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When we first started homeschooling, going on six years ago, my main focus was of course phonics. I didn't see the need to purchase fancy curricula with multiple books and excessive numbers of worksheets. We went with a simple approach and used Explode the Code. It worked great for the girls. I credit the girls learning to read more to that program than I do to myself. Once we left the phonics world, I panicked. Reading, writing and being able to speak properly are very important to both me and my husband and we wanted to be sure that we were doing the best we could for them.
I am going to be honest, I got swept up, for a short time, in the it has to be short and fun craze. I did not particularly enjoy the curriculum that I was taught in school (Abeka) and I didn't want my kids to feel the same way. I also had this desire to be the fun homeschool mom that everyone wants to be. So, we tried Easy Grammar. I didn't hate Easy Grammar, in fact, I still think it is a fantastic supplement, but the longer we did it, the more I realized that it wasn't going to meet our requirements for a complete English/grammar program. Because Easy Grammar only covered the grammar portions of English, I also tried IEW writing. I flip flop back and forth about IEW. I think the program is probably fantastic for those who like the system. Our very own contributor Christa, put her sons through it and it really worked for her family. However, for ours something just didn't quite click. I really believe it was because I had my heart set on a traditional writing program and IEW follows a different, not bad, but different pattern of teaching. I digress, back to English.
This year, I have decided to come out of the it has to be super-duperty fun and look nothing like traditional schooling mindset and decide that sometimes, traditional methods of learning work for us. In fact, most of the time traditional methods work for us. In part because of learning style, in part because of teaching style and our goals for our children, and in part because the schedule of a competitive gymnast will make it impossible to do anything if you don't have a really solid plan.
Rod and Staff is a Mennonite publisher of an entire line of homeschool curriculum. For the purposes of this review, I am only covering the English 4 Building with Diligence book. If you are considering coming from another program to English 4, I suggest looking carefully at the website to be sure your children are placed correctly. My children were actually both doing grade 4 last year, but the rigor of English 4 by Rod and Staff, made it necessary for us to repeat 4th grade English. I would say the books are a year to two years ahead of most English programs.
Rod and Staff English Pros:
The most notable pro is the price. All of R&S curriculum is affordable and can easily be found used even cheaper. A lot of the books are non-consumable texts once you reach the 4th grade, so the books can also be resold to recoup some of the cost of purchase. This English program is a rigorous traditional English program that uses "old school" methods such as diagramming and writing to teach grammar concepts. It covers English grammar usage and structure as well as writing. Writing is interspersed throughout the book so it is introduced gently, but at a good pace. Because the company that publishes it is Mennonite, you will get scripture and religious themed sentences, but it is not so overwhelming that if you felt the need to leave those out that it would change the program or even make it unusable if you were looking for a secular option. There is a good mix of oral review and written work and quizzes are mixed in as a way to measure retention. The teacher manual is solid and while not scripted, offers enough information and prompting that even a parent who struggles teaching English can follow the program.
Rod and Staff English Cons:
It is writing intensive. The book is a non-consumable text so much of the work is copied. To some this is a good way to help the student retain the information, others may need to make more of the work oral or skip some of the problems.
This is not a program for parents who don't want to be involved. The teaching of the concepts will require some teacher prep and some parental involvement with teaching. I find that once a topic is introduced, I will need to be available for two to three lessons after to help the children solidify it before they are comfortable and able to do it on their own. Since almost every lesson introduces a new concept, I am always required to teach at the beginning of a lesson if nothing else.
As mentioned above, this is a faster paced program than most that we have seen.You will have to consider moving your child down in grade, and/or slowing the pace for those students who struggle or need more time.
Over all, I have been very pleased with the intensity and the methods used by Rod and Staff. If you are looking for a traditional English/grammar program, this is definitely one to look into!