August 31, 2014

Our 2014-2015 Curriculum (Part 1): Third Grade

Well, it's that time again. Time to gear up for a new year of school here on the farm. This year we have some major changes going on that will be both exciting and a little scary (for me!). So here is the much waited for list of what will be going on in our classroom this year---but I've written this into two posts so that I can spend time explaining my choices for each boy...


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This year I will have a boy working on "third grade" level material. I always laugh at that because when it comes to homeschooling the curricula used, could be things for third grade and up! But we'll just call it "third grade" since by age that's where he'd be. This year will also be different because we aren't using an all-in-one package. Because of being on the Schoolhouse Review Crew, I was able to try out many different curriculum for 2013-2014, which led to my decisions that we'd piece our year together this time. So what will Little Britches be using this year?

Third Grade


Bible Curriculum

We will be working through both of these books this year--we worked on God's Names last year, but it with the studies we were doing on Bible related things in our My Father's World Curriculum it started duplicating. So we put the other books on hold to use this year. We love these books and I highly recommend them.

We will be continuing to work on the We Choose Virtues Parenting Cards that I received to review. I think they are valuable for character building and I love that I can teach both boys with them.

History

We were given this course to review and fell in love with it. We only went to lesson 12, so we still have many lessons left. Little Britches adores this history and is eager to jump back into it again. I encourage you to read my review on it to get an idea of what all is included.

Once we finish the Veritas Press history course we will move back into Story of the World Volume 1. We love Story of the World and I've been eager to return to it (we did it as part of 1st grade). I don't know how much we will get done on it because I don't know how long Veritas Press will take us to complete. We enjoy using the student workbook with the reader because it has great activities.

Geography

We were recommended this book by several friends and I think that Little Britches will enjoy it. It's focus is on map skills as well as state, regional and global geography. It appears to be along the lines of the Evan Moor Beginning Geography (K-2) which we loved and I think it will do well as a tie in to whatever other geography is covered during his history studies as both of our history courses have a great emphasis on geography as well.

Math

Math is where we are going a different direction. The last two years we enjoyed using Singapore math and felt it to be an excellent program. Over the course of this year though, we were blessed to review an online math curriculum called CTCmath.com and Little Britches excelled with it. It appears he does much better in math when mommy is not the one teaching it. LOL! When the sale came through to receive an 18 month subscription for the price of a 1 year subscription, I jumped on it.  I really like that he will be able to move through the grade levels as he needs to. We can do remedial work if needed or let him move forward as he finishes things. I also like that i get regular print outs on what he will be working on and how he suceeds.

We recently reviewed this downloadable software and it was a success. It's along the lines of flashcards for the drill and kill method and I think will be the perfect compliment to CTCmath.com

Science

For science I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt I wanted to go to Apologia. I had heard such excellent things about them and I already owned the Botany book. But, to let Little Britches have more say, I gave him the catalog and let him decide which science he wanted to do. Naturally, he DIDN'T choose the one I already had. LOL! But that was okay. I know we will use it eventually. He really wanted to do the Zoology 1 because he loves birds and flying things. We will be using the textbook and the Notebooking Journal. 

Language Arts
Here is where the major changes lie. We are using quite a few different items to fill out our language arts curriculum. I have a feeling we will be tweaking this subjects curriculum as time goes on...but here is the plan for now.

*Pentime 3 and 4 (Handwriting)
We will be continuing the Pentime series for our handwriting practice with our cursive. We really like this course and I have found it to be perfect for Little Britches as it does it all in bite size pieces.

Earlier this year we reviewed the Write Shop Primary Book A curriculum. It was an incredible curriculum, but easier than I thought it would be for Little Britches. Because we had great success with it (even though it was too easy), I knew I still wanted to use it for our writing; therefore, I went with Book C for this year which is geared for a 3rd grade level writer.  Amazingly enough when I mentioned to Little Britches that we were doing it, he was okay with it. Since he's not a lover of writing, I felt this said a lot for the course.

