My Curriculum Recommendations: 2nd and 4th Grade
As I plan for our upcoming school year, what am I buying?
I still love much/most of what we’ve been using. We had a few things that didn’t work for us this past year, so I’ll note those changes and why they didn’t work. Also, we’re transitioning into our second history cycle, so that necessitated some changes. And finally, I’m transitioning out of workbook-style curricula as much as possible in favor of discussions and narration. That requires slightly more time on my part as teacher, but it avoids 1) the time-consuming drudgery of filling out tons of comprehension questions, which works well for a classroom but makes our school day much longer than necessary when I could just be asking my kids questions and requiring that they answer in complete sentences (we do plenty of other writing), and 2) the whining that happens at our house because my kids hate filling out the workbooks. Obviously, whining isn’t acceptable, but neither do I want my kids hating literature or Bible or whatever. There’s no need to make a subject boring just because we feel like workbooks are more “schoolish.”
As I’ve said before, none of our curricula requires much, if any, prep work, which is a huge plus for me. It’s mostly open and go. I love that! I don’t do complicated.
Here’s what we’re doing for 2nd and 4th grades.
History: H.A. Guerber’s The Story of the Greeks and The Story of the Romans edited by Christine Miller (both grades)
This is our biggest change this year. Caleb (entering 4th) finished our Story of the World-Mystery of History mashup. (I actually didn’t buy Volumes 3 and 4 of MOH. We used a BJU jr. high textbook, The American Republic, with SOTW 3 this past year, and then Caleb read SOTW 4: The Modern Age independently at the beginning of the summer. He loves history and gobbled it up.)
Kate has been doing SOTW-MOH with Caleb (but she didn’t get much out of SOTW 1 when she was 4, and she didn’t read SOTW 4 this summer). So, I’m starting them both back at the beginning with the OT/the ancient world. And…I found my favorite history ever!!!
If you read my history reviews, you know that I think history is very important and that I’ve done a lot of research into different curricula. I love the storybook format of Story of the World, but I don’t like that it doesn’t have a distinctly biblical worldview, which is why I was supplementing with Mystery of History. Well, lo and behold, I discovered H.A. Guerber’s histories, The Story of…The Ancient World, the Greeks, the Romans, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and Reformation, the Thirteen Colonies, and the Great Republic. These were first published in 1896, so they’re available in several formats, but Christine Miller has edited these, inserting a distinctly Christian and young-earth worldview. She’s also added recommended reading lists at the back of the book to use as supplements. I am over-the-moon excited about these books. They’re in storybook format like Story of the World, but they’re more well-written than Story of the World (in my opinion), and they’re distinctly Christian. They are a little bit more expensive than Story of the World, so I bought the e-book version, which is $10 cheaper.
We’re reading through Guerber’s The Story of the Ancient World this summer, and then we’ll do The Story of the Greeks and The Story of the Romans during the school year. We are loving The Story of the Ancient World. It’s fascinating (for both me and the kids), biblical, and just so, so good. (And it dovetails perfectly with what we’re reading for Bible, as we started them both at the same time.)
Bible: Catherine Vos’ The Child’s Story Bible, Scripture Box memory system (both grades)
Sacrilege coming, but I think I may like The Child’s Story Bible better than The Jesus Storybook Bible! We haven’t read the entire thing yet (it’s much longer than the JSB), but it’s been very so good so far. Susan Schaeffer MacCauley recommended it in For the Children’s Sake, and I found it on our bookshelf. (I guess I’d just never noticed it? It was apparently a baby gift for me when I was born!)
I reviewed the Scripture Box app and how we use it here. Love it!!!
We did Memoria Press’ Christian Studies last year, but it wasn’t something we ended up loving. It was almost exclusively answering comprehension questions just about the content in the Golden Children’s Bible and labeling biblical maps. I didn’t not like it, but I didn’t love it. It was really boring for Caleb–perhaps more designed for kids who don’t get a lot of Bible stories? The putting events and people in order was helpful, as were the maps, but the majority of it felt like a time-waster. Plus, it’s just another workbook. I wouldn’t give it a negative review necessarily; it just wasn’t stellar.
Literature: living books, Teaching the Classics, Scripture Box memory system (both grades)
We use whole, living books for literature, not written-for-textbook stories or snippets of literature. Here’s a good explanation of what a living book is and isn’t.
Here’s what we do with our living books:
- I choose two good chapter books per week for the kids (one good piece of fiction and one biography), and I let them choose one chapter book that they’d like to read (reading-level appropriate or harder, not easier, and twaddle-free). Sometimes one or more of these books ties into our history reading for the week. I get a lot of my book ideas from the Veritas Press catalog. When they’re done reading a book, they have to write a short narration and draw a picture from the book. I use these and these notebooks for this purpose.
- After they read their three “assigned” books, they’re free to read independently any other twaddle-free books, and they don’t need to write anything up on the extra books they read. They need only record the title, author, and date in their reading log when they finish. (Our reading logs are just spiral notebooks.)
