I won't lie to you. I have made plenty of purchase mistakes with homeschooling! Art programs that looked so amazing in the catalog but bombed on the kitchen table. Grammar programs that were so tedious that even I hated them and stopped using them. That is one of the beauties of it all though - I can change textbooks or a curriculum anytime I like when something isn't working well. Institutional schools' purchase mistakes can't be repaired so easily since the replacement of hundreds or thousands of books is cost prohibitive, not to mention the time the issue must spend in committee first. My list of have-not-loved's is long. There are, however, two programs that I have been using since the beginning and have never doubted nor replaced.
The first is our Math program. Math-U-See has been excellent for every child (in spite of different learning styles) in every grade I have taught so far (pre-K through 11th). It has also been perfect for me, which is an extremely important element to homeschool success.
The second program - our reading program - is the jewel in my curricula crown and the primary reason for this post. It is the best investment we have ever made in the education of our children and I recommend it without hesitation and much enthusiasm. Back in 1999, I read a great review of Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons and purchased it immediately. One book. $20. A real steal for the value it has brought to our home.
No program is a magic pill. We do not flip a switch or say a word and find that our children can suddenly read or write or do word problems. Teaching and mentoring is vital to this process. But there are some learning systems that do make teaching and learning easier and this is one of them. Each of the children I have taught to read have very different learning personalities and each are phenomenal readers, well beyond their grade levels not only in technical skills but also comprehension. I strongly believe that their strong foundation and positive early experience has been pivotal in that success.
At the completion of this program, my kids have all been at about a 2nd grade reading level. This allows them to jump immediately to short chapter books. It isn't long before they are able to dive into much more advanced literature.
I do have some words of advice for those interested in this program:
-- 100 Easy Lessons does not use the traditional alphabet order for teaching sounds. Nor does it even introduce the names of letters until the second half of the book. There are excellent reasons for this but it is difficult at first for a parent to resist using the methods with which we were taught. Read the forward information thoroughly and commit to it and you won't be sorry. It has always been a little awkward when my pre-K students can't sing the ABC song with peers but it pays off when my 10-year olds are reading Shakespeare.
-- The program is designed in 100 lessons but this does not mean that it must (or should) be done in 100 consecutive days. In fact, I recommend making or purchasing sound and word flash cards that can be used to reinforce lessons in between book days. Some kids need more of this than others. You'll know how much time they need as you go along.
-- Take as much time as your student needs in review time but avoid repeating lessons. It really tends to demoralize the kids, especially if they struggled the first time. The book instructions do warn against this but it can be tempting to do it anyway. Don't. If the child is not ready for the new lesson, review until they are; but repeating lessons is a drag and feels like a failure. If the lesson is a total disaster for one reason or another, just stop, focus on review (or allow a day off) and just begin again another day. There are some children who LOVE to go back and read everything again. I'm not talking about those children.
-- The program uses a particular method of writing sounds that differs slightly from traditional lettering. This is designed to get the kids reading faster (which is highly motivating) and does work. But there is a point toward the latter part of the program during which the transition is made to standard lettering. This can be a bit challenging for the kids. My advice is to just be patient and recognize that the primary obstacle (in my experience) for the kids is the fear of something unknown and not an inability to read. My more conservative children stumbled a little over this transition. The more adventurous just plowed ahead!
There are many program aids available through the publisher. I used none of them for the first two but did purchase the flash card supplement for my third which I have found to be extremely helpful. I made my own sound cards prior to that but never had the patience to write out all the words. The purchased cards include the sounds plus hundreds of words organized by lesson. The only downside is having to cut them out yourself but that's a lot easier than writing them out, in my opinion! I don't remember how much I paid but the website now lists options between $10 and $35.
So...a $20 to $55 investment yields a priceless treasure!
In my next post, I'll share my thoughts and experiences with developing all students into advanced readers in spite of different personalities and learning styles.