I was thinking today about how helpful I found online reviews of curriculum when I was shopping around. I realized that we have used/tried quite a few products now, since we are into our third year of homeschooling. So I decided I would do a series of reviews on the products that we have tried. I’m going to try and categorize it a bit to make it easier to navigate, breaking it into Preschool Curriculums, All-in-One Curriculums, Math, Language Arts, Science/Nature Study and Resources (books that we’ve used to supplement main subjects, as well as resources for Art).
Overview: We made the decision to homeschool our son, starting with preschool, when he was four years old. After many hours of searching and reading reviews, we settled on the Rod & Staff ABC series workbooks. The immediate appeal to me was the price – only $21.95 for the entire set, and that can often be purchased on sale for 10-15% off.
The course is marketed at the 4-5 year age group, and I would agree with this. It covers basic preschool skills such as: fine motor skills (coloring, cutting, pasting), colors, shapes, numbers 1-10 and other early math skills, letters, early penmanship, initial consonant sounds, and thinking skills such as hearing rhymes, understanding sequence, making comparisons and associations and understanding sentence structure. It also includes a Bible storybook with a coloring book that corresponds to each story.
The course is designed to take a full school year, using 2-3 workbook pages per day, and using the Bible reader 1-2 times per week.
My Thoughts: I thoroughly loved this curriculum, as did my son. I was surprised at the amount of content it covered. The books are simple, with black and white drawings, and yet I look at that as a good thing – the pages were not overly distracting, cluttered with brightly colored images. I loved that the instructions were in the back of every book, so they were very simple and easy to use. The Bible story and coloring book were very nice, and each story included a few comprehension questions at the end, as well as a Bible memory verse to learn. We were amazed at how quickly our four year old was able to memorize the verses! While I think that an advanced 3 year old could use the first few books, I do think the Bible stories are geared towards the 4-5 year range, due to minimal pictures (though they can color the coloring page while listening to the story), but also the length of the stories. While easily spread out over a school year, my son loved these so much that we did several pages per day, and in the end he devoured the books in only 4 months! The only possibly negative thing I have to say about this series is it may not work well if you have an extremely kinesthetic/active child, who struggles sitting and focusing for 15-20 minutes at a time. This is purely seat work. However, if you have a child who loves to color, cut and paste, then I would highly recommend this curriculum.
Overview: Once we finished the Rod & Staff workbooks, we took some time off as we searched for something else to use. I stumbled upon this little charm, which we started when my son was 4.5. Weaver Interlock is an all-in-one unit study preschool curriculum designed for ages 3-6. It is easily useable for Catholics (again, adding in your own catechism). It covers Bible, social studies, science, some language arts, early math, music, art and physical education. It truly is “all in one” and complete. The curriculum is also scripted, so it tells you exactly what to say, and no additional resources (except for craft supplies) are needed. It is designed to be used 3 days a week.
My Thoughts: We enjoyed our time with Weaver. One thing I like about this is it’s age-range, 3-6. This is easily used for preschool, kindergarten, or even grade one – by adding in phonics and math. This allows you to combine your oldest with younger children, since the course offers two different sets of math objectives based on age/level. The science is geared towards Earth Science, and I was surprised at the array topics covered – things like clouds (my son used to blow people away by accurately describing and naming cirrus, cumulus, strombus etc… clouds, at not even 5), trees, seeds, constellations, air, gems etc… Your child will learn real science with this program. Likewise, the social studies topics were content-rich as well. In fact, the science and some of the social studies topics, I think really would be over a 3 year old’s head. They would have fun joining in on the activities, but I wouldn’t expect a lot in the way of comprehension. I was a bit disappointed in the Bible – the Bible content itself was strong, and well-done, however it only covers the first part of Genesis (up to the flood). This is because the author assumes that you will go into their follow-up curriculum, the Weaver Volumes. I would much prefer to see this curriculum give a good overview of the entire Bible. The finger plays and songs were wonderful in this program, and my son really enjoyed them, as well as all the hands-on activities. I would say on average each day took us close to an hour to complete, however, the majority of that time is spent in action, and doing hands on crafts/activities. This course really appeals to almost all types of learners, however, if you have a strongly visual learner, this may not be the best option, as all of the teaching/learning is done through auditory and kinesthetic methods. You would have to find ways of adding in visual aids.
Overview: We started this curriculum with our 3.5 year old daughter. Catholic Icing is a 26-week Catholic preschool curriculum, that is designed to be used once a week. It covers the alphabet, Bible verses, Saints, crafts as well as hands-on learning ideas for letters, numbers, counting, handwriting and more. It is geared for ages 2-4.
My Thoughts: I ended up with very mixed feelings on this curriculum. I technically do not look on it as a complete preschool curriculum, but perhaps rather a Bible curriculum, or a supplement you could use once a week to your other preschool curriculum, if you wanted to add a Catholic element. I think the easiest way for me to review this one will be to just do a pros/cons list.
Pros: I found the guide well laid out, and the plans are scripted. It includes a script for homeschoolers, and for those using the guide in a public domain. The letter lessons are nice – they teach about an element of the Catholic faith that corresponds with the letter of the week (example Angel for “A”). They also include a bible memory verse and a craft for every letter. I like that all the templates are included in the back of the book. It is a multi-sensory approach, combining visual, auditory and kinesthetic learning. It incorporates lots of hands on learning, singing and finger plays, and crafts.
