383 | Jessica's Curriculum Reviews (Jessica Smartt) | REPLAY

383 | Jessica's Curriculum Reviews (Jessica Smartt) | REPLAY

Show Notes:

A homeschooling mom of nine years, Jessica has tried quite a few types and kinds of curricula. Here she shares her family's favorites, as well as a few they've tried and ended up ditching.

About Jessica

Jessica is a wife, homeschool mom of three, author, and blogger. She lives in sunny North Carolina on a big family farm with chickens, goats, cousins, and lots of mud.


Jessica’s Curriculum Reviews (Blog Post)


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Show Transcript:

Jessica Smartt Hi, this is Jessica Smartt. I am one of the hosts of The Homeschool Solutions podcast. I'm so glad to be with you today. Today, I'm going to be sharing a lot about some of the curriculum that I love and some that I haven't loved as much. I have been homeschooling now for eight years and we've tried a good number of things. Obviously, this is just my opinion, so as you're listening don't take offense if it's something that you love. Of course we all have different preferences and different things work for different children. So some things that I've really loved, I have close friends and family that it hasn't worked so well for. So I certainly realize that. A little bit about my children and my family: I have a boy who is in seventh grade and he enjoys school and has a lot of goals. He seems to enjoy both the right-brain and left-brain things. So for him, my challenge has been to make sure that he's appropriately receiving the academic challenge that he needs. And then I have a middle-child boy who is 11, in fifth grade, and he's very bright, does not love school as much, but great at math--probably stronger at math than my older--and also strong reading and writing. Handwriting has been a struggle with him. I think I had postpartum depression when I was supposed to be teaching him how to make his letters. So I'm pretty sure that's what went wrong there, and we've been playing catch-up ever since. So that's a lesson for all of us to do the beginning steps right because it really does come back to bite you. So my youngest is a girl who is in first grade and I assumed that she... She's very verbal and likes to read and I assumed she wouldn't love math as much. She's done fine at math, but has struggled with math facts. But she's done better than I thought she would. So all that is to say, none of those kids at this point are struggling with any particular learning challenges. We have other issues that we won't go into. But school has not been a terribly rocky road at this point. And I can definitely see it picking up steam as we're heading down into the middle school and high school years. But that's just a little bit about our family so that you kind of know the background as you're interpreting what I'm saying.

Jessica Smartt When I began homeschooling, I started out using Sonlight... Oh, I should also say that none of this is... I'm not an affiliate for any of these things. And you can find links to all of this in the show notes. And I also have a blog post that I'll link to that has all of this. But when I began homeschooling, I was overwhelmed with how to structure it all and the planning part, and so I did Sonlight and I have just loved parts of that. I ended up not going further. I think three years is what we did with Sonlight. But I do still recommend it to overwhelmed moms who want an exact plan and who work really well with exact plans. It did work well for me, and what I love is the reading aloud aspect, and I've carried that on even though I'm not purchasing curriculum from them. And I will also say that I do get book recommendations from them. I often go on their reading lists just to kind of gauge A. age level appropriateness and B. get some suggestions because they have some really great ones on there. So I'm not sorry that I did Sonlight for several years.

Jessica Smartt Backing up a little bit with preschool--this is like a five-star pick, and I have a couple five-star picks--but Rod and Staff preschool curriculum. They are staggered. There's a very early three/ four and--no, I think they actually say two/three--and there's four books. And I'm not a huge fan of that really, or just early... Too many workbooks at that stage period. But the curriculum that goes A through N or O, and each book corresponds with a letter, I've done with each of my children. And then at the end on the last child, I bought another set just basically because I was so sad that I would never have another child to do them with. And we didn't even finish it all. But there's so well done. A little bit outdated, they'll have a picture of a flour mill or something or an old-time well pump or something. My kids are like, "What in the world is that?" But they are just so sweet. And I love the diversity of activities. I think they're amazing prep into kindergarten. So highly recommend those for preschool. Oh the other thing I did really enjoy was the Homegrown Preschoolers curriculum. But I am not a crafty person, so I wish I would have done more of the activities than I did. A lot of it is kind of just messy and lots of stuff. Not all of it though. But it was still a really great resource and I would definitely recommend having that on hand if you can afford it. "A Year of Playing Skillfully" is the name of that curriculum.

