, her opinion seems to be changing. Gradually, she began to enjoy more of the stories. She began asking for me to re-read stories. Over the last week or so, she’s requested three or more Sonlight stories each day. I’m not certain if we finally got to the stories that match her interests, or if she’s maturing enough to be able to appreciate stories that she would not have appreciated a few months ago. Actually, I think it’s a combination of those factors—her ability to focus on longer stories with fewer pictures (which describes several of the stories she didn’t like earlier) has improved dramatically, but the stories we’ve been reading lately are stories that seem to have been written just for my little girl: Bedtime for Frances, The Story of Babar, The Berenstain Bears and the Spooky Old Tree (all from The 20th Century Children’s Book Treasury).

We went through a couple of rough patches with this curriculum. Alexa was on the younger end of the recommended age range (3-4 years, according to the description of the program at the time of purchase, now simply labeled “preschool”). I think she was a little immature for most of the program at first, but she did grow with it. For example, the first time I read from The Usborne Flip-Flap Body Book, Alexa was decidedly uninterested. Two months later, I tried again, and she insisted I read the entire first section (about digestion) rather than just the first two pages I had intended to read that day. Likewise, we read each of the later two sections (senses and reproduction) in one day each, because she kept asking for more. Over the next few months, once we finish our first pass through this curriculum in a few weeks, I intend to re-read the stories that she did not enjoy the first time; I anticipate that she’ll enjoy them much more with a little more maturity. Overall, I’m very pleased with this curriculum.

Math and Critical Thinking

Sonlight's curriculum came with two games: Mighty Mind and Teddy Mix & Match.

Mighty Mind helps students develop spatial reasoning and problem solving skills. Alexa was interested at first, but quickly found the progressive tasks to be too difficult. We did not use this game much throughout most of the year, but recently she has developed a renewed interest in it, and her skills seem much better suited for it now. I would recommend this game for children who are around four years old and older; younger children who are advanced would enjoy it, but it's a little difficult for your average three-year-old.

Teddy Mix & Match can be played in a variety of ways, but primarily is a visual and working memory game. Alexa loved it from the start, and because it is such a flexible game, I was able to make it be always at her level. My biggest problem with this game was convincing Alexa that she was not allowed to sleep with these particular teddy bears. This is an excellent game for any child old enough to know not to chew on the cards.

I think it was just after Christmas that we ordered two workbooks published by The Critical Thinking Co.: Mathematical Reasoning Beginning 1 and Building Thinking Skills Beginning. Our intent at that time simply was to have the workbooks available, since DPO mail service had become so slow with the combination of a new processing center and the holidays. However, we did not count on Alexa’s excitement as she watched us open the box. “Is that a new book for Lexa?” And then, after being told they were books for math school and critical thinking school, “Lexa wants to do math school and critical thinking school now!” (She had no idea what math or critical thinking was at the time; she just wanted to use her new books.) Even though it was almost bedtime, we obliged her excitement after noticing that the math book was labeled “Age 3” and the critical thinking book “Ages 3-4” (she was almost exactly 3 ½ at the time—apparently we were starting late!). She did several pages of each workbook, loving every moment of it. For the next several days, she constantly wanted to do math and critical thinking. Since that time, we’ve done as many pages of each as she wanted (or until I said “enough!”) each day.

Over the last couple of weeks, the critical thinking in particular has become a little more challenging for her. I have begun to hear her utter the dreaded words, "Lexa is not very good at this." I immediately encourage her, telling her that new things often are hard, but they get easier with practice, and she will become very good at this if she practices. Still, I do not want to overwhelm her, so I've started doing one or the other—but not both—of these subjects each day. We’re around three-quarters of the way through the math book, and halfway through the critical thinking book.

These two books are very similar. Both begin with colors and shapes. The math book introduces and works with the numbers 1-5. At first I feared that they were too easy for her. However, the ease with which she handled the first several pages—and with which she handles many later pages as well—built confidence that was needed when she hit her first unfamiliar skill. The books gradually build in difficulty, starting at a level that most 2-year-olds would be comfortable in, before moving to more advanced topics. They use a spiral approach, introducing concepts such as pattern recognition or subtraction, practicing just a little, then moving on to something else before coming back to reinforce the first topic. This approach does help avoid frustration, for both Alexa and me, when she doesn’t grasp a concept easily or quickly, though I think I prefer a mastery-based approach once she’s older. So far, the books have covered pattern recognition, addition concepts (using pictures, not numerical representations), subtraction concepts, measurement, shapes, logical elimination of options, and object comparison. I'm sure there are others as well, but these topics are representative.

My biggest complaint about these books is that there is very little script. That’s fine for pages where there are pictures of circles at the top with the text “These are circles,” then pictures of circles and squares at the bottom with the instructions “Point to the circles.” However, Alexa had a hard time realizing what I wanted her to do on the page with the circle-square-circle-square-circle-and now tell me what’s hiding behind the curtain? Her response was “a triangle?” I found myself at a loss for how to explain the concept of a repeating pattern in a way that she would understand. Some skills are so fundamental that it’s difficult to explain them at a three-year-old’s level, and I failed miserably in every attempt I made to explain simple pattern recognition and prediction … that task got relegated to Daddy after Mama’s frustration levels got a little too high. On the bright side, Daddy did fine without a script, so although it would have been nice, it was not, strictly speaking, necessary. Overall, though, these books are a gentle introduction to mathematical and logical concepts.  We will use the next books in each of these series—we already have them, hiding in our closet where she won’t see them. We may or may not continue with them after the primer levels (the next ones—Mathematical Reasoning Beginning 2 and Building Thinking Skills Primer). If we do, the math ones will be relegated to supplemental status as we choose a mastery-based curriculum for kindergarten and beyond.

