Homeschool: Book Reviews, Fourth Grade

If you are looking for comparison reviews, you will not find them here. I am just going to review the books that we used for fourth grade. For most subjects, we used whatever I had decided upon when I was researching material in the spring of 2017. There were a few times we switched, midway. Otherwise, these were either chosen from online reviews, recommended by friends, or recommended by the local homeschool store. This was my first year homeschooling, after two years of virtual public school. I am learning as I go.

I already reviewed some homeschool education books:


ULTIMATE HOMESCHOOL PLANNERThe Ultimate Homeschool Planner, Debra Bell. I love planners, I love lists, I love planning and organizing. This book, believe it or not, was a bit much for me, which I think means that it would be a bit much for most homeschool moms/dads. I found the space to be awesome, and some of the record-keeping at the back, awesome. It was totally missing attendance, though, which my state requires me to keep, so I really would have liked that. (I made my own in the Notes section.) There are two pages to reflect on each week, worked in between all the planning, and in the end, all that space made me feel guilty because I wasn’t keeping track of accomplishments and prayers and encouragements and me-time and… In theory, I would have loved to do this, but I think many homeschools (as well as most modern Americans with kids) are operating on survival mode most of the time, so all that introspection—while ideal—is not tremendously realistic. I liked it in theory, I just didn’t need the guilt. Next year, I’ll be using a more streamlined planner for a cheaper price, although I could see myself coming back to this one if I can’t find one that fits me better.

ECLECTIC HOMESCHOOLERS PLANBOOKThe Eclectic Homeschooler’s Planbook, The Eclectic Homeschooler. This would be an option for the homeschool mom or dad or homeschooler whose hobby is coloring. I bought it for my son, to teach him planning. It was full of places to doodle and plenty to color, but in the end we skipped almost everything but the actual planning, which made all the heft unnecessary (although leaving him plenty of space to write in his giant, sometimes creative, handwriting). As in the review above, I will be skipping this next year in favor of a much slimmer and less expensive planner, which I am going to use just to teach scheduling alongside the workbox method, ala Sue Patrick.


JESUS STORYBOOK BIBLEThe Jesus Storybook Bible, Sally Lloyd-Jones and Jago. Already reviewed this book HERE. Not only do I recommend this book for homeschool, but for any kid. It was a great way to go through the Bible stories once before going on to “devotions” and theology.

WHO IS GODWho Is God (and Can I Really Know Him)?, John Hay and Eric Webb. And this is where we went next. I’m gonna be honest. I used this book because it was given to me. But I also know that my son has a predilection for theology and philosophy, even at the elementary school level. So even though it seemed a bit dry to me, at times, he always paid attention and soaked most of it up. Pretty straight-forward and very basic, my son enjoyed the stories most (which were few and far between). Seems like a good resource for teaching very basic Christian theology in just about any protestant setting. There might be better, but this worked fine.


365 JOURNAL WRITING IDEAS365 Journaling Ideas, Rossi Fox. I have also already reviewed this one, HERE. I think it’s a great resource, and it’s just what it presents itself to be. I used the prompts (but had to modify them for age-appropriateness) for journal time. I also used the quotes for dictation. I will be keeping this one on the shelf, though we are going to a prayer journal next year. Man, my son dislikes reading and writing.

GETTY DUBAYHandwriting Success, Getty-Dubay Productions. Whew! As I just mentioned, my son dislikes reading and writing. He hates handwriting. He avoids it like the plague. Therefore, I gave up on this system and went to a more natural approach. In other words, I correct his handwriting during regular work and sometimes make him re-write a few times. I think when I was a kid, I would have been perfectly happy copying the letters, but for a hyperactive kid with a fine motor lag, it is torture. Especially If you still want to teach cursive though, this seems to be a fine, standard program to use, especially from the beginning. It would also be really easy to assign as “homework” (aka. driving in the car to a doctor’s appointment or to get groceries), since even a young child can do copy work in their workbook without much supervision.

