Moving Beyond the Page Review

I've had so many emails and requests for this review, I've decided to place it on a separate page so it's easier to find.

March 2, 2011

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.

EDITED TO ADD: I decided not to use MBtP for the 2012-2013 year. We did use it for two years.