- We have several dedicated books that I read aloud to them throughout the year. Scott also reads aloud to the family in the evenings (separate selections). Of the books I read aloud during the school day (not Scott’s), I ask for short narrations on most days. Usually their narrations are verbal. Sometimes they draw a picture of what they’ve heard. If I see that the book has immediately moved them into imaginative play, I may not stop them to do a narration. (They’re doing that in their play.) We often do read-aloud at the end of the school day for this reason.
- I recently purchased Teaching the Classics: A Socratic Method for Literary Education by Adam and Missy Andrews (I just got the teacher’s guide/syllabus. I didn’t spring for the DVD’s.) I’m still working through this (and so far it seems more mimetic than Socratic, but whatever), but I think I will take Adam’s suggestion and read aloud picture books (way below reading level, like his suggestion of A Bargain for Frances, etc.) and ask the suggested “Socratic” questions to get their minds trained to always think this way when they read.
We did Memoria Press’ literature guides for the last couple of years, but I’m cutting them. As I said, I’m moving to an almost workbook-free homeschool (except for, I think, math, Latin, and composition this year). The workbooks are tedious and unnecessary, as long as I’m asking questions myself.
I also read poetry to them every day, and they memorize and recite poetry using the Scripture Box memory system. I get my poems from A Child’s Garden of Verses and The [old] Oxford Book of Children’s Verse by Iona and Peter Opie.
Composition: Classical Academic Press’ Writing & Rhetoric Book 1: Fable (4th grade only)–often available at Mardel on sale
We’re switching this year from Memoria Press’ Classical Composition to this. They’re both progym programs (too hard to explain here fully, but it’s the classical way of teaching composition that involves imitation of excellent literature). Memoria’s program is good, but it also seems more boring and much more complex. (We just did the introductory level this past year, which isn’t really representative of the curriculum.) I kept vacillating between the two, but I talked to both publishers at the Great Homeschool Convention and looked through both sets of books and decided that CAP’s Writing & Rhetoric would be a better fit for us.
Handwriting/Copywork: StartWrite software (both grades), Handwriting Without Tears Cursive Handwriting and Cursive Success (2nd grade)
Just like last year, I create copysheets of verses and poems and literature passages that I’d like my kids to copy in their neatest handwriting (both will be in cursive this year; Kate’s were print last year). I find that it helps them, especially with cursive, if the passages are in the same font that they’re supposed to be writing. This is usually the very first thing they do in the school morning. Once they’ve eaten, dressed, and completed their morning household responsibilities, they go into the school room and copy until we start school. (I make sure they have plenty of sheets!)
For Kate, since she will be learning cursive this year, I will do the two Handwriting Without Tears cursive books with her. We have been very happy with HWOT in the past. It’s not the prettiest cursive, but it’s very easy to learn. And I changed my handwriting several times in elementary school and high school to copy different teachers’ handwriting that I loved, so I figure if we don’t painstakingly learn Spencerian script in 2nd grade, it won’t be a big deal. I do think cursive is important though (and it has significantly helped my leftie, Caleb). I don’t buy the Teacher’s Guides.
Spelling: All About Spelling 2 and 4
We still love this so much! My kids beg to do it. It’s a great phonics and spelling program, if pricey. Because they love it so much, we’re already into books 2 (for Kate) and 4 (for Caleb), so we’ll probably move into books 3 and 5 sometime during the year.
Grammar: Shurley English 2 Homeschool Kit (for 2nd grade) and Rod and Staff Building Christian English 4 and Teacher’s Manual (for 4th grade)–I got my Rod and Staff on craigslist, but Mardel also sells this in stores.
We started off last year using Memoria Press’ English Grammar Recitation for 3rd grade. It’s fine for what it does. Caleb memorized a bunch of capitalization rules and comma rules and other grammar rules…but he had a hard time putting them into practice. It was memory without understanding. I think that may be a deliberate philosophy thing on their part, as much of Memoria is very Trivium-classical-ed based; plus, they feel that the bulk of grammar will be learned through Latin. However, I love grammar and diagramming and the nitty gritty of it all, so I wanted something different for my kids in which I could pass that on. We went with Rod and Staff Building Christian English shortly before Christmas break, and Caleb and I have both been very happy with it. There’s no workbook. The kids rewrite sentences or write answers or diagram on notebook paper. I think that helps the concepts to stick. I’ve also found that Caleb can often do it independently, which is really nice! I jump in to teach a new concept, but there’s a lot of review and it’s not overly difficult.
As for Shurley, I switch from Shurley after two years of it because, while I love the jingles and the repetition of content for the first two foundational years, it’s just too much repetition for me year upon year. I’ve heard people say that you could buy the 6th grade book and use it for every grade of elementary school. Maybe some people would like that, but I find it dull. So, we reap the early benefits and then switch.