Jessica Smartt So back into kindergarten... If I were to do it again and I had somebody ask what curriculum I would recommend... If you, like I said, if you're a highly structured person and you can afford Sonlight and you really like being told what to do, and that would just alleviate a lot of your worries, and you're very apprehensive about homeschooling, Sonlight is a great way to go. I think if I were to do it over again, I would do The Good and the Beautiful. And I will disclaim by saying I have only done The Good in the Beautiful language arts curriculum, but I have heard great things about some of their geography units and even their math. I've been really impressed with those workbooks. They are so well thought up. They are just good and beautiful. That's really the best way to say it. I started using it with a child who was struggling in handwriting and I had had it recommended in a Facebook group and just fell in love with the curriculum and then ended up purchasing it for Language Arts. And it's so wonderful. So if I was doing it again, I would do Good in Beautiful for kindergarten. I would probably look over all of the subjects and maybe consider just buying a whole curriculum package.

Jessica Smartt I will say--and this is another five-star review, and I know people are strongly divided about this--but we're a Saxon math family. I did it all through Calculus in school and just felt like it gave me a really good foundation. I think it really depends on the child. And I have some nieces and nephews that it definitely did not work for and they needed, whether it was Math-U-See or Horizons or Singapore, they just needed a different approach. It didn't work. But I think if you're someone who kind of is good at math and likes a systematic approach, I think... And when I say "kind of is good in math" I don't mean the parent because especially in the early years, it's amazing how they have it set up. And I wish it was that way in the older years when the math starts getting really hard. But in the beginning anyone could do it because it's literally a script and it says, "Parent, say this. Then say this. Show them this." It's very, very easy to follow. But I think as you get a little bit older, if kids tend to struggle with math, I know some families don't stick with Saxon. But the other thing I'll say about Saxon is the kindergarten is kind of useless. So I have with all of my kids started out with first grade for kindergarten, and it's a great stepping stone right in. So Saxon for us is five stars. I know it's not for everyone, but we are hanging in there. So far we're still working through almost at Algebra 1/2 or Algebra 1. I think we may skip Algebra 1/2. We'll see how he does in 8/7. But anyway, the other thing we absolutely love for math is Beast Academy. And I haven't used any of their textbooks. I have just bought a subscription. You can actually use a lot of different levels for a subscription online and there's nothing like it. I don't even know how to describe it. It's a very challenging math course that almost leans towards logic and reasoning, although they do cover conventional math skills like dividing and fractions and all that. But super hard, kind of S.A.T. questions, it feels like--that kind of thinking--but it's also fun. My kids seem to really enjoy it, so we just sort of supplement with that. But I definitely know families that just do Beast Academy and they do have a workbook as well as the online. So if you're just kind of looking for something to supplement and almost, like I said, S.A.T.-prep kind of thing or logic/reasoning skills, I've been really impressed with Beast Academy.

Jessica Smartt And the other thing we did for a couple of years that I think is really cute is Life of Fred. And there's nothing like it I can't even describe... It starts... We did it in the upper elementary grades, but it does start earlier than that. And it's these cute stories and she has quite a sense of humor. Very well done and unique. And if you're having a child that's absolutely hating math or you just feel like you want math from a different angle. I would check out one of those books. You can preview it online. But I really liked them. My kids did not like them as much as they've enjoyed Beast Academy, although they did like it better, I think, than Saxon. But it's a very unique approach to math. So there's math that we've loved. I did not like... I'm not as thrilled with Horizons math. I just don't think it covers everything. I haven't seen all of the units. That's the only other one that I can comment on that I wasn't a huge fan of. We did it, I think first and second grade and kindergarten. And kindergarten, it was okay, but then I just much preferred Saxon. So, just my opinion.

