Jan 072013

Homeschooling Hearts & Minds Virtual Curriculum Fair ButtonI’m participating in the Virtual Curriculum Fair at Homeschool Heart and Mind again this year because I can’t get enough curriculum talk!

This is our 10th year of homeschooling and during that time we’ve used a lot of different resources for language arts. Some I’ve used with more than one child, other things have been just what one particular child needed. I’ve linked to reviews of the products that I’ve written. Other links are to ChristianBook.com where you can see the price. (Those are affiliate links, so I will make a small amount of money if you make a purchase.)

Let’s start with Phonics!

With my oldest son David, we used  Alpha Phonics. He was ready to learn to read and this simple book was all he needed.

When my daughter Anna was ready to learn to read, I bought Phonics Pathways. Honestly there was no reason to switch from Alpha Phonics except that I like curriculum and Phonics Pathways was recommended (at that time) in The Well Trained Mind.

Both of these books are very similar with one major difference. Alpha Phonics teaches with word families cat, bat, fat, rat while Phonics Pathways starts at the beginning of the word and teaches starting syllables – ba, be, bi, bo, bu and then adds letter to the end making bat, bet, bit, and but.

Then came William. He has had a very difficult time learning to read. I tried both of the above resources with him with no success. I had some limited success with Happy Phonics, but what has been by far the single most helpful resource for his reading was All About Spelling. Yes,  I know it’s a spelling program, but it seemed like it was just the thing to help him to understand decoding words in reading.

With Lizzie I have been blessed. She has learned to read without me teaching her! Some of it was her older brother and sister working with her and some of it was working on various on-line programs like Starfall, Reading Kingdom, and Reading Eggs. But I think a lot of it was that she was ready to learn.

It’s still too early to predict anything about my just turned 2 year old. But if interest in letters and liking to be read to are any indications of ease in learning to read, he will be a cinch!


What about Grammar?

With my 2 older children I have used identical resources for grammar study. They both started out with First Language Lessons and followed that by several years worth of Rod & Staff English. They’re both finishing off their English grammar studies with Analytical Grammar. It’s a rigorous program, but I love the philosophy of the author. She contends that grammar is a content subject with a body of knowledge to learn. So rather than learning and relearning the same things every year, why not learn all the grammar and be done with it? It is very heavy on diagramming of sentences. I won’t lie and say that my children love this program. BUT they do love the fact that they don’t have to do daily grammar lessons all year long. They do their intensive lessons, occasional review, and they’re done.

With William I have been very slowly working through Rod & Staff. I can’t see him doing well with Analytical Grammar, so we will probably continue with Rod & Staff the whole way through. The repetition and review that made my older children long for Analytical Grammar will probably be a great help for him.

I have been working through First Language Lessons some with Lizzie this year, but I’m finding it a bit more repetitive than I remembered. We’re often going over 3 or 4 lessons in one sitting. One new resource that I’m really enjoying is StoryTime Treasures from Memoria Press. It is covering some grammar along with reading comprehension questions.

Don’t forget Latin!

We have been studying Latin for a long time in our homeschool. Maybe too long.

Do I regret starting early with my oldest?


Could he have learned as much starting later?


David used Classical Academic Press curriculum for Latin. He started with Latin for Children and completed A, B, and most of C. Then he moved on to Latin Alive. That didn’t go as well. He made it through book 1 and about half of book 2, but he really was struggling with the material. Part of it was my fault and not being more strict about drill. Part of it is his personality. He really is just not that interested in Latin. But this year I have found a course that he is enjoying much more: Visual Latin. We didn’t start all the way at the beginning, but we did back up a bit to insure that he got a good review.

With Anna, it has been completely different. She started in Latin for Children, but when I received Latina Christiana to review, I switched her to that. It turns out that she thrives in the drill-heavy Memoria Press programs. If you’re trying to decide on a Latin program, you might find this comparison helpful.

If you’ve made it through my lengthy post, congratulations! Don’t miss reading other tips for teaching language arts. Here’s a list!

