Curriculum Round-Up 2020-2021

As a fairly new homeschooling parent, I relied a lot on reviews given by other parents. Here is my contribution to all the voices of parents helping parents. I hope this round-up proves helpful to you! Check out my previous articles about our homeschooling journey: Switching From Public School to Homeschool and Can You Homeschool An Autistic Child?

When I first set out to home educate my Pre-Ker, using an eclectic Charlotte Mason approach, I knew that I didn’t want to take an academic route. I wanted to provide minimally structured, play-based learning with plenty of time for self-directed interests. I also wanted to avoid Christian curricula, which probably sounds strange since I’m a clergy wife. The trouble is that I rarely find curriculum authors who share my family’s Orthodox Christian theological perspective. Our theological foundation is fundamentally different from other branches of the Christian family, and I find there’s too much emphasis on things like depravity, shame, and substitutionary atonement that I prefer not to encounter and I certainly don’t want my children to encounter.

While I shuffled things around at the beginning of the year, we ended up settling into a four-day schedule plus unschooling-friendly Fridays. Our Fridays have been wonderful! Following the children’s interests has brought us to interesting places on field trips, informational documentaries on Curiosity Stream (for less than $20 a year!), lots of outdoor play, and new revelations, like the fact we apparently have artistic talent under this roof.

Core Curriculum

Blossom and Root graphic

Blossom and Root Early Years, Volume 2 is a gentle, secular pre-k program with 36 weeks worth of easy-going activities. Each week includes an assignment for nature study, picture and composer study, art project, kitchen classroom, early literacy and math, STEM projects, and read-alouds. This curriculum was a hit! It was slow enough to enjoy savoring, yet robust enough to keep my curious child interested.

I chose Blossom and Root, because I was drawn in by Kristina Garner’s beautiful blog posts, the samples, and testimonials from other parents.

What You Get

This is a pdf resource you must download and either print yourself at home or by a professional. Lots of families choose to bind their copies, but I hole-punched and stored mine in the same binder I use to store my child’s portfolio. Please note that some, but not all, of the pages are numbered to allow flexibility in how you print and store your materials.

When I first purchased this curriculum, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I assumed I’d see stodgy bullet lists in a neat line down the pages perhaps with some tables thrown in. What I got was more of a cross between a visual schedule and a to-do list. It took a little getting used to as the content is more artistic than orderly, not to say it’s disorderly, because it isn’t. It’s just different. As I went along, I became proficient as quickly flipping and scanning for what I needed to prepare each week.

I opted to use a loop schedule that had all the activities filled out in advance on one-page. Each day, I would note the date on which we completed the activity (or cross out activities we elected not to do). Then, I’d transfer the information into my planner to keep as a record. I plan to do the same thing next year, except that I’m going to pre-print the entire year of activities on a series of loop schedule sheets to make my weekend prep easier.

Pros

This curriculum created such beautiful experiences for my family! I’m not terribly creative when it comes to children’s activities, so it was a delight to come to each new activity and find they were all fun and educational. We used Blossom and Root’s Early Years 2 for music and art study, English language arts, gentle math fundamentals, read-alouds, STEM, nature study, artistic expression, and kitchen classroom. It took only 5-10 minutes per lesson per day, since we didn’t do every single thing every day. So, the time spent one-on-one over the course of the day never exceeded 30 minutes. I highly recommend this curriculum to anyone who is looking for a Charlotte Mason-inspired, gentle, pre-k curriculum for children around the ages of 4-5.

Cons

There really isn’t much I can call a con about this curriculum. If I dig deep, I’ll note two things. 1) I was concerned that it wasn’t as complete as I needed it to be, so I did supplement with two other resources which I’ll note below. The same might be the case for other families, especially those with Autistic children. 2) This curriculum requires A LOT of parental involvement. I had to set everything up each week and then each day. On some days, that felt like a burden as I tried to wrangle my brood and put activities together. That said, it didn’t take long and the activities are brief. We were able to finish all 36 weeks with little difficulty.

