Homeschooling…What We Use (Part 2…Winter Promise and Sonlight)

In the last post, I talked about using K12 as a part of our curriculum.  You can read about that here (and see a related post here).

As I mentioned earlier, my kids started to really dislike the K12 curriculum as they got older.  In particular, I noticed that they were not developing a love of reading and they were not getting a very good overview of really enjoyable books using the K12 program.  Middle Child, especially, did not like to read and dreaded Language Arts.  Both older children were not seeking books to read during their free time, and it was clear that this was only getting worse as time went on.

It was hard financially, but well worth it to switch to a curriculum that fosters learning through excellent books. Sonlight has always been a leader in this area, and we had done a year of Sonlight once before and enjoyed it.  When I started thinking about buying a new curriculum, Sonlight was my first thought.

However, a friend of my was using a new curriculum by Winter Promise, and as  much as I love Sonlight I have to say that my family enjoys Winter Promise even more!  Winter Promise is very similar to Sonlight, but has several advantages (in my opinion).  The first advantage is that they have packaged their Humanities Curriculum in such a way that you can homeschool many levels with just one core.  This allows all the kids to study the same thing during the year and sit in on the read-aloud novels and history books together, but have separate readers and Language Arts aimed at their grade level (but all tying into the core).  For example, we used WP’s “Quest for the Ancient World” as a Humanities core for all 3 kids.  Middle Child did the Sixth Grade Language Arts and Literature package, Eldest did the High School package, and Youngest did K12 phonics and reading.  That year, we also did K12 History because it happened to be studying the same time period as the WP curriculum, and we had many age-appropriate readers and read-alouds from K12 to add to Youngest’s experience. Even though we had to make modifications to the WP Core for Youngest (and we let her color or play with beads or blocks while I read aloud), we were able to do one core program as a family, which really builds up sibling relationships and makes my job much easier!

Another thing we love about Winter Promise is that it includes many, many projects, hands-on experiences, and suggestions for further reading, videos, and websites.  Sonlight also does a good job with this, but in my experience WP is a stronger curriculum for children who enjoy exploring learning physically, doing projects, and learning through artwork and experimentation.  The program includes Notebooking, which gives students an opportunity to record what they have learned in their own words and pictures (making their new knowledge “stick” much more effectively).  Maps were included to color and label as we studied different world regions. It also offers a nice Time Line, with two options for pictures to glue to pages in a time line notebook.  Other themed WP programs include lapbooking projects that produce a beautiful record of each child’s learning through the year.  You can purchase all the printed material to do the lapbooks, which cuts down on your printing and supply-hunting time.  My kids love this approach…we were able to do cooking projects, work with clay, watch videos about what we learned, write down our thoughts, and do many other activities together.  Eldest had material above and beyond what Middle Child and Youngest were expected to do, and I felt that the curriculum kept each child challenged at their own level while allowing us to enjoy working together.

I also like the History text used in WP better than the one used in Sonlight.  Mystery of History is engaging, fun, and solid both Biblically and Historically.  Sonlight uses the Story of the World series, which is a great alternative to a traditional History textbook but does contain some historical errors.

Sonlight is a solid program and we did use it last year (long story as to why, the main reason was that it filled a time-gap in our history timeline so that we could start on American History this year).  We enjoyed the reading we did last year using Sonlight and their Bible Study was great.  However, we missed the projects from WP and it was harder for us to accommodate different grade levels in our studies.

Over all, I can’t say enough good things about Winter Promise.  Sonlight is also great, has been around for a long time, and if you have kids who are not really into project-based learning or you don’t want to combine age groups with one curriculum, Sonlight is a great way to go.  For families with a wide age range of active, creative learners though….Winter Promise is wonderful!  I am happy to say that my kids really enjoy reading now.  Middle Child went from a reluctant reader to an avid reader in less than a year, and I credit the excellent literature selection of the curriculum with that change.  Eldest read many, many books he would otherwise never have read due to WP and Sonlight, and I am very glad we chose to go this route. Literature-based learning is a lot of fun, and I have to say that in the last few years I have learned more about History, Geography, and World Cultures than I learned in College!  Both Winter Promise and Sonlight


Homeschooling…What We Use (Part 1)

As the school year gets underway, we are learning and growing and trying new things.  I’ve been meaning to post more about some curriculum and strategies we’ve used in homeschooling and, in particular, in homeschooling a child with dyslexia– but it’s been hard to find the time because…well….I’m homeschooling.  I had a moment, so I thought I’d get as much down as I could. 

First of all, as I mentioned in this post, we have been using a program called K12 for some of our schooling. I’ll start this group of school posts with an honest critique of K12, from the point of view of a Christian homeschooler.

