Today I’m sharing our choices for math and language arts skills for the new school year as my oldest child enters 4th grade. Many of our selections are continuations of past years with a few changes to things that just weren’t working, as usual. Our homeschool curriculum and philosophy is ever-changing and fluid based on the needs of our lives at the time and those of my individual children.
I have learned in the past couple of years, to prioritize the three R’s, as it were, to avoid falling behind grade level when life gets crazy. Anything else learned is gravy on top, and as long as my children can read, write, and do age appropriate mathematics, they will have the tools and education to pursue knowledge in any other avenue they so desire at any point in their lives they so choose. As such we utilize workbook and textbook formats for the foundations of these subjects while preferring literature and experiences for everything else so that the kids are exposed to ideas and gaining knowledge without the stress of hitting benchmarks or enduring testing. I’ll give our choices for History, Literature, and Reading, as well as Science, Art, and Technology in other later posts. I’ll also cover what we choose to do for extracurricular activities to supplement our homeschooling.
Saxon Math 5/4 with DIVE Instructor Videos and xtramath.org Fact Practice
We have been doing Saxon Math since the Kindergarten book, and though at times it is a lot of work and repetition, it works very well for retention for my daughter. I will admit, we often leave out memorization or practice exercises that feel excessive for an academically gifted child on the spectrum with a knack for recall because it doesn’t interfere with her understanding of the concepts for us to do so. If I ever notice something slipping, we add that practice back in until she is up to speed.
This year, we began the new to us format of the older grade books which at first made Anya a bit nervous. But, for the first time, she is able to do her math work completely independent from me until it’s time to check for mistakes. She watches the DIVE video while taking notes, then reads through the textbook lesson and works through the practice problems. Thus far she is doing very well and has yet to ask me a single question or miss a problem for anything other than a simple adding mistake. The provided graph paper worksheets for working out problems have also been very helpful to aide her in developing better habits of writing smaller and being more organized, which is a must in math. This is something that her fine motor skill struggles have made difficult for her in recent years as she needed to be able to line up columns and would sometimes end up with a confusing mess.
I do not utilize Saxon’s timed math fact sheets as there is already so much to do in a single lesson for Saxon that it is far too time consuming with a child who panics with timers put in place by me and gets distracted when writing things down on paper. Instead, I opted for timed practice online through the free program on xtramath.org, which has done wonders for her mental math skills in the two years we’ve used it for addition and subtraction. This year we’re implementing the full program to include multiplication and division, and she is whizzing through the addition section in review without difficulty. Doing it on the computer gives her a break from all the workbook writing, and takes the teacher role away from me for a subject that previously has been one that I experienced a lot of time lost during due to Anya dragging her feet just to get at me when she was in a mood. Having her independence has been a major boost in her morale concerning math, and a relief for me as someone who is not math gifted especially when it comes to teaching more than the basics to someone else.
Wordly Wise 3000 Book 4
Having completed our phonics work with Explode the Code last school year, we switched gears to Wordly Wise this year for vocabulary enrichment. You can begin it in earlier years, but our phonics curriculum did a pretty good job of introducing new words at those lower levels in addition to her reading so I decided to wait until vocabulary could replace an existing item in our homeschool daily agenda rather than add yet more to it. Anya is doing well working through this independently, and the reading comprehension sections in each lesson were something she needed practice with. Inferring answers that aren’t in black and white on the page is definitely not something she is strong in and tends to panic when she can’t find one written out, so she’s learning to trust her thought processes and not rely on answers placed directly within the page since they don’t always exist. I feel confident that this alone will make doing Wordly Wise worth it as the year progresses.
Handwriting Without Tears: Cursive Success & Building Writers Level E
Anya has been using the Handwriting Without Tears program since PreK and the cursive portion since the latter part of 2nd grade. She loves that she’s getting to learn cursive, and the workbooks have always been pretty simple for her to do independently. Learning Without Tears released their new Building Writers series this spring, and we bought the 3rd grade level book to test out before deciding to stick with it moving into this school year. Creative writing is a favorite subject for Anya so these books allow her to independently learn the aspects of writing for both research and creative purposes in small chunks without me having to put as much effort into coming up with and guiding assignments. We previously have used several different programs, most recently Sonlight’s integrated Creative Expression, for writing practice, but I struggled with the amount of parental involvement on top of our other Sonlight choices, which I’ll discuss more in a later post. This new series is meant to be used as a supplement, but there are blank template pages within each unit for the various styles of writing that I either let Anya choose or assign topics for in order to keep her writing experience well rounded. We’ll switch to something more rigorous when this program ends after 5th grade and focus more now on simple mechanics and the joy of writing so that she stays inspired to pursue it instead of getting frustrated.
Easy Grammar: Grade 4
As with writing, we have tried several different grammar programs over the years. I always felt like things didn’t review enough for retention, but didn’t want a program that added in writing since we covered that elsewhere. And most of them, again, still didn’t spiral back through concepts enough for me. Last year, about halfway through the year, we stopped using the Sonlight language arts grammar portion that was included in the Creative Expression mentioned above and switched to Easy Grammar. In a few minutes a day, Anya can work through grammar exercises that build on each other to get a better grasp of sentence structure. The difference in her understanding has been phenomenal. We worked double time to finish the book and begin book 4 for this school year, and it wasn’t hard at all for her to do 3 or 4 pages in a day if necessary. I am thrilled to finally feel a curriculum “click” for us in the realm of grammar after so many years of feeling like we just weren’t quite getting it.
All About Spelling: Level 4
All About Spelling is a progress at your own speed program that we flew through at first when we began it in 1st grade and then worked through painfully slowly in the following years due to life experiences when we prioritized other subjects. This year I think we’ll work through it pretty quickly since we’re in a better routine. I do have to be involved with this one to teach the lesson, but thanks to a release of their iPad app we no longer have to use a whiteboard with physical magnetic letter tiles which keeps things so much simpler. I love that this program teaches spelling phonetically which matched up to our previous phonics curriculum and allows Anya to understand the rules of English spelling rather than learn themed word sets. I wish we all learned spelling this way! Even though she can’t do it independently, we will continue using this for the long haul until we complete level 7.
Having most of our language arts and math materials be workbooks that require a few minutes a day each of practice that can mostly be done independently has made this year go so much more smoothly overall than when I had to be more involved with everything. It allows me to put more focus on the things I do with her while working with my younger ones or getting my own work done during her independent work. I definitely don’t feel spread as thinly as I did in the past.