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Rainbow Price: $59.95
From one homeschool mom to another. Everything in this program is designed to communicate "I'm a homeschool mom that taught my kids to read. It's easy. It's fun! You can do it, too. Have a great time." And I'm sure if you follow Diane Hopkins' step by step approach wrapped with loving teacher-student interaction, that's exactly the result you'll get. After going through the just-the-right-size (25 pages) Teacher's Guidebook and looking through the brightly colored cardstock that makes up the program, I'm happy with the appearance of the product and really, really impressed with the content.
Starting at the very beginning, Mrs. Hopkins has boiled the entire process down into eight steps. And even if step seven (teach phonics units containing two or more letters) has seventeen parts, she's still managed to make a homeschool mom's most fearful task into something that seems remarkably ordinary and doable.
The package contains the Happy Phonics Guidebook, "My Big Book" (an almost-to-the-end-of-the-program-reader) and lots of printed, brightly colored paper and cardstock – flashcards, game components, first little readers and spelling lists. The Guidebook contains the Eight Steps along with specific how-to instructions for each step. The essence of the program is to introduce the phonics concepts a few at a time and then play games for retention. The author suggests that lesson time be about 10 minutes a day, but you may want to factor in more time to play the games over and over just because the student wants to.
The Guidebook is extremely user-friendly and written in first-person, mom-to-mom form. The step-by-step instructions are straight-forward and easy to follow. All references to the games and other supplementary material are coded with little symbols found on the colored sheets. Practically foolproof! But just to be sure, there's a chart that lists which games/components are used with each teaching step. There's also a chart clearly laying out those seventeen phonics units that make up step seven. And, of course, the teaching aids are clearly marked for each unit.
The teaching progression is common sense. Alphabet song; capital letters match lowercase letters; the main sound for each letter; blend letter sounds to form a word; teach common non-phonetic (sight) words; teach vowels that can make a second sound; teach through the phonic units; READ. Although she doesn't consider them absolutely necessary, the author does mention supplementary material that she likes and that her children have enjoyed – Lauri perception puzzles, Leap Frog Phonics Library, and the Explode the Code books. In fact, she changed her original letter presentation order (used with her older children) to conform to the Explode the Code books for her younger children and in this program. She also suggests various supplementary readers.
The games and other reinforcement activities are obviously a central component of this program. Some preparation is involved, usually just cutting cards apart. I would be inclined to laminate (or cover with clear contact paper) some of the frequently-used cards and game layouts if I thought it likely I'd be using the program with a number of children. The games include some adapted favorites like Phonics Bingo and a number of creative originals like the Y Not? Game. The line art of the game components is not high tech graphics but still communicates the concept and looks inviting. Components of the games are color coded, with the little symbols marked on each game piece, so that you can easily unscramble things if they don't always get put away neatly.
This program fits into the "complete program" category of phonics instruction, as it includes systematic phonics, reinforcement, and reading practice. The program gets your student reading on his own in an enjoyable way. Please note that it does not cover advanced syllabication, prefixes, and suffixes that tend to be found in second/third grade levels of some phonics programs. But it is an enjoyable program that will build the confidence of a newbie and provide ease of instruction for busy homeschooling mothers. All for a very reasonable price! - Janice
Rainbow Price: $14.18
We had a customer request for this book. The first reviewer in our office after spending a little time with the book suggested that it was a new approach to homeschooling – somewhere between classical and the principle approach. Another remarked (without a close look at the book) that she thought it was associated with unschooling. Actually, both observations have merit. Sometimes called Leadership Education, the goals of an education styled after that of Thomas Jefferson seeks to teach its students how to think and prepare them to be leaders in their home and communities, entrepreneurs in business, and statesmen in government.
The author describes four phases of learning: Core Phase (years 0-8) when learning is the product of the structure and flow of family life providing a rich learning environment and a culture of self-education. Love of Learning Phase (ages 8-12) requires exposure to many areas of human knowledge, high standards of quality, and areas of exploration and skill-building. Scholar Phase (ages 12-16) when the student is ready to apply a new level of effort to personal academic achievement through the process of commitment and accountability and is exposed to a variety of options in materials and classic works. Depth Phase (ages 16-22) marked by a profound hunger to prepare for oncoming responsibility and future contribution to society.
