Piecing Together a First Grade Education (2012 Curriculum Fair)

Written by contributor Hillary Boucher of infinite learners

Ages of my children: 7, 4, & 1
Educational philosophies I pull from: Unschooling, Literature-based, Enki, Montessori

We are a young homeschooling family and have only recently started to explore formal curriculum. In the early years we find that focusing on a healthy and enriching home environment along with the patience to let little ones explore at their own pace is more than optimal.

However, a few things changed this past fall:

  • my son turned seven and was actively seeking out more stimulation,
  • New York State Laws require that we begin turning in our plans and reporting on progress, and
  • I started a new job working from home.

The combination of of these changes led us to seek out curriculum tools to help us cover the basics. We started out simple: math and reading.

Singapore Math

Singapore Math is a core math program. It came highly recommended by families in our local homeschool community and we are currently using the first grade (1a) Primary Math textbook and workbook.

My husband and I like it because it gives us an overview of an age appropriate skill set, but when used traditionally it has not been a good fit for my son. While it is a thorough curriculum, my son becomes frustrated and resistant to learning when we sit with the lessons and workbooks.

We are currently seeking out creative ways to cover the material. He likes math manipulatives and we have had success with both Cuisenaire Rods and Base 10 blocks. After reading Jamie’s curriculum post I’m interested in checking out Life of Fred – this integrated approach may work better for my son.

Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons

About a year ago I started to be intimidated about teaching my son to read. After all – I had never done it before! That’s why I was so thankful when my friend Renee wrote a two part series about teaching your child to read. Not only did she soothe my nerves, but she suggested some great resources.

I decided to try Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons and it’s working well for us. The lessons are short, incremental and achievable. Learning to read phonetically has helped my son to go from guessing words to actually slowing down and reading the words. This has been a big and helpful shift!

We do a lesson three to four evenings a week after dinner and follow-up the lesson with a chapter from whatever novel we’re working through.

Note about reading:
When I was feeling nervous about helping my son learn to read, I received great advice from a fellow homeschooling friend: Relax and focus on feeding his love of reading. Of course! And while we had always read aloud together this was a helpful shift in perspective.

Some of our recent favorites include: the first two Harry Potter books, the How to Train Your Dragon Series and we’re currently enjoying Percy Jackson and Lightening Thief.

Additional Resources

In addition to the above mentioned resources we enjoy collecting various children’s encyclopedias and atlases. These are books we enjoy looking at together, are visually interesting, and open up conversations on various topics including culture, geography, life and plant sciences, etc.

Another highly valued resource is Primitive Pursuits, a local outdoor education program that teaches survival skills, plant identification, animal tracking, fire making and generally speaking – respect and ecological balance.

We have our eye on a few new resources like this local homeschool co-op and this comprehensive curriculum, but  most importantly, as we piece together our family’s early childhood and elementary-aged education, we look forward to trying new things and figuring out what works for us.

How do you handle it if your child does not like a curriculum you’ve introduced? Do you stick it out or change gears?

About Hillary

Hillary feels lucky to be able to work full-time from home and shares the homeschooling responsibilities with her partner. Together, with a little creativity, a full schedule and a lot of love, they facilitate the education of their three adorable, and sometimes very loud, children.


  1. I’ve had a few curriculum flops. I usually try to stick with it and see if it can be changed up at all, but usually it ends with doing something different.

    My daughter will be in 3rd grade next year and we’ve had trouble finding a math curriculum since day 1. I am going to try Life Of Fred with her next year.
    Jenny’s latest post: Wordless Wednesday: Cousins

  2. Michelle says:

    Have you checked out RightStart Math? It teaches math in such a completely different way than we learned in public school growing up. But, it makes so much more sense. I truly feel like my kids are really understanding concepts, and not just learning by rote memory. Best of all, it’s super fun, with many manipulatives. There aren’t a lot of worksheets. Repetition is done through playing games. I just thought I’d throw out this suggestion if you haven’t looked at this curriculum yet. Maybe it would work better for you than Singapore. I think you could probably easily work in something like Life Of Fred, too. Good luck!

