Archive | July 2018

How I learned to schedule our homeschool schedule each day, month, and year

Three years ago I was a mess. I knew I was going to Homeschool Peanut, but I had no idea were to even start. I went online and was overwhelmed with everything. Then I found a few sites on the basics.

The first thing I learned is that I needed a “roadmap” of what we’ll be doing. But like any journey, don’t be tied to the exact route. Be prepared for detours, tourist attractions, and even having to retrace your route if things get crazy! Schedules aren’t set in stone. Let them be as flexible as your lifestyle. In other words, your schedule doesn’t rule you, you are the master of your schedule!

So I chose to use several free resources to teach Peanut the basics. We used Easy Peasy Getting Ready 1, 3 Dinosaurs, This Reading Mama, and I also bought the Pre-k program from Confessions of a Homeschooler.

Now that I had this mountain of printed worksheets, I had no idea how to organize it all. Along came the file folder method! (not my photo)DSCF4838

Each of our 36 weeks gets it’s own file folder. Every workbook was cut apart and separated into the file folders. Each worksheet too. So now I had a full school year all neatly separated into weekly “grab and go” files! Yay me!

But now I had to figure out what to do each day. I like the weekly folders, so why not daily folders? I took the work out of the weekly one and divided it up into a daily folder. Since we only homeschool Monday to Thursday, Friday became the “overflow” for anything we didn’t get done in the week. It never ended up getting used! (again, not my photo)

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Our second year taught me to use a ‘workbox’ system. This system uses a storage cart with 10 drawers and you organize your child’s day by putting only one subject per drawer in the cart. When the child finishes one drawer, they move to the next one.  There are tons of Youtube videos about homeschool workboxes, so I won’t go into it here.

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It worked well, but it became a pain to load the cart up each night for the next day’s lessons. But it did keep us organized!

Also, that year I learned about a weekly checklist instead of a daily schedule thanks to our Timberdoodle curriculum. You take the # of pages in the book, divide by 36, and you get the # of pages to do per week.  As long as all the boxes were checked off at the end of the week, it didn’t matter when they got done. This really was an eye opener, and total game changer! We suddenly weren’t tied to doing “x” amount of pages per day. We could do double the math one day and then do none the next day.  I no longer got anxious when we didn’t do something on the schedule. I just bumped it to the next day.

For our third year of homeschool, our schedule changed again. We used the Moving Beyond the Page curriculum last year. We still used the 36 weekly file folders, but our workboxes became one box = 1 day instead. So Drawers 1 – 4 were labelled Monday-Thursday. Drawer 5-10 then became our storage for our book of the week, craft supplies, ongoing projects, and things like flashcards, paper, etc. It worked really well.

This year we are using our own curriculum that I pieced together from several places. I still use the “Timberdoodle” method to figure out how much we need to do per week to finish in a year. We still use the 36 week file folders, and the one workbox per day system. Instead of my old method of writing out each week’s schedule by hand, I now use a printable, editable planner from One Stop Teacher Shop. I absolutely LOVE this planner. I can set out my entire year on it, and edit it on the fly. I only print out the schedule for the next 4 weeks, since things change and sometimes I have to fiddle around with the schedule to make it work.

One thing about Homeschooling, you never stop learning. Not only am I educating Peanut, but I’m also learning things too! I’m becoming really good at scheduling (but not so good about sticking to the schedule, hahaha!) and I’m definitely learning how to get more organized, at least for homeschool stuff. My kitchen is another story, hahaha!

So till next time, I hope this gave you some ideas for homeschool scheduling and planning!

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Homeschooling through the summer months can be a lesson in flexibility!

Although we technically don’t have “summer” in the Caribbean, it’s either the dry or rainy season, the public and private school kids are out of school for 2 whole months!

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This can be a challenge for a homeschool family. All the kids want to play from sun-up to bed time. ALL the kids. Including ours. So how do I deal with the need to get our work done while my child wants nothing more than to play with his big brother (who goes to school) and his cousins?

I could decide to take 2 months off, but that just wouldn’t work for us. Peanut has been making huge leaps in learning lately, and I don’t want to let that slide. So nope, no “summer” off.

