Explode the Code, published by School Specialty-
Phonics workbooks- teaches decoding, reading and spelling. I absolutely love these books. We started with the pre-K ones a couple of years ago and they worked so well for us, we just continued on with the next couple in the series. The books allow kids to go at their own pace, learning letter sounds and basic de-coding. They are workbooks and do require some pencil-holding and writing. But what is nice about them is that you can go at any pace that works for the child. The earlier, pre-K books (Get Ready for the Code, Get Set for the Code and Go for the Code) do have some pages that require teaching prompts, so I recommend having the teacher's manual for those. The manual should not be needed for the K books, though. (When I reference the "K books" in this case I mean books starting with book 1.) A thought about the half books- ie book 1.5, 2.5, etc. I think that book 1.5 is intended to be used as challenging work alongside book 1- in the classroom, I am guessing the advanced students would be given these books as extra credit or homework. We didn't use it this way. When we finished book 1, we started using book 2 and book 1.5. This allowed us to get, from book 1.5, challenging review of what was in book 1, but also address new material, in book 2. I usually alternated days with which book we used- 1.5 on Monday, 2 on Tuesday, etc. The half books are decidedly more challenging, introduce different pictures and games, and require more complex thought. Much more writing is needed in these books.
Explode the Code Online, powered by Curricula Works
The online companion to Explode the Code. This is probably the MOST useful tool for us. First of all, I just love the program itself. It basically computerizes the books into games. The kids learn basic computer skills- how to use a mouse, letter location on the keyboard- along with re-enforcing what they've learned in the workbook. Secondly- the reporting! The program is "smart"- it judges how your child does on a section and moves them along accordingly. There are review sections and challenge sections... and then I can login as the teacher and see how they're doing. I can adjust the levels they are given, either back for more review or up for more challenge. That in and of itself is so useful, as I have moments of "am I sure they are learning?" This program gives me some empirical evidence and some much-needed validation. And lastly- it allows me to have both kids working on phonics at the same time, but also give them one-on-one attention. I have one work in the workbook while the other works on the computer, and I float between them. This has been an amazing resource for me.
Singapore Math- US Standards Edition
There's a lot of debate in this world about math, and once you choose Singapore Math, there's a lot of debate about which edition to get. I will tell you how I picked Singapore- because of my sister, Debbie. She is an amazing public school first grade teacher in the state of California and she told me she was jealous that I could use Singapore Math. When I looked at Singapore's website, I saw that the US Standards Edition was adapted for California standards, so I assumed that was the one Debs was most familiar with, and I got that. Done. My kids love it. It's been easy to teach and easy for them to learn. We just fly through the books and I'm always impressed with how little I have to teach them. The way the "lessons" are laid out, once I show them a concept, we talk about it, they just move through the problems. We will stick with Singapore as long as this stays the case. It doesn't hurt that it's one of the less expensive sets out there.
Singapore Math copyrights the images of their book covers
Handwriting Without Tears
What to say about HWOT? It's just fabulous. A very gentle and creative way to teach letter forming. There're all sorts of toys and tools you can get with HWOT and we tried them all. The wood blocks were cool, but not really needed by my crew- Josiah formed letters with Lego and Gabs, well, she probably came out of the womb knowing how to write. We didn't need a lot of the other things- the dough, etc- but we did get the stamp pad for free and fought over that a lot. Honestly, we could have done with just the workbooks. If you get any of the bells and whistles, get the CD. It's nice to have something playing in the background and the songs aren't as bad as some educational songs (I'm looking at you, Classical Conversations.)
The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading by Jessie Wise and Sarah Buffington
This is a great resource. It isn't without its faults, and I did need to do a little tweaking to make it work for us, but it really does have everything you need in order to teach your child to read. We already had the letter sounds (phonograms as some call them) down so we started in Section 3 with short vowel words. Gabs, of course, breezed through it but we had more trouble with Jobs. We decided the text on the page was over-whelming to him- there really is a lot to look at- so I started writing out the words on a white board for him. This worked well, as he enjoyed erasing them after he'd read them. But the time we got to Sections 4 and 5, blends, he was able to read from the book more. One thing I had to remind myself was to make sure I was following the "review two, one new" pattern. To keep track of two different kids going through the book, I made a simple note-taking system on pieces of computer paper folded in half- one for each child. I would write the date and which three lessons we did, ie:
6/1- 101, 104, 111
I would underline ones they'd mastered, put a block on ones they needed to review and circle ones that needed intense review. In the example above, I might underline 101, box 104 and circle 111. So the next time I sat down, we'd do lessons 104 and 111 as review, and 112 as our new. If I started to see lots of boxes and circles, I would stop adding new lessons for a while until we had more underlined. And then we'd start up again.
We supplemented OPGTR with BOB books. I had them do a session with me in OPGTR once a day, if we could. And then I tried to get them to read BOB books to me at night. We were less consistent with this than I'd like, as evenings got a little convoluted here. We made better progress when I moved the BOB book reading to earlier in the day. Unfortunately, that meant sometimes something else had to get bumped. But it was worth it- reading really was our primary goal, and they are both now doing well.
What your Kindergartner Needs to Know edited by E.D. Hirsch, Jr.
This was a nice book for fun and supplemental activities. I wouldn't say we followed it, but I did reference it for some science projects and geography ideas. We sort of rounded out our days with things from this book. I like the concept of the Core Knowledge process, but as we move through the Classical method, it may be harder to keep up with things there. But we'll see, we may be able to add more things in as we go.
Other than these main things, Kindergarten for us was a time to get used to the idea of school. It also gave us a chance to see what challenges we would face as a family. Based on Rob's work and our other family interests (translated- football season) I realized that we really need to school year-long. And that our best bet would be to choose a May-April school year. The kids had finished so much of their Kindergarten work by February, that it just made sense to start First Grade in May 2012. And more on that on another tab...