Category Archives: Fourth Grade Curriculum

Our Fourth Grade Curriculum: Phonics and Spelling



I think I have about one more post on what we used for our fourth-grade curriculum.  It is summer here, and we have moved into our lighter summer schedule.  Glorious!  I didn’t mean for this to be a write up on Orton-Gillingham, but it kind of turned out that way!  If you have a struggling reader, struggling speller, or you have been unhappy with phonics and spelling curriculums, you may want to read on!  If not, and you’ve nailed your phonics and spelling curriculum down, move on!

Our Homeschooling Spelling/Phonics Objective

How do I spell “knowledgeable,” “acreage,” and “truly?”

How do I know when to use a “c,” “k,” or “ck?”

Do I double the “s” in “buses?”

After we complete our spelling/phonics curriculum, may my kids never (okay, rarely ever) have to erase and choose another word—or open another internet tab to look up the spelling of a desired word (like I do)–because they’re not sure of the spelling!

Discovering Orton-Gillingham Intensive Phonics

Because there are a LOT more rules to our English language that are generally followed than most phonics and spelling books present, I have never been able to happily settle on a phonics and spelling program, instead choosing to piece together our own curriculum.  I can’t stand the hodge-podge selection of phonics that most curriculums put together.  I want it all covered in one spot in a logical, sequential fashion.  This year, I discovered the Orton-Gillingham Approach to phonics and spelling (through a site called Orton Gillingham For All). Although targeted as an intensive phonics program which is particularly useful for dyslexic students and students who have difficulty learning to read, write, or spell, I think it is simply a great foundation for ALL English language students. We use it for my fourth-grader who doesn’t really qualify as dyslexic, I don’t think–but maybe without intensive home instruction and intervention she would have had a label.  I don’t know.  She was a later reader (learned in second grade) who had minor dysgraphia problems. Her letters were formed backwards well into, maybe even through, third grade and she continues to have a disgust of penmanship, although it has improved nicely!  (Her father struggled greatly with phonics, spelling, and reading until about fifth or sixth grade when he says it all started clicking together and he zoomed to the highest reading class.)

Orton-Gillingham has been around since at least the 1930s and is described as an intensive, sequential, multi-modal phonics program. It addresses lots of problems I confronted when trying to use a few different phonics/spelling curriculums. In my lowly, non-expert opinion, many phonics/spelling curriculums run into the following problems, which Orton-Gillingham usually circumvents:

  • Separating phonics from spelling. Orton-Gillingham incorporates the decoding (phonics) and encoding (spelling) together.
  • Some kids are not quite ready for phonics and spelling in the early elementary years, when they are most commonly hit the hardest. Later then, the basics are never re-represented, and those kids miss out completely on phonics and spelling fundamentals! (Late bloomers then struggle to read aloud fluently and spell.) Orton-Gillingham gives RANGES on the appropriate age/grade level for each concept, paying heed to the fact that you may need to refrain from teaching a particular concept OR make sure you re-visit it in another year or so. Orton-Gillingham is based more on ability and development than it is first grade, second grade, third grade, and so on.
  • For the sounds our language makes (phonemes), most phonics programs only present a couple of the spelling possibilities (graphemes) at first.  Logical, sequential learners and struggling learners get confused. (“First you taught me the /k/ sound is made by a “c” or a “k.” Now a year later you’re telling me it can also be made by a “ck” or a “ch?” I give up. You can’t keep changing the rules on me.”) Orton-Gillingham would present the sound /k/, the letter combinations (graphemes) for the sound, and then offer the available rules, which do exist, for selecting the correct letters to spell the words with the /k/ sound. Exceptions to rules are presented at the time of learning the appropriate rule. Exceptions are not left to chance. They are presented right up front.  Orton-Gillingham also coaches you through how much to tell the younger/less developed students so, although you’re supplying the information so they have heard it, you’re not overwhelming them with difficult concepts they’re not ready to absorb.  Next year they’ll dig deeper.
  • Too much rote memorization.  As mentioned already, Orton-Gillingham supplies rules to promote understanding, thus removing a lot of the need for flat-out memorization.  Not all, obviously.  English is a crazy, mish-mash language.
  • Too much time spent on words that are known already.  Orton-Gillingham provides lists of words for each concept, and as a teacher, I am able to pick and choose. If my kids understand a concept and spelling pattern, we simply skip those lessons.
  • Reliance on only one way of teaching phonics/spelling.  (That is usually writing the word over and over. I HATED writing words over and over in spelling. Didn’t you?) Orton-Gillingham uses speaking, listening, reading and writing. Encouragement for tactile learning is encouraged.

How We Implemented Orton-Gillingham Into Our Phonics/Spelling Program

Since I didn’t stumble on Orton-Gillingham until this last year or so, we obviously didn’t jump right in at the very beginning of the material.  My fourth-grader had a good grasp of most of the basic material, and we skipped it.  I’d quiz her on a few words, and then move on quickly.  (Note:  I also use Orton-Gillingham with my second grader, too.) For my fourth-grader, I just am so excited to have concepts logically organized and categorized with the exceptions provided immediately. For example, types of syllables are broken down concretely. Concrete and discrete rules for dropping the “e” before adding a suffix are delineated. Mnemonic (memory) devices are often provided to help remember exceptions.

