Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Moving Beyond the Page

We've passed the midway point in our academic year, so I figured it was time for a review of the product we've been using this year: Moving Beyond the Page. We are using this curriculum for social studies, science and literature. I still add in some of my own language arts (phonics, oral reading, Latin & Greek roots, and additional literature). I also add in music, art, health, and child-led interest projects.

What I Love:
  • It's secular - this speaks for itself. 
  • Comprehensive and far-reaching - after using the program consistently (all four of my girls have been through two full concepts) I agree that this program reaches kids on a deeper level. If you just use it once or twice, I don't think it comes across, but I do see how well it encourages students to look at issues and apply what is learned in many different ways. 
    • If you follow most of the activities (which I try very hard to do), your student will use many different learning tools from the different intelligences to cover the same concept
    • The lessons take the child from the big concept, have her apply to herself and her life, and then goes back out to the big idea again, making it easier for her to relate to and easier to apply to different situations which increases their critical thinking and their creative thinking. A+
  • In-depth literature studies - I feel my girls are getting more out of the books we read through MBtP than the books we've read in the past. The author does a good job of selecting interesting books that relate to the overall concept.
  • The connection between literature, social studies, and science - this is something I have always done (ala classical education) so perhaps I appreciate more than others might. I don't think it is "necessary" for learning, but I do think it helps create a richer learning experience and that things "stick" better when they apply to more than one area at a time. And this program does a great job with integrating across the different subjects.
  • Project-based - this is actually something I love and detest. ;) I have always tried very hard to be 'project-based' and have been successful, though I do not enjoy the amount of work involved. The same is true here. I love that there are so many fun projects and activities... the kids absolutely love them and will tell you that this is the best part of school. But it is very parent intensive - especially the younger the children.
  • Challenging - this is a challenging curriculum. If a person were to skip any activities which might challenge his child, it may not be. I don't recommend doing this as I feel that we often do the most growth when things are challenging. I would say that my children are definitely challenged and not bored with this program. Particularly with the writing. I also feel that one must choose the correct level for his/her child or it could easily be TOO challenging. Although the concepts may be purchased separately, I believe the program is designed to be used over the year and as such the concepts progress in difficulty, so don't be tricked into thinking it's too easy and jumping up an entire level.
  • The writing - the writing in MBtP is so strong that I wish we had started with this earlier (and my kids are good writers). As I have children in the levels starting with 6-8 and going up to 9-11, I can see the progression and development in the program and I think it is beautiful. 
  • Science - I think that for elementary kids this science is just enough. You can always do more, more, more if your kids want more. Do it on things they are interested in (that's what we do). But in terms of tying it in to the curriculum - it's great. And it's fun stuff - very hands on! Some things are so-so (like keeping a weather chart for a month) but for the most part, I give it an "A."
  • Very easy to communicate with - if you call, someone answers. If you email, you get a reply. At least this has been my experience. And I appreciate this very much!
What I Don't Love:
  • There are many typos and errors. I read this in other reviews and thought, "Okay, I can live with that." And I can live with it, but it is extremely annoying. I didn't realize how annoyed I'd be by it. Maybe because there are more than I feel there should be? Content-wise, the program is great. But it is expensive, and I feel that this number of errors is unacceptable. I know they have hired editors and are trying to remedy this. Let's hope so! 
  • Website: on their website, you can actually look at the summary of skills for each unit, but to find this is not easy! You have to go to "Purchase" then to "Individual Items" then you have to happen to notice that link... I think this should be front and center on the curriculum page, and I would have really liked to have found this earlier on in my search.
  • Format. I feel that this program would be so much better if they improved the format. 
    • Lay-out: I would much rather have things laid out by 'days' rather than lessons. It creates more work for me to then go back and figure out how everything fits into our calendar because some lessons are 2, 3 or 4 days long. By "days" I mean labeling the lessons separately for separate days (e.g., Lesson 1 - Day 1; Lesson 1 - Day 2; Lesson 2 - Day 3; Lesson 3 - Day 4). A weekly format (similar to Sonlight) would also be okay.
    • The workbooks are spiral bound - ugh!! They should offer a three-hold punch format for those of us that cannot STAND spiral.
    • Parent guides - they do not provide answers consistently, and particularly in the upper levels they should really provide example answers for ALL questions and essays. The program is expensive and I expected more in this area.
  • Spelling - in the guides, the authors go over how to do spelling according to their program. This turns out to be virtually impossible to follow if you try to use the words they give you for spelling. This goes back to format - if they had a planning grid and laid things out by the week this would fit much more smoothly into the program. I don't find this topic to be a deal-breaker, but it's an annoyance and it could be integrated so wonderfully into this program. I have to wonder about why they don't improve this area.
  • In the 9-11 level, I think they schedule way too much into each lesson. It's supposed to be a 9-week program, and that means that unless it says 2-days or 3-days, each lesson is one day. And doing everything on their list will lead to a very long day. We've had to modify this level much, much more than the 7-9 and 6-8.
  • Expense - it is a very expensive curriculum considering it's not a complete curriculum. You still have to add in other subjects, for the younger kids phonics and reading, math, foreign language, art, music, health.  There are ways around the expense (buy used, use library books, etc.), and certainly if you have multiple children in the younger years it isn't bad if you can re-use (my youngest will use the level her older sisters are using this year & I only have to buy new student pages and an owl pellet- not bad).
Overall, I am very pleased with MBtP. I think that if you use this program for at least several concepts, you will get a real feel for the progression of skills and development. Had I quit using it after just a few weeks (see this post) I would  never had been able to see how my children are simply blossoming with it. I think there was an adjustment period for me. I have always designed my own program and haven't ever done "social studies" before so it was a bit different. (And I admit - I plan everything out to a "T" and do it all at once. Now, by which I mean "during the year," I have very little to do in terms of planning because I do all thirty-six weeks before the year begins, and this always leaves me feeling burned out at the start, no matter what program I use.) However, I really have grown to like MBtP very much. The things that bother me are not enough for me to stop using it.

