If you started school in August like us, this is usually the time of year when you start to question certain curriculum or make changes because it doesn’t turn out to be a good fit.
We are coming into our first break of the school year (have completed 7 weeks so far) and I have had my fair share of curriculum switching this year. Sometimes you know right away if something won’t work out or sometimes you need to stick it out for a little while to see if it is the right fit. This year my biggest dilemma has been Language Arts for my 4th grade daughter; mostly writing and spelling, and I figured out quickly what wasn’t working. My biggest take away- you don’t need a curriculum for everything.
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What we started the year with:
Brave Writer Darts, Fix It Grammar, A Reason for Spelling & Handwriting, IEW Theme Based Writing.
Last year I switched my daughter’s LA curriculum from The Good and the Beautiful to Brave Writer Darts. This was the best decision I ever made for her, and we are continuing Darts this year. You can read all about our switch and what Brave Writer Darts are HERE. Dart is mostly a Language Arts program where they cover grammar, mechanics of writing, and literature. We use Fix It Grammar alongside it for extra daily grammar practice and have been loving that! While Dart teaches and explains the mechanics of writing, it is not a writing curriculum. They have additional writing curriculums that you can add to it, such as Partnership Writing (for ages 8-10) or Jot It Down (for ages 5-7).
We are using Jot It Down together with my 2nd grader this year. This is for creative writing and has one project each month. We are getting ready to start our first project about fairytales. We are going to read different versions of Cinderella (we got 22 different ones from the library!) and then they will write their own version. Next month, we will visit an art museum where my kids will take pictures of their favorite art pieces and write a story about them when we get home. These are some examples of the fun projects in Jot It Down. If we enjoy these this year, we will continue together with Partnership Writing next year.
Although that covers us for (creative) writing, I still wanted my daughter to start learning a little more about the structure of writing. So, we tried IEW Theme Based Writing: Fables, Myths, and Fairytales. We did not like it at all! I still think it is an amazing program and I love the way it is structured; it just isn’t for her. I think the main problem is the themed book I purchased too. Fables and myths are tricky to figure out and understand on their own, so trying to re-write them was a challenge. I also feel like it is SO much work to write a paper every single week. I know for my daughter, that would take all the joy out of writing, so after a few weeks, we dropped IEW.
For spelling, we have always done our own thing without a curriculum and my daughter has done great. My son, in 2nd grade, needed more help with spelling this year, so for some reason I got a spelling curriculum for everyone. We tried A Reason For Spelling for both my 4th and 2nd grader and quickly didn’t like it. Again, another great curriculum, but too much for us. For me, spelling is something that is added in and needs to be quick in our day. These lessons were a lot more book work, sometimes teacher intensive, and the kids were pushing back a lot. So, I looked around for something new and we stopped using A Reason For Spelling. We still use A Reason For Handwriting and really enjoy that.
What we tried next:
After getting rid of our writing and spelling curriculum, I went back to The Good and the Beautiful and printed the free download of the LA Level 4 Writing and Spelling Workshop book. I thought this was going to be great! We could use the spelling and writing book, but not the whole LA curriculum. I’m thankful I only printed the first 20 lessons to try it out and was quickly reminded why we left TGTB for my daughter in the first place. She used it for about 2 weeks and it was way too slow, redundant, and a lot of extra work for her.
For spelling, I got an Evan Moor Building Spelling Skills workbook for my 2nd grader to try (and check out if my 4th grader would like that too.) This was a perfect fit for him! Simple pre-test at the beginning of the week and some quick daily practice throughout the week. This would have worked for my daughter as well but was more bookwork she didn’t need.
What we are using now:
After trying all these different things for spelling, I finally realized that we need to just do what we have always done for her. She works best with a spelling test at the beginning of the week, practice writing any words she got wrong throughout the week, and re-take the test at the end of the week. Sometimes we use some of THESE fun ideas to switch things up and practice the words. If she still misses any at the end of the week, they just get pushed to the following week to work on more. She is pretty good with spelling already, so just doesn’t need a full curriculum. You can find many different free spelling lists online for each grade; we are going to use the spelling words from TGTB 4th grade.
