If you've read any of my past reviews, you will know that Apologia Educational Ministries, Inc. ranks as one of my favorite curriculum companies. (See my post on Tuesday---you can see that every Apologia product I have reviewed is one that has made it on my top ten list). I appreciate their solid biblical foundation and the desire to equip our children to defend their faith with accurate information. As a science major, I have enjoyed learning alongside with my children the things that I have studied myself in a secular university, but from a Christian worldview.
Company Information: If you're a parent who desires to provide strong academic preparation that will deepen their faith, Apologia is a great place to start. I have written other posts that share a little more about Apologia as a company if you want to learn more (Worldview series, I Don't Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist, Journeys of Faithfulness).
Price: $39.00 hardcover full color textbook, $24 spiral bound notebooking journal (geared for students who are comfortable writing). A junior version of the notebooking journal is available for your younger students (though I did not review this item).
Age Range: K-6th grade. Preschoolers may end up learning a lot simply by listening while reading aloud to the older kids!
Parental Preparation: In preparation for using this curriculum, I spent a few minutes reading the Introduction to the text (I'm one of those moms who actually does this). If you haven't used this curriculum before, you may find it helpful as it explains what role narrations, note booking, and experiments play in the overall program.
One thing I found extremely helpful was the list of supplies needed for each lesson. Generally, what is needed is not hard to find. This list will help you to start pulling needed supplies together or remind you to start looking for them. (It helps to know if we need chicken bones or a t-bone steak bone before the week we need it!) However, I would also suggest looking at the actual lesson first to see where they are being used so you can determine if you will actually be doing that particular project. There were some projects that were not suitable for us so we skipped them.
Lastly, I took some time to log in to the course website to get a survey of what is available there. There is a password for the book in the introduction, which is another good reason to read it! If you are uncertain as to whether or not you want/need the notebooking journal, the special course page has a pdf with notebooking pages in it.
When it came to week-to-week planning, I used the notebooking journal's suggested schedule. Our goal was to spend two weeks per lesson, so I divided up the reading material into eight daily assignments. The chapters lend themselves to this very easily. I also assigned the notebook pages to Matthew as well into our daily assignments for independent work.
How We Used It: Although Matthew is able to read on his own, we are still working on transitioning him to independent work. Besides, we just like learning together. To do this, we would read the day's assignment together, alternating. Although the book has stopping points for the kids to summarize and narrate the main points, I would have Matthew share with me an interesting fact that he learned at the end of each section. We also found the "What Do You Remember?" questions helpful to pull the chapter together.
While we worked to try to do the assignments, experiments and project in the order given in the book, there were some days when we could not do things as outlined. There was no problem in shifting those special projects to another day.
As Matthew is older, I had him do the notebooking pages on his own during his independent study time, once I knew that he grasped the concepts presented in the reading well.
What We Liked:
- The highly readable and conversational tone. It was not too simplistic for a sixth grader, yet was not difficult to understand.
- We liked the very specific details. For example, we didn't know that there was a difference between bird songs and bird calls.
- I liked the explanation of the scientific process that was introduced in chapter one. It helped me to guide Matthew in writing out his report.
- The supplementary links in the course website are excellent and provide great sites to extend your study.
- The project ideas included in the notebooking journal gave us something fun to do too. We chose one project for each lesson, though you can do as many as you'd like. The boys really got into the classification project in chapter one. For the project in lesson 2, I used the suggested list to purchase some extra drawing and activity books, which I think will also help Matthew in illustrating his notebook.
- The crossword puzzle in the notebooking journal was a great way to cap off the lesson and review.
What We Didn't Like:
- We didn't do everything in the notebooking journal. Matthew isn't keen on the lapbooking booklets, and we skipped the copywork pages. If you're the type who doesn't like to have empty pages in your notebook, you may prefer to save the $24 and simply print out the pages from the course website instead to design your own notebook.
- I wished the crossword puzzle didn't have the words on the bottom of the puzzle. They may help the younger student, but I challenged Matthew to do the crossword puzzle while he covered up the words. For me, this made the crossword puzzle more of a challenge and a test of his retention.
- This particular volume is probably best started in the fall. We went out to do the scavenger hunt, but in January, there wasn't very much to see. We'll need to try again when the weather warms up and there is more activity!
Overall Summary: All in all, I found the textbook itself to be completely worth it. The full-color photos, the well-paced information, with planned points to discuss, summarize, the combination of activity with information, etc. was very well done. While the notebooking journal is well done, I don't know if I would count it a necessity for our study. We did enjoy the scheduling suggestions, crossword puzzles, and the extra project ideas, but this would probably qualify as a luxury item for our homeschool. If your child enjoys lapbooking and you do not want to spend the time printing out notebook pages, then the journal will be a useful addition to your study.