Curriculum Review - 3rd & 4th Grades

homeschooling May 28, 2015

This was our first year homeschooling.  The kids received instruction in science, art, music, and language arts twice a week as part of the Mosaic Home Education Partnership Program. We joined the program because it was our first year homeschooling, and we wanted to give our kids a traditional in-class experience in the public school system. Previously they attended a small, academically rigorous Christian school. 

What was the most important thing the kids learned this year?

Deprogramming.  My kids had come to accept that there is one right way to do things, and experienced a lot of stress and anxiety around school.  This year allowed us to take it slow, talk about how we know if something is true, to question authority, and to take responsibility for ourselves and our learning.  My hope is that their motivation will continue to shift from fear of doing something wrong, to a curious love of learning.

Confidence.  Both kids are high achieving and experience perfectionism and anxiety.  When things didn’t come easily, they would beat themselves up and shut down (sometimes resulting in a panic attack).  Being around so many smart kids made them feel like they were coming up short and in a constant comparison mode.  Homeschooling has resolved that.  I stopped giving tests to prove understanding, and instead rely on conversation and writing assignments.  I gave as much time as they needed to process a math problem or to write an essay so they could feel proud of what they accomplished and work through their fear of not getting it right the first time.  We spent a ton of time talking about how we get our ideas down on paper and editing to make things even better, relieving writer’s block.  My daughter now sees herself as a capable writer and artist.  Both kids developed reading comprehension and essay writing skills in Junior Great Books that have made them feel more capable as writers.

Wellness.  The mindfulness curriculum helped us understand how our brains work and how to combat anxiety and fear.  The sleep book we read transformed our routines and eliminated the angst around sleeplessness and has allowed us to get good sleep.  My daughter spent time taking care of herself and getting to the bottom of her food allergies and mysterious rashes.  I believe these are some of the most important things we tackled this year – that we have to take care of ourselves while we pursue our dreams and go about our responsibilities.

My kids are thriving in ways I never anticipated – they are happier and healthier than I could have imagined.  In order to accomplish that we had to slow down on some of the coursework and I’m glad we did.  I’m trusting that they will retain more of the information and that in the end they will catch up when they are ready or need to.

Did we meet our objectives?

Area of Study



Overarching Learning Goals

Develop critical thinking and scientific reasoning skills while simultaneously fostering curiosity and building creative, divergent thinking.

Combine instruction for as many topics as appropriate to simplify process and promote family conversations outside of school time.

Provide opportunities for the kids to become subject matter experts and help teach eachother how to learn new things.

Meet the children where they are passionate, and provide resources to take interests and “ableness” as far as they can.

Yes! Overall I think we met each of these objectives. Definitely seeing critical thinking skills develop through Big History and Junior Great Books curriculum. All but Math is done together, and the kids are given lots of time to explore their interests. My son especially likes to feel like a subject matter expert and pursued astro-physics, protein folding, magic tricks, jazz piano, fort-building, and drawing. My daughter loves to read, craft, and also took up singing this year.

Language Arts

Learn how to organize a paragraph and write legibly.

Learn and apply spelling, grammar, and punctuation skills.

Write for different purposes - including telling a story, explaining, or persuasion.

Read for pleasure. Chooses appropriate and varied materials.

Read, reflect, and discuss books from different genres.

Read aloud with expression.

Reflect on and record learning in other subjects, including history and science.

We made progress on each of these objectives this year. When we started the year, my 3rd grade daughter didn’t understand how to write a paragraph, and now she understands how to write a whole essay! My son had written a research paper before, but it was so directed that he was unsure where to start with his own ideas. Now he can generate his own interpretive question from reading a story and structure an essay with evidence to support his main idea.

The Michael Clay Thompson grammar walked us through the parts of speech in detail, and the latin textbook is reinforcing what we are learning.

My daughter reads for pleasure at every waking minute, but my son needs to be encouraged. Reading at bedtime isn’t working for books that have some suspense – so we’ve had to move reading time to earlier in the day. My son prefers to read non-fiction books to stories, but has read on a wide variety of topics.

I created a list of classics that are age appropriate the the kids are choosing to read from, and we visit the library monthly to supplement.


Expose kids to Latin and see how it goes.

Keep it easy and fun, and reintroduce later if it feels forced.

We didn’t receive a Latin text until January, which meant that it didn’t get built into our routine early on. But the book we are using is easy to integrate as we have time, because it builds inch-by-inch. They seem to enjoy it and I like how it complements the grammar lessons.


Develop fluency in multiplication and division, and understanding of how they relate.

Develop solid problem solving skills and an ability to watch the flow of ideas.