Jessica Smartt So for history, as I said, we started out in the beginning with just some of the readers that Sonlight recommended. And then I switched to Story of the World and we made it all the way through four. I loved the first one and then subsequently lost interest as we went along, and the activities were just okay. They had some coloring pages and some timeline activities and a crossword thrown in there. But a friend recommended that I check out Mystery of History. And I expected it to be the same kind of thing, but I have loved Mystery of History. It is amazing! And I'm really impressed with how much more my kids have retained. We haven't maximized the activities because that's kind of a weakness of mine as a homeschool mom, but there are some really good ideas. But simply reading and making little index cards for the characters, which she kind of talks you through... And then we're doing a timeline book to kind of show when things happened in relation to others. It's a strongly Christian curriculum. Actually, a lot of chapters on Bible characters, which I was tempted to skip but I like how she ties them in so that you're learning what happens at the same time as other things. So I ended up just leaving them in, even though they were stories that my children were already familiar with. So we did Volume I this year and I definitely am switching to Volume II next year. I've been really thrilled with it. I think it's very well done. So, I'll tell you what I didn't like for history and geography and also science. I bought some Evan-Moor workbooks off of Amazon when I felt like my kids maybe just needed a little bit more. That was probably during when we were just doing readers for history. And I was reminded why I don't love workbooks and the kids did not like them and I didn't like them and I don't think they retained much. So that was not something we love. But I do understand that for some kids it's a good fit. We also used the spelling one and I was not thrilled with that either. I really love, just to go back to The Good and the Beautiful, I love the way they do spelling. It's just so intuitive and very smart and doesn't overwork them every week with this huge long list of words. So anyway, that's in my "do not recommend" category.

Jessica Smartt For Bible, we began using the Egermeier's Story Bible, and a lot of people like it. I really just didn't. It felt a little lifeless to me. That was recommended by the Sonlight curriculum. But we've switched now to the... There's two units for family devotions... I can't ever say his name. Marty's his first name. But the first book is called Long Story Short, and it's weekly devotions on the Old Testament. And the next book is called Old Story New and it's weekly devotions on the New Testament. They are so well done. The questions are just what you would want. The examples are just what you would want. It really is like taking us straight through the Bible. You know, you read like a good chunk of the Bible every day. So it's a five-day-a-week lessons, and we only school four days a week so sometimes I skip the middle one. There's usually one that I can either group with another one or just skip. But they really would be great to do even just at night or in the morning and continue doing it through the summer. So super love those for Bible.

Jessica Smartt For science, my favorite hands down is Apologia. I think I loved it more than the kids. They weren't huge fans of the notebooking journals, and I bought the junior and the regular notebooking journals. I love the way she speaks. The animal unit, I just have such fond memories of. I would love to go back and do like the mammals and the sea animals. And then my oldest son in seventh grade, they're working through the General Science handbook during our co-op time and doing the experiments there, which is a huge win for me because, you know, experiments in science...not my strong point. But it's very well done, and I feel like he's getting a really excellent foundation in science. So I've been impressed on how it progresses. But for elementary kids... And when we did those, we just did them as a family. So sometimes the little one would just color and the older ones would be doing more involved exercises. I did really like the junior notebooks. My kids didn't, but I think a lot of kids that are more hands-on probably would. So I'm not saying don't get it, but the textbook for me was the big selling point. And you can also buy a CD of her reading them. And at times we did that and they kind of just played with Play-Doh or colored while we listened to her read them. So I have done all of the elementary-aged ones. And my least favorite was Astronomy, but we still learned a lot from that one.

Jessica Smartt So I tried something different this year with my sixth grader...no fifth grader on science and did an Abeka science unit, and I both love it and hate it. I think it's been very good for him because it has taught reading comprehension and it's just like a conventional school curriculum. It's not super fun, but I think for this student he needed a little bit more practice with reading comprehension and just like answering a question after the end of a chapter. And also it comes with a book of tests and quizzes and, like I said, it's just more of a conventional experience. And I don't know that he is loving it, but I think it's been really good for him and it's covered a lot of information. We just did the fifth-grade Abeka curriculum, and I actually got it used at our local store with the tests. And I kind of like that... You know, I think for each kid, it's important at some point to give them something that's a little bit of kind of a convention--this is just my opinion--of like what you might find in a conventional classroom, just to kind of give them that experience and to show you and them where there might be gaps. So I will not be continuing with Abeka science right now this next year for this child, but I think it's been good because we just were needing a little bit more structure. So I'm not really actually sure what I'm going to go back to for science, but... And I did also want to say for math that I tried Abeka math, and I did not like that at all. I do not recommend that. I felt like there were a lot of gaps, it wasn't quite hard enough, and she just did not learn as much as she could have. So I tried that actually in kindergarten, just for something different with my last child, and I wouldn't recommend that.

