Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Homeschool Update: Kindergarten Curriculum

I never did finish the series I started last winter about our kindergarten curriculum choices—and what I did finish … well, some of our choices changed over the summer. Consider this post your quick(-ish) and dirty summary of what we’re actually using for Alexa’s kindergarten year, and how we’re doing with it so far.

English: Logic of English

For us to be just starting kindergarten, we have tried way too many phonics programs. In preK, we used Sonlight’s kindergarten language arts curriculum, which incorporates Get Ready/Get Set/Go for the Code, but neither of us liked it at all; Alexa already knew too much, and we found it boring. We started The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading, and I liked it ok … except for the fact that Alexa quickly came to despise it and cried every time I brought out the book. We used Reading Eggs, which Alexa enjoyed overall, but she had some problems with it because it’s a web-based teaching game, and the controls often were quirky.

This spring, I came across several reviews of Logic of English (LOE). I loved what I saw of it online, and once we saw it at the convention, Jeff agreed. We bought the set of Foundations A and B, to be followed later by Foundations C and D before moving on to Essentials (assuming we stick with LOE once we’re past basic phonics and ready for grammar). The Foundations course is for students aged 4-7, who haven’t learned to read or write yet. It starts before what I always had assumed was the beginning—teaching students to listen for and produce different types of sounds (voiced and unvoiced sounds, for example) before moving on to phonograms, and teaching students to write different handwriting strokes before moving on to writing letters. It’s a very structured and logical approach that appeals to me, and Alexa is doing very well with it. Almost 7 weeks in, she’s reading, writing, and spelling CVC words composed of the letters we’ve studied. She’s confident in her ability to learn to read, which is a vast improvement for her, and her handwriting is improving. She hasn’t even noticed that we didn’t continue with Handwriting Without Tears, which I half expected to buy in addition to LOE because she loved it so much last year. I have no complaints at all about LOE Foundations; it’s the perfect fit for Alexa right now as she learns to read, write, and spell.

Math: Math-U-See

I know, I know, I wrote a whole blog post last spring about the math curriculum we’d chosen, and it wasn’t Math-U-See (MUS). We do still plan to switch to Singapore in first grade, but we decided that MUS is a better fit for kindergarten. As I was reading on some homeschooling forums last spring, I discovered that many parents were disappointed with Singapore’s kindergarten math programs, despite their love of Singapore for grades 1 and above. Several of them reported that MUS Primer level is stronger than Singapore’s kindergarten options at teaching fundamental math concepts such as place value and useful math topics such as telling time. Jeff and I agreed to look at both MUS and Singapore in person at the homeschool convention and make our decision there. I think it took us about 5 minutes to realize that MUS, while not the program we want to use long-term, is exactly what we need for kindergarten.

Again, it was a good choice. Alexa enjoys math—even on those days when she protests getting started, she almost always enjoys it. It started out as review, counting from 0 to 9, then moved into place value. Alexa seems to have a good grasp now of, not just how to count, but of what numbers actually mean: she understands that “10” is actually a set of 10 units; “13” is one 10 and 3 units; “156” is one 100 (which is a set of ten 10s), five 10s, and 6 units. A nice side effect of the focus on place value and how the word “sixty” can be thought of as a shortened form of “six-tens” is that her confusion on some numbers has disappeared—she no longer asks what comes after 59, because she knows that after five 10s and 9 units comes six 10s, which is sixty.

Social Studies: Tapestry of Grace, Evan-Moor Beginning Geography, and Stuff I Add In

Our state of residence lists “Social Studies” as a required subject for homeschool, and it’s a subject that is commonly taught to kindergarteners, so that’s how I listed it here. However, we don’t do your typical social studies. We do history, geography, and Christian studies.