We will continue to use Orton-Gillingham as my main guide to covering phonics and spelling. I plan to stretch phonics and spelling out through sixth grade. Once we have mastered all that is in the Orton-Gillingham resources I purchased, I will then proceed to again read through Uncovering the Logic of English by Denise Eide to see what further I can teach her about English phonics and spelling that got missed using Orton-Gillingham.  (I highly recommend Uncovering the Logic of English if you are teaching a child phonics and spelling.  I loved it!)

Our phonics and spelling instruction

  • Is very reliant on teacher instruction and “quizzing.” Most of the time, I cannot just hand a worksheet. We do have some worksheets, but usually, I am asking her to recite spelling/phonics rules and then spell me some words based on those rules. Sometimes she spells out loud. Sometimes she spells on paper. Sometimes she spells on a chalkboard. Sometimes she traces the word in the sky. I’ll occasionally go back a month or two and ask her some of the words and concepts she had trouble with for memory reinforcement.
  • Is flexible and allows us to speed up and slow down based on the child’s ability in the lesson. Certain lessons we spend a week or two on. Certain lessons we fly by.
  • Occurs about 3-4 times weekly in 10-20 minute time allotments.
  • Uses two Orton-Gillingham manuals, a workbook series to go along with Orton-Gillingham, internet resources I print off, and pages from old phonics and spelling workbooks I picked up here and there. The two main manuals provide the order in which concepts are taught, and provide the “rules” and tips on teaching the “rules.”

The Texts

How to Teach Spelling Teacher’s Manual with its How to Spell Workbook Series (4 books): I started out with just the teacher’s manual. I love that the How to Teach Spelling Teacher’s Manual is full of sequential, logical rules/concepts, teaching suggestions, rule exceptions, and the unique sentence dictations. (Sentence dictation helps to reinforce the spelling concept when the child uses it in an actual phrase or sentence! This helps students to be able to not only spell when mom “tests” the word, but also to integrate the process of spelling into writing! How many times have you noticed that your child can spell a word, but when she goes to write a letter, she misspells the word?) One thing that is confusing is that the manual is organized by concepts/rules, not by age/grade level of the student. So there are times you have to pay attention and realize that the next concept up shouldn’t be presented to your student yet! That doesn’t keep me from testing it out, but I usually concur that it is above her head. Because of this, the manual is “layering.” You will not simply use the manual in first grade and put it down. You will use it every year, adding in the appropriate lessons that you skipped the last years. I like this because, as I add in the new lessons, I can also remember to review older concepts. However, it does require you to pay attention, assess your student, and skip pieces of the book depending on mastery.

I decided I wanted something that would provide extra practice and organization of the rules/concepts in a little bit better layout than the manual. So I bought the How to Spell Workbook Series later in the year. I am pleased with the workbooks and like that if I can’t sit down and “quiz” my daughter on the words and rules we are mastering, I can have her do an assignment in the workbooks. We quickly moved through the second book, skipping a lot, and we have settled into the third book and are about done with it now at the end of fourth grade. She could fly through it all a lot faster, but I make her review a lot of old words and concepts so they stick.

Unlocking the Power of Print: I also bought this manual. There is no workbook series to accompany it. I have found that it is very similar to How to Teach Spelling in its layout, which makes sense because they’re both based on Orton-Gillingham which teaches in a sequential manner.  The manual does not feel as “busy” as How to Teach Spelling and the type-print is a little bigger and easier to read.  At first I used it more until I became more comfortable with How to Teach Spelling and bought the workbooks.


That’s how we approached spelling and phonics this year.  Some people love trying new curriculums and materials and look forward to choosing new homeschooling books each year.  Me, I love finding the strongest curriculum I can for my child and hanging onto it for many years, getting all the worth out of it we can.  Orton-Gillingham will be with us, I think, through the next three kids.  As needed, I will fill in with Explode the Code and internet worksheets for extra reinforcement.  Finally, I will use  Denise Eide’s Uncovering the Logic of English as a final checklist to our phonics and spelling curriculum.



“You did great! As a reward, here’s more work!”

wpid-IMAG1608-1.jpgMy oldest daughter struggles at times to focus on math.  There is absolutely no doubt that it has improved over the years, but every now and then there are rough spots for us.  We work together to keep her moving along, both of us compromising with each other to get the job done–making sure she understands math.  A few months ago we transitioned from finishing Saxon Math 5/4 to beginning Saxon Math 7/6.  We skipped over Saxon Math 6/5 as I saw very little presentation of new material when compared to Saxon Math 5/4.

