A record of my thoughts about homeschooling, homemaking, the new humanity in Christ, and anything else that falls under the category of Permanent Things: the True, the Good, and the Beautiful
(I have edited the section on the phonics program to clarify what I originally wrote.)
This past school year I did something I've never done before: I purchased a complete boxed curriculum. For the past 8 years, I have been designing lesson plans for each of my children in each subject. It's a lot of work, but I enjoy it.
When my youngest became preschool age, I did the same thing for her. Afterall, how hard is it to plan out Pre-K, a little phonics, a little math, a few read-alouds. So I made my lesson plans and off we went. Sort of.
The problem that I faced was that I have a pretty large age gap between my two older children and my youngest. As a result, my preschooler just got left behind somehow. I was struggling.
Toward the end of that school year, Memoria Press launched it's Classical Kindergarten Curriculum. I loved the looks of it, and even though I had plenty of kindergarten materials already, I decided to purchase the whole kit, hoping that purchased lesson plans would both keep my accountable and keep me from getting overwhelmed.
We finished the curriculum in May and our year was a smashing success! Here are my thoughts about the curriculum.
1. The MP kindergarten emphasized the 3R's. Every day we did phonics, reading, math, and some aspect of copywork. Everything else was considered Enrichment and was listed in a box at the bottom of the page. This was very important for me. I had previously purchased a kindergarten program from a different publisher and it put so much emphasis on Art/Crafts, Science, Geography. I always felt guilty that I couldn't get it all done, and this particular program put more emphasis on arts and crafts than on learning to read. I was already struggling to make time every day for my youngest, I needed to be able to focus on the most important things.
MP did just that. The notes to the teacher plainly state that the goal of kindergarten is to learn to read, to write, and to do some basic math. This is the daily emphasis. If you have time, then the lesson plans provide read-alouds and poetry and art selections and social studies and science projects, and arts and crafts. If you have time, super. If not, don't worry about it.
This attitude was so liberating for me. Sometimes we did the enrichment stuff, sometimes we didn't. But every day, we worked on reading, writing, and arithmetic. And I felt good about what we were accomplishing.
2. The lesson plans break everything done into nice, manageable daily chunks. When I first taught kindergarten almost a decade ago, I was clueless. I shudder when I think of how I filled our days with work, work, work. I was still thinking like a classroom teacher and thinking that I needed to fill up a full school day with activities. It's a wonder I--or my children--survived those early years. I think God makes first children especially tough to survive the mistakes of their parents.
So, the MP lesson plans kept me from overloading my kindergartener, giving me about an hour's worth of work per day. This is a perfect amount of time for a 5 or 6-year-old.
But not only did the lesson plans keep me from piling on the work, they also encouraged me to challenge my child in ways I would not have. When I looked over the lesson plans at the beginning of the year, I mentally marked activities that I thought were too hard. I planned to skip them. But once we began, I decided to let her try and to my surprise she was able to do challenging things, like dictation exercises.
3. In addition to the 3R's, the MP curriculum emphasizes memory work as well. Memory work is one of those areas that most homeschoolers struggle with---myself included. The MP lesson plans include a weekly recitation of basic facts (months of years, seasons, address, etc.) plus Scripture memory, poetry and an art recitation. The recitation material is so well done that some people are buying the lesson plans just for the recitation help.
4. First Start Reading is MP's own phonics program. Because I've taught two children to read already and have done some research on teaching phonics, I think I can teach someone to read with just about anything. It's really not that mysterious. That said, First Start Reading is a solid traditional phonics program. The MP lesson plans coordinate FSR with various primers and SRA phonics workbook. This was one of the reasons that I bought the lesson plans, I needed Kindergarten to be on auto-pilot. So having workbook pages and primers already lined up was a huge help to me.
There were a few times when I thought the instruction in FSR could be confusing to someone not experienced in teaching phonics. I knew from experience not to stress about running into a phonetic blend or sound in a primer that we hadn't learned yet, but I know that my "first-year teacher self" would have freaked about that. The FSR teacher manual is adequate, but it could benefit from a few more notes to the teacher.
(I need to clarify the above paragraph. I wish that I could remember specific examples, but it's been a few months. As I recall, it was not really a problem with the Teacher's Manual. It was that sometimes there would be a phonics assignment in the lesson plans and I was a few times--not many--a little confused about what I supposed to do. The phonics Teacher's Manual is scripted and thorough. That wasn't the problem. It was the "extra" phonics work in the lesson plans. Again, it was not often and it wasn't really a big deal. I just wanted to give readers a heads-up not to freak out if anything is a little confusing. Don't stress if a primer introduces a sound or sound combination that you have not officially covered--this happens a few times toward the very end of the program. I just told my child what the sound was, and that we would learn it later, and we moved on. Not a big deal at all!.
I also should mention Classical Phonics, the phonics handbook that comes with the program. When I fist received the book, I was not sure what to do with it. But I studied the teacher notes in the back, read Don Potter's review of the original Word Mastery book, on which Classical Phonics is based. He called it the finest phonics program ever written. That's high praise, so I decided that the book must be deceptively simple and I began to study it. Once I understood how it was put together, I could see the genius behind it. It's not fancy, nor complicated, but thorough and systematic. She introduces all the phonics you need to learn in incremental lessons. Learn this sounds, practice this list of words, when you've mastered it, move on. It's really quite simple and helped me to understand that learning to read is not complicated. So, I encourage you to spend some time with Classical Phonics. The sight words are listed in the back. I made flashcards with those words and drilled my daughter. The Classical Phonics word lists are incorporated in the lesson plans as well.)
5. My last comment is either a Pro or a Con depending on your child. (I hate reviews that just gush and glow and don't make mention of what kind of student will benefit from the program!) The program is very writing heavy. Lots of copywork, workbook pages, writing on the whiteboard, dictation tests. My kindergartener was a precocious 6-year-old girl with excellent fine motor skills and she LOVED all the writing! She could not have been happier with all her workbooks. I secretly cringed when I saw how much she loved workbooks, as I saw my Charlotte Mason dreams slowly erased. One of the reasons she loved the workbooks was because she felt like it was "real school." She wanted to be like her older siblings, working independently and writing things down. And to my great delight, she learned to work independently in her workbooks fairly quickly. So, obviously that was a big plus for me.
However, I know that all that writing would have overwhelmed and discouraged my son when he was in Kindergarten. So, if you have a writing-phobic child, you can still use the MP lesson plans. The workbook pages can be done orally. No problem. Just skip the writing. (I tried to skip some of the writing, my daughter would not skip it!) The copywork is once a week, and the teacher's manual tells you to have your child trace the copywork until he is able to write it. This too could be skipped for a child who struggles with fine motor skills.
We had a great year! And what's best, for me, is that using the lesson plans taught me how to approach teaching first grade. I'm going to try first grade on my own. I already made my lesson plans. (I would have happily continued with MP first grade, but I already own SO MUCH first grade stuff that I could not justify the expense.) But if I find myself struggling at all, I know where to go for help.