For history, we’re using Tapestry of Grace (TOG), supplemented with The Story of the World. TOG is a unit study that incorporates history, literature, geography, and Bible/worldview, with elements of writing and fine arts. It takes us through history mostly-chronologically (it separates it out by geographical location a bit more than chronological purists do), using the 4-year cycle promoted in classical education. The beauty of this curriculum is that you reuse it every 4 years; it includes assignments for 4 different age/learning levels, so you buy the curriculum once but use grade-appropriate books each time to teach to a different level of understanding. There are 4 years’ worth of curriculum to buy, and after that, you just need the books. We’re studying ancient history now in kindergarten but will revisit it in 4th, 8th, and 12th grades (unless we take a year off to study something else, since we’re starting a year earlier than usual, in K instead of 1st).

This time through the cycle, we’re more interested in the stories of history than in exactly when or why things happened. We hit on the things that are most likely to interest a child: pyramids, mummies, the Great Wall of China. We’re just starting a unit on ancient America. After that, we’ll probably take a brief break from history while we wait for more books to arrive (Amazon is experiencing shipping delays to DPO boxes right now) and do a unit study on Christmas traditions around the world. Then we’ll spend several weeks on ancient Greece before finishing up with ancient Rome in the spring. We’re enjoying TOG. I’m not using it to its fullest this year, but I’m definitely using it as a roadmap and a source of recommended books. We’re supplementing with The Story of the World and its activity guide, as well as the Usborne Encyclopedia of World History, but TOG is definitely our primary history curriculum.

For geography, TOG is more of a supplement. Our primary curriculum is Evan-Moor Beginning Geography, a workbook for students in grades K-2. It starts with the very basics: What is a map? Then we learned about compass roses, and now we’re learning about map symbols and keys. We’ll eventually move on to landforms and other traditional geography subjects, but I decided that basic map skills are foundational. We do own a lovely globe, and Alexa loves to look at it and see where we’ve lived, where our extended family lives, and where our history studies took place, but her appreciation of it is increasing as she learns about maps. Alexa enjoys geography, both the workbook and the globe. If things continue as they have been, I expect that we’ll use TOG’s geography assignments next year, after we’ve laid the foundation with Beginning Geography.

One aspect of geography that classical educators often focus on in kindergarten is cultural geography—the study of the world’s cultures, rather than its physical geography. We aren’t doing a lot of that this year. However, we are incorporating a worldview/Biblical/Christian studies element into our homeschool. TOG is a primary curriculum for this, as it presents world history in the context of the Bible. (I reverse the emphasis a bit, presenting the Bible in the context of world history instead, but it’s a subtle difference.) I also will be supplementing with stories of Christianity around the world. For example, this December, we will be studying how Christmas is celebrated in various countries. We’ll study the historical Saint Nicholas, as well as the various traditions that grew up around him. As we approach dates that were important in the lives of famous historical Christians, we’ll read about some of them as well. We may also do some brief studies of Christian holidays that are celebrated in the Orthodox tradition but not necessarily in our Protestant tradition.

Literature: A Monster of My Own Making (Pulled from Several Booklists)

TOG includes literature assignments that correspond with the historical time and location we’re studying. However, lots of them are too advanced for Alexa, and some of them simply aren’t as engaging as I prefer. At this age, I want Alexa to learn to love books, not simply to read a story set in ancient Egypt because we’re studying ancient Egypt. Sometimes we read the TOG-suggested books. Sometimes we read a book about a similar topic, but that I think Alexa will enjoy more. Sometimes I choose a book from Sonlight’s kindergarten package instead. Sometimes I choose some completely unrelated piece of literature, often mentioned on a blog or homeschool forum, simply because I think she’ll like it. Sometimes we read poetry instead of stories. She usually enjoys our literature selections, though her favorites so far are some that I pulled from the Sonlight list: James Herriott’s Treasury for Children and The Story About Ping.