In America today we have three types of education – conveyor belt (move everyone along on the same track teaching them what to think), professional (prepare for a particular career teaching them when to think), and leadership education (prepare to lead teaching them how to think). The first two are based on the myth that it is possible for one human being to educate another. But author Oliver DeMille says “No!” Teachers teach and students educate (themselves). And a Thomas Jefferson Education is all about students becoming excited about learning and applying themselves to their own education. The means by which this is accomplished? Mentors and Classics – the two types of teachers that consistently motivate student-driven education. Mentors inspire through the transfer of knowledge, the force of their personality, and individual attention. The Classics were created by other great teachers to be the experiences of life found in books, art, music, and other media. DeMille goes on to describe characteristics of the mentoring relationship, how to teach using the Classics, and the learning environments conducive to successful mentoring. Other chapters include how to implement a TJEd in the public schools and in colleges, a look at leadership careers, and how statesmanship can make a difference in our society. He concludes the book with some excellent appendices – 100 Classics, Classics for Children & Youth, Sample Discussion Questions (covering 26 Classics), a recommended reading list, and a section called "Putting Thomas Jefferson to Work", which features step-by-step instructions for integrating the Thomas Jefferson Education into your family's life. 198 pgs, pb. Janice
Rainbow Price: $13.50
It's easy to become a cookbook collector. The glossy photos of scrumptious meals draw you in regardless of whether the recipes are easy or the ingredients are easy to find! Our intentions are good, but somehow we just can't get around to pulling together an incredible meal every night. Well, cookbook author Rachel Masters takes a much more practical approach, almost guaranteeing that this is one cookbook that will spend more time on the countertop than on the shelf. As a mom with young children, she was frustrated with the time it was taking to develop a meal plan and grocery list for the week. To make this easier, she created a plan that rotated through all of the main dishes her family enjoyed, along with shopping lists to accompany them. In the end she had a twelve-week plan, each week complete with five main dishes, a dessert, a snack, and a shopping list. After using her plan with much success over the years, she now presents it to the rest of us in handy cookbook form. The cookbook presents thirteen weeks, each with a meal plan for the week, a grocery list (divided into types of food like produce, dairy, etc.), and the recipes. Each week features five meals, a snack, and a dessert. Weeks are broken down by meal, with each meal including recipes for the main course as well as side dishes. As a bonus, Rachel has included a suggested timetable for each meal, outlining when each task preparation task should be done for a six o'clock target dinner time. At this point, you may be mostly concerned about the meals themselves. Will your family like them? Glancing over the meal plans, I'd say they have broad appeal (remember, the author has several young children herself!). A sampling of the meals includes: chicken fajitas, beef stew, lasagna, shepherd's pie, pork chops, sloppy joes, french dip sandwiches, ribs, chicken over rice, sub sandwiches, split pea soup, ham and cheese sandwiches, pork tenderloin, and many more scrumptious-sounding side dishes I don't have room to mention. You won't find anything too specialized in here, just family-pleasing favorites. Of course, if everyone in your family dislikes a certain recipe, just replace it with one of your own and edit the shopping list to include those ingredients.
Additionally, seven appendices include suggestions for breakfasts and lunches, using produce from your garden, recipes for special events and holidays, essentials for the kitchen, tips and ideas, making a few typically store-bought items from scratch, and some advice on family meal time (including suggestions to get children to try new things!). All in all, this is a great, practical resource for any busy mom struggling to shop and pull together meals each week! I know our family could have benefited from this approach when I was growing up! – Jess
Rainbow Price: $52.95
Carrie Austin, author of popular literature curriculum Drawn into the Heart of Reading, has turned her talents and experience to the early childhood realm. Little Hands to Heaven is a complete, biblically-based preschool curriculum combining Bible stories and activities, fingerplays, letter activities, music, art activities, active exploration, devotions, dramatic play, and math activities into each daily lesson. The lessons follow Bible stories, presented in chronological order from Creation through Paul's missionary journeys. The activities included in the lesson correlate to the Bible story, forming a complete, Bible-based lesson with plenty of activity for those busy youngsters! Each of the 33 units is designed to be used one per week, and no seasonal content is included so you can begin at any time. Each unit is laid out very simply, with the activities organized into different boxes on the page with short and simple directions given for each.
