Thursday, July 10, 2014

Moving Beyond the Page (Schoolhouse Crew Review}

I often choose review products because I'm certain that I'm going to love them. Other times, I choose a product because I've heard so many positive things about it and want to try it for myself. Sometimes I choose a product because it's completely different than what we typically do and I want to see if the grass is greener on the other side. Our latest review product took me outside our normal comfort zone and challenged both Lauren and me.

Moving Beyond the Page is a literature-based curriculum with unit studies that tie in science and social studies concepts to make a complete curriculum option for homeschoolers. Lauren has been using Language Arts Package - Tornado (online option) and Science Package - Amazing Weather. Both of these units are intended for ages 7-9. The Tornado package included two literature books (physical copies of each), but the lesson materials were all online. I would log in to our account to see the full lesson plans, pdf copies of the assigned worksheets, etc. Our Amazing Weather package included a printed lesson book with work pages for the student to complete, two books, and a plastic thermometer. The lesson pages in the physical lesson book are not allowed to be copied for additional students.

The two packages I chose are designed to be used together, but each one is a complete study in itself. When doing two corresponding studies, Moving Beyond the Page estimates that three hours a day will be spent on the unit materials. During this time, you will study science (or social studies) and all sorts of language arts skills. With the addition of math materials of your own choice, your homeschool day is complete.

While I like the idea of doing a unit study to cover all the necessary subjects for Lauren's school day, she grew tired and distracted as our days stretched on. I suspect that our old, fragmented way of doing short activities for multiple different subjects kept her attention by changing the topic frequently throughout the day. I eventually decided to do either a science lesson or a literature lesson each day instead of trying to do a lesson of each one. I am also learning to give her a brief written overview of all the day's activities so that she can see where we are in the schedule instead of fearing that our weather activities will go on forever.

The Moving Beyond the Page literature study differs from most of the other literature based programs that we've used. I was expecting to spend more time reading and less time doing projects and assignments. Instead, our literature lessons focused on literary concepts and then illustrated them with the story we were reading. On the first two days of the unit, we didn't even open the book. I taught Lauren a bit about tornados and we researched to find out which states are included in the term "tornado alley" on the first day, and on the second day, we discussed farm life because the book is set on a farm. On the third day, she finally got to read the first chapter of Tornado.

I like the way that the activities add to the literature study and add a greater depth to our study.  Some of the activities really required Lauren to think, not just to pull out a few facts from her reading. I was surprised at how she struggled to complete a Venn diagram comparing life on a farm with her life not on a farm. Clearly I need to be pursuing more of these sorts of thinking activities and not just breezing quickly through books.

This literature study included mini-lessons about setting, main idea, word choice, punctuation, myths,  conflict, and more. In addition to discussion topics and work pages, there were several writing assignments that gave the student opportunities to practice these new concepts. For instance,  For each chapter in the book we read, she wrote down the main idea and then drew a picture to illustrate a portion of that chapter. After Lauren and I discussed word choice (using descriptive words) in the book, she then wrote a paragraph describing her pet fish.

The science study on Amazing Weather was very project-based as well. Although several books were used, the primary focus was on doing -- reading a thermometer, graphing rainfall, keeping a weather log, etc. In addition to completing the assigned activities, Lauren and I had fun doing a few extra experiments such as determining whether the thermometer read the same temperature if we left it in the sun or in the shade. She says that using the thermometer to record the temperature at different times of the day was her favorite part of the study.

The teaching style in these materials is completely different than what Lauren is accustomed to. Typically, we read materials together so that she can learn. The lesson plans for these units pointed out key concepts and vocabulary that I needed to explain to her myself. I struggled at times to get Lauren to pay attention to the concepts I was trying to explain because she is used to learning from books or workbooks, not just by listening to me tell her about something. I will press on through the difficulties in teaching her in a different way, though, because these studies challenge her to actually think.

Part of my homeschool goal is to build good thinkers, and Moving Beyond the Page gave me the tools that I need to challenge Lauren and help her develop strong critical thinking skills.

Moving Beyond the Page offers complete curriculum packages and individual units for students from ages 4 through 14. Prices for individual units vary according to the amount of books and materials included in the packages. The Language Arts Package - Tornado (online option) costs $20.91, and the Science Package - Amazing Weather costs $36.97.

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