It did not seem possible at the start of first grade, but we are actually going to finish all of our material five weeks early!  Thankfully, the timing has worked out perfectly with the timing of Pesach, which is about two weeks away.

The curricula we will have completed this year include:
-Sonlight Core A
-Sonlight Readers 2
-Math-U-See Alpha
-A Reason for Handwriting T – up to cursive
-Shurley English 1
-Apologia Astronomy & Notebook Journals
-All About Spelling 2
-Artistic Pursuits Book 1
-All About Reading Level Pre-1 (Chavah)

At the beginning of the year, we tried two different programs which did not work well for our family.  The first we tried was for vocabulary instruction.  Wordly Wise 3000 is a workbook curriculum which exposes children to a variety of vocabulary words throughout the year in list format with review in each succeeding lesson.  I quickly realized it was redundant and ineffective.  First of all, my girls are exposed to hundreds of vocabulary words through our read-alouds.  We are able to stop and talk through the words as we go, and within context.  Wordly Wise 3000 probably works really well in a public school classroom where children are far less likely to hear hours of great literature read to them.  We found that it was yet one more workbook to add to our day, and the girls were not retaining the words very well as the stories and contexts offered in the workbooks were very dry.  We chucked the books, and started writing out several key vocabulary words each week in our reading.  The girls’ retention grew much more quickly this way, and I did not have to buy any materials!

The second program we tried was Character Quality Language Arts.  CQLA is advertised as an all-in-one language arts program – spelling, grammar, composition, and vocabulary.  I liked it at first because it uses a character quality for a whole month of instruction.  Students work through the passages on a daily basis, learning vocab, grammar, and spelling along the way.  They are then given opportunities for creative writing in relation to the material.  We worked with it for almost two months; I was determined to give it a fair chance.  But I am not one to patiently look over typos and misspellings in source texts, particularly not when my six-year-old was able to point them out.  Every day, there was some issue or typo that should have been corrected in the editing process.  CQLA is expensive, and I felt that it was almost hypocritical to demand excellence from students when the program itself had so many problems.  Add to this that the spelling was ridiculously effortless to my girls.  It was redundant, as we were already using AAS 2, which we recommend to everyone we know!  The vocabulary words were far too complicated, giving lists of words that I do not even use in daily conversation, let alone the girls.  When was the last time you used the word adroit to describe an orderly person?  The composition portions were too advanced even at the earliest level.  Since the girls are still decoding in their reading, they get extremely frustrated when precision is required in their writing, so creativity goes out the window when they have to write a book report and do not yet know how to spell the majority of the words they want to use.  For CQLA to have a book report required in the first month of the program is too much.  I allow the girls to journal as part of their creative writing experience, and that has been a great way to have them put ideas down on paper.  Spelling mistakes and format notwithstanding, we have a pretty nice portfolio of stories now, and this puts us at the perfect spot to start IEW next year.  All in all, the pieces of CQLA were too incongruous to provide us with enough instruction.  I am more than willing to use a variety of programs in the girls’ language arts instruction, so the “all-in-one” sales pitch ultimately failed to convince me of the program’s effectiveness, despite its convenience.  We switched to Shurley English 1 for grammar for the remainder of the year and it has been a perfect fit.  The grammar instruction builds with plenty of review and its systematic approach is exactly what I believe we need.  Perhaps we will try Meaningful Composition later on, as Training for Triumph offers it when students have completed the CQLA portion of language arts.  For now, I have to chalk up the loss of $100 as an expensive learning experience.

The reason we are finishing first grade early is that we have so enjoyed the reading and the read-alouds that we have plowed through without taking breaks.  This week is our last Sonlight book for the year, titled The Apple and the Arrow, the story of William Tell and his son.  Our year has been filled with many beautiful stories – lots of tears and lots of laughter.  Some highlights include In Grandma’s Attic, a collection of humorous stories about a little girl growing up on a farm.  Twenty and Ten was the girls’ first exposure to World War II.  In this story, ten Jewish children are hidden from the Nazis along with ten other children in France.  A Grain of Rice was a beautifully written tale about a poor man on a quest to win the hand of the princess.  There are too many other wonderful stories to list here.  Suffice it to say, we have thoroughly enjoyed our literature this year.

While math failed to provide as much stimulation, I am extremely pleased with the MUS mastery approach to mathematics.  The girls have learned 100 addition facts and 100 subtraction facts by memory.  It is a fantastic foundation upon which they will build for the rest of their lives.

Coming full circle, Astronomy has been an incredibly interesting and enjoyable science subject this year.  I like that Apologia supports the immersion approach to science – focus on one science subject per year.  We go in depth, have time for all kinds of science experiments, and the girls now know a considerable amount of astronomy.  We will probably only use some of it in years to come, but the foundation is a strong one.  Knowing all about the sun has given us plenty of good information before starting Botany, which will obviously include a lot about photosynthesis.

Finishing early presents a bit of a problem since we have to have 170 days of school instruction and averaging four hours per day.  We have far more than the required amount of instruction.  However, I will have to adjust our records and fill in the gaps with some extra material, just to be sure.  I am glad we are finishing early, as I am ready for a break from instruction so that we can get prepared for what comes next.  Thank You, Lord, for a fantastic year!