Jessica Smartt So let's see, a couple other things that I really love under the miscellaneous category. I love IEW--Institute for Excellence in Writing. This is something that I feel is best done in a group if you have the opportunity to do it in a co-op. We did it in Classical Conversations for two years and then I'm continuing to teach it at our homeschool co-op, and it's just so well done. I love it so much. I even taught it when I taught in a conventional school for seventh and eighth graders and felt like they all improved so much. So highly recommend those, and they correspond with the units that you're studying in history so you can pick which of the four units... They have a lot of other themed ones, but you can pick one to coordinate with whatever you're learning in history, which is super cool. So definitely recommend IEW writing units. And we're also using, in our co-op Speech Boot Camp by IEW, Andrew Pudewa, and that's been fantastic as well. We're watching the DVDs and then they have a little workbook that helps them structure out their speeches, so that's been great too. And a few other things I love under miscellaneous: We purchased a subscription to WORLD Watch, which is put out by the World News Institute, who also puts out WORLD Magazine, and it's like ten-minute daily episodes for kids about the news. I've learned so much and it's really well done, so I'm happy to support them. If you don't have the money for that in your budget, I actually was pretty pleased with CNN 10. And surprisingly, the gentleman who hosts CNN 10 is actually a homeschool dad as well. And I did not feel like there was much bias in that at all. So I do prefer the WORLD Watch, but CNN 10 is a good stand in my opinion.

Jessica Smartt I'm having my--and I'll link to this as well in the show notes--but I'm having my older two, 12-and-11-year-olds go through some Latin and Greek roots. I really looked for a Latin curriculum and I actually tried one that I didn't really love for a year. I don't remember what it was called. But I actually in the end just settled on these flashcards and I'm just making up my own quizzes for them. Or you could not and just kind of verbally quiz them. But it's just so... I feel like Latin roots are super helpful. I know that a lot of people dive all in on Latin, and that's not really our family's M.O., but I definitely think the roots are super helpful. So these cards have been great to enhance their vocabulary and just teach them that. So I'll link to the cards that we have. We just picked them up off of Amazon. And finally, I thought I would definitely share my favorite homeschool planner. This is obviously for mom. But I've tried several different things. I'm totally a planner junkie and love to buy them, but the one that I love the most is called the Ultimate Homeschool Planner and it's by Debra Bell. And I loved the broad, sweeping aspects of the planning. It has a really great section where you can brainstorm and even pray through goals for each child, and it has spaces for reading lists and all that kind of stuff. So it's not just academic, it really is like the whole picture of your family. And I took that with me on my personal retreat, and it was a great way to organize some of my thoughts and goals.

Jessica Smartt So I think that's all that I wanted to share with you guys today. Love to know your comments. Again, I'm not... This is just our family's opinion, but it's always nice to hear from moms what they use and what they love, and what worked and what didn't. So I'm happy to answer follow-up questions that you have. I'm sure I've left something out. Or if you're needing a link and you're not finding it. You can find me best on Instagram. I'm @Jessica.Smartt. And my blog is SmartterEachDay.com. There's some curriculum reviews on there. And I'm just glad to be with you today as we're wrapping up and launching into summer. I don't know about you, but I'm thinking a lot about what memories our families are going to make during the summer and what goals I have. And it's a great time to pick up my book, Memory Making Mom, about building traditions if you do not have that book. But it's also a great time to pick up Let Them Be Kids, because summer is a great time to let them be kids. It's always a great time to let them be kids, but it's a good read for the summer. So both of those books, available on Amazon and wherever books are sold. It's been a pleasure to be here with you today and hope you've gotten some good tips and are looking forward to resting a little bit over the summer as we then launch into the new year. So blessings for you today. Bye bye.

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