Plain and Not So Plain (PANSP) is a free Christian curriculum for grades one through nine that covers math and language arts, including beginning reading. This is a bare-bones program with printable pages that have both instructions (minimal) and student worksheets. There are no separate teacher guides. The approach is traditional, although there are occasional hands-on activities for math in the first two levels.
The courses are available as free PDF files that are easily accessed from a single page with no registration or sign up required. Alternatively, a single printed book with all subject areas is available for purchase for each grade.
There are no tables of contents or indexes so you have to scan through books to find particular topics or else use a search tool for the PDF files. There are no tests, although some of the courses have many pages of multiple-choice questions at the end that might be used for that purpose.
For third grade and above, there are free PDF answer keys, but these are not listed with the downloadable courses. You can find them on the website page for the printed books.
The author, Amy Maryon, has put these courses together, largely to meet the needs of her own family. Making them available for free means there is no staff to create illustrated pages or to guarantee a polished product. Nevertheless, the curriculum offers a dependable core program for math and language arts. As she suggests, add a unit study or other course material, especially for history and science, to round out your curriculum.
The Christian content seems minimal aside from the copywork in first grade, but I didn’t check everything.
Homeschoolers who want to use workbooks and a straightforward, easy-to-use program should consider PANSP even if they don’t need to save money.
I review the first three levels in detail below. I have not reviewed all of the other courses for grades four through nine, but I want to comment on some of the eighth- and ninth-grade courses before I begin. The eighth-grade math course is a thorough, challenging pre-algebra course, but ninth-grade math seems to be a review of earlier levels of math rather than a first-year algebra course, On the other hand, the ninth-grade English course covers composition, grammar, spelling, and vocabulary at an appropriate level. You only need to add a literature component to that course.
The kindergarten/first-grade course is shown as the “1st Grade Complete Curriculum” on the website. The course presents what used to be taught in first grade but has become common for kindergarten. It assumes that children already know the alphabet and sounds of the letters, and it teaches reading with phonics. Use it for whichever level suits the needs of your child. (You can either use a different program for kindergarten and consider this a first-grade program or use it for kindergarten and use each level of PANSP one grade earlier.)
One 280-page file covers both math and language arts. You start with one page a day, then at the top of some pages are notes telling you how many pages are to be done together each day. Still, parents should use their judgment as to how much their child can complete per day.
The course briefly reviews short vowels then teaches blending with a consonant-vowel approach (e.g., ma, me, mi, mo, and mu). There is plenty of practice; lists of words organized by word families (e.g., den, hen, men, pen, and ten) help children learn to read proficiently. Long-vowel words are taught in the second semester.
There are some dictation activities. They begin with only letters, then gradually add short words that children have learned to read such as fun and sun. On page 76, dictation shifts to sentences such as, “I had fun,” after which the course gradually increases the length of dictation passages. Children also practice writing out their own name, their address, and their birthday.
Copywork with adapted Bible verses begins on page 96 with, “As for God, His way is perfect. Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” Later, the course adds direct quotations from the Bible as well as quotations from famous people. Children also learn to construct their own sentences. By the end of this course, they are supposed to write their own paragraphs, including a thank-you letter and a description of their room. Language arts worksheets occasionally have space for the child to draw a picture.
To enhance the instruction for reading and language arts, PANSP uses many of the free downloadable files from Starfall.com. (Starfall has lots of free pages as well as resources they sell.) The Starfall pages are attractively illustrated. Since the PANSP pages do not have illustrations, using pages from Starfall adds visual the interest that most children need as well as essential practice. For the kindergarten-first grade course, PANSP uses Starfall’s files for “cut-up books” to create a series of beginning readers. It also uses the worksheets in Starfall’s Level I: Reading & Writing Journal which correlate directly with those beginning readers. The Journal worksheets provide practice with phonics, sight words, writing whole words and sentences, rhyming words, plurals, contractions, quotation marks, compound words, antonyms, suffixes, and alphabetical order.
For math, children learn to write numerals and count to 100. They are taught addition and subtraction (without carrying or borrowing). Children learn to count by 2s, 3s, 4s, 5s, 10s, and 25s. Other basic skills taught are shapes, colors, patterns, greater than, less than, comparison (height, length, weight), odd and even numbers, telling time, reading a calendar, solving word problems, and money.
There are a few hands-on math activities. On page 20, you are remove the letter cards from a deck of playing cards and have children play War. Page 33 has large numerals for 1 through 19. You are to cut these out for your child to arrange in order. Pages 44 and 47 have a layout and instructions for practicing addition using small counters such as beans, toothpicks, or small candies. Subtraction is introduced with small counters and a worksheet on page 119.
