Homeschooling Update: All About Spelling is Amazing

all-about-spellingI wrote about how impressed I was with All About Spelling after completing Level 1 , but I never gave any other updates about it.

My son has now finished Level 2 and Level 3, and I still have nothing but positive things to say about it!

The spelling rules are all presented in such an easy-to-understand manner, and each lesson focuses on one rule. It makes it very easy for him to progress as it’s such a nicely incremental program. I continue to learn the reasons behind why certain words are spelled that way (I had zero phonics instruction in school, and the only reason I could ever spell at all was because of reading so much that I often could just “look” at a word and know if it looked ok or not).

Easy to Use

I’m a member of several homeschooling online groups, and one concern I hear regularly in regards to All About Spelling is that it takes too long, and is too involved. I absolutely do NOT find that to be the case at all. We usually spend 10 to 15 minutes a day on spelling, using nothing more than the book and a piece of paper. Most “steps” (think lesson levels) take 3 or 4 days to complete at that rate.

Yes, if you pull out the letter tiles to build every word it’ll take longer, but that hasn’t been necessary for us since Level 1. For Level 3 the only time he used the letter tiles was during the lesson on contractions. For that lesson it was helpful to use the tiles and show how the contraction was formed.

The majority of the time he spells the words and sentences out loud to me. I only have him write for the last part of the lesson, when he’s given a word and has to create a sentence for it.

Looking to Economize?

You could easily get by without purchasing the student packet, and simply use the teachers manual. While that means you won’t get the review cards, the program can be done without them, especially since the words on the cards are all listed in the manual. If you wanted review cards it’d be easy enough to make your own on index cards. I make do by noting in my planner when my son needs to review a word.

Doing without the student packet will also mean you won’t get the progress chart, or some other handouts. None of them are essential, but you could create your own (or download them from the All About Spelling website). All in all, the student packet makes things easier, but it can be done without it.

The manual is also completely reusable for younger children. All I’ll have to do is erase the penciled check marks I added to keep track of where he was, and it’s ready to use for his sisters. I’ll download and print a new progress chart for each of them, and get stickers for them to mark their progress (assuming they’re motivated by stickering progress charts; my son definitely is).

One of His Favorites

My son is not always a completely enthusiastic student (I hear rumors that those do exist in the homeschool world), but he is almost always enthusiastic about doing spelling. It’s such a quick lesson, and he likes making steady progress through the program. He’s already talking about when he finishes Level 4, and we only started it this week..

I can’t recommend this program enough. It’s an excellent method of teaching spelling, and the way the program is laid out it’s incredibly easy to teach. I love it.

Disclosure: This is not a sponsored post, and I didn’t receive this program for free – I paid for it myself – I just LOVE this program. So much so that I am an affiliate for it, which means that if you buy the program using my link I may receive a percentage of the cost at no additional cost to you. And then I use any money I make to buy more books and homeschooling supplies which I talk about here. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!

Homeschooling Update: First Grade Math

Homeschooling First Grade MathBack in December 2014 I wrote about the issues I’d had with homeschooling math in kindergarten. I didn’t realize it’d been that long since I wrote specifically about math, beyond the small updates I give occasionally. Clearly it’s past time I gave some details about what we’re doing for math in first grade.

What We’ve Been Doing

Math Mammoth 2AIn that long-ago post I mentioned that I was interested in trying Math Mammoth (MM), with the hope of eventually moving on to Beast Academy. That’s exactly what we’ve been doing. MM has worked very well for us – I like how it’s structured, it’s *much* easier to actually teach than Right Start was for me (I *loved* the idea of Right Start, the research behind it, their goals, etc, but *detested* teaching it. So not a good fit for us.)

I like how MM is laid out, and the number of problems on a page. He does two pages a day, and that has him moving through the books at a nice pace. I often pull pages from different sections, so for example, he’ll be working through a chapter on addition and one on the clock at the same time. In the introduction the author tells you which chapters you can do “out of order” that way, so it doesn’t always work to do it like that, but much of the time it does, and G prefers it.

The “Second” Math Curriculum

Mathematical Reasoning BNot necessary at all – Math Mammoth is a full curriculum – but we had been using Mathematical Reasoning (MR) from Preschool on up, and G LOVES it, so we’ve continued. It’s much easier than MM is, but provides good practice for him at doing math quickly. He also does 2 pages of it each day, and I like how that has him doing more math each day, but he thinks it’s super fun.