This is a grammar curriuclum from Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW). We received it as a review, but it's going so well I think we will just continue to use it during our year until it's completed. It's a consumable workbook and it's very easy to complete. I will be sharing a full review on it September 26th which I will link up once it goes LIVE.

*Essentials: Logic of English (Spelling/Vocabulary)
The #1 thing I liked about Logic of English when we reviewed it was the spelling portion. I felt that it was excellent and it worked very well for us. Because the other aspects of each lesson in Logic of English will be covered, I plan on only using the spelling and vocabulary from each lesson. Spelling is the #1 area that needs to be worked on the most. But it's something that just takes time and practice. 

* Lightning Lit Grade 3 (Reading and Reading Comprehension)
This one is a last minute change. I had completely forgotten that I had volunteered to be on the beta testing team for the new Lightning Lit Grade 3 curriculum from Hewitt Homeschooling. It's so new it is JUST released to us testers. I have friends who reviewed the Lightning Lit Grade 1 and 2 as well as the middle school/high school levels and they loved it.  I'm hopeful that this will work for us. We will be starting with the books Sarah, Plain and Tall as well as Rickshaw Girl. I have boys, so I'm not sure how having female lead characters will go...I'll keep you informed. LOL!

*Free Reading
We will be continuing our free reading, but this year he'll be keeping a log of what is done so we can see how much he reads over the course of the year. He loves reading from his old fashioned Betts Readers, so I will let him pick those for his choice. But this year I will be encouraging him to the chapter book route too. I plan on picking 4 books and then letting him decide which to read. The only chapter book he's read on his own from start to finish thus far is Tornado which was part of our Moving Beyond the Page review

Foreign Language

We are moving into the realm of foreign language this year. After debating and examining quite a lot of different courses, I opted to introduce him to the world of another language with the "grandfather" of language--Latin. Everything I've read has mentioned how knowing Latin helps with other languages--including English! I decided on Song School Latin based on the reviews I've read of many popular homeschool bloggers. I opted to get the DVD for the lesson teaching as this year we are trying to add more independent studies.

Fine Arts

*Music Appreciation
We will be using the lapbook approach for music appreciation this year. I invested in some of the Worlds Greatest Composers units from Confessions of a Homeschooler and think that they will be a great teaching tool. 

*Piano Lessons
We will be picking back up piano lessons this year. Little Britches stopped after a few months because I just didn't stay on top of his schedule like I needed to. But he's ready to start back up and I'm ready to work with him.

*Art Appreciation
We will be using the lapbook approach for this too. I am going to try hard to put this into my mother-in-laws hands since she is an Art History major. I will supply her with the curriculum and let her teach it because she will guide and direct him far better than I can. We will be using the Confessions of a Homeschoolers Worlds Greatest Artist Units here too.

Extras

I purchased this keyboarding software last year and forgot about it. But I want to include it this year. He doesn't need to do much. I'm thinking maybe just once a week and it will be something I know he will enjoy. It uses games to help teach keyboarding skills. It came highly recommended and I'm glad I remembered that I had it.

*Essential Skills Advantage (Reading and Language)
I am putting this as an extra because I don't know how much I will actually incorporate it into our school day. Little Britches LOVED doing it as part of our review and it really is an excellent program. We also get it for a year and I don't want to waste it since he enjoys it so much. But it will be one of those "extras" for when we need to fill in some time or just try something different.
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Whew! Is anyone tired yet? I look at this list and it nearly frightens me! LOL! But I know that because we are on our own schedule we can go at our own pace through all of this adjusting as we need to. The only thing that I see that will really put a wrench in things is if I'm blessed to continue on the Schoolhouse Review crew--because then I will be working in all sorts of other curriculum goodies! But that is always enjoyable and it changes things up which Little Britches loves.

Join me tomorrow when I share what Baby Britches will be working on for Pre-K/K4 this year in Part 2 of Our 2014-2014 Curriculum!

