As a reviewer for the TOS Crew, I get access to all kinds of wonderful homeschool products that I may not have used otherwise. One of our favorites from last year, Moving Beyond the Page, gave us the opportunity to use and review their literature-based curriculum packages again this year, and I was thrilled!
Since I had used Moving Beyond the Page with my middle child last time, I chose to pick out units to try with my Bug this time. He is seven, and just finished first grade. We chose:
Moving Beyond the Page is a unit study-based curriculum that incorporates literature, hands-on activities, critical thinking skills, and integrated learning into the studies. They offer full curricula in language arts, science, and social studies for ages 4-14, and many of their packages are available in online or hard copies. You can purchase the entire curriculum package for an age level, or purchase individual units. We received two individual units.
What Did We Receive?
We received an online package for Tornado ($20.91). This included the curriculum guide that was completely online and printable student pages ($12.93), How the Turtle Got Its Shell, a Little Golden Book ($2.99), and Tornado, a softcover seven-chapter book that is the main focus of the unit ($4.99).
We received the hard copy package for Amazing Weather ($36.97). This included a hard copy of the curriculum guide ($16.99), On The Same Day in March, a softcover book ($6.99), Weather, a DK Eye Wonder book ($10.99), and an individual thermometer ($2.00).
*Side note: although our thermometer was safely wrapped, it was broken when we unwrapped it. A quick call to customer service resulted in a brand new thermometer sent out that day, received within the next two.*
Both of these units were labeled for ages 7-9, and I used the list of prerequisites found on the website to find out which level to pick. The age 7-9 prerequisites were:
--Able to read and comprehend chapter books on a third or early fourth grade reading level
--Can answer comprehension questions about a chapter in a journal
--Able to write three or four sentences on a topic
--Usually used by children in second or third grade
Bug met these criteria, with the exception of the writing sentences. I reasoned that his strong reading skills would make it difficult to place him in a lower level, and that we could adapt the curriculum to make up for his writing weakness.
How Did We Use Moving Beyond the Page?
Each unit that we received is designed to be completed over a three-week period, and many of the units included in the program can be used together, as they complement each other very well. In our case, the language arts unit Tornado, fell right in with the science unit on Amazing Weather. As a matter of fact, you can find a list of all of the skills that are addressed within these two units.
Moving Beyond the Page recommends the following schedule for ages 7-9:
30 minutes on assigned reading / questions
60 minutes on the Language Arts lesson
60 minutes on the Science or Social Studies lesson
45 minutes on math instruction (not included)
30 minutes on optional extension projects
30 minutes on optional review
We are currently on a more relaxed summer schedule, so we didn't follow those plans exactly. We did one lesson / day, with Language Arts one day and Science the next. Typically, we spent between 45 and 60 minutes on each lesson, with reading, questions, writing, or projects.
Let me tell you a little bit about what each of these units looked like with everyday use:
Tornado includes nine lessons and a final project. Four of the lessons are set up to be 2-day lessons, while the others are less time-consuming. However, we often used more than one day for the one day lessons, taking our time with the activities. Each lesson begins with Questions to Explore, Facts and Definitions, Skills, Materials Needed, and an Introduction.
Next, there are several activities that will tie into the main topic. For example, the first lesson covers Weather on a Farm, and some of the activities discuss setting (the farm) and have the child either draw a picture and write a short paragraph about what he would enjoy about working on a farm, or complete a Venn Diagram about his life now and what farm life is like. Another activity in that lesson teaches about Tornado Alley, with a hyperlink to information about it, and asks the child to color in and label the map of the part of the country labeled Tornado Alley.
There are concluding thoughts and even sometimes "life applications" at the end of the lessons, such as taking the child to visit a real farm. Many other lessons also include reading parts of the story, answering discussion questions--not just recall of the story, but "why do you think" types of questions as well. Other activities include things like vocabulary word matching, main ideas, predictions, practicing punctuation, and keeping a journal as your child goes through the story.
There is a final project at the end of the unit, or in this case, three "mini projects" that the child can choose to do. These are chosen from nine offered activities, and cover many different styles of learning and evaluation: writing, drawing, dramatizing, singing, etc. My Bug's picks were all non-writing activities--hence the lack of pictures. We were too busy watching him perform!
studying the effects of wind (homemade wind, lol!)