Cons: While the overview states that they teach about saints, all they do is list a saint per week, that corresponds with the letter, so for example, Saint Anne, for week “A”. There is no information given about the saint. While the curriculum gives many ideas for finger plays, songs and rhymes, it lists their title only, so if you do not know the words, you will have to look them up. There is no scope and sequence of skills covered, as this curriculum does not actually guide you in teaching typical preschool skills such as numbers, counting, letters, early phonetic sounds, colors, shapes etc… Instead, it sets out in the plan to spend time in “Hands on Learning”, without giving you any direction as to what to do, or expected outcome goals. The author does give a few ideas for hands-on learning activities, and they are nice ideas, however minimal. For those who are great at coming up with ideas on their own this is fine, but for those who like more direction, they will probably find this a flaw.
There are five unit studies which follow the liturgical year that are to be done each week. I found these a bit lacking and repetitive. For example: for unit one, during ordinary time, you are to teach about Creation. It lists the seven days of creation, gives you an idea of a symbol to use for each day, and then gives you a script for a song to be sung to the tune of “Do you Know the Muffin Man?”, using your symbols. And that’s the unit, to be done for several weeks in a row. I found all the five units to be the same – repeating the same script, every week.
I found much of the curriculum to be repetitive. Every week you start with the same prayer, sing Jesus Loves Me, sing ABC, do the same letter activities, sing the same song for Bible, and sing the same songs for closing time, with the same prayers. And again, even your unit study is going to be the same thing, for several weeks. The only variation week to week is your Bible verse, craft and the finger plays and hands-on learning activities you choose to do.
Now, all of that said, this is designed to be used only once a week, so taking that into consideration the repetitiveness may not be so bad. And yet, even this has some draw backs. Because it is to be used once a week, all in one shot, the curriculum can take anywhere from 60-90 minutes to go through. That is quite a long time for children as young as 2 and 3 to sit. The author speaks about this in the guide and says that you can split the plans up over several days, which is true – you could do the craft one day, the letter activities another day, hands-on learning another day and your memory verse another day.
Final Thoughts: Overall, I was disappointed in this curriculum and we stopped using it soon after we started. I think the author has done a lot of work, though again I would hesitate to call this a “curriculum”, especially given the lack of scope & sequence and actual scheduled goals for learning with regards to the things like numbers, letters, shapes, colors etc… I do think this would be perfect for a Sunday School setting however, and I think the author should really try and market this to that audience. However, back to use in a homeschool setting, my final thought is that the guide itself costs $39.99, however, most of the content is available for free on her website. So, I would say save yourself the money, and use her great ideas for free off the website.
Overview: Once we gave up on Catholic Icing, we were blessed to have a copy of Little Hands to Heaven show up in our mailbox! Little Hands is a 33-week complete preschool curriculum. It is designed to be used daily, with short lessons taking only 20-30 minutes per day. This is the perfect time frame for it’s recommended age of 2-5. It gives a choice of several different resources (children’s Bible and devotional) to allow for variances in skill level. The curriculum is based on stories from the Bible, and covers: letter recognition, formation and sounds, early math skills, Bible activities, devotionals, art projects, dramatic plays, finger plays and music. Catholic-friendly.
My Thoughts: In a word? Fun! Wonderful! Perfect! I’m not sure that there’s anything not to love about this program. The lessons are the perfect time frame for young learners. The guide is beautifully and simply laid out, and all words/directions for the finger plays are included in the book, as well as any templates needed for crafts, letter activities etc… Every day there is a fingerplay that corresponds with the letter/Bible focus of the week, a hands-on letter activity, a Bible story and corresponding Bible activity, and music. There is also a daily “rotating box”, where each day you complete a different activity (completing each once a week) – these rotate between Art, hands-on Math, a devotional, Dramatic Play, and Active Exploration. The math contains two levels of objectives for each lesson to allow for different skill levels. This curriculum understands that young children need to move, and is a very hands-on, kinesthetic course. The children are singing, playing, acting and creating. And yet it works for auditory and visual learners as well, with the use of a storybook Bible and devotional book. From the first day we started this, at age 3.5 with my daughter, she has loved it. Even my six year old enjoys joining us! I think the age range is accurate, with the best range being 3-5, though I think a 5 year old would need more challenging math/phonics options.
Ah, what a gem this is! I stumbled across 26 Letters to Heaven when I was looking for something for my four year old to do this year. Sadly, there are no previews available online of the content, so you have to rely on written reviews. I’m glad I went ahead and gave it a chance!
26 Letters is designed for children ages 3-5, however has activities that easily incorporate older siblings as well. An excerpt from the book reads: “For example, right alongside her three-year-old sibling your second grader can memorize the Scripture verse and copy it as a handwriting assignment. A third or fourth grader can write a short essay on the Saint of the Week. ” 26 Letters is a unique blend of structure while offering flexibility. It is designed into 26 units that follow the letter of a week format. Each week is a four-paged spread offering you different character traits and memory verses, a list of saints to choose from to learn about, a sweet little rhyme that features the letter, different Faith, Literary, Math, and other activities. It includes ideas for a letter collage, a list of wonderful, high-quality picture books to read, as well as a list of books regarding saints. Lastly, there are recipes for letter-related foods you can cook together as a family such as Dirt Cake or Date Balls.
The beauty of this program is the flexibility. Each week you are given a list of activities to accomplish, but it is up to you to create your schedule (though they do give you a sample five-day week for planning ideas). The program also gives you instructions on how to do the different components of the program, making sure you get the full depth of the program (for there is so much more to this program than meets the eye), as well as ideas on how to include older students.
I wish I had found this when my son was younger. This is quite simply a beautiful, Catholic preschool program, which will bring your whole family together.