Thursday, June 30, 2011

Building a Homeschool Library

As Avlyn and I work on cementing phonics concepts this summer, I started thinking about the books I have here at home. I am a self-confessed book addict, but I also like to sell or trade books for new ones. I usually sell at least 30 books in each yard sale we have, if for no other reason than to make room for new books. I hold on to the classics, but I will sell books that my kids outgrow. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to replace books like I used to because I haven't been able to find any good ones at discounted prices. This means that my home library has started to dwindle.

We are actively working through Phonics Pathways by Dolores G. Hiskes.

As her phonics skills become more concrete, I want to have a large selection of books available for her to read. Our curriculum for next year came with 8-10 books, but we don't pick up with those until halfway through the year, and the majority of them are a second grade level and not first. One thing I worry about is making sure my kids stay on the level they need to be on for reading. If, for some reason, she needs to go to public school, I don't want her getting put behind simply because her reading level isn't where the school system dictates.

For that reason, I'm constantly looking for lists or ideas that let me know the best resources to use in our homeschool. I found this web page on leveled book lists. I think this is a great resource for finding age or grade-level appropriate books to build your homeschool library. I may not buy all the books, but I plan on checking out quite a few from the library and have a rotating library this year. If she has a few that she really loves, I'll make sure to buy them and include them in our library.

If you're unsure how to choose age-appropriate books, here's an idea on how to understand reading levels. Some books make it easy and list the reading level as K-1, 2-3, etc... Others make it a little more difficult by putting decimal numbers on the back or spine of the book. It's not uncommon to go to the library and see a book listed as a 2.4, 1.8 etc.. reading level. When reading these types of levels remember that the first number is the grade level and the second number is the month in that grade level. For example, a book listed as 1.3 reading level is suitable for a child in first grade who has completed the first three months of first grade. Hope this helps some. Happy homeschooling!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Homeschool Freebie of the Month - Urban Bird Watching Kit

The freebie for June is an Urban Bird Watching Kit sponsored by Cornell Universities Lab of Ornithology. Basically you will need to register with the lab on the website and then request your kit by mail or download the kit from the website. It says you get a couple posters, the data kit for bird watching, a sticker, and a free packet of seeds. The purpose is to provide the data to the lab so they can complete their work and research on urban/city birds. Looks like a fun project. Enjoy and happy homeschooling!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

How to Save Money on Homeschooling Curriculum

With this being the first year that we've bought a prepackaged curriculum, I just realized the investment we would be making would require some budgeting. During my research, I saw packages for over $1,000 or for as little as $300. My goal was to see what I could get for $200, the amount I'd probably spend on school clothes for the year.

I knew that I needed reading, math, language arts, spelling, handwriting, phonics, history, and science as the core for first grade. Since Avlyn will be 7 in December, I will need to keep a record book and portfolio of her work that covers the basic subjects. I researched, read, looked at samples, prayed, and finally decided on what to get. If I purchased everything direct from the publisher I would spend around $465.00 But by looking at used curriculum and discount sites I spent exactly $245.56, over $200 less than buying from the publisher and not much more than what I was hoping to spend. Here's a breakdown of what I did, all paid prices include my shipping costs, too:

We decided to go with the Heart of Dakota curriculum. This curriculum is Christ-centered and offers everything needed for a full year. While I like most of their choices, there were some things I wanted to change. If I had purchased the entire curriculum from HOD, it would have cost me $305 - still very affordable, but even more over my budget than necessary. Also, I didn't need some of the elements in the package and didn't want one of the choices included. So I was off to mix and match and save.

Heart of Dakota - I purchased the economy package and added the science text for $121.37. This gave us all of our history, science, and the teacher manual which is definitely worth the money. The publisher recommended a certain emerging reader set that they sell for $65.33. I went on Amazon and searched for every title. I found every book for a reduced price and most were available for free shipping, making my emerging reader set $43.36  The curriculum also requires read aloud books in certain genres throughout the year. I chose not to purchase any of those and just waited for my teacher guide to arrive. When it did, I found the book list in the back and noted that at least one title from each genre is available at our library. Since these take a couple of weeks to go through, it's not really necessary to have all of them available when school starts for us. The company sells those books for around $50, our cost $0.00.

