Homeschooling Product Reviews: Curriculum & Books

Homeschooling Product Reviews: Curriculum & Books

We are going on to finish our 6th year of homeschooling, and we have used quite a few homeschool curriculums by now.  When I first got started, I was pregnant with our 3rd child, had just moved an hour away from where we thought we were going to raise our kids so we had a big fat ZERO community around us, and I had never homeschooled before.  We started with Kindergarten and we are all the way to 5th grade by now!

 
I have definitely paved our own road with this, and it has been absolutely amazing!

How about I give back, and do some reviews?

 

 

1)


Name: ACE Curriculum Grades 3, 4 & 5 
Source: ChristianBook.com link
Rating:             A+
Review: This is what we are using this year, and I absolutely love it.  It is a Christian curriculum, so there are Bible verses and Bible stories all over the place.  The reasons why I love it are threefold: 1) The curriculum covers all the subjects-English, Literature & Creative Writing, Word Building, Math, Science and Social Studies.  There is also a Bible Study subject if you want that, as well.  2) The subjects are broken down into smaller books, and you get 12 books per subject.  This has been SO much easier for us to complete, rather than one giant 400 page book.  I have the kids complete one book a month, and we're good to go! The kids have a great sense of accomplishment, and we have a realistic goal to reach. 3) The material is really solid. I have been very impressed with the content in every subject, and I would say this is definitely "Accelerated Christian Education" material.  I have been disappointed with Science in other curriculums before, but this has explored many aspects of physical/chemical/astronomical science already, along with experiments to play with.  The math has been great, lots of pages explaining how to do the work and then a combination of practice sheets and drill sheets.  The Literature & Creative Writing has really helped them with thorough reading and comprehension, as well as their writing and grammar skills.

I have been able to see progress in every subject with both kids using ACE, and that is worth diamonds.



2) 


Name: K12.org/CAVA- 
Source: (K12.com/CAVA link)
Rating:          B-
Review: K12.org is a nationwide virtual charter school, and we used CAVA which is "CAlifornia Virtual Academies."  (Ohio, for instance is OHVA)  We started homeschooling by using CAVA and I finally pulled the plug when my oldest started 3rd grade with them.  My second child went through 2nd grade with them as well.   CAVA has some good things going with it, and they have some pretty major deficits.  On one hand, their structure is totally awesome. They know what they're doing, they know what they're teaching, and they will test your kids and keep in touch with you a few times a quarter, sometimes in person and sometimes on the phone; but those will be scheduled, so they don't just sneak up on you.  This is a charter school, so they are funded with taxpayer money and since they are a publicly funded school, the curriculum is purely secular.This means you pay nothing.  They send you all the books, all the workbooks, a computer for your child to work on and all the manipulatives you need for each subject.  The agenda for every day is online, as well as most lessons for the day.  It is an incredible set up they have, no two ways about it.

The downside was that they are a VERY ACCELERATED school, and they teach to test.

You would think that being a "very accelerated" school would be a good thing, but it was hell.  It really was.  I am absolutely all in favor of pushing my kids academically, but the limits of my own sanity were hanging on by a loose thread in Kindergarten, alone.  When other kids were working on the basics of addition using 2 addends, we were using 5.  When other kids were learning the basics of multiplication we were already working on double digit multiplication.  And we did it...but my kids were stressed out, and I was literally pulling my hair out and crying in frustration because I knew we had a teacher conference coming up, and according to CAVA, my child was falling behind. They threatened to hold one of my kids back if they didn't get up to speed.  It was absolute insanity what they considered to be normal coursework for a 5 year old.  

I would go to the bookstore in town to find tutoring books to help us with subjects, and it was astonishing what I found every time: the work they had in those books were "easy" compared to what we were doing, but the covers of those books in the bookstore said "advanced."  This happened for years, and so I started thinking, "I don't think CAVA is advanced at all...I think they are bloody insane."  

My final breaking point was when we received our 3rd grade math book, and it was 400 pages of multiple choice, fill in the bubble math sheets.   They want to get good scores on the state test (STAR testing).  It was STUPID, so I sent it back and filed a PSA and haven't looked back since. 

And, amazingly, once we left CAVA my kids started to actually understand what they were learning, finally. No more struggling in math once we left CAVA, and we all loved learning again.

So, there are upsides and downsides. 





3)  

Name: Saxon Math- 
Source: Amazon link
Rating:               B+
Review: Saxon Math was the first math we used after leaving CAVA, and it was really fantastic.  Instead of drills upon drills, it used a different method of teaching math: a little of everything, every day.  Instead of learning with gulps, you were learning with sips.  This made digesting math much easier, and we got through the whole year feeling good.  This is a totally solid math curriculum, and there is a step by step teacher book you're supposed to use.

