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It’s that time of year again, ya’ll, and here is the big fat curriculum post you’ve been waiting for.

If you follow along with my shenanigans on facebook, you may have already heard me going on about some of this, but for all the other researching / curious / curriculum-confused readers just stopping in to see what another mom is using, this post has all the details.

But can we please just start with a few pictures of summer vacation? *click the arrow to scroll through*

And now on to academics!  A lot of new curriculum going on this school year, plus a couple of tried and true favorites. Here is a quick-listing of what I’ll be using, and below that, you’ll find many more details about each choice.

Our Curriculum Choices

Math: Mammoth Math plus Math-U-See blocks

Spelling: All About Spelling

WritingInstitute for Excellence in Writing (IEW)

Grammar: Grammar Fix It! by IEW

Copywork: 4 sources for daily practice (a mix of print and cursive)- Psalm 91 The Shelter, Handwriting Without Tears Cursive Success and various copywork pages from our History and Science Curriculum

Phonics & Reading (for 1st Grader and 5 Yr Old): Phonics Pathways then Delightful Reading

Bible: Reading aloud from the Bible: 1 & 2 Samuel, then Matthew and Acts.  Plus memory and devotional work from Awana (church program)

Science: Apologia  Semester 1: Apologia Zoology 3 (Land Animals of the 6th Day) and Semester 2:  Apologia Human Anatomy and Physiology

History: Studying the Early Modern Period with emphasis on American History using these primary resources as guides: George Washington’s World by Genevieve Foster, The Story of the World Vol. III CDs and Activity Book, Homeschool in the Woods Time Traveler CDs and Lapbook kits {Colonial Life, American Revolution and Early 19th Century}, plus tons of additional reading sources.

And now for the detailed version of all of this~here we go!

Math

I’m switching from A Beka to Mammoth Math this year.  Oh man, people. I have changed math curriculum something like 5 times since Kindergarten, and though I’m switching AGAIN, I have to say, I really am learning what works for my daughter and what doesn’t.  My daughter is still a little less than 1/2 year behind in math, but I’m ok with that, because we’re strengthening foundations and closing the gap.

I used A Beka’s 1st and 2nd grade workbooks last year, along with the Math-U-See blocks.  And while my daughter progressed nicely, and enjoyed A Beka’s colorful workbooks, the structure often left me frustrated and having to supplement/slow down.  As is common with the “spiral approach” with math, new concepts continued to be introduced before she was ready to move on from the previous skill. Some days, we’d have lots of success with a concept like borrowing in subtraction, and we’d just be getting going, but the next lesson would have us practicing a variety of other things (which she didn’t have a strong grasp of either) and so I felt like I was continually having to sit with her, every single problem to remind or re-explain how to do it.   So  my main gripe with A Beka is that it just does not provide ample enough practice to master the skills at hand, the student can sometimes feel they’re not good at ANY of them.  Now, some people don’t mind this approach (particularly once a child has mastered their basic math facts, because the review of many different learned skills can be helpful, but before that time, it can feel very very frustrating).

The opposite of the spiral approach is a mastery approach.

A few examples of mastery based curriculum would be :
–Math-U-See
–Mammoth Math
–Singapore Math

Examples of spiral based curriculum:
–Saxon (incremental, or short spiral)
–A Beka
–Horizons

Now I was pretty sure that spiral math was not a good idea for my daughter, so why did I expect it to work well last year?  Perhaps it’s because the other mastery approach curriculum we tried (M-U-S) was not a “perfect fit” for us, and so I wavered.  Maybe I should have just stuck it out with Math-U-See, despite its redundancy and somewhat boring nature (one WHOLE year in addition concepts…then one WHOLE year in subtraction…and so on).  Aferall, we do still use the M-U-S blocks almost every single day.  My hands-on Pre K and 1st grade boys LOVE using the blocks. My 3rd grade daughter is gaining a solid understanding of place value, fact families and regrouping thanks to the blocks.  But the workbooks….meh.  Leaves you wanting more.  For a few months, we also tried the untraditional Life of Fred, mixed with Math-U-See, and although it was entertaining, it too, did not provide enough practice material for my struggling daughter.  A Beka felt traditional and schoolish, and because I really felt I should have been covering a variety of skills besides addition/subtraction facts, I gave it a try last year. It worked out alright, but in the end, we leaned back into the mastery approach by going back to the basics and worked to secure those + and – facts by daily repeated practice, using other worksheets and relying heavily on our Math-U-See blocks.

