I've been using all my free time the past couple of days to play with some new computer software. A few weeks ago I heard about a c.d. based homeschool curriculum published by Alpha Omega Publishers called Switched-On Schoolhouse (SOS). We started researching this as a possible curriculum for our oldest kids. Here are some of the features we like:
- With 4 kids in school and a 5th one ready to start this fall, lesson prep and grading are overwhelming. SOS will automatically grade a lot of the work for us.
- We will always know if our kids are done with their day's lessons or not.
- We can set whatever days we want our kids to do schoolwork on the computer, and the program will automatically distribute the lessons over the time period.
- It is highly customizable--we can delete/omit lessons, override grades, or even add/create our own lessons.
- The lessons incorporate different technologies to help different-style learners (ie: audio vs. visual), and we still have plenty of manipulatives, etc, on hand to help tactile learners.
- It can be reused by multiple children--even by 2 or more children at the same time.
- We can install it on our home network, so the kids can work at different computers with one central computer as the database.
We have been using A Beka for the past 3 years and have loved it for the most part. It's the same curriculum that is used primarily at the Christian School, at least in the younger grades. We feel confident that our children are challenged and able to keep up with (or be ahead of) their peers. I have noticed *some* weak spots in the curriculum, but love the fact that I am in control and can do something about it. For us the hardest part has been staying on top of the kids' work--making sure they understand everything, complete their work correctly, etc. I don't even want to talk about the difficulties of keeping track of numerous books, teachers' books, answer keys, test books, and so on. (Remember, this is for four children in four different grade levels). We had some issues last year, but I figured that it would get easier this year, our third year in. In some ways it has gotten easier--Micah, Eden, and Caleb are much more independent and can figure out what they need to do for each subject, plus I know what to expect. In other ways it's not any easier--they are not always responsible to do the right thing. So we had been thinking about finding something different. Mitch wanted to research an online public school option, but we both also wanted the "Bible based curriculum". I was intrigued when I found SOS. I couldn't believe I'd never heard of it before--I was even on a mailing list from Alpha Omega Publishers for a couple years. So I looked online for any advice I could find. Mitch called the company and talked with a Rep. I joined an active yahoo group for families using the software. There are certainly some drawbacks to every curriculum, SOS included, but so far it looks like it will be a good fit for us.
We received a huge blessing in that a family with only one child offered to give us (no strings attached) their used 4th and 5th grade SOS curriculum. (This is permitted according to the EULA--but it can only be gifted once, so now we cannot give it away). It's nice because it is non consumable, and we can keep passing it down from child to child. I received the curriculum in the mail Tuesday and have it all set up. I set myself up as a student and have been learning the ins and outs as a teacher and as a student. Eden is currently in 5th grade A Beka and on about lesson 108 in most subjects, and lesson 135 in arithmetic (of 170 lessons). We talked about starting her to do 5th grade all over again, but that doesn't really seem fair. Instead I had her take some placement tests, and I will eliminate lessons/units that she clearly does not need to repeat. She is itching to get started. I also started all 3 of the older kids on Mavis Beacon typing lessons so their schoolwork will be easier. Mostly it's just so nice to be able to sit and try things out and see how it will work for us--the logistics of it all.
SOS for the computer doesn't start until 3rd grade, and we will keep doing our A Beka curriculum for our younger children. We will also use A Beka for handwriting through 5th grade. Children will be encouraged (and sometimes required) to use notebooks to take notes from their lessons, work math problems, etc. One way to encourage a child to take notes is to allow them to use their notes on a test. My college/university professors even allowed that at times!
So far the first lessons that I have done make me very excited. I have some nosy children who have sat and watched over my shoulder, and I've heard a lot of "I want to do that!" So I can't wait to get them started. I think I have something that each of them can do to try it out. :)