Quick Review: Michael Clay Thompson’s Language Arts Program, Level 1 and Part of Level 2

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I was lucky enough to receive Michael Clay Thompson’s Language Arts Program, Level 1, a.k.a. The Island Level for free when I wrote a comprehensive article on grammar programs for home/school/life magazine. Being able to see a full curriculum before buying it is a luxury most homeschoolers don’t have, and for that reason, I was so grateful. This is not a cheap curriculum, and I never would have bought it without seeing it first.

Over that year, I read all the books to my boys, but I didn’t have them work through the Practice Books, which are essentially the worksheets that reinforce the teaching. Also at that time, I picked IEW’s Fix it! The Nose Tree as my eldest son’s grammar program because it just worked better for him then. While I didn’t feel he needed to work through the MCT workbook at the same time, I did think that reading Grammar Island and Sentence Island helped him understand what he was doing in The Nose Tree better.

Also, I fell in love with these books. I am not exaggerating when I say they are beautiful. These books incorporate beautiful artwork and large, easy-on-the-eyes fonts. I think using a beautiful textbook makes a world of difference when trying to teach youngsters, and it made a world of difference to my adult eyes, which can get quite weary trying to read small text in the cluttered books of other curriculum.

This year I bought part of Level 2 because I have ditched the Fix It! series, and I’m going to continue on with MCT. However, I can’t afford to buy it all at once. I have bought only Grammar Town (teacher’s manual) and Paragraph Town (teacher’s manual). As much as I would like to buy the student books, I have to save money. So I use the teacher’s manuals, and I type and print the exercises on my computer for him to work through. Grammar Town worked really well for my son, and I’m very pleased with it. We’ll be working in Paragraph Town this coming year.

As for my younger son, we are going back and re-reading the Island Level this year, and he will be using the practice workbooks with this program – so they will not go to waste! (And I should mention that he loved the Mud trilogy, which he read this past year.)

I would love to buy Caesar’s English I (teacher and student books) and the next book on poetry, Building Poems (teacher’s manual), but it’s just not in the budget right now. My priority will be getting through the grammar and writing textbooks of this wonderful curriculum, and I’ll buy those as I we need them.

I should mention the one flaw with this program is that is doesn’t teach much punctuation! Kind of strange, don’t you think? However, this is easily remedied. I purchased a punctuation workbook on Amazon that I’ll have my son work through this year, and I’m pretty good at punctuation, so I can help him with that as he continues to work on his writing skills.

Quick Review: Life of Fred Intermediate Series, Fractions and Decimals and Percents

To see my review of the Life of Fred elementary series, click here.

My son has always loved Life of Fred. He completed the elementary series by the end of the fourth grade, and in 5th and 6th grade, he completed the intermediate series (Kidneys, Liver, and Mineshaft) and then Fractions and Decimals and Percents. He always went slowly and deliberately, carefully answering all the questions on paper, and he would redo questions that he got wrong. I used to read the books with him, but somewhere in the intermediate series, he started doing them by himself.

I would say that Life of Fred has made up over 90% of his math education through 6th grade. I have tried a few other curricula, including Khan Academy, but nothing ever stuck like Life of Fred.  He occasionally used online videos when he needed something clarified, and I have had him work through selections of test prep books before he had to take our state’s required standardized test so that he could practice using a test format.

I have read numerous reviews and comments from other parents saying that Life of Fred makes a good supplement, but it doesn’t offer enough practice to be a complete math curriculum. I always disagreed with that, but I let those comments go because, well, how did I really know? It was the only curriculum my son wanted to use, so that’s why I stuck with it. Well, now my son’s score on a recent standardized test has convinced me that Life of Fred is a good program. I don’t usually mention his scores at all, but I feel it’s important to let people know that Life is Fred can be a good option for a homeschool student’s math curriculum, if the student likes it.

Perhaps people who think it’s “just a supplement” have not stuck with it enough to realize what the author is doing? I don’t know. I can see where some kids may not like the quirky story format, and that’s a valid reason for not using it. And it certainly does not follow the typical public school math course, but if you and your kid like it, stick with it! The intermediate series and above are more difficult, and many of the problems are complicated word problems. The curriculum really makes my son think, and I think it’s served him very well.

