Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Improving Reading Comprehension with Home School Navigator {Homeschool Crew Review}

When Addison and Brennan were younger and I was still a homeschool novice, I described my search for a perfect language arts program as searching for the Holy Grail. I was hunting for a program that balanced reading instruction, literary analysis, composition, spelling, grammar and any other topics that I might otherwise forget to cover. As the years passed, I realized that the perfect program didn't exist -- at least not the perfect program for my kids. It became easier to pick piece together several programs, each focusing on a specific subset of the many skills lumped into the language arts description.

Recently, I've been searching for a language arts program that will allow me to focus on the gaps Lauren has in reading comprehension skills. We've been using Home School Navigator Reading and Language Arts Curriculum for the past month to see if we could adapt it to fit her needs and if it would be a good fit for us.

Home School Navigator is a complete language arts program with both online and print components. It includes activities to teach literature, comprehension skills, reading skills, writing skills, phonics, vocabulary, grammar, spelling, handwriting, and even some computer skills. The program is divided into six color-coded levels ranging from red (kindergarten) to indigo (fifth grade). Since I was primarily concerned with Lauren's reading comprehension skills, I decided to back up several grade levels and start with the green lessons. Many of the phonics and grammar skills were far too easy in this section, but the literature and independent reading activities looked to be at an appropriate difficulty level for her.

The program is organized by month, week, and then day. From Lauren's online dashboard page, she picked which month/week of the program that she was working on and then picked the specific day on the next screen. It helped when I made notes in my regular lesson plans so that I could direct her to the correct lesson. "You did lesson 2.1.3 (month 2, week 1, day 3) yesterday so go on to 2.1.4 today." At the end of each lesson, there is an option to mark that assignment complete or to upload the student's work for later access as part of an online portfolio. Since I was not often able to scan Lauren's assignments immediately and since the program would not allow me to upload assignments to lessons she marked as complete, I insisted that she leave the assignments unchecked when she finished them. She was often frustrated that the program was not showing her correct amount of progress because of my delays in uploading scanned assignment pages.

The lessons in the first month of the green program focused on fairy tales, specifically different versions of Cinderella. The read-aloud books for the month were picture books showing how the Cinderella story had been told in different cultures. I found most of the books at our public library. For the ones I couldn't find, Lauren watched Home School Navigator videos of them being read aloud. After hearing me read the book, there was usually an activity page that I had printed for Lauren to complete. One of my favorite types of activities were the days where Lauren had to use her thinking skills to find similarities and differences between two (or three) books in order to complete a Venn Diagram. Thinking back on the story and remembering details is one of the skills I hoped to strengthen by using the program. As a veteran homeschool teacher (with a background in early childhood education), I'm fairly confident in my ability to discuss picture books. At times, however, I wished that the program gave me some additional guidance in terms of things that I could point out to Lauren, topics we should cover in our discussions, etc.

While I loved reading aloud and discussing the picture books in the first month of the program, I switched gears and jumped ahead a bit so that I could prepare some materials to use while we were offline for a few days during our move. A big component of the upper levels of Home School Navigator is their interactive book study notebooks. These sets of study materials are available as part of the complete program and can also be purchased separately as pdf files to download. Once I downloaded the first interactive notebook, we were able to work on it without needing to access the online materials in Home School Navigator.

Lauren's first interactive notebook was based on the book Ahyoka and the Talking Leaves by Peter and Connie Roop. I was quite impressed with the introductory materials for the book. Lauren and I spent quite a bit of time exploring the recommended website to get background information on the Cherokee people, Sequoyah, and the development of a Cherokee syllabary to make written language possible. The rest of the book study follows a fairly predictable pattern of reading a chapter of the book and then completing the printed activities. Much to Lauren's dismay, the program recommends reading the chapter aloud to a parent instead of reading it independently. From a parent standpoint, I think it's a great idea because I'm now getting a better idea of her reading skills.

Each day's assignment includes some vocabulary words to define. In addition, there is always at least one more question that either relates directly to the story (write some of the main character's character traits) or teaches a new skill for literary analysis (find two more examples of similes in this chapter).

The interactive notebooks are the piece of the complete Home School Navigator program that will help us the most in terms of building reading comprehension skills. Lauren seems to do well with a read-then-anwer-questions approach, and the interactive notebook is a bit more fun than just filling out pages in a workbook. I am looking forward to some of the later studies, both ones in the green level and in later levels. Future book studies include 26 Fairmount Avenue by Tomie dePaola, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Carr, Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo, and several other old favorites. It's an exciting line-up of chapter books for us to look forward to studying over the next few years.

The complete Home School Navigator Reading and Language Arts Curriculum costs $97 per year and includes access to all the levels. (I believe it also includes access for up to four individual students in your family, but I've only been using the program with one.) The interactive notebooks are included as part of the lessons in the regular program and are also available to purchase separately for $8 each. If your primary concern is improving reading comprehension and building literary thinking skills, it might be wise to focus on the interactive notebooks. If you are looking for a compete Language Arts Curriculum, I think you'll find that Home School Navigator has enough materials in their lessons to meet all your needs.

Home School Navigator Reading and Language Arts Curriculum {Home School Navigator Reviews}

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