Friday, May 21, 2010

Ideal Curriculum Review

Product: Month 1: Transportation
Company: Ideal Curriculum
Price: 30$US download, 55$US + 7.50$US/child print version

Many homeschoolers spend months, and sometimes years, looking for the ideal curriculum for their homeschool. They read reviews, they try different programs, they ask their friends what they use. I've only been homeschooling for a couple years now, and I to have searched high and low for the best program for us. I've come to realize that Liam is a workbook type of kid who also enjoys having ample time for free reading so all he needs is to be printed some worksheets from time to time and a library card. Morgaine is still quite young but I have started to search for things that she would enjoy. I'm not big on pushing academics but Liam was way beyond Morgaine at this age and occasionally I wonder if I'm doing too little with her. When I was asked to review month 1 of Ideal Curriculum's Pre-K program, I had high hopes that this would be a curriculum that would work well for her and we'd be set to start her Kindergarten year. Ideal Curriculum provides month long units that strive to teach language, reading, writing, math, and science in a sequential way through games, music and hands on activities. Each month follows a specific theme to help unify things. The theme for Month 1 one was transportation but other themes include weather, animals and the world around me. Sounds good!

Unfortunately, their statement that "95% of all children will not pick up academic skills on their own," was a bit of a put off for me. While I think children do need some guidance, most children learn lots just by exploring and asking questions without a lot of structure and formal learning (remember, we are talking PreK curriculum here). I was immediately filled with dread as I imagined my little 4 year old sitting at a a desk filling out repetitive worksheets. Thankfully, each lesson is kept short and for the most part do feel like play and not so much like work. The teacher manuals provide ideas for continuing each lesson throughout the day so that the learning can happen in a more natural way as you go about your daily activities as well. With music, written/visual work, and hands on activities (including full body movement for those really kinesthetic learners) there is a little of everything so whatever kind of learner you have they should benefit from this program.

While I thought having all three areas (literature, science, and math) provided in one package would be beneficial it was immediately clear that my daughter is at a different level in each area. In fact, I found that she would not benefit from either the literature or the math sections of the program very much at all. She is way beyond what is being taught in math section and the literature sections I found to be a little bit disorganized for my liking. Some parts seeming really simple for her abilities and other parts seeming to move ahead too quickly. While they touch on a number of important areas (letter sounds, sight words, print awareness), I found that the method of teaching these skills was a bit helter skelter and would not work well with my child.

The science unit of this program, though, I found to be really nice addition. Most programs I've seen tend to ignore science in the younger grades (most certainly in PreK-Kindergarten) and it was really nice to see that science was included and that the activities were not babied down and used proper scientific terms. The experiments are well demonstrated and the explanations are clear. This is the area where the theme of transportation comes into play and your student gets to experiment with wheels and axles and learn about different forms of transportation. I, however, still would find it hard to justify buying the program for the science or even the science/social science section independent of the other curriculum.

This curriculum is available for purchase for 30 dollars/unit (month) for a downloaded version of the program or 55 dollar/unit (month) plus an additional 7.50$US/child for a print version of the program. You can also purchase the entire year (9 units) for 440$US the print version or 240$US for the download version. We reviewed the download version and I found that there was a lot of back and forth between the teacher manuals, the children's workbooks and the other print material. I think that I may have enjoyed having all the material printed and ready for me. We were out of town without computer access for the majority of this review period and being unable to print any of the material, I had to flip back and forth between the different files repeatedly. Ideally, I would have been able to print everything before beginning. I would not be able to justify spending this money on a monthly basis for what is included in this curriculum. Even stretching the work over two months (which is possible as the program is quite flexible in that regards) I still would not be able to buy it.

I feel that this program is best suited to a classroom environment and would be ideal for an educational daycare or other such program. For a homeschool, at least mine, the cost is not justifiable. Many of the activities remind me of things that I did in Kindergarten or that I used when volunteering at a preschool a number of years ago. The activities are fun but really geared more towards a group of children in my opinion. The fact that the curriculum takes a multi-sensory approach is appealing and the whole body learning experience is great if you have a child that likes to be on the move so if that sounds ideal to you, I encourage you to visit the Ideal Curriculum website and check out their free week trial.

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