Homeschool Discoveries

Sharing a few things I've discovered along the way…

How We Picked a Math Curriculum — Part 1 February 21, 2012

Filed under: Curriculum — kirstenjoyhill @ 7:07 am
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When Miss M was about four and a half, I decided I wanted some of kind of curriculum to guide me as she progressed beyond simple counting.  I knew I wanted a program that would keep things fun, and would involve little to no handwriting, since at that time, Miss M struggled to write any numbers at all.  A friend had a copy of Saxon Math K that I was able to take a look at. I saw that this program involved no writing, and had scripted lessons for the parent to follow.  I soon found a used copy, bought a few inexpensive manipulatives, and began progressing through the lessons with Miss M.

The lessons in Saxon Math K are fun, and (in my non-professional opinion), age-appropriate for an older preschooler or younger kindergartener.  We started working on a calendar, we used plastic bears to count, add and make patterns and we reviewed shapes.  But something quickly became clear to me — the way Saxon Math K jumped around from topic to topic drove me crazy!  We would spend a day working on counting, only to have the next lesson focused on shapes, followed by a third lesson on a topic altogether different before returning to a lesson on counting.   I tried to make my own plan for re-arranging the lessons in a way that would involve less jumping around, but it was a lot of work to do so.   After using Saxon for a couple months, I knew that when Miss M started her Kindergarten year I needed to have something else.

As I researched math curricula, I learned that math programs generally either follow a “spiral” philosophy or a “mastery” philosophy.  Some may be more extreme than others in the degree to which they follow these philosophies.   Programs that lean toward the spiral philosophy introduce several topics, then “spiral” back to the first, second and so on to give the student greater depth and more exposure, then the cycle repeats.  Spiral programs have lots of built in review, and keep students from getting bored by varying the topics studied.  Some students, however, may be frustrated by only getting a taste of a topic and not having time to develop a skill before moving on to another topic.

The mastery philosophy is just what it sounds like — mastering one topic before moving on to the next.   Curricula that follow the mastery philosophy will also tend to pursue a topic to greater depth before pursuing a new topic.  For example, instead of moving on to single digit subtraction after single digit addition is mastered, a mastery curriculum is more likely to continue to two, three and four digit addition before introducing subtraction.  At the extreme a mastery curriculum may have the student studying the same general topic like addition or subtraction for an entire level of the curriculum.  Common criticisms of mastery curricula are boredom and lack of review.  Students may get burnt out studying subtraction for months on end, and may forget some of their adding skills in the mean time.

Having learned about these approaches to math education, I knew I would prefer a curriculum that leaned toward the mastery approach.  I didn’t think I would like something on the extreme end of the mastery spectrum, but in general the mastery philosophy made more sense to me.

Having ditched Saxon Math K not long before Miss M was beginning her actual Kindergarten year, I wasn’t quite ready to commit to a particular curriculum that I might be using for years.  As a stop-gap measure, I decided to begin K with Kindermath by Eagles Wings, a program I had recently received along with a phonics and spelling package I had purchased.

Kindermath is nice simple program for Kindergarten students.  It doesn’t have any bells and whistles — just a simple teacher manual and student workbook, both in black and white.  But, this gave me something I could do with Miss M for math.  We used it for the first four months of her K year.  After that, we began RightStart — the program we are still using!  I’ll discuss why we chose Right Start and how it works for our family in part 2 (Now posted — read it here!).

If you are looking for more information on how to chose a math curriculum, this article is a great starting point.  I also highly recommend checking out the wealth of resources (including articles and product reviews) at!

What resources have you found helpful in the process of picking a math curriculum?


(photo credit)


Collage Friday: Valentines Fun and New Stuff February 17, 2012

Filed under: Weekly Highlights — kirstenjoyhill @ 2:42 pm
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Our week had a bit of a different rhythm than usual with a fun day of “Valentines School” on Tuesday.  Here’s a snapshot of our week:

1. I had so much to say about Valentines day that it got its own post with a full recounting of our activities.

2. Grandma Karen dropped by for a couple hours on Wednesday.  Aren’t all the kids cute cuddled up with her in the big chair while she reads?

3. Miss M got a “Sand Art” craft kit from Grandma Karen as a Valentines gift.  Here she is working on it at her desk in her room.

4. The geometry lessons in RightStart Math C proved a bit more challenging this week.  At one point neither of us could figure out how to divide a circle into thirds.  This happened in the late afternoon one day (we had procrastinated finishing the math lesson).  When I was more awake the next day I remembered how to do it and could help Miss M!  Using the drawing tools to make a clock also proved a bit challenging.  I thought I was giving Miss M the proper directions, but the first result was a clock with 12 numbers ending about where the seven should have been.  Whoops! I had to make one myself before I could explain to Miss M how to do it properly.  The drawing lesson directions clearly assume a bit more spacial reasoning than I seem to have!

5. We finished Mystery of History vol. 2 this week and started in with the first two lessons of Mystery of History Volume 3.  I love the full color pictures!