    • I have not — thanks so much Michelle. Definitely going to check it out.
      Hillary’s latest post: Guest Appearence: Behind the Blog with Erin Goodman

      • Brenda says:

        My background is as a secondary math teacher for 9 years before homeschooling my own kids. I’ve used RightStart from the beginning with both my girls and I cannot recommend it highly enough. I’m seeing my kids develop the kind of math understanding that many of my high school student had lacked. The previous commenter described it really well. It might be just what you’re looking for. I’m thinking of adding in Life of Fred as a supplement next year just for extra fun. I think they would work well together.

  3. We’ve had several major flops here….two phonics programs (tanglewood online and 100 Easy Lessons) a science (CLP The World God Made), and a math (Singapore Earlybird). For now I do Queen’s Language Lessons For Little Ones and Readingeggs.com….those seem to work…next year we will start LLATL Blue. My son retained little from Singapore so I started at the basics with Queen’s Math Lessons For a Living Education Vol 1 and it’s fantastic….we’ll start RS Level A next year. Science is just a bunch of living books now. For kindergarten, he is finally in a good place.

  4. My youngest (of four) is in first grade, and I still debate curriculum every year. Although I have some favorites, some of my favorites don’t seem to work for every kid. We have used Saxon Math since the beginning, and with some tweaking to condense and avoid repetition, it has worked well for us. I especially like the order in which they teach the basics. They almost always start with a money concept first, and then apply it to other numbers. This makes it easier for kids to understand (changing a $10 bill into 10 $1 bills to show borrowing, for example.)
    I think that reviewing curriculum is one of the most exciting parts of homeschool — sometimes I wish I had more kids, just so I would get to try more books!
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  5. We definitely change gears. You know that saying, “If mom isn’t happy, then nobody’s happy”? That applies WAY more to a kid who doesn’t like his curriculum! And one of the biggest upsides to homeschooling is that we can switch things around when something isn’t working for us.

    I don’t know where your son is as far as his math skills go, but you might want to check out Teaching Textbooks. We looked at Life of Fred, but it’s so fragmented, I honestly don’t see how it’s going to do much more than entertain. Teaching Textbooks has some gaps, but we just work through them on our own, and so far, so good.
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  6. I second Right Start Math!

  7. I love the way my daughter is learning math in the Waldorf school…it’s so holistic, hands-on and applicable to daily life. We are switching to homeschooling next year and are considering Oak Meadow, which is Waldorf-inspired. However, I have seen this waldorf math curriculum and it looked very appealing, similar to how my daughter is learning math currently: http://waldorfjourney.typepad.com/a_little_garden_flower/math/

  8. I highly recommend Math U See, which totally incorporates manipulatives. My 1st grader loved it this year and we’re excited about moving on to Beta next year.
    Rachel at Stitched in Color’s latest post: Happy Drawing

  9. Part of the reason for your partial frustration with Singapore might be that the program is geared differently than what is typical in the U.S. That is, Singapore 1A and 1B is not used until 2nd grade in Singapore. Thus, if you use it in 1st, it might not be age-appropriate.
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  10. Ilene Rivers says:

    I know that we had to adjust our curriculum half way through grade one for our son because what we had picked out was too easy. Thankfully that was possible in our school district, and though he hates to admit it, our son actually liked the harder work we assigned him better than coasting through his lessons.
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  11. We have had great success with Math-U-See, and I used 100 Easy Lessons with both of my kids – but we’ve definitely had some curriculum flops in Language Arts after that. Still looking, but I’m planning to try out First Language Lessons, Writing With Ease, and All About Spelling for first grade in the fall.
    CC Jen’s latest post: Wordless Wednesday: My Little Avatar

