Wednesday, April 25, 2012


We started homeschooling 5 years ago and used A Beka math for the first 3 years.  Angel completed A Beka 6th, 7th, and 8th grade Pre-Algebra.  At the time, I really liked A Beka because it is very traditional text book math.  Angel was pulled out of public school at the beginning of 6th grade and was taught previously with Investigations math, which is a reform math. The transition from reform to traditional math was very confusing for her.  I do attribute some of her math weakness to the reform math approach that was taught in our local public school.  Unfortunately for Angel, her grade was one of the first introduced to this new curriculum and many of the teachers weren't on board with it at that time.  In an attempt not to shame the district, I'll spare you the details.   

RileyAnn also completed A Beka Kindergarten and Arithmetic 1.  She seemed to be doing fine with A Beka.  However, as Angel was entering high school and Ruben was entering kindergarten, I felt we needed to make a switch as I didn't feel A Beka was a good fit for either of them.  After attending a convention and doing math research with The Farmer, we decided to give Math-U-See a try with Riley and Ruben.  At the time, Angel really wanted to try Teaching Textbooks, however, after a week, she despised it and begged for something else.  I happened to have Saxon Algebra 1 on my shelf, so I pulled that out.  She made an honest attempt, but we were heading for disaster.  Math-U-See was going well for the younger two, so we thought we'd try it for Angel as well.  Thankfully, a friend was able to loan us the upper levels as a trial run.  

I did have Angel complete the MUS placement tests.  As mentioned she completed pre-algebra in 8th grade, but when we switched to MUS in 9th grade I had her redo pre-algebra with no regrets.  I feel math is such an important life skill and It's easier to go back and understand than to push forward with struggles.  It helped her comprehend the MUS style of teaching and seems to be working for her.  We've finally found a program she likes, much as she can like math ;-) 

We continued with MUS this year and plan to stick with it in the future!  I like that it's a K-12 program.  We did consider RightStart math, however, I question the transition to higher level math using another program since it only covers elementary math.

There is very little teacher prep with MUS.  It's a mastery program in that your student really shouldn't move on until they've mastered the concept.  

Here's my understanding of the intended way of teaching MUS...

There is a DVD, where creator Steve Demme teaches the new concept at the beginning of the lesson to the parent, these are approx. 5 minute segments.  Then the parent teaches the lesson to their student.  Then there are 3 practice pages for the student and 3 review pages for the student.  If the student gets it, there is no need to complete all 3 practice pages, unless you have an OCD child like me who can't leave any blank workbook pages ;-)  Once the child masters the lesson and completes the review, there is a test.  Then you move on to the next lesson.  

Here's how I teach MUS....

Ruben (K-1st - Primer) - each day he completes workbook pages with my guidance.  There are no tests with Primer. 

RileyAnn (2nd - Beta) - Day 1 she and I watch the DVD together, then I watch her do a few problems to make sure she gets it 
Day 2 & 3 she completes practice pages typically on her own (she's my OCD girl and can't get enough workbooks and as her OCD mother, I figure if she's game, why not!)
Day 4-6 she completes review pages again, on her own
Day 7 she takes the test

Angel (10th - Algebra 1) - Day 1 she watches the DVD on her own and completes practice page, we correct together, if she has 1 wrong or less, she moves onto review pages, if more than 1 wrong, she completes more practice pages
     Day 5 she takes the test

So as you can see from our random schedule, MUS has given our family the flexibility to meet each child where they're at.  The lower levels have 30 lessons and the upper levels have 34 lessons and an Honors course.  

MUS is leveled since it's mastery based, the program is really not graded as in 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc.  They use the Greek alphabet for the different levels and the focus of each level is as follows...

Primer - Having fun introducing math
Alpha - Single digit addition and subtraction
Beta - Multiple digit addition and subtraction
Gamma - Single & multiple digit multiplication
Delta - Single & multiple digit division
Epsilon - Fractions
Zeta - Decimals & percents
Pre-Algebra - Prerequisite: Student should have mastered basic operations, fractions, decimals, and percents
Algebra 1 - Prerequisite: Student should have completed pre-algebra
Geometry - Prerequisite: Student should have completed algebra 1
Algebra 2 - Prerequisite: Student should have completed algebra 1
PreCalculus - Prerequisite: Student should have completed algebra 1, geometry, and algebra 2
Stewardship - A christian approach to personal finance
Honors Books - extra credit, enrichment, or challenge for Algebra 1, Geometry, Algebra 2 (we use these as review with our older daughter)

As mentioned above, there are placement/assessment tests here for MUS...

