I requested this level for Emory. He is seven and was close to finishing up the 2nd grade at the time we started. He had completed his language arts program already, and I had yet to choose language arts for his 3rd grade year, so it seemed like a golden opportunity to try out something in hopes of finding a good fit for him.
What Is It?
The third grade curriculum consists of the Student Workbook and Teacher Guide, and requires the use of a poetry anthology and several chapter books. The full list includes:
Rickshaw Girl by Matali Perkins
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
Ramona and Her Father by Beverly Cleary
The Big Wave by Pearl S. Buck
Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
The Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong
The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
The Random House Book of Poetry for Children edited by Jack Prelutsky
The chapter books are used in the order listed above, and The Random House Book of Poetry is used intermittently for a week at a time throughout the course between the book units. Books are used anywhere from one week to seven weeks, depending on length. Luckily I'm creating a personal library all my own, so we already owned several of the books and the poetry anthology. I noticed that many of the books are listed on multiple living book lists, so at this point I'm comfortable using the books in our home for literature. (One book is out of print, but looks to be still easily accessible.)
The Teacher's Guide is laid out clearly, with a great introduction as to how to use the program. There are three main components to this program which are explained thoroughly in the guide, but they include the Reading and Comprehension (reading a passage and answering questions), Grammar and Mechanics (the workbook activities) and Composition (learning to write). Additional activities, listed as optional, are included as well. Then, it walks you through each daily activity, from scheduling the reading, possible answers for the comprehension questions, the daily workbook activity and how to help the student with the composition activity each day. The teacher's guide is not scripted, but it is detailed and thorough, and I like that balance.
The Student Workbook is written to the student with large print and colorful graphics. I'm not a fan of the font, but I see it often in children's workbooks, and he is not phased by it. There are only a few exercises on each workbook page, which is ideal for our goal of short lessons. There are a few activities that some might consider busy work (puzzles, coloring, etc.), but many children enjoy those, so I see why they're included occasionally.
The schedule is easy to follow. It uses a five day schedule, but activities are only scheduled on the first four days, with the fifth day being an optional day for make-up or following rabbit trails. This works great for us, because we work on a four day schedule due to co-op.
You can actually view a sizable sample on the website, so I highly recommend checking that out to get a feel for the layout of the program.
How We Used It
My two older children are seven and ten, and I find that the books I'm familiar with are good choices for both of them, so I've chosen to read the literature aloud. (I've read a few aloud several years ago, but good books are meant to be enjoyed more than once!) My 3rd grader does the assignments. He is seven, and because I loosely follow Charlotte Mason homeschooling methods for grammar instruction, he has had no formal grammar outside of how it applies to reading/spelling instruction. I was a little worried about starting a third grade language arts program, but it went really well! It ended up being more gentle and scaffolding than I expected, and it starts strong right away, but it doesn't "pick up" where the previous program (2nd grade) left off, or assume prior knowledge. This is important in the younger years where grammar progress is so varied from one child to the next, so I appreciate this feature. It turned out, the grammar and mechanics was his favorite part of the curriculum!
My 10 year old has had a couple years of grammar, but has never done sentence diagramming, so I eventually folded him into that as well. The rest is all review, and there's nothing wrong with that, but I liked the idea of introducing the diagramming in a "two birds, one stone" kind of way since I had the opportunity. I just had him do the diagramming on a a dry-erase board since we only have one workbook, then they compared their answers.
We found the composition awkward, though. The author suggests that some children may only write a few sentences, yet some will want to write a page or more, and either is fine. At the same time, though the lessons are short, there are very specific instructions each day, and he seemed to find this restrictive. He would get hung up on "the details" and couldn't see the big picture. Then I thought about how from a Charlotte Mason perspective, based on his age, he's still a beginning narrator and is too young for composition, so I'm not particularly concerned. We'll just continue to dabble in it slowly and let him progress as he's ready.
This is actually a great program as written, but is also very flexible. It's no secret that we are Charlotte Mason inspired, and even though this program is not (nor does it claim to be) a Charlotte Mason curriculum, I find it can be compatible with our relaxed approach with some simple tweaking. I can't speak to their lower levels, but for upper elementary, it can work. It uses real books, and they are mostly of a living book quality. The daily lessons include clearly separate components (literature, grammar, composition) and those can easily be spread throughout the day so that lessons stay short and the child isn't doing too much of one subject at one time. The guide and assignments are flexible and easily tweaked for personal needs or preferences. We prefer narration to strictly comprehension, but the comprehension questions give me an idea for open-ended narration prompts if the child needs a little prodding. The author also respects the individual needs of the child, knowing that children will be reading and writing at different levels, and she allows room for doing the assignments in a way that works best for your family. I think this program would especially be useful for families who want to bridge the gap between traditional textbook curriculum and a living book approach, but is should work for those on both sides of the spectrum. Overall, I am pleased with this curriculum, and intend to continue using it, adapted for our homeschool style, for third grade!
The Crew has been reviewing various products for different grade levels from elementary to high school, so be sure to check out the other reviews!