For second grade, PANSP has four essential files─one each for English and spelling and two for math. There’s an optional file that has spelling worksheets that are formatted for left-handed writers. You are supposed to use one page each day for each subject area. English instruction does not include reading skills. The course author, Amy Maryon, comments on her website that she adds reading comprehension separately.
Among topics covered in the file for English are parts of speech (nouns, verbs, adjectives, pronouns, and articles), subjects, predicates, proper and common nouns, verb tenses, singulars and plurals, linking and action verbs, capitalization, punctuation, subject-verb agreement, contractions, possessives, compound words, rhyming words, homophones (e.g., to, two, and too), and antonyms.
Students are frequently given space to write their own original sentences or paragraphs, and sometimes they have space to add an illustration. Near the end of the course, students learn how to write a very short story with the help of step-by-step lessons and graphic organizers. There are additional writing assignments such as writing a friendly letter and writing a review of a book or movie.
The last 20 pages in the file for English present multiple-choice questions, but these pose some issues. The first four pages deal with using the library, reference works, and components of books (e.g., index, table of contents, and copyright date), but these topics are not covered in the course. Other questions on these pages are often confusing for various reasons. It might be useful for both parent and child to try to figure out the answers to the questions as a teaching opportunity, but I wouldn’t ask children to answer these on their own.
Math begins by teaching place value using images that look like Base Ten Blocks. (You can make this a hands-on lesson using Base Ten Blocks if you have them.) The math course goes on to cover topics such as the number line, greater than and less than symbols, skip counting (by 2s, 5s, 10s, and 100s), the commutative property, word problems, regrouping for both addition and subtraction, using tally marks, money, telling time, rounding numbers, estimation, fractional parts, the calendar, metric measurement, writing numbers in expanded form, shapes, congruency, odd and even numbers, and writing out the words for numbers. Students are doing both addition and subtraction with three-digit numbers by the end of the course. For extra practice on math facts, the course recommends that students use the free program at xtramath.org.
The spelling course is very straightforward. On Monday students copy each of their ten spelling words twice on the lines provided. On Tuesday they write a sentence for each spelling word. On Wednesday they complete a word search puzzle. In the eighth and twenty-eighth weeks, they have an extra assignment to practice writing their words in rainbow colors. And on Thursdays students are given a test. Then they copy any missed words five times.
The answer keys for the second-grade courses are only available in the printed book, but you shouldn’t need them.
Third grade has three essential files: math, English, and spelling. Reading comprehension is added this year as a collection of small files. Optional files are available for spelling in cursive and for spelling for left-handed writers.
The math course reviews previously-taught concepts, adding incremental levels of difficulty. For instance, place value concepts now go beyond the hundreds up through the hundred thousands. This course also introduces ordinal numbers (i.e, first, second, etc.), multiplication with single-digit multipliers, division with single-digit divisors, addition of fractions with like denominators, perimeter, area, points, lines, segments, symmetry, perpendicular lines, parallel lines, and measurements. Toward the end of the course, It’s not clear where the daily work pages end and review begins, so watch for this awkward transition.
Third-grade English covers some reading skills as well as other areas of language arts, reviewing and building upon previously-taught topics. New topics include adverbs, conjunctions, interjections, irregular verbs, comparative and superlative adjectives, subject and object pronouns, the four types of sentences, silent letters in words (e.g., the silent w in wrong), consonant digraphs such as gh, abbreviations, discerning the difference between facts and opinions, classifications, synonyms, analogies, similes, writing with vivid words, topic sentences, constructing paragraphs, and writing letters. This course has a number of lengthier writing assignments at the end.
Spelling lessons have 12 words per week. On the first day each week, students copy the words once on the lines provided. For the second day, there is a word search puzzle. On the third day, they write their own sentence for each spelling word. Then they take a test on the fourth day.
The reading comprehension files are a compilation of activities, worksheets, the author’s own questions, and questions gleaned from other resources. There is a list of book titles, and for each book there are one- or two-page downloads with either activity instructions or comprehension questions. A few of the books listed are The Lorax, Legend of the Indian Paintbrush, and Best Friends for Frances. There are additional links to online resources located on other websites for books such as Polar Express and Molly’s Pilgrim. The reading comprehension section is roughly put together. For instance, there is no indication of which particular book to read about George Washington so that children will be able to answer the comprehension questions. Titles of the books are not all properly capitalized, and there’s at least one broken link. Still, there is plenty here to cover reading comprehension.
As I said at the beginning, Plain and Not So Plain lacks the polish of professional work, but it's still an amazing resource for something that you can access for free.