If you have further questions, I would also check out/play around on the MUS website at  They have newsletters, a blog, worksheet generators, etc.  Last year, when Angel was struggling with a new concept, I called and she was able to speak with a MUS expert who walked her through it over the phone and helped her understand.  I've found them to be a very good and reputable company.  

In review, I appreciate the K-12 levels, customer service/support, leveled mastery based, and low teacher prep involved with MUS.  Our kids seem to be really understanding math with this program.  We plan to continue with it. 

Disclaimer: I am not being paid to endorse MUS.  I'm just a homeschool mom passing along what works for our family.  

Monday, April 23, 2012

Meet Snowball...

Last week our dear old cat, Maxine, had her second batch of kittens.  Last year, she had four, but this year only two.  Unfortunately, one already died.  Since the eyes are not yet open, we don't allow the kids to touch so we're not sure if it's a boy or girl quite yet.  However, RileyAnn has named it Snowball, which seems like a good unisex name ;-)

Saturday, April 21, 2012

A Plethora of Reading

We have tried many reading and phonics programs over the last 3-4 years.  I hate to admit it, but RileyAnn was my guinea pig.  I used Bob Jones K-5 Beginnings, The Ordinary Parents Guide to Teaching Reading, Modern Curriculum Press Phonics, My Father's World First Grade, Christian Liberty Press readers, Sonlight readers, Dick and Jane readers, Pathway readers, etc. etc. etc.  She suffered through my trial and error and miraculously something worked because she's a good reader and LOVES books :)

Unfortunately, I've continued the roller coaster with Ruben, however, not with the same success.  Last year, we completed My Father's World A-Z.  This was not great for Ruben.  I felt it had too much busy work and not enough focus on phonics instruction.  When we started this school year, it seemed like he didn't retain much from last year.

So we basically started over this year with Explode the Code Get Ready, Set, Go for the Code books.  Ruben did very well with these and learned many letter sounds.  When he completed those, we moved to Reading Made Easy. 

This started out good, but I didn't care for the way it introduced short and long vowels together using different fonts and color coded letters.  I felt it was more of a distraction.  Also, when you begin to read real books, there are not color/font clues to help you decipher words.  Ruben was getting frustrated, so after lesson 12, we scrapped that and once again I went back to The Ordinary Parents Guide to Teaching Reading.  I do feel this is a good program, probably why I tried it with both kids.  However, for Ruben it seemed confusing to have the student words and teacher instruction mixed on the same page.  

I also attempted Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons.   There again, the student part is mixed among the teacher's instruction.  So many people really like this program, but I just can't get myself into it.  

I used to have a book called AlphaPhonics.  I think this may be just what we need, large word lists on a page with minimal distractions and teacher instructions in the back of the book, not mixed in with student pages.  Unfortunately, I sold my copy with one of the Sonlight packages we completed.  

So, last week at convention, I spent much time perusing the exhibit hall on the hunt for a miracle reading/phonics program.  Several friends there, lead me to The Phonics Road for Spelling and Reading by Barbara Beers.  

The Phonics Road - Complete Curriculum for Spelling and Reading for Home Schooling and Individual Instruction

I have researched the Orton Gillingham method of teaching reading in the past.  We are currently using All About Spelling with RileyAnn, which incorporates this method and I really like it.  It makes good sense.  The problem with Phonics Road....for me, is the price.  I'm hesitant to spend $200+ on a program that may or may not work.  Also, teaching Phonics Road looks intense.  I'm not sure teaching reading should be that grueling.  A positive about Phonics Road is that it appears to be an all in one language arts program, covering speaking, spelling, writing, reading, grammar, composition, and an introduction to Latin.  This is appealing to me.  