Pre-Reading Curriculum

Discover Reading graphic

Discover Reading combines a teacher guide, activity explanations, and sample lessons that give children a start on recognizing sounds, letters, and the words they created. This curriculum promises to help you:

  • grasp and apply Charlotte Mason’s principles
  • develop your child’s skills in phonemic awareness, blending, word-building, visualization, word-analysis and automaticity in word recognition
  • encourage a love for language and stories using interesting activities filled with inspiring ideas
  • find special delight in teaching your unique children

I chose Discover Reading because I wanted a gentle, Charlotte Mason resource for introducing the concepts necessarily to effectively begin reading.

What You Get

This resource is another PDF product that requires you to print the materials and store them in your preferred way.

The author takes a minimalist approach to the presentation of the materials within the PDF. She uses almost all text, and the rare graphic here and there. It is clean and easy to navigate. I especially appreciated the section called A Scope & Sequence of Sorts as it described how to use the curriculum with children of different ages and abilities.

Each lesson begins with the wise words of Charlotte Mason, herself, followed by preparation tips and materials, and then an explanation of the activity. Little notes from the author are sprinkled throughout the document, helping the homeschool teacher understand how best to regard the child and present the information. Quotes from Charlotte Mason feature prominently across all the activities, placing us modern homeschool teachers in the frame of mind of our educational mentor. Each activity comes with an example of how it may look in real-life application.

Pros

Discover Reading is as Charlotte Mason as you can get. If you are a Charlotte Mason purist, I expect you will love it! For the rest of us, it is a solid and helpful resource. The activities are logical and the progress by building on each other. I enjoyed the simplicity and clarity with which I was able to implement each lesson.

Cons

The biggest con for my family is that it’s pretty dry. It’s not a very fun program to follow. There are some bright spots, but overall, it wasn’t very playful. Perhaps it’s not meant to be. I know that Charlotte Mason took studies seriously and her philosophy involved very intense, very brief lessons… but not until age 6, which is the age at which author, Amy Tuttle, recommends taking a more gently rigorous route with the materials. It just seemed to me that, even for 5 year olds, it was pretty grown-up. Also, one other thing. I’m not sure that this is the best curriculum of its kind for an Autistic child with communication barriers. There were more moments of frustration than joy.

Math Curriculum

Preschool Math at Home graphic

Preschool Math at Home is a very gentle, play-based program to introduce young children to math concepts like counting, numeral recognition, subitizing, comparing quantities and numbers, and addition and subtraction. The lessons take no more than five minutes and you can use whatever you have around the house as manipulatives with great success.

I chose Preschool Math at Home because I loved all the things Kate Snow had to say when she reviewed other math curricula and gave recommendations. Plus, I’ve only heard good things about the Math With Confidence series.

What You Get

This one is a physical book you can get from several bookstores. The publisher, Well-Trained Mind, also sells a PDF version.

This 140 page book is absolutely packed with playful, short activities that build, one to the next. It reads much like a textbook, in the sense that there are chapters and sections, explanations, activities, reviews, sidebar style notations, and end of unit “Is My Child Ready to Move On?” check-ins.

Pros

We thoroughly enjoyed this book! It’s autism-friendly, adaptable, and fun. I was able to communicate concepts to my child that had previously been elusive. If you’re anything like me and you have no idea where to start with early math skills, this is definitely a book to check out. I plan to stick with Kate Snow’s Math With Confidence series as long as we can. I highly recommend this resource!

Cons

There are very few. One thing that stood out to me was that a lot of the activities were very much alike, which helps in terms of building skills, but my child would lose interest with some things we attempted.

Extras

Prodigies Music Lessons graphic

Prodigies Music Lessons are a cost effective (compared to traditional music lessons) way to teach children ages 2-12 the basics of music theory, pitch training & playing a pitched instrument in quick, active video lessons via hand signs, solfege, bells, recorders, ukuleles, and books. According to their website, children will learn:

  • Pitch development through songs, games & activities about the musical notes
  • Rhythmic development through fun call and response songs (like Sweet Beets)
  • Listening & aural comprehension skills with “Name that Note” & other listening games
  • Play their first instrument, either on the Deskbells, xylophone, piano, recorder or Ukulele
  • Cross-curriculum skills like patterning, sequencing, early math & hand-writing
  • Composition skills using composition activities

I chose Prodigies because it was so portable and open-and-go. I was also able to get a slight monthly discount on scholarship due to our financial situation.