This unit contained eight lessons, four of which were labeled two day lessons, and a final project. These lessons covered topics such as: heat and temperature, wind, precipitation, and geography and weather. This unit was set up much the same as the Tornado unit, in that each lesson has Big Ideas (main concepts taught in the lesson), Facts and Definitions, Skills, Materials Needed, and an Introduction, followed by several activities and / or reading. Some of the activities in the lessons include things like matching words to their definitions, cutting an apple in half to demonstrate the layers of the atmosphere, keeping a weather log, making a weather vane and a barometer, and graphing rainfall. The final project is a three-day full weather report, using the weather tools the child creates throughout the unit, and there is a rubric included for grading.
Each day we began our study by looking over the lesson plan for the day. Usually we would then begin with some reading, and then discussing the questions included in the guide. After that, we would start the activities. Each day included at least two activities, and some activities were "leveled" with two different options. There is also a "Wrapping Up" section after the activities that helped us make sure we grasped the main point of the lesson. If there was a "Life Application", I would try to see if it was something we could plan to do. Flying a kite at the park, yes. Visiting a working farm, not quite so easy.
What Did I Think?
Last year, I was thrilled with the Moving Beyond the Page units that we received and completed.
This year, I am just as thrilled!
First of all, I am a big fan of unit studies, and also a big fan of literature-based learning. My kiddos are big fans of learning that doesn't look like traditional learning, so I think our family is a great fit for this curriculum in general. Using the story Tornado as a stepping-off point for learning about farms, tornadoes, and even turtles, seemed to make the information real, and worth remembering for my Bug. And pairing it up with a study on weather really tied everything together.
We did cheat a bit and read Tornado more quickly than we were instructed to, however, because my son just couldn't wait to finish the story! After we did that, though, we were able to go back through slowly and do a chapter at a time, using the chapters and the lesson guide to move through the story again, immersing ourselves in the book and the learning. I did feel like there was quite a bit of writing expected from my son (as the prerequisites suggested), but we were able to modify the lessons for him. Sometimes I would write what he narrated. Other times I would force the writing issue on him. Still other times I would have him draw something instead of writing about it. I never felt that it took away from Bug's learning experience, and of course, he loved the hands-on pieces of the curriculum!
I do think that, while we both enjoyed the story of Tornado very much, we both enjoyed working in the Science unit more than the Language Arts unit. Amazing Weather was a blast, and we BOTH learned much more than I would have expected. It was a full-scale lesson on many weather conditions, why those conditions happen, and how to measure the weather. This unit did not involve quite as much writing, and seemed to have more hands-on activities that my son could complete and enjoy. The books that were included with the unit were well-written and a perfect complement to the lessons, and the activities were relevant to what we were learning.
I was impressed with these units, and this curriculum overall. I like that it used many different styles of teaching, and taught concepts that I wouldn't have thought to teach Bug at this time--but he learned them! We were always both eager to dive into the lessons, and, for the most part, the activities were easy to complete with items that we had on hand in our home, like tennis balls, small sticks, or glitter.
There were just a few things that seemed a bit redundant--we were keeping a weather log over a ten day period, but during the same period of time, we ended up doing an experiment that had us tracking temperature four times / day for five days, so we got a lot of practice with the thermometer, but it all was fine and something that Bug enjoyed.
I am a hard copy kind of girl, so it is no surprise that the hard copy was more user-friendly for me. However, there are benefits to the online copy: it gives more direct access to online resources (more available in guides for the older ages), and offers IdeaShare, which is an online tool where parents can share ideas and resources related to the lesson. Also, although you have access for 3 months to the online lessons, you will be able to re-purchase those units for half-price for younger siblings when they are ready.
My one complaint with this curriculum is that it is a bit pricey, especially to use for the entire year. However, we will continue to supplement with the individual units, because I just enjoy them so much! If money wasn't an issue, we would use them all the way through!
What Did Bug Think?
"I really liked the Tornado story. It was exciting and I really liked how the tornado was like the one in Pete's story. The weather book I learned lots of things that I didn't know. And I learned how trees, when they lose their bark, they lean one way, and the other side tries to get up, while the one side tries to crouch down, like arrows are coming. And the other side is like jumping up, like an alligator is snapping at its feet. I didn't really like the thermometer projects, because it took a while to do all the stuff." (Bug, age 7)