UPDATE (2021): I stand by this review as my son has continued to do very well in his math scores. However, after attempting the Pre-Algebra Life of Fred books, he didn’t like them as well, so we switched to Khan Academy for the remainder of junior high. My younger son moved away from Life of Fred a little earlier than that. For high school, we are using an online resource, and you can read about that in my PDF resources.

Note: I realize that using Life of Fred is very controversial among some homeschoolers. (I have been reprimanded in certain Facebook homeschool groups for recommending it.) The author is Christian, and this is apparent in the books, but as liberal as I am, nothing he wrote ever bothered me. He may have other views that I would very much disagree with. I can’t blame the people who don’t want to use this curriculum for those reasons, but ultimately, I have to weigh the political statement of not using these books with the good this curriculum can do for my son. I can talk to my son about other people’s world views and biases, and I know this author’s views will not influence him, so I am sticking with what in my opinion is an otherwise excellent math curriculum.

How Did We Do? Our 2018/2019 Homeschool Review

Song Sparrow

At the beginning of each year, I write a post about what curriculum and resources I’m planning to use. At the end of each year, I write a follow-up, letting you know what I changed. Because I always change something.

So this is my follow-up to At Home with the Editors: Shelli’s 6thand 3rdGrade Curriculum, which I published on the home/school/life blog.

6th Grade

  • Writing – I stopped using the Institute for Excellence in Writing’s (IEW) student writing intensive before my son finished it because I felt he got out of it what he needed to, and that was good. I also used part of a textbook I received from a teacher, and it was helpful. Now we’ve moved on to using the Michael Clay Thompson Language Arts Program (MCT) exclusively, which includes grammar and writing, and I think I’ll probably stick with this program from here on out.
  • Grammar – I stopped the IEW Fix it! series (for now), and I’m going to keep using MCT. I’ll be writing more details about this decision for the HSL blog, and I’ll link to that here when it’s published.
  • Extras — In addition to his language arts program, I also had my son work through Cursive Writing Practice: Inspiring Quotes; Note Taking: Lessons to Improve Research Skills and Test Scores; and Study Skills Strategies: Outlining. Except for the cursive, these were things I had not planned on incorporating at the beginning of the year.
  • He recently began working in The Basics of Critical Thinking by the Critical Thinking Co., which will carry over to next year. He likes this book!
  • Reading – My son is an avid reader, and his dad helps him pick out new novels, which I’m thankful for because I can’t do everything. I can’t remember the titles of all his choices, but I can say that he enjoyed the entire Percy Jackson series this year. Before that, he read all the Harry Potter books.
  • Math – This never seems to change. We’ve had a lot of success with the Life of Fred series. (Using this curriculum seems to be quite controversial among secular homeschoolers, which I think is a shame.) Occasionally my son will use Internet resources, if he doesn’t get something, but that’s rare. I especially like Mathantics.com for that. He also worked on math in his test prep book (see below).
  • Music – My son just celebrated four years of taking piano lessons, and he’s more passionate about it every year. His dad is instrumental in helping him get all the resources he needs to achieve his goals. We have discovered that the Great Courses Plus has a lot of courses about music history that appeals to him, so we’ve added time for that.

3rd Grade

  • Reading – My third grader has improved his reading comprehension and has enjoyed several chapter books this year. His most recent favorite book was Goosed! by Bill Wallace.
  • Grammar – He has continued working in the Star Wars 3rd Grade Reading and Writing workbook this year, and I recently decided to begin Level 1 of the MCT curriculum with him. He listened to it while I was reading it to his older brother last year, but this time we’re going slower and using the Practice books too.
  • Math – My younger son loves Life of Fred too. He also completed the Star Wars 3rd Grade Math workbook, and we have used a lot of flashcards to learn the times tables. (I had him watch Time Tales, but that did not help him as much as it helped his older brother, so I guess I would recommend it only if your student is a visual learner.)

Note: Even though there are Star Wars workbooks available for 4thgrade, and we were using them because my son likes them, I think we’ll stop here with those workbooks. Between both boys, I’ve used them for what? Six or seven years? I’m ready to move on, and I think my son will benefit from spending more time on our other curriculum.

  • Birds – Birds has always been a special interest of my youngest son, so we do a lot of bird watching and reading about birds. (We are all bird fanatics now. This is why you will see a lot of bird photographs on my blog.) We put up a birdbath this year, and observing the wildlife it attracts has given us all much joy!
  • Music – My younger son will be celebrating two years of cello lessons later this summer. I’m so impressed with his progress and stick-with-it-ness.