They blend together quite well – MM is black and white (they pdfs are in color, but I didn’t want to pay for color printing), and MR is *very* colorful. It makes for a fun mix each day.

Where They Shine

Math Mammoth is extremely affordable – keep an eye out for sales, and you can download a complete math curriculum from 1st through 7th grade for a lower fee than some curriculum charge for one year. There’s currently one right now through the end of January for 25% off the downloadable version. That’s a great deal!

MM is also completely reusable – get the downloadable version and you can print off copies for each child – that’s fantastic when you have additional students coming along in later years.

MM emphasizes mental math and the why of things, not just memorizing methods – this is incredibly important to me, as it is not how I learned math.

MM excels in giving multiple ways of tackling problems. I’d never heard of some of the methods, but I *loved* how the author does that – giving the student different approaches to take. It’s a great way to get him thinking mathematically, and I love it.

Mathematical Reasoning is lots of fun for him, and includes more puzzles, especially as he gets later in the book. It’ll have a page of math problems, and he has to solve them in order to figure out the puzzle – either a mystery phrase, the answer to a riddle, or a dot to dot, etc. He loves those pages! He also absolutely adores the “Mind Benders” that are scattered throughout the book – so much so that I bought him a book just of those for Christmas. They’re like the Logic puzzles, scaled down for that age. Super fun, and I love how they get his brain turning. The book rarely feels like work to him.

Some Things to Be Aware Of

Math Mammoth is available as a download, on CD, or a printed version. While the pages are in color, if (like me) you get the download version and print it in black & white, there are things that don’t show correctly. It’s never been impossible to figure out, but be aware of the potential issue and be ready to help your child. Using alternatives to colors would have solved this issue – varying patterns or something similar – and it’s possible at some point that the author may address this small irritation. It’s not at all something that would keep me from using the curriculum in the future or recommending it.

Mathematical Reasoning claims to be a full math curriculum, but it doesn’t seem like it would be – that it isn’t complete enough as far as practice goes. As far as I can tell (and to be clear I am *not* an expert in math education), it covers all the topics that MM and other curriculum cover for each grade, just in less detail. It definitely doesn’t provide all of the alternative ways of doing the problems that MM provides. It doesn’t really seem to do much at all in the way of teaching anything – just gives practice.

What’s Next?

Beast Academy 3AG is within about a week of finishing Mathematical Reasoning B, and I need to hurry up and order C for him – he’s specifically requested it, so of course I want to get it for him. Math Mammoth 2B is already printed for him so he’ll move into that whenever he finishes 2A – at his current pace that should be early February. For now, we’ll just continue with the 2 pages of each every day routine we’ve got going, as it’s working so well.

Looking further ahead, shortly before Christmas I bought the first book from Beast Academy (BA), and skimmed through it, trying to get an idea of when he’ll be ready for it – it’s a *very* different curriculum, and I think he’ll enjoy it. It’ll be more obvious once he finished Math Mammoth’s 2B, so I didn’t worry about making a firm decision right now.

I may decide to do MM’s 3A & 3B, and then move to BA’s 3A. Because of the way we’re pacing things, he is working “ahead” technically based on his age, so having the extra curriculum won’t matter. Plus that may have him doing the harder BA work when he’s already covered it in a way through MM. Might make it a bit easier for him?

I don’t think I’ll continue with Mathematical Reasoning with him at that point, but if he still loves it and asks for it I can probably be persuaded. It’s hard to turn down a boy asking for a math book, even if they are kind of expensive for a supplemental math program. I’m *hoping* BA gives him that fun math approach he’s enjoying from MR, but we’ll see what happens. I may end up continuing on with MM as the “main” curriculum (it is working really well) and using BA as an occasional add on – letting him work through slowly, “behind” where he’d be grade-wise.

Previously on The Deliberate Reader

One year ago: What the Kids are Reading (in January 2015)
Two years ago: Book Review: The Spirit Rebellion (The Legend of Eli Monpress #2) by Rachel Aaron
Three years ago: Book Review: Momumental by Jennifer Grant

Homeschooling Math: It Shouldn’t Be This Hard in Kindergarten

Homeschooling Math Current Programs and Ideas for LaterIn last month’s update I avoided discussing math, instead promising that it would get its own post.

