Curriculum planning for the upcoming school year

I have a love/hate relationship with curriculum and lesson planning.  On the one hand, I love paging through new curriculum.  I love looking at samples online.  I peruse the various homeschooling forums to read people’s opinions.  I read reviews on Amazon.  I sometimes borrow materials from other moms so that I can give it a really good look over.

On the other hand though, curriculum planning makes me absolutely crazy as there are so many choices; I often have difficulty making up my mind about what to choose.  And even when I find one I really, really like, we sometimes just can’t afford it.  Or, I find something that would really work well for me as mom/teacher but may not necessarily work out so well for my son’s learning style. 

Last year was one of our toughest homeschooling years so far (7+ years now and counting).  The year was fraught with health issues, family issues, a huge, midyear change in my work schedule, a teen with a super busy schedule, etc.  Some days I look back and feel disappointed that we didn’t get more done.  Other days I look back at the past year and realize that we really managed to get a lot done despite all of the ups and downs the last year brought, and that I shouldn’t be so hard on myself.  

Regardless, because of the challenges of this past school year, I am particularly trying to find something for this year that will be a little easier on me this time around, just in case life should intrude.   🙂  Usually I pull together my own materials from all different kinds of resources, but it does take quite a bit of planning ahead which I didn’t always have time for this year.  This year I am looking to see if I can find something that is planned out already that might work for us.  

Earlier this summer, I took a good hard look at Sonlight.  It is a very popular out-of-the-box type curriculum that I have heard a lot of good things about. I find the history readers very appealing.  I read a few from the list for American history this summer and thought they would appeal to my fourth grader.  The instructor’s guides look like they would help keep me on task, even when things on the home front are stressful or busy.  The science seems to include lots of experiments and activities which my son would definitely enjoy.  Unfortunately, Sonlight is pretty expensive.  I have heard that the resale value is good, but it would still be quite a bit to put down for one child for one year of homeschooling.  Perhaps I would feel a little differently if I had two kids close in age who could benefit from doing some if it together or if Tobin wasn’t our last child to homeschool.  

After I moved on from looking at Sonlight, I went back to look again at Moving Beyond the Page.  We tried one unit of Moving Beyond the Page last year.  I had purchased the unit for the novel Tornado by Betsy Byars.  Tobin did enjoy the novel, and he did enjoy some of the activities that came in the unit.  He also felt there was too much writing involved, but then he feels that way about just about everything we try.  We have not tried any of Moving Beyond the Page’s social studies or science units, so I can’t say for certain how those ones would go over.  We may still give one of them a try.  One advantage I can see for using Moving Beyond the Page is that you can purchase each unit separately, so I could spread the cost of the curriculum across the whole school year.  

More recently I have been looking at Time4Learning.  My older son, Stephen, used Time4Learning early on in our homeschooling career, but he quickly moved on from it as he thought it was too easy.  I had not really given it a close look in quite a while.  On Monday I bit the bullet and subscribed to a month of it for Tobin so that we could try it out.  So far he seems to like it all right.  He really enjoys the math and language arts portions, but he gets a little distracted when he works on the science and social studies sections as there are pages to click through for reading, and although he can read higher than grade level, he seems to have trouble focusing when reading longer passages.  I am a little concerned that the science and social studies won’t go as in depth as I would like it, but I plan to continue a little longer to see if I am correct or not.  

There are several things I do like about Time4Learning so far though.  I like that it is $19.99 per month, and that I can cancel at any time.  The parent forums seem to be a great place for finding quick answers when you are having issues.  I also like that their website seems pretty easy for a child to navigate.  We did our second day’s worth of lessons yesterday, and Tobin had no problem logging on and finding where he left off in his lessons.  He is pretty computer savvy anyway, so I don’t foresee him having any problems doing schoolwork on the computer.  

I will update when we have some more experience with Time4Learning under our belts.  

A website review: Quia

A few days ago I found out that the website we planned on using for supplementary materials for Steve’s Latin textbook, Cambridge Latin, took down access to all of their free materials. (Booooo!) There were vocabulary quizzes for every chapter, matching games for practicing declensions, a nice online dictionary with pronunciations for every word used in the whole textbook series, and lots of links to interesting articles describing Roman culture.

The loss of this great resource was very disappointing to both my son and me. After the end of every chapter of Latin that Steve and I studied, we especially looked forward to taking turns completing the online quizzes, mostly in an effort to see which of the two of us could answer the most questions correctly in the least amount of time. Competition helped keep us both motivated. We spent way more time practicing the new vocabulary using the quizzes than we otherwise would have spent on the material. I was concerned though that now that we didn’t have access to any easy and fun way to study the vocabulary, we wouldn’t spend as much time with the materials as we should.

In an effort to find some kind of replacement for those fun online quizzes, I did a Google search hoping to find quizzes and activities that some other industrious Latin instructor had written and put online to share with others. I did not find much at all with the exception of various quizzes put together and submitted by people to a website called www.Quia.com.

I had seen Quia mentioned a few times before by parents in, I believe, one of my online homeschool support groups, but yesterday was the first time I really looked closely at the website. There looks to be both a free version and a paid version of the site. The free version allows a person to use whatever quizzes and activities have already been saved to the site by other instructors. There is a search function where you can look to see if anyone else has shared any quizzes or activities specific to the particular textbook you are using. There were quite a few quizzes and activities I found specific to Steve’s Latin text.

The paid version costs $49 per year to use for an individual. (A school would have to pay more.) From what I can see, with the paid version, teachers can create quizzes with 10 different sorts of questions from multiple choice to matching and 16 different kinds of learning activities from hangman to flashcards. You can’t create your own quizzes and activities with the free version. One activity that I thought was really cool was a game on the website called Rags-to-Riches. It is kind of like a customizable version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? I thought the Rags-to-Riches game would be particularly fun with questions constructed from our science and history curricula. I am sure the game would lend itself well to any subject matter though.

Another perk of the paid version is the ability to create a class roster, assign a series of quizzes to that class, and then track the grades. This means I can create a separate class in Quia for each subject I want to use the quiz-making tools for. As Stephen takes the quizzes, Quia will automatically grade the tests and calculate the cumulative tests scores. Of course that would mean that I won’t have to calculate all those grades, but somehow I will manage to deal with the disappointment.

I have not decided whether I want to fork over the cash for the paid version or not yet. At least at the time I am writing this, you can set up an account and try Quia free for 30 days. I set up my account a few days ago, so I plan to play around with Quia the next four weeks and then decide whether it will be worth paying for or not. I really liked the fact that I was able to set up my account on Quia without providing any credit card information. I hate when some websites offer a free trial, but then ask for your credit card info from the get-go so that they can immediately start charging you once the free trial is up.

Last year I used a site called Thatquiz.com which is completely free and is similar in concept to Quia, but at first glance it looks like the Quia site can do a bit more. I am looking forward to comparing the two sites. Right now I intend to try to use Quia for Steve’s Latin and Spanish courses, but I really think it would probably be useful for any subject. When my 30-free trial is up, I hope to post an update here.