Our oldest daughter has an early September birthday. I remember thinking what an absolutely perfect month it was to have a baby. Although I had to endure the final trimester in the scorching summer heat, I appreciated that having an early autumn baby meant that we could spend hours on the back porch swing and walking the neighborhood. It was a lovely season of life - watching the leaves swirl and watching my firstborn baby blossom.
Now that she is six and a half, I realize that her birthday falls at a rather unfortunate time when it comes to the school system. As it is, she'll always be either the oldest or the youngest in her class. Although there are some homeschoolers who reject the grade system altogether, we choose to still use grades - as a marker for ourselves and to avoid confusion to the most frequently asked of questions ("What grade are you in?").
Technically, she should be in Kindergarten this year. That is where we started her, but we soon saw that she was far beyond the basics of the alphabet, numbers, colors, shapes, and addition sums. Quite without knowing it, we had taught the principles of Kinder without a formal curriculum.
In late fall, after careful consideration, we purchased and began using the My Father's World, First Grade curriculum - a much better fit for her academic level. We're halfway through now and these are our general thoughts.
Here are a few sample pages from the Student Workbook. Note that I have a doodler on my hands, which is a good thing since studies have shown that doodling improves memory and cognitive function (goodness, it can drive the teacher crazy though!). ;)
- Charlotte Mason. MFW clearly bills itself as being based on Charlotte Mason principles, which I generally agree with. I like the emphasis on living books, short lessons, time in the outdoors, and the importance of the arts.
- Phonics-based reading. Though we don't follow the curriculum to a T, we do make an effort to do the reading lessons most every day. The approach is straight-forward and easy to teach. It's neither too fast nor too slow for our daughter.
- International focus. The curriculum claims this as one of its distinctives and I appreciate that it's written from a global perspective (not revolving solely or primarily around the US of A). That said, in my "dream curriculum," the curriculum would also include a second language component.
- Affordability. The books may not be hardbound beauties with glossy colorful pictures, but the price is certainly appealing. $200-$300 per year is a steal compared to many other options on the market.
- Non-integrated Math. Mathematics isn't included in the daily lesson plans. Instead, the curriculum provides a number of suggested activities that you can choose from and implement. In theory, that sounds wonderful. In reality, for this exhausted mother of three (including a baby!), it's just hard.
- Bible information overload. We have been reading the Bible to the girls since they were babes. The two children's versions on our shelves are The Jesus Storybook Bible and The Big Picture Storybook Bible. Our daughters are keenly aware of God's presence and their childlike faith and love for Him is refreshing. All that being said, I've not been particularly impressed by the way MFW introduces and teaches the Bible. All parents will feel differently about this, but I don't think it is necessary for our 1st grader to draw a Bible times map, to be able to identify and label the major rivers of the Biblical texts, to illustrate the story of Cain & Abel, or even to memorize a verse a week. That will come in due time. I'm most interested in laying a strong foundation in reading and math - and nurturing a love of learning. The other information seems almost superfluous so we've been skipping it.
- Sometimes overly simplistic/babyish. As part of one lesson, we were advised to fill one spoon with honey and one spoon with garbage. The parent is supposed to ask the child which he would rather eat and then discuss the importance of using kind words. In another lesson, the child is instructed to take a bandaid and put it on someone who needs healing words (Tim & I had a bit of a laugh about that one - socially awkward, no?). I get it; I do. But the overly contrived morals can be a bit too sickeningly sweet. Pun intended.
We remain undecided about second grade, although it is unlikely that we will purchase a complete package from any one curriculum distributor. My guess is that we will piece together a curriculum of our own (possibly including some MFW books?) instead of buying a "set." I'd like to purchase a strong reading and mathematics curriculum (more on that in an upcoming post) - and then create our own hands-on fun for science, history, writing, and the arts.
One of the best aspects of homeschooling is the ability to constantly reassess and make changes based on a child's interests, aptitudes, struggles, and strengths. Like my mom before me, I'm beginning to think that I'm more of a "little bit of this, little bit of that" homeschooler as opposed to a "curriculum loyalist." ;)
* Note that My Father's World has made "major revisions" to the First Grade curriculum for the 2013-14 school year.
If you homeschool, what curriculum(s) do you use? Leave a short review in the comments or link to one of your previous posts.