Curriculum Review: Starfall online

As we ease into a homeschool routine for our preschooler daughter, we are really trying to focus on basic math and counting skills, and basic phonics and reading skills. I came across Starfall a couple of months ago after hearing about them on the Secular Homeschool website. While they have a packaged curriculum, one which is adaptable for either classroom or homeschool use, they also have a web portion that is really great.

We opted to purchase a year’s subscription to This gives us full access to all of the web content, which includes a very nice collection of flash-driven activities. Word generators introduce simple three-letter words, “books” are read-along by clicking on individual words or having the entire sentence read aloud. There is also active content within books, which makes it even more exciting for the child. A wonderful collection of animated songs, and nursery rhymes introduce various subjects, like time, money, months and days of the year, body parts, etc. We love the emphasis on phonics – in just two months of using Starfall, our four-year-old has really made significant progress in learning to sound out words, and I often hear her imitating the starfall website in making the sounds that each letter makes. The content is enjoyable for her, and so it doesn’t seem like “school work” and she is really benefiting from the material and its approach.

One thing I love about the Starfall online membership is the Teacher Lounge. Here I am able to generate worksheets for our daughter to practice writing her letters, words, and numbers. I can also generate word finds and letter search worksheets. While there are defaults that follow the “weekly” schedule of the Starfall curriculum, it also allows for custom input. Included in the Teacher Lounge are additional resources, such as a Blank Writing Page, perfect for early writers, as well as Vocabulary list generators, Word and Number Card generators, and a large collection of the Starfall Books available for on-screen reading. Finally, the Starfall Kindergarten Curriculum guide is available, broken into “weeks.”

As we transition from a more formal preschool to educating at home, we are taking a relaxed approach out of necessity this summer. While we will be incorporating more structured material in the fall as we move into Kingergarten, Starfall is providing a nice foundation for our daughter to get more comfortable with reading and early math. The material available with Starfall ranges from early readers in preschool to new readers in Kindergarten (and beyond), and the Math content ranges from early counting, addition and subtraction, and goes into simple multiplication and division. There is a whole series of songs for learning the multiplication tables which our daughter loves, even if it is a little advanced for her!

Overall, we have been extremely pleased with the Starfall content. Our daughter loves to do Starfall and really seems to be getting a lot out of it. We have even bought three Starfall apps for my Iphone, which she absolutely loves. I think the reasonable price ($35 for home membership) makes this an excellent investment, even if not homeschooling.

A time of transition

I haven’t posted in some time, as our family has been going through a major transition period. We relocated halfway across the country, and this involved a six week separation while my husband moved with all of our stuff, and I stayed behind with all of our dependents. Finally, we are all together in our new house, and slowly life is getting back to our new normal.

Our new normal. As if relocating was not enough of a shock to the system, our entire routine has now changed. Seven weeks from the arrival of our second child, I am now at home full-time. This is an entirely new experience for me – I am not used to being home and handling domestic concerns fulltime. I arrived to a large stack of administrative task to handle, as I will be the “administrator” in our household now. I have taken a backseat to most things of this nature for years in our relationship, so this is very new for me. I am embracing the challenge and looking forward to getting my own “system” organized and running smootlhly.

A major change in our routine is having our daughter home. She has been in daycare since she was 6 months old, and has been in preschool this past year. We have spent the last two months preparing her for the change to her schedule, and so far she seems to be enjoyoing it. Because there is so much initial stuff to handle with relocating (insurance, doctors, new homeowner stuff etc.) we haven’t gotten into a normal routine yet, but I have made our initial steps in that direction. I have involved us with our local homeschool group so that she gets to socialize with other kids in her age group (and I get involved locally as well). We have also found our local library, and found out the Storytime schedule. I’ve really tried to make the effort keep her engaged during the day with educational activities, though I am sure I am leaning a little too much (out of necessity at this point) on computer games and educational shows. I think the mound of paperwork should be handled by week’s end, though, and we can have a much better routine in place.

I am also enjoying the more domestic aspect of our new routine. Even though I have a lot on my plate now, with getting our home unpacked and organized, and handling all of the administrative tasks, I am home to make dinner at a reasonable time, and have time in the morning to pack my husband a lunch, and get our breakfast made. For too long, our morning rush has been a source of stress, and long days resulted in quick meals thrown together after work, or a willingness to dine out and eat substandard food at a ridiculous price. Being at home will be a great opportunity for me to try out a bunch of new recipes I have earmarked in my cookbooks (once I find out which box they are in!).

