Preschool Through Grade 8

102 Top Pick for homeschool curriculumIndicates that the item is a Top Pick. The full review is available in 102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum.

A Beka Book offers materials for pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade including supplementary materials. A Beka also offers enrollment in their own A Beka Academy using internet-streamed video instruction in conjunction with their own textbooks. DVDs of the classes are also available for those who need them.

A Beka's philosophy is conservative, Christian (Protestant), and patriotic. Their approach to education is traditional with an emphasis on mastery through drill, repetition, and memorization. Children are develop conceptual understanding later. Learning takes place through direct instruction, workbook activities, drills, and oral responses. Older homeschooling students can use many A Beka courses for independent study. Hands-on activities are limited to some science experiments, construction of social studies reports, and arts and crafts.

All material is written from a Christian perspective. Although this is very evident in the science and history books, it is much less obviously so in most of the math and language arts books. Conservatism and patriotism are most evident in reading/literature and history.

A Beka books are colorful and appealing to children except for the amount of work involved in some of the worktexts. Many are paperback, making them both less expensive and less durable than hardbound books. Worktexts, used in many subjects, are definitely not reusable. A Beka also offers digital versions of many of their non-consumable textbooks on 12-month license agreement. Digital texts are enhanced with extra features such as links to animated videos and the ability to highlight and write notes.

A Beka sells teacher curriculum books, teacher editions, and answer keys, although they usually do not have all three resources for a single text. Teacher editions have the entire student text plus lesson plans and selected answers. Answer keys might be small, inexpensive booklets with only the answers or they might be copies of student worktexts with overprinted answers. There are often separate answer keys for textbooks and for Test/Quiz booklets. You will almost certainly want answer keys past first grade level simply to save time checking student work.

Homeschool Curriculum books are written for subject areas by grade level, sometimes encompassing a number of courses such as the Homeschool Phonics/Reading/Spelling 1 Curriculum that covers all three subjects listed in the title. More often, the books are narrower such as the Homeschool Arithmetic 4 Curriculum. Homeschool Curriculum books lay out lesson plans and scheduling suggestions, and they include record keeping helps and teaching suggestions. The organization of teacher material is not the same for all courses, which creates some confusion. In some instances, you will want both the teacher edition and Homeschool Curriculum book. But, with only a few exceptions, Homeschool Curriculum books are not essential for home educators. A Beka’s catalog and website list the teaching/parent resources for each course so you can see what is available.

The math and language worktexts include instruction on new concepts within student books, but you will sometimes need the Homeschool Curriculum for additional instruction. However, the arithmetic program for the early years requires the Homeschool Curriculum books. The colorful arithmetic programs for grades one through three include demonstrations with manipulatives and application (word) problems, but they also require some one-on-one teaching. Arithmetic texts for the elementary grades constantly review concepts already learned. High school math courses should be "taught" rather than used for independent study, but you might use video instruction through A Beka Academy.

A Beka’s Language courses are among my Top Picks. You can read the review here.

The reading program is based upon phonics and does a good job. However, in my opinion, the complete age-graded reading program covered by the Homeschool Curriculum for each grade level might be too much work for some home educators. A Beka does teach reading at a very early age, so you will have to judge which level is appropriate for each child. A Beka uses a number of readers at each level through the elementary grades rather than a single series. For junior and senior high levels, students read an anthology. These anthologies, especially at high school level, include a good percentage of classic literature.

History books for first and second grades are not very "meaty" but are good as starting points to do further research and kindle an interest. Those for middle and upper elementary grades have solid content. History books are fairly good at junior/senior high levels, although A Beka's history books are quite subjective compared to most others. The perspective throughout the books is Protestant, conservative, and patriotic. One of A Beka's weaknesses, evident particularly in the history texts, is a lopsided emphasis on detail recall. It is easy enough to challenge students with only the appropriate questions, so this does not present a major problem.

Science books continually reinforce Biblical truths and an understanding of God as Creator. However, like most science texts for the early grades, the first and second grade books lack substance. Science books for grades four through six teach health topics in separate health texts. Science books for junior and senior high are excellent. The high school Biology text is especially well-written, and it might be practical for home educators who are confident working through lab and field activities on their own. Chemistry and Physics are much more difficult to use.

Some homeschoolers complain that A Beka materials include too many quizzes, drills, and tests, and that the courses tend to focus on detailed, rote learning rather than concepts. However, parents can decide how much of the assessment resources to use, and they might even decide that a child can skip worktext exercises that are redundant. In the end, A Beka resources do a thorough job of covering each subject, and they often require little lesson preparation or presentation time.

A Beka materials can be ordered only directly from A Beka.

 A Gentle Feast is a flexible, Charlotte-Mason based curriculum that encourages you to work as a family as much as possible. This is a biblical program that uses lots of living books. However, it is not a detailed curriculum with specific assignments for all subjects.

The suggested outline of the curriculum is free online. You will almost certainly want to purchase the individual student packets. These are available on four levels for Forms I through IV. Packets are available in either cursive or print versions for all levels. Form I covers up through third grade. Form II is best for grades four through six. Form III is for grades seven and eight, and Form IV will suit grades nine and ten.

Student packets have lists of suggested read-alouds, picture study information and links, suggested composers to study, Scripture memory verses, hymn studies, poetry for memorization, copywork passages (from the read-aloud books for the entire family), and natural history reading assignments, plus space for dictation, free writing, and drawing. Some levels add geography assignments.

Student Packets have schedules showing what is to be accomplished in each area each week, but daily assignments are left to you. The student packets are the most detailed aspect of the curriculum. These come as downloadable PDF files, and you’ll want them stored on your tablet, phone, or computer so that you can quickly access the websites that are frequently used for source material.

It’s difficult to tell how this might work for consecutive years if a child remains in the same Form since these packets are all designed for one school year.  I expect others will be forthcoming.

The website shows a suggested flow of activities for each week under five headings. “Morning Time” should happen each day. This consists of Bible reading, Scripture memory, and prayer time. The “Beauty Loop” has you choose one aspect for each day from hymn studies, poetry memorization, picture study, or fables and hero tales. The “Academic Block” will encompass work on as many days as needed in natural history, geography, history, foreign language, grammar, and science(with the last two subjects added for fourth grade and above).  The “Language Arts Block” will vary based upon the student’s age, but it might include daily read-aloud books; copywork, dictation, or free writing; phonics; etc. The fifth heading, “Independent Studies” is a daily time dedicated to grade level appropriate math and reading. To this basic schedule you can add nature study, free reading, other subjects, and activities wherever they fit best.

Some subjects such as those within the Beauty Loop should actually loop. This means starting with the first one on the list and working through them sequentially. If you miss a day or run short on time, you just pick up from wherever you are in the loop.

After presenting the overview chart, the site provides a few more specific suggestions for each of the five areas, but generally, you are on your own to determine what to teach within each area other than those areas I’ve described for the student packets.  Ross has a link to an outline of her complete curriculum for 2016-2017 showing the primary resources she is using for all subject areas.  This helps flesh out how A Gentle Feast works alongside your choice of other resources.

If you have younger children, you might want to check out Ross’ list of suggested student readers for the primary grades.

While A Gentle Feast is not a complete program, it does a fine job of helping you develop a manageable flow to your curriculum while ensuring that your schedule includes time for learning the Bible, learning to appreciate and love good literature, and developing an appreciation for beauty through the arts and nature.

Alpha Omega publishes a few different lines of curriculum as well as their Switched-On Schoolhouse and Monarch computer based programs. Alpha Omega’s LIFEPAC curriculum was their core program from the beginning, with Switched-On Schoolhouse and Monarch developed from that platform. The educational approach is traditional in many ways although the format is unusual.

Alpha Omega LIFEPAC materials are unlike typical school textbooks in a number of ways. Children are placed at the appropriate starting point in each subject area in the program, and they work sequentially through a number of full-color workbooks, called LIFEPACS, as they master the material in each one. LIFEPACs are called a “mastery” program since students are not supposed to move on to the next LIFEPAC until they have mastered the previous one.

The LIFEPAC workbooks each contain instruction, information, questions (with blanks), and tests. Everything except answer keys is included within the LIFEPACs. Although Alpha Omega LIFEPACS are similar in format to School of Tomorrow PACEs, Alpha Omega includes a variety of questions to encourage deeper thinking rather than simple recall of factual information.

Children take tests as they complete each section of a workbook before proceeding to the next. Tests check on student mastery of current subject matter and also review previously mastered material. A second test is included within each LIFEPAC to be used as needed.