And let me say this: there are times when I think a project or activity seems silly or like something I want to skip.... then we do it and I can't believe the value in the work that the girls produce. It isn't "fluff" or "busy work" (which sometimes at first glance I may think it is). Let me give you an example: A few weeks ago I wanted to skip the activity where my 2nd and 3rd grader were supposed to write a biography page for a hero book. It sounded boring to me, and a bit like busy work. I felt like (a) they would complain about the writing and (b) it wasn't worth the hassle and (c) they already know their life story. Boy was I wrong - they got more out of this exercise than I could have imagined. They had to think about things in their past, they had to consider their future, they needed to integrate the characteristics of a hero and think about the lives of the heroes we'd been studying... all in all, they each wrote amazing papers on the subject and really grew as writers, thinkers and scholars. I could see that they truly learned how to think on different levels and apply it to a written paper. And they are 7 and 9. After they completed the assignment, I couldn't believe I had thought to skip it! I think in the past when I did my own thing, I would have shied away from such a project, and I'm glad MBtP has us doing things like this.

I think curriculum is like clothing - not everything looks good on everyone - so I wouldn't do a carte blanche recommendation to everyone, but in all I think this is a great program. There are things I don't like about it, but in general I am very happy with it. I have decided that I will absolutely, definitely use it again next year for my youngest three. For my oldest who will be starting the middle school years I'm not sure yet, but it's one of the top contenders. And if you have any specific questions about MBtP I am happy to answer. I'm sure I forget things that I wanted to add and am happy to touch on points I may have missed. You can leave a comment or send me an email.

12 comments:

  1. I love this curriculum too! im glad you guys are enjoying it! we are finishing our 1st year also (6-8 level)
    We do lapbooks with alot of it, even cut up some of the worksheets for them.. Jareth loves it too.
    what we do (bc its so expensive) is only buy the units that i think we want to cover and then i have work/txt books we use for the extra subjects. Plus we do the lapbooks and take longer on some subjects i do not think they expand enough on.

    I am trying to start a website on unit studies, and hoping that i can add some extra projects or lapbooks that will go with the units.
    If you wanna take a look or post..
    unitstudies.spruz.com
    i even made a group just for MBtP users.

    great review..

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  2. We are also using MBtP right now for my DD, 5. I honestly think I could have moved up a level as it seems to easy for her. I find, like you, I want to skip lessons in it - then I force myself to try and do the complete lesson... but, it is not quiet challenging enough for her.

    I do add a ton of stuff to our studies as well - just to keep it interesting :) I think we will look at this again for next year, but I really want to look over the books before I decide to ensure it is up to par for my DD.

    It was nice to read a review with many of the same likes & dislikes I have. Thanks!

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  3. Great review and thanks for taking the time to write it up.

    I'm still had odds with a boxed curriculum....I know the control freak in me. I just don't think I'll ever be able to take the leap into something like that. Plus I am guessing I would have to add in all Australian Units as it would not include any of that.