I’m not completely happy/content/certain/what have you when it comes to math for G. On one hand, he’s 5, and I know there are studies that show some benefits to delaying formal math instruction. On the other hand, we don’t live in an area where that is commonly done, and if he were to need to go into public school, I don’t want him to be too far off track of what is being done there. So I’m not completely comfortable delaying, despite those studies.

However, making math a BIG DEAL with lots of drill and repetition seems to be going too far in the other direction and risks making him hate math and school. And possibly me. 😉

Mathematical Reasoning Level AI don’t want to bounce around between programs; I’d prefer to find something and stick with it, on the assumption that that will minimize gaps. My early math education ran into that when we moved to different states a couple of times during my elementary school years. I’d be ahead on some things, behind on others, and wound up never covering certain topics at all.

Despite this desire to pick something and stay with it, I’ve somehow managed to accumulate and (partially) use a variety of programs and items. And yet I’m still not sure what I want to use next year and in the more distant future!

What We’ve Tried

Singapore Earlybird AWe started with Critical Thinking Mathematical Reasoning books. These are super colorful and fun, and the early ones especially aren’t workbook-like at all. Even though they are workbooks – they were fun enough for G, and easy enough, that he’d quickly blast through 10 to 20 pages at a time, and ask for more.

Interspersed with those books were Singapore Early Bird. We both preferred the Critical Thinking books, which seemed to cover just as much, without being as repetitive or boring.

RightStart Math Level BAfter much online reading and forum-stalking I became very intersted in the approach of RightStart. Turns out a friend had level B and wasn’t using it, so she’s loaned it to me to try it. I want to love it – I love the background behind it’s creation, I love the idea of it, and I love the strong math foundation I think it’d give G. We had a glorious honeymoon with it for about 2 weeks, and then he hit one concept that didn’t come instantaneously, and has avoided it ever since. Teaching it is also much more of a hassle than pulling out the CT books, so I haven’t really encouraged another try at it.

I also don’t like how the books are structured, and find it hard to teach from them. The way the math is done is different enough that I do need to use the books; it’s not like I can just wing it even though it’s elementary-level math. I’ve done some reading online and apparently the second edition is better for that, so maybe I’d be better off getting the newer version? Or maybe I should accept that this isn’t going to be the best solution for us?

Miquon OrangeIn the “I keep forgetting I even have this corner” I’ve also got the Miquon books and Cuisenaire Rods.Learning Resources Cuisenaire Rods Introductory Set: Connecting Why did I get them? They’re so cheap! But they’re so confusing for me to teach – the books seem so random, and what exactly am I supposed to be doing with the rods? We’ve done almost nothing with these, so I guess I’m extra glad that they were inexpensive. I probably should just sell them, but I hold on to them thinking maybe I’ll figure them out to use with one of the younger kids. The rods at least are a hit with my 5 and 3 year olds, although they don’t really use them for anything math-like beyond lining them up in rows.

Looking Ahead

Teaching Textbooks 3Long term, I don’t know what we’ll do. The CT books claim to be a complete curriculum. Do they give enough practice though? Does it matter at this age? At what point does practice become an issue? I read great reviews about Teaching Textbooks, but I also read that they’re way behind grade level, and don’t go into enough depth to provide for a strong math background looking ahead to college and some careers. I’ve also read the same about Math-U-See, and the way it’s structured feels like I’d really be locking us into continuing with it so it’s not one I considered for long.

What I want is a program that teaches what he needs to know, in order to not close off any options that he may want later. I want him to be able to go into any career he wants, and not be limited based on what I did or didn’t do for him educationally. I want to set him up for success. His dad is really good at math, and uses it every day in his work. He definitely wants all the kids to have a great math education. (I’ve been saying “him” only because I’m not yet doing anything for my girls, not because I think math only matters for boys. Not at all!)

Math Mammoth 1ATwo other ones I’ve been eyeing are Math Mammoth, which he could begin immediately, and Beast Academy, which starts with third grade. Math Mammoth is inexpensive, so I might end up giving it a try if I need something beyond RightStart. Beast Academy might be what I work toward for him; it’s colorful and looks like it’d be fun, and yet it’s put out by the Art of Problem Solving people, so I’ve got no worries about its rigor. That would also set him up to move into AoPS books when he’s in middle school and high school. Assuming his talents point in that direction. 🙂

Beast AcademyOne thing I have decided, after writing all this out, is to get back to RightStart and give it another try. As I write this we’ve got 11 weeks of Sonlight left, and if I stick with RS during all of that, it should be a good enough trial run to determine if it’s a program that will work for us at least short term, or if I should return it to my friend and move on to something else (like Math Mammoth) for 1st and 2nd grade. And maybe I’ll try and find some tips on using Miquon as well, before completely writing that off as a possibility.