This year, I am trying Mammoth Math with my 1st and 3rd graders for a few reasons.

First, many of my Charlotte Mason-style loving friends (and online reviewers) absolutely love it.  (By the way, you can go here to see what other math curriculums are “CM approved” and recommended by Ambleside Online.) 

Mammoth Math is mastery-based.  It is complete, comprehensive and easy to use.  It has a strong focus on conceptual and mental math.  It is very affordable, and how about this: it’s a mastery-based approach that spirals back around to previously learned concepts. That means that while learned skills do continue to show up here and there, if a child is learning how to trade (borrow) in multi-digit subtractions, they will be given more than enough practice in this area before the text moves on.  If you had a child who didn’t NEED all that additional practice, you could simply speed them up and move on.

Mammoth Math allows you to purchase a downloadable version and instantly print it from your home office, or order a bound copy.  I love all their purchasing options: You can buy a full year’s curriculum, a giant elementary package, a half-year at a time, or even a theme (need a unit on fractions only? no problem).  They have SO many options, and they’re all affordable and straightforward.  If you’re interested, print a placement test to see where your child is functioning.

My daughter is going into 3rd, but I ended up buying year 2B and starting her about 1/2 way through that (which would be 3/4 of the way through grade 2).  Why? She just is not ready to begin 3rd grade material until we shore up some of her 2nd grade skills.  I love that I can pick and choose.

It does not, I repeat, does NOT make any sense, mamas, to push our kids forward to the next “grade” of this or that when they are unable to DO the work at that level.  Just slow down, be patient and deliberate, and it will come, slowly.  Meet them where they’re at.  That is one beautiful thing about homeschooling–it’s NOT one size fits all!  We can adjust and modify and support our kids right where they need it.

Mammoth Math is on Cathy Duffy’s Top 101 Curriculum List.  You can read her review here. 

Math-U-See is also on her Top 101 List–check out that review here, and if you are interested in purchasing a set of Math-U-See manipulative blocks to supplement your current math curriculum, you can do so at their website HERE.

One more thing we continually use in math is our homemade Decimal Street Poster (below).  Make one yourself with poster board and construction paper.  Such a simple, helpful visual tool that the kids really enjoy using.  *by the way, in the pic below you can see Eden is working on her Mammoth Math worksheet, and is USING her Math-U-See blocks to solve.*

Spelling

I’m finally beginning formal spelling. Charlotte Mason recommends you teach spelling in the context of dictation, copywork and reading for the first few years, but begin a formal spelling routine in grade 3. I was always a bit nervous about this when I first started out, but I am SO GLAD I waited.  My daughter is right on track for beginning 3rd grade spelling, and I can say confidently that the CM approach to teaching spelling w/in language arts and copywork really does work.
Now it’s time to amp things up and get a little more serious with a formal spelling routine each day.

After lots and lots of research I’ve decided to use All About Spelling.  This is another new one for me, but I love that I can begin w/ my 1st and 3rd grader in the same place, and move them as they are able.  After about 3 days, my daughter had finished 3/4 of Level 1 and we were able to hone right in on problem areas. This curriculum is kinethetic, auditory, AND visual.  Now, it IS teacher-intensive, but I feel both of my children need me to actually work through a lesson w/ them at this time (as opposed to telling them to get out their spelling workbook and do pages ___ on their own).  We are one week into using our magnetic white board and the handy little letter tiles and I must say, I am excited, and so are they!  Kids love anything hands-on, and this program offers that element which I appreciate.  Also–normally, I am not a big fan of teacher’s manuals.  I hate the additional expense and it’s so often just NOT necessary.  However, in this case, you’d be completely in the dark w/out it.  Once you have it though, you’re good to go, and only need to purchase additional spelling kits as your kids move through the levels.

All About Spelling also made Cathy Duffy’s Top 101 List and you can read her detailed review here.  