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August 29, 2014

Random 5 on Friday~ August 29th

The Pebble Pond
Click to join in Random 5 on Friday for this week!

1. We are planning on starting school on Monday or Tuesday. New year. New curriculum. And this year we're diving into the world of curriculum pieced together and not put together with a schedule for us. Scary, but exciting. More exciting. I like that I won't have any "time" limits. We can explore as we go and head off onto rabbit trails if desired. I am excited to think of all the learning that's going to be happening this year.

2. Baby Britches will be doing pre-school and Kindergarten work. Actually I think he's more "classified" as a K4--a 4 year old kindergartner. Why? Well we evaluated his knowledge and he's so far beyond where Little Britches was entering Kindergarten at age FIVE...he's on the brink of that first step to reading. He knows his alphabet lower and upper case. He can tell me the dominant sound each letter makes. So now it's time to start putting them together to make words. 

Even my brother-in-laws girlfriend evaluated him as being ready. She's the special Ed teacher for the K-3 at the local school. She lets Baby Britches explore her learning apps on her school notebook. She says there is no way he'd be able to flourish in preschool at a public school because he's so advance. And she said he knows more at just turning 4 then a lot of the kindergartners do in the middle of their year. So she encouraged me to go for it and start full fledged phonics and learning to read this year. She thinks he's totally ready for it.

I will share the curriculum I've put together for him in a post scheduled for next week.

3. i'm purging. In order to get the classroom ready for next week, Love-Of-My-Life and I are doing a complete overhaul of our classroom space. Taking out both big office desks and replacing them with a small desk and three double-door cabinets with shelving and crates. We will be taking my husband's John Deere collectibles off the walls and moving those shelves into the boys room where they will be greatly appreciated. 

So what am I purging? Well my huge desk was a craft space for me. I was a card designer for a card making magazine and so I owned at least a thousand if not more dollars worth of crating supplies. paper, embellishments, inks, stamps stamps stamps and more paper and ribbon and...the list continues. So I had to purge it now that I'm not working in that capacity any longer. And you know what?

It feels good. There is something about finally being at a stage in your life where you can throw away without keeping a cash register total in your head about your "financial loss". I know I'm throwing/giving away hundreds of dollars of stuff...but I'm finally okay with that.

4. As we were doing our clean out, we sorted our CD tower and threw out all the old stuff and then pulled all the CD's that are filled with photos. We will put them on a flashdrive to have them all together. In the mix we stumbled across a DVD of the day we started preparing our property for our new house. We hadn't watched it in ages...and never with the boys. So we all stopped working and gathered around to watch the little video. The boys couldn't hardly believe that is what it looked like before our home was here. Neither could we really. It makes you appreciate all you've done to make it what it is...10 years brought a lot of changes and it's nice to remember all the work you've put into it to make it your home.

5. I am not in the mood to fix dinner. I feel like my house is just full of chaos (it kind of is) and the last thing I want to do is fix a good dinner. But Friday nights are always our special dinner nights in preparation for the Sabbath. So I have a whole chicken thawing which I will bake with some potatoes and corn on the cob. I haven't made biscuits in forever...so maybe I will make those. Then I need to finish the strawberry watermelon sorbet I am making...saving some to turn into daiquiris for Love-Of-My-Life and I tonight.

And a photo for you before I go...


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August 26, 2014

Essential Skills Advantage: Online Reading Program (Curriculum Review)

One of the things we discovered this year is that both boys do well with online educational programs. They have been working on their keyboarding and mouse skills while learning history, math or English. When I had the chance to review Essential Skills Advantage, an online reading and language curriculum, I had a feeling both boys would be happy to help me with this one...and I hoped they would be able to learn new things while they did it!