For writing I had another AH-HA moment. At the end of our history unit studies (one a month) we have been writing in an “Explorer Journal,” where they write a diary entry as if they are one of the explorers we learned about. (We are using Adventures to the New World American History.) I told her the assignment at the end of our Viking unit, gave her a few prompts, and let her write on her own. Later when she showed it to me, I was blown away. I was surprised how much she wrote, how descriptive, and how informative her diary entry was. I thought, if this is what she is capable of now, she doesn’t need a full writing curriculum. She does better when we just add in writing projects to our current studies. She is an avid reader and her Dart curriculum has really helped her see how writing is used in the books she reads.
I immediately went to my favorite book, Home Learning Year by Year by Rebecca Rupp, and looked up what she needed to cover for writing in 4th grade. (This is a GREAT book that shares everything your child should cover in each subject for every grade level. It always helps me narrow down what science or history we want to cover each year.) In this book for 4th grade writing, it shares they should work on poetry, writing a paragraph, prefixes & suffixes, outlining ideas, and library skills. Doesn’t seem too much! These are all great things we are going to work on throughout the year (some already in her LA curriculum,) but we will mostly focus on just learning to write a solid paragraph.
To help me teach the structure of writing a paragraph in a fun way, I purchased some helpful printables and guides from Rockin’ Resources on Teachers Pay Teachers. These include interactive notebook pages, worksheets for more practice, writing prompts, and more. I purchased the BUNDLE that includes sections on brainstorming, sentence structure, writing a paragraph, narrative writing, opinion writing, and informative writing. We started by learning about sentence structure and my daughter really enjoyed it. I think it is a great mix of hands-on, practice, and application. It does come with lesson plans and how to space it out throughout your year, but it is written for a classroom setting, so I am not following most of that.
We spent one week on sentence structure and will spend the next month or two on writing a paragraph. We will learn about the hamburger organizer, topic sentences, relevant details, transitional words, and closing sentences. After we cover those, she will practice writing simple paragraphs on topics of her choice. In the spring, we will start to learn about narrative, opinion, and informative writing while using the structure of a paragraph. Whatever we don’t finish we will carry on into 5th grade. These will all segway great into writing multiple paragraph papers.
If you are only interested in using one section of the bundle, or one at a time to see if it is a good fit for you, scroll down below the bundle link and you can find each product sold separately.
I also wanted to share these fun books a friend shared with me. These are great for creative writing! Usborne Write and Draw Your Own Comics, Write Your Own Adventure Stories, Write Your Own Scripts. I bought these and think I’m going to gift them to my kids for Christmas. My son has been asking to write his own comic book a lot recently, so I know he will be so excited to have this Write and Draw Your Own Comic book. My daughter is always creating her own stories, so I think she would love to write her own scripts.
Wrap up of what my 4th grader is using now:
Daily Grammar Practice- Fix It Grammar
Spelling- on our own with words from TGATB
Structured Writing- Learning to write a paragraph
Creative Writing- Jot It Down, Dart Book Reports
Handwriting- A Reason For Level C (Cursive)
*Usborne books just for fun 😊
While it seems like a lot for writing, we only complete Jot It Down once a month, and a Dart Book Report once a month. Learning to write a paragraph is spaced throughout the week alongside LA.
Last year after each Dart book we learned about the story elements and did a fun book report. You can see all our books and reports we completed HERE. You can also grad a FREE story elements page HERE. This year for our book reports we are trying something new I’ll be sharing soon!
This is our new plan for the school year, tailored to each of my kids, and I’m really excited about it! I’ve had many of you reach out about how to make writing fun for your kids. For most kids, writing is daunting and frustrating, mostly because they think faster than they can write or don’t know what to write about. Start simple with fun daily writing prompts (FREE journal prompt list HERE,) and free writing on their favorite topics. Let them use your computer or write for them! They can narrate while you write for them to get them started. Have them write stories or comic strips. You don’t have to use a curriculum, or anything structured until they are older. I think creative writing is most important when they are younger and if you need a guide, try one of the Usborne books or Brave Writer writing programs above. Writing has always been the subject that my kids push back on the most. Tell them it is something they have to do to grow in their learning but ask them what they want to write about and let them go for it!
I hope this blogpost is helpful to you in any way, to see a little bit of our journey trying things out and being able to adapt to your specific children. There is no perfect curriculum for everyone and it’s ok to put something aside that isn’t working.
I’m so thankful we have the freedom and ability to individualize learning for each of our children; to piece together what works best for them. 🙌🏼
Wishing you the best!