Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Let's go Geography (Homeschool Review Crew)

Damien is at an awkward stage.  He's only seven, but he has taken to learning like a navigator to the sea.  He's very proud of the fact that he's ready for "not-little-kid" work already (he's working on a 3rd to 4th-grade level) and has decided that since Jude has a geography program, he needs one too. However, he's still only seven, so he has the skills but not necessarily the maturity for programs aimed for older students.  Let's Go Geography is filling that "want" for us.  Because it is aimed at students in Kindergarten through Fourth Grade, it is a nice balance of big kid work without overwhelming a still-little kid.

Because this homeschool geography curriculum is intended for a broad range of abilities, it adapts to how much time your child is willing to invest. We received Year One of a three-year program to review.  The program's plan is to visit one country a week, focusing on a few weeks in each region, and then moving on to another section.  By the end of Year One, you'll have been around the world; if you continue through with the entire three years, you'll have visited nearly all of the countries of the world.

Each lesson in the 36-week, "One Year" program took us under an hour to complete in one sitting. It could easily be broken down into five or ten-minute lessons across the span of a week.  We found that breaking it up too much was actually harder because Damien never found a good rhythm; he'd get everything out, do one activity for five minutes, and have to pack it up.  We decided that it was easier for us to spend an hour (sometimes taking a five-minute break in the middle), and just finish the lesson in one go.

Despite the original plan of "one a week," that wasn't cutting it for Damien. He wanted to do one a day. I can't complain about him wanting to learn -- I'm just hoping that the next year's plans are available by about Christmas! I finally cut him back to a lesson every two or three days by pushing off the day's craft activity, and adding more resources when we were in an area.

We also quickly found ways to add on more opportunities to learn.  For example, Damien is named for St. Damien of Molokai, so our study of Hawaii included a detour to Kamalo' to learn about his namesake's mission.  We also included side trips to virtual tours of Hawaii's National Parks and a quick lesson on Pearl Harbor.

On the maps, we also added in locations of places where our friends live or where we had visited.  When we studied Canada, we looked up where our friends lived outside of Regina, Saskatchewan.  We met up with them on our big 2016 summer trip and visited several National Parks with them.  (This photo is Damien and Miss E. at Theodore Roosevelt National Park.)

A study of the geography of the Caribbean, combined with a map of Irma, helped Damien locate the "big hurricane" that we had recently been talking about.  We added in where our family lives and where Disney World is located to show both "they both are in Florida, and not really close to each other, but you can see the path and how both were in it because the storm was so big."  We also added in the National Parks we visited, to give him an idea of where they were located.  When we visited Dry Tortugas NP a few years ago,  it was a nearly three-hour ferry ride from Key West.  Seeing it on the map made him realize just how far off the mainland and keys we were.

I think this program has helped Damien to learn about where things are "relative" to others.  I even learned something new: the "Greater Antilles" is less a location than the grouping of the larger Caribbean islands, including Hispaniola, while the "Lesser Antilles" are the smaller ones.  I've heard these islands mentioned in the news -- usually when a hurricane is approaching -- but had a rather nebulous idea of them and their locations.

However, as much as Damien loved the lessons, in the end, I wasn't quite as impressed. I think he liked how they followed the same pattern each week.  He knew what was coming next, from the beginning map to the craft at the end of the day.  I liked the routine as well (it sure saved me having to say "We need to find..." because he was ready to go), but I found the execution of the program uneven.

First, while the student can make a travel journal, it's a lot of either single page printing, or printing a lot of excess paper.  I can appreciate the cover pages, copyright pages, etc. being part of each lesson because they are available a la carte instead of as a year-long package, but printing the whole lesson left us with a lot of scrap paper.  However, you can't just download the PDF file and call it good -- much of the information/presentation is hyperlinked in the document.  You need to have access to the original and the internet to actually complete the activities.

The first week, the New England region, I was blown away by the variety of resources included in the lessons.  While the YouTube videos linked were obviously older (judging by the peoples' clothing and skylines, I'm estimating around the early 1990s),  much of it was still pertinent information -- whether it's 2017 or 1990, the Pilgrims still landed at Provincetown in 1620.  I was looking forward to the next lesson, Hawaii.

I was a little disappointed when we got to it.  As we worked through later countries, we've learned that the "music" of the country is its national anthem.  I can appreciate that we had already seen a video of the United States National Anthem.  (For the record, it was an excellent rendition from Super Bowl XXXIX.  You can't get more American and Patriotic than choirs from four United States military academies, two presidents (Presidents Bush (41) and Clinton), the USA Herald Trumpets, an excellent sign language interpreter, and a "missing man" flyover. (I'll even forgive that this is from the year where my home team, the Philadelphia Eagles, fell heartbreakingly short of the trophy.)

However, while I appreciate God Bless America is an American patriotic song,  and Hawaii is part of the United States, I would have liked to learn about the music of Hawaii. Truthfully, when I saw "Enjoy the Music" as an activity, I was expecting it to be more "music of that place's culture." Hawaii does have an official state song, Hawai'i Pono'i .  As both the state song and the former anthem of the Kingdom of Hawaii, I think that would have been a better choice.  I also feel some of the linked samples for other countries were poor examples; while it was cute to see young students singing their national anthem in Haiti, the audio quality made tough to understand them.  Adding the music from countries was easy, and did help me bulk it up to accommodate Damien's voraciousness, but it just made me a little disappointed in the core program because I was expecting it as the music link.

We also struggled with opening links.  I was trying to work with the programs online, rather than downloading them to my laptop.  (I am in the process of moving photos around, and my disk space is extremely limited at the moment.)  You have to be really careful to open the links in a new tab/window; if you mis-clicked and then hit the back button in your browser, you got an error page.

 Often it meant logging out and then back into the program, then re-starting the page.  With at least six to eight links per lesson, it quickly became frustrating.

I would also have loved a "You'll need this for the craft activities," cover sheet for the entire program.  The New England craft was a signature of the coast: the lighthouse.  While we had large plastic cups in the garage, we didn't have any smaller ones.  Luke ran to the dollar store and picked up a package (I think it was easier to just go than listen to Damien bug!), but I wouldn't have even presented Damien - my "never met a craft he didn't like and insisted MOM subscribe to Crafty Carol's YouTube channel in case he ever gets accidentally unsubscribed" child - with a potential craft option unless I had every item ready and waiting.  Since I don't know what's coming ahead without opening every single activity, I'm now hoarding plastic cups and paper lunch bags.  (They take up space, but it's cheaper to hold on to them than buying more Oreos to bribe the big brother with the drivers' license.)

He had to wait an extra day to make his Hawaiian lei -- Luke was at school for a meeting, and by the time he got home with the bead kit, it was too late to start that day. This actually worked out well for timing - as I said, doing the craft the "next day" extends the life of the lesson for us - but it didn't make for a happy Damien.

Back on the plus side of the balance sheet, I feel that while geography is the basis for the program, there is enough of an overview of each location's history and culture to count as a minimalist social studies instruction.  There is also a notebooking page provided, for the student to write a bit about what he learned.

While I think, generally speaking, this would be a good supplement to a stronger social studies/history program for a third or fourth grader, I believe that it has sufficient information and activity to be a complete program for the K-2 set.  There is also a review/tie-together every twelfth week, to finish one section of the world, introduce some general concepts, and then move on to another area of the world.  Instead of being just an overview of a lot of places, it reinforces what was learned.

Overall,  I like this program. I can't say I love it, because there are a number of things that kept it from going smoothly for us, and that I would have liked to be different.  However, I like it enough that we will likely at least finish this year, and possibly continue with the Year Two and Year Three curriculums, at an accelerated pace.  It's a cute program, and it suits Damien's current needs, so that cancels out a bit of the drawbacks for me.  I think it would be a good choice for a family with multiple age students, who wanted a more formal program for older elementary children but also had younger folks who wanted to be "just like the big kids."

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Let’s Go Geography {Reviews}

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