Product Details

Essential Skills Advantage Review
Essential Skills Advantage is an award winning online reading program that has been helping 300,000+ students achieve reading excellence. The company began as a reading program in schools, helping over 20,000 schools teach reading and language, but due to increased demand they released their program for home use too. They focus on a core reading curriculum of phonics and sight words that uses key strategies for retention and success. The program was designed by experienced teachers and educators to align with core curriculum requirements--something lacking in other online educational systems.

The software has been designed to allow for easy navigation at the users own pace. It is fully interactive and has been designed to guide the student through lessons with games and activities that are guaranteed to not be found in "traditional" education.

There are no cds, discs or other materials required beyond the online program. The only things you need are a computer, mouse, keyboard and internet connection.(*We have high speed internet and had no issues and few glitches)

The program is geared for students in Kindergarten up to 6th grade, but would be great for remedial work too.

Essential Skills Advantage offers a subscription to their full program (all grades all levels) for $9.99/month per student.

I received a year subscription to the full Essential Skills Advantage program for my review. 

How Did We Use This Product?

I received our set up and log-in information from the company via email and using the links provided was able to quickly set up profile accounts for my family. I set up each student with their own username and password.

I saved the "shortcut" url address that they gave me so that I could have my boys go right to the main menu.
A Screenshot of the Main Menu Page
You can see the full range of levels here...there are complete reading units for grades K-3, three levels of spelling, reading comprehension for levels 4-6, Vocabulary Builder for levels 4-6, Spelling for grades 4-6, Grammar for grades 3-5 and spelling stumpers for levels 1-9.

Your child gets started by simply clicking on one of these units. Little Britches stuck with the 3rd grade reading, and fun with spelling level 3. He didn't wander into any of the other units, but there is MORE than enough to keep him busy in the two he has been checking out. Baby Britches stuck with the Reading for Kindergarten.

When they click on their unit choice, it will ask them to log in. 
This is using the username/password you set up for each of your students. They will have to use this log in anytime they change units on this main menu, but once they log in, they do not have to log in again within the unit.

Each unit is set up with different lesson sections in a unit menu. 

The stars after the lesson units demonstrate how much of the lesson has been completed. You can see that Baby Britches has completed all of his Readiness Skills and some of his Phonics, while Little Britches has completed quite a bit of his Vocabulary Builder.

Within each lesson unit is another menu of focused skills relating to that lesson topic. For instance, if you click on Baby Britches "Phonics" it will take you to a menu that has the topics "Alphabet, Phonetic Awareness and Consonants". Then by clicking on any of these you will find the actual activities to be completed. Sometimes there are only 2 or 3 and sometimes there are 20+. As the student completes each section they get marked with stars to show that they have been completed.

A menu from Picture Vocabulary as part of Readiness Skills for Grade K

A menu from Group A as part of Reading Comprehension for Grade 3
At anytime, your student can check their star count by clicking the blue star button in the upper right corner of the screen.
Star count for Reading Comprehension Group A
If the student has received an 80% or better on the activities they will have a gold star. If it is below 80% they will have silver stars. You can see that it also tells you how much has been completed for the lesson. Both boys LOVE to count their stars.

So what would a lesson look like? Here are some examples from each of the boys units based on what they have completed thus far...

Baby Britches has to click BIGGEST to SMALLEST.

Baby Britches has to click the photos that are opposites of each other

Baby Britches has to click on the black letter combo that matches the pattern

Little Britches has to click on the photo that matches the word he heard
Little Britches has to find the compound words in this word search

Working on his word search

Little Britches has to match the shadow shapes of letters to the actual words

Little Britches has to read a short story and then answer questions about it
And there is so much more...SOOOO much more.

When the boys would work on their program, each boy spent about 20 minutes 4 days a week and completed whatever they wanted in their program within that period of time. There were certain activities that each of them preferred over the other and sometimes they would seek out those specific ones in their lessons and only work on them.

Now I want to just give you a peak at what some of the other main menu units contain, even though we didn't do them very much or at all.