6. I also gave Miss M a new book for writing practice — Spectrum Writing Grade 2.   While I wouldn’t say that this basic workbook is an excellent method for teaching writing, I am in the “something is better than nothing” mode with this.  Since I was ordering Mystery of History Vol 3 from the Hearts at Home curriculum store anyway, I picked up this book on sale as well.  Miss M told me she really likes her new writing workbook, so that is a good sign, I suppose.

7. Miss M practiced counting by sixes and sevens this week.  When Mr. E saw the bugs on this sheet from Miss M’s math book, he wanted to know if he could learn how to “count by sixes all the way to nine.”  That led to a great discussion about what it means to “count by” something, and he practiced counting by 2’s!

8. Late night Lego play with daddy — he let the boys stay up an hour past their bedtime to make some really fun Lego creations together.

9. Just for fun — gotta love the Nutella “beard” on Mr. K!

Now TGIF!…(part of our day today involved all three kids taking a turn at spilling all the cards to a certain game in which the cards need to be sorted in a particular way…and the cards were spilled on purpose each time.  Sigh!)  We’ll have a definite three day weekend from school since daddy is off from work on Monday.  Tuesday baby J has a medical appointment and circumstances are such that we might not get much school done that day either.  A mini-break will be nice!

Linking up with Collage Friday @ Homegrown Learners and Weekly-Wrap-Up @ Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers! 


Collage Friday: Math Games Week January 20, 2012

Filed under: Weekly Highlights — kirstenjoyhill @ 5:36 pm
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Collage Friday - January 20th, 2012

Collage Friday - January 20th, 2012

1 & 2:  We had a “math games week” this week.  When I looked at the upcoming lessons in Right Start C at the end of last, I noticed that we were scheduled for two lessons to learn new games, followed by a review lesson with suggested games.  We played games for math each day M-Th — Short Chain Subtraction Solitaire is the game in both pictures.  We intended to play a game today too, but the review sheet took longer than expected.

In #2, even Mr. E got in on the act of helping with the game.  He is what some people might call “mathy.”  I have never really taught him anything about subtraction, but somehow he figured out the answer to a bunch of problems, or could figure them out with a small hint.  He begged for a Right Start lesson of his own today, and we ended up breezing through about three lessons of level A, after not doing any since well before Christmas break.    I feel bad about rarely doing a lesson of Right Start with him…but he seems to be learning plenty of math whether I do the lessons with him or not.

3:  Miss M, hard at work in her spelling workbook (we are using “How to Spell” book two and “How to Teach Spelling”….sort of.  I am not sure I am quite using it as designed).  The desk is a new addition to the play/school room.  Miss M seems to like it as a new spot to work, especially if she is allowed to stand at the desk and work without a chair!

4:  Miss M loves horses and loves to draw pictures of them.  Aren’t they great for a 2nd grader? I think she can probably draw a horse better than I can!   Miss M found several horse books at the library this week.  She is reading them for fun, but some of this reading I’m sure will benefit her “Expert Day” project at co-op later this spring.  (Expert Day is sort of like a science fair, but the projects can be on any topic.)  She declared months ago that her topic would be horses!

5. The boys totally love Legos.  This was what they were doing several days this week while Miss M and I did school.  Daddy discovered a bunch of his childhood Legos during a recent basement clean-out project, and those Legos joined our recently-organized collection on Sunday afternoon.

6.  Baby J and Mr. K checking out the “bus” at the Children’s Museum.  The kids and I went to the museum for most of the day on Saturday while Tony cleaned the basement.  I could make a whole collage just of pictures of our visit — we had so much fun!  The kids all particularly enjoyed the “Storyland” exhibit that creates play spaces based on several favorite children’s books including “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom”, “Peter Rabbit”, “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” and “The Snowy Day.”

7. This nearly empty room means…Miss M is about to get her very own room.  As soon as we gave her the news this past summer that her new sibling would be a brother, we tried to soften the news by telling her she would eventually get her own room (she currently shares with the two bigger boys).  While we originally thought it would not happen until Baby J was old enough to move in with his brothers and out of Mommy and Daddy’s room, we decided it was time to move her sooner rather than later.  Our old office room is getting cleared out and items moved elsewhere in the house (hence the new desk in the school room), and “moving day” is scheduled for tomorrow!

8. Mr. E says HE wants a handwriting book with Bible verses in it like Miss M’s book (She is learning cursive with A Reason for Handwriting Book C).  I told him I would order Book A for him, but I had a challenge for him first: write out all the letters in the alphabet, upper and lower case.  I don’t think he actually knows how to write all the letters yet, but I wanted to see what letters he needs more work on.  He got about half way through the upper-case alphabet on Thursday, and wasn’t too interested in writing today.  The challenge will continue into next week.  Mr. K got right up at the table next to him and declared that he was writing letters too.   I bet his random lines will start looking like real letters pretty soon. 🙂

I’m linking up with…

Collage Friday @ HomeGrownLearners

The Weekly Wrap Up @ Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers