Major Publishers Overview - Traditional Publishers with Comprehensive Curriculum in the Christian Homeschool Market
A Beka Book
PO Box 19100
Pensacola, FL 32523-9100
A Beka Book offers materials for pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade including supplementary materials. A Beka also offers enrollment in their own A Beka Correspondence School or video courses.
A Beka's philosophy is conservative, Christian (Protestant), and patriotic. Their approach to education is traditional with an emphasis on drill, repetition, and memorization. Children are expected to memorize information first, then develop conceptual understanding later. Learning takes place through direct instruction, workbook activities, drills, and oral responses. 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. 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 sells teacher curriculum guides, teacher's editions (sometimes equivalent to answer keys), and texts at retail prices to individuals. Subject area curriculum guides/lesson plans lay out lesson plans and offer teaching suggestions. A Beka is unusual in that they sometimes separate answer keys (teacher's editions) from teaching information (teacher curriculum guides), although this is not true of most of the newer editions. In new editions of some of their books, A Beka is creating teacher editions with instructional information in the first half of the book and student pages in the last half. Sometimes answers to questions are overprinted on the student pages. The organization of teacher material is not the same for all courses, which creates some confusion. In some instances, you will want both teacher's edition and teacher curriculum guide. But, with only a few exceptions, curriculum guides are not very useful to home educators.
The math and language worktexts include instruction on new concepts, but you will sometimes need teacher's editions for additional instruction and for answer keys, especially when the material gets too difficult to correct without them.
The arithmetic program for the early years requires the curriculum guides. The colorful, revised arithmetic programs for grades 1-3 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. The scope and sequence is more advanced than some other programs, so be cautious about expecting all children to work at the listed grade level. The need for teacher's books varies text by text at high school level, so read the information for each text. High school math courses should be "taught" rather than used for independent study.
Language arts programs review much of the same material year after year. Students are able to work independently through much of the material in the Language worktexts although the level of difficulty can be challenging. In the upper elementary grades and beyond, grammar instruction goes into great detail. While it is not exciting, it gives children a thorough knowledge of the subject. Writing needs more attention than is given in the language worktexts alone, so either use ideas from the teacher's guides or use ideas from supplements for composition.
The reading program is based upon phonics, although the complete age-graded reading program for each grade level is cumbersome for home educators. A Beka does push 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 elemenatry grades have much more 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 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.
You can use history and some science books without Teacher's Guides unless you want answers to text exercises which are found in the Guides.
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. Revised science books for grades 4 through 6 separate health topics into separate health science texts. Science books for junior and senior high are excellent. However, on junior high levels there is excessive emphasis on detail and memorization. Use tests and assignments with discretion. Junior high texts, Matter and Motion and Science: Order and Reality, are excellent for general science background. The high school Biology text is well-written and practical for home educators. Chemistry and Physics are much more difficult to use and should be taught by a teacher.
One frequent complaint about A Beka materials in general is that there are too many quizzes, drills, and tests, and they tend to focus on detailed, rote learning rather than concepts. A Beka does include quite a bit of busy work in their material. Watch carefully and do not require your child to complete everything in each lesson unless the practice is necessary.
A Beka materials can be ordered directly from A Beka by writing for a catalog and order form.
A Beka also offers courses via internet streaming or DVD for those enrolled in their A Beka Academy.
Alpha Omega Publications
804 N. 2nd Ave. E.
Rock Rapids, IA 51246-1759
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. These small workbooks contain instruction, information, questions (with blanks), and tests. 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. LIFEPACS consist of ten booklets for each subject each year. However, students can work at their proper levels in all subjects rather than being regimented into a single grade level for all subjects.
Courses are available in complete sets for each subject for each grade level. Each boxed set includes 10 LIFEPACS and a complete teacher's guide which includes all answer keys, tests, and teacher helps for the subject for that year in a spiral-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 (the latter two subject areas combine within one LIFEPAC strand) for the elementary grades. Only a few of the LIFEPAC courses require the use of a supplementary book to complete the course. Non-denominational Christianity is integrated throughout the material.
Unlike School of Tomorrow, Alpha Omega emphasizes 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 ($14.95) 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. Print placement tests for math and language arts as well as for Bible, history and geography, and science are $6 each or $24.95 for the 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.
Alpha Omega also publishes the Horizons Christian workbook curriculum that is more traditional in design and presentation. The Horizons curriculum begins with a complete preschool program; the program for four-year olds is available now but a new program for three-year olds will be ready for Fall 2013. Horizons continues with Phonics and Reading courses for grades K through 3, Spelling and Vocabulary for grades 1 through 3, Penmanship for grades 1 through 5, Math for grades K through 8, and Health for K through 8. Horizons Math was selected as a Top Pick.
Switched-On Schoolhouse is a computerized version (on CD-ROM) of the LIFEPAC curriculum available for grades 3-12. Monarch shifts Switched-On Schoolhouse to the internet and adds even more features.Switched-On Schoolhouse and Monarch are also included among my Top Picks.
Alpha Omega offers elective courses in their different product lines for many subjects such as art, foreign language, government, state history, speech, computer office applications (eg. Word, PowerPoint, Excel), business, and worldview.
BJU Press (BJUP)
Greenville, SC 29614
BJU Press's philosophy is conservative and Christian (Protestant). Educationally, they seem to have balanced their curriculum with teaching methods that suit most learning styles, although much of the necessary information to properly teach to all the learning styles is contained in the teacher's editions rather than in student books.
BJUP offers a mixture of softbound and hardbound student texts with separate teacher's editions. Most classroom teacher's editions are have a spiral binding with a hardback cover. The pages will not rip out of these as they might from binders, and the hardback cover lends rigidity for easier handling. Reproduced student pages within many teacher's editions are printed in black and white, although student books themselves are printed in color. (New teacher's editions have color reproductions of student pages.) Teacher's editions seem expensive, and home educators sometimes try to work without them. However, they often contain material essential to proper use of the texts. Sometimes teacher's editions contain the student text without answers so a separate student text might be unnecessary. (Check with the publisher about each teacher's edition.) Recognizing that the cost of teacher's editions has sometimes deterred homeschoolers from purchasing these volumes, even when they are essential, BJU Press offers less expensive home teacher's guides (along with support materials) for most of their courses for the elementary grades.
Throughout BJUP's curriculum, student material is colorful and well presented. It also has strong Biblical teaching incorporated in a very effective manner. BJUP also has less busy work than A Beka.
The cost might be higher than other publishers since many texts are hard cover and you will often need the teacher's editions. However, quality and durability are good, and many of the books can be resold after use.
BJUP begins reading instruction in kindergarten. The phonics program is contained within Beginnings K/5 and Phonics and Reading 1. Beginnings K/5 provides all you need for kindergarten aside from math curriculum and Bible instruction. The goal of the K/5 program is exposure to beginning concepts without pressure. Phonics and Reading 1 continues with phonics and correlates that instruction with other language arts areas. While there are a variety of informal activities in the K-1 programs, they lean toward more formal learning than some find necessary in the home school. You might use other methods for early elementary levels (particularly kindergarten), switching to BJUP when you feel it is appropriate.
The elementary grades math program does not stress advanced computation skills as does A Beka's. BJUP math strives to develop understanding of math with manipulatives and thought-provoking word problems. This approach requires more one-on-one presentation than do some other math programs. At upper levels, BJUP math encourages children to think and analyze through well designed word problems, but requires more one-on-one presentation than do many other math programs, especially for high school level.
BJUP uses a slant printing/handwriting system very similar to ScottForesman's D'Nealian that is very popular with some home schoolers and teachers.
Science books for first through fifth grades are more activity-oriented than traditional science texts. This makes them more useful for children with different learning styles. BJUP has done a good job melding high quality content with activities. Junior high science (Life and Earth Science) and ninth grade Basic Science are good texts that will work well in the home school. Higher level texts assume the classroom environment for lab work and are increasingly difficult to use. However, BJU Press lab DVDs and lab kits appropriate for homeschool use.
The Bible curriculum for junior and senior high school is well written, purposeful, and easy to use, even without the teacher's editions.
Families with only one or two grade levels to teach generally find they can make use of BJUP texts and teacher's editions more easily than families with more grade levels to teach. The problem of getting through the large amount of material in the teacher's editions sometimes causes families to use only the texts or workbooks, thereby eliminating essential parts of many courses. Check under individual course reviews whether the teacher's edition is essential or not, then determine if you have time to utilize the material properly.
In addition, online, DVD, or harddrive presentations of most BJUP course area available through BJU Press's distance learning options.
Christian Liberty Press
502 W. Euclid Ave.
Arlington Heights, IL 60004
Christian Liberty Academy was one of the pioneers in home education. They have offered educational assistance through their home education program at extremely low cost because they view their role as one of ministry. They promote solid, Bible-based (Protestant) education and a very conservative (limited government) political philosophy.
We can enroll in their correspondence course or purchase materials separately. In their efforts to keep the cost of home education as affordable as possible, they have begun publishing many of their own books under the Christian Liberty Press imprint. Many of these books in the past were reprints from the last century, but these have largely been replaced with newly-written books. The quality improves with each new edition. All CLP books are very inexpensive.
An assortment of readers is available for all levels. Since they differ significantly from one another, check the reviews for each level. The Nature Reader series (for grades 1-5) are reprints, many of which have been reformatted from the original to make both print and pictures larger. However, they are not substitutes for basal readers but are useful as supplemental reading material.
CLP has put together inexpensive reading kits for both beginning and remedial instruction that incorporate their books along with others. CLP's set of beginning phonetic readers are an excellent tool that might be used along with other phonics programs. Also, check out Noah Webster's Reading Handbook, a self-contained, uncluttered approach for teaching phonics.
CLP publishes their own Applications of Grammar courses for junior and senior high.
The Handwriting series for grades K-4 features the traditional ball and stick/Palmer method. While they are not visually exciting and colorful, they do the job of teaching handwriting. The Building Spelling Skills series (for grades 1-8) takes a very rule-oriented approach to teaching spelling, building first upon phonetic skills.
The history books are an eclectic assortment of reprints and new books that can be used at various levels from first through eighth or ninth grade. Some of the readers are also quite useful for history coverage so I have included them in this history section of the website. Streams of Civilization deserves special mention here as a unique and interestingly-written, two-volume history text for junior and senior high although there is quite a jump from one level to the next. Some of their historical biographies of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and others might be of interest.
CLP science worktexts for grades K through 3 seem to be a real contrast to the general Christian Liberty approach because they are very experiment-oriented with plenty of thought-provoking questions.
Bible books are available for grades K-8. Younger levels are useful, and the higher levels of the Studying God's Word series (books E-H) are excellent. The Studying God's Word series is suggested up through seventh grade, but these books are so good that I would recommend them even to older students, perhaps starting with books F, G, or H.
All history/civics textbooks, Building Spelling Skills (except Book 1), and the Studying God's Word series have teacher's manuals written by CLP staff. The manuals are very brief, containing answer keys and teaching suggestions. Even briefer teacher's notes come with the handwriting books.
Examples of other supplementary CLP books include biographies of Saint Patrick, George McClellan, Charles Spurgeon, David Livingstone, and George Washington; two good books on the Pilgrims; and an interesting little book entitled Training Children in Godliness.
If you are not satisfied with CLP books, they may be returned within thirty days of shipment; however, you will be charged a ten percent restocking charge.
Christian Light Education
P. O. Box 1212
Harrisonburg, VA 22801-1212
(877) 226-8010 homeschool department
Christian Light publishes a curriculum, much of which is similar in concept to Alpha Omega's LIFEPAC curriculum. Originally an adaptation of that curriculum, Christian Light has gone on to create much of their own original material. Christian Light's Mennonite beliefs (Anabaptist doctrine) are reflected throughout much of their curriculum.
First graders begin with ten "Learning to Read" Lightunits. After completing these, they are ready to move into five basic strands of Lightunits: Bible, language arts, math, science, and social studies. The math courses are particularly popular among homeschoolers, and you can read my review by clicking here.
In addition, Christian Light publishes some textbooks designed primarily to meet the needs of Mennonite students but of interest to many other home schoolers: God's Marvelous Gifts (fifth grade science), Living Together on God's Earth, Into All the World, North America is the Lord's, and God's World - His Story (social studies texts for grades 3-6). An elementary-level Canadian social study unit is available, and Canadian studies are also covered in a set of four special Lightunits used typically at seventh grade level.
Christian Light has its own hardcover texts with matching Lightunits for high school literature, as well as for a number of other courses.Christian Light also incorporates materials from other publishers into some of their courses at the upper levels, primarily for high school electives. Elective courses include keyboarding, accounting, practical record keeping, computer literacy, electricity, agriculture, woodworking, art, home economics, Spanish, consumer math, practical math, Greek, carpentry, home repair and maintenance, small engines, basic automotive service and systems, and Christian ethics.