I could be a strict mama and say no playing until school is done, but this will make Peanut hate doing his lessons. I want to keep his enthusiasm of learning going. So nope, no mean mama here.

So my third option, and it seems the most reasonable – we’ll continue our homeschool lessons. We’ll just do them at night when Peanut is a bit more relaxed from a busy day playing. We also are going to follow the lead of Tina from Tina’s Dynamic Homeschool Plus and just concentrate on what we really need to get done. We can always work on the other stuff later!

What are the basic essentials for us? Since Peanut is 7, and technically would be entering grade 2 in September, I’ll follow the recommendations for a child in grade 1 or 2.

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Here’s what our essential subjects are:

  • Math: we are working at an early grade 1 level now, and Peanut actually loves it! We are using a combination of Mathematical Reasoning A, Math Mammoth 1, Complete Curriculum Math 1, and Math U See Alpha – although MUS seems to distract Peanut too much… darned manipulative blocks!
  • Reading: Peanut reads at a late Kindergarten to mid grade 1 level now. He’s very enthusiastic about learning new words, and learns best by sight words. He is making great strides using Reading A-Z, including their High Frequency word lessons and leveled readers. We also do Easy Peasy Getting Ready 1 Primer, and he’s slowly progressing, but he’s progressing! He’s on Day 187 – lesson 16 of the primer. We do maybe 1 lesson every 2 to 3 days. I also throw in Complete Curriculum Language Arts K because they also have a reader each day, and Peanut likes to help read the stories.
  • Phonics: This is a real struggle for Peanut. He knows the sounds the letters make, but he can’t blend them together. He’s just not ready for it. So for now we are doing Reading A-Z Phonological awareness, plus a bit of Explode the Code to help out. We’re also returning to Progressive Phonics, starting at the beginning and he’s eating it up this time! We’ve done 6 days of lessons in 1 day! We may even try to add Hooked on Phonics Kindergarten to see it this style would help him.
  • Penmanship: Peanut is actually beginning to hold the pencil correctly a bit more. His fine motor skills are improving daily. So now I’m putting him through Easy Peasy Getting Ready Primer for the handwriting portion. We also do daily letter practice through Complete Curriculum Language Arts Kindergarten.

So if we cover these, we are doing alright. I want Peanut to enjoy learning, to be more like this:

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Not to dread learning, and be like this:

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But what about Science? Or History? Or Geography? Or the Arts”? To be perfectly honest, all the other subjects are really “fluff” courses at this age. Be honest. Do you remember any of the history or geography you were taught in grade 1? Or the famous artist you researched? Or even the classical music you played on your recorder? I know I sure don’t. But I did learn to read and write. And I loved listening to stories. My memories were of stories, books, getting lost in adventures, and even crying when our teacher read Charlotte’s Web. That is my early grade school memories. It set me up as a lifelong lover of literature.

By Grade 3, or age 8-10, most kids are now reading fairly well, and writing with confidence. They have built up their confidence in math and phonics, and are ready for the world to open up to them.

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This is when the other subjects start to be introduced. Grade 3 we’ll add Science, Geography, History, Grammar, Spelling, and even Composition. Grade 4, add Vocabulary. Grade 5, add Literature.

This doesn’t mean I won’t be teaching science or social studies for a couple of years. It just means I won’t stress out if we don’t get it all done in our year. We are Using Easy Peasy Science level 2 (Zoology) but I’ll be doing a condensed version, and we’ll be using more video resources rather than a lot of reading and writing since Peanut is a visual learner right now. He soaks in the shows he watches. So Octonauts, Wild Kratts, Magic School Bus, and Reading Rainbow will be our window into science and social studies this year. But I still will try to use Story of the World, but try to include some kid friendly youtube videos about the time periods.

So I have to give Tina from Tina’s Dynamic Homeschool a huge thank you for inspiring me to save my sanity! My crazy “summer” schedule just became a more manageable  reality. Maybe once the kids are back in school we can add back the science and social studies, but we also may like the freedom to just do the necessities.  I’ll definitely follow up on how this experiment will go!