Tracing School

Last summer, while we were in the United States for home leave, we picked up a cheap workbook at Wal-Mart: Fun to Trace. Alexa’s idea of tracing at the time, right around her third birthday, was to draw wild scribbles all over the page. We put the book away. Approximately four months later, her ideas about tracing had not changed much. The workbook again was put away. Then around two weeks ago, she suddenly announced that she wanted to do tracing school. So I pulled the workbook back out and lo and behold, suddenly she was willing to trace the lines and curves and loops in the workbook. After the first couple of pages, I showed her the correct way to hold the crayon. She still struggles with that, but she’s improving. The workbook went from straight lines to curved lines to loops to shapes to letters. Alexa finished off the letter pages today and will start the number pages next. She loves this little workbook—maybe because it’s “new,” maybe because she’s reached a developmental point where she’s ready for it. In any case, it was well worth the $2 or so we paid for it!

Special Study: Advent

We took approximately a month off from our two primary curricula in December. During that time, we used Truth in the Tinsel as a special Advent curriculum. This curriculum included a Bible passage to read, discussion points, and a craft—usually a Christmas ornament—for each day. I did very well in keeping up with it at first … and then daily “art projects” became too much for me, and I started skipping days. Of course, Alexa does not believe in too many art projects—she loved every project we did. However, the effort involved in buying (or substituting) supplies, getting them out, setting them up, explaining the project to Alexa, helping her, protecting the projects from our two cats, cleaning up the mess … this was a great little curriculum, but if we use it again next year, I will do some modification. I’m thinking coloring pages for most days, and full-fledged projects only once or twice a week.

Our Future Plans

Once we finish up this academic year, in three weeks, I’ll take one or two weeks off from school—or only do very light school activities if Alexa asks for them—while I finish up preparations for “next” year, then start on her PreK year immediately. I know that it isn’t much of a break, but our plan for this year is to school year round. We anticipate taking a couple of 3- or 4-week breaks during the year, and it’s important that we’re done with the academic year before the craziness of another international move hits next spring. Then we’ll take a longer break between PreK and kindergarten, as we’ll be in the States and then probably won’t be up to starting school immediately upon our arrival in Greece.

We decided to drop Heart of Dakota for Alexa’s PreK year. We’re continuing the math and thinking skills workbooks. The heart of our PreK curriculum, however, will be Sonlight’s Pre-Kindergarten Full-Grade Package. This package includes Bible instruction and memorization, literature, and science. One of the things I particularly love is that it includes stories from around the world—including at least one each from Egypt and Cambodia. I only wish there was a Kosovar story as well, but Kosovo is too new a country to have its own traditional stories.

We debated whether or not to get Sonlight’s kindergarten language arts (LA K) package, which is an option with the PreK curriculum, and eventually decided that we would. Sonlight takes a very slow approach to teaching students to read, and LA K is at the right pre-reading level for our girl who has known her letters and their sounds for a while now. We aren’t sure about the composition portions of the course; they may be too advanced, but I think they start out gently enough that she’ll be ok with it. If it turns out that those portions are too much for her, we’ll simply drop them until she’s ready. We also ordered the PreK curriculum for Handwriting Without Tears—the kindergarten program is recommended in conjunction with LA K, but we believed that Alexa needed a little more development of her fine motor skills. Of course, that was before her love affair with “tracing school,” so it’s possible that we’ll fly through the PreK handwriting program and order the kindergarten program early. (And, no, there’s no contradiction with doing LA K’s composition without requiring handwriting—parents are encouraged to scribe for their children in these very early years, so Alexa will compose orally, while I write it down for her.)

Finally, a friend gave me her copy of The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading. Many parents on the Sonlight Forums say that Sonlight’s language arts packages do not have enough explicit instruction on how to teach a child to read; this book has a complete script to take a child from basic phonics to beginning readers to more complicated rules of reading. My intention is to look at the order in which letters are introduced in this book, in LA K, and in Handwriting Without Tears and, if they teach in different orders, figure out a way to re-work the schedules so that we focus on a single letter every week, giving preference to the order in The Ordinary Parent’s Guide, since that is the book with the script I intend to follow. (This rearranging of the instructor’s guides is what I will be doing during the week or two “off” from school after we finish our current curriculum.) LA K came with Sonlight’s exclusive beginning reader books, and we also ordered the first set of BOB Books. My hope is that Alexa will be reading these simple books fairly quickly and will enjoy the feeling of accomplishment enough to help motivate her to continue learning to read. We’ll order additional BOB Books as necessary if we like them.

*My thanks to Sheila at The Deliberate Reader for her recent post that reminded me that I never finished the similar update post I started back in January … she inspired me to try again to capture in words what we’ve been doing.