Curriculum Review: First Grade

Things That Worked... 
  • Bible Study Guide for All Ages I just cannot say enough good about this program.  I know the people that write and publish it personally and they are some amazing folks, but beyond that this is just the best.  A simple, basic Bible study program for children ages 3-6th grade.  Your whole family studies the same Bible story together, then each child does their student worksheet at their own level (beginner, intermediate, and advanced).  The study is divided into 4 volumes which will take you through the Bible in 4 years. The curriculum also comes with maps and timelines to help kids get the big picture of what was happening when and where.  While we will not be using this next year because our new curriculum includes Bible, I love this so much that I am using it with our Children's Bible Hour program at church on Sunday nights with a group of about 10 kids from ages 4-6th grade.  I just couldn't let this one go for my kids. 

  • Horizons Math Grade 1: This is such a solid math curriculum. It is an advanced program and runs about 6 months ahead of most public school math programs. It is spiral which I like because of the constant review of previous concepts. The workbook pages are colorful which Chipette likes. The teacher's manual is not the most user friendly I've seen, but if you follow the plan for each day your child will get a really good math education. We are keeping this program for second grade because I love the spiral program.  It keeps things fresh in Chipette's mind, and it is easy to teach because this is the way I learned math.

  • First Language Lessons Level 1: We are fans of this grammar program here! Quick, easy, and painless way to teach grammar to a first grader.  There is little if any writing which is great for a first grader. We do grammar 3 days a week and the lessons only take 5-10 minutes.  That's it! People complain that it gets a little tedious with repitition (I thought we'd never finish nouns!), but we stuck with it and continuing with level 2 for 2nd grade.

  • Writing With Ease Level 1: This writing program is from the same publishing company as First Language Lessons, and the two compliment each other very well. This program is also very easy to do and doesn't take much time.  It is based on the classical education model of having kids practice writing by copying good literature  and narration skills instead of trying to write things on their own.  In other words, you learn to be a good writer by copying good writing and listening to good writing, not by giving a first grader a blank piece of paper and telling them to write a sentence about their summer vacation. This program has definitely taught Chipette how to pay attention, give complete answers, and organize her thoughts. Another program that made the cut to move on with us into 2nd grade. 

  • A Reason For Handwriting and Getty Dubay Italics Book B: We did about half of our year using A Reason for Handwriting.  I love the program and so did Chipette, especially the border sheets. But I HATE traditional cursive handwriting, and looking ahead at A Reason for Handwriting, they use traditional cursive (the capital Q, G and Z, yuck!). Plus, no one actually writes using only traditional cursive (except elementary teachers), but usually write with a hybrid of cursive and print. So I went online to find a cursive I could teach Chipette without some of those crazy capital letters. I ran across Getty-Dubay Italics.  I like it and Chipette liked it so halfway through the year we switched.  I was shocked at how much her handwriting improved from what her handwriting was like using traditional ball-and-stick handwriting.  This was an added benefit that I hadn't expected.  For second grade, we will be continuing with Getty-Dubay Italics as we begin our transition into cursive.  However, she loves the border sheets so much that we are going to make our own for her to copy her Bible verses on each week, a la A Reason for Handwriting.  

  •  Biblioplan with Story of the World 2: When picking history for first grade, most people start at the beginning. Always a rebel, I just picked a time period that I knew Chipette would love.  Why not the Middle Ages? Castles, princesses, knights, all things that Chipette adores.  So we dived right in to what I thought would be the perfect history program for us, I discovered that it was not. So after 9 weeks of using it, I scrapped it and went on a mad search for something else that would not cost a lot of money. I stumbled upon Biblioplan and really liked the looks of it. It seemed very similar to what I'd been using, but MUCH less complicated. We switched to Biblioplan using The Story of the World 2 as our spine.  We liked it soooo much better. Next year, history is the basis of our new curriculum so we will not be continuing with Biblioplan, but I am going to pick up the rest of the Story of the World books at some point because they are just a great set of books to have on hand for enjoyable history reading.  
  • Teach Them Spanish Grade 1:  This book was exactly what I wanted to start my kids off with Spanish.  It teaches some basic vocabulary and phrases for conversational Spanish.  At this age, I don't care if they learn conjugations or other Spanish grammar. We just focused on being able to speak it.  The book already has lesson plans in it. There are games and worksheets to reinforce what the kids are learning. Plus, it's very affordable. We have had so much fun using this Spanish program for both kindergarten and first grade. My only caveat when telling others about these books is that NO Spanish pronunciation is included, so you need to know how to pronounce the words and phrases that are taught. If you had a year or two of high school Spanish, you should be fine.  
Things That Didn't Work (But might for you)...

  • Tapestry of Grace: I'd been eyeing this for two years at a homeschool convention just waiting for Chipette to get old enough so that we could use it. I used to teach history so this subject is close to my heart. I loved how thorough Tapestry of Grace looked, how it made kids think about history, and how it pulled all of those parts like literature, Bible, art, geography, and writing into one subject. And then I used it. Not so in love with it now. It was making Chipette HATE history and even making me think history was boring! All of those things that I loved when I looked at it turned out to be too much. It was too much to teach and too much for her to grasp. After 9 weeks Tapestry of Grace got shelved and we moved on to Biblioplan. Maybe for high school we will return, but probably not before then.