Phonics

For my 1st grader and PreK 5 year old, I am still working through Phonics Pathways.  It’s been a great curriculum for my boys, and they both enjoy it.  We love the games they provide (I also use the Phonics Pathways Boosters from time to time).  Phonics Pathways teaches short vowel sounds first, has simple, lightly scripted lessons and just enough practice for wiggly little boys to get through each day.  You can do as many or few pages as you want per session.  One thing I found to be SO helpful for my boys was the bookmark they include (we copied onto card stock)–such a great visual of the vowel sounds.  My boys refer to their bookmark often.

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I actually wish I would have used this curriculum with my daughter.  I highly recommend it, as do others–read more here and here.

Once my first grader is doing some basic reading, I will begin Delightful Reading (by Simply Charlotte Mason) with him.  I used this with my daughter and she LOVED it!  It was such a fun, relaxing way to learn how to read, and was much needed after we had some stress from me pushing too hard using things that were not working.

Writing

Oh you guys!  I am beyond excited to be starting Institute for Excellence in Writing this year!!!!  I know only a teacher would say something like that, but seriously, this program!!

I evaluate a couple dozen kids each spring, and in peeking through those portfolios, I learn a lot about what is out there, and what is worthwhile/quality and what’s not.

I am not sure I can even begin to describe the level of improvement I have seen from students who were previously struggling writers after just one year with IEW.  It is absolutely amazing.

This program provides PARENTS AND STUDENTS with the necessary training and tools and confidence to become outstanding writers.

Also, I am not sure why their website is so totally confusing, especially to first time visitors interested in getting started, but just know you are not alone in your confusion.  Don’t let that, or the price, or the intimidation factor keep you from trying this program.  There is no WAY you will regret it.
Now, before you abandon this post and break the bank to buy a writing package, here is what you need to know:

–It’s probably best to begin this program in 3rd grade or higher.  MAYbe sooner IF your child is an established writer.

I mean, if money’s not an issue, you can buy it sooner and get the training NOW that will prepare you to be an outstanding teacher of writing, even if your kids are only in kinder or first or even second right now.  Just know that only a  minimal amount of material can be implemented in the lower grades.

Also

Shop around, and consider only buying the teacher/parent training course first (called Teaching Writing: Style & Structure)

I found mine used in near-perfect condition on Amazon, and it was $40 cheaper than if I would have purchased it new from the IEW site.

I only bought the teacher-training and am really glad I did because at the END of the {10 hours of} training, they give you a little sample-course to do w/ your students (they give you this for each level, elem-high school).

Once you are finished with the Style & Structure training, you have some choices.  As soon as you finish even the first DVD training, you can begin teaching your kids using the methods that were taught to you!  Writing can be taught within the context of literature, history or science, instead of as a separate subject.  If you would prefer to have Mr. Pudewa walk your kids through the writing lessons, you can purchase what they call Student Writing Intensive (SWI).  Younger grades can begin with Level A, and they also offer a B and C course.  These come with DVDs of Mr. Pudewa teaching a live audience of students.  Your kids (and you if you’d like) watch and take part in the classroom lectures (which are funny and interesting and engaging), then they complete the assignments given within the SWI with your support.

Another element that I love about IEW is that you can very often find a host-class in your area and sign your student to take part in it (for a small cost) without having to purchase the entire SWI on your own.

Again, after seeing first-hand what a difference this writing program makes for struggling students, I was sold.  I am very excited to be part of the IEW community this year, and I know my kids will benefit tremendously.

Grammar

I’ve decided to reinforce our writing by keeping grammar in the IEW “family” by using Grammar Fix It! (we’re using the unit titled “The Nose Tree” which is what they recommend to be completed first).  It complements IEW’s program so nicely and I love how grammar is taught in a natural story-telling and editing manner.

Basically, there is a brief bit of grammar instruction every day, after which the student corrects one sentence and rewrites it in their journal, WITH the corrections.  At the end of the year, they have a complete STORY, which they edited themselves. My daughter only has her first 4 sentences written out, but is already enjoying seeing the story begin to make sense.  One element we’ve found to be especially helpful and interesting in this grammar program is the requirement to look up a certain bold-type word from each day’s sentence in the dictionary.  My daughter is learning how to find a word and determine the meaning that fits based on the context of the sentence–all valuable skills…plus her vocabulary is expanding. Don’t you find that children love to learn and use new “fancy” words? 🙂

I am supplementing the Fix It! workbook with some of my own grammar instruction, like the preposition song, and other goodies I’ve found on Pinterest.