A lot of things going on, and that I will be posting on:

I am reading Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne, and following the book club over at Clean . I’ll be posting some thoughts as I work through the book. So far it is a great read. We are working to simplify our routine and lifestyle (all around, but definitely with regard to our daughter) as we can see firsthand the effects the ‘too much, too fast” lifestyle has on her behavior and our sanity.

Diving headlong into home crafts – being at home full time is affording me the time (and financial motivation) to transition our family more toward homemade items, such as soap and personal care products, as well as baby items such as cloth baby wipes. I’ve been really looking forward to this, and am really excited to get started!

Simplifying our food even more. Two hectic work schedules have not really allowed for the amount of home prepped food we would like. I much prefer homemade, but have had to pick and choose based on what has been realistic for our lifestyle. I am looking forward to more home-prepped food – bread, pasta, preserves, etc. My goal is to minimize our processed food as much as possible – I’m not giving up my Tofurky deli slices, but I would like to find a good vegan sausage recipe that my family enjoys. And for the amount of bread we go through in a week – I definitely need to be baking my own. I will finally start canning, and hope to invest in a smaller second freezer for food storage. The only short coming in this part of my plan is the late start to gardening. The growing season starts early here in south Texas, and I still need to put in a couple of raised beds. But minimally, I plan to have at least some tomato plants, peppers, and squash plants growing soon. Being 8 1/2 months pregnant also limits how much gardening I can manage this summer (i can only put so much on the hubby’s to-do list…), so I may be at the mercy of my local farmers market (once I find it this weekend!).

Homeschooling starting soon

We have been discussing homeschooling our daughter for the past several months. Our discussions have ranged from whether it was the best option for our family, to the financial impact this decision would have on our family, as I would be leaving work to do this. The impending arrival of our second child this summer, coupled with relocation to a different state for my husband’s job, has really put us in a position to move forward with this decision. I will not be working once we relocate since I will be so far along in the pregnancy. I am also wary of putting such a small baby into daycare just to rejoin the workforce. We were able to juggle our schedules when our daughter was small, so we did not have her in daycare until she was six months old. So this move has really put us on the road to becoming a homeschooling family.

Our four-year-old is currently in preschool, and once we move, we will continue a preschool-level school plan for her at home. This will be a comfortable way to adjust to homeschooling, and will be more relaxed, which I will need at a late stage of pregnancy.

I plan to move into a kindergarten-level curriculum starting in the fall. Our daughter will turn five in November. In the public school system, her late birthday would have her in pre-K for this coming year, and starting kindergarten next Fall. I don’t think this is necessary, as she is already excelling at many things, and I think starting at this level now can only help her succeed. I really like the idea of not being limited by a school system’s calendar, and expected milestones. I also like the idea of moving along at the pace that is needed by the individual, not by the needs of a diverse group of students.

Now that we know where and when we are relocating, and have committed to the idea of homeschooling, I have begun to research and organize the vast amount of information available on the internet. While there are general home schooling sites out there, dealing with discussions ranging from organizational approaches, different teaching styles and curricula available, there are also state- and city-specific sites dealing with laws regarding homeschooling and parents’ rights to educate their children at home. Additionally, there are many wonderful blogs out there, with insight into daily struggles, successes, curriculum ideas, etc. I am slowly assembling my resource page and organizing many of the sites available, as well as a blog roll of homeschoolers I enjoy reading.

I am really looking forward to this experience. Our daughter is excited that once we move, mommy will be her teacher at home. She’s already asked me if she can call me Miss Mommy! I feel lucky that we are starting this at the preschool/kindergarten level. In my opinion, it will be easier to adjust and adapt, rather than starting at a later grade, or mid-year. While I will have some structure to my approach, I will not be using a packaged curriculum for kindergarten. I also like having a little time to explore what curriculum approach I will take for later grades. Most importantly, I am taking this one step at a time. I’m willing to try new things and see what works best for the family. My first step (before even getting started with the actual teaching) will be to draft a written statement of purpose. I think sitting down and really thinking about what is most important in what we hope to accomplish as home educators is vital. It will ground us in our planning for the future and keep us focused on what we want to get out of homeschooling. It will also establish what approach or philosophy our family will use in planning our home education.