First, let me say that I wasn't initially planning on purchasing this curriculum. I wanted to do something different for science, and wasn't sure about the price for the curriculum guide since we weren't planning on using the curriculum as written. Then, I saw a seller that listed an "acceptable" quality used guide for $20 + shipping. Considering that I paid $35 for a similar condition used guide at our local homeschool store, I thought this was a great deal and promptly snatched it up. I hadn't had a chance to fully look through the curriculum, so I quickly reviewed it after it arrived last week.
Now that I've had a chance to review it, this curriculum looks amazing! Of course, there are pluses and minuses, as with any complete curriculum, but I thought I would post about what I consider the pluses and minuses and how we plan on using it next year.
- Reading Curriculum. My number one biggest, pleasant surprise at this curriculum is the emerging reader list and questions. Since my son is a young reader, he's not quite ready for a 2nd grade reading curriculum, but he's way beyond phonics already. So, while we're going through Little Hearts for His Glory this year, we're pretty much just skipping a formal reading curriculum and he pretty much just reads when he wants, or when he's bored, or to try to earn a free frozen yogurt from a local shop. So, I don't think he's ready age-wise to start a formal second grade reading curriculum with in depth questions, but I also don't want to just keep "winging it". This curriculum includes dozens of pages with an emerging readers list and questions. They are level 3 readers and usually only 2-3 questions per day to ask for comprehension, application, knowledge, and synthesis. If I use nothing else for this curriculum, I plan to use this (we already have the Bible they chose for the emerging readers book list, and the majority of the remaining items I can find at the library). There are 14 emerging reader books listed (and lined up with the curriculum in increasing levels of difficulty) as well as dozens of supplemental books.
- Affordability. I know that homeschooling can be expensive, but it certainly doesn't have to be. Since I'm a frugal-minded person, I love the fact that the necessary books for the curriculum can be purchased for $135 new from the publisher's website (plus shipping and tax). Since I'm purchasing a combination of new and used, and skipping over a few items, I believe I will spend about $83 (not including tax) on the "necessary" books (we don't do the devotional and I purchased the 2-pack of Hide Em in Your Heart, so I already have next year's memory verse CD). We do, however, plan to add a more comprehensive science curriculum and purchase a handwriting book (see negatives below for why). If I include all the "fun" items that I'm purchasing that are a combination of school and fun, and completely unnecessary, we should still come out under my goal of $200 for the school year. I'm pretty sure I'll spend less on required expenditures than most public school students.
- All-in-one. To some people this wouldn't be a positive, but I am not a planner by nature. Or rather, I plan so much that I would never get to actually doing. I'm not the most organized person, and I don't do well with creating routine, so I do better knowing that there's already a plan for the day that I don't have to create from scratch. We've been doing Little Hearts for His Glory this year, and it gives just the right amount of structure to our days.
- Integrated Bible and history. I love that the Heart of Dakota series is designed to be Christ-centered. It's one thing to "include" Bible in your school day. It's another thing entirely to include your school day in your Christian walk, and Heart of Dakota can help this become a little more seamless. I can't tell you the number of times I've been having a bad attitude and trying to explain a Bible, history or science topic to my kids has helped turn it around.
- Hands-on-activities. Hands-on-activities that are easy, realistic, and simple are written in to the curriculum. This can include anything from using a laundry basket as a covered wagon to using cereal and raisins to be brown birds and black birds for addition problems. At first, I thought that my kids would think it was silly and not participate, but I've since learned that my son loves and needs to move to learn. We have a particular teddy bear that is now known as Baby Moses for all time since we pulled him around in a basket as part of our Kindergarten curriculum.
- Flexible. As I mentioned earlier, we skip over the phonics portion in Little Hearts for His Glory. It's really easy to do because for each day of lesson plans there are two pages, and separate boxes for each category. There are days that we skip some boxes because we aren't at the right time or place, and it's easy to come back to or catch up with later. For reading, there are 3 options with Beyond Little Hearts - a phonics program of your choosing, the scheduled books for emerging readers, or the 2nd/3rd grade reading program - Drawn into the Heart of Reading. I love having that flexibility built in. We do plan on adding handwriting, science, and maybe purchasing the math textbooks, but again, that should be relatively easy to do.
- Story based. Now, to some, this won't be a negative, but the literature chosen, especially for history, is mostly fiction. I don't think there's anything wrong with that necessarily, however my son is very literal. He asked me very seriously the other day whether Encyclopedia Brown was real or not. I'm sure he'll learn a lot from the stories, but when he's a bit older, I think he will appreciate a non-fiction based curriculum. Also, the stories do skip around in each book (you're not just reading a book all the way through for history or science).
- Copywork is included, instead of handwriting. While I don't specifically have anything against copywork, my son isn't ready for that to be the only thing he does. He's still working on which direction to draw his letters, so we plan on purchasing the 1st grade (level A) in A Reason for Handwriting. He's doing the Level K book this year and loves it. He actually asks to do more pages (this is a kid who cried at Handwriting Without Tears). We may substitute the handwriting entirely for the copywork, or give him his choice, or include a combination of both.
- Beyond Little Hearts (designed for 1st-2nd graders) is a bit light in my opinion on history and science. The history I don't mind as much, because they won't really remember a lot of the history they learn this early, but my kid is a science freak, and 2 days a week of a very light science activity is not enough for him. We plan on purchasing some of the Apologia curriculum to supplement.
- No math textbook. Again, for some people, just having the hands-on and workbook activities for math would be enough. However, I will probably buy the math textbooks as well, just to review some concepts and ensure a complete understanding. Some of the Singapore math concepts (like number bonds) are not the way I was taught, and I may need a bit of extra help to teach the concept.
Overall, I'm very happy that I ended up purchasing the curriculum. It would have ended up costing more to do the piecemeal curriculum than what I will end up spending with this all in one plan. If you're curious, I put down the cost breakdown for our 1st grade expenses, including the "fun" stuff (some of which is really more of a Christmas present or will be a future birthday present than a school purchase).
- Beyond Little Hearts For His Glory guide - $23.94 used (including shipping)
- American Pioneers and Patriots - $5.69 used (including shipping)
- Boys and Girls of Colonial Days - $7.16 new (including tax, free Prime shipping, used Amazon coupon code for books)
- Stories of the Pilgrims (not yet purchased, can be bought new on Amazon for $7.99)
- God's Wonderful Works ($4.99 used - $8.99 new) - not yet purchased
- Hide 'Em in Your Heart Vol. 2 (I purchased the 2-CD set earlier this year for 11.99, so $6 new)
- Singapore Math workbooks 1A and 1B (not yet purchased, $12.50 each plus tax/shipping)
- Added science - Apologia (approximately $30 for a textbook)
- Added handwriting - will be $14 new
- Added math - Textbooks 1A and 1B can be found used for $5 or so each in my area. I haven't quite decided yet if I want to purchase these or not.
- Sum Swamp (this is a board game designed to help with addition and subtraction skills) - $14
- I also may decide to purchase a logic/reasoning book (What's New, What's Missing, What's Different), game (Smart Cookies), or toy (Plus Plus). ($10-40+ each)
- Additional "fun" items I may purchase in the future include purchasing some of the emerging readers rather than just using the library (specifically the Christian Liberty Nature Reader Book 1, which I can't find at our library), addition and subtraction "Wrap-Ups", and a World Scrunch Map (we have a map on the wall, but I think it would be fun to have one we can put on the floor and crawl around on too). It would cost about $40 or so for all of these.