To kickoff this blog I would like to give a run-down of our first grade homeschooling curriculum. It has been so incredibly productive! The progress my daughter has made far exceeded expectations and I definitely see the effectiveness of our long-term curriculum plan in action.
Approximately the first five to fifteen minutes of our formal school day is spent working on memorizing scripture, practicing previously memorized verses, or reading stories from The Jesus Storybook Bible or other books we get from the library about Biblical figures. We are reading through our Jesus Storybook Bible chronologically. But I try to supplement our social studies topics with Bible stories from coordinating time-periods as well. For example, we read the story of Esther when we studied the Persian Empire.
Alternatively, we choose a story from The Children’s Book of Virtues which reinforces morals and character traits we are trying to instill.
We love Horizons Math by Alpha Omega Publications, Inc. This curriculum uses a spiral-based approach. This breaks down complex concepts into small steps which build on each other over time. With this approach, mastery of a concept is not required at its introduction. Rather, skills are introduced and then circled back to (thus “spiral” approach) many, many times in bite-sized, digestible chunks.
In a single lesson four to six different concepts or so may be covered, beginning with a new or relatively new one and progressing to very familiar ones. I love this because you don’t spend an entire day of math on the same concept. This fits perfectly with my belief that children are capable of learning many different things. Just as long as they are not worn down with too much of the same topic at one time.
Other bonuses I love:
- The child-friendly worksheets which are (almost always) one single page, front and back, per lesson with large print, colorful pictures, and clean, neat formatting. It does not overwhelm, but draws kids in and interests them. It’s very different from a textbook with 30 problems listed on a page.
- An easy to follow, but detailed teacher’s manual which provides plenty of optional ideas and worksheets if extra or remedial help is needed.
- The emphasis on manipulatives. Many of these you can find or make at home but some of which you are better off purchasing. Here is a post about the ones we purchased for first grade and will use again in second. Worth every penny!
We use a combination of phonics and whole language instruction for reading, but phonics is the bedrock. Phonics rules are the essential building block for reading and spelling. In fact, phonics class will become spelling class during second grade. I have had incredible success teaching reading to very young children using the simple classical education book The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading.
There are many well-written reviews of this book online and I will not duplicate them here. I will say that I have never found another curriculum which teaches phonics so succinctly, thoroughly, and correctly. I was shocked to find that many phonics curriculum I previewed had glaring errors, such as using a word to illustrate a phonics concept which did not actually apply to that concept. To sum up this book in two simple words – it works. It is not fancy, but it is effective.
We actually began first grade on Section 4 of the book, having covered sections one through three in preschool and kindergarten.
Why teach grammar to first graders? Because it is an essential building block of literacy and you do not want their writing impeded in later grades by stopping to fix incomplete sentences and punctuation errors. I love the classical education resource First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind: Level 1. It is simple and easy to follow. And we go at the easy pace of two lessons a week. Many of the exercises are given orally, which helps keep the amount of handwriting those little hands are doing each day at a manageable level.
Although I did not love the Horizons phonics curriculum, I think the Horizons Readers that come with the curriculum (and can be purchased separately) are wonderful. There are two readers to work through per grade and the lessons sizes are very manageable. The teacher’s manual suggests reading to your child until lesson 40, then they begin to read to you with assistance.
The fact that we are using a different phonics curriculum has not held us back from using these at all. It’s easy to see which phonics concepts the story is trying to reinforce if you want to coordinate it with phonics instruction. But I use them mostly for reading fluency and comprehension.
Each lesson is a short story. Then there are three questions at the end for your child to answer. I have used these with great success to teach how to phrase answers in complete sentences, an essential skill to be mastered in the grammar stage.
We look forward to this part of our school day a lot. We are usually laughing at something in the stories. They are interesting and engaging, which motivates my daughter to press forward in reading them.