6th and 3rd or what we do together

  • Literature – Although the boys read their own books that they pick themselves, I have continued to read out loud to them this year. We finished reading The Mad Wolf’s Daughter by Diane Magras and then we started Chickadee by Louise Erdrich. Yes, the books I read to them are slow-going because we have a lot of other work to do. We’ve also been reading poetry, books about poetry, and a lovely book titled Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science, which is written in poems! See this post for more information on how I’m teaching poetry. I also read history books out loud too. (See below.)
  • Test Prep – This was a testing year for us, so we worked our way through these test prep books (I skipped parts they didn’t need), and I gave the boys the practice tests so that they were aware of what the test would be like. My younger son, especially, had no experience filling in those little bubbles. It’s not something I like doing, but it’s helpful too. We used Test Prep: Grade 6 and Test Prep: Grade 3 by Flash Kids Harcourt Family Learning. I am so grateful that as homeschoolers, my boys don’t have to suffer the stress of too much test-taking or grades, though curiously, now that they understand what a grade is, they get excited to know what their grade is on these tests! lol I am toying with the idea of giving them some practice tests at the end of every year, but we’ll see.
  • Grammar & Writing – In my beginning-of-the-year post, I mentioned that I was reading the MCT Level 1 books to the boys during the summer, and I liked them so much that I was going to try to squeeze in time to finish them all. Well, as you read above, I liked this curriculum so much that I’m completely switching to it!
  • History – We have continued to make slow but good progress on our history lessons. We completed our first unit of U.S. history on the Native Americans, and we also did a unit on Ancient Rome. My son is still watching a Great Course on Ancient Rome. Those courses are really long, so while he watches it, I went ahead and started a new unit on the Islamic World. I haven’t written a blog post about this yet, but the link goes to my husband’s screencast on the Islamic World. I use his screencasts as a guide to what to study. Look at my top menu for links to all our history units. I will continue to add to these posts as we rediscover some of these topics in different ways over the next few years.
  • Science –
    • We did science-related projects this year! See Project-based Homeschooling: Plant Project and Project-based homeschooling: American Elm to learn more about them! I will be writing more about our ongoing birding projects in the future too.
    • The boys also attended two homeschool science courses at our local nature center this year.
    • As far as the formal science lessons:  As I wrote in that beginning-of-the-year post, we did science on Saturday mornings this year. It was the only time I could squeeze it in. But we ended up using an Earth Science For Middle School textbook from CK12.org. (You can also download the teacher’s manual and test and quizzes book to go with this.) I feel it’s so long that we may never finish it, but my 12-year-old really likes it, so we’re sticking with it and will continue to work on it next year. Next year, he’ll be doing science more often, and my third grader will too. He did less science than his older brother this year. Of course, we watched lots of nature and science documentaries, though, and we’re a science loving family in general, so we keep up to date with the latest science discoveries etc.
  • Foreign Languages – Oh how I wanted us to learn both Spanish and Chinese! How cool would that be?! But my boys talked me into letting them just learn Chinese, and I’m fine with that. Curiously, they thought Spanish was boring, but they enjoyed the Chinese lessons. We kept at it four days a week until about a month ago when I pared down our lessons to the very essentials because….it’s spring, we had a lot of appointments, we have a test coming up, we have other things to do, and it’s spring….
  • Music – We had a great year of music lessons and attending a few free concerts at the nearby university.
  • In addition, we have begun watching A Children’s Guide to Folklore and Wonder Tales, a Great Course taught by Prof. Hannah B. Harvey, Ph.D. This is a great supplement to their language arts program.

Well, that’s it in a nutshell. We had a good year, and though we never get to do everything I hope we’ll do, I know we’re making good progress. It’s not over yet either. We still need to take that test, and we have some important educational events and activities happening this summer. We’ll continue to do some “lite homeschooling” through August too. Our 7th grade and 4th grade year will begin in September. (Yikes!)

Another note: Since I have less time to write these focused blog posts, I have begun to write monthly or bimonthly updates. There’s not a lot of “how to” in them, and sometimes I ramble or wax poetic, but I try to give you updates on our homeschool, activities and favorite books/resources. If you’d like to keep up with how we’re doing, please consider following my blog.

And I’d love to hear from you too. What is your homeschool like? What are your favorite resources? If you have any questions, I’m happy to try to answer them. Thanks for reading!