Awaken interest in using math in daily life. Play with mathematics and follow interests, including thinking about how ancient Greek mathematicians made important discoveries using simple tools to correspond with history and literature lessons.

My daughter learned her times tables through 6 and 10, and is beginning to work through division. The Singapore curriculum worked better than flashcards, but drilling seems to help. I’d like to try using more visual or kinesthetic techniques going forward. She LOVES Life of Fred, however, and is building her confidence in math.

My son participated in Commodore’s Math club and it was a little bit of a wake up call for him. But we learned strategies for solving problems and got to practice new concepts. He loves math and is motivated to work through the content quickly. But he didn’t realize how far his peers were, and I think he feels like he wants to catch up. He worked through several different curriculums this year and seemed to enjoy different things about each one.


Convey the story of the unfolding of human achievement in every area – science, literature, art, music, and politics.

Expose kids to most of the great men and women of the past.

Memorize important dates and events that will serve as ‘pegs’ on which to hang incoming information and formulate mental maps.

Learning our place in community, state, country by understanding how we fit into history.

Multicultural understanding of events. Avoiding a self-absorbed, self-referential approach to knowledge.

This year we decided to ditch Story of the World in favor of Big History Project. The Story of the World content was not challenging enough for the kids, and we were starting at the end of one of the cycles, so it made sense to wait until next year to start the middle school content. However, we’ve enjoyed the Big History Project so much that we’ve slowed down and plan to take two years to work our way through the content. I think starting at the beginning of history, as opposed to after the agricultural revolution is an incredibly important perspective not offered in other curriculum. We will get to the other objectives we pursue history in future years. While we didn’t meet the objectives in a traditional sense, we hit on all of them with bigger scale in a more organic way than I originally planned.


Develop an appreciation for art and music.

Learn about art techniques and great artists.

Learn how to read music & understand harmony.

Most of these objectives were met through their participation in Mosaic and through weekly piano lessons. The kids are auditioning for the piano guild in Seattle, and that is motivating them to master four different pieces across various genera. In addition, my daughter started singing lessons and is learning how to sing on key, improvise, and harmonize. We also regularly visit the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art.


Understand how to optimize nutrition and health.

Understand how our bodies change during puberty.

Provide tools for dealing with anxiety and anger.

Practice healthy habits daily, including time to be physically active.

This was where we spent a surprising amount of time this year. I feel good about the progress we made – learning to cook, taking care of ourselves and listening to our bodies, getting enough exercise, and learning how to manage anxiety and get a good night’s sleep.


Learn about the scientific method – how to plan an experiment and choose an investigation based on a question they are trying to answer.

For each experiment performed, be able to summarize the materials, actions, reactions, and findings.

Design simple solutions to problems.

Big History was so consuming and encompassed major discoveries in Physics, Astronomy, Chemistry, and Biology. What is most exciting is that we are learning how science has evolved over time, what is science, how do we know what is true, and how to test claims other people make. So we have been playing in this space, instead of a formal experiment approach. I’m happy with that decision and am excited about the perspective this curriculum will give the kids when they go deep on a discipline.


Curriculum review by subject:

Language Arts

Modern Curriculum Press Spelling Workout series.  Spelling Workout E (1994)
My 3rd grade daughter really enjoyed working through this content.  My 4th grade son was less enthusiastic, but I don’t think he’d enjoy any spelling curriculum!  After the initial pre-test, they were able to work through the activities independently.  They scored well on tests (especially when offered the bonus words for extra credit), and I liked how it used the word locker to keep track of missed words and practice them again in future tests.  We could have started at a higher level, but this was the last one with pictures.  The kids didn’t feel super challenged, but we learned some rules that I’m sure will help them.  I plan to finish the workbooks this summer.  I don’t think the teachers guides are necessary.  I wish we had the most recent edition because the examples felt dated.

Wise, Jessie.  First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind: Level 4 and corresponding Workbooks. 
Meh.  It was OK.  I like how incremental and approachable this content is. The kids were ready to work through the content faster, and when combined with the writing it took a big chunk of our day.  We liked the MCT approach better.

Michael Clay Thompson’s Grammar Voyage.  
We only made it through the first section that introduced the parts of speech.  My daughter really struggled with it, and we decided to go back and do Grammar Town first, but I wonder if she needs more visual or kinesthetic tools to help comprehend and apply what she is learning. Will try using visual queues and put them on the wall for her to look at.

Bauer, Susan Wise.  Writing with Ease, Level 4 Workbooks.
The kids hated working through these – the memory and copy work were boring.  While I appreciate that I don’t have to prepare for these, the scripted nature made it hard to adjust to what the kids needed.  We dreaded working through this content.

