Friday, April 19, 2013

Our Reading Curriculum for 2012-2013

One of the biggest tasks of homeschooling is choosing what curriculum or learning plan to use.  It is overwhelming to choose as there are so many options available.   Talking to other families who homeschool and doing a lot of research on-line has been invaluable in the decision making process.  Although I've been "homeschooling" our kids from the moment they were adopted, this school year was the first official year for us as our son is now five.  I wanted to share with you what we've done this year for reading. (Keep in mind that he's doing 1st grade reading this year.)  I apologize for how long this is, but hopefully it will be a help to you!  

There are tons of products out there for teaching a step-by-step approach to phonics.  In 2011, I purchased Hooked on Phonics (pre-K thru 2nd grade pack) to teach my son how to read.  It was a season in my life where I was constantly tired with one child who was energetic all day and another (newly adopted) who would not sleep at night.  I had to have a reading curriculum that would require little or no prep from me, and be engaging enough to interest my high octane four year old.  H.O.P. is definitely all of that, and it doesn’t require any handwriting in the early books.  It’s pricey, but a lot cheaper than preschool!  Now that I’m not exhausted all the time, I would not choose Hooked on Phonics as my go-to reading curriculum.  Since we have it, I’m using the preschool activities with our daughter.  However, I rarely use it with our son as we’ve found other books that suit us better.  We do use H.O.P. as a supplemental to get more practice in areas (like consonant blends) that challenge him.  We skip the companion videos completely as they seemed to decrease my son’s ability to focus.

What we really love for learning phonics…Explode the Code workbooks.  Yes, there’s writing, but we modify whenever possible to keep the frustration level down.  These workbooks are simple with silly illustrations and goofy sentences.  They teach phonics in a step-by-step sequence with lots of opportunity for practice, and the kids like them because they’re funny. There is a great three workbook series for pre-readers that I just purchased called Get Ready for the Code.  My daughter (age 3) and I are really enjoying book A, and it’s perfect for her ability level.  My son (age 5 ½ ) is currently working on Explode the Code book 3. We started using Explode the Code when H.O.P. got too challenging (it moves along quickly) for my son, and he began to strongly resist learning to read.  We took a break from the hard stuff and had fun going slowly through the blends in Explode the Code book 2.  Once we got through that book, he was back on track with reading and eager to read out loud with me again.

Rather than go right back to H.O.P. where we’d left off, I decided to start something fresh so we could distance ourselves from the frustration that had caused my son to plateau before Explode the Code.  Thanks to a good friend who homeschools, we decided to try the Pathway Reading Series.  There are 13 books in the series that range from first to eighth grade.   The first book is called First Steps, and is considered a beginning of the year first grade book.  It's hard to find these books, but Exodus Books always has them in stock as so many homeschool families love them.  They are very also very reasonably priced at $6.00 for a hard-bound book, and $2.50 for the workbooks.

Pathway Reading Series begins with First Steps (1st grade) and ends with Our Heritage (8th grade).

We all love this series of books!  My son and I read the stories aloud together and my daughter eagerly listens in.  I love the books because they are similar to what I had when I learned to read back in 1981.  I also chose these books because they teach values through the stories like sharing, obedience, kindness, and being helpful.  The characters are fascinating to my kids, and the stories engage their interest.  The books have simple black and white drawings.  These books were created for the Amish, so there are no pictures of people in them.   I like this because my kids are free to invent their own images of what the characters might look like.  They do enjoy the black and white illustrations of animals and farm life.

There are also workbooks that go along with each book.  The workbooks are very basic in appearance, but that’s fine with me.  I pick and chose which pages to do, focusing on activities that test comprehension, critical thinking, and grammar.  We skip a lot of busy work, and often I will write in the answers as the lines are too tiny for my son’s level of handwriting.  There are auditory tests where he has to circle the word I say, or chose the picture that matches the scenario I read about.  I especially like to do these pages since his answers give me a better understanding of his listening and comprehension skills. 

To round out our reading curriculum, we read aloud twice daily to both of our kids.  We often visit the library to have fresh stories to enjoy together.  I try to get books to engage each of my children individually and some books that they both will like.  We also get books with a CD so they can sit together and listen to a story being read to them.  Most nights, my husband has been reading a novel to the family.  He’s read: The Hobbit, Wind in the Willows, Little House in the Big Woods, Stuart Little, and the entire series about Henry Huggins by Beverly Cleary.  Of course, there was some editing of certain things when it was inappropriate for little ears to hear.  I’ve been impressed with the kids’ ability to listen to a chapter and actually comprehend some or most of it.  They really enjoy this family time and often beg for another chapter.  Love it!

My husband reading The Gruffalo's Child to our two cuties.

A great resource to inspire reading together is a book called First Favorites by Veritas Press.  It recommends 13 different fairly well-known children’s books, some classic and some more modern.  After reading the book aloud, there are activity pages to do together.  It’s writing intensive, which we skipped for reasons already mentioned.  However, it was still fun for us to go beyond the story and do something fun together.  For example, after reading the story Blueberries for Sal, we learned about how bears hibernate.  We colored pictures of bears and then tucked the pictures away in closets so they could hibernate.  When spring arrived, we took our pictures out and celebrated that the bears woke up.  I also bought some blueberries and we made a blueberry pie! 

In a 2012 post, The Next Steps Toward Learning to Read, I mentioned some great books to check out for beginning readers.  These books are very easy so your just learning to read child can delight in reading a story to you. 

Got some great reading books or ideas to share?  Leave me a comment.  I'd love to hear from you.

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