Science: Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding, with Supplementation

For science, our primary curriculum is Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding (BFSU). This curriculum requires every bit as much preparation as I feared when I wrote about it last year, but it’s worth it. It presents advanced scientific topics in a way that is accessible even to 5-year-olds, with guided discussions, demonstrations, and recommended book lists. However, I must admit that I find myself skipping science more often than almost any other subject because it does require so much preparation on my part. Not to worry, though, we still do plenty of science, even when we skip BFSU: Alexa is a little animal-lover, and we have several beginning Usborne books about different animals. We’ve been reading these books a lot, especially since we received a fresh infusion a few days ago. We started with just Dogs and Cats, but now we’re up to Tigers, Horses and Ponies, Wolves, Bears, and a few other titles I don’t recall. She can’t get enough of those books. I’m determined to get to BFSU more regularly, though. It’s a great curriculum that will give her a solid foundation, as soon as I get around to doing it. I’m sure we’ll continue to read about animals every day, too, though.

Health: Horizons

For health, we’re mostly using the curriculum published by Horizons. It requires a little modification, as it’s written for a classroom setting, but so far, we’re doing well with it. We don’t love it, and we don’t hate it. We just do it, sometimes enthusiastically, sometimes matter-of-factly, and usually without protest. We’re also supplementing a little with age-appropriate books on manners, personal safety, and sex ed.

 Fine Arts: ARTistic Pursuits and Calvert’s Discoveries in Music

Art and music are two subjects that Alexa would do gladly, any day, any time, multiple times a day. We’re using the preschool level of ARTistic Pursuits, since she hadn’t done much in the way of art and since there are only three books labeled for K-3 (so we’d need to fill in a year if we started Book 1 in K). Alexa seems to enjoy these lessons. We look at a picture and discuss it, then do a related project. We’ve only done three lessons so far, but no worries, there are only 20-some lessons. We can skip a few weeks and still finish the book by the end of a 36-week school year. Even though we’ve done only three formal art lessons, though, Alexa has done an art project every week—she made a serpent-headed throwing spear one week in history, and she drew pictures of biological/natural-nonliving/manmade things one week in science, and she drew pictures of emotions one week in health, and … you get the idea.

Alexa gets most excited, though, about her music lessons. The set from Calvert came with a DVD (each lesson is about 10 minutes), an instructor’s manual with ideas for enrichment and deeper study, and three musical instruments: a lap harp, a triangle, and a flutophone. I think it was playing the instruments that got Alexa hooked on this subject. I allow her to choose one instrument to play after each lesson. Even without the incentive of playing an instrument, though, she loves the DVD lessons. I don’t do many of the enrichment activities, as I think the video introduction is enough in kindergarten, but I should be able to use this curriculum again over the next few years, doing a little more each time, possibly buying some CDs recommended in the teacher’s guide. By the time she outgrows Discoveries in Music, she’ll be old enough for the other wonderful music resources that are available. Based on her love of this curriculum and some comments she made after learning about “the String Family,” we considered looking into violin lessons for her. However, she made it clear that she thought playing the violin would be easy (“you just get a stick and rub it across the strings”), and she wasn’t willing to put in actual work to learn to play well, so I think we’re going to wait a while longer and see if she’s still interested.

P.E.: Family Time Fitness and Lots of Walks

Physical education is the most neglected subject in our homeschool, much to my chagrin. I know it’s important, but we just don’t get to it that often. We bought a subscription to Family Time Fitness, which offers downloadable lessons at a variety of levels. We’re downloading them, but we’re not doing them as often as we should. We do, however, walk down to the kiosk or to the post office a couple of times a week … that’s nowhere near enough. We’ll do better.

There you have it, our kindergarten homeschool. Overall, it’s going very well. I need to be more consistent in doing science and physical education, but I’m happy with our progress in all the other subjects. Alexa is progressing nicely with her core subjects (reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic). She’s developing an interest in history and literature. She truly loves art and music. I may not do BFSU consistently yet, but she remembers what I do teach her, and she can recite those animal books after only a couple of readings. So far, so good … I’m excited to see what the rest of the academic year holds for us.