Well, she began to bog down a bit in math, and her lessons were beginning to push into an hour or more with several outbursts.  She’s the type of kid who you’ll get further with if you compromise and work with her rather than pushing, pulling, and shoving.  Also, I thought perhaps we needed to slow down from doing a lesson a day because I had skipped ahead a whole book.  So I decided to cut the lessons in half.  One day she did the first 15 and the next day she did the last 15.  (We continued to do the mental math and Life of Fred as I’ve described earlier, as well.)  This approach worked well, and math got back to bearable again.

Now, after a few weeks of this, math is going super well and super fast.  She is ultra excited!  “Mom, am I doing okay in math?  Am I doing it fast enough now?”  I am so proud of her, and I can see she feels so proud, too!  And happy!  And confident!  She has started knocking out the fifteen problems in about 15-20 minutes with very few errors.  It feels good to her.

And now my dilemma.  It’s time to ramp her back up to keep “at her edge”–the point at which learning is hard but not too hard.  She’s ready for the full problem set again.  In other books, I’ve skipped problems I knew she readily knew how to do in order to work with her short attention span.  However, in this book, she needs to do all the problems because I just don’t sense she is as comfortable with them as I’d like her to be yet.  I want to give her all 30 problems, but I see the mule balking.

And I think about how horrible of a reward for her persistence and efforts it will be for me to slap on all 30 problems.  “Yes!  Since you are doing so well, why don’t you do more?”  Now I know this will be the ultimate outcome one way or another, but when you put it into words like that, it doesn’t sound quite fair, does it?  And in life, it often does work this way.  And some people thrive on it, and some people learn to just do enough so they aren’t asked to do more.  I want to make sure my kids always work to their full capabilities, regardless of the load they may be asked to carry.

How can I make sure that my daughter sees the request to do more as a positive thing–rather than something to manipulate and hide from in the future?  I don’t know.  Silly thought.  Just throwing it out there because it struck me hard when I was talking to my husband about it.  She’s just so happy and pleased with herself, and now I’m going to say, “Good work, but now I need more.  The more you are able to do, the more you will be asked to do.”  I can see where this might affect work ethic (now and in life) in certain personalities.

Have there been times when we reward our children with more work based on their successes?  Often it is just a subtle part of growing up, but sometimes it is glaring.  How does this make them feel?  What response does it bring about in them?  Is the response different for each child’s personality?  Does it depend on the task in which they are given more responsibility?  Do you have a child that hides or balks with more responsibility?  Or one who manages to somehow get out of the increased responsibility, maybe pushing it onto siblings?  Do you have co-workers who take advantage of your doing more which allows them to do less?

Anyhow, what I’ll do in this situation is bump her up to 20 problems a day and see how that goes.  Then go from there.  But it was a good time for me to step back and make sure I always observe how success that requires more work affects my children.

Have a great day!  Enjoy your kids!



Our Fourth Grade Curriculum: Poetry


South Dakota sunsetLullabies aren’t really to soothe the baby.  No.  Lullabies are to soothe the frazzled parent putting the screaming child to sleep.  Thus enters poetry into our homeschooling curriculum.  That’s how I feel about poetry in our studies; it soothes and benefits me as much, if not more than, the kids.  For the last couple of years, we’ve been pretty diligent about poetry memorization.  We probably work on recitation, on average, about three days per week.  We have no formal lesson plan and I haven’t marched out the poems to be learned for the year.  I know nothing in particular about poetry, other than I like to read it.  My fourth grader and second grader usually do poetry together at the same time.

Besides the “soothe factor,” these are my logical reasons for incorporating poetry memorization and recitation.  My children appreciate and learn:

  • Vocabulary:  Reinforcement of known vocabulary and introduction to more difficult, unknown vocabulary.
  • Concise expression of thought:  Poetry requires some precise, concise grammar, often to relay something complex and abstract.
  • Value of oral sound: In poetry, each word choice and phrase must make maximal impact on the listener, creating emotions and mental images.  Later in the school years, I anticipate that we can apply some poetry skills to our speech skills.  (Sometimes when the kids memorize, they’ll change a word which changes alliteration or rhythm.  We correct the word and talk about how the simple word change disrupted how the poem was experienced.)
  • Memorization skills:  Memorization of massive volumes of information is sometimes required in various subjects, whether we like it or not.  I believe that helping my kids recognize early on that they CAN memorize large volumes of information using their own methods and tools will benefit them in all their schooling endeavors.  I‘ve noticed that each of my children overcome memorization difficulties in ways unique to them.  One child literally seems to see the poem on a page in the sky.  The other sets the poetry to song. 
  • Shared feelings:  She can always nod her head and say, “Yes.  That line of poetry captures this nicely.  Thank you, Mr. Poet.  I’m so happy to share this moment with you.”