ALL ABOUT SPELLINGAll About Spelling, Learning Press. I think the main issue with this program for us was that we started too late. It seems like a great program for teaching spelling from the beginning. Where we are (fourth grade), it was much simpler to lapse into—again—a more natural approach to spelling. In other words, do occasional dictations or copy work and correct his spelling. We also had someone identify some phonetic issues with his reading, so we moved to a phonics system, which is also a way of learning spelling. (And reading itself is another way to learn spelling.) I like the organization of this system, which makes it easy to teach and mildly interesting for the kids. I would recommend to a family starting at a younger age and who wants to directly teach spelling.

GRAMMAR ACEThe Grammar Ace, Duane Bolin. I thought this book and workbook were a fine approximately-fourth-grade grammar, but there was something in me that kept thinking I would have to defend that opinion. I’m not sure why. The teacher’s manual is sure easy to use. The activities are doable. The worksheets are cute (although occasionally out-of-touch). And the author links the program with the School House Rock: Grammar DVD (which you’re just going to wish is longer). If I were to do it again, I would do this one again. But it is only for one year. So next year we’ll review these same concepts in a different format. It is meant as a once-through and then review later, circular-learning kind of thing.

SCHOOL HOUSE ROCKSchool House Rock: Grammar, Disney. As mentioned above, I just wish this DVD had more songs. If there was a School House Rock song for every grammatical concept, the world would be a better, more interesting place. My son thought I was crazy when I played the first of these very outdated videos, but he couldn’t help it… they grew on him, as I think they would most people.

24 READY TO GO GENRE BOOK REPORTS24 Ready-to-Go Genre Book Reports, Susan Ludwig. This book is great. My only complaint would be that there are not enough options, especially for fiction books. If she had tripled the offerings, it would be about perfect. Meant to use in a typical classroom setting, for homeschool use I usually skipped the worksheet and just had a little conference to assign the book report. What resulted are my favorite of Eamon’s productions of the year, including the typical paper quilt, mini story book, and postcards, among others.

WRITERS INCWriters Inc.: A Student Handbook for Writing and Learning. We didn’t use this much yet, because it is a little advanced for most elementary schoolers. However, I believe that we will use it as a reference in middle school and beyond. Something I will keep handy on the shelf and I believe we’ll get plenty of use out of. Reminds me of The Elements of Style, but more thorough, or a Chicago Manual of Style for kids.

PHONICS PATHWAYSPhonics Pathways, Dolores G. Hiskes. While not the hippest of books, this really does the trick for teaching phonics. I still think that there must be (or should be) a book that explains phonics to homeschool moms/dads more thoroughly and straight-forwardly. But I like that I could just open this book from day to day and jump into lessons. It was easy to see where we needed to linger and where we could keep moving along. Also, there were some fairly fun games, at least near the beginning, and it would be easy to come back to certain concepts to review them. A chart of phonics rules for the wall would make this system work even better for us. We’ll be using more of these books in the future. (NOTE: This would usually be used for younger students, but we were working to fix some phonics knowledge holes.)


HORIZONS MATH 4Horizons Math, Horizons. I don’t really have any complaints about this system. It is colorful. (It is Christian, and has some Biblical-related work, like decoding a Bible verse with math, FYI.) It has teaching instruction for every day, sometimes with guidance with manipulatives, as well as answer keys. There is plenty of practice, as well as a system of cyclical learning and review which particularly appeals to me. However, my son was bored by it. He went from loving math to dreading it. Not sure if it was the book or something else, I did decide to try something else for the second half of the year. But I still think I would recommend it.

BEAST ACADEMYBeast Academy, Art of Problem Solving. This is the math program that we shifted to, mid-year. Why? Because it was based on comic books. While my son did enjoy the comics, the math was super-conceptual at times and the explanations were beyond wordy. The last thing my son needs is more words in his happy little world of numbers. It also did not have any natural review and not much repetitive practice. I get that it was trying to get kids to understand the concepts so that they can think their way out of any math problem, but the issue arises when trying to drop that understanding into a child’s brain. Like I said, there was a lot of explanation and sometimes questions that went beyond advanced. I wanted to like this series, but I think it would only appeal to a small percentage of little mathematicians. We are once again moving on for next year.

