Our Curriculum Choices 2014 ~ English

Monday, January 6, 2014

English is a pivotal subject when it comes to the formal education of our children.  Every other subject builds from it.  Even mathematics is not isolated from it, but instead relies heavily upon the student's English knowledge to ensure they can complete their ever increasingly difficult work.  Without learning the key skills of reading & writing, life would miss so many important elements.  As an avid reader I am particularly passionate about ensuring that my children receive a thorough English education.  To me this is the very key to their future learning throughout their whole life.

At the moment my desk is covered with learning program material as I hope to piece together something that makes the children excited & eager to learn (& is easy to teach them), but also fulfils the learning outcomes of the New NSW National Curriculum Syllabus.  I am acutely aware of our Board of Studies inspection coming up in August & while it still seems far away on the calendar, I know that the BOS inspector will be looking closely at the work we have completed & ensuring that we are encompassing all the elements the Board has deemed essential for students in this great state to cover.  The BOS have recently been very picky with registering homeschooling families since the introduction of the National Curriculum & so if this plan seems overboard, well that's because I've had friends who have had registration refused by our inspector & I don't intend to join them.  (And as soon as I have this plan in place & typed up I have to begin working on our learning program for the next two years (I'm hoping for 2 year registration) & this includes high school for Zai ~ yikes!)

The children playing while I type this post ~ enjoying the summer holidays!

As a left-brained, (overly) logical person, I need a plan to make sure that I can ensure that my children cover the most important elements a formal education includes.  I have broken down their English to the following categories that are covered in varying amounts depending upon syllabus & age/stage requirements.  Most of these overlap at some point & I am aware of this, but I needed this list to tick off for each student.  These elements are:

* Phonics
* Spelling
* Literature
* Grammar
* Reading & Comprehension
* Speaking & Listening
* Text types
* Digital Technologies

This year I really was particular about the curriculum I  chose.  The past few years have been interesting years with a myriad of different curriculum choices used by the DE school we were registered with. For the past two years I worked rather independently, but still under their banner, using Spalding for my children's phonogram & spelling work ( they used an alternative program).  While we loved the Spalding methodology & it has been a wonderful tool to teach our children the basics of the English language, I found it rather difficult to use to teach the other parts of their English lessons.  When we left the DE school behind during 2013 we still had a whole lot of partially completed curriculum for these other areas so rather than purchase new curriculum, I had the children complete these books.   A lot of these books however were stuff & nonsense & while it appealed to the children in the 'fun' sense, it really wasn't teaching them well (or at all in some cases).  What I was after this year was a more inclusive curriculum that covered as many of these elements as possible within it's pages rather than using the disjointed approach of separate books  for each element.  Teaching  4 children simultaneously in 3 different grades & 4 different levels (yes, the twins are at very different levels) also means I need the children to be able to work fairly independently in their main school work. I was after a well-grounded, proven, thorough curriculum with a strong Biblical basis (where I didn't have to cross out pages that disagreed with our Christian point of view or make my children uncomfortable reading).  I was also hoping to find something that would continue through the future years of their education reducing the number of 'gaps' that jumping across curriculums can cause.

Main Curriculum:
 (Grammar,  Text types, S&L, Digital Technologies, R&C, etc.)
Choosing a main English curriculum that encompassed as much as possible was a huge decision.  I really hadn't made any decisions about this throughout the year, although I tried to keep my ears open.  When my friend invited me along on her road trip to Canberra to visit the Lighthouse Education Ministries shop I was delighted.  I already had thought I would possibly use LEM phonics (more on that soon), but wanted to see the physical products before making my decision. They stock a large selection of various curriculum & while there I looked through as many different options as possible.  There were many different excellent options, but the BJU press English program jumped out to me.  Maybe it is because of my ACE background (I was an ACE student in my early school years) that this 'workbook style' curriculum appealed to me.  I felt this curriculum was relevant, engaging, inclusive & had a strong Christian basis.  It also extends through the high schooling years.  I decided to purchase it for all 4 of our children even though I am aware that it will slightly overlap with the phonics program we are using.  This curriculum choice was a surprise to me as I had never even considered BJU press previously.  It was well worth the time & fuel tripping to the shop & I highly recommend going to a store where you can physically compare curriculum before making choices if at all possible (we don't have curriculum fairs etc over here in Australia).  My friend & I spent a wonderful couple of hours sitting on their floor surrounded by curriculum!  

Spelling & Phonics:
After much discussion & investigation looking for Spelling & Phonics programs that my children could easily move into from their Spalding background, I had put it down to two excellent options ( & I want to emphasise that  they are both indeed excellent options): All about Spelling & LEM Phonics.  I really prayed about this as both are highly recommended and I discussed this in depth with a friend who uses both these curriculum choices with different children.  In the end we decided to use LEM Phonics for a few reasons:
~I could visit the LEM shop as it is located in Canberra which is only 2 1/2 hours away (I didn't make the actual decision until I looked at the physical program).
~ It is based upon the Spalding method ensuring an easy (I hope) transition across to it.
~It is written for Australians.  If you've used phonics curriculum from other countries then you know how it must be adapted for our speech (such as 'a' has 5 common sounds here in Australia, while in the US it has just 3).  It seems other countries just don't pronounce words correctly ;)  LOL!  Thankfully I was already doing this while using Spalding so the children know the various Australian sounds. This confusion can prove to be so frustrating for the children  particularly when they are first learning to read & one of my boys really struggles with this.
~ It is a proven, well used method.  I have many friends here who use it & recommend it (& yes, their children can read & write :))
~ It has all inclusive student workbooks.
~ It has thorough, well written, easily followed & adaptable teaching manuals (YAY !!)
~ It can be taught at the student's individual level rather than grade level.
~ It has a Biblical basis (this is our personal choice & if of utmost priority to our family).