Vocabulary Builder--Grades 4-6 (all have same main menu--different level activities)
Reading Comprehension Grades 4-6
Each of these have a menu of 10+ stories. Each story has activities (at the bottom) that are related to the story.
Grammar for Grades 3-5 Subject Menu

Spelling Stumpers 1 to 5

Fun with Spelling Level 3
I think you can see from these examples what a broad range of activities and subject matter is covered within the realm of this reading and language curriculum.

But wait...there's more!

Under the parent profile, you can view the marks for each of your student in all the areas that they have completed or are working on.
This unfortunately is NOT printable. From what I can see, the only thing that is printable (without doing a screenshot to print later) is the certificates that they can earn.

Did I just say certificates? Yep!

Once your student has completed an entire section of a lesson unit, they are able to get a certificate. You will know when they have earned one when they hit a 100% on their marks...but it also will say "download certificate".
Baby Britches has earned two certificates which you can see here...clicking the words gives you the pdf to print

What Are Our Thoughts on the Product?

Little Britches:
"I like it. But here is what I don't like about it...when you finish one of the screen full of boxes you should get a certificate instead of having to complete the entire lessons worth of boxes. There are too many activities to be done before getting a certificate. My favorite activity was the memory match game."

Baby Britches: 
He loved doing this program. He would do it as long as I let him and he didn't care if he had already completed things or not. He loved the "dancing doggy" that appeared whenever he completed something and he was in LOVE with his certificates. He really excelled with this program.

Me:
This program is very user friendly. I found it colorful and fun. Once you get your special url after you register you (as the parent) don't have to pre-log in for your children to get access. Each child can simply log in themselves in the level they need.

I think the program is very clever and interesting. I like how there are different groupings within each topic. I think the fonts are written very easy to read. I like that in the reading comprehension stories, my student can click the bold vocabulary word to have it said to learn pronunciation--and I love that they HAVE reading comprehension.

I like having a place to work on spelling and then another place to deal with grammar that is separate from the rest of the reading program.

I like that in the Kindergarten level, the student is able to listen to anything they need to over and over again with the "ear" icon. This is very helpful.

I think the graphics are fun and my boys both love uncovering the hidden pictures in the Memory matching games. 

My boys love checking their star counts and really get tickled by the "dancing dog" that celebrates when they have finished their lesson.

I believe that out of the two of them Baby Britches is the one showing the most fluency and enjoyment. I CANNOT keep him off of it. He doesn't care if he gets everything wrong...LOL. But he has gotten a REMARKABLE amount of activities right with little instruction. He's just turned 4 years old but is rocking the Kindergarten level. There ARE some things he can't do yet (rhyming, opposites, sigh words, etc) but he has amazed me with what he CAN do and what he's picked up. 

Even though there are some areas that are beyond his level right now, MOST of the activities are in his realm of capabilities and with just a little guidance with me he's able to whiz through them.

I think this is because there is an even mix of verbal and visual instruction and activity. 
THAT is something that I really want to mention. I think that this program really strives to hit the different learning methods. It is definitely visual, but a vast majority is also auditory. When you put that with the keyboard entry and mouse usage, you've touched on all three areas. This is why it works for both my boys right now.

Is there anything I would change?

#1 Eliminate the nature sounds.
While the curriculum is being done there is a repetitive sound of nature...like chirping crickets and birds. It is ALWAYS there, even when the narrator speaks. I wish there was an option to turn off the nature sounds but I haven't found it yet. You can't mute the sound because so much of the lesson is auditory.

#2 Make it a little easier to get certificates in the higher grades
Baby Britches has already completed four full units so he's received four certificates and he's on his way to his fifth. 

Little Britches however has LONG units with multiple sections and every section has to be complete before a certificate is given. Sometimes this means completing 30+ sections. He got lucky when he did "similies" because there was only 2 sections and he received a certificate. I think that there should be no more than 20 sections before the student can receive a certificate. (If you remember, Little Britches definitely agrees with this one.)

