Six Picks For '06

True confessions: I am a curriculum junkie. This malady, not uncommon to homeschool moms, means that I am always eager to look at new books and educational materials. My bookshelves, found all over the house, overflow. And because of my addiction, when my editor, Mary Pride, writes to ask if I can handle a new batch of review materials, I rarely turn her down. It is just such plain fun for all of us to open the mystery boxes to see what she has sent this time!

When we first started homeschooling many years ago, curriculum choices were much more limited. There is some fantastic curriculum being written these days, much of it created by other homeschool parents. Every year we choose to use some new materials, while sticking with some of our family’s tried and true.

Now that we are half-way through the current school year, I feel fairly confident in recommending some of our new finds. Here are some nutshell reviews of my favorite new materials, plus one “old friend” that is so wonderful I have to mention it.

1. Trail Guide to Bible Geography
Can you draw Abraham’s journeys on a map? Do you know where Mount Nebo is located? Could you sketch a rough outline of the Babylonian or the Assyrian Empire on a map? Just as a solid understanding of world geography is foundational to studying world history, Bible geography helps us to have a fuller understanding of the Old and New Testaments. Trail Guides includes daily map drill questions on three levels, weekly mapping on large outline maps, and tons of ideas for activities and further research. My children (Amanda – 3rd grade to Kristen – 9th grade) especially enjoy making overlay maps and answering the atlas questions. The course progresses chronologically through the Bible. Each child needs his own set of large outline maps, and preferably his own atlas.

2. Phonics of Drawing
Crafts – terrific. Art history – no problem. But teaching a true studio art class has always been beyond my abilities. With the Phonics of Drawing I feel we are closer than we’ve ever been to meeting this goal. This CD-Rom provides you with 30 step-by-step lessons which give you experience with real art media: several forms of charcoal, oil pastels, and colored pencils. You’ll learn about shapes, blocking, rendering, shadows, color theory, perspective, style, portraiture and composition. Since each lesson is presented on three levels you and all your school-age children can work together. Tuesday afternoons are art days at our house, and we are having a lot of fun while learning some basic art principles. I wish I’d had this one when Kara was young.

Exploring Creation With Zoology 1: Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day
Biology is our science discipline this year, and we hit it up at several different levels. In preparation for working more independently, Jonathan (6th grade) is studying zoology using Apologia’s latest in their new elementary series. I am so impressed with this course! With this book you’ll spend an entire year on flying animals - birds, bats, flying dinosaurs, and insects. Each chapter has meaty, well-written information with terrific photographs and illustrations. Notebook activities, carefully chosen internet sites, plus hands-on projects and experiments flesh out each chapter. You could use this with all your elementary students as a group, or allow an older elementary child to work alone as Jon is doing. He really loves this, and I know we’ll be using more in this series.

Buckles and Bobbins: A Beginning Sewing Book for Boys
Sewing for boys? That’s the question I asked when I received this review book. In our home, previously sewing has been a skill learned only by the girls. But my husband is into ultra-light weight backpacking gear, and he’d already figured that the cheapest way to obtain it is to make it ourselves. So it was not difficult to interest Jonathan in learning to sew with the fun projects in this book. His second project, a cool duffle bag, won reserve grand champion in the county fair this summer. I’ve used many other books to teach my girls to sew, and this one excels them all. Great projects, super instructions, full-sized patterns. Moms will love the section at the back called “Life Skills,” which teaches how to sew on a button, mend holes and rips, and iron a shirt. The companion girls’ book, Stitches and Pins, is good, but if I had to choose one I’d go with the boys’ book.

History-Based Writing Lessons in Structure, Style, Vocabulary, and Grammar
As a math/ science person, teaching writing has always been my Achilles’ heel. Over the years we’ve found some success with Andrew Pudewa’s Institute for Excellence in Writing program, but consistent implementation has been difficult. History Based Writing, with thoroughly planned weekly lessons, source texts, grade sheets, and even finished examples, makes Mr. Pudewa’s system so much more workable! Written for co-op classes, this course is working well with my class of two. Amanda (9) and Peter (10) are making great strides this year. You’ll have to have some experience with the IEW program, but if you do and are looking for help in actually using it, this is an outstanding resource.

And finally, here’s one awesomely wonderful “old friend.” Tah dum…… (Drum Roll…)

6. The Potter’s School
We discovered this on-line school five years ago when Andrew took physics. Since then my oldest students have taken from one – four classes each year.

Live classes meet once a week for 90 minutes. Teachers use white boards and PowerPoint or other visual presentations to teach. Students can talk through chat boxes or microphones. This year Kristen has biology, second year Latin, HTML, and Intro to Literature. Jonathan is taking a Writer’s Workshop class. Since Jon’s class is for sixth graders, parents also attend, and I’m getting my first experience on sitting in on a weekly class. What fun it is to hear the other students who live literally around the globe. My kids have had classmates from Croatia, Thailand, South Africa, and even Antarctica. There is something so encouraging about sitting down to hear the sweet southern voice of Jon’s teacher, Mrs. Ives, or one of his classmates as they pray to open class or read a portion of their work.

Several things make TPS so fantastic: incredible godly teachers and administrators, high academic standards, and wonderful families. My children have had such great friendships with other Potter’s School students. In their courses they’ve been pushed academically and challenged to think deeply and biblically about everything from the Chronicles of Narnia to Shakespeare, genetics to the Civil War. People often ask me how I can teach high school while still caring for and homeschooling so many younger children. My secret weapon (not very secret) is Potter’s School.


Hind's Feet said…
Encore!! More more! Okay, please may we have some more?

I LOVE reading your comments, having seen the truth of it all by speaking with your children and hearing their views on the choices as well. Feel free to post more!
Anne said…
Hi Kim,

Thanks! I'd wavered about posting this, not sure if it would be helpful/interesting to anyone. Sure - I'll try to throw out some more reviewettes from time to time of things we really like.

P.S. We're down one more computer, and the one I'm on now thinks I'm a native Spanish speaker. I'm sure that is because of something we've done on this one for the kids' Spanish program. Anyway, it makes it more challenging to figure out Blogger. :)
Hind's Feet said…
Hi Anne, We have that happen with French sometimes. There should be a little keyboard thing or word at the bottom right on your toolbar. If you right click it I think you can change back. I ended up with "English International" one day and all my punctuation was quite odd. The joys of many users on one computer. But, I am SOOOO thankful for TPS AND the computer working that I would gladly deal with it.

Oh, here is a hint. We are looking for US History for all grades...

We just started Bethie on SOS Math, went back to the third grade level, and I am finding I am quite happy with it, as she is also. Makes for a bit of break from each other and allows time for Shoshi and for Bethie to experience a different teaching style. All good, so far.

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