Bible

I have come to realize that I really do not prefer devotionals or curriculum when it comes to teaching the Bible to my little ones. What I DO love is reading to them straight from the Word of God, and to allow the conversation and questions be natural and spirit-led and free.
Last year, we ditched the Bible Study Guide curriculum about 25 lessons in because it had too much stopping for such small details and very often, we lost track of the big story, or had to go so  s l o w l y in order to give ample coloring time, etc for their lesson pages.  It dragged it out unnecessarily, and was kinda teacher-intensive, but I do have to say, all my kids did actually enjoy it.  It would be fun to use in Sunday School.  It just became a lot more appealing for me to open up the Word with my kids and READ to them.  Not long after I ditched it, I began reading through the book of Luke using The Dig, and all the kids and I really liked it, though I modified it a bit…basically, I gave them little tokens for answering questions correctly from each day’s chapter or story, and they exchanged these for candy/dollar store junk, etc.

We loved reading through the book of Luke together.  The most natural time for me to do Bible reading was during our tea-time each afternoon.  Tea and the Word of God.  Pretty great if you ask me.  However, even pulling out The Dig lesson guide ended up feeling unnatural to me (sometimes the questions they provided seemed…forced?), and so we only did Part 1, which was the first half of Luke.  We read the remainder of the book right from the Bible, and I asked questions as we went along, and reviewed the previous day’s reading each day.

This summer, I began reading through 1 and 2 Samuel with the kids, and we will simply continue that as we enter the new schoolyear, then move on to the book of Matthew which we will also watch on DVD.  The plan is to continue the story into the book of Acts, then return to Genesis since it will have been 2 years since I read it aloud to the kids.

My kids absolutely love read aloud time each day, but in the words of my 4 year old: we all “love the Bible book best.”  I get antsy and always have a million other great books I want to be reading aloud to them, and so I have to REMIND myself that the Word of God is LIFE and is far better than anything else I could be feeding to their spirits.

This year my kids will begin Awana at our church on Wednesday nights, and I am SO SO excited for the additional Bible Memory work they’ll get to do within that.

Science

If you know me at all, you know that I am 100% completely SOLD on Apologia Exploring Creation Series.  We’ve already completed Astronomy, Botany, Zoology 1 (Flying Creatures), Zoology 2 (Swimming Creatures) and this year we are diving into Zoology 3 (Land Animals) and ~Lord willin’ and the crick don’t rise~Human Anatomy and Physiology at the tail end of the school year.  That’s only if we don’t die first aren’t inundated with trying to cover egads of awesome info and people and places in American History.  We’ve always done two Apologia Books each year, and so it would be ideal if we could finish the cycle of Creation this year, and begin it again next year, but some semesters it is difficult to fit in a full in-depth study.  At the same time, my gut says that I would not love staying in Zoology (or whatever) for the entire YEAR at the level where my kids are right now.  Later on, as we begin to cycle back through in Science, it would be great to allow our kids to choose some of their favorites to repeat and perhaps spend a year studying one in even greater depth.
But the way I see it, we are still going a MILE deep by remaining in one subject for 5 months.  You won’t find that in any elementary school, and it’s a shame because children are naturally very inquisitive and interested in the science of the grand world around them, and yet they are offered such piddly science material during the younger years.

In-depth study is not the only reason I love Apologia.  It’s “living” literature, written by a single, enthusiastic author who writes to the student, and cares greatly about her work.  We all know how wonderful it is to sit under a good teacher who is passionate about the subject matter, right?  It comes across in the teaching, and so too does Jeanie Fulbright’s enthusiasm for science translate across the page as it draws you and your kiddos right into the amazing study of God’s creation.  Compare that to a dry textbook and you get the idea.

I love that she includes Creation Confirmations in each and every lesson.  Ms. Fulbright is a young-earth creationist who is solidly, unapologetically biblical in her teaching and writing.

This is a one-size fits all or at least most in your family.  Even my preschooler, since age 3, has joined around the table coloring and listening and learning as we’ve explored the planets, vegetation, flying and swimming creatures.  I used to (half) joke that he knew more about Astronomy than most adults. Forget teaching 2 or 3 different sciences to your gang–with Apologia, it’s one main text for the whole family, and individual journal for school-aged kiddos.