#3 The cost. 
I think that $9.95/month is very reasonable price for what is being offered in this curriculum. But $9.95 per month PER student is too much. Especially when you might have a family with 2+ children who want to use the program. That makes it almost $20 per month for a family with 2 children...calculate that out over a year and that's $238. When you keep adding on another $9.95 per student, the cost begins to be prohibitive quickly....unless you think that is a great deal and paying $119 per student for a years worth of reading/grammar/vocabulary lessons is in your budget. It's not in mine and I know it's not in the budget of my friends with 3+ children...no matter how much they would like to try it.

I would love to see a FAMILY price so that parents with several children don't have to pay beyond a certain amount to use the program. Or maybe even a discount that increases as you add on more students.

Will we renew our membership at the end of our year trial? Probably not. At this time I can't justify paying $9.95 per student per month to continue it....no matter how much they love it.

#4 Printable reports
 I like that you can view all the marks that they have received and see where they are in the program. I'd love to see a way to print off the scores that our child receives for my records.

#5 The Student Log-In
I wish that it was possible that once your student logged in, they would STAY logged in for each section they completed. As it is now, if they chose to go out of the reading and into the spelling or grammar, they have to re-log in. This was something that Little Britches grew annoyed with very quickly when he wanted to hop around in the program.

Would I Recommend Essential Skills Advantage?

I think this curriculum is very well done. I don't think that I would personally use it as an "exclusive" reading program---even though I do think that it covers what a full curriculum would cover. It's just not something I would use because I don't personally like to use JUST a computer for reading. 
This program is going to be useful for anyone needing to give their kids reading and language skills a boost outside of the traditional teaching style. This would be a great program to do for summer education to keep them "from getting rusty"--something we've been using it for as part of our review. There is a LOT of information covered. A LOT. And for some I think there is more covered than would be in certain curriculum. And if your child does better working on a computer, this is definitely something to continue.

I definitely recommend this program for the Kindergarten level. I was frankly shocked at how much Baby Britches picked up and how quickly he maneuvered through the program though he's not had any "formal" schooling. If you want to give your 4-6 year old a real boost in their reading/language skills I would definitely consider this program.

BUT-----if the price is what would deter you, you are in luck right now!

Essential Skills Advantage has started to offer a sponsored version of their program that is completely free. You can sign-up completely free at www.ESAlearning.com. Members can enjoy access to every course ESA has to offer, but there will be sponsored advertising in the parent portal.

I received the Essential Skills Advantage premium plan which retails for $9.99/month but if you use the code TOS50, you can get 50% OFF the monthly membership fee...AND the 50% off discount will apply as long as you remain a member---that's taking it to just $4.99/month/student! I think this is a much more reasonable per student price--especially for the larger families!

But you will have to act quickly--the code is only good for anyone who signs up for the Premium Plan until October 1, 2014. So take advantage of this great deal!

Want to Learn More About Essential Skills Advantage?

I used Essential Skills Advantage ($9.95/month/child--$4.99/month/student with limited time offer code!) with both of my children in levels K and 3rd. Why don't you check out what the 49 other reviewers did with their children? Several of them used the older grade levels available!
Click to read Crew Reviews

You can stay in touch with Essential Skills Advantage and get information about updates, new products and sales with their social media outlets:

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/skillsadvantage
Twitter: http://twitter.com/SkillsAdvantage
Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/SkillsAdvantage/
Google+: https://plus.google.com/u/0/103081493030185524648/about

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As we gear up to start our new year, I definitely see us continuing to use this program with each boy...but I'm thinking that it would be fewer times per week...except for Baby Britches. He loves it so much I think this would work well when I need to do one-on-one time with Little Britches!

I am going to give you a break from sharing reviews until the end of next week...which means I can focus on some other posts like what our curriculum for 2014-2015 is going to look like, some recipes (yay!), book review (yay!) and who knows what else!

Hope to see you back soon!

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