Nurturing Novelists = Building Strong Writers by Susan Anadale @ Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

Building Blocks of Education–Learning to Read  by Kristi Kerr @ The Potter’s Hand Academy

Finding Our Way Through Language Arts by Christy @ Unexpected Homeschool

How Does a Unit Study Teach Language Arts? by Nicole @ Schooling in the Sun

Our Language Arts Adventure by Linda @ Homeschooling6

2013 Virtual Curriculum Fair-Playing with Words: The Language Arts by Leah Courtney @ As We Walk Along the Road

Virtual Curriculum Fair-Playing with Words by Karyn @ Teach Beside Me

Virtual Curriculum Fair ~ Language Arts by Dawn @ Guiding Light Homeschool

Writing Help in a Critical Thinking book? by Missouri Mama @ Ozark Ramblings

Virtual Curriculum Fair: Foreign Language Immersion in the Homeschool by Tonia @ The Sunny Patch

Formula for Reading by Erin @ Delighting in His Richness

Words and Learning by Annette @ A Net In Time

A Custom Designed High School English Credit by Tech Wife @ A Playground of Words

Virtual Curriculum Fair 2013: Still Loving Language Arts by Pam @ Everyday Snapshots

Word Play by Lisa @ Golden Grasses

Learning Language Arts ~ 2012-2013 School Year by Laura O in AK @ Day by Day in Our World

Virtual Curriculum Fair – The Language Arts Department by Joelle @ Homeschooling for His Glory

Playing with Words:  The Language Arts by Christa Darr @ Fairfield Corner Academy: The Story of Our Life

Playing with Words:  Language Arts by April @ Coffee, Cobwebs and Curriculum

What Language Arts looks like in our house – Are we doing it right? by Hillary M @ Our Homeschool Studio

Getting lost and finding our way in Language Artsby Piwi Mum @ Learning and growing the Piwi Way


Sep 152011


It’s kind of a dirty word to students and some educators. It invokes images of tedious copying of spelling words or rote recitation of math facts.

And in all honestly, it’s not something that has been a strong point in our homeschool up to now. I’ve got some “good” reasons. (Or maybe I should call them excuses since I’m being honest.)

  • Son #1 has been blessed with a memory that doesn’t require much drilling.
  • The attitude about drill has been less than stellar.
  • It takes me time  to go through flashcards or quiz effectively.

But to lock something into long-term memory there is going to be some drill required. Really. There is just no way around it. One could make the case that anything someone uses often they will remember, and if they don’t use it often enough to remember, then they can just look it up or figure it out when they need it. But I personally disagree. There are some things that I want my children to KNOW.

Big IQ kids

I was excited to find that I had been selected to review Big IQ kids.com as a member of TOS’s Homeschool Crew. Ideal for students in 2nd through 5th grades, Big IQ kids is designed to make practicing spelling, vocabulary, math, and even learning the states more fun than flash cards. In addition, children are rewarded for their time spent practicing with credits in the game area.

I assigned my middle son to work on Big IQ kids, since he is the only one in my family that falls in ideal age range.

We started out with math on the default setting.  There were a lot of problems in the problem set! (I think it was 50.) That was way too many for my son to do and maintain his focus.

Thankfully, I found the option to modify the math lessons.

That was a huge help. You can customize the problems so that your child is practicing what he needs to practice, and you can customize the length of assignments.

My son loves maps so he tried out the U.S. States program next.

I like the way this game starts out very easy. In Level 1, the student is shown the location, spelling, capital, and abbreviation and asked to click on it or copy it. But I wish that there was an option to turn off State Spelling. Or maybe make it Step 4. Typing in the spelling of the states (even though it was just copying) was too tedious for my son, who has difficulty reading and types by copying one letter at a time. So we didn’t get very far with this section.

The final section that we tried was the spelling/vocabulary section. First, I had the program generate a word list. The words were reasonable, but I soon realized that to use our time more effectively, I should enter my own spelling lists. That was simple to do.

Practicing the spelling words on-line was helpful to my son. It was nice that the program automatically included a definition of the word too.

Overall, I think this is a good program to provide extra practice in a fun way. Our favorite was definitely the math portion.  I recommend trying out the free versions and seeing if they program is a good fit for your child.

All of these programs are available in both a free and premium version, except the Spelling program. The Spelling is always free! The main difference between the premium and free versions is the progress tracking capability in the premium versions. The programs are available by subject, so you don’t have to subscribe to the whole program, just the subjects that you will use. You can compare the free and premium math versions and the free and premium state versions in greater detail on the website.

