Homeschooling

Fall 2013–the best-laid plans…

Well, after all my planning, I ended up scrambling a whole lot of things over the summer!

Still on Tapestry.  Still on Singapore Math.  But we went to a curriculum fair and I have come to realize a few more things, and… pretty much everything else has not quite ended up as I planned! But now that we are working through our first week, it’s all official—if still subject to change!

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The first thing is, I switched to A Beka phonics.  Now, I really don’t like A Beka.  I don’t like what I have read about their business practices, I don’t like their prices, and I don’t like their theology or their rampant civicism.  But…  While feeling like I still don’t know anything and wishing that I had majored in early childhood education instead of secondary education, I have nonetheless come to the conclusion that I have been going about teaching reading all the wrong way.  I think I have been too laid-back and random.  E got a hold of math really well, with very little effort on my part, and I thought reading would be the same way, that learning was just a natural process that needed to be facilitated.  But it didn’t work.  So, while she knows a lot more than the beginning of A Beka Letters and Sounds K5, we are starting in the beginning, doing all the exercises, all the games, all the chalkboard stuff, everything—and we’re taking R along for the ride.  They’re doing the exact same thing.  It will be a lot of review for E, and a real challenge for R, but they really enjoy doing it together and I am hoping it will serve as a good foundation for R, while cementing a lot of concepts that E didn’t get so well (particularly blending), while building her confidence and mine.  A Beka is supposedly about a grade ahead of most other curricula, so while it kills me that my otherwise-first-grader is doing a K5 curriculum, I’m trying to be very chill about it and just ignore the “K5” on the cover. :)  And for R, I’m not really expecting her to master the concepts, just to do her best, and then next year we would either move on to something only incrementally more difficult for mastery, or, if she does better than I expect her to, she could keep on with E.  They don’t seem to mind doing the same thing.  I even have L in on the fun and am hoping he at least picks up his letters, if not his letter sounds, from the exercises. (For him, I am supplementing with extra preschool-oriented worksheets centered around the same letters that the girls are working on.)

I will say that the experience has given me a great determination to be more purposeful in earlier schooling, and I am pursing a more systematic preschool curriculum for L so that he might have a better foundation than E did when he gets to this point.  That’s my hope, anyway!

I also changed science.  We went to a homeschool fair and there was an Apologia Science display, and I looked at it and really liked it.  It is designed such that the whole family studies science together, with different levels of activities and notebooking for the different grades.  I really like doing school together.  It also, instead of doing every science subject in every grade year after year, picks one major area (botany, animal science, anatomy, astronomy, etc.) and spends a whole year going into great depth on it.  That seems a lot more conducive to learning.  Then, after I’d decided on it, and went through to compile my supplies lists and pick our experiments and projects for the year, I was even more impressed because it’s full of things that are really hands-on but also use affordable/available supplies and are easily adapted to a wide age range.  The only thing I really don’t like about it is the textbook is very word-heavy and has few pictures (and some is downright clipart-looking) and it isn’t bound very well.  The text itself is fine, but the formatting just is not very appealing, and it’s hard for small children to be engaged with so many lines of unbroken text.  All three children do science together with very different expectations of their participation.

I’ve also added subjects.  We are doing First Language Lessons for grammar, which are really short auditory lessons that all three children participate in, which fits well with our school day, A Reason for Handwriting (A & K) for handwriting (I don’t like A Beka’s), Draw Write Now for an art supplement, and Polished Cornerstones for a “character”/home economics supplement.  I should add that none of these is terribly time-intensive, nor do I try to do them all every day (except for handwriting).  But it is good to have them on my weekly schedule and work them in here and there. Smile

Homeschooling

Homeschool Day Book — Review

I have been hunting for the perfect homeschool planner for months.  And finally ended up with an Excel spreadsheet and a whole bunch of paper printouts.  Still not thrilled with that solution.

But when I read about a record keeper that let you put things in after finishing them, it seemed like it had the potential to be a good fit for us: I could keep my spreadsheet for planning ahead, but then keep track of what we actually did in a neat little program.

So… how did it work?  We just started our school year so I decided to give it a whirl.

One area that Homeschool Day Book really shines is in simplicity.  It took me less than ten minutes to put in our three students and all our subjects.  Similarly, it has been taking very little time for me to enter what we did – less than five minutes. If I’d put the program on a laptop that I kept in the schoolroom (this would have been smart) then it really would be effortless.  I love how easy it is to tick which subject each lesson falls into (this would make field trips, for instance, really easy to categorize), and that each lesson can include any combination of students.  You can also record how long you spent on each activity, and add a “description” to explain what you actually did.  This could be really useful for those who aren’t using textbooks or who need detailed notes to compile for the state.  So far that is not me, however, so I am just putting the page/lesson numbers in the title and leaving the description blank.  It works well.

Then there are the reports:

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And this, to me, is the weakness of Homeschool Day Book: there just aren’t quite enough options on the reports. And I would love to be able to export all my data to CSV or some such readable format so that I’m not locked into the program’s report options.  For me, the major thing the reports are lacking is the subject name.  You can print subjects when you do the “Time Spent Per Subject/Date” reports, but the “Entries” report (seen above) doesn’t include the subject names at all… leading one to wonder what on earth “Cooked Cornbread” was supposed to fall into (it was actually part of our kindergarten phonics exercise).  This would be a handy option.  The reports are neatly formatted and sensibly divided by date, subject, or child, so this is kind of a minor quibble, but honestly, the inability to export the data wholesale would make me really question the wisdom of entering my information in every day, day after day, and then be limited to these few report options that the program provides.  I can think of lots of ways I might want to format the data, but will never be able to.  That said, the program is so simple and fast to use, and light to run, that I might use it anyway.  They’ve really put together something that excels in simplicity, and that’s a good thing.  “Reports” is just a little too simple.

The last point is the price: I downloaded the trial to do a review, and popped over to check out the price, and it’s $39!  That’s a lot, for something that you could do with just a spreadsheet (admittedly a sloppy and hard-to-print spreadsheet, but still).  If it was half that, I would say, that’s fair, and I would consider paying it myself for the convenience and simplicity of the thing.  I would also think about paying that much if it was web-based so I could access it across computers, because I bounce from one computer to another all day, and having to go upstairs to enter information on “my” computer is a small hassle.  If it was $29 instead, I would think it was pricey but would still consider it.  I understand that in some ways, $39 is not so much since it is a permanent license, and it is a useful, niche program, and if I used it every year for twelve grades, then $39 would be an absolute steal.

To conclude… on the one hand, I do think I’d be more likely to use this than any other planning software I’ve tried.  It is so easy and requires so little time.  It’s easy to understand, easy to get started, and easy to be up and running in less than a half hour.  It’s practical.  On the other hand, the fact that I’m limited to the predefined (and few) “reports” to get my data back out again… I’m not so keen on that. And honestly, that is what is making me waver about whether or not I’m going to continue using it.  My advice would be: wait until you start school, then check out the trial, take a good look at the reports, and if you’re happy with what they generate, then this could be a great solution. Smile

Disclaimer: I was offered a free license for the software in exchange for writing a review. It did not impact my opinion.