A Look Back at Our Homeschool Year (2013)

I wanted to take a moment before jumping into another year to look back and evaluate our last year, think about what worked and what didn’t, praise God for improvement and growth, and trouble-shoot problem areas.

First, 2013 curriculum reviews:

ABeka 1st grade language arts


I have high praise for ABeka’s phonics program. It doesn’t make a science out of reading quite as much as some of the Orton-Gillingham resources I’ve looked at. It does seem to cover the same concepts, but not in the same format. Rather than learning all of the different sounds for “E” at once, you learn them incrementally in different phonics charts, for example.

I will admit that it might not be the “funnest” phonics program out there, but probably any phonics program would make me want to stick a fork in my eye after a while. Also, the extensive review at the beginning of each year is only necessary for those who take a long 3-month summer break in-between school years and need to scrape the rust off their kids’ brains first. Parents should feel free to tweak the program and not do every.single.drill suggested. But I thought it did a great job, and I really like most of the readers scheduled in the reading component.

He reads his Bible with Daddy every morning.

He reads his Bible with Daddy every morning.

This coming year, or at the latest in third grade, I would like to start transitioning out of the controlled reading textbooks and use real literature. Reading did not come very easily for Caleb, but with ABeka’s help (and continual drilling), he has improved greatly. He tends to guess based on word beginnings and endings and to skip words in sentences at times. I have to remind him to read carefully and sometimes to track with his finger so he doesn’t skip.


We started cursive this year. I wasn’t sure whether to start in K or 1st. I’m still not sure, but I am glad I didn’t wait until 2nd. I don’t think Caleb needed  2 1/2 years of manuscript before cursive (counting some K4 work). ABeka’s cursive is very pretty; but being more loop-de-loop-ish than many other cursive curricula, I think I’m glad we did manuscript in K. I wonder if starting with the K book for cursive would have been easier, however, since the lines are bigger. But I liked many of their selections for copywork in 1st, whereas in K, I think it would be simpler and more directly related to phonics.

Caleb has very fine cursive when he’s been practicing. His handwriting sheets always take more time than many of the  other subjects. We cut ABeka’s seatwork suggestions. One handwriting page per day, plus the weekly test sheet, was adequate. I felt the seatwork would have been overkill for copywork and penmanship practice, especially with ABeka’s language workbook in the mix. I thought the “tests” were kind of useless for homeschoolers (though we did them). I didn’t really know how to evaluate them, and some of his practice papers were better examples to put in his notebook.


We began with ABeka’s language workbook but switched to First Language Lessons (FLL) halfway through the year. Here are my reasons:

  1. The main reason is that ABeka’s language workbook is consumable and would cost me $15 per child per grade 1 and 2, versus the non-consumable FLL book I bought used for $5 containing both levels 1 and 2. I am trying to decrease shipping costs where possible.
  2. FLL covered grammar more according to my philosophy, emphasizing rigorous grammar, memorization, including poetry, picture study, and narration, and doing much of it orally. ABB’s language workbook had too much handwriting. I’m glad they cover capitalization and punctuation; but sometimes, the only language exercise for the day was to recopy three full (incorrectly-written) sentences with a capital letter and period. I’m not big on “fix-the-mistake” type exercises, especially when it could have easily been covered in their penmanship papers.
  3. ABB’s language book wasn’t necessary for us. It reviewed phonics concepts nicely, but I felt our other review was adequate, between the phonics curriculum and workbook and spelling. I don’t like creative writing in the younger grades, (ala ABB), and so I used Writing with Ease. WWE emphasized capitalization and punctuation in conjunction with the grammatical concepts we were learning. So there was nothing actually new or needful in the workbook.

I am now considering not using FLL for 1st grade, either! I have the accompanying audio helps for it, and maybe I will just use those, or do an accelerated version of it, or just drop it completely and begin grammar in 2nd grade with my future children. It seems overkill for 1st graders to be learning about nouns and verbs (especially almost 50 lessons on nouns!) I can easily teach types of sentences and 1st grade mechanics in our copywork through penmanship and WWE.

I reviewed both First Language Lessons and ABeka grammar earlier this year.


I really liked the Writing with Ease workbook. We double-timed it, having started halfway through the year, and Caleb did not exactly pass the test to move on to level 2. I am going to take a careful look at level 2 to see if we should move on or practice the level 1 concepts some more before continuing. I am considering using my own excerpts for copywork and narration for level 2 instead of the workbook. That would allow us to get through more literature that is directly related to our history and science studies. But we’ll see–I don’t know if I want to go to that extra work.