The MathFacts Program is available for $9.99/month or $49.99/year. The U.S. States Program is available for $39.99/year.


Disclosure: I was given a free subscription to both the U.S. States and MathFacts Programs in order to do this review. All opinions expressed are my own.





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Dec 042009

I have been hearing about All About Spelling for over a year now. It receives high praise on a popular homeschool message board, and it also was very popular with the crew members who reviewed the program last year. I confess I was a bit skeptical. I don’t like to make things more complicated than they have to be. I’d rather not have my children memorize a bunch of “unnecessary” rules to learn to read and spell.

And if my oldest were an only child, I’d probably still be thinking that.

All About SpellingI was very excited that All About Spelling was one of the Homeschool Crew vendors again this year and even more excited when I got to review the product this time. I really wanted to see what all the hype was about. Plus, I suspected that I had at least one child who might benefit from learning all those “unnecessary” rules.

I received the Starter Kit (includes letter tiles, magnets, and a phonogram CD rom), Level 1 and Level 2 Teachers Manuals and Student Packs to review. The student pack consists of flashcards with phonograms, words, and spelling rules, as well as the dividers to keep the cards organized. As I assembled the card box with the perforated cards and dividers, I was impressed by the organization of the system. Each card is color coded and numbered. (That comes in handy if someone dumps the box.)

The teacher’s manuals contain the lessons with explicit instructions on what should be taught each day. There are guidelines for what to review which is very helpful to me. I’m very obedient to follow instructions, but not very good at providing review on my own.

Here’s what I discovered.

All About Spelling is not a phonics program that consists of memorizing a bunch of spelling rules. It is a multi-sensory program that enables the student to UNDERSTAND the phonics. Sure, there are rules to remember, but using the tiles and the dictation helps to cement the rules in the student’s mind. It teaches the student to segment the word. To some people, it’s intuitive. But to others it is not! This spelling method provides a way to teach students how to break the words down into the sounds.

What I did was start at Level 1 with my 4th grade daughter. She’s a good reader, but not a good speller. Maybe that’s not the right way to put it. She does fine on standardized tests, but some of the spelling mistakes she makes are…well, they’re just odd.  It’s not that she just gets confused over which way to spell the long o sound in a particular word, but she leaves out whole syllables or reverses the order of letters.  We went through Level 1 at a fairly rapid pace because she was very familiar with her sounds, and she didn’t have any trouble with the short words presented in Level 1. But I wanted her to get used to the method of the program, plus All About Spelling recommends starting in Level 1. Honestly, there are a couple of rules in Level 1 that I did not know, like how to tell if c is making the /k/ sound or the /s/ sound at the beginning of the word. I knew how to pronounce the words, just not the why behind it. So, we’re ready to start Level 2.

This method holds a lot of promise for my daughter. I think just a more thorough understanding of phonics will help her spelling. Not to mention how much the practice of listening and segmenting the words will assist her.

But I’m really excited about trying this with my 7 year old son. I’ve been doing some research, and I highly suspect that he is dyslexic. All About Spelling is based on the Orton-Gillingham method, which is the recommended method to teach dyslexics to read and spell. Plus, he has difficulty writing and I think he will love the letter tiles.

I had hoped to start the program with my son before completing my review, but I needed to get my daughter through Level 1 first. (The student packs are essentially non-consumable, BUT it is difficult to use the same level with more than one student without additional student packs. The flashcards are filed based on whether they’re current, future, or already mastered so sharing the card box would be tough.) I’m ready to start with him and will have to give a report on that later.

All About Spelling is available from their website.

The price is on the high side, especially at the beginning if your child will be moving through the early levels quickly. But, the material is mainly non-consumable with the exception of a progress chart in Level 1. I’m not sure about the other levels, but the bulk of the student packs are the cards, which can be reused. I don’t think it is priced too high after seeing the content of the program, but I recognize that it may not be in the budget for many. But if it works for my son like I think it will, I expect to be purchasing Levels 3 – 6.


Disclosure: This product was provided to our family for free as members of the 2009-2010 Old Schoolhouse Magazine Homeschool Crew. Reviews and opinions expressed in this blog are our own. This post contains affiliate links.