Monday, November 24, 2014

In Defense of Abeka

One of the first things you think about when you decide to homeschool is curriculum. Which one will you use? Will you use a mix of them? Will you make your own? How do I know a curriculum will be right for us? When my husband and I decided we were definitely homeschooling, our oldest was pre-k age. I'm a firm believer in learning-through-play at that age, so we did a lot of purposeful playing. Since college I had always been fond of the Reggio Emilia approach to learning. I was homeschooled through 8th grade, and despite having a regular box curriculum for formal learning, I naturally leaned towards the RE education philosophy in my play time without even knowing that's what I was doing. Growing up on a farm, I lived Reggio Emilia.
   Naturally, I took this approach with my oldest's pre-k learning with supplemental sides of activities inspired by the Letter of the Week program. My husband, who grew up completely "mainstream" so to speak, was not completely convinced this was giving her what she needed, so for her kindergarten year I researched curricula, showed the hubs what I'd found and what I thought of things, and we agreed that we liked A Beka. He liked that it was an accredited curriculum and met, if not exceeded, all standards for New York State schools, and that it covered every subject. I liked that it did seem very thorough, it followed an instructional scaffold model(more on that later ;-) ), and I knew I could work with it to meet the learning style needs of all our kids as they grew. 

    Wait- did I just hear a collective gasp of horror? Yes, I'm sure I did. One thing I've found since we started using A Beka in 2010 is that for some strange reason, A Beka is a divisive topic in the homeschooling circle. People either love it or hate it. I have a childhood friend(also a homeschooler) who almost entirely discredits anything I say about homeschooling with a disdainful, "Oh that's right. You use A Beka." I have asked over and over why when some one says they hate it and the answer all but one time that I remember was, "So much busy work!" The only other answer I can remember: "I just don't like it." Fair enough. It's that 'busy work' answer I don't understand. 

 A Beka takes an instructional scaffold, or "spiral learning" approach for their curriculum. This means concepts are introduced in their simplest forms, and with each lesson they are practiced and slightly modified or complicated, and are practiced throughout each subject. This way the learner develops a much deeper and more thorough understanding of the concept, and challenges their understanding while simultaneously bolstering their confidence with the subject matter. For example: when we learned about irregular plural nouns in Language, several of those words were on that week's spelling list and sprinkled throughout that week's reading text, along with vocabulary words from science, health, and history, and vice-versa. As the understanding deepens, new concepts are introduced so they flow smoothly into one another, so children really understand the how's and why's of concepts, not just, "This is how we find the answer." 
   I believe the stumbling block for all those crying, "Busy work!" Is the practice offered for students who take a little more time and practice to grasp a concept. For example, in math the lessons are two-sided. One side is the lesson:

The back side is the practice, both of this concept and basics from past lessons, to keep fresh in their minds and facilitate an easier time with future lessons and eliminate the need to refresh them before incorporating the new concepts:
But here's the secret so few seem to realize: If your child has an excellent grasp on these concepts, SKIP IT! Suddenly busy work = GONE! My daughter knows every day that we do the introduction of the new concept together, she practices the lesson side on her own or with however much help she needs. When she's done, we go over her work together, ensuring that we correct anything she's gotten wrong and we can re-work the problems together so I can help her figure out what went wrong. Then we turn the page and I typically hi-lite one or two problems from each numbered section. When she's finished that, if the problems are completely correct that shows me she's got it. If they're not, we go over them together, and she has the opportunity to work one or two more- or all of them, if she needs to- in order to refresh that concept. 
So while many are crying, "Busy work!"unless it's been a rough day with little focus, within two to three hours(depending on grade) we're out investigating bugs, playing with hail and learning how it's formed, baking and learning about the micro-organism yeast, getting out into the community, and doing research projects of their own choosing just for fun, because our lives have pretty much become a Reggio Emilia lifestyle of learning. And because I've heard the, "How can you possibly properly educate your child in less than five hours of formal education a day?!" as many times as a broken record, worry not. The love of learning taught through homeschooling is a lifestyle, not just a 'school at home.' My kids are learning all day, every day, and their scores in the 90th percentile(50th is considered 'average') and higher on the national standardized tests for their grades tell me we're learning just fine with Abeka, and STILL loving it. ;-) I'm not saying A Beka is the be-all end-all of curricula, nor am I saying that everyone should love it and use it, I'm just saying that before you listen to some one saying how 'awful' it is because of how full of 'busy work' it is, consider that the implementation has far more to do with it than the material itself. Simply put, if you think A Beka is awful solely because of busy work, well, to borrow the trendy colloquialism, you're doing it wrong. 


  1. I really appreciate your comments as I we investigate A Beka for our 2017/2018 school year. We are heavily leaning towards A Beka. Thanks!

  2. Thank you so much for this post. I have been homeschooling for 2 years. This is our 3rd year. I have used abeka from the beginning and I love it because it is something I can successfully teach. It is very difficult to find pro-abeka blog posts. Thank you for this.

    1. So glad I could be an encouragement to you. It is a GOOD, solid curriculum, and can still be challenging and rigorous without being monotonous.