I started using ABB’s spelling workbook for grade 1. I switched halfway through the year to All About Spelling (AAS). Both spelling programs are phonics-based, but AAS is more explicit with its phonics instruction. I felt that the list-a-week/test approach with ABeka wasn’t helping Caleb’s retention.

I don’t feel that the AAS letter tiles are that necessary for Caleb. I am glad to have the program, though, in case any of my other children struggle with reading. I like AAS, except that it is more teacher- and time-intensive. Also, with the excellent base we have from ABeka’s phonics, I’m not sure we need to start spelling in 1st grade with such careful phonics reinforcement as AAS. I have the first 4 levels, and I could see myself switching to a more independent spelling program after that.

Wow, this is getting long already…

Math: Alpha level of Math U See

Making a clock with math manipulatives.

Making a clock with math manipulatives.

I am glad we started using this curriculum. I didn’t know how to teach math with base-10 blocks to help children understand math conceptually. MUS’s explanation of place value was excellent, as well as some of the tricks they give for memorizing math facts (such as +9). Having a background with ABeka in K math, I applied the concepts of constant drilling from ABeka to MUS and thought it was a good marriage. I suppose the other way around would be a good marriage as well–applying MUS’s blocks and methods to ABeka’s spiral technique.

MUS Alpha level didn’t cover money or measurements. Caleb finished Alpha with 1/3 of the school year left, so I used Singapore Primary Math (SM) levels 1A and 1B to review. He did very well with that as well. I had highly debated using SM for our family’s math program. After having used the first few levels, I am very impressed with the program, but found it harder for me as a teacher to teach. I also felt they introduced some concepts too quickly and moved on quickly. I did not cover the two sections on early multiplication and division in level 1B, for example.

History: Story of the World

Absolutely wonderful. I can almost not speak too highly of this program. 🙂 My only complaint with it would be the tone a very few times regarding ancient false religions and mythology. We skipped a couple of pages on Greek gods. In general, the writing style was excellent. Caleb liked the coloring pages and maps from the Activity Guide, and I liked the review questions and narration helps. Sometimes we did an activity–I tried to do one a week, but I really dislike crafts or activities.

A volcano we made for history.

A volcano we made for history.

I wish I had done better at helping Caleb to memorize a basic timeline, though. I feel he has retained very little; BUT, if the point of history at a young age is to familiarize them with the flow of the world’s story and to foster a love and enjoyment of the story, I think that has been accomplished.

Science: 106 Days of Creation Science

In many ways, I felt that this was a perfect science program for 1st or 2nd graders. I liked basing the study on the six days of creation. Scripture was exalted, and several of the hands-on projects for the first few days of creation were excellent, easy to demonstrate, and actually worked!

Growing a plant from a bean.

Growing a plant from a bean.

I was a bit disappointed that for the sections on birds and land animals, we just read a Thornton Burgess book (Adventures of Blacky the Crow and Adventures of Buster Bear–we also read Adventures of Old Mr. Toad for the section on amphibians); but the kids loved it, and I enjoyed a little break from preparation and study. The human body section took several more lessons than the other sections, and I had to supplement with books from our home library. Without the extra suggestions for older students, plus some, I don’t think I would use it for 5th-6th grades.

The program was economical and understanding of homeschoolers. I loved the nature study tips that coincided with our science studies. I would definitely recommend it again, except that Dr. Jay Wile has written a science book based on the same concept (called Science in the Beginning); and it sounds like his curriculum will be even better and more of what I was looking for. However, I bought this teacher’s guide for $10 and still think it was a good, gentle introduction to science.

Modern language: Xitsonga

Since I invented this myself, we quit about halfway through the year. Of course, the kids still hear it daily while playing with village children, talking to Seth and me, and going to church. But I would still like to do better at this, and Seth is going to help me this coming school year in this regard.

Art and Music:

Come Look With Me for picture study had no “wow” factor and didn’t really help Caleb appreciate art. I had hoped for more. We kept it up, but I myself had never heard of many of the artists. I would like to choose some famous artists and stick with their works for several weeks, but these books jump around between artists and time periods based on a unifying theme. I am not sure what we will do this coming year.