Junior Great Books, Series 4
We had a love/hate relationship with JGB – My daughter loved it and my son hated it.  But overall, we learned a LOT that I’m not sure we would have done on our own.  My son even acknowledges that he learned a lot working through it, and found it valuable.  The teacher guide is KEY and meeting in a group helped.  I am hoping that we can get a couple more kids to join our group next year, as this doesn't seem well suited to working individually.  It is not worth trying to do both books in the series – it was overwhelming to try to get it all in each week.  I especially like that they learned how to organize their thoughts, find evidence to support an interpretation, write and intro/conclusion, and give peer feedback.  Really rich curriculum.  But time consuming – not sure how to make this and a classical or MCT approach all fit while emphasizing STEM…

Dance Mat Typing (BBC website) 
We loved this website – the kids worked through it independently in about a week and felt confident enough to type for the rest of the year.  It was more like a game than a set of drills.  I’m thinking about doing another program to really help them develop speed and confidence next year.

Tap Typing, iPad app. 
The kids weren’t excited about this as much as they website, but I wiponder if it would work better now that they’ve completed the BBC program.  Might be worth trying before I buy more software.  This was stripped down drill version, but I like how these adjust to what they miss and help them develop speed over time.  Typing on an iPad keyboard is not ideal, though.

Getting Started with Latin
We are enjoying working through this book.  No prep needed.  No previous knowledge for instructor.  Each lesson builds on itself.  We haven’t spent as much time as I’d like, but the kids enjoy doing it and should be able to work through it independently soon.  Easy lessons fit into 15 min or so, and we often do them over breakfast to get things moving.


Borenson, Henry.  The Hands-on Equations Learning System. 
This is an awesome program for pre-algebra and I highly recommend it for any age.  Sabrina picked up on the symbols and understood concepts that she doesn’t when we talk about them in math.  Wish there were other math options like this.  We started this in August and finished by the end of Sept when we were waiting for Singapore to come.  

Singapore Primary Mathematics 2B and 3B.  
My daughter enjoyed the mental math strategies in 2B, but had to take a break in the middle.  She felt stuck – like she wasn’t getting it.  But when we returned to learn the multiplication facts for 4,5,6,10 she did fine and even enjoyed it.  Working through the worksheets gave her a sense of accomplishment.
My son didn’t enjoy it because it went too slow.  I liked that there were placement tests, but the way they asked questions was confusing to him.   He hated working through the worksheets and the busywork.  We tried compacting and skipping content and that worked ok, but he didn’t feel like he learned much.  He ended up spending more time with ALEKs because he could quickly move onto new content.
I didn’t like that they required so much prep from me.  A lot of lecturing and then practicing – I’d rather the kids try to do it and then be motivated to learn a new way.  But I loved how intentional the math is, the mental math strategies are fantastic, and it was a good mix of working through new content and reviewing what you knew.  I felt confident that if we worked through the series they would learn everything they needed to.
This free website was great for drilling – I loved that it figured out what they knew and didn’t know and then made sure they got their math facts down.  My son didn’t like it, but he improved a lot.  I think we’ll revisit over the summer to keep learning and drilling math facts.
My son enjoyed this curriculum more than my daughter.  It was great for working through a ton of topics, because they got to choose what to work on.  It was harder for them to learn new concepts, having to read the simple explanation and then practice problems. I’m not sure if that is because their perfectionism got in the way of trying and failing, or if their learning styles didn’t match reading without illustration or real-world application.  My son felt empowered to work through his grade level and I didn’t have to do anything!  Was a huge relief after Singapore, which was painful for him.  The school provided a login for this program.

Beast Academy Workbooks 3A and 4A.
Both kids started Beast, but lost steam as the year went on.  I think the starred problems tripped them up.  My daughter really had to reach and often didn’t understand what was asked of her, so we waited to reintroduce again later.  I’d like to use these books as a supplement in the future – something fun when we start to get bored with the other stuff.  I think they are great problem solving books, and I like that it really stretches them.  Good for gifted or independent kids, or in preparation for math competitions.

Commodore Math Club
My son enjoyed attending math club meetings at the public school because he had found his tribe.  But he wasn’t excited about the competition aspect as we got closer.  Participating in the club with passionate 4-6th graders made him feel like he was really behind in math and got frustrated with his preparation at the private school we attended before. Overall this was a good experience, but being at the school every week and feeling like we were playing catch up with kids doing different curriculum was frustrating and demotivating in some ways.