  12. Hope it’s ok… I linked to this post. Loved your thoughts… thank you!
    tacy’s latest post: Teaching Molly to Read

  13. Another vote for RightStart math! We’re using it for the third year here, and it continues to impress me. 🙂
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  14. I taught all 4 of my kids to read with Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. This seems to be the only resource I used for all 4 children. Otherwise we used a more individualized education plan. We did like Math U See too.
    Heidi’s latest post: Homeschool Unit Study Curriculum

  15. We’ve been using Singapore Math. My oldest really struggled toward the end of 1B. I did some research and was able to find a good review on Singapore and another review on Saxon math and what the teaching differences are. This helped my immensely how I was teaching and we decided to stick with it for another year and then if it wasn’t working I would look for another program. I am pleased to say that this year in 2A and 2B he did great. So we will continue with it for now. My 2nd child has had different struggles with math this year in 1A and 1B, but she has done pretty well and enjoys it. It just takes her a little more hands on to get the ideas presented.

    I hope this helps. I wish I could remember the review I read, but I don’t. I do know that it was written by a dad.
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  16. I would love to hear more about your inputs guys
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  17. Thanks for all the support and the suggestions. *scribbling notes* You all are the best!
    Hillary’s latest post: Guest Appearence: Behind the Blog with Erin Goodman

  18. Oh wow— With an almost 6 and 3 year old, this post feels like it was written for me! We will be “legal” homeschoolers in Georgia in the fall because my son turns 6 at the end of August and that’s when we have to submit paperwork. Although we don’t have to turn in any reports, I want to follow what the law tells me I’m supposed to do. I’m piecing things together too because I don’t think any one thing is going to fit my son. We did the first book of Life of Fred already – highly recommend it! It’s in story form, and my son loves stories. But the second book proved a little above his level, so I’m going to hold off on it until the Fall. (I’ll have to check out RightSmart Math as I see it’s highly recommended too.) I did 100 Easy Lessons with him, and it worked very well until about mid-way, and then we stopped at Lesson 70. If you want to see how it worked for my son, I wrote about that here: http://mamaofletters.com/2011/10/23/review-teach-your-child-to-read-in-100-easy-lessons/ Ever since then, I’ve been trying different things with him. Like your son, my son is very resistant to learning with worksheets and any “sit-down and study” stuff. So I’ve been focusing more on storytelling, reading books from the library, and making up our own puppet shows (which I want to write about too.) I just feel that keeping him interested in stories and fostering his imagination is more important at this time. But it’s also hard to know where that balance is between making him try something new and letting him do what is fun and easy for him. Thanks so much for those book recommendations – I may look into them for him in the next year or so! I’ve been wanting to read something longer with him like Harry Potter, but I’m not sure he’s ready yet.
    shelli : mamaofletters’s latest post: Will T.V. Hurt My Kids? Part 2 of 3

    • Shelli, thanks so much for sharing. I have to laugh because I just recently found your blog and *loved* the TV series you just featured.

      We read the first Harry Potter at age 6. His birthday is in the fall so it was perfect. I figured we could do one every year at his birthday and that would give him to time to mature for some of the scarier ones. We did the second one last fall and it got a little bit scary for him here and there. It was right on the cusp, but he did ok. I guess ideally we could have started with the first one at 7.
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  19. Sandra92 says:

    This is truly great, thanks for sharing this with us…
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  20. We used Miquon Math in the early years and love it! Uses cuisinaire rods and the kids enjoy it. Switch to Singapore in fourth.

  21. Karen B says:

    Our children are 6, 4, 2, & 2mo. We also enjoy Life of Fred (just started Dogs) with my oldest. He enjoys it but needs more. With phonics, I start them out younger learning the letters and sounds with Letter of the Week. The phonics we use now is Go Phonics where level 2 starts with reading and spelling. There are few worksheets and games to play. The two oldest play the games together for level 1. You didn’t mention science but I’m excited to try Apologia this year. It doesn’t go by grade but subject with a notebook journal for fun.

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