In our state, K12 is a free program available to homeschoolers through a local school district.  It is technically a “Public School” and as such, Youngest is enrolled as a public school student.  The upside to this is that there is a teacher available to answer questions, and as a public school they have to offer help to students who have learning challenges– which means we have had some resources that would otherwise have been expensive and difficult to obtain. The downside is that we have a few hoops we have to jump through.  The main drawback (in my opinion) is that we have to do the standardized testing each year, for the subjects that we are using the K12 program.  Other than showing up for the testing, which is located in schools or libraries, and going to arranged field trips if we choose to do so, we do not ever have to engage in “school” anywhere other than our home and we are able (at least in our state) to exercise a great deal of freedom in how we use the program. If you are interested, here is a link to check if your state offers K12 as a free public school program.  I should add right here and now that if it’s not offered free, I would not recommend buying it!  It’s good, but it’s a very expensive program otherwise and for the money I’d go with a good Christian-based program instead.

We have used this program for long enough to have formed some opinions of it…by and large, I think it’s a great program in many ways.  First of all, you get an amazing amount of learning “stuff” for free.  Check out this post for photos of what we received for Kindergarten! They offer an excellent and fun secular school program in grades K through 4, full of hand-on learning, colorful examples, and good books (they do offer classes through High School, I’ll talk a little more about that later).  Part of the program is done online through an easy-to use program, and the rest is done with traditional books, workbooks, and projects.  If we could afford to buy any program we wanted, we might have used something else.  But we have been thankful for being able to use some K12 classes for free and we have been happy with many aspects of the program.

Our family has the option to only use part of the program, in some states you must use all subjects to enroll in K12 and if that were the case for us we would probably not be using it at this point.  I am using K12’s Language Arts, Math and Science right now for Youngest, she does Bible study and History with the older kids using a curriculum I’ll describe later.  I have found that K12’s Phonics curriculum is especially good, they use many of the techniques we have been learning with our reading specialist and you would pay hundreds of dollars to find a program equal to this one elsewhere.  For my child with learning challenges, it has been a great program–just what you need to build a very solid base in Phonics.  I should add here that the older children were reading before they started school and would not have needed the depth that the K12 program offers…they did fine with the old standby, Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons.  If you were using the K12 program for a typical child, you would probably want to skip much of the repetition in the lessons.

K12 has recently renovated their early elementary math program, and the changes have been great!  They have added some fun online games and animations to help teach math concepts, and the workbook texts are colorful and easy to work with.  The program comes with a ton of fun manipulatives. The math program teaches concepts that help children develop critical thinking skills and a deeper understanding of how math works, which helps children learn to enjoy and understand math in later years.  There are programs out there that teach math in ways that are better for visual learners or kids who don’t like math or have problems with it (Math U See is a great visual-learning program we’re using for Middle Child) but so far we are enjoying the K12 Math with Youngest.

We have done both Science and History through K12 in the past and, while both are good programs and much more in-depth than a typical program in public school would be, I have chosen to do History with a different curriculum (Youngest sits in on her older siblings’ lessons) and will be doing Science with another program after 3ed grade.  I just want a more Biblical view of both subjects, and I also really enjoy the Classical Education approach.  We have used Sonlight and Winter Promise for History core, which includes Language Arts.  I feel that the programs used in both Sonlight and WP are better for writing skills, grammar, and communication…and offer far better options for literature and a global, cross-cultural view of History.  Both programs also offer an in depth Biblical, Christian viewpoint and excellent a Bible Study component (I will write more on this in the next post).

But I digress.  K12’s Science program is fun and comes with all sorts of great things…for example, Second Grade Science came with a magnet set, many books about different science subjects, a rock collection, a spring scale, pulley, thermometers, and many other supplies for various simple experiments.  The program offers a good, simple overview of Science for young children. Due to the secular nature of the program we add a lot of our own lessons and opinions to K12’s science (I do all the lessons alongside Youngest) and we have her listen in on the older kids programs. K12 does offer the option in the lower grades to opt out of the unit on Evolution, which gives you the option to teach your own unit in its place. We will be changing to Abeka or Apologia science once Youngest is done with the Third Grade program. Again, if money is tight and you can get K12 for free, it’s a great place to start.  If I had to pay for the program, however, I would have gone with Sonlight’s science programs instead…which also offer all the supplies needed and are a lot of fun.

In my opinion (and my kids will fully back me up on this!) by 4th grade, the K12 program starts to feel like a public school classroom…boring, repetitive, and full of extraneous worksheets.  I also feel that the early years in K12 offer comparatively very in depth information and an overall better education than traditional schools, but in the upper grades the program just doesn’t cover as much or do it as well as other homeschool curriculums.  Unfortunately, I think that a big part of the drop off in educational value may be because they have to follow public school standards and they begin to “teach to the test” much more at that point (just my opinion). By the end of third grade, my older kids were starting to get bored with the program and learning wasn’t fun at that point.  We switched curriculum, and my kids started enjoying school again.  I learned from this that for us it’s fine to use K12 for the subjects that it’s strong in, as long as it’s working for the particular kid at the particular level they are working at.  It’s also fine to stop using it when it stops being helpful. If you use K12, be sure to remember that the curriculum is there to serve you, and if it’s not serving your kids well then by all means don’t feel bad about changing to something else.  Because it’s a secular program, you’ll also want to make sure that you are doing plenty of Bible and Christian education in all your other subjects that are not K12.