In addition, I already own Phonics for Reading and Spelling by Bonnie Dettmer, which is very similar to Phonics Road.  As a matter of fact, after speaking to Mrs. Beers at convention, she stated she worked with or knew Bonnie Dettmer at one time.  There again, I've pulled Dettmer's program off the shelf so many times, though the method looks great, the teaching portion looks very intense.  

In the past, I've also looked at Marie Rippel's All About Reading program many times online.  It too uses the Orton Gillingham method.  Unfortunately, they didn't have a booth at the convention I attended.  I would have loved the opportunity to discuss the program with a consultant.  But eventually, I waddled over to the Rainbow Resource booth and found they had it there.  I was able to sit for some time and look over the materials.  

I then continued to wander the convention hall aimlessly.  I came across the Simply Charlotte Mason booth.  While looking over their products, I found Delightful Reading.  This has also been intriguing me for some time.  I'm a huge fan of the Charlotte Mason method, however, after reading the book How the Brain Learns to Read by David Sousa, I'm drawn back to All About Reading which teaches the five major components of reading: phonological awareness, phonics and decoding, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension that Dr. Sousa refers to.  

I went back to the hotel that night and called The Farmer to get feedback.  He too thought Phonics Road sounded good, but a little too pricey.  He suggested either going with the All About Reading or holding off to see if we could find something else.  I prayed about it.  Toward the end of convention, I went back to the Phonics Road booth and it was jam packed with people.  They had even sold out their display copies of the program.  Though expensive, it must be a good program.   However, this led me back to Rainbow Resource at the close of the convention to purchase the All About Reading kit.  

Upon researching online after getting home from convention, I found that Phonics Road and All About Reading do in fact both use the Orton Gillingham method.  However, All About Reading takes a little slower approach.  I actually think this will be better for Ruben.  Time will tell if All About Reading is the right choice.   And who knows, maybe we'll come across Phonics Road down the road.  I really would like the opportunity to spend more time looking at it.  

Friday, April 20, 2012

Convention Follow-Up

Well it's been a week since the convention.  I've had some time to ponder and reflect.  Riley and I enjoyed our time together.  Although, it felt good to leave the hustle and bustle of the city and come home to wide open spaces and the frogs singing.  We both decided we're country girls.

Thursday evening, as a convention kick off, we watched a movie called Indoctrination: Public Schools and the Decline of Christianity in America.    I highly recommend this film if you get the chance to watch it!  It really hit home as to why we choose to homeschool.  

Friday morning, with excitement and lists in hand, we headed off to the used book sale.  I was disappointed to find mostly book dealers and not the usual homeschooling families selling their curriculum.   The used book sale seemed smaller.  We didn't spend as much time there as usual, but headed down to the exhibit hall instead to research reading programs.  Ruben's been struggling with reading and I feel like I'm struggling to find the right program fit for him.

Later in the afternoon, upon talking to another homeschooling mom in the exhibit hall, we discovered that we missed part of the used book sale.  Apparently, it was divided into two separate rooms and we missed the second room.  So we hightailed it back up to the used book sale, but unfortunately, by the time we got there, we missed out on some of the used deals I was originally looking for.  It was a real bummer!

Saturday, we headed back to the exhibit hall and spent some more time deciding on a reading program.    After much research and prayer, I purchased All About Reading, Level 1 for Ruben.  Riley is currently using All About Spelling Level 1 and it's going great!  I really like the Orton Gillingham method Marie Rippel uses in her spelling and reading programs.  Ruben and I have been trying All About Reading this week.  I like the program, but time will tell how it goes for Ruben.  I plan to write about it in another post.  

I also purchased the next Explode the Code books and Getty Dubay Italic book.  Since Ruben had success with these, I wanted to have them as a back up plan.  Sonlight uses these for their Language Arts program so I may incorporate them next year.  

I ordered the next levels of Math-U-See for Riley and Ruben.  They should be arriving any day.  Riley will continue with Pictures in Cursive by Queen Homeschool.  They arrived yesterday.  She was very excited!  

I found some Master Books science books on a close out for a great price.  I'm so excited about these.  I plan to read through them this summer and see how I can incorporate them. 