Of course, we do A LOT of other reading besides this. We read for fun and as a large part of our science and social studies lessons. But I have noticed that these lessons greatly increase her ease and enjoyment of reading on her own.
We are working our way through Handwriting Skills Simplified: Learning Manuscript Writing. Because I emphasize quality over quantity in penmanship, we only do one side of a page a day. Even with this modest assignment, we will work through at least the Grade 1 and Grade 2 books this year, and I’ll probably just supplement with printables after that until the end of the year. Pros for these books are that they provide foundational writing skills practice, they are simple, and they have plenty of review and reinforcement. I would say the only con is the first grade book doesn’t last for all of first grade.
I was so happy to find an excellent science curriculum specifically based on the methods and trivium laid out in The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home. It is called Biology for the Grammar Stage (they also have the other sciences for the other years) and is designed to be used for any year of your choice, from first through fourth.
The Biology curriculum covers zoology, human anatomy, and botany. I purchased the teachers guide and student workbook, as well as suggested supporting reference materials for each unit. The teacher’s guide suggests supplemental reading which I can usually find in the library. And when I can’t, I can always find other books, fiction and nonfiction, that work just as well.
What I really appreciate about this curriculum is its reinforcement of skills considered vital in early classical education, such as memorization of key facts, practice in narration, and use of living books. We love the unit projects that span the course of each subject and let my daughter build on her knowledge. She really loves seeing them come together over time. I do find the suggested scientific demonstrations to be a weak link since they don’t always illustrate the concepts being taught, so I occasionally forgo them or substitute my own.
For social studies we use the classical education resource The Story of the World: Ancient Times. We use the text and teacher’s guide, as well as a suggested reference book. But, as with our science curriculum, most content comes from supplementing with literature and other “living books” from the library. The teacher’s guide includes maps to complete, coloring pages, games and activities, suggested reading, discussion questions, and more.
It is a little light on the geography aspect of social studies. So I will supplement that with some other resources in later grades.
I prefer the chronological approach to history, as opposed to the concentric ring approach (community, state, country, world). This curriculum is perfect for that and really ties together events in different places during the same time-period.
It has been a joy to see my girl’s eyes opened to the wonders of civilizations like ancient Egypt and Greece. Story of the World has inspired her creativity in art and in her playtime. It has encouraged her reading and her drive to seek out knowledge for herself. And it has increased her self-esteem as she sees references to these civilizations in our everyday life and knows where they come from.
I keep record of all the activities we do that don’t fall directly into the subjects above. I believe that in these early years these types of activities should just be “extras” and are often naturally incorporated into play so I don’t have a formal curriculum for them. This includes things like:
- practice using a computer, and
- foreign language study.
I have since found a couple of other great resources you may be interested in. They work well for teaching a variety ages. I wish I had discovered them when I was doing first grade with my oldest. But I will be using them for my two daughters together in second grade and pre K for sure!
I was so fortunate to find Masterpiece Society. Alisha offers many online art lessons. But she has just developed a set of art appreciate courses which are perfect for teaching little ones how to appreciate fine art. They are super easy to use, great for teaching multiple ages at once, and you can purchase anything from one artist study to the whole set. Please check out her website for more details and to see how beautiful the samples are!
We love our nature walks! I am mostly a classical education homeschoolin’ momma. But every once in a while some Charlotte Mason creeps in. So I was so happy to find Lara at Everyday Graces. She has created this beautiful watercolor nature journal which is perfect for recording your narrations, coloring pictures, and pasting treasures you find. I love that you can print out extra pages, if you need lots of bird pages for example. While you are checking it out, look for her Charlotte Mason Planner as well!
So what do you think? If you have used any of these resources, please share your opinions in the comments. Or if you have other suggestions about first grade curriculum that have worked well for you, I would love to hear about them. Don’t forget to read about Mercer Homeschooling’s mission to make homeschooling more enjoyable and subscribe to receive posts in your inbox.
Enjoy your family!