Now back to my dreams of being on the beach…

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Complete Curriculum Science and why I am having issues with the Grade 1 content!

I wrote in an earlier post how I loved Complete Curriculum Science Kindergarten. We used it 2 years ago for Peanut’s Junior K year, and we absolutely LOVED it! Based on this, I took the leap and purchased the entire Complete Curriculum bundle a few months ago. It’s been very hit-or-miss.

I’ve been trying to love the 1st grade Science as much as Kindergarten, but it’s just not happening. I think I figured out why. You may want to settle in with a coffee for this one, it may be long.

I’ll start with the Kindergarten science. It follows a pretty logical order:

  • Unit 1: Science is Everywhere!
  • Unit 2 – It All Makes Sense! (the senses)
  • Unit 3 – Shapes, Pushes and Pulls (force, motion, gravity, magnets)
  • Unit 4 – Life Science
  • Unit 5 – My Earth
  • Unit 6 – I Dig Dinosaurs
  • Unit 7 Energy

It has 131 lessons, so that fit well into our 144 day school year! It had experiments, but none were overwhelming. Everything for the experiments were easy to find. The student pages are colourful and fun to do.

Okay, so now to 1st Grade. It has no logical order. Here is the basic layout (no unit topics are provided, so I’m guessing here!):

  • Unit 1: What Scientists Do
  • Unit 2: Senses
  • Unit 3: All About Plants
  • Unit 4: All About Animals
  • Unit 5: Habitats – They throw in marine biologist here after the test? maybe put it in unit 1 instead?
  • Unit 6: Natural Resources – halfway into this unit they throw in 2 lessons on poisonous plants. Maybe put it in unit 3 instead?
  • Unit 7:  Weather and Seasons
  • Unit 8: Dinosaurs and Fossils
  • Unit 9: Matter and Energy – they throw in 3 lessons on shadows here? Maybe put in Unit 7 or 10 instead?
  • Unit 9: Space – only 6 lessons long!!! I’d like this unit to be more in depth
  • Then for the last 10 lessons they throw on animal adaptation, animals with and without backbones, what do plants and animals need to live, what is a food web, what do farmers do, and  how do plants and animals help each other

Maybe it’s my OCD mind, but I like a science curriculum to have a nice, steady flow. I don’t like how there are random lessons just tossed in here and there to make this curriculum 180 days. It seems it was written to be maybe 144 or 160 days long, and they decided to just add on some lessons here and there to make it 180 days.

Also, the lessons themselves seem like half of them are just “fluffy busy-work” with no real learning value.

Now because of this, I thought “Oh crud, did I just get a whole bunch of crappy science curricula? Did I just waste our money?” So I checked out the 2nd grade science. It looks like it’s a better layout than 1st grade, and spends more time teaching less topics:

  • Unit 1: Plants – 30 lessons
  • Unit 2: Animals – 30 lessons
  • Unit 3: geology and weather – 30 lessons
  • Unit 4: Space – 30 lessons
  • Unit 5: energy and matter – 30 lessons
  • Unit 6: magnets – 30 lessons

wow! this level looks fantastic! It has a good flow, and there are no “orphan” topics thrown in anywhere. It all seems to follow a logical order! The drawback is that the material may be too advanced for Peanut. He’ll be ready for this level next year, or maybe even the year after. (Insert heavy sigh here, haha)

So now I’m torn. Do I continue to shuffle along using grade 1, but never being happy with it? Do I reverse gears and do Kindergarten science again? Or can I somehow merge Kindergarten and grade 1 into something that flows better, goes into more depth than K but has fewer topics than grade 1, and make the units flow better? 

I’m not a huge fan of “create your own curriculum.” I like boxed curriculum that is open and go! Maybe I’m just lazy, or maybe I don’t have enough confidence in myself. But either way, I think I need to pull up my big girl pants and get this science curriculum figured out for this year. 

I love the flow of the grade 2 science, so I may try to follow its lead and make an ordered curriculum for a merged K-1 science. Choose 6 or 7 topics and spend 20 to 24 days on each topic.

