Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Home School Navigator (Homeschool Review Crew)

Home School Navigator Reading and Language Arts Curriculum is an elementary-level program with a unique approach to teaching literature and other language topics. Six color-coded levels help elementary students develop literature, grammar, spelling, and writing skills. Jude and Damien have been working on the blue and green levels, respectively, for this review.

The color-coded leveling is a unique identification approach. Most programs delineate levels by grade or by age, which can be a bit of an issue if you have a child who is not on par with his grade or age. Most of Jude's language arts skills have finally caught up to his age; some have even surpassed what is expected of a child finishing fifth grade. However, because he was a later reader and closed the gap quickly, he went from easy-readers to novel series in about 18 months. This means in trying to keep up with what was reading-level appropriate for literature, he missed some of the more basic skills usually learned in the early primary years. Home School Navigator colors begin with red and follow the rainbow to indigo. Conveniently for Jude, the approximately 4th-grade level blue doesn't say it's for kids "younger" than his almost-6th-grade self. Conversely, 2nd grader Damien doesn't get a swelled ego being put "up" into 3rd-grade equivalent green.  I like this system for keeping egos boosted or in check.  When you begin, you have access to all levels so you can place your child where you think he should be, and then work up or down a level if it doesn't seem a good fit. About a month in, you will make a final decision and lock in your choice.

THEY USE PICTURE BOOKS!! I THINK THIS IS BRILLIANT. It's like using Unit Readers, with shorter stories that cluster in a topic but using a stack of "real" books, not a textbook. This is a different approach than most programs, especially for big kids. They are all about chapter books, and reading a chapter a day, etc., and if it's not a book that kiddo likes (or one that it is and he wants to know what happens next) it's TORTURE. Here, the books are shorter, so they can find out the ending in a sitting. And I think the program doesn't leave really good "picture" books to the preschool shelf but shows them as quality for all ages. The titles for the stories are carefully chosen. Each month centers around a theme. I like that each year revisits a variation on the same theme. All levels do Fairy Tales in Month 1, an author study in Month 2, etc.

While some held favorite stories, we've discovered some new loves.  Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs (Mo Willems) was deliciously sarcastic and amusing.  Because it's nice and short, it is easy to read and parse on the same day.  Because it is a classic-caliber book, there are enough layers of construction to study that it doesn't feel like "fluff."


In the green (approximately 3rd grade) and blue (approximately 4th grade) level programs, there were also interactive notebooks used to study longer novels. (They also are used at the indigo/5th grade level.) These are longer projects, taking about a week or two, in addition to the small-book studies. These reinforce what the student learns in the daily lessons, making him ready to transition to novel-only studies at the middle school level. (I'll explain more about the interactive notebooks below.)

I am a big believer in independent reading. In high school, we had a daily ten-minute "Sustained Silent Reading" block, which was probably my favorite part of the day. (I would have preferred a six-hour SSR, but generally, I'd choose to read over anything else. Knowing I have a deadline is the only thing getting this review written; otherwise, I'd still have my nose in my current book.) One of the tick-boxes for the daily program is 30 minutes of reading a "just right" book. The "just right" method has solved a problem we were having here: Jude's ability is much higher than his comfort zone. Isn't it amazing when mom says "that's too easy," she can't possibly be correct, but when "Not Mom" says so, it's completely legit?

By using their technique, Jude realized that his beloved Magic Tree House series novels were not "just right" books; they were much too easy. We kept moving through books until we found one that was not too comfortable, not too challenging, but just right. His "30 minutes a day" has turned into "I finished my time, but can I keep going for another hour? How about two?" He also discovered that the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series was not "too hard" for him, and in the space of a month has mowed through that five-book series as well as five-book The Heroes of Olympus series. (He's already asked me to get him "everything else by that author." Mr. Riordan, please write faster! We're going to run out of books soon!) Damien still prefers to discovered while he still prefers the comfort of easier Geronimo Stilton books when he's reading on his own time, he's found books like Charlotte's Web and the "Little House" series are good, too.

There is also a portfolio maintenance option. Once you complete a day's work, you can take a photo with your computer or phone and upload it to your child's file. If you live in a state where you need to compile and submit a portfolio, this would be very handy. We don't have that requirement here, so I didn't upload things. However, I have friends who do live in a state that does, and I can see where it would be beneficial (especially since the uploaded pictures means you don't have to keep a thousand pieces of paper from September until June).