EPGY (now Gifted and Talented) online program for math club
My son preferred ALEKs to EPGY because he could choose what to work on with ALEKs, and EPGY just threw (seemly random) new concepts at him. The graphics are dated, and I didn’t have as much visibility into what concepts he learned, where he was struggling, etc.  But it was free through Bainbridge Independent and I think we’ll give the new Redbird program a try next year.

Zaccaro books - Challenge Math, 10 Things all Future Mathematicians and Scientists Must Know, Becoming a Problem Solving Genius
We used the chapter in Challenge Math to learn about probability when the concept came up on EPGY/ALEKs and in preparation for the math competitions.  My son likes reading these books for fun too.  I see these more as a supplement we can use for years, for reinforcement, or something to break up the monotony.

Life of Fred
We landed on Life of Fred (LOF) in April and are loving it.  It is presented in fun, manageable chunks.  My son started with Fractions, and likes how quickly he can move through the content if he wants to.  My daughter started with Edgewood. We are planning to work our way through these exclusively to simplify our math curriculum and do more in less time.  I may also use xtramath or ipad games to drill math facts and help with speed and confidence building.  It feels strange to not be giving lessons or being able to reinforce ideas.  I’m thinking about working with them each week to fill in a composition notebook with big ideas that they are learning.  That way we can review, they don’t work through the content too quickly without comprehending, and we have something to refer to in the future.  Given the story nature of these books, it would be hard to flip back through and learn a specific concept.

Social Studies, History, & Geography

Bauer, Susan Wise.  The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child.  Vol. 1 Ancient Times, 2006.  
We started working through the activity book and the kids were bored - they seemed to be geared toward younger kids. It was hard to check out the extra books from the library because so many families start it at the same time.  I didn’t like that it started the history after the agricultural revolution.   In October, we discovered the Big History Project and it seemed like a better place for us to start, especially given our goals of independent, critical thinking and a bigger perspective on how we fit into the world. I plan to revisit SOTW after we finish the BHP.

Big History Project
We have thoroughly enjoyed BHP – it is very involved because we are taking it slow and attempting to complete all of the reading and writing assignments.  We are learning about how science works and how we fit into the story of the universe.  I appreciate the exposure to different types of science and how scientists questions differ based on their discipline.  Sign up as a teacher and you get access to rich content, for free! This was the highlight of our school year.


Dawn Huebner, What to Do When You Worry Too Much
We started working through this book, but I don’t remember why we stopped.  I think much of my son's anxiety was around his performance at the private school we attended, and that went away when we started homeschooling.  He just hasn’t been a nervous guy this year.  The book is good, but it is something that he can work through independently going forward and share what he is learning with me as a way to reinforce it.

Dawn Huebner, What to Do When You Dread Your Bed
This book was incredibly helpful in taking the angst out of bedtime.  It was practical, engaging, and simple to read.  It helped give me permission to allow the kids to have a nighttime snack, and provided practical suggestions for setting up a bedtime routine that will help calm them down.  Little League made it hard to stick to, but this summer I’m looking forward to being more consistent with bedtimes.  The best part is the advice on how to calm your mind or body if you can’t sleep.  It made them more aware of their body and listening to what they needed, and took the blame/shame out of the struggles we were having.

American Girl, The Care & Keeping of You
My daughter liked this book – it was a great way to introduce her to how her body is changing and talk about ways to take care of her body.  It did not address reproduction or sex, and I don’t think she is ready for it yet.  I may take her to the Seattle Children’s puberty lectures next year or the year after.

Lynda & Area Madaras, My Body, My Self for Boys. 
My son really enjoyed working through this book – he liked the 1:1 time with me in the park and that it broke down the mechanics of puberty and how his body would change.  The Q&A format and discussion questions helped us to have more personal conversations.  It didn’t cover reproduction, but he attended the Seattle Children’s lectures in the winter with my husband.  The first one felt repetitive because we had read the book, but the second one on sex and reproduction was a little overwhelming.  Something shifted after the presentation, I could tell he was uncomfortable and it was hard to get him to talk about how he was feeling and what he was thinking.  I felt like all of the closeness the book created evaporated. It was nice to not have to have the uncomfortable conversation, but I’m not sure it was worth it. In retrospect, I’m not sure he was ready for this conversation given his sensitive nature – but our pediatrician said that age 9 was time to have the talk.

MindUP Curriculum for Grades 3-5
I like the content of this curriculum, but the implementation was a bit scattered.  I had to do some prep to think about which pieces to introduce when.  It is modular, and you can do as little or as much as you want in one sitting.  The first couple of lessons about the brain and physiology of our emotions was really helpful, but we never made it to the practices.   I plan to pick this up again over the summer.


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