The downside is that it's pretty boring.  It's just the same thing every day, and for wiggly kids (and parents...) it can get tedious.  And call me crazy, but I think math is fascinating and fun...so when the fun is sucked out, that's a downer. And we're not into downer-education.




4)  

Name: Horizons Math- 
Source: ChristianBook.com link
Rating:            B+
Review:  It's pretty much Saxon Math with more colors and pictures.  It was fun and we liked it.  It came in 2 big books for Semester 1 and Semester 2, and there was a teacher book.

5)  


Name: Story of the World:History for the Classical Child
Source: Amazon.com link

 Rating:              A-
Review:  Story of the World is a Christian History curriculum, so it has a Christian perspective on it, as opposed to history books I read in public school which never discussed religion.  I thought this was interesting, just because religion did, and does, play such a huge role in world history that it is odd to leave it out.  You cannot learn about the history of Ireland without understanding the roles of Protestant and Catholic churches.  You won't understand the importance of Queen Elizabeth until you understand the gravity of the Catholic church, and you certainly won't understand the motives behind the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 against King James I if you don't know how the Catholic nobility in England felt about a Protestant King.  

The funny thing is, I have learned so much from reading these stories to my kids, it cracks me up....and depresses me.  For instance, I never knew why Lewis & Clark explored America.  I thought they were just exploring to explore...because that was what I was told in school.  Little did I know that there was a race between the USA, France and the Netherlands to find the infamous "Northwest Passage" that would sail ships from one side of the continent to the other, thus discovering the greatest trade route ever.  They never found it (because it doesn't exist, hence the invention of the trans-continental railroad later), but it was an incredible journey.  Point to note: Clark wrote about how awful the bugs were at night for months.  So you can just think about that next time you go camping.



The thing is, though, it's kind of boring.  I am absolutely going back to it when the kids are in Jr. High, but I think in younger elementary school years it's a little much.  I know they didn't remember a thing I read them, because it was a lot of, " ...and then the King of X did this, and then they renamed the country to Y, and then the king died and the country was renamed back to X, and then..."  It's a lot of facts, and I think that's for later.  But it is totally worth using, and it has my stamp of approval!


6)  

Name: The Well Trained Mind- First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind, Level 3-Student Workbook
Source: ChristianBook.com link
Rating:                A
Review:   This is a hardcore, step by step, amazing workbook that teaches your kids how to write.  It is fantastic, it is informative, it is thorough and I love it.  There is a teacher's book that you read to your child while they are working, and you go through the lesson step by step together, so it is time-intensive.  But if you want them to write well, this is the book to use.
 
7)  

Name: Spectrum Spelling 
Source: (ChristianBook.com link)
Rating:                  B+
Review:  I picked this up at a convention to help us with spelling, and I really liked it.  If I had more time in the day, I'd keep using it.  It has very easy lessons, good spelling lists, and the kids had fun with it.


8) 

Name: Spectrum Writing
Source: ChristianBooks.com link
Rating:                 B 
Review:  This is a good workbook for writing.  I don't know if I'd use it for a primary curriculum book, but it's very helpful as an additional exercise book for writing.

9) 

Name: History Pockets 
Source: Amazon link
Rating:              A
Review:  These are super duper fun, and I loved going through them with the kids.  The stories were solid, there were good history lessons laid out in each book and they came with directions for projects you could do together.  I am big into projects, so this was a big bonus for me.  I think these were very age appropriate for younger elementary school ages.

History Pockets has my stamp of approval in a big way! 


10)  

Name: R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey - Life (level one)
Source: Amazon link
Rating:                   A
Review:  I am big into Science, and I hate lousy Science books.  Teach me something scientifically significant or just call it a waste of time, I say.  This was an absolutely great book for teaching kids about biology and life sciences.  We learned all about animals and plants and bugs and cells, and we always looked forward to the projects that came with it.  Even when one of the kids came in with a mason jar filled with wiggling worms when we were studying worms, and I almost lost my lunch.  Totally worth it.

I don't remember if it is a Christian science book, but I think it is since you can buy it on Christianbook.com.  


11) 

Name: R.E.A.L. Science: Earth

Source:  Amazon link
Rating:       B-
Review: This was disappointing because for some reason, we just never got into it.  I was really excited about learning about Earth & Space, but a lot of it was just...stuff.  We never finished this book, it wasn't terribly exciting for us and we didn't learn much from it.

 

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~~For those of us with fire.~~

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