We’re also using Easy Peasy Science level L Zoology, but I’m so tired of prescreening and editing it. Don’t get me wrong, Easy Peasy is amazing and a solid curriculum, but it teaches new earth Christian beliefs (unlike the RC faith which embraces the old earth) . No big bang, the bible is absolute in its literal truth. Easy Peasy teaches things like Adam and Eve rode dinosaurs, dinos were all herbivores until the fall of man, and yep, there were dinos on the ark! Yikes! This becomes very annoying when I am trying to keep everything secular. Ugh! 

So time for more coffee while I go over Complete Curriculum Science Kindergarten and grade 1 and try to squish them together so they make sense! 

Our first four weeks of grade 1

We have been very busy since our last “reset”. Our curriculum choices have evolved, and some things have worked really well so far, others not so much.

We seem to be finally on track for learning to read, writing, and math. There have been some surprises here too.

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Reading A-Z has been awesome, and I consider it our “spine” aka backbone of our language arts learning to read curriculum. We are just over halfway through the high frequency books and lessons, and Peanut is reading at about a grade 1.4 level now! So in 6 weeks he’s shot up by 1 year in his reading abilities. How can a mama not be excited by that! He also is about to graduate from level A to level B books on their guided reading books. I have a feeling he’ll be reading at a grade 2 or 3 level by the end of our school year if this keeps up.

Another sight word program we’re using is Easy Peasy Getting Ready part 1 – McGuffey Primer. I have a love hate relationship with it. Peanut loves it (a plus) but it uses outdated words and is sometimes heavy with christian religious content. To be fair, McGuffey readers were originally printed in 1836, so it is what it is. For now, we’ll continue to use it, slowly and steadily. Peanut actually giggles and laughs from the flashcards, so that’s a plus in my book!

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Complete Curriculum Kindergarten Language Arts is our other language arts spine. Peanut loves the stories, and the worksheets aren’t overwhelming, so he actually enjoys doing them. To be honest, I was skeptical of this curriculum since it was so inexpensive, but it’s proven to be a pretty solid program. The drawback is the printing. There is almost 1500 student pages! I don’t print them all, plus I print the stories as booklets so there really is about 500 – 700 pages to print. I’m grateful we have an eco-tank printer! I don’t print the Teacher’s manuals since I can just put the pdf on my tablet follow it that way.

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Once we’re done with the Reading A-Z high frequency words, I’ll be using McGraw Hill Treasures grade 1. We should get to the 4th or 5th unit before the end of our year.

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For spelling we’ve begun to use Spelling You See level A. We got this 2 years ago from Timberdoodle, but Peanut wasn’t ready for it yet. So far he’s doing well with it. The best part is that he’s also learning phonics without knowing it, since he has to sound out the word to spell it.

Getty Dubay handwiting A is our learning to write curriculum. I thought it would be easier since most letters involve only 1 or 2 strokes, plus it sets the child up for cursive handwriting later. Peanut even seems to like it, so that’s a good thing.

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Phonics is very difficult for Peanut. I’ve set aside teaching him how to read phonetically for a while. I’ll be introducing Explode the Code 1 in a few weeks though, since it’s a gentle introduction to phonics.

Math has been our trouble spot. I now use several resources, so I can’t say one is our actual spine. Complete Curriculum Math grade 1 is amazing. 180 lessons and well scripted. We’ve been doing this daily. We added A Beka Arithmetic grade 1, and Peanut loves this worktext! It’s colourful, and not overwhelming. He does 2 pages a day. We’ve also taken McRuffey math off the shelf, dusted it off, and have started using it too. Peanut loves all the games and puzzles. We did shelve Harcourt math grade 1 since it offered no instruction, it kind of felt like busy work. Math U See Alpha will be coming out of the background soon, since we’ll be learning how to solve for an unknown, and Math U See visually explains it better. We also suppliment with Easy Peasy All In One Homeschool math grade 1, since the majority of it is online games which reinforce what we’ve learned. So for now, math seems to be going well (knock on wood!).

