Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Enhancing A Boxed Curriculum

Favorite Curriculum Choices

One of my favorite aspects of homeschooling is tailoring the schooling to fit the child and help them be a success. There is no reason in the world why a child should 'hate' any subject, or dislike learning. There is no end to the fascination of learning new things.
A long time ago when we first started homeschooling, we decided to choose a curriculum that would be something we could easily start with, and would be organized enough to cover all the subjects. We liked that the subjects were integrated in such a way as to reinforce concepts across the board in all subject areas. We also chose a curriculum that was based on classical learning, where the student first learns and memorizes facts in the early years, then revisits those concepts in middle school years, expanding on the meanings behind the memorized facts. In the high school years, the spiral of learning is enhanced by deeper study of those same subjects, adding more abstract concepts to the solid foundation. The science and history aspects of our boxed curriculum cycle through four stages, which means that every four years, a particular subject matter is revisited and layered down again in the child's mind. Core concepts in math and English are layered and expanded upon every year. 

Early on, based on our own experiences and examination of the available curriculum at the time, we decided to make A Beka our core curriculum. Our children started off with preschool materials, and we utilized the Phonics program to teach them how to read. Over years, due to various circumstances, we have dabbled with other curriculum, but have always fallen back on the continuity of A Beka for the foundation of our homeschool studies. It has been a great experience and we are very pleased with the outcome. Looking back there is not much we would have changed. We have graduated our oldest, and #2 is not far behind, starting her Senior year this fall.

The more I have gotten involved in homeschooling circles, and especially with The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew, the more I have seen various choices in curriculum that are available. Of course, there is about a thousand times more materials available now than there was nearly 20 years ago when we first started thinking about schooling for our children though! 

So what is a parent to do?  We have already committed financially and emotionally to a boxed curriculum, but also want to provide the best education possible to our children. As we have watched our children grow, we have noticed that four different children possess four different learning styles and personalities, and "one size fits all" curriculum is not always the most effective, even though it is a good education. 

To me, this is why homeschooling offers the best of both worlds. While we can "fall back on" our boxed curriculum, taking advantage of the great amount of research that has gone into making it a top notch program, we can also add in and enhance our daily routine with specialty items that round out the program well. Following the spine and spiral of our boxed curriculum ensures that our children stay on par with the necessary concepts that need to be learned each grade level. I don't panic when they take standardized assessment testing, because I have confidence in the material they have mastered. I also don't have worries that they will have gaps in their learning, or that I might miss something important.

Being with the children daily, and studying their learning styles, affords me the opportunity to also figure out ways to help them along and make sure they not only love their learning, but also can master their material well. I don't want them simply mastering facts to pass a test, but I want the material to become a part of the fiber of who they really are, and what they believe. 

I love being in touch with new materials that are available in the homeschool world. Often I see something that looks really neat, and that I think will work particularly well for one of my children. Being a part of the Review Crew has helped me to try out some new things, and find ways to really make our school interesting. I love reading what other homeschool moms think of various items as well. 

Here I have put together some of our favorites for enhancing our boxed curriculum. If you have chosen the path of using a boxed curriculum as your foundation, you have several choices. You can add extra curricular subjects to it to enhance it. You can also add in special materials that interest your child but are not included in your boxed curriculum. Lastly, you can swap out some of the activities or assignments of your boxed curriculum for materials that will help your child grasp or master the concepts more effectively. As each child is different, each path to success will also be slightly different. The beauty of homeschooling is making the curriculum work for you, not being a slave to it.

Here are some of our favorites that we have enhanced our A Beka core with:

We have found that extra review of math facts and English concepts are very necessary in the younger years, when these things are first being learned. Since we follow a traditional school year schedule, the summer is a great time to add in some extra review curriculum. To motivate the child to do extra work in reviewing, I like using something that is fun and more 'game like' in its approach, so that the child will enjoy using it, doing extra, and not really realizing that in the process they are reinforcing their schooling. 

One of our favorite, well loved and used programs for reviewing both math and English is IXL Learning. We also really like the free games at for fact review. Both of these sites are fun, interactive, and very easy to use. My youngest can log in herself and spend 10-15 minutes a day reviewing. IXL gives her little awards and certificates for completing levels as well. 