There is a junior version of the journal for the younger grades (the junior journals have coloring pages and age-appropriate lines for beginning writers, but are otherwise the same).
Each year, I find myself running upstairs to copy the beautiful coloring pages supplied in the journals so that my little boys can color as they listen.  This year I decided to pre-copy these pages (along with little space for journaling) in advance and bind them.  Now my younger boys, who aren’t quite ready for full journals of their own, can at least keep their coloring and basic journaling pages in one place for science.

Here is big album you can click through of our adventures in Apologia science the past 3 years…you’ll see pics of our studies in Astronomy, Botany, Zoology Flying Creatures and Zoology Swimming Creatures with lots of hands-on stuff added in.

Finally, I love that the journals serve as a valuable reinforcement of what is being learned.  The students can fill in the pages with pictures and facts that they narrate back after each day’s reading.  Each lesson contains puzzles and fill-in-the-blank pages, a lovely scripture copywork page, suggested resources, experiments (which use household items) and a full-color cut and paste mini-book that the students can complete and glue into the journal.  The completed journal is literally a precious keepsake, filled with all the wonderful things that were learned together throughout the school year.  My daughter often thumbs back through her old journals to see her work.

Know of a better science curriculum? I’d like to see it.  At least for the elementary years, there is only one in our book: Apologia. It too, makes Cathy Duffy’s Top 101 List.  

I will, however, echo a caveat voiced over at Ambleside Online (where they also recommend Apologia) and it’s this:

This Science curriculum takes time.  It is interesting and fascinating and top-notch, but there are some families who just feel they do not have the time to dedicate each week to the reading and journal work.  We are able to do so because we use History as well as Science as our CORE and so our literature and writing and arts all support either History or Science, instead of being treated as  separate “subjects.”
For example, last year when we studied flying creatures, we took field trips and read books and did art that fit right into what we were doing in Science…

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The rest falls pretty evenly into the History department as we use the Classical Approach of teaching chronological, literature-rich history.

But trust me when I say that for us, it is more than enough each week “just” to fit in Science and History~because within those two “subjects” most other subjects can be found.

Ok, I’ve saved my favorite for last:

History

Many of you know we’ve been using Story of the World for the past 2 years, and I honestly believed this year would be no different.  We’ve been cruising right along on the timeline, beginning with the Ancients, then moving through the Middle Ages last year, and into Early Modern Period this year.  Story of the World is also Charlotte Mason friendly since they encourage you to use it as a “skeleton” curriculum, and fill in with many “living books” from the library and other sources.  In the past 2 years, we have never have any problems filling it in with all sorts of fantastic literature and hands-on activities and events.  We are a history-loving family, through and through, and Story of the World has been a great timeline guide for our chronological study of History, and has truly been a great spring-board.

However, this year, as we leave the age of Exploration and enter the period of colonization, I am finding that I want to “hone in” a bit more on American History.  My daughter is entering 3rd grade, and so will not have this period of early American History again (on the 4 year cycle) until 7th grade.  There is so much fantastic literature and people and events to cover just within American History itself in this period, that I was not feeling good about continuing on around the whole world, as is the habit of SOTW curriculum.  Sure enough, once the curriculum arrived, I saw for myself that only a smattering of chapters were dedicated to American History, and the rest of the time, we’d be traveling the world, so to speak.

So for the first time, we are really departing quite a bit from SOTW and are using a few other texts to drive our studies in history this year.

I am quite alright with this, as I realized last year that some of my children’s most memorable units in history were the ones in which we also read a historical fiction chapter book which fit into the period.  A Door in the Wall drove home our learning about Monasticism.  Robin Hood clinched England, knights, feudalism and life in Europe during the Middle Ages.  

Quality literature drives the learning far better than ANY textbook ever could.

This year, I am embracing this more than every before.
We are using the timeline as our ultimate guide, and we will be filling in the many pages of dates by reading about the fascinating people and stories that make up the history of the Early Modern Time Period.

We’ll be traveling from Christopher Columbus to George Washington, then from the American Revolution all the way on through to Pioneer Days.

My primary guides are:

* The Chronological Timeline of History (hanging right in our homeschool area)

* Story of the World Vol. 3 (select chapters only)

* George Washington’s World by Genevieve Foster and

* Time Traveler CD/Lapbook kits by Homeschool in the Woods

–Colonial Life
–American Revolution
–Early 19th Century

 

I believe that (with young children particularly) history is best taught as storytelling and role-play.