Alpha Omega offers full curriculum for grades 1-12, including Bible and electives. (Non-denominational Christianity is integrated throughout the material, not just in their Bible courses.) Courses are available in complete sets for each subject for each grade level. For most courses, each boxed set includes ten LIFEPACS and a complete teacher's guide which includes all answer keys, tests, and teacher helps for the subject for that year in a perfect-bound volume. (Grade 1 teachers' guides are in two volumes because of their size.) Subject areas are Bible, Math, Language Arts (English), Science, and History and Geography for the elementary grades. (History and Geography combine within one LIFEPAC strand.) While you can buy complete grade level packages, you can also purchase subjects separately, selecting different grade levels if need be. Only a few of the LIFEPAC courses require the use of a supplementary book to complete the course. Alpha Omega offers elective courses for many subjects such as art, foreign language, government, literature, health, speech, business, and worldview.

Unlike School of Tomorrow, Alpha Omega emphasizes that their material should not be used by a child working totally independently but that parents need to be involved, supplementing with activities and other interaction from the teachers' manuals to ensure an effective program. Even though the LIFEPACS enable children to work independently, parental involvement is essential for providing the complete learning experience intended by the publisher. Unfortunately, there is a tendency among home educators to ignore the teacher's manuals and allow children to use the material completely on their own. Because this happens so frequently, I recommend that LIFEPACS be used with older learners (junior and senior high) who are independent, self-motivated, and who do not need much hands-on experience to learn well. However, if parents plan to use the material as designed by the publisher, then it can work with learners who need more parental interaction.

The LIFEPAC approach can be a real boon to parents with many children (especially when there are large gaps between oldest and youngest) or to parents who feel inadequate to help their children in particular subjects.

Alpha Omega offers a Parent Starter Kit which includes some basics for beginning homeschoolers, a scope and sequence for the curriculum, a sample LIFEPAC plus step-by-step instructions on how to use the LIFEPACS which covers organization, administration, and record keeping.

Free placement tests are available online for math and language arts. Inexpensive print placement tests for math and language arts as well as for Bible, history and geography, and science are available individually or as a set. Tests are not timed and they are parent-administered. Step-by-step instructions show how to administer the tests, grade them, analyze the results, and determine which Alpha Omega LIFEPACS to order. The placement tests might also be useful as a general diagnostic testing tool for others not using LIFEPACS.

As of the summer of 2015, grades six through ten have been reformatted with a crisp, easy-to-read appearance that looks more up to date. The content itself for some subject areas has been updated, but some LIFEPACs retain copyrights from the 1990s. Most significantly, the math courses have been heavily revised and updated for better alignment with the more rigorous coverage offered by other publishers.

A.C.E. (Accelerated Christian Education) materials are designed for children to work independently. No lesson preparation or presentation by the parent is necessary. Children work through individual worktexts, called PACEs (12 per course, per year, although the rate can be varied to suit each child).

A.C.E. diagnostic tests are important for determining placement of our child in the material. They will identify learning gaps, performance levels, and levels of mastery. The tests are also useful to those who are not using their material. These tests are shorter than thestandardized tests and are not timed. Diagnostic testing is also available on CD-ROM.

Once children have been placed at the proper performance level in each subject area, they work sequentially through the PACES as they master the material in each one. This methodology is called "Mastery Learning." Students might be working at different levels in different subjects according to their individual abilities and needs.

These small workbooks contain instruction, information, questions (with blanks), and tests. Some high school science courses include lab worksheets. Children take quizzes as they complete each section of a worktext before proceeding to the next. Especially at younger grade levels, tests generally cover only what has recently been studied, relying largely on short-term memory.

A.C.E. has materials for grades K-12, most of it printed in full color. Subjects are covered under general headings of Bible, Math, Language Arts (English), Word Building (spelling and vocabulary) for grades 1-9 only, Science, and Social Studies. Electives are also available in Bible, business, computer literacy, economics, typing, art, literature, music, speech, government, health, French, and Spanish. Because School of Tomorrow views acquiring Biblical wisdom as a major educational goal, they have added "wisdom lessons," Scripture memory, and Biblical values throughout the curriculum.

Bible Reading curriculum is available for four levels (approximately grades 1-4). The Bible Reading courses have children read Scripture, then fill in blanks with one-word answers taken verbatim from the text.

Word Building reinforces phonics, then works on vocabulary and etymology at upper levels. Word Building tests with digitized speech are now available on CD-ROM, which makes it much easier for students to complete the Word Building PACEs independently.