At this point, we keep it pretty informal.  We don’t study the poems in-depth.  We haven’t gone over types of poetry or written poems much yet (although they’veBlack Hills done a couple on their own).  Pretty much, we just memorize, enjoy, and internalize the poems.  I anticipate beginning more formal poetry teaching, poetry writing attempts, and learning about the poets at about the sixth grade level and thereafter. Here is what we often do with a poem:

  • Explore spelling and phonics concepts that we’ve worked on using select words in the poems
  • Talk about simple poetry concepts:  rhyme, rhythm, alliteration
  • Act them out
  • Watch them being recited on You Tube
  • Use fine art supplies to create art based on the poem
  • Recite them to grandparents

How do we choose our poetry selections?

  • What’s the weather outside?  Pick a poem about it.
  • Are we taking a vacation somewhere (such as to the beach or mountains)?  Learn a poem to complement our trip.
  • What are the animals doing this time of year?  Find a poem to describe it.
  • Is it time for a complex poem?  Pick a long one or “deep” one.
  • Is it time for a simple, fun poem?  Pick a silly one.
  • Is there something I need them to do (like have better table manners, pick up the house, eat a particular food)?  Find a poem about it.
  • Peruse our poetry anthologies (James Whitcomb Riley, The Barefoot Book of Classic Poems, Whisper and Shout, plus another one or two).  Just pick one we like.

Snow fortWhat poems are in our repertoire now?  We review all memorized poems often enough to keep them in recall.  The following list has been accumulated over the last two years since we started memorizing poetry as part of our curriculum.

The Road Not Taken (Robert Frost)
Something Told the Wild Geese (Rachel Field)
Beautiful Soup (Lewis Carroll)
Weather (Anonymous)
maggie and milly and molly and may (E.E. Cummings)
The Germ (Ogden Nash)
Long-Leg Lou and Short-Leg Sue (Shel Silverstein)
The Sun-Dial (Adelaide Crapsey)
The Duck (Ogden Nash)
Windy Nights (Robert Louis Stevenson)
A Book (Emily Dickinson)
Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven (William Butler Yeats)
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening (Robert Frost)
The Star (Jane Taylor)
Hope (Emily Dickinson)
When the Frost is on the Punkin (James Whitcomb Riley)
Little Orphant Annie (James Whitcomb Riley)
No Man is an Island (John Donne)
Captain Hook (Shel Silverstein)
This is Just to Say (William Carlos Williams)
Bed in Summer (Robert Louis Stevenson)
Dreams (Lanston Hughes)
The Caterpillar (Christina G Rossetti)
Work (Anonymous)
Hearts are Like Doors (Anonymous)
The Months (Mother Goose rhyme)
Mr. Nobody (Anonymous)
The Goops (Gelett Burgess)

Closing:    I’m curious how much poetry work other families do and what benefits they see in making this effort.  I’d love the devil’s advocate to say how much they detest poetry and see no point in all that memory work so I can see that point of view, too!  For us, we enjoy it, and it doesn’t feel like a chore.  We will keep it going.




Our Fourth Grade Curriculum: Spanish

Do you teach a foreign language in your homeschooling?  When did you start?  How is it progressing?

Why We Chose Spanish

We chose Spanish as our children’s foreign language, and we tried to teach it as much as we could as soon as we could.  My husband and I had both learned some Spanish during medical school and residency because there was a large Mexican immigrant population where we did our residencies in Indiana.  We like foreign culture and language and wanted to try to converse with our immigrant patients as much as possible in their own language.  Since we knew Spanish a bit, it made sense to have our children learn Spanish.  Plus, Spanish-speaking people could be found easily around us.

A Brief History of My Fourth Grader’s Spanish Background

We found a Spanish tutor when M1, my now ten-year old fourth grader, was 5 years old. Before that, we talked to her in our self-taught rudimentary Spanish. We frequented Mexican restaurants and my husband insisted on speaking Spanish with the waiters. (I always wondered what they thought of us fools.) We volunteered at English as a Second Language. We watched Muzzy and Barney in Spanish. Did Rosetta Stone, Visual Link Spanish and some kid’s computer programs in Spanish. It was a Godsend when we finally found a tutor.  She came once a week and played and did art with my daughters, speaking Spanish to them.

Having my children speak a foreign language is something we just won’t budge on. Here we are 5 years, a move across the country, and several Spanish tutors later. (Our tutors, sadly to us, come and go as they get new jobs or their families change. However, we have enjoyed each tutor and their different accents and approaches with the kids. Our current tutor has been with us for about a year now. We have had Puerto Rican Spanish, Colombian Spanish, and Mexican Spanish. They’re all a bit different, and interestingly enough, we’ve found Colombian Spanish easiest to understand.) We are at the point where M1 grasps the understanding of both written and verbal Spanish when in context. When words are not used in context, she may not be able to tell you meaning. Her own use of the language has drastically increased, and we (my husband, the tutor, and I) all agree that it is time to push her into speaking mostly only in Spanish for her lessons.

An Exceptionally Brief Video of My Daughter Speaking Spanish

Our Fourth Grade Spanish Curriculum Includes:

Using a tutor.  Our Spanish tutor comes twice a week, including summers.  She does not have a secondary degree in teaching, her own language, or even the English language.  For now, I don’t care!  She can speak Spanish and is willing to work with M1 to find out how she best learns to SPEAK Spanish!  M1 learns so much just by listening!  Our goal for this elementary stage is to simply get M1 SPEAKING Spanish.  Grammar focus will come later.