IMG_1409Drawing with Children was good, but took way too much work for me as the teacher. Even with help from Donna Young’s homeschooling helps website, I struggled. Halfway through the year, we switched to Draw Write Now books, which were not quite as helpful on the theory and instruction behind the activities, but much more do-able.

Meet the Orchestra helped the kids to recognize musical instruments, but I doubt that they could recognize them by their sounds, even though we listened to each instrument after “meeting” it. It was still fun.

Living Memory helped me organize the memory segment of classical education. This was the last thing I managed to organize in our school year; but I’m excited about the memory review system, especially for verse memory review. This year as a family, we memorized the book of James (though I don’t plan to review that) and some other Scripture passages, a couple of items in history, a few more related to the science we were learning (like names of the planets; colors of the rainbow; parts of a plant; characteristics of fish, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles), and Bible facts (like a Ten Commandments poem, the 12 tribes of Israel, the books of the Old and New Testaments and their divisions, the 12 apostles, the sons of Adam and Eve, the wives of the patriarchs, etc.). Math and grammar facts practice were studied during their respective subjects.


What my kitchen counter looked like for weeks while I worked on Letter of the Week.

What my kitchen counter looked like for weeks while I worked on Letter of the Week.

Letter of the Week–This was fun! But death by printing. Parents, beware. Start this with your first or second kid, or I doubt you will be able to handle all of the prep work! Had I known going into it how many papers I would print, color (since I don’t have a color printer, and how nice is it to have several activities based on “R is for Rainbow” with a black and white rainbow?), cut, laminate, and cut again. Ouch. But I got it done, and it is really great. Colin did well with it and didn’t really even realize he was learning.

IMG_1371Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons–I liked having something straightforward to help me schedule and guide reading instruction–something we could sit on the couch together and do without flashcards. But somewhere around lesson 20, I broke the lesson into two days; and somewhere around lesson 42 we stopped to practice some more. It was starting to introduce a long vowel here and there, and I felt Colin needed a lot more practice with short vowels first. I felt it worked for what I wanted–an easy, low-key way to practice phonics and reading with my pre-K child before entering ABeka K phonics.

K4 workbooks from ABeka: We only used the ABC-123 book and one of the writing workbooks. I didn’t want two writing workbooks. It was too much handwriting for Caleb in pre-K. And too much shipping. 🙂 I really like the ABC-123 book.

Second, in general:

Caleb just got another certificate from Xtra math last week for subtraction!

Caleb just got another certificate from Xtra math last week for subtraction!

As the year progressed, I was happy to find that it did not take as long to get through our curriculum. In general, however, I felt that it took a long time to complete all of our language arts material and have thought about how I can streamline some of those subjects. Xtra math was an excellent help in memorizing math facts.

The toddlers need more attention, and it’s hard for me to stop what I’m teaching to help them. I still do not have a great solution for this–except for them to grow up a little more. 🙂

As I add more children to the instruction routine, I will have to find some subjects that can be done independently and don’t need a teacher script the whole time. I am thinking that spelling, grammar, and math perhaps could be some subjects to try to get more independent.

Towards the end of the year, I figured out how to utilize Story of the World‘s audiobook to read to the kids while I prepared lunch or handled some laundry. Then I could ask review questions and write down Caleb’s narration, and then replay the section to him while I returned to my task. I think I will definitely miss that option when I get to some books in My Father’s World that don’t have an audiobook. It was very helpful!

I have more thoughts on our year in very specific areas, but I enjoyed getting to review our year piece by piece. When I think about where Caleb was in his skills and mental maturity in December 2012 when we began 1st grade, I am amazed and thankful to see his growth, and humbled that I get to be a part of it–and be with my children every day, all day. 🙂


About Amy

I'm Amy, a missionary wife and homeschooling mother of five children, blogging about our lives and perspectives on culture in South Africa.
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2 Responses to A Look Back at Our Homeschool Year (2013)

  1. Sheryl says:

    Great summary! It sounds like you have found your groove.

  2. Wow! This must have taken you a long time to write–I could see where it would be hard to “grade”penmanship when you have one–when you’re a teacher, you divide them into piles and then start grading. Kristi is not that neat of a writer–but she’s a good reader, so I don’t care :). It sounds like you did 100 subjects! Amazing! I am so hit and miss with Joshua it’s not even funny.

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