  • All About Spelling: I had heard soooo many rave reviews about this spelling program. Although it is pricey, I knew that this was what I wanted to use with Chipette when we started a spelling program in first grade. We lasted for about two weeks before Chipette revolted. She was not feeling the All About Spelling love, and I realized that it was actually too slow and easy for her even going at a pretty fast clip. She's apparently a naturally good speller (like her mama!)  Luckily for me All About Spelling sells really well and really quickly. After struggling for a month or two trying to figure out what to do for spelling, I finally worked out a combination of two different spelling programs that is working really well for us. I will post more about those soon.

  • Math Mammoth: While we love Horizons, it is the traditional American approach to math, but I wanted to add in some Asian inspired math to give Chipette a different way of looking at math problems. Enter Math Mammoth. This was not Chipette's cup of tea, the pages were so cluttered to her and seemed to have so many problems. It finally got to where it wasn't worth the fight over making her do it. While I have no problem with the program itself, it just was not a good fit for her.

  • Real Science 4 Kids Physics Pre-Level A: Another mid-year change coming up...we started the year using this.  This was another one of those homeschool convention finds that I was really excited to purchase. And then we started using it. While the content was good, I just got tired of teaching it. I don't like doing so many experiments, and we had to move really slowly through the program to make it last a year. The failure here wasn't that Chipette disliked, I did. If I dislike it, I find any excuse not to teach it, so we dropped this one and pretty much didn't do any science the rest of the year.


  1. In your listing of 2nd grade materials, Horizons was culled from the list. Why did you decide to pass on Horizons 2 and go with Singapore? What were the advantages of Singapore MIF over Singapore PM/Standards? Just curious. :)

  2. While we were using Horizons in first grade I wanted to add in more Asian/mental math so I bought Math Mammoth to supplement. Chipette hated it to the point of producing tears, so I started searching for something to add in that style of math.

    I had tried using Singapore Standards at the beginning of first grade, but once I got it in the mail, I didn't even understand it. I looked over the HIG and all of the books and just didn't get it, so I sold it. Then I read on a homeschool forum about Math in Focus. You can look at the entire book onlline, so I looked over the 1B book since we were only 6 weeks from finishing first grade at the time. The step by step instruction in the Math in Focus student book helped me to get it, and I knew that I could teach Asian math using this. I only buy the student books and student workbooks so the cost is not any more expensive than buying Singapore Standards.

    I had planned on using Horizons and Math in Focus for second grade with Chipette, but one day I stumbled across MEP and printed out some of the lessons. Chipette loved them and called it "fun, puzzle math". By this point, our day was becoming bogged down in math (Math in Focus, Horizons, and MEP), so I told Chipette she had to choose which math programs she wanted to keep. I told her that Math in Focus was non-negotiable because I wanted some kind of Asian math in the mix. So she got to choose between Horizons and MEP and she chose MEP (for the puzzles).

    Both of us really loved Horizons and I would have no problem using it again for her or one of my other kids. But she is a pretty mathy kid and the Math in Focus/MEP combo that we are using is really stretching her math skills, but she thinks it's fun too!

    That is the ridiculously long answer to your two very short questions! :)

  3. Actually, that is the very helpful answer to my questions. :)

    We used Horizons for K & 1st. It was OK for K, but in 1st the lessons seemed to be the same for about half a year. My daughter was so bored with Horizons. About half way through, she said, "Mommy, this isn't going anywhere." I pulled out the last lesson (Lesson 160) and she whizzed through it. Then I knew we were done with Horizons Math 1.

    For the rest of this year (1st) we've been doing what we already have on hand -- Math Mammoth Blue, Kumon, drill, and games.

    I purchased Singapore Primary Math/Standards Edition for next year, but I'll wait until the end of First to test her for a starting level. I think we'll race through 1B (to get familiar with the format), then try to do 2A/2B and perhaps 3A in 2nd grade. Not sure about that.

    I agree with you, though, I look at the Singapore Standards and "just don't get it." Sigh. I truly think we're going to hate it... before we've even started. I didn't know about MIF before I ordered the Standards editions.

    I've spent the past two days (during break time) looking at Math-U-See, but I don't think that's going to do it for us, either. We have the rest of MM Blue to print out and do, so that is something familiar to start with in 2nd grade, along with a bit of Kumon. I'm afraid to try MEP because it's a lot like MM in that we'd have to print it out (ton of paper and ink) and file it in binders. But I'll look at it again.

    Perhaps I'll sell the SPM Standards and get MIF instead. Aaaaaaahhhhhh!

  4. You can preview entire Math in Focus books for each grade at this website:

    You can at least flip through the 2nd grade books to see if you could teach from them and where your daughter would place.

    All you have to do is sign up using your email address and you can register as a homeschool, then they will send you a password to log into the virtual preview and you can flip through entire books and workbooks.

    If you have any more questions I will be glad to answer.