First Grade Just Right, the Second Time Around
As I talked about in my Making Homeschooling Kindergarten Easy, and How to choose the right curriculum posts, our first try at K and 1st-grade weren’t a home run. Sure my child learned but it wasn’t an enjoyable process for neither one of us. Part of the reason was that I was a rookie who was trying to recreate a classroom environment at home, and that was just a terrible idea. We can then blame my curriculum pick, which was a disastrous pairing with my eldest’s child learning style. Two years later when my second born was ready to start kindergarten, I knew exactly where I went wrong with his big brother, and all the curriculum changes that needed to be made to hit that Home Run we missed the first time around. This is how we were able to get it right by learning from our previous mistakes!🙌😊 But how can a first timer manage to get it right the first time around? Well, of course by learning from the ones who have done it before them and kindly posting here for others to use. 😉☺🤗
First grade is continuing to learn and in some ways completing the kindergarten year with the addition of a few (or more) subjects. While in Kindergarten we focus only on the 3 core subjects of Phonics/Handwriting,/Math, in 1st-grade we can start adding a couple, a few or many more. How many or how few we will be adding, could depend on State requirements, the student, and how much time and energy we have in us to dedicate to each school day. Before I go into detail of what worked for us, let’s get an idea of what a 1st-grade curriculum should cover.
- 1st-Grade Core Subjects:
Phonics, Handwriting, Math, Spelling, Language, and Writing.
Phonics. In 1st-grade, phonics learning will be picked up where left off at the end of Kindergarten and in most cases wrapped up by the end of this year. By no means, this will equal to a child being a fluent reader once they finish 1st grade. Of course, there are always a few kids that fall out of that learning curve and might read beyond their grade level (my second born is already reading level 3 books when he hasn’t even learned all of his special sounds yet😱) but in general, kids will be fluent readers within their grade level. Kids will learn all or most of the sounds, special sounds, rules and rule breakers of our crazy English language.😵
Handwriting. 1st-graders will continue to practice their handwriting this year to help them refine and shrink their letter sizes. They start to write within smaller lines which at the end of the year should help them have a neater and smaller handwriting (unless that kid is my child who still insists to write monster size letters and words🐉😆).
Math. This year kids will solidify and master their learning of addition and subtraction with the addition of beginning to learn some multiplication, how to tell time, money and some of the measuring units. Keep in mind what’s covered in math can widely vary depending on the curriculum and method being used (spiral or mastery).
Spelling. This will be a brand new addition and the curriculum being used will determine how much or how little a child will learn. In 4 years I’ve used 3 different spelling curriculums (it’s not been fun) and my biggest advice is to stick to a curriculum that teaches the spelling rules and practices them. I found copy work not to be an effective method of learning how to spell unless accompanied by the rules behind it.
My drive to get my now 3rd grader to become not just a good, but an excellent speller, comes from knowing that people we send an email, report or text to, have the tendency to judge a person’s intelligence or level of education based upon what we write and how we write it. The person on the receiving end, usually assumes we are less intelligent or educated if our spelling isn’t perfect, and that is not always the case. Some people can have various Degrees and just not be good spellers! A perfect example is my own husband. He’s a very smart guy with a Bachelors and Masters degree, however, his spelling is poor (sorry my love!😘). I’m sure many people at work have thought less of him because of his many misspelling, but the reality is most likely when he was a young student the problem was never properly addressed and corrected, and in public school, they usually push you along even if your spelling stinks.😲
Language (Grammar). Please don’t panic thinking about teaching grammar to a child who doesn’t even know how to read or write yet, because the grammar taught during 1st-grade is very basic. Kids will start to learn what a sentence is and looks like (a sentence needs to make sense, start with a capital and end with a period). They will be given sentences that are missing the beginning capitols and periods and rewrite them the correct way. They will also learn about question and exclamation marks, together with capitalizing a person’s first and last name. As a summary, grammar in 1st grade will cover basic, but still important stuff.
Writing. If you will be using a comprehensive curriculum (aka boxed curriculum), most likely in 1st-grade it will start teaching formal writing. If you are like me now and piecing together your own curriculum (highly recommended), you might be thinking that it’s a little too soon to start teaching formal writing when your child can’t even write a sentence yet. You are right it is early, and that’s why I encourage you to use a very gentle approach to writing if you choose to start teaching it in 1st grade. If you push too hard too soon your child will resist and dredge learning how to write for years to come, having a long hard journey ahead of both of you. I made that mistake and from experience, I tell you to be cautious, pick a writing curriculum that uses a gentle and easy approach for the early years. I will talk about the one we use on a future post where I will review all our 1st-grade curriculum picks.