(Note:  Our tutor works with each child one on one.  Initially, a year or two ago, we had the tutor work with the girls together, but then their abilities started spreading apart.  At this point, we separated them for individual lessons.)

The tutor tries to speak only in Spanish during class, but when M1 doesn’t understand, she explains things in English.  I tell her that right now the most important thing is for the kids to hear, hear, hear Spanish.  I chose a native speaker because I feel that the children pick up the tongue positions of foreign language sounds naturally; for example, they don’t have to think about rolling the “R.”  It just happens.  Also, as much as possible, I don’t want them at this young age to learn by “translation.”

Although I don’t spend too much money on homeschooling,  I’d say we do spend the bulk of our homeschooling budget on our Spanish tutor (and the computer programs we invested in are kind of “salty” too–but they can be used for many years).  Without a tutor, though, I don’t think my kids would learn Spanish fluency in our home.  I could feed them vocabulary and verbs, but I don’t think our goal of fluency would be achieved.

wpid-IMAG2426.jpgRead and Understand, Grade 3.  As M1 was understanding well and beginning to speak Spanish more, our tutor and I decided she needed practice in making sentences.  I would have preferred to not use a textbook, but our tutor is not a trained teacher and prefers to have something to guide her.  We started using Read and Understand, Grade 3.  It has reading selections from various backgrounds (myths, poetry, nonfiction, and science) that are in both English and Spanish.  M1 doesn’t like it because it requires writing sentences quite a bit.  I usually work with and compromise with M1 on this abhorrence of physical handwriting, but in this case, I am not her teacher, and she must do what her Spanish teacher asks her to do.  Her tutor also gives her homework–which she hates!  I like it because it keeps us accountable on the days the tutor does not come.  Plus, she gets a feel of real, live homework!

We did not buy Read and Understand, Grade 3 especially for homeschooling.  My husband picked it up several years ago for himself and never used it.  It has worked great for M1. She reads the passage aloud with the tutor for pronunciation work.  She then translates it as best she can orally to English.  Finally, she does the written exercises at the end of the lesson which require her to formulate and write sentences in Spanish.

Visual Link Spanish (link)  We really, really like this program a lot.  Currently M1 is working through the Level 2 Verbs section.  She learns 30 verbs and then there is a fun game to quiz her on the verbs.  Her Spanish tutor then has her come up with sentences using these verbs.  M1 likes this program much better than Rosetta Stone, which she described as “Boring!”  The whole family (even my 5 year old tries) likes to use this program.  We have used Rosetta Stone in the past, and, like M1, I like this one better, too.

Mom and Dad Learn Spanish, Too!  My husband is very good at this and keeps diligently working.  I’m hit or miss, depending on what nutritional health topic is fascinating me at the moment.  However, I feel I must make a much bigger effort in learning and using my Spanish again.  I notice when I use as much Spanish-Spanglish as I can around the house with whatever I know, the girls start using their Spanish, too.  When I don’t, they don’t.  So here recently, I’m back at Visual Link Spanish, too, and back to sitting in on their lessons with them with the tutor.  I really have a sense that my children will come to speak with fluency at a younger age if I use my Spanish, too.  Sadly, yet excitingly, they do correct my around-the-house Spanish.

Miscellaneous  The tutor occasionally uses flashcards as needed.  We listen to Spanish CDs in the car.  My husband and I attend Sunday School in Spanish and the girls sometimes finish their class early and come and listen in.  Despite dietary restrictions, we still can pretty comfortably eat occasionally at the local Mexican restaurant where we all try to use our Spanish.  (Our youngest is known there as “Pollito.”  One time, speaking Spanish, they asked her her name.  She thought they asked what she wanted to eat, and she yelled out loudly in her characteristic style, “POLLO!”  So they took to calling her “Pollito,” which means “little chicken.”)


I guess this summarizes what we do for fourth grade Spanish.  If I’m still posting next year, I’d love to be able to say that M1 has progressed to conversing somewhat easily in Spanish.  It will be fun to see if it happens.  For us, I really, really think that the more my husband and I use our Spanish in the house, no matter how bad it may be, the more M1 will come to use the Spanish she knows.

I hope you and your families are full of love, peace, and joy!  ~~Terri

PS:  Did anyone who has been around awhile notice that I learned how to put a video on?  Don’t even tell me if it doesn’t work.  Next, I’m going to learn how to hook my laptop up to my scanner so I can scan in my hand-drawings in future health-related posts!  Big plans.  Oh, big plans.  One teeny, tiny step at a time!  LOL!  Learning is fun!

