As a potential homeschooler, I have looked into several Christian curricula for preschoolers/kindergarten. It seems like there is so little emphasis on the early years! Mostly because people are afraid you’ll get kids into a stodgy, authoritarian regime if you want a curriculum for your three year old =) They are afraid you’ll start worrying about transcripts and get locked into one company versus another until 12th grade.
But I find that a small program provides enough structure for an hour or so of education, which helps your kids have a more constructive day. Use it a little, use it a lot. But at least you have some ideas.
There are so many big names out there with varying philosophical persuasions that I didn’t know what to think at first. I have a Masters in Christian education so I am not a beginner at evaluating a curriculum. But weighing philosophies is mainly important from a long-term perspective, not homeschooling at the youngest ages. At this time, the actual tasks and themes—letters, numbers, shapes, colors, animals, etc—are the most important parts of learning, and almost all curricula have the same or substantial overlap. They just vary (a lot) in presentation.
So I will include some remarks here. This year I am doing my 3, 4, and 5 year olds for an hour or two a day, and have used a variety of different companies along with my own made up workpages.
(I know about other curricula from friends, research, and marketing, but the following list is only about materials I have actually held in my own hands, in my own home, and read. I will add on as I get more experience.)
Interlock (Weaver)- Good for theological types. Traditional, theme-based.
Weaver is a Christian curriculum, and the Interlock program is recommended for preschool/kindergarten. It is a big binder with a lot of lesson plans in it, arranged chronologically, easy to use. I found, after spending time with it, that it is ok for younger kids but a 5 or 6 year old could really get more out of it than younger ages. They have units with great concepts (God is our Father, God’s Son is Jesus), but a kindergarten child will understand more than a preschooler, for whom concrete lessons (about Creation, for example) are usually easier. It has some great activities suggested so that kids can apply the theological truth they’re learning. But it is a little light on the academics… It should be supplemented with a regular phonics or reading program.
Before Five in A Row/Five In A Row– Good for art/literature lovers. Leans Charlotte Mason.
If you are a fan of the Charlotte Mason approach, this might be a good fit for you. BFIAR/FIAR are small paperback manuals, not expensive. Janie Lambert takes the learning through literature tactic (like Great Books or Sonlight), and makes a unit study around several great children’s books. You buy the books yourself and use her guide for ideas in art, science, math, etc. It says it is made for 2-5 year olds, but I think it is best for 3 and 4 year olds. And only verbal ones… don’t try to do this with a 3 year old boy who isn’t talking yet.
I liked it but it wasn’t for me. I ended up getting most of the library she recommends, though, and using it for storytimes through the ages she suggested.
Writing Road to Reading (Spaulding Method)– combines learning to read/write. Leans Classical.
This curriculum is a popular one in private schools especially. It has a good philosophical ring, but I’m not sure if it’s better than the traditional way of teaching reading. It basically stresses the integration of learning phonics and writing letters so that children connect the sound of letters heard (“puh”) with the sound of letters chosen (“the p!”) with the symbol of the letter written (p). It definitely takes some major thinking, although of course all aspects of the brain eventually need to get involved to hear, spell, and write. I am not sure whether it is better all at once though, especially if your child is ready to read but not ready to write. There is definitely a difference. They recommend it for young ages, but I wouldn’t do it with younger than 5. They also emphasize the importance of posture, positioning, and teacher directiveness from the very beginning. I didn’t find it as compelling as I had heard that it was, initially.
Bob Jones University– basic worktext approach. Traditional, skill-based.
Ok, I’m biased here. My first child used this in K4 and it was awesome. He was a visual child, not very good with language, and he learned to both read and write in one year with this program. And add and subtract. The format is kind of boring, and some people are totally against workbooks. But it really broke the concepts of phonics and math down to the 4yr old mind, by exercising just one specific concept each day. Obviously, it is a Christian program. But I think the skills practiced are neutral.
Principle Approach (Noah Plan)– good for philosophical types. Leans Classical.
The Noah Plan for kindergarten—they don’t have preschool—is best geared for those who think they might like the classical approach to homeschooling. And it is unabashedly Protestant, evangelical, and pro-American so you’ll hate it if you are progressive. They utilize the Writing Road to Reading, although you could substitute with another program if you wanted, and they start kids on classic literature like fairy tales, Aesops fables, and stories of American heroes (i.e. Patrick Henry).
The entire approach is a little too metacognitive for kids, I think, although it appeals to intellectual grown-ups and has a cult-like following in the best sense of the word. Some of the most amazing large, homeschooling families I know have used the Principle Approach effectively. It takes a lot of effort to use it to its potential, though, and is sort of anti-craziness that home with little children often creates. There are no worktexts, and I found the worktext approach easier to use myself and also easier on the kids’ attention span abilities. If I had a feeling that i had a super genius, however, I might be open. I once worked with two teachers whose school used this program, and I think it would create a super Christian school (but perhaps harder for homeschooling).
Cait’s Curriculum (CD-ROM)- reproducible workpages
I got this CD-Rom because it was geared for 2-4 year olds, and because I wanted to be able to print numerous copies of workpages… not just have a worktext that could be used once. It was expensive but had a lot of good stuff in it about letters, animals, basics. It was definitely for ages 2-4, first-time preschoolers. Nowadays you can get downloadable workpages, and that is probably better than a CD-ROM.
Rod and Staff– old-fashioned worktexts. Traditional, skill-based.
If you want ONLY the basics on your workbooks and no flash, and you’re ok with old school Christian values, Rod and Staff is for you. It has some worktexts that are really good for 3 and 4 year olds who have never had any school before. They start from the very beginning and were good for my kids with verbal/motor delays. They have no supplemental materials like contemporary workbook programs… no charts or cartoons and songs that go with the lessons. They are slow, old-fashioned, and CHEAP worktexts that are based on single concepts. Amish/Mennonite orientation, very little instruction on how to use, but cover phonics, math, eye-hand coordination, cutting, pasting, coloring, and Bible (if you want it). Mostly drill approach and parental supervision required with the philosophy of getting the child to work independently as much as possible (like most workbook approaches).