To give you an example of how this looks for us, here is an idea of our first few months:

To understand how English persecution led to the puritan and sepratists movements, we’ll read the chapter book: The Betrayer’s Fortune ~ The Story of Menno Simons and the Anabaptists

To further relate to those pilgrim saints who broke away even further by traveling all the way across the ocean to seek religious freedom, we’ll read: A Journey to the New World: The Diary of Remember Patience Whipple

To keep things hands-on, we’ll be building a paper model of the Mayflower!

To learn about the hardships that the early colonists faced, we’ll do History Pockets: Life in Plymouth Colony (<—geared more for my PreK and 1st grader) while reading A Gathering of Days (<—to drive home learning for my 3rd grader with storytelling) and gaining some perspective while no doubt, being grossed out together as we read through The Dreadful, Smelly Colonies.  

To understand Colonial Life and the many inter-twining faces and places of the American Revolution, we’ll be spending a few months using the absolutely wonderful book by Genevieve Foster called George Washington’s World as our guide, and filling in with dozens of additional chapter and picture books…and not to sound like a broken record, but Story of the World and ALL of Genevieve Foster’s books make Cathy Duffy’s Top 101 List as well.  

 

All of this while doing some awesome lap-booking using Homeschool in the Woods’ Time Traveler CDs!  I can’t recommend these Lapbook kits highly enough!  The finished product is amazing, and each CD provides MONTHS of learning.

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The flipside is that you have to have the content printed somewhere (at home is easy but eats up lots of ink and paper). These unit studies can feel overwhelming to some home educators.  We love creative stuff, so the projects and lapbook-making (all lessons are heavy on colored-pencil coloring) are fun for my daughter.  My younger boys will NOT be making full lapbooks but will join us as we do some of the more hands-on parts.  These are really more appropriate for 3rd or 4th and up.  I got 3 kits this year, but realistically, we won’t make it through more than 2.

Some of you have indicated that you are interested in knowing what chapter and picture books we’ll be using this year in American History.   I’ve got a (shorter) post coming which lists them all, so keep an eye out for that.

But here is a picture sneak peek where you can see plenty of titles to get you started piecing together your own library.

Well that’s it for this year’s curriculum post.  I’d love to know–what are you using and loving?

 

**linking up with friends at Living and Learning at Home**

6 thoughts on “Curriculum Choices and Recommendations 2014-2015

  1. Kristine

    Hi! I was wondering what “The Chronological Timeline of History ” is? Is it a timeline for the wall? Where can I order one? Thanks a bunch! Great bog!

  2. Joanna Silveira Post author

    Hi Kyle!
    So funny, and how different we all are (we loved Apologia Astronomy SO SO MUCH here!) I hear much good about Mystery of History from others. I am peeking through your homeschool room post right now and just dying to see all the good books in those baskets! What a wonderful, literature-rich environment you’ve provided. Blessings for this new year, Joanna

  3. Joanna Silveira Post author

    Hi Stephanie
    It’s great to know we are not alone in the craziness! 🙂 I do not have a living book list for the Ancients as I was not that organized when I first began, but already, I’ve been compiling books for each period as I see or hear about them.
    Search Living Books, Ancients, and you will find some things out there on the inter webs…maybe not the entire period, but try searching by empires (which is also a great way to effectively teach the Ancients)…ex: we focused on Ancient Egypt, Ancient China, Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, etc….you will certainly find plenty once you get going. I am looking forward to beginning our 4 year cycle again and discovering more literary gems to share.
    blessings, Joanna

  4. Stephanie

    I absolutely love your blog! We have very similar homeschooling styles and tastes! I am always so encouraged by your posts. I am going through story of the world ancients with my kids this year. Do you have a living book list that goes along with that year? I have a 3rd grader and 1 st grader (and a 3 year old in tow). THanks!

  5. K

    We use Mystery of History our spine and add in History in the Woods hands on projects and audios for history and God’s Design for Science because I thought Apologia was going to kill me. By the time we finished Astronomy I really began to believe it was a mistake to make the universe, I was so sick of it. Haha!! Anyway, this looks like a very fun & well planned year …that is unless you “Die” going through American History (that was very funny). Blessings, Kyle

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