Christian Light also carries a broad line of supplementary books and resources. Christian Light curriculum is available by grade level, subject, or individual unit. They also offer school services through Homeschool Plus.
Landmark's Freedom Baptist Curriculum
2222 East Hinson Ave.
Haines City, FL 33844-4902
Landmark offers a complete curriculum for grades K-12. Students can enroll in the complete program or purchase individual courses.
LFBC believes that it is parents' responsibility to pass on knowledge, wisdom, and values to their children, so the curriculum is strongly oriented toward inculcating a Judeo-Christian value system. Most people would describe the philosophy as very conservative. History shuns modern social studies, choosing to concentrate on history and geography.
English takes a back-to-basics approach with phonics, reading (using McGuffey Readers), parts of speech, diagramming, and plenty of writing. Science is Bible based, teaching the creation science viewpoint. Bible courses use the KJV. The courses are uneven in quality, both graphically and in content, but they are gradually being revised and improved. The curriculum is very academic through the elementary grades. See reviews of the kindergarten program in Chapter Five and reviews of specific subject courses in some of the other chapters.
The scope and sequence varies somewhat from other Christian publishers. For example, high school science includes four courses: Physical Science, Biology, Health and Dynamic Biblical Living, and Scientific Creationism. Neither chemistry nor physics is offered. Math courses offered for high school are two years of algebra, geometry, and business math. Electives are penmanship, home economics, shop, personal development, Spanish I, and principles of music, with more being created.
Generally, the curriculum is designed like Alpha Omega's LIFEPAC and School of Tomorrow's PACE curricula. Most LFBC courses work well for independent study, although there are only one or two large books per course.
Customized samples (samples from two subject sets of the customers choice and a Scope and Sequence) are available for $5.
LFBC allows parents to purchase materials to use as they wish, but they encourage home schooling families to work under the auspices of some oversight organization for accountability.
Rod and Staff Publishers, Inc.
Rod and Staff is a Mennonite publishing company that is very supportive of home schooling. The curriculum relies heavily upon Biblical material in all subject areas.
Among the distinctives of the Mennonite philosophy are nonresistance and separation, including the belief that the church should not involve itself in government, and this is reflected in their texts. Mennonite philosophy also emphasizes hard work and diligence, and this is very evident throughout the material. Learning occurs via reading, lectures, and memorization rather than through experimentation and discovery.
There is much busywork and extra material in Rod and Staff's textbooks since they were designed for classroom use. So you should not try to use everything in every book. If you know your goals and use curriculum as a tool, you can use Rod and Staff effectively by choosing how much of the material to have your child do.
Their readers are appealing to those who desire strong Biblical content since they feature retold Bible stories and character-building stories based on Biblical principles, rejecting the fantasy, science fiction, and fables found in most other readers.
The Building Christian English texts are solid, traditional courses for second through tenth grades that follow an accelerated scope and sequence.
Science books have excellent content, but they present science experiments to illustrate what has been taught rather than as a means of discovery learning.
Rod and Staff offers complete curriculum for most subject for the elementary grades. While they publish some readiness/ preschool materials, they do not have a kindergarten program as such. These readiness materials serve the same purpose, and are to be used with an informal preparation (described in Rod and Staff's catalog) for formal education beginning at first grade.
They have some resources for high school up through tenth grade—English for grades 9 and 10, a math course that might be used in ninth or tenth grade titled Recordkeeping for Christian Stewardship, history and geography for ninth grade, one science course that can be used in grades 9 and/or 10 for students not going on to college, and Bible for grades 9 and 10. Since many Mennonite children receive vocational training for the rest of high school, they do not continue with the usual academics past this point.
Courses translated into Spanish as of September 2012 include the reading series for grades 1 through 8, math texts for grades 1 through 6, science for grades 3 and 6, health for grade 2, Music Level A, and some preschool workbooks and storybooks.
School of Tomorrow
PO Box 299000
Lewisville, TX 75029-9000
School of Tomorrow 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).
School of Tomorrow 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.
School of Tomorrow 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 three levels (approximately grades 2-4). 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.
School of Tomorrow 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, School of Tomorrow 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.
School of Tomorrow 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.
School of Tomorrow's 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 School of Tomorrow 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.
School of Tomorrow 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 School of Tomorrow 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.
School of Tomorrow sells a Quick Start Kit $19.95. This includes a video for parents, a home school manual, scope and sequence book, and an Activity Pac. 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.
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