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Science has been a pain in the patootie. I love how the topics are arranged in Complete Curriculum Science Grade 1, but I hate how much ‘stuff’ I need to gather beforehand. Still, we’re going to use it, but we’ll have to skip a few lessons that call for things I can’t easily find here. I also LOVE Easy Peasy Zoology (year 2 level L). We are doing this too, and Peanut really enjoys it. It is heavy on lapbooks, but I’m turning them into a year long interactive notebook instead.

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History is also a problem area. We tried Easy Peasy history year 1, but it’s pretty dry and boring. We are using Story of the World Volume 1, but even that has it’s issues. Peanut is bored by the stories, and there aren’t enough pictures to grab his attention. He loves the activities and crafts though, so we’ll soldier on and maybe eventually Peanut will like the stories. We’ll probably use this again in 3-4 years when Peanut can understand more of it, but for now we’ll keep trying. If it doesn’t work, and we seem to be dreading it, we’ll shelve it for a while.

I know I’m forgetting about a lot of things we’re using, but this is pretty much our main curricula for this year. Lots of reading, math, science, and a side dish of history, and a whole lot of arts and crafts mixed in.

Wish us luck! now please pass the coffee and chocolate donuts.

Curriculum Review: Complete Curriculum Language Arts Kindergarten

I have some definite issues with Complete Curriculum, but overall the Kindergarten language arts is pretty good. Good enough to be our “spine” for language arts this year. At least so far.

I’ll start with the things that bring this curriculum down. The major issue I have is the student pages for learning to write letters. Here is an example of the same page in the teacher’s manual (left) and the Student manual (right), side by side:

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The teacher’s manual has the dotted lines to trace, and the arrows to show which way to go. The student manual has thick, inconsistent letters without the ability to trace them. OOPS! Not a huge issue, I just have to print these from the teacher’s manual. Annoying, but nothing that would make me stop using it.

The next issue is the lack of a “materials needed” list. As I went through the lessons, I noticed many had activities that needed art and craft supplies. It would be nice to have a heads-up beforehand!

So what do I like about it so far?

It is almost totally open and go. Here is a sample lesson:

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I love how each lesson builds on the previous one, and it includes phonics, reading, writing, and even throws in fine motor skills, thinking skills, conversation starters, and extra ideas to reinforce each lesson.

There are 180 lessons, but we do 2 lessons on Thursdays so we can have Fridays off. It is easy enough to double up since every 5th lesson is usually a shorter lesson that involves a nursery rhyme.

The readers are also included, there are about 100 all together. The only issue I have with them is the print is a bit small for little children beginning to read. I’d have liked to see them in a bigger font, similar to what they use on the cover of each book. Here’s an example:

Again, not a deal breaker, but annoying! When I print them out as a booklet, the writing is so small that even I struggle to see it. But the books themselves are cute, colorful, and holds Peanut’s attention.

This kindergarten language arts teaches:

  • reading
  • phonological awareness
  • phonics
  • reading fluency
  • writing
  • speaking and listening
  • language and vocabulary
  • grammar

It also is somewhat aligned to Common Core, so if that’s important to you, it has it!

There are games, arts and crafts, and computer games mixed into many lessons, so it is pretty interactive.

All in all, it’s a pretty solid curriculum at a low price. It comes as 2 PDF files, one for the teacher’s manual and one for the student’s manual. You do have to print out at least the student writing pages, but if the cost of printer ink is an issue, you can use the rest of the curriculum on your computer or tablet.

So for the price, I would recommend this curriculum, but just be aware of the issues with the writing pages for the student manual. It wasn’t my first choice for a language arts curriculum, but it fit our budget this year, and actually surprised me. I was intending to use it as a supplement, but instead it became our spine!

Curriculum review: Reading A-Z

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We have been using Reading A-Z for almost 3 months now. Thanks to this website and curriculum, Peanut has gone from reading at a Kindergarten level (0.8) to a mid grade 1 level (1.5) in just under 9 weeks of school! So do I like this curriculum? Heck ya!

It is a bit expensive – $109.95 per year. You can get a discount through Homeschool Buyers Co-op for $69.95, that’s a 36% savings! Or if you’re really in love with all that they offer, you can get the super bundle for $719.66 per year through Learning A-Z, or $319 through the co-op. The complete collection super bundle includes:

We’re only using Reading A-Z right now, so that’s what I’m going to review.