An example of a lesson from Unit 13 features the Bible story of David and Goliath. Children will perform the fingerplay "David Will Be King" which is given at the beginning of the week, and focuses on the letter 'K'. They read the Bible story of David and Goliath, and then participate in a math activity where they arrange three objects or toys from smallest to biggest, and then they continue finding objects that are bigger and bigger, reinforcing the idea that Goliath was so much bigger than David, but David won the fight, with God's help. The letter activity focuses on the letter 'K' as well, and has the children placing objects on a large 'K' taped to the floor while they make the 'K' sound. The Bible activity features students drawing a slingshot while following directions, reinforcing the Bible story and the day is done with a song. Not every subject mentioned above is completed in one day, although each is worked into the week, which means the lessons will not take much time to complete - about half an hour to an hour each day, depending on how involved you may get. The appendix, included at the end of the book, contains masters to copy for use with several of the lessons. Although supplies required for the program are few and consist of objects you probably have around the house or in the art area, there are several resources that you will need to use with the program. These include your own personal Bible, a children's Bible, such as the suggested Child's First Bible by Kenneth N. Taylor, or The New Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes by Kenneth N. Taylor. Suggested devotionals are also recommended such as Big Thoughts for Little People by Kenneth N. Taylor, Teach Them to Your Children: An Alphabet of Biblical Poems, Verses, and Stories, or My ABC Bible Verses by Susan Hunt. Music selections included in the lessons are based on Focus on the Family's Singing Bible, which you will need to do the music segment of each lesson. All in all, a very easy-to-implement, Bible-based curriculum that you should easily be able to fit into your day, and the youngsters should love to do every day. - Jess
Rainbow Price: $70.95
Whether you've used Little Hands to Heaven or Little Hearts for His Glory and are lamenting the fact that your journey is ending, or you are just starting out with your first or second grader and aren't sure where to begin, take heart! Carrie Austin has taken her organized, enjoyable curriculum series up to the next grade level. Designed for 6-8-year olds, this curriculum guide is laid out similarly to the preceding volumes, with Bible study, language arts, spelling, grammar, mechanics, usage, copywork, reading, story time, math exploration, history, poetry, music, art, science, and geography. The curriculum is divided into 34 units. Each unit is divided into five daily lessons, which follow the history, language arts and math theme for the unit. The daily lessons are divided into two parts (helpfully on facing pages!): "Learning Through History" and "Learning the Basics".
The history section contains the history, poetry/rhyme, Bible study, and corresponding music portion of the lesson, all visually separated into printed boxes with related icons. Geography, history activities, art, or science make up the remaining part of the "history" portion. These activities are sprinkled throughout each unit, lightening the load while covering each of these topics at least once a week. The necessary resources for teaching history include American Pioneers and Patriots, Stories of the Pilgrims, and Boys and Girls of Colonial Days (2002 copyright). As mentioned above, each unit focuses on one event in American history, from 1565 to 1865. The other activities in the history portion of the lesson complement the history story, so it won’t easily be forgotten! For example, in Day 1 of Unit 2, the history story relates how the Jamestown settlers did not want to work to eat or build a town; they only wanted to find gold. The corresponding Bible study is on Galatians 6:9, and focuses on not giving up, even though we may become weary. The poetry selection is "Father, We Thank Thee", and the science activity asks students to perform a small experiment with paper demonstrating why tree squirrels flatten their body to glide through the air.
"Learning the Basics" focuses on language arts skills and math, but also incorporates story time and reading. Each unit features a key theme for spelling, grammar and math that is built upon during the week. Four subject assignments are included for this section of the lesson, including language arts, reading, story time, and math. Language arts usually includes spelling and copywork. The spelling lists for the week follow the unit’s "spelling word pattern" or phonetic construct/sound. The copywork portion has students copying bits of poetry, prose, and other things as they fit the grammar concept for the week. Each day's reading assignment offers three options for graded reading material, depending on the reading ability of your student: the phonics program you are already completing, a recommended title for emerging readers recommended for that unit (suggested books and comprehension questions are found in the appendix), or Drawn Into the Heart of Reading for independent reading. Read aloud to your child (or for you to read together) from books in a variety of genres during Story Time. The author has included book suggestions for nine genres, including biography, adventure, historical fiction, fantasy, mystery, nonfiction, humor, realistic fiction, and folk tale. Each of these genres is covered in 20 days of read alouds, except for folk tales, which has 10 days. Because she leaves the Story time discussion open-ended, you can choose your own read-alouds for each genre. Suggestions can be found in the appendix. The math portion of the lesson also follows a theme for the unit, from numbers 1-10, sets, missing numbers, and number pairs in Lesson 1; to money, counting, writing amounts, and making change in Unit 33. The math lessons use Singapore’s Primary Mathematics 1A and 1B, or if you are already ahead of this in math, Carrie has provided an alternate math schedule using Primary Mathematics 2A and 2B. Like her previous curricula, the format is easy to use, and the weekly themes tie the subjects together nicely. The author also places an emphasis on hands-on and full-body activities that develop gross and fine motor skill development (and offer a chance for kids to burn off some "wigglies"). Flexibility is built in, with plenty of options as to which additional resources you use, and how you choose to personalize the lessons. Activities are designed to require no (or very little) preparation time and use around-the-house items. The appendix includes an "Overview of Reading Choices," suggested books for reading time (grouped by unit), suggested books for story time (grouped by genre), two spelling lists for each unit, and poetry and rhymes used for both poetry and copywork time. Whether you’re familiar with Carrie’s approach, or you've never used it before and are looking for a solid guide that lays it all out for you, you are sure to enjoy the early grades. ~ Jess