Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Moving Beyond the Page {Schoolhouse Review}

When the chance to review Moving Beyond the Page was presented to me, I was intrigued.  I was given the opportunity to choose from several different language arts, science and social studies units.  I chose Language Arts Package - Poppy and Science Package - Lifecycles, because they both looked interesting and were designed to go together.

Moving Beyond the Page

Moving Beyond the Page is a literature based, hands-on curriculum designed to leave the textbooks behind.  It is a concept based curriculum that encourages critical and creative thinking through project-based instruction.  It is billed as a hands-on approach to learning. 

Both of the units I chose are from the Ages 7-9 curriculum, which covers the concepts of Environment, Change, Cycles and Relationships.  The prerequisites for this level include the ability to read/comprehend chapter books on a 3rd-4th grade level, answer comprehension questions about a chapter, and the ability to write a few sentences.  It is typically used by children in the second or third grade.  Elliott is 7 and was "finishing first grade" (you know, whatever grade levels mean to homeschoolers!) when we started the unit, so I felt this was a good fit for us.

The Poppy Language Arts Unit is designed around the book Poppy, by Avi.  It is part of the Cycles concept.  It is a 3 week unit when used as written, and discusses the cycle of power, abuse of power and related concepts.  I received the Online unit, which costs $25.91 and includes the Online curriculum guide, the book Poppy by Avi, and an owl pellet kit.  The owl pellet kit had a bone identification chart so we could compare our bones too.  The boys were horrified at the idea of owl pellets at first, but later became interested!  The online curriculum guide includes the lessons in on online format, and the student pages are in PDF format.

Moving Beyond the Page Poppy

The unit covers a multitude of language arts skills.  Research, paragraphs, story elements, conjunctions and combining sentences, and many other topics are presented and practiced throughout the course of the unit.  Using only Moving Beyond the Page language arts units, it appears you would have topics sprinkled throughout the year, rather than focusing on them intensely at one time as you would with most traditional language arts curricula.  Comprehension questions are included for each chapter, but I found that we usually did these as an adapted form of oral narration, since we do not start written narration this early.  

Notes on the online unit - Your units are in your online account when you purchase them, but you have to manually activate each unit and then they are active for 90 days.  You can print as many student pages as you need while your unit is active.  You can also mark the lessons as complete as you work through them, but if you leave off in the middle of a lesson--there are a few two day lesson plans--it will take you right to the page you were on when you closed your browser, so it bookmarks your spot for you.  The units DO EXPIRE, so in a way, it feels like you are "renting" a unit.  For younger siblings, you would need to reactivate (at a discount) to use it again.  This may or may not be a wise investment, depending on your needs and preferences.

I thought the Lifecycles Science Unit would be a perfect late spring/early summer unit for us, as it helps children explore the life cycles of plants, insects and animals, and how they affect the life cycles of others.  For this unit, I received the full Physical Unit that includes the Physical curriculum guide, What is a Lifecycle? by Bobby Kalman, Who Eats What? by Patricial Lauber and Holly Keller, and a green earth butterfly kit.  The full physical unit retails for $45.92.

Moving Beyond the Page Lifecycles

You will have to put additional money towards the purchase of the caterpillars for the butterfly habitat {unless you find your own outdoors} and you will need to plan accordingly in regards to shipping!  Due to pregnancy/mommy brain, I forgot to order our caterpillars immediately, and then it was too hot for a live guarantee delivery, so we're going to be on the hunt for caterpillars for a fun 'follow-up' activity to the unit.  It'll be great to see what is remembered and what connections are made.  However, we've also been studying lifecycles naturally through gardening, and we've got our eye on a bluebird nest with eggs that is low enough to easily observe.  I am always thrilled when we can take what we've been learning and still find ways outside of the curriculum to expand on that knowledge.

I really liked that the science unit gave a bit more of a hands-on approach (there's a great science experiment with hard boiled vs. fresh eggs) and I think I preferred the science unit over the language arts.  The final project was really interesting as well.  The student creates a new species based on specific criteria outlined in the assignment.  This really gets the kiddo thinking back to what he's learned throughout the unit!

Notes on the physical unit - the lessons are yours to keep, but you will need to purchase additional student pages for any extra students, current or future.  You cannot copy any pages, as it is an infringement of their copyright policy.  Also, the student pages are right inside the teacher's manual.  This means you either have to share the book with your children, or tear the pages out of a spiral bound book.  Or I suppose you could buy the student pages separately, if you wanted to keep the manual clean and neat.  I think it would make more sense if the student pages were in their own book, completely separate from the teacher's manual and the lesson plans.

Final Thoughts
Some of the concepts are "taught" through discussion.  If your child is highly verbal and auditory, this will work fine for you.  However, a good bit of the assignments rely on the student pages.  Some things (like the owl and mouse puppets) are much more "activity" than "worksheet" but there are still a lot of Activity Pages, as they are called.  They aren't all fill-in-the-blank type worksheets, but they are still paper-to-pencil nonetheless.

We liked the book choices for the most part, but I do caution any parent to read reviews or preview books first.  Children are expected to read the books for themselves, and may come across things beyond their maturity level.  For instance, one of our books had a section on reproduction that included some sperm-meets-egg information and graphic, that may not necessarily be suitable for every child in the 7-9 year old age range.

There are also a lot of activities crammed into each single lesson.  Even for highly motivated students, I think the pace is a bit intense, and I've always believed that for this age there is no reason to be spending an hour or more on one single subject every day.  It is a bit difficult to use the lessons as written, without feeling like half your day is gone.  Personally I stretched the units out much longer than the suggested three weeks.  This allowed us to not get overwhelmed by the number of activities each day, as well as keep this first-trimester pregnant momma going at a more manageable pace.

 Moving Beyond the Page has a very restrictive copyright compared to other curricula.  No copying of the physical unit is allowed, even within the family.  I caution you to at least be aware of its limitations with the copyright and the online expiration if you are considering using with more than one child at any point, so that you can plan accordingly.

Overall, there are a lot of great aspects to this curriculum.  It does attempt to get kids thinking and working outside of the proverbial box.  I love that it is literature based.  We're a bit too relaxed and Charlotte Mason in our approach for the intense nature of these unit studies, but I can certainly see how they would be a huge hit with unit study families. 

The crew members have reviewed a variety of language arts, science and social studies units for all ages, so be sure to check out what they think of the different levels!

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