The next step was to find our math. HOD offers Singapore Math as the option. After much prayer and research, I chose to go ahead with Singapore over Horizons math. Now I could have purchased the workbooks needed directly from HOD, but they don't offer a reduced price on it unless I buy the entire package, which I wasn't doing. Now the HOD curricula only recommends the workbooks for first grade, but being that I'm new to Singapore Math and teaching math in a different way than I learned, I really wanted the textbooks and home instructor's guides that are available. So I was able to find both textbooks and the first home instructor's guide on Ebay for $23.00. I purchased the two workbooks from Christian Book Distributors for 20.97, making my math curriculum a total of $43.97. Had I purchased it all directly from Singapore, I would have spent around $70. I am waiting to see if I need the 2nd instructor's guide before purchasing it.

I wanted to get A Reason for Handwriting as our main writing curriculum. HOD does offer copywork as their handwriting program, but I thought A Reason For fit my daughter better. We will probably do HOD copywork the second half of the year. From the publisher the workbook is around $15. I went on ebay and got the workbook and the teacher guide good for K-6th grade for $12. If I had purchased both of those from the publisher it would have been $47.50.

We still need to work on phonics next  year and I've chosen Phonics Pathways. The 10th edition just came out and the publisher wants $40.65. I went on Amazon again and found the new edition for $24.86.

Price Breakdown:

Heart of Dakota  original price of wanted items: 241.76     paid price for wanted items: 121.37

Singapore Math   original price: 69.60     paid price: 43.97

Emerging Reader books   original price: 65.33    paid price: 43.36

A Reason for Handwriting   original price: 47.50    paid price: 12.00

Phonics Pathways 10th ed.   original price: 40.65    paid price: 24.86

Original Pricing Total: 464.84    Discount pricing total: 245.56

Total Savings: 219.28

I could have saved even more money had I been patient enough to wait for our particular curriculum from HOD to go on sale through the message board. I've seen the teacher guide on sale for pretty cheap, but I was eager to get my hands on it, and I do like to support the publisher somewhat for all their hardwork in creation of the curriculum. Hope this breakdown helps you see how I managed to save over $200 and still get everything I needed for first grade. Happy homeschooling!

How to Choose a Homeschool Curriculum

Summer is a busy time for homeschoolers. While most kids are enjoying their summer break from school, homeschool families are busy planning for next year. I have always created my own curriculum for kindergarten homeschooling. The only purchases I made that would probably be considered curriculum were Bob Books and Scholastic Sight Word readers. Other than that, I mainly used free printables and games to teach math and reading. Science has always been a hands-on, let's explore the world around us, venture in kindergarten. But since this is the first time we will be moving beyond kindergarten and homeschooling for first grade, I've decided to make it easier on myself by purchasing a curriculum.

Oh my gosh, is homeschool curriculum shopping overwhelming. First, there is a number of companies that publish curricula. Second, it all looks so good. While I was shopping, I figured that there were probably some newbies who could use some help when it came time to choose a curriculum. Here's some tips that came to me while I was researching and purchasing curriculum:

  • Give yourself plenty of time to research. I started requesting print catalogs last month. Some companies only offer their choices online, but many of the popular curriculums such as Sonlight, Alpha Omega, ApologiaChristian Liberty Press and Heart of Dakota still offer print catalogs. I much prefer a print catalog to an online catalog, because I like to peruse it over and over while just hanging out. Give yourself time to get each catalog and look them over before ordering.

  • Create a list of what you want out of a curriclum. Do you want a Christ-centered curriclum, one that offers everything in one big package, one that pieces together a curriculum using resources from a variety of publishers, or one that you can combine for students close in age? Once you know what you want your curriculum to provide, it makes the decision easier.

  • Read plenty of online reviews. The site Homeschool Reviews is a great place to view the different curriculums and read user reviews. See what the main complaints are and decide if that affects you. For example, one curriculum I viewed had a lot of the same complaint - that it was too time consuming and required too much planning. I am not afraid of a little planning and preparation, so I chose to not view that as a negative of the curriculum. On the other hand, another curriculum review stated that it jumped around too much and kids lost interest after a few weeks - that I took as a negative.

  • Don't be afraid to mix and match. While many homeschool publishing companies offer full packages, it's okay to mix your math, reading, language arts, spelling, handwriting, and science among different publishers. For example, we are using Heart of Dakota for much of our curriculum, but I'm using Phonics Pathways and a Reason for Handwriting instead of what the company offers in those areas.

  • Look at different curricula if you can. Visit a convention or see if a homeschooling friend has curriculum you can look at. A friend of mine let me look at her collection, and it was very helpful.
These are just some tips and ideas for choosing a curriculum. Your main concern should be choosing a curriculum that will interest your child and doesn't frustrate them with too complicated concepts. Happy Homeschooling!