Latin: Classical Academic Press’ Latin for Children A and Headventureland (4th grade), Memoria Press’ Prima Latina (2nd grade)
For the last two years we’ve used Memoria Press’ Prima Latina and Latina Christiana 1. We were very happy with Prima Latina, but Caleb dreaded Latina Christiana 1 for some reason. We got through it, but I promised him a switch. (I want him to enjoy Latin!) While both are strong programs, I think Latin for Children will be a better fit for him. He’s excited to have Dr. Perrin as a (DVD) teacher because he’s met him in person, he already loves Headventureland (a website by Classical Academic Press with review games and Latin videos that go along with the Latin for Children lessons), and Latin for Children has more activities in the workbook rather than just dry “conjugate these verbs” and “decline these nouns.” We will be using the ecclesiastical pronunciation (Classical Academic Press offers a choice or classical or ecclesiastical) because that’s the only Latin pronunciation that is actually used for a purpose (other than Latin study) today–mainly in singing, and Caleb does sing in Latin in his choir.
Kate will be doing Prima Latina. We already own it and like it, and Kate loves to watch Miss Leigh on the DVD’s.
Greek: Classical Academic Press’ Greek Alphabet Code Cracker, followed by their Song School Greek (4th grade only)
Of the two elementary school Koine Greek programs that I know of, this looks like the better option. Lest you think, her poor child…well, think that if you want. But the Code Cracker book and the Song School Greek are more fun than academic. It’s a gentle, detective-like introduction to the Greek alphabet and songs introducing Greek vocabulary. I don’t think it will be overwhelming at all, and Caleb is very excited about it. Scott has actually agreed to teach the kids Greek, since he had it in college and has been using it all these years, so this will be an evening subject for Caleb.
Math: Singapore Primary Mathematics (I buy the Workbook, Textbook, and Home Instructor’s Guide for each grade level.), Xtra Math for drill practice (both grades)
I also highly recommend BJU Press Math (not the same math that you and I grew up with; it’s quite good) and Math-U-See. Both of these are more expensive than Singapore. BJU’s is, of course, decidedly Christian; it’s also the most colorful and interactive with lots of supplementary resources and stories, etc. Math-U-See is also Christian. All three of these curricula use base-10, which I personally love. I always did well in math, but I never really understood it. I memorized it. Now I finally understand math. I know a lot of classical homeschoolers (and non-classical) like Saxon Math, but it was just a terrible fit for us on so many levels, so we quit that promptly after Caleb’s kindergarten year. Caleb doesn’t love math (Kate does), but for whatever reason Singapore has really clicked with him and helped him to like and understand math–so I’m going with it! I also like that it doesn’t take inordinate amounts of time to teach like some math programs that were more designed to keep the attention of an entire classroom.
Geography: WonderMaps (both grades)
I’ve been wanting to buy this from Bright Ideas Press for awhile now, and I finally got it on sale. I’ll be printing off maps to go along with our history and Bible study for labeling and coloring, and I’ll be printing off modern maps for the kids to trace and label. I’m excited about this resource.
Science: Christian Kids Explore Biology (both grades)
I was basically planning on not doing any formal science this year. I really don’t think it’s necessary in elementary school, so I didn’t want to spend the money on something we don’t spend much time on. I will always give my kids books about nature, the human body, the earth, etc., and they love to read those independently. However, I won Christian Kids Explore Biology from Homeschool Creations blog. (Surprise! I never win things!) Caleb has been asking to study the human body anyway, so I’ll likely do this with them once a week. We did Christian Kids Explore Earth and Space this past year (inconsistently) and liked it a lot. It’s low key and very doable for homeschoolers and young children. It’s not colorful or anything, but it does have coloring pages (reproducible), which my kids always like, and they liked the experiments that we did.
Music: Suzuki string lessons, Fort Worth Junior String Orchestra, piano lessons (taught by me using Faber Piano Adventures books), children’s choir, classical music listening, composer study with Vox Music Masters: An Introduction to the Classics CD’s, library books about composers, and hymn singing (both grades)
Yes, that’s a lot, and I don’t think it’s necessary for everyone, so don’t guilt yourself. Yes, I think that music is an essential part of any Christian education, but we’re also a music family, so we probably do more than many. I do love Suzuki and highly recommend it (with parental willingness to practice with your kids). And I do think classical music listening and hymn singing are essential for everyone to develop their affections.
Art: drawing class, picture studies
Both of my kids asked to take a drawing class at a local large co-op this year (where Caleb does choir), so we’re doing that. We’ve also been doing picture studies where I print off famous works of art (sometimes ones at our local museum of art or one we might visit, sometimes ones that go along with our history or Bible study, sometimes we’ll focus on a single artist for several weeks or even months). I print a copy for each person, and we look at the painting quietly for a few minutes, then we turn it over and try to recall the details, and then we look at it again and discuss it and I read a little bit of bio about the artist. Then I let the kids try to draw their own “reproduction” of the piece. I think this has given us all a much deeper appreciation of great art, and my kids are excited to visit museums and see the art they’ve studied or similar art. We do this just once a week.
About Becky Aniol
Becky holds a bachelor's degree in English literature and music, a master's degree in Christian education, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Christian education. She taught classical upper school grammar, literature, and history and lower school composition and grammar for two years, elementary school music for one year, and Kindermusik classes for four years before the birth of her children. She now loves staying home with her four children, Caleb, Kate, Christopher, and Caroline and homeschooling them classically.