Do you sense a "but" coming? Unfortunately, there are a few that quickly wore the shine off this program for us. Let's just call them "heads ups."

I liked the idea of the interactive notebooks.  They focus on specific elements of the novel, rather than being a more traditional "all literary topics the author threw in here" project.  I liked this perspective and approach.  However, they are in a lapbook style.  I agree with the company's theory,  because it is something different from the daily work and helps create an entirely separate feeling "project" for the novel study.

However, we have learned the hard way that lap books, while a great hands-on, interactive format for learning, just are not ideal for this homeschool.  The reality of this style meant there was more focus on the cutting and assembling than neatly writing correct answers. I have not included pictures of their assembled books because, frankly, I'm embarrassed to show how many cross-outs and re-writes there have been. I think one of our projects will be to re-copy them, and I'll update with those photos.  (It will be a lesson in "If you don't want to have to re-do something, pay attention and do it right the first time.")

The program price includes the curriculum and interactive notebooks, but NOT the literature books.  (The interactive notebook studies are also available ala carte.) If keeping costs down is an issue for your family, this may be an issue. If you have an excellent local library, then you can likely acquire most of these books from there. (I know some other Crew members had difficulty getting some of the titles from their libraries.) If you're like us and live in a rural area with limited library services, you might need just to purchase them directly. I was able to buy ours from Amazon. Some came directly from Amazon, while others were from third-party secondhand resellers. There were several instances where a "gently used" book was more economical, but there were also quite a few books that were no longer in print. We had to take a chance on some that might not have been so well treated. Luckily, our books were in reasonably good condition.

Because of this, Home School Navigator has begun uploading read-aloud videos. This came in handy for Damien's first book.  However, while I do like read-aloud books, I think it is difficult to do a detailed literature study without a book follow along with or to refer back to.

Word study is built in as well. The basis of the program is a "word wall" where the vocabulary/spelling words are posted and added to mostly daily. We wound up skipping much of this activity because we didn't have a place to create a word wall. Because the boys already do separate spelling and vocabulary studies, I didn't feel they missed anything academically because of the program, but it was a portion we weren't able to utilize fully.

I also felt the grammar presented was more of a review than instructive, so I found myself still assigning the boys their usual grammar. For example, one lesson was called "Banish Boring Verbs" and discussed choosing verbs that were less over-used.

 Grammar is combined with writing, so it is not something specifically focused on daily. However, there was no review of "This is what a verb is and does," and the first time that year a student worked on any formal grammar skill.  I felt there should have been a quick review, and then dive into manipulating into synonyms.  If your child does not have strong grammar skills, I would use this for extra practice, but I would still use a separate, formal grammar program

The program is marketed as a "turn it on and go, no planning required" curriculum. This is mostly true; you can print the lesson plans/worksheets for the week, put them in a binder, and hand them over to a kid. He can then go back to the online program and follow along with the video lessons provided. However, for a program that also markets itself as family-friendly, offering discounts for enrolling multiple students, it is not friendly when it is time to do schoolwork. Only one student could be logged in at a time, so there was a constant jockey for "whose turn is it."

Finally, there are optional poetry studies, which are a nice addition to round out literature studies. However, they are not from a single book or source, and for copyright reasons, are not included with printouts. We were able to google the poems; some were easier to find than others. In order to work with them, Jude copied the poems into his notebook.

I wish that they had chosen poems from a single volume, where it would have been a "Here's the poetry book, turn to page ___!" situation, and not letting a kid loose searching the internet.

Will we continue to use Home School Navigator? Yes and no. I think the core literature study part of the program is well-constructed and worth keeping, and much of the writing as well. Despite disliking other parts of the program, I still really do like this approach. Each language arts component is reasonably independent, so skipping one part does not mean kiddo is losing chunks of interactive study.I think I will either adapt the interactive notebooks to suit our needs or just look for other novel-based studies to substitute and continue with our usual grammar and spelling.

Discover the other levels of Home School Navigator and how the Crew fared with them by clicking the banner below.

Home School Navigator Reading and Language Arts Curriculum {Home School Navigator Reviews}

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