When I was researching homeschool curricula, I made charts to compare my top three or four choices for history, math, writing, spelling, and grammar. Lately I’ve been working on sharing my comparison of grammar curricula, starting with ABeka language arts (ABB), then Rod & Staff Building Christian English (R&S), Primary Language Lessons (PLL), and finally First Language Lessons (FLL).
Making a decision about which curricula to use for our homeschool was a difficult decision. My decision was made harder by the cost of international shipping. In order to save money on shipping, we planned to buy all of our homeschooling items for the next four years during our furlough and ship it together. Most homeschoolers only buy a year at a time, so the pressure is not so great if they change curriculum. But whatever I chose needed to work for me for four years.
I narrowed the choices down to four companies that meshed well with our family’s needs and philosophy of education and made a comparison chart for those companies. I compared their prices, descriptions, strengths, and weaknesses, as I perceived them, based on what I saw or reviews I had read online. Then I chose, and I’ll try to describe here how I came to my decisions. Warning: This will probably bore anyone who is not in the same position I was in, choosing between similar curricula; but for the small group of people like me, I hope this helps.
I find I am highly motivated by price. In fact, in almost every subject, I ended up choosing the cheapest of my choices at first. Eventually I was able to move past that mental roadblock of price and allow myself to purchase curricula outside of the lowest price bracket–though price is still highly motivating to me. 🙂
That to say, that when so many choices look similarly good, I usually go with the cheapest. Originally I had not seen Primary Language Lessons, so I purchased it used but did not plan to use it until I had gotten a good look at it. It was so cheap though, that I thought it would be good to have on the shelf in case I did like it.
I chose to go with Rod and Staff starting in 3rd grade because they were described as rigorous and thorough in grammar, biblical in content, included better writing instruction than ABeka, and were cheap; and they allowed me to copy extra student worksheets if I needed, which is very helpful to the missionary who has to ship everything. But I decided to use the ABB language workbooks for 1st-2nd grade, since I was already using their phonics and language programs, which instruction is combined in the teacher’s manuals for those grades.
Then I found the used curriculum for sale homeschooling sites all over the web, and I went a little crazy! I bought R&S grammar for several grades, including 2nd (because I got a great deal), PLL (and Intermediate Language Lessons, it’s successor), still planned to buy the ABB workbooks, and then I found the original publication of FLL, which published levels 1&2 together in one book, sold for only $5. How could I resist? 😛
When I went back to America for our 4-month furlough, I was able to sit down and compare PLL, FLL, and R&S. I also had an ABB Language TM for grade 3 to look at. I am happy to say that three of my choices–ABeka, Rod & Staff, and First Language Lessons–were on Cathy Duffy’s top 101 Picks for homeschool curriculum. I chose to use FLL for grades 1-2 and then move to R&S grammar.
Why not Primary Language Lessons?
I wasn’t impressed with the organization in teaching grammar concepts. It was not as rigorous, at least on the surface, as I desired. I lean more classical than CM at this point in my homeschooling journey, and I didn’t want to go that route. It didn’t make sense to me as a teacher, even with the TM to help. I wasn’t impressed with the picture study in the black and white edition I had. (This may have been solved with one of the other editions I linked to in my review.) And it used too much American flora and fauna my kids wouldn’t know. I sold ILL and tried to sell PLL.
Why not ABeka Book?
I like ABB’s colorful workbooks, Christian content, and thoroughness. I like their pick-up-and-go teacher’s manuals. But their prices were higher than R&S (though R&S isn’t in color), their American content a little overdone, and their writing instruction not what I wanted. I still thought I would use ABB in 1st and 2nd, since they also review phonetic concepts and alphabetization but decided against it when I found the FLL 1-2 copy for $5. I would have paid $120 with ABeka plus shipping for 8 workbooks total (for four children for 1st-2nd grades) versus $5 plus shipping for one small book with FLL.
So that explains why I went with FLL and R&S. Since beginning FLL, I am very happy with it and could see myself continuing with levels 3-4 before moving to R&S, but I’m not sure. I already have R&S 3-4 here, so will probably just move over to R&S after FLL 2. I really do like Peace Hill Press materials though (the publishing house of FLL), so I may stick with FLL through its final level.
The only minor quibbles I have with FLL is that perhaps children don’t need so much grammar in 1st grade, it doesn’t include Christian content (though it is Christian-friendly), workbooks aren’t colorful, and I liked the poetry slightly better with ABB (but ABB includes poetry with their spelling curriculum, which is another curriculum comparison!)
The only minor quibbles I have with R&S is that their workbooks are not in color, they are said to be more “boring,” they don’t include poetry or picture study (though I can do that myself in other ways), and I am not sure at this point whether or not I will use their writing instruction. I am glad to have the writing instruction in there, however.
As we approach 5th or 6th grade, I would really like to look into Michael Clay Thompson’s grammar for a year or two for a change of pace and to give the “big picture” of grammar and make it more real and fun than the traditional, dry approach. Because of the cost, I doubt I would use it more than a year or two. Another grammar choice I will look into for later is Easy Grammar. And a final language arts choice that I was very impressed with for around 2nd-3rd grade was the Classical Writing Primer. Other language choices that might be interesting for a year or two are those that integrate grammar instruction with a literature unit study, like Total Language Plus.
If you are researching curricula, Cathy Duffy’s site is helpful to succinctly describe how a specific curriculum works. For actual user’s reviews, look on The Well-Trained Mind forums or Homeschool Reviews.
You might also be interested in my History Curricula Comparison.