I never expected math to be such an issue, especially at this young age!

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!

Review: God’s Little Explorers

God's Little ExplorersGod’s Little Explorers: A to Z Adventures in God’s Word and World for Preschoolers by Stacie Nelson

Not my usual sort of review, because this isn’t a book you’d just read – it’s a curriculum for preschoolers. Because yes, I do have a preschooler.

I’ve done a ton of research about homeschooling, especially preschoolers. I know schooling at that age doesn’t have to involve a lot. I also know that I am not good at many of the things that seem to come naturally to some moms and caregivers. Reading books? I’ve got that covered. Doing crafts or creative things? Not so much.

I stumbled across this curriculum guide and, after viewing all the links to the free version she has online, decided to buy the full download. If you’re great at coming up with ideas for your kids on your own, or if you love searching the internet for ideas and crafts for your own self-designed plans each week, this may be unnecessary. For anyone whose doesn’t want to spend tons of free time planning and deciding what to do, I think this would be completely worth the fifty cents a week it works out to be.

What do I like?
  • It’s all laid out for you, in an easy-to-find and easy-to-follow-structure. Not just a weekly plan, but ideas for each day.
  • She includes some ideas for younger siblings. Awesome.
  • The crafts seem doable for me, the crafting-impaired. Simple projects, simple to find items.
  • The structure and how it follows the Bible story.
  • The assessment forms – to do (if you want to) before beginning the program, at the halfway point, and after finishing it. What I liked the best about these is it was a quick snapshot to see what my son knows, and what he doesn’t know so perhaps I should remember to cover those things.
  • There are a list of suggested books to accompany each theme – while I don’t have trouble finding books to read on any topic (understatement of the year), it’s still nice having theme there, both for extra ideas, and so that if life gets crazy and I don’t have time to search myself? It’s right there.
  • That if the cost is prohibitive, or if you want to preview it to see if it’s right for your family, you can get many, if not most, of the ideas from the website for free. I wanted the convenience of the all-in-one download, and I wanted to support the author for her time and effort for developing this, so I bought the paid version. (The extra freebies only included in the paid version are nice too, although they’re not essential.)
  • She’s using proceeds from sales of the book to fund the building of an orphanage in India. How neat to think that I helped towards that, even a tiny bit.
What do I not like?
  • The PDF doesn’t have the Table of Contents linked to the content. In other words, I can’t click on a page number in the TOC and jump to that page. I’ve got some PDFs where that works, and it’s super handy. Yes, I’m being picky, but it’s an aggravation.
  • I underestimated just how much I do not like assembling crafting supplies and supervising craft projects (it stresses me out, always trying to keep two kids from destroying the house or each other), in addition to making sure I have themed books available for the right week. I like getting library books. I don’t like trying to coordinate holds dates and specific titles.
  • Many of the craft projects and other ideas link back to her website for additional details, so if you don’t have easy access to the internet the book itself is not completely self-contained. Even if you do, it’s slightly annoying to constantly have to switch between the book and the website.
  • If you don’t have convenient access to a printer, it’s a hassle. While you don’t have to print things out, it’s a lot easier if you do.

So, we “followed” this plan for a week and a half, and that short period of time taught me that as much as I love this program, and love the idea of following it, it’s just not a good fit for me and our family. I can easily see it being a great fit for others though, so I still wanted to share my thoughts about it.

Some of the problems were, in addition to my craft-aversion, that my son already knew so much of it – he knows all of his letters, and most of their sounds. He doesn’t like coloring, and he wasn’t interested in the lessons. If I’d tried it last year when he was three, I think the lessons would have been a better fit for him (except he hated coloring even more last year.) My daughter isn’t quite old enough to be interested, although she does love coloring, painting, gluing, and anything else of that nature I’ve tried with her. I may try this again with her next year, as it seems to be a better fit for her interests.

While this program didn’t work for us, I don’t regret trying it. It gave me some more insight into teaching and learning styles, and what is important to me from a curriculum, and what is essential. I do think it’s well-done, and that for other families, it could be very successful. That and since you can get access to most of it for free and see if it’s a good fit for your family it makes it very easy to still recommend God’s Little Explorers.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!