The following subjects will be optional (unless required by your State or local school district):
- History, Geography, Health, Science, Critical Thinking Skills, STEM, Art.
History, Geography, Health, Science. All these subjects are in my opinion extras in relation to 1st-grade. If you find yourself overwhelmed being able to teach the core subjects I wouldn’t adventure adding any of these just yet. My 1st time teaching 1st-grade I only added a very light History, Science and Health reader. The readers were very short and basic but I still found my self struggling to find time to read them. I ended up volunteering (aka “Voluntold”🤣) my husband to read them to our kids once a week. This year, as my 2nd time around this block 😉, I’m more seasoned and decided to add them all. This will only come with time, so don’t make guilt pressure you into doing something you are not ready to do, even in big homeschool conventions they say until 3rd grade there is really no need to teach these subjects.
Critical Thinking Skills, STEM. You might not want to hear this but I do believe Critical Thinking Skills and STEM should be added to your 1st-grade curriculum. Let’s be realistic, in this day and age STEM skills are a must and the earlier you begin training their mind towards it, the better. Critical Thinking skills, in my opinion, go hand in hand with STEM but are also very important for the child’s cognitive and overall development. Kids that practice these skills do better in math, reading, and problem solving. If I were you, I would do some research on all the benefits of learning Critical Thinking Skills and I bet after doing so, you’ll be adding a workbook to your curriculum. 😊
Art. From decorating your Halloween pumpkins or making your very own Christmas or Hanukkah decorations to Painting or drawing, art is really already instilled in ours and our kids life whether we consider ourselves the artsy type or not. My first time teaching 1st-grade I bought the Abeka Art Projects1 book which was very cute and kids really enjoyed it, however, I never was able to finish them all. Art is really whatever you enjoy or think your child would enjoy doing, just remember to have fun!
Below you can see the subjects and books we use for our very own 1st grade. Keep in mind my now 1st grader has an older brother who is in 3rd grade and is naturally learning faster, and things I would have never even thought of attempting to teach my 1st born so early on. If you have multiple kids you probably already know how the eldest child is paving the way for the younger ones, who then come along and without even blinking are able to do all things that they had to work so hard for. 🤷♀️ This is the reason why you will find books that are really meant for later grades listed in our 1st-grade curriculum. Get ideas or be inspired but don’t let my list overwhelm you, it is on here to help you find ideas not to dictate what you need to do. 😙
Tony’s 1st grade 2018/2019 curriculum
- Essentials in Writing 1
- Spelling you See B (book A), followed by All About Spelling 1
- Abeka Phonics 1 (Letter & Sounds1, Language1, Writing w/Phonics1 manuscript)
- Abeka 1st-grade Readers
- Math-you-see (Alpha followed by Beta)
History & Social Studies
- Geography Sharpening Skills 1
- Our American Heritage
- Health, Safety & Manners 3
- Apologia (Astronomy) with Activity and Audio book.
- Dr. Bonifide1
- My Body by Patricia Carratello. *(great little book kids cut, color and paste on their own full-size body tracing.)
- Critical & Creative 1
- Mini Luk Set A
- Robotics Play 600 Pets
- Draw-Write-Now books
- Abeka Art Projects 1
- Painting, Decorating, and various arts and crafts as desired.
And now: Ready, Set, and ENJOY as you go!
1 Thessalonians 5:11
“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing”.
First Grade: Abeka Vs. Timberdoodle
Who will win?
What would happen if you put a 1st-grade Abeka curriculum kit next to a Timberdoodle kit? What if you got your research narrowed down to these 2 selections and you don’t know which one you should pick?
I taught 1st-grade twice, my first time using an Abeka parent led curriculum kit, and 2 years later using a Complete Custom Timberdoodle kit. Both of these curriculums are excellent picks providing a solid foundation for a child’s education, however, their methods are very different and subjects covered vary between the two. Abeka is more Language Arts based and strong, where Timberdoodle is more pointed towards Stem/Critical Thinking. Here are the Pros 😊 and Cons ☹ to consider and what made a difference for us on making our decision.
- Abeka (1st-grade Parent led )
- Guided daily lesson plans.