With this in mind, by 4th grade, we have dropped all K12 classes and phase full time into WP or Sonlight. At that point we have had the younger kids sit in on our our History read-alouds and do the projects that the older kids are doing with their History Core, so the transition is smooth…the History Core is done all together, while the kids each have their own Language and Math and Science programs (which is were we use the K12).  After 3ed grade, we will be combining Science for my younger 2 as well, and Youngest will join in the History/Language Arts core full time (with whatever accomodations we need to take into account for the reading issues) and graduate to a new math program.

Whew. If you made it this far, congrats!  Of course, all this is my opinion only. Feel free to ask questions if you have them, in the comments or via email. 

Transoceanic Chimpanzees, Zombie Pa, and Snapping Atoms

One of the things I love most about being a parent is that it really challenges your idea of what is “normal”.   There are times when the things that come out of my mouth just really cause me to sit back, shake my  head, and marvel.

All three of the kids have had their moments, but Youngest wins the prize for requiring the most unusual parental responses so far.  A few of my favorites from over the years:

~Please stop licking my leg, you are not actually a dog.

~Beetles do not belong in your mouth.

~No, chimpanzees can’t swim across the ocean.  And even if one did, it’s not likely it would break into the house to pull your arms off.

As the chimpanzee comment suggests, many of Youngest’s greatest moments have involved her creative imagination running away with her.  She has struggled with night-time fears, anxieties, and bad dreams that when re-told will often keep me up at night.  Her description of a nightmare in which the characters from Little House on the Prairie died and came back as zombies still gives me the willies….”Oh, Mommy…zombie Pa was so scary! 

The latest issue arose when she was positive that she had shut the closet door and turned off the closet light, and then turned around to find the door open and the light on.  What could have happened?  The conversation went something like this:

Youngest:  “I think it might have been a ghost.  But then again, that doesn’t really make sense…ghosts can walk through walls, right?”

Me:  “Well, actually, there is no such thing as a ghost.  You know that, right?”

Youngest:  “Well, yeah.  But if there was such a thing as a ghost, it would walk through walls.  And if it walks through walls, it can’t actually turn on the light or shut the door.  And it couldn’t even actually touch you, either!  So it couldn’t, like, strangle you anything. So I don’t think it was a ghost! And I’m not going to be afraid of them, since they couldn’t hurt you.”

Me:  “Because they don’t exist! You don’t need to be afraid of them because they are not real.”

Youngest:  “And they couldn’t touch you if they were real.  But a zombie could!”

Me:  “But zombies are also not real, remember we talked about this?  They are stories made up in movies to scare you but they are not real.”

Youngest:  “Yeah, they’re not real.  And besides, it couldn’t have been a zombie that did it. If a zombie actually was in my room, then you would know by now. Because it wouldn’t have waited this long, it would have eaten my brain a long time ago.”

The door-and-light issue  kept her up for the better part of a week, before she settled back down and was able to sleep well again.  I was about halfway through a sigh of relief when a new issue cropped up from an unexpected source:  A science lesson on molecules.

Youngest:  “Atoms are smaller than molecules, right?”

Me:  “Yep.  Molecules are made up of atoms, remember?”

Youngest:  “Yeah.”  [a period of silence, during which her brow becomes increasingly furrowed and a worried look starts to settle on her face]

Me:  “You OK, sweetie?  What’s on your mind?”

Youngest:  “How hard is it to, you know, snap an atom?”

Me:  “What?”

Youngest:  “To snap an atom.  Can you break one yourself?  Like, by accident?  I’ve just been really, really worried lately about accidentally breaking an atom and causing a huge explosion.  Could you do it by accident?  Like step on one or something?”

Me:  “This explains why you’ve been wanting to wear your slippers everywhere we go, doesn’t it?”

I expected monsters under the bed.  I even expected something scary in the closet.  But who could have been prepared for a childhood fear of spontaneous nuclear fission?

I’m still not sure what “normal” is, but I am pretty sure it doesn’t live at my house. That’s fine.  I sure do enjoy my kids and their funny way of seeing things, and I am sure that one day Youngest will laugh right along with me about the days of transoceanic chimpanzees, zombie Pa, and snapping atoms.

At which point she will give up wearing those fuzzy slippers everywhere.  Right?!?

Sometimes, it’s the times when you least feel like laughing that doing so is most important.

It’s been a rough year, really.  I have seen a lot of heartbreak and struggle and been through some dark days, and though much growth and learning has come from this a person does get…weary.

In a rare quiet moment, I ran across an article on about laughter, and I realized that I need to remember to really revel in the funny things that life brings, take time to enjoy and appreciate them and share them with others.  Deidra over at Jumping in Tandem is offering up a place to share some laughter, I thought it would be….therapeutic….to join in!