I purchased the first two levels in the elementary series of Life of Fred.  Ruben will be done with his math next week so I wanted a little something to round out the school year.  When I read an excerpt online, he enjoyed it.  Hopefully, it's a fun way to end the school year!  

I didn't find many things for Angel, but hope to at some used curriculum fairs coming up.  If not, I usually place one large order from Rainbow Resource before the start up of the school year.  I will finalize curriculum purchases at that time.  

One last note regarding the used book sale, I was excited to find some of the regional books by Lois Lenski.  I plan to use them when studying American History with Riley and Ruben in 2 years.  They are hard to find as many are out of print.  They look like great living books! 

Overall, the convention was a success in spite of our used book sale mishap.  I look forward to starting our next school year strong with our new resources.  

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

What a Difference a Day Makes....

April weather in WI can be tumultuous.  For example, Saturday, The Farmer and kids mowed the lawn.  Monday the temperature dropped nearly 20 degrees in a few hours and we had snow.....

Today, it's back up in the 50's and beautiful sunshine.....

"This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it."  Psalm 118:24

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Preparing for a Homeschool Convention

It's less than 10 days until I leave for a homeschool convention.  I LOVE conventions/book sales and am very excited!!  Recently, a couple of first time moms asked what to expect and how to prepare.  Conventions can be very overwhelming for some.  My number one answer would be "Do your homework ahead of time".  This will help with anxiety and to avoid impulse spending.

Here are my convention tips.....

1. Gather information about possible subjects you hope to teach each child and the level they may need.  For example, what time period would you like to study for history?  Or, does your child need extra help with math facts?  Make a list of possibilities for each child.

2. Inventory your book shelves to determine what you have and what you may need.  I then create lists to avoid purchasing duplicate copies.

3. Create a budget or allowance and commit to staying within that dollar amount.

My lists and budget really help me stay focused.  There's so much to see and every representative wants to sell.  That's why they're there.  By creating lists and sticking to them, I avoid impulse purchases and overspending.  If you do find something new and interesting, pray about it, sleep on it, if possible, go back the next day and look at it again.  Conventions are a great way to look and compare various books/curricula.  You get to hold it, smell it, and flip through the pages.  There are many discounts and deals for purchasing at convention.  Take advantage of this if you can.  However, don't feel pressured by this.  Some companies allow you to utilize convention discounts for a short period of time following the convention.  Don't be afraid to ask or negotiate.

4. Explore the convention website for the following:

         - Look for vendor information.  Are there certain companies or curricula that you're interested in?  If possible, check out their links/websites ahead of time.  Be ready to ask questions.

         - Print a speaker schedule and any handouts you may need for seminars you plan to attend.

         - Check rules and requirements. The convention I attend has restrictions on strollers and bags on wheels.  They also discourage attendance of children under age 12.  By checking ahead, you can plan accordingly.

When the big day arrives....

1. Wear comfortable clothing and walking shoes.  You will spend much of the day on your feet.

2. Bring lists, money, and bags.  I prefer backpack type bags.  Keep in mind, books can be really heavy so make sure bags have large straps and will handle the weight.

3. Most conventions don't allow you to bring food, so be prepared with snacks or plan ahead to purchase meals.  I do carry a water bottle.

This will be my 5th year of attending homeschool conventions.  Each year I learn so much more.  Typically, I spend most of my time in the used book sale and exhibit hall and very little time in seminars.  Last year, I purchased an MP3 recording of all the seminars/workshops at convention.  This allowed me to listen at my leisure and be inspired all year long.  I would definitely recommend this.

Many moms go to convention with their spouse.  Some attend with girlfriends or other homeschooling moms. The Farmer attended a homeschool convention one time and has been to numerous book sales.  However, he really doesn't enjoy crowds and would much rather stay on the farm with the kids.  I often ask his opinion, particularly on large purchases and he's very supportive of my decisions.  We also let our kids explore and participate in choosing some books.  It builds excitement and gives them ownership.  We view homeschooling as a family decision.  Everyone needs to be on board.

Enjoy your time at convention!   Let me know if you have other questions.  I pray you have a wonderful experience :)