- A renown curriculum used in Private Christian Schools.
- Solid Phonics Program. 😍
- Affordable. (Compared to other comprehensive curriculums).
- Free Shipping on anything.
- Heavy on bookwork and seatwork.
- Requires a great amount of teaching involvement.
- Lack of Critical Thinking skills teaching.
- No STEM.
- Customer Service.🙁
Abeka is a renown homeschool curriculum that has been used by many over the years. As a first-time homeschooler, it provides the structure and guidance that everyone thinks they need to be able to successfully homeschool without any prior experience. Although I can relate to that feeling, since it’s the very same one that pushed me to choose it for our first couple of years of school, I do want to give out some warnings.
Language Arts… 😊🙁
Abeka is a curriculum used in private Christian schools and it comes with lots of bookwork/seatwork that is meant to keep a classroom busy throughout a traditional school day (busy work). One of the main complaints from homeschoolers who use this program in the early years (including me), is the number of workbooks kids need to get through each day in Language Arts. Between the workbook sheets, seatwork, test, quizzes, papers and the teaching involved each day, many parents and kids are left feeling overwhelmed. Many seasoned homeschooling parents advise to cut down on seatwork, and I too highly recommend doing so if Abeka is the curriculum you choose.
From our personal experience, following the teacher’s lessons plan to the “T” during our first 2 years of K5 & 1st-grade left my child and I feeling completely burnt out by the end of each day, and that’s not what I wanted for our family. At the end of the day my son was so exhausted, the last thing he wanted to look at was a book during his time off, and needless to say, this didn’t help him develop a love for reading during his early homeschooling years.😢 With all of that said, being heavy on bookwork/seatwork was not the make or break decision for me, but the lack of critical thinking skills being taught absolutely was.
I’m personally not a big fan of Abeka’s Math. I strongly believe it is very important for math to be taught from the early years by teaching kids Analytical & Critical thinking together with Problem-solving skills. Although I appreciated Abeka’s straightforward method of teaching some concepts (Place value being one of them), I felt Abeka’s focus was more on memorizing math facts rather than on understanding the hows and whys.
Word problems suddenly appear in the Arithmetic 1 book but with no teaching strategies to solve them. Many 1st-graders are still learning how to read with confidence and understand what they read. They are now expected to read a word problem and find the data they need to solve it, all without teaching them any solving strategies beforehand. That’s a Lot to ask of them! Sure there are some kids who are naturally good at sorting out info even as beginner readers, but that wasn’t our case so Abeka Math wasn’t a winner for us.
History/Geography/Health & Science…😍
To my surprise Abeka’s 1st-grade History/Geography/Health & Science readers are nice and light, giving just enough information that these little pupils can manage to retain at such a young age. I’ve actually continued using the Abeka History and Health readers even after stopping using their curriculum in our later grades. I found these to be very age appropriate, full of simple engaging information that we all enjoy.
- Timberdoodle (1st grade – Complete Custom Kit)
- Flexible Weekly Checklist.
- Critical Thinking & STEM.😍
- Promotes Independence.🙌
- Kits can be customized to fit each family needs.
- Superb Customer Service.😇
- Price. (The Complete and Elite kits can add up to a pretty penny).🤑
- Very few readers provided with the kit.
- Free Shipping only offered with the purchase of any kit or equivalent to.
For those who are unfamiliar with Timberdoodle, they have been a homeschool curriculum distributor since 1985 who do not create their own curriculum but piece together some of the best homeschooling resources making their very own curriculum kits. They are very on point keeping their curriculums up to date by every year re-evaluating and if necessary substituting anything they feel can be done better. The owner is an engineer which explains their rich STEM and Critical Thinking selections. Each kit has 3 options Basic, Complete and Elite, where you will find all the beautiful bells and whistles that make Timberdoodle so much fun and hands on. You can also customize by picking and choosing things you like from each of these or even substituting parts, to help make the curriculum fit your family needs. Their customer service is superb.
Timberdoodle’s Weekly Checklist… 😍
One of the things that made me nervous about switching to a Timberdoodle kit was the lack of a daily schedule that came with it. Coming from Abeka where each day was already planned for you, I felt without it, I would be overly relaxed. What I didn’t expect was absolutely falling in love with their genius idea of a weekly checklist instead! Their weekly checklist/vs. Abeka’s strict daily schedule, helped us understand how being flexible doesn’t necessarily mean slacking off. For this alone Timberdoodle has been a Blessing to our family.
