I recently had the chance to review some homeschool curriculum units from Moving Beyond the Page for my son who just finished 8th grade. This is a comprehensive curriculum that covers science, social studies and language arts, and it is based on using living books, activities and projects. I loved this program, and thought it was well designed to be interesting to children and educational all at the same time. The units included many different activities designed to appeal to different learning styles and encourage creativity. I have been homeschooling for 15 years, and this is one of my favorite things that I have ever used, and I wish I had found it years ago!
The curriculum is broken down into age levels, ranging from 7-13 (with higher and lower age levels coming soon.) Within each age range it is further broken down into units, so you can pick and choose the topics that you want to cover. I received two units from the 11-13 year old age range to review, which are designed for grades 6-8. One was a Social Studies unit on Australia and Oceania ($42.87 online access, $46.93 printed), and the other was a literature unit covering the novel A Girl Named Disaster ($23.92 online access, $27.98 printed). Each unit is designed to take about 21 school days to complete, and we finished both of them during the six week review period.
In addition to the lesson plans the units also come with all the extras you need to complete them, so for the unit on Australia I also received a detailed geography book and book of Australian Aboriginal legends, and for the literature unit I received the novel and a gourd to use for a craft project.
The unit on Australia included history, legends, map work, government and current events. The activities included things like comparing creation stories, current event reports, writing a letter to the editor of a newspaper, a short report on an animal, and my son’s favorite, planning a vacation to an island in Oceania. He thinks Fiji is the perfect vacation spot, and I am inclined to agree with him! The unit culminated in a final project, for which my son designed a web page about the region.
I liked that the unit was so well organized, with such a wide variety of projects. It is written for the student to manage independently, and is clearly organized by day so my son was able to easily open it and figure out what to do. The variety of assignments was outstanding – it is not about filling out worksheets but about finding information and synthesizing it. Many times the student has a choice of two activities, so they can pick the one that appeals the most to them. For example when my son choose to write a letter to the editor about an Australian issue the other option was to design a bumper sticker about the topic. My son isn’t very artistic, and would rather write than draw, so he appreciated having the choice.
The language arts unit was about the book A Girl Named Disaster, which is the story of a young African girl who is forced to leave her family and journey through Africa. Moving Beyond the Page frequently lines up their literature with either the science or social studies topic, and there is an Africa social studies unit that could be used along with this book, which might make the story even more compelling. But I chose not to line them up, and it still worked fine!
This unit has the child read a few chapter each day, and journal about them. The journaling topics are things like writing notes about the setting, finding figurative language and noting well written passages. My son had just finished a co-op class where he learned about journaling and annotating literature, so this emphasis really worked out well for reinforcing that topic. There were also discussion questions at the end of each set of chapters, which allowed us to talk about the book and his reaction to it.
The other focus of this unit was the writing process, and it included lots of information on brainstorming, proof reading and editing. The final paper was a personal narrative on a challenge that my son has faced. This really pushed him outside his comfort zone, because like most teenage boys, he’d rather write a report than write about himself! But even though he didn’t enjoy writing it much it was a good exercise for him and I was surprised at how well it turned out.
The most interesting project from this unit was cutting and decorating a gourd to hold water, like the heroine of the book does during her journey. This was tons of fun, although I think my son found sawing the gourd open more exciting than painting it!
Both my son and I really enjoyed the entire program. I received the Language Arts unit as an online program and the Social Studies as a hard copy, and I preferred using the printed unit. It was just easier for my son to use independently, and it only costs a few dollars more. I would never have though of half the activities that were included, and the variety was much better than just answering comprehension questions.
It took my son around 2 hours a day to complete the activities and reading for both units. I think with a third unit from science and a math program you would have a very complete middle school program. My son is at the high end of the age range for this since he just turned 14, but he did not find it too easy. He probably completed the assignments more quickly than a younger child would, so if you have an 11 year old I’d expect this to take more than 2 hours a day.
I like that you can order a whole year or pick and choose the topics that your children are interested in. The program is also completely secular, which is another plus for me. The only drawback I can see to the program is that we are at the high end of their age range, and they don’t have a high school level yet! But they are coming out with a 12-14 year old level this summer, and I am already planning to order some units from that to use next year. I’d highly recommend browsing through the website and seeing if there is something your kids want to learn next year or this summer to try out.