Our Fourth Grade Homeschool Curriculum: Grammar and Writing

Today is a homeschooling post.  I love homeschooling.  It is the tops.  I’m not very patient, and homeschooling elementary school has been challenging for me.  Crafts and finger plays not appealing.  Teaching handwriting like pulling teeth.  “Whatdya’ mean you don’t remember what a contraction is?”  I’ve decided that you don’t have to have patience to homeschool, but if you don’t, you’d better have some self-control/self-discipline.

Fourth grade, however, is turning into fun because the topics are becoming more advanced and the student more independently capable.  But no matter what, the whole homeschooling ride is one I wouldn’t trade for the world.  Up now–grammar and writing.  Last homeschooling post was math.

Easy Grammar:  Grade 4

Love Easy Grammar by Wanda Phillips, PhD!  We have used it for three years in a row now.  Simple, straightforward presentation of grammar without any fluff, just the nuts and bolts and good stuff.  I thought figuring out what to order was a bit confusing!  Daily Grams?  Workbooks?  Teacher editions?  Test booklets?  What?  Here’s what I ordered and I’ve been exceptionally pleased:

  • Daily Grams  The daily grams are one page, cumulative worksheets, reminding me of the cumulative concept of Saxon Math.  Capitalization, punctuation, Easy Grammar Textadverbs, adjectives, prepositions, objects of the preposition, complex sentence formation, and more–they are all reviewed throughout the year so the student doesn’t forget the concept even if they learned it on day 1.  Daily Grams are designed to do one worksheet a day, requiring maybe five minutes or so.  For second grade, I used ONLY the second grade Daily Gram book for the entire grammar course that year.  When third and fourth grade came, I wanted more focus and explanation of each grammatical concept with more practice than the Daily Grams offered.  So I bought the Easy Grammar text.
  • Easy Grammar:  Grade 4  Okay.  There are three books you can buy:  Easy Grammar Grade 4 teacher’s edition, Easy Grammar Grade 4 Student Workbook, and Easy Grammar Grade 4 Student Test Booklet.  I purchased only the teacher’s manual.  However, the cover of the book I bought doesn’t say “Teacher’s Manual!”  It only says “Easy Grammar Grade 4.”  The teacher’s manual contains the grammatical explanation text, worksheets, reviews, tests, answers, and teaching tips all bound together in one book.  My daughter works from the teacher’s manual.  One very minor glitch in this is that the answers are on the left side of the page and the worksheet/ test on the right side of the page.  We cover the answers with a sheet of paper and have no issues.  Alternatively, you could copy the assignments ahead of time from the book so the answers aren’t tempting your student.  Another minor glitch with using the teacher’s manual for the student textbook is that they can read the author’s tips to the teacher if they wanted to.  No biggie to me.

Easy Grammar Daily GramsPoints to know:

  • It’s all black and white.  Often this can be a deterrent, but I feel in this case it is a strength.  Wanda Phillips, Ed.D. runs such a tight ship with the books.  Seriously, she manages to get what you need in there with nothing extraneous to distract and frustrate!  It’s a clean, concise machine.
  • Work usually can be completed independently without much, if any help.  I love this.
  • The author teaches a prepositional approach to understanding sentences, allowing easy recognition of the parts of a sentence.  One of the hardest parts of the book is having the kids learn the required prepositions at the beginning–after that they then look for prepositional phrases  and can exclude them from searching for subjects and verbs.  Makes understanding the parts of the sentences much simpler, but they have to do a little work up front which can seem intimidating.  We memorized them over a few weeks and continued on.
  • Pages are not perforated in the teacher’s manual or Daily Grams.  You cannot tear them out easily, which can be a problem if you only buy the “all-inclusive” book I bought, as the answers for the worksheets are sitting right on the next page.
  • At the end of every chapter, there is a chapter review, a cumulative review, and a cumulative test.  I did not make my daughter do all of those as it was way too much busy, repetitive work if she understood all the concepts!  However, we usually did the chapter review and the cumulative test.  I really appreciate the cumulative nature of this text!
  • The difference between the Daily Gram Worksheets and the Worksheets is that the worksheets pertain only to the material being learned in the current chapter.  The Daily Grams are cumulative and very quick and concise.  I did both because I like repetition and always having the brain presented with what it learned in the past, so it doesn’t forget.  However, I do think we could have gotten by in fourth grade without the Daily Grams.
  • There is no writing practice.  This text doesn’t try to incorporate writing skills with the grammar skills–EXCEPT she does have the kids practice combining simple sentences into complex sentences in the Daily Grams.  My daughter can make nice, complex, grammatical sentences because of this text, but it does not offer writing practice.
  • She provides enough teacher instruction without making you googly-eyed trying to sort through it all!  Her tips are valid and thoughtful.

How we did grammar this year: 

This year, I decided to actually double up on her grammar lessons in the first semester.  She did two Daily Grams every day, and I mapped out the Easy Grammar:  Grade 4 text/worksheets/tests so that we finished it in one semester.  Even doing this double-pace, she rarely punked an attitude about grammar!  Whew!  I chose to do this so she could begin focusing on writing in the second semester–rather than combining them together throughout the year.  I thought she’d do better focusing on one side of “writing” at a time–grammar first and then actually putting together ideas.  So far, I’m very pleased.