After hearing about Timberdoodle and thoroughly researching it, it took me over a year to finally find the courage to take a leap of faith and make the switch. Back then, Timberdoodle didn’t have “All About Reading” as their phonics curriculum and the one they offered I felt lacked the structure, guidance, and resources this rookie mama needed to help my child excel in reading. For this reason, I chose to use the Abeka phonics curriculum again with my 2nd born. If “All About Reading” was available at my time, I would of without a doubt, switched to Timberdoodle sooner.
As for a formal Writing curriculum, Timberdoodle wasn’t a winner for us either. Their pick of “Daily 6-Trait Writing 1” is definitely light as it should be for this grade but their sequence and way to go about things didn’t make sense for my child and I. I ended up donating that book and using “Essentials in Writing 1” instead and it has been a match made in heaven for both my kids who are in different grades.
For how much my elder son and I loved Spelling you see and the philosophy behind it, this program didn’t work for us at later grades and it won’t be a keeper. However, I do like the 1st-grade Jack & Jill Book A. We are currently using this with great results with younger brother, but once finished with “Book A” will be switching to “All About Spelling”. 😍
Timberdoodle doesn’t include any Handwriting curriculum in their kits. I was told by one of their representatives it’s because Spelling-You-See has already a lot of handwriting in it, however, keep in mind Spelling-You-See recommends not to use their program as a handwriting curriculum. They don’t want kids focusing on their handwriting form since it takes away from focusing on recalling how spelled words look like. I personally still use Abeka’s Handwriting workbook because kids at this age still need to refine their handwriting skills with practice, practice, practice.
Overall Timberdoodle’s Language Arts choices weren’t a winner for us, but keep in mind the reading curriculum they now offer is different from when we switched over.
Just in case my emoji weren’t clear enough, we don’t just like Timberdoodle’s math selection we are crazy about it!! Math-You-See has been our Saving Grace for math. Everything we were missing from the Abeka Arithmetic we got it with MUS and even more! A simple, straightforward, hands-on, mastery DVD program that makes learning math concept easy. Whether a child is an auditory, visual or tactile learner, I can see this program could easily cater to all. It gives these young learners a great foundation explaining all the WHYs and HOWs that we desperately needed to SEE! 🧐
Thinking Skills & STEM…😍⚙
All Timberdoodle kits include Critical Thinking workbooks and games, which are a must for our school curriculum just as much as Language Arts and Math. I’m personally not a fan of their 1st-grade STEM selections, however, that doesn’t stop me from drooling all over the other ones and adjusting them to the grades of my liking!😉 Thanks to Timberdoodle, Stem has become a staple subject in our household and a very important one too, considering STEM is everywhere around us and will be for years to come. 🔮
History & Geography…😏&😊
Love both of their geography curriculum picks over the last few years. Light and fun but still full of very interesting info and skills to learn. Both my kids, 3rd and 1st grader, can easily read a map now. We have not tried their History program and not planning to anytime soon. From my research, it just seems to be too long and drawn out and we are more interested in following a traditional History course rather than “The Story of the World” sequence and method.
“Apologia” is a full immersion science curriculum and this year Timberdoodle decided to go with something different,😑 however, I chose not to follow their lead. I love how Apologia being a full immersion program, gives the little ones a great understanding and love for God’s world from God’s perspective, whether we do the experiments or not (and we don’t). Their text-rich books and many notebook assignments can seem very intimidating and maybe time consuming, however, that hasn’t been the case for us. We absolutely love it and their Audiobooks have made it for an easy and pleasant learning experience for our young kids. As per the Jr Notebook, we mainly do the Minibooks and Crosswords in them, which helps to solidify the concepts learned while listening to the Audiobook. Occasionally we use some of the copywork as extra cursive practice.
For me, Timberdoodle’s 1st-grade Art picks weren’t either yay or nay but I must also say Art is not my thing. 🤷♀️
🎉Overall, the clear winner for us was our Custom Timberdoodle kit!🎉
Although I’ll be forever grateful to the Abeka’s Phonics program for giving my children a very solid reading foundation, Timberdoodle has my heart. Together with all the wonderful curriculums it offers, it has also Blessed us with the understanding of Flexibility and the Love for learning by introducing all those “Cool Things” we couldn’t find in a Traditional homeschool curriculum.
Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”