Under the Home (UTH) is a complete online curriculum available for kindergarten and first grade at the time of this review (Spring 2017). Grades two and three should be available by Spring of 2018, and grades four and five are slated for a year after that.
For kindergarten and first grade it has course work for 36 weeks per year in math, reading, prose, poetry, writing, art history, music, and studio art for both levels. History, geography, and science are added for first grade. The cost is only $30 per year for your family.
The primary reason the cost is so low is that courses utilize many older resources that are in the public domain. However, UTH creator Sonja Glumich has greatly enhanced these resources with detailed lesson plans that include teaching instructions, questions, and a wealth of activities. A parent needs to work with each child through the lessons although there are some lesson activities that children can complete on their own. This is not an independent study curriculum.
While the source textbooks used for math and reading are traditional, lessons guides broaden the appeal of those books and make lessons workable for the many children who need other methods of learning.
For kindergarten math, UTH borrows methods for teaching number concepts and basic arithmetic from an 1885 book, The Eclectic Manual of Methods. However, these lessons include some hands-on activities. Children might continue with these lesson into first grade if need be. When they have completed those lessons, they should be ready for Ray’s New Primary Arithmetic. UTH continues to add hands-on activities for Ray’s Arithmetic.
For reading instruction, UTH enhances McGuffey’s Eclectic Primer with audio pronunciation of letters, words, and sentences along with guides for teaching each lesson. However, these lessons tend to be fairly traditional in the manner of presentation with relatively limited methods of presentation and no suggestions for students who need more work on a concept or skill. Note that the first lesson for kindergarten teaches the sounds and recognition of six letters plus the upper-case A as well as the words A, a, cat, rat, and and. This presupposes that children already have some familiarity with the alphabet and sounds and are ready to blend letters into words. If a child is not yet ready for this at the beginning of kindergarten, you will have to look elsewhere for reading readiness material.
Writing lessons in kindergarten can begin with printable pages from a tracework book or else a copywork book. Both use the identical material from McGuffey’s Eclectic Primer. Links to the copywork pages are embedded in the correlating reading lessons. If children have not already learned to print, you will probably have to provide more direct instruction on the formation of individual letters than is provided here.
Charlotte Mason’s ideas have definitely influenced UTH. The studies for art, literature, prose, and poetry expose children to authors, artists, and composers along with their works in a Charlotte Mason fashion. Lessons plans include narrations and picture studies, but they also sometimes add background material to be read by the parent and other activities such as hunting for particular details in a painting, vocabulary words to learn, coloring, drawing, identifying map locations, and acting.
Prose lessons use real books that are included on UTH’s site. For kindergarten, children will hear My Father’s Dragon, stories from The Great Big Treasury of Beatrix Potter, Raggedy Ann Stories, Raggedy Andy Stories, The Velveteen Rabbit, and Uncle Wiggily’s Adventures. First graders listen to The Story of Dr. Doolittle, The Wind in the Willows, and The Princess and the Goblin. Books include LibriVox audio narrations so parents need not do the reading aloud themselves. Both the stories and the audio narrations are presented in segments for each lesson so there’s no problem finding your place to pick up the next day.
Poetry lessons use Mother Goose poems for kindergarten then Poetry of Fables, Fairies, and Fauna for first grade. Poetry lessons include the lessons guides and audio narrations. Lessons guides add other elements such as memorizing and reciting poems, studying a picture that illustrates the poem, coloring pages, and completing a related art project.
Children learn about classical composers and their works in the music lessons, with the music embedded in the UTH website. Art history lessons concentrate on particular artists each year and some of their representative works. Background information and enrichment activities turn both music and art history lessons into mini-unit studies.
Poetry, art, and music lessons often intermix activities. For example, a music lesson on Beethoven’s A “Hymn of Thanksgiving” has children listen to the music a number of times. Children try to describe the music and what they heard. They discuss thankfulness and come up with their own examples. They are to color, draw, or sketch one of more things for which they are grateful while listening to the music. They study a painting showing food and resources that might be involved in preparing for Thanksgiving, narrating what they see and how it might relate to the music. I love this integrated approach.
Studio Art lessons are hands-on art activities with complete instructions. You will need to obtain your own art supplies such as pens, pencils, crayons, markers, drawing paper, colored paper, washable acrylic paints, polymer clay, and Play-Doh.
Science for first grade uses Peter and Polly in Autumn by Rose Lucia, part of an older series that teaches about nature through stories of two young children who live on a farm in the early 1900s. UTH has created extensive lessons for the readings from this book that include narration by your child, summaries of key ideas with leading questions for parents to use, and additional activities to support learning such as experiments, nature sketching, and observations.
Geography for first grade begins with study of their home and neighborhood then moves out to the broader world covering topics such as types of streets, libraries and museums, railroads, original inhabitants, slavery, manufacturing, plants, transporting products, and hills and plains. Children should create their own notebooks as they will be observing, drawing, and maybe writing about what they see and experience in many of the lessons.
History begins in first grade with Stories of Great Americans for Little Americans by Edward Eggleston. As with other subject areas, the lesson guides, copywork, coloring pages, and a variety of learning activities expand the stories into a full course.
For most lessons, there are two tabs labeled Lesson and Lesson Guide. Under the Lesson tab is where you find the course material—book, artwork, poetry, etc. The parent simultaneously needs to be able to follow the Lesson Guide while presenting the lessons. While this might pose a potential problem, I found that I could access the lessons on two different devices at the same time with the same login. So if you want the child to be able to view, for example, an image of a painting for art history or a math lesson while you teach the lesson—which seems essential to me, the child would need to be logged in simultaneously on another device.
All course material is on the ad-free UTH website, so there are no worries about dead links, surfing to objectionable pages, or the interference of advertising.
Other publishers beside UTH have created programs using older resources with mixed results. There are drawbacks to using dated material: maybe your children won’t relate to the stories of children living on farms, or maybe they won’t like the illustrations. Also, older textbooks present material in ways that are very different in sequence, style, and vocabulary than more modern resources.
However, UTH’s lesson guides have done a lovely job of applying Charlotte Mason and unit study methodology in the design of many of the lessons. Looking through the geography lessons, I found myself thinking that the activities were surely more interesting and effective for learning than most modern social studies textbooks for first grade. Oh the other hand, I’m not very enthusiastic about the reading lessons.
If you like the style of lesson presentation for some subjects and not others, you can always use only those you prefer. Even if you use lessons for only one or two subjects in a year, you will get your money’s worth out of this program.
UTH is super easy to navigate. You can use lessons from each subject area in sequence or not as you please. However, the program does not track progress or maintain any records. While parents will need to gather hands-on resources for some lessons, that shouldn't be very time-consuming or challenging. Overall, UTH offers a very inexpensive and easy-to-use option for homeschooling.