IEWInstitute for Excellence in Writing (IEW):  Student Writing Intensive

This will not be a comprehensive review because I’ve only used the Writing Intensive Level A and that only for a 2-3 months.

We began Institute for Excellence in Writing for my daughter’s writing curriculum in the second semester.   I’ve heard great reviews on IEW, and we have enjoyed our last couple months with it, as well.  Again, what in the heck do you purchase?  Reading all those descriptions on the web-site gets really confusing!  I bought Package A:

  • Student Writing Intensive Level A  This came with DVDs to watch, a binder, lesson plans, and passages to practice the writing techniques taught.  It’s what I needed for sure.  (Although I wonder if I couldn’t have gotten by with a  theme-based book and learned the same things and had my child learn a particular topic area, too.  More below.)
  • Teaching Writing:  Structure and Style  I also bought this because I thought I might need it;  it was part of the package.  I have not watched it yet!  I plan on it, but we have had NO problems doing the Student Writing Intensive Level A assignments just based on watching the DVDs and following the lesson plans.  I don’t know when I’ll get around to watching this.  Money could probably be saved by not purchasing this.

Points to know:

  • Perhaps it was pregnancy brain, but I thought the binder/planner could have been organized just a wee bit better.  We got it figured out.
  • Students learn by watching a DVD and then applying what is taught to passages provided in the binder.
  • The DVD is not divided up into lessons so you have to thumb through the planner and figure out when you need to stop the DVD.  Basically, the DVD is just Mr. Pudewa giving his presentation live in a workshop to a group of children; it rolls from beginning to end.  You or your child (if you’re trying to prepare lunch) has to know when to stop it.  Minor complaint, but I wish they’d break it up according to their lesson guides.
  • My daughter really liked this program at first because Mr. Pudewa was funny and it was new and exciting.  As she has been required to write more and more, she doesn’t like it so much anymore.  She hates the physical act of writing and she now transfers that on to poor Mr. Pudewa.  But I still think it’s one of the best programs to get her to do writing.
  • IEW teaches writing by using existing written passages/stories and outline formation.  I was ecstatic to see outline formation taught to her at such a young age!  It will serve her well throughout the rest of her education!  She keeps asking when she can “write her own story,” so she does have a sense that she is not really writing with this approach.  We are not yet through the complete program, and this may come later–I don’t know.  If not, no biggie.  I’ll just have her write her own story!
  • I saw a friend had the Ancient History based writing lessons!  This is a part of IEW’s “them-based writing.”  As I looked through it, I realized that it was teaching everything that is taught in the Writing Intensive A!  We will definitely be purchasing some of these themed books to use for writing after we finish the Writing Intensive.  I would suggest you look, read, and ask around because you may be able to skip the Writing Intensives and just do these nicely bound theme-based books without missing out!  They looked awesome and it really seemed to be teaching the kids the same writing concepts as watching the DVD!

I guess that’s it.  That’s how we’ve opted to handle grammar and writing this fourth-grade year.  How about anyone else?  What do you think?  What do you use?  Love?  Hate?  And after deciding on a curriculum, does anyone else have trouble sorting through exactly which books of the curriculum you need to buy!!?

I hope you are having a wonderful day!  ~~Terri

Our Fourth Grade Curriculum: Saxon Math and Life of Fred

Homeschool mathNow that we are over half-way through the school year, the curriculum is hammered down.  Sure, I always have a game plan when we start, but why post anything until we’ve actually stuck it out?  Big dreams of five math lessons a week, flashcards, reading fun math-concept library books, and constructing bridge building projects–well I’ll leave those lofty achievements for those special homeschooling families.  (You know them.  The ones who you talk to and your heart rate goes up?)

We use Saxon Math And Life of Fred

I trained on (yes, “trained”) Saxon Math from sixth grade on up through calculus my senior year of high school–all except for geometry we used some other book.  Good enough in math but not a natural, the Saxon Math method and some exceptional teachers (who, by the way, didn’t do bridge building projects) paved my way for success in math and approaching complex problems later in life, not necessarily math related.  So my kids get Saxon Math.

My kids–it feels like I have about 12 but I really only have three and one on the way– will declare they hate Saxon Math, but they have no problems laughing and giggling while completing their worksheets.  The funny only seems to get deeper when I bring out my “iron fist” voice.  But for real fun and funny, we use Life of Fred books by Stanley F. Schmidt, Ph.D.

Our Saxon Math Schedule

We plug through Saxon Math all year round: winter, spring, summer, or fall.  Two lessons a week in the summer and 3-5 lessons a week in the school year, barring vacations of course.  That’s when we practice practical math, calculating the trajectory of airplane takeoffs, how seawater changes depth perception, you know.  That kind of stuff.  Well, the kids are supposed to be doing that.  But I never check their work.  This year-round schedule buys an excellent cushion whenever we need it; we are always ahead of grade level.