What You Get

When you sign up, you get access to the complete streaming library of over 600 videos that can be accessed on ProdigiesMusic.com and through the app, Prodigies Music Lessons (AppleTV, Roku, fireTV, iOS, Android, Chromecast). If you will not be using hand signs or singing along, you will need an instrument.

We chose deskbells. At first, we ordered some from a different website, but found they didn’t match the colors or sounds of the Prodigies lessons. That was a big hassle. We didn’t get refunded. Just store credit. Don’t do that. Then, I went ahead and got a couple sets on the Prodigies site, so my kids didn’t have to share during lessons. Let me stress how very expensive this proposition turned out to be. For two sets of bells, I paid $124, which was only made possible with assistance from my family.

Pros

Prodigies is extremely easy to use! The videos are engaging, simple to follow, and entertaining. If you’re looking for an all around early musical education that will engage your kids, I recommend this service.

Cons

The price. The price. The price! We wouldn’t be using this service without a scholarship. It doesn’t seem like much at $12.99/month, but that’s $156 per year on top of other curriculum you may be using. It’s not cheap. And, the cost of the instruments is going to be a consideration as well. Also, I hadn’t anticipated how rough my kids were going to be on the instruments. They get so amped that they start banging the deskbells into oblivion, so I have to stay right with them. This year, we’ve been following the videos while sitting on the floor of our living room with the bells. Next school year, I’m planning to move to the dining room table (our homeschool hub) and play the videos on our school-only tablet. I’m hoping that will help reduce the potential for destruction.

Salsa graphic

Salsa is a free, award-winning PBS show designed to teach Spanish to children from kindergarten through third grade. It incorporates familiar stories and fairytales, puppets, animation, and live action into 42 slow-paced video lessons. The creators explain that teachers, “do not need to be certified to teach a foreign language or be familiar with Spanish in order to use Salsa. It can be used in the classroom and homeschools and by anyone interested in teaching young kids to speak Spanish. Each video lesson is preceded by a staff development component that acquaints the instructor with the content and the objectives of the lesson, reviews all vocabulary words and demonstrates the correct pronunciation of all Spanish words included in the lesson.”

I chose Salsa mainly because it’s free and I know it passed the academic rigor of the Public Broadcasting Service which is an organization I trust for high-quality children’s education.

What You Get

These free video lessons can be accessed online or via the PBS app on compatible devices. We use our smart tv to watch the episodes. Plus, the Wyoming Department of Education created a scope and sequence guide that’s extremely helpful in creating easy lesson plans using the Salsa videos.

Pros

It’s free! And that means it’s accessible which is important to me. There are 42 lessons that build on each other, but can be watched individually like a regular kids’ tv show. I like that the show seamlessly highlights vocabulary words in each lesson.

Cons

There aren’t any bells and whistles. It’s not exciting or especially engaging. The show looks a bit like something I might have watched as a child back in the 1980s. It’s not a big deal for my family, because we live a slower pace of life anyway, but I could see how it could be considered “boring.”

Final Thoughts

My choices this year weren’t entirely low cost. I know you can conceivably homeschool for near-free, but I don’t have time to ferret out a bunch of free resources. Things will change as I become more comfortable as a homeschooling mom. My curriculum choices this year were beneficial overall. I noticed exceptional (and unexpected, by me) gains as a result of all the good work we did and I’m looking forward to taking a few weeks off this summer to reset for next year. Oh, and those unschooling-friendly Fridays were everything! If you’re looking to maintain a helpful rhythm and avoid burnout as a homeschooler, consider moving to a four-day schedule and unschool on Fridays. It’s been so worth it for us!

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