A.C.E. social studies is big on the "social" end (e.g., the first half of the seventh grade level is entirely devoted to careers) along with church and Bible history, but lacking in comprehensive coverage of world and United States history and geography until high school level. At eighth grade level, A.C.E. social studies shifts to stronger history coverage up through high school.

Supplemental books are required or recommended with a number of courses, more so at the upper levels than in the early elementary grades, but these are increasingly being eliminated as PACEs are rewritten to stand alone, with the exception of their new Literature and Creative Writing course which includes a number of readers essential to the course.

New fourth editions are beginning to arrive for some subjects. Fourth editions have full color covers, updated information, lists of goals, more attractive page layout, new graphics, and some more challenging questions.

A.C.E. designed the material to move slowly at the primary levels with much attention given to drill. The difficulty curve rises quickly once you move past the elementary grades.

A.C.E. biggest weakness is that the material relies heavily upon simple recall rather than deeper thinking. Students can scan for the correct answer without having to really think about the material. There is little to encourage deeper thinking. From about fifth grade and up, more thinking and application skills are required, but the curriculum never operates at the same thinking-skill levels as curriculum from other major Christian publishers.

While no lesson preparation is required with A.C.E. PACEs, parents should use preparation time to develop activities that correlate with lessons to enhance the child's learning experience. Parents should also discuss PACE material with students to ensure that they are understanding rather than simply going through the motions of completing their worktexts.

A.C.E. also has preschool material (Preschool with Ace and Christi) which covers readiness topics. A separate course for beginning reading is entitled A B C's with Ace and Christi. It is presented in a more traditional format, requiring teacher presentation of lessons.

Some A.C.E. materials are also published in Spanish. Math, Language Arts, A B C's with Ace and Christi, Social Studies, and Science for grades 1 through 6 are almost all available.

A.C.E. sells a Quick Start Kit for $19.95 that includes a Diagnostic Test Kit (for one student), their Home Educator’s Manual, a record keeping set, and a scope and sequence book. This kit will help you figure out how to get started in the curriculum much more easily than if you try to do it on your own.

Angelicum Academy offers complete, classical, Catholic education programs for nursery through high school. Relying primarily on recommendations from Mortimer Adler and John Senior, this is "Great Books"-based education, that expands using other resources for covering the full range of academics. This is an advanced, very-challenging program. For example math is advanced a full year from the very beginning--second graders are using either Saxon Math 3 or Developmental Math levels 5 and 6. The program is broad as well as being advanced; it includes art, map skills, geography, history, language arts, literature (and Great Books), math, philosophy, logic, music, science, religion, foreign language, and Socratic discussion groups (beginning with third grade). However, parents may enroll their children in complete programs or any parts they might select.

They use an interesting mix of resources such as Sing, Spell, Read, and Write; A Beka handwriting books; Shurley Garmmar; Greenleaf Guides for history; Christ and the Americas; the Baltimore Catechism; National Geographic CD's; Latin's Not So Tough!; Power-glide; and Harcourt Brace science texts. These resources are in addition to 12-15 "real books". Books selected for the younger grade levels (K-6) include such titles as Winnie the Pooh, The Red Fairy Book, Wind in the Willows, The Secret Garden, Huckleberry Finn, Otto of the Silver Hand, The Last of the Mohicans, For the Temple, and Tanglewood Tales.

Enrollment entitles the student/parent to daily lesson plans, participation in Socratic discussion groups (grades 3-12), educational consultation, quarterly tests in each course, test grading service, semester report cards, comprehensive testing about every 2 years, transcript, and 10% discount on book purchases other than the Great Books reading material. Books need to be purchased separately. You can select materials from different grade levels when appropriate. Some resources are used for a number of levels (e.g., National Geographic CD's). While you can purchase "whole grade kits," you can also order all items individually. Cost will vary depending upon your choices.

This is an ambitious program, but it does seem to offer plenty of parent support and flexibility.

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Featured Preschool Through Grade 8 Resource

Time4Learning

Time4Learning is a website for homeschoolers for PreK through high school that covers math, language arts, social studies, and science. It is built around CompassLearning Odyssey®, an online, interactive educational system that has been in existence for many years. CompassLearning Odyssey is used by many traditional schools, and it was previously available to homeschoolers through ChildU. While CompassLearning Odyssey is used by schools through other interfaces, Time4Learning provides the interface that works for homeschoolers.

Read full review for Time4Learning

Note: Publishers, authors, and service providers never pay to be reviewed. They do provide free review copies or online access to programs for review purposes.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services that believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 "Guidelines Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."