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  4. @ Liberty: I know what you mean. I have had that with my 6 year old and level 6-8. However, there is a big jump in the writing for 7-9. For example, today my girls in that level have to write answers to reading questions, write a conversation between two characters using proper grammar, and write a speech. I don't think many 6-year-olds are developmentally ready to write that much. My 7-year-old struggles with it a bit. I know people that don't have the kids do the writing, but that's something I really appreciate with the program so I want to keep it in. And since my 6-year-old is my 4th child, I think I'm much more relaxed about the lower grades than I was on my oldest!! I guess that comes from seeing down the road a bit or something. I would say Concept 1 in 6-8 is fairly 'easy' but it is definitely progressing. So far Concept 3 has a lot more writing, reading, etc. Good luck!

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  5. @ Kylie: Yes - I think I don't look at MBtP as a boxed curriculum (like Calvert) so much as a subject curriculum (if that makes sense). I used to use Writing Tales for writing, SOTW for history, REAL Science for science... to me this MBtP for Lit and a combined Science/Social Studies. You would definitely not get Australian history! There are people that just use it for the literature, and that is something I'm considering for my oldest for next year. The literature is really great. And I still am someone that adds/changes things. It's a huge struggle and I wish I weren't that way - I know people that follow Calvert, don't add in, and are happy. Why can't that be me?!?! lol

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  6. @ Longshawhan - How cool! I think my little one gets the short end of the stick on stuff like that b/c I'm so busy with everyone. We have added in a few lapbooks (adapted from Hands of a Child) and other projects (usually find internet resources like Learning Pathways, etc.). I'll be checking out your stuff! And I agree with only buying the concepts you'll cover. This past weekend I was thinking that 3 concepts is really enough for a full year!!

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  7. Hi friends,

    The students use many different learning tools from the different intelligences to cover the concept and try to submit the projects as soon as possible. I just wanted to take a minute to tell you that you have a great site! Keep up the good work.

    Kids Science Games

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  8. Thanks for this very thorough review. I'm wondering if you do or would consider using the same level with multiple children. I ask because it might be nice (less work!) to have my 5 and 8 year olds use the same level, like 5-7. My 8 y.o. is dyslexic, so the reading would be her level, and if the content wasn't challenging enough for her, we could easily supplement it with additional projects. I like the idea of them working on the same topics. They work together well.

    Any insights would be appreciated. Thanks!
    -Glenn

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  9. Hi Glenn,
    I do combine levels! I have my 9yo and 7 yo in the same level (the 7-9 level). My 9yo is dyslexic as well, so I understand. I have not used the 5-7 level so I can't speak directly to that program, but I do use the 6-8. I think that the 6-8 could very easily work for the ages you're talking about, however looking forward I can't imagine many 6yo's that could handle the writing of the 7-9 level. My gifted 7yo finds the writing challenging and there's no way my 6yo could handle it.

    As a parent using 3 levels, I have to say that it is quite manageable to use multiple levels if the older child is able to do some work independently. I usually have one start on math (and work by herself) while I do phonics or MBtP with the other. And then when the younger one is working on something, I switch over to MBtP with the next group. There is a bit of back-and-forth, but I feel like it's doable. This is only true b/c my oldest is almost completely independent with her level. I do NOT think I would enjoy having three parent-directed levels at once, but two is not overwhelming. Either way - combining or using individual levels - your children will have a rich education and fun year. This program has really grown on me the more we've used it, and I am blown away by the progress with writing that all four of my daughters have exhibited.

    Keep me posted on what you choose, and if you have more questions I'm happy to help if I can!

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  10. I'm considering blending MBtP Lit only for my 7-9 yr old and using SOTW for history/social studies and REAL Science for science, in part b/c of cost, and in part b/c I prefer to teach history chronologically. I do like the way MBtP deals with writing as I have a VERY reluctant writer who will only work on writing contextually. I also just didn't think there was enough science for my 7 yr old who loves science SO much, and since I'd have to supplement I didn't want to pay for two, ykwim?
    What do you think? Would it work well as lit and lang/ arts only, and do I still need to supplement with another writing program? I'll have Easy Grammar daily grams and All About Spelling for spelling. You thoughts would be greatly appreciated!
    Deb

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  11. Hi Deb! Yes, I absolutely think it would work well as a lit/LA program stand alone. I would say that, especially at age 7, you won't need an additional writing program. I am thrilled with the progress my children have made in writing. I share the love of the chronological history and honestly want to add that back in somehow. Just not as "hard core" as I was. Still working on figuring that out w/o doing too much... sigh. ;) Where's the MBtP for the classically minded? lol

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  12. Thank you very much for this review. I'm searching the web for reviews just like this, as I'm trying to decide if this curriculum is the right fit for us. So far it sounds good!

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