LEM Phonics will be used by our younger 3 as Zai has progressed past this stage.   I am fast tracking Ellie through the latter stages of LEM phonics as she would be almost finished the program had she begun it at the start of her formal education (it finishes around 4th to 5th grade depending on the child). I still hope it will be beneficial to her though as I want her to have a thorough knowledge for proper text composition as she is a very talented story teller.

This left Spelling for Zai.  I was clueless as to what to do as he has just this final year of primary school left before high school,  but it is still critical that he doesn't waste this year & instead works hard on this important skill. I wanted something that included activities to complete daily with the hope that by the end of the week he would have learnt his spelling words (I use the weekly list & test at end of the week method of teaching spelling.)  I looked all over the Internet for recommendations, but wasn't satisfied with any options I found.  It wasn't until I was able to visit the LEM shop & chose Spelling 6 by BJU press which compliments their main English curriculum.  It comes complete with a 'home teachers edition' teaching manual & an all inclusive workbook.

This is a very easy subject to teach as my older two children read all  * the * time.  I do encourage a large range of genre's to be read, but both children seem eager to read anything & everything they can get their hands on.  I was hoping to get them to keep a  record of everything they read last year, but it went by the wayside as Zai can read 3 chapter books in one day (I'm not kidding ~ we quiz him on them).  I am still hoping they will record at least some books they have read in 2014 & write at least 4 reviews (one per term). The twins are getting to be good little readers too, however I still require them to read aloud to me daily.  We have been using the Fitzroy reading program because it's what I had here (thanks to my Mum who purchased it for my younger sisters & then handed it onto me when I had children).  It is a well-proven program which has been around for a long time.  Slowly the student progresses their way through the readers at their own pace while completing the complimentary worksheets.  We will continue to use this for the boys with the hopes that by the end of the year they will have progressed completely to chapter books (one has just started). We are still using our subscription to the online program Reading Kingdom which I reviewed last year.  The twins are enjoying it, but Ellie decided at the end of last year it was just too babyish for her.  I also like Reading Eggs & may decide to use it throughout the year (with the boys only though, I don't feel it holds any real educational value for Zai & Ellie).

This is an interesting year in the children's handwriting department as both 'sets' of children have spent at least 2 years learning their current handwriting style & I don't need to teach anything new this year (the twins are printing & Zai & Ellie are using cursive). It is more about reminding them to use correct letter formation whilst they are writing.  The twins can begin cursive at the end of the year, however I am choosing not to begin them too early as they need to focus on their other work instead.  Zai & Ellie do need to complete their third lot of basic cursive sheets (I use the ones HERE which is the style that I learnt so I feel more able to teach).  I have also purchased a copybook of a selection of  Robert Louis Stevenson poems by In the Hands of a Child.  I intend to use it with the twins printing the work & the other two using their best cursive handwriting.  I think that just the basic practice of writing with correct punctuation will not only help their handwriting, but also the writing skills.

Selected Poems of Robert Louis Stevenson-Manuscript Ebook

I have been specifically asked about how I assess my children's work.  I started writing this out, but it got far too long (as if this post isn't long enough), so I intend to write a whole post on this important subject in the near future!

I hope this gives you a glimpse into our homeschooling here at Sunnyside Farm. While I do not do everything perfectly & am not a particularly talented teacher, I am passionate about ensuring my children are well educated & ready for whatever career the Lord leads them to!

Have a wonderful day friends

If you would like to visit the other ladies taking part in this curriculum fair please visit:

3 Reasons to Read to Your Teens by Susan @ Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

Language Arts {Virtual Curriculum Fair} by Chareen @ Every Bed of Roses

A Classical Take on 6th Grade Language Arts by Christy @ Unexpected Homeschool

The Power in a Word by Michele@ Family, Faith and Fridays

The Latin Road to English Grammar Volume 1 by Kristi K. @ The Potter's Hand Academy

Starting a Foreign Language in Elementary School by Amy @ Eclectic Homeschooling

These are the words we say by Christa @ Fairfield Corner Academy

Our Curriculum Choices 2014 ~ English by Renata@Sunnyside Farm Fun

Virtual Curriculum Fair: A World of Words by Joelle @ Homeschooling for His Glory

It Starts with the Alphabet by Kristen @ Sunrise to Sunset

Playing w/ Words-Charlotte Mason Style by Lynn P @ Ladybug Chronicles

Our PreK-1st Grade Language Arts Mix by Tauna @ Proverbial Homemaker

Fun (or Not) With Spelling by Nicole @ Schooling in the Sun

Word Nerd Love by Lisa N@Golden Grasses

Unconventional Reading Lessons While Homeschooling by Lori@My Journeys Through Life

My Favorite Writing Curriculum for our Boys by Monique @Living Life and Learning

Virtual Curriculum Fair: Playing With Words - Language Arts  by Stacie @Super Mommy To The Rescue

Fun With the Language Arts by Mary @ Winecup Christian Homeschool

Our Grammar Path by Laura @ Four Little Penguins

Virtual Curriculum Fair !!! by Jessica @ Modest Mama

Creating a High School English Course (or two) by Debra @Footprints in the Butter

Language Arts in Our Homeschool This Year by Laura @ Day by Day in Our World

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