Reading A-Z offers a wide range of resources for reading, and here are the main resources (some explanations come directly from their website):

Simple alphabet books that helps kids learn to recognize the uppercase and lowercase letters, which is the most important first steps in learning how to read. There are accompanying resources help children learn to identify, name, and write the letters of the alphabet. Along with printable books, there are also flashcards, Chants, and Letter Formation Worksheets.Untitled

36 High frequency word books which includes the most commonly used sight words in printed text. Each set targets high-frequency words, and each book builds on the previous ones. It includes flashcards and games to make learning fun. We are actually just over halfway done these, and this is what has made the most improvement in Peanut’s reading skills!8

Phonological Awareness lessons have 30 lessons to teach the basics of phonics. Phonological awareness should come before actually doing phonics. We have been struggling with learning to read through phonics, but after we’re done learning all the sight words from #2, we’ll begin this with Peanut. The Phonological Awareness Lessons are organized from the simplest skills to the most difficult. Each lesson might include picture cards, a game, or a workmat, and always suggests a supplemental Read-Aloud Book for extra practice

Phonics. Each of the 68 lessons introduce, teach, and practice a sound (phoneme) and its related symbol or symbols (grapheme or graphemes).  Lessons include activities using manipulatives, such as letter cards, phonogram cards, workmats, decodable and high-frequency word cards, games, and worksheets that support instruction and practice.1

Leveled books! This is the heart of this curriculum. There are 29 reading levels that are labelled aa, A to Z, and Z1 & Z2. This is equivalent of kindergarten (level aa- C) to grade 5+ (level X-Z2).  All totaled, there are almost 2400 books in this section.Image result for reading a-z

These books are from all types of genres. Biographies, comedies, classics, fairy tales, fiction, it’s all there! From The Mitten to The Call of the Wild!  Each book is printable in colour or black and white, and can be done as a single sided book, double sided book, or even a pocketbook! Many include worksheets for phonics, comprehension, and also guided reading lessons. This is a total gold mine!

While I’m on the topic of books, all the reading a-z books can be printed out, so if you want your child to have their own personal library, you will need a few things:

  • a subscription to Reading A-Z
  • an internet connection to download the books and resources
  • a printer with ink!
  • printer paper
  • a good stapler
  • washi tape to hide the staples (and make the book look cuter than it already is!)

There are also nursery rhymes, poetry books, song books, read aloud books, comic books, and many more.Resources are included too! There are assessments, tips, forms and tools, tutoring and mentoring packs, worksheets, and so much more.

So why did I choose Reading A-Z as our reading curriculum? We have tried many other “learn to read” programs with little or no success – Hooked on phonics, Teach Your Child to Read in 100  Easy Lessons, The Reading Lesson, Progressive Phonics, Phonics Pathways, Read the Alphabet, and a few others. None have made a significant impact with Peanut’s reading abilities. Then for some reason I realized that they all had one thing in common – learning to read phonetically. Peanut just wasn’t grasping the concept of rhyming, blending letters together, sounding them out.

So I looked into teaching him to read using sight words. Since sight words make up between 70-95% of what we read, it made sense. And maybe it would make sense for him to start there. So I did an online search, and Reading A-Z was one of the first things that came up. I took a free 14 day trial, and I was hooked! Peanut read his first book all by himself within 2 days of starting the high frequency word books! I was overjoyed, and Peanut was excited to be able to read on his own. He couldn’t get enough!

I honestly feel that Reading A-Z is a valuable asset to any homeschooler who is teaching children aged 4-12. I plan to use this until we finish the Z2 level! Peanut loves the books, and he’s enjoying his new found reading confidence thanks to this resource.  He even enjoys the accompanying worksheets for each book.

So if you have a struggling reader, do yourself a favour and check out Reading A-Z. Take a free 14 day trial. See if it is a good fit for you. It sure was for us!

(disclaimer- this review is my own opinion. I was not contacted by anyone to write this review. I also was not offered any discount, free subcription, or compensation from anyone including those at Reading A-Z for this review. In fact, they have no idea I wrote this, hahaha!)