Spelling is  another subject that is always in need of extra help. The Spelling/Vocab program in A Beka is challenging. It is also quite dry, and based mostly on rote learning, copying, and memorizing. The lists are well put together, and reinforce words being learned in Language Arts, writing, Science, and History. In order to do well on them, we definitely needed to think outside the box to find a fun way to review them. This is where VocabularySpellingCity comes in. Every week, I enter the child's spelling and vocab lists onto the program, then the children access their lists on their own and use the multiple fun and interesting review games to review their own words. We actually replaced the daily copywork assignments with Spelling City review work, since we found it so much more effective. I have the girls do Spelling City for about 10 minutes a day typically 3-4 days a week. (more if they want to or as time allows). When I made this slight change, the girls weekly spelling tests scores improved from low 80's to consistent upper 90's or 100's.

Science is an area that is always challenging. Everyone seems to have their own area of scientific interest that they enjoy, and then they groan at the other things that have to be learned in Science. I always cringe when I hear a child say that they don't like Science. I truly believe that the study of Science helps us to know God better. A Beka Science is thorough but my children all thrive with a hands on approach to Science. They really need more than the book has to offer - they need the interaction of working on Science with mom or each other, and seeing it in action. We have really found some great ways to enhance their love and learning in Science, through the videos and experiments in Supercharged Science and the lively Apologia 
textbooks. In the elementary and middle school years, it has been very easy to swap in various science projects and programs while still following the spiral of core Science learning in our A Beka program. 

We have probably most enjoyed enhancing our History curriculum. It helps that History is one of my favorite subjects, so it is easy to really make it come alive. Now all my kids are huge history buffs as well. There are several things we have used and really enjoyed, which really help the girls understand, relate to, and experience their history lessons. We have really enjoyed the character studies in a recent review of Golden Prairie Press. There have been several lapbooks we have enjoyed making, from both Homeschool In The Woods and A Journey Through Learning. We have also been exposed to some really great Literature, living history, and historical fiction books, including great biographies from YWAM Publishing, Baker Publishing, current events from God's World News, and living history from Knowledge Quest. This past year, we have used Portraits of American Girlhood to study American History through the eyes of young girls. We have been able to integrate so many different things into our History studies, including arts & crafts, cooking, sewing, writing, and even some photography. 

For World Geography, we have plans to use Around the World in 180 Days from Apologia next year. 

There are always extra areas that need investigation outside what the boxed curriculum offers. Younger children need lots of hands on activities to help them learn about their world. As they grow older and learn more things, extra activities help to reinforce lessons learned. High School students can follow their own particular interests by adding electives to their core curriculum. 

For younger grades, we have found a really neat foreign language course in Mango Languages. It teaches conversational language skills. My high schooler has really enjoyed continuing her Spanish studies through the online course with a real live native speaker at Homeschool Spanish Academy. 

There is also music and art, which are pretty much essential to an enjoyable homeschool experience. So far, some of our favorites in these areas are Adventus MusIQ which is an interactive piano keyboard course, Artistic Pursuits which teaches actual art instruction, (we worked on sculpting and are interested in doing painting next), and Gryphon House, which we have had some fun with in the past, but are actually integrating into our World Geography course next year. While we didn't get the opportunity to use this yet, many of our fellow Review Crew friends really enjoyed MacPhail Center for Music with its online interactive music lessons, and its something we are considering. 

Home Economics is always being learned hands on around here, but we have also greatly enjoyed using Rosie's Doll Clothes Patterns and the video lessons from You CAN Sew. to really enhance our sewing lessons. 

An extra benefit to homeschool parents is resources available to help navigate the high school years, making sure that they are complete and fulfill all the requirements to prepare your child for whatever direction they follow after graduation. A few books and programs we have found to help us along this path are: High School Prep Genius (and their companion SAT prep course), PeopleKeys Learning Style ReportsVictus Study Skills, and MicroBusiness For Teens. For organizational help, Donna Young's Website offers all kinds of helpful tools, including high school transcript templates. 

As you can see, there are loads of options available to enhance your homeschool experience. The choice is up to you! Don't be a slave to your curriculum, but use it as a tool to figure out what you want to do, where you want to go, and then launch out! If you find something along the way that really makes learning come alive to your child, then use it. You hold the keys to your child's positive homeschooling experience right in the palm of your hand. 

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  1. We have used Around the World in 180 Days many times, in many different ways. One of the most versatile resources out there!

    1. I agree! There are so many neat things you can do with it. Thanks for stopping by!


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