In Fourth Grade, We Finished Up Saxon 5/4 and Moved On To…

Saxon 5/4:  My fourth grader started Saxon 5/4 in third grade, and she finished it at Christmas time this year (let’s call it part-way through fourth grade), completing the whole book.  We don’t always finish the book to completion because they just start cramming in too many diverse, new topics without enough reinforcement at the end.  When I feel this frenetic method at the end of a book, I have no qualms stopping 10-20 lessons before the end and just picking up where appropriate in the next book–skipping lessons until we meet up where we left off.  Saxon Math is cumulative and provides excellent repetition within a book and from book to book so our method works for us.

At the end of the Saxon 5/4 book, my girl was at her edge.  By edge I mean it challenged her just right.  Comfortable enough for her to be able to do it but hard enough for her to need some occasional guidance.  Any harder and we would have slowed down.  Any easier and she wouldn’t have been learning.  By the end of Saxon 5/4 she could do:

  •  multiplication of two digit numbers by three digit numbers,
  • long division,
  • very simple early algebra,
  • addition/subtraction of decimals,
  • and addition/subtraction of fractions.

Saxon 6/5:  I purchased Saxon 6/5 to continue after Christmas and was appalled when it arrived.    It started her back at learning what a digit was, place value, subtraction of three digit numbers, and simple division (9 divided by 3).  There are about 140 lessons in the book and they didn’t even take her to adding and subtraction decimal numbers until Lesson 73.  I’m used to skipping up to 30 lessons when we start a new book to avoid all the [wasted] review.  (Year-round math is really the best!)  However, the entire book for her would have been review, aside from a few new geometric concepts and terms.  The WHOLE book.  She understood the concepts already and did not need a year of slow review and reinforcement.

Saxon 7/6:  I ordered Saxon 7/6 and we picked up RIGHT at lesson one where we left off in Saxon 5/4.  Moral of the story?  (Ugh, my fourth grader is doing the math book I did in sixth grade.  NO–that’s not the lesson.)  Skip Saxon Math 6/5 if your child completes Saxon 5/4 and is comfortable enough with the concepts.  Probably use Saxon 6/5 if the child is struggling and needs more time to live with the concepts.  Sometimes math understanding really just needs time at these lower levels to make some more developmental connections.  At times, it seems there’s nothing you can do to drive it home any more quickly.  Conversely, perhaps you could skip Saxon 5/4 and just do Saxon 6/5.  Ask around.  Google around.

How We Use Saxon Math to Suit Us

1.  My child doesn’t have a long attention span.  I choose about half of the problems for her to do in each lesson set.  I usually hand pick them.  Sometimes if I haven’t had a chance to circle the ones I want her to do, she’ll go ahead and work the evens one day and the next day the odds.  (Bad teacher hasn’t looked ahead.  Too many dishes.)

2.  I check her work, even if she checks it herself in the answer book.  I need to know of any weaknesses so that I can assign her more of those problems for practice and be there to help her work them.

3.  Timed tests are highly modified.  She did not have the attention span to do 100 math facts.  I gave her less problems and “prorated” the time.  She always got less problems in less time.  Can I always do this in life for her?  No.  But her dad struggled immensely in elementary school due to attention deficit which he eventually learned to deal with using exercise, shorter study periods, and choosing an orthopedic surgery specialty which did not require 3-4 hours in the operating room.

4.  We did two mental math sections a week rather than daily.  I always did them with her.

5.  Math is highly supervised.  If it is too hard, we slow down and take our time.  Two to three lessons a week instead of four to five.  More focused problems.  If it is too easy, I have no qualms about skipping lessons, particularly early on in the book.  I always (well, almost always) sit across from her and watch her like a hawk, otherwise math might take her four hours.  I’m not the type to assign math and check it at the end of the week.  On the spot.  On the day.  Let’s do it now.

Life of Fred Books 

We supplement with the quirky and fun Life of Fred books (Stanley Schmidt, Ph.d.), my idea of making math interesting and practical without requiring any creative thinking on my part.  She has worked through Apples, Butterflies, and Cats.  She will be finishing Dogs soon.  She absolutely adores these books.  We complete at least one lesson a week, but if she wants to do more–I usually let her have at it.  The books A-D (Apples, Butterflies, Cats, and Dogs) are completely too easy for her, but they are filled with all kinds of fascinating facts and trivia that have nothing to do with math so she is learning other stuff.  And they are funny to her.  We will keep these in our curriculum and I know we’ll soon catch up to her “edge” in the series.

That’s It

That’s our math curriculum.   Do you use Saxon?  Do you tailor it to your children?  Are you a real go-getter and do fun math “projects”?  Why do you love your math curriculum or hate it?  Are you a hands-on math supervisor or a “Hey, you go to learn to do your own work” type of teacher?  Have a great day and life. ~~Terri

UPDATE:  In Saxon 7/6 we have needed to slow down.  We currently cover one lesson in two days; each day she does 15 problems.  We continue to do the mental math and Life of Fred.