LIFE OF FREDLife of Fred, Elementary series, Stanley F. Schmidt. It is hard to express how great these books are, but if you just take a moment and notice the cult following… Yes, yes. They look sorta awful. A preliminary perusal may lead you to believe that everyone is mad. But kids love them! Adults even love them. Somehow, despite the horrid illustrations and the ridiculous concept (of Fred, a five-year-old math professor who lives in his office, under his desk), Fred seriously grows on you. And kids do math happily. Personally, I am using the series to supplement a more traditional math curriculum (if I can ever find one to settle on), even though I’m not sure that’s the way it’s intended. It is really brilliant to have a day a week when my son shouts “Hooray!” when I say, “Math time!”


MARKABLE MAP OF THE WORLDMarkable Map of the World. This is not a book. It is a large, laminated, black and white map of the world. I would recommend it, though, when teaching world history. We just kept coming back to it to mark new countries, as well as remind ourselves where things like the Fertile Crescent were. I hope that tools like this give my homeschooler a reference point, or a broader perspective with context.

TIMELINE BOOKThe Timeline Book, Sonlight. Admittedly, the student does all the work in this book (as opposed to the publisher). It’s basically a blank timeline from 5000 BC to current time, which they fill with the history they learn. But I lurve the idea of it. We didn’t use it as much as planned this year, but I still think that we will keep using it all the way through middle school and even high school, and it will be a cherished almost-heirloom. Again, my hope with a tool like this is to give my child perspective and context. (NOTE: It has a late start date as it is marketed to young-world Creationists. It was easy to add some time to the beginning, but obviously there’s not a ton of room for it. Then again, there’s not a whole lotta detail in prehistory.)

THE STORY OF THE WORLDThe Story of the World, Susan Wise Bauer. This is a four-volume history of the world, meant to be used over four years. I am using it as a two-year introduction to world history, for my son. (Again, we’re late to the party, so we’re doing what we can do.) My son has really enjoyed our history time—when we move homeschool to the family room and he snuggles up to hear me read stories about empires and kings and all sorts of things. I have not yet tried the companion workbooks, so I used the internet to find worksheets and projects related to the reading. I am going to try the workbooks next year, because I ended up having to pay for the decent worksheets most the time, anyways. TeachersPayTeachers is a good resource for this. I have to say, I enjoyed our history reading and projects, too. We will be using the remaining volumes next year. Recommend.

CHILDS HISTORY OF THE WORLDA Child’s History of the World, Virgil .M. Hillyear. We didn’t end up using this much, but only because we had enough history to be getting along with, in The Story of the World. The few chapters that we read in A Child’s History of the World were great, though. I enjoyed it. My son liked it. I would recommend it, especially for younger children, perhaps before you get to The Story of the World, as it is not as thorough. It is out of print, and perhaps hard to procure. Recommend, for earlier.

GEOGRAPHY COLORING BOOKThe Geography Coloring Book, Wynn Kapit. This book is geared more toward adults, or at least older students. Still, I would recommend it. At ten, my son’s a little sloppy, and we’re not exactly utilizing all the info in the book so far, but I still like having him color a new country when we introduce it, both individually and in context. We will continue to use this over the years.


