I cannot even express how excited I have been during the past two weeks of Sonlight Core B history lessons.  Why?  Because we discovered The Greek News.  It is a History News publication book presenting Ancient Greece in an “eyewitness news” format.  What a genius idea!  The layout is captivating, the articles witty and informative, and the educational content is very well done.  The Spartans are far more interesting when depicted in an expose on the rigors of boyhood in Laconia than a few wordy black and white paragraphs.  Perhaps it is because I am a visual learner, but I would have remembered far more history if I had seen even a small portion of it presented in this way.  Just as tabloids draw the eye in the grocery checkout stand, so The Greek News headlines stand out – “Death By Poison,” “Living in a Pigsty,” and “Olympic Scandal.”  The girls have no idea what they are not missing in history textbooks.  I have rigorously guarded them from the dry and boring drivel that I had to memorize through my school years.  The very definition of a living book is something like The Greek News, in my humble opinion.  Of course, the visual content can be a bit overwhelming for a student who is not a visual learner (my second-born) but that can be easily overcome by the plethora of other story-like books we have on Ancient Greece.  Being visual and artistic like her Mommy, Jaelah is thoroughly enjoying herself with this particular book.  I am so impressed by the style of History News that I am looking to get several others to supplement our historical studies.  They are not all scheduled with Sonlight, but it would be wonderful to have some of these resources on the shelf for history review as well as Institute for Excellence in Writing source material.

Recently, I had another “around the mountain” experience with curriculum.  Chavah is extremely kinesthetic, so I knew I was going to have to figure out some really active ways to teach her phonics and reading.  Originally, I liked PAL, which is a component of language arts available through the Institute for Excellence in Writing.  Since we’ve enjoyed so many of their lectures and materials, I assumed I would be perfectly safe ordering the whole PAL program.  It uses file folder games as a method of reinforcing lessons.  What child doesn’t like to play games as part of learning?  Particularly of interest was that All About Spelling was incorporated into the writing portion of the program.  We have had smashing success with all AAS products that we’ve ever used, so I didn’t think it was possible to go wrong.

The blended sight-sound system is the style of reading instruction used by PAL.  We have always used a mainly phonetic approach, only memorizing sight words as necessary.  I am not a fan of memorizing words right away, especially with very young readers.  I think it can be successful, but it can also be extremely confusing to memorize vague phonics rules before becoming proficient in decoding.  I had not a clue that PAL was going to focus so heavily on sight words.  The very first few lessons included names of colors (blue, purple, green, brown, orange) as well as complex vowel team sounds like /ee/, /ow/, and /ay/ which were then to be memorized in words like sheep, brown, and today.  While I think some of these words will be present in some early vocabulary-controlled readers, I was shocked that they introduced them without teaching any simple CVC words.  I could see clearly that it was not going to work for us.  The redeeming aspect of the program was the use of the file folder games.  They were simple and fun (and required about 10 hours of cutting and laminating on my part) and memorable for Chavah.  Unfortunately, she retained almost nothing from the games we did play.  PAL presents itself as the only beginning reading program a parent will need, but if Chavah had not known the letters and their sounds from our successful completion of All About Reading Level Pre-1, she would have been completely lost.  I had to kick myself for wasting so much time with something that was not working.  IEW has a fantastic customer service team and accepts returns without time limits, so I returned the whole PAL program.  IEW has a vast list of resources, and I hope this is the only one proven to be unsuccessful.  Then I cracked open our brand new All About Reading Level 1 books and almost cried with relief.  Why had I strayed from the good ol’ faithful system that has worked so well for all of us?  Simple, straightforward, CVC words, strong phonetic base, and FILE FOLDER GAMES!  I did not even know AAR used them!  Silly mommy!  We have been using it for just over a week and Chavah is reading.  I will certainly think twice the next time something appears to be great before purchasing it.

And now, we are preparing for the completion of Week 18.  Halfway through an exciting and challenging year!  We are about to celebrate Yom Kippur, followed by the festival week of Succot.  What a great place to end this term!  I’ll be back soon with more Botany experiments and Math U See thousandth place value thoughts and inspirations.