EXPLORING BOTANY THROUGH CREATIONExploring Creation with Botany, Apologia Young Explorers, Fulbright. Obviously, this series of science books is Christian and is rooted in creation by God. If you are not a Christian—especially if you are antagonistic toward creation science—don’t bother with this series. If you are a Christian or are not opposed to the worldview, then this is an excellent series. However, when I was looking for curriculum, at least two people said to me, “You have to go with Apologia Young Explorers, but you’ll have to edit as you read.” In other words, while these books are young-Earth, world-wide-flood proponents, they are so good that even an old-Earth, regional-flood believer could and should use them. You just skip parts. Why bother? Because they are written so well, immensely informative, conversational, approachable, and interesting. We used the workbook for botany, and I thought it was really cool. The only reason I didn’t continue with the workbooks is because we were all set to fly through the three zoology books and wouldn’t have time to do the workbooks justice. This book is best when it takes the whole year to go through it.

SWIMMING CREATURES OF THE FOURTH DAYExploring Creation with Zoology 1, 2 and 3 (Swimming Creatures, Flying Creatures, and Land Animals), Apologia Young Explorers, Fulbright. See the review above. Since we were jumping into home school a little late, we kinda breezed through some things that should have been lingered over. This was the case with this zoology season, which easily could have taken three years, or at least 1 ½. We still enjoyed it, but as time progressed, we had less and less time to do the experiments and activities, of which there are plenty right in the textbook.

THE NATURE CONNECTIONThe Nature Connection: A Workbook, Clare Walker Leslie. This is a book that I already had on my shelf, for use when we went camping as a family. This is a great book for interacting with nature. I will likely always include a natural element to school, since my son is likely to become some sort of biologist or something. Between this and a nature journal, it is easy to bring a small bit of school to a hike or even just a walk outside.

202 OOZING BUBBLING EXPERIMENTS202 Oozing, Bubbling, Dripping & Bouncing Experiments, Janice VanCleave. This is a fairly standard and useful book. We use it and will continue to do so. Some of the experiments require that you think ahead and procure things, others you can do on the spur of the moment. I find it useful to have a science experiment book on hand, and this is a fine one to use. VanCleave also has more experiment books, science fair books, a book about scientists, and some home school resources, as well as a “For All Kids” series, with hands-on fun related to various subjects, from geometry and geography to oceans and nutrition. These would be worth exploring, especially if your homeschooler is kinesthetic.

BIG BAD BOOK OF BOTANYThe Big Bad Book of Botany and The Big Bad Book of Beasts, Michael Largo. These are not really meant for kids, but I found them to be a fun resource when studying botany and zoology. We referenced them occasionally, so I didn’t end up purchasing them (just got them from the library), but I wouldn’t mind having them on the bookshelf. They could be better, but a great idea.


JOURNAL OF AN ADHD KIDJournal of an ADHD Kid, Tobias Stumpf with Dawn Schaefer Stumpf. Well, this book is noble, at least. Written by a kid with ADHD (and assisted by his mom), this book is an attempt to make kids with ADHD feel normal and confident. My son doesn’t have issues feeling normal or confident, but he did learn a few things about his ADHD, which was the point. The lessons can be very particular and my son, at ten, is not totally awesome at answering open-ended questions, ala “How does that make you feel?” It was okay. We have finished the book and will be moving on to something else next year.

CODING GAMES IN SCRATCHCoding Games in Scratch, DK. Since my son is already obsessed with computers, we thought we should begin his education in programming, etc. Last year he did some fiddling with Scratch, a program which introduces kids to programming by having them use coding blocks to make games. He liked it. This book, however, he ended up hating. (You win some, you lose some, with kids.) The only reason? Some of the lessons took forever. But, considering that it takes a long time to code a more complex game, I’m not sure this could be avoided. The book was bright and cheery, informative to a point, and did just what it said it was going to: walk your child through something like ten different game creations. To continue past this book, however, you may want the Scratch coding cards as a reference to make your own games. We’ll be graduating to a slightly older series, next year.

TYPING QUESTTypingQuest, TypingMaster. This is not a book. It is an online computer program. It was the only computer-based work we did this year besides Coding, as we were decompressing from all that time on the computer in virtual school. My husband is a big believer in typing lessons, while I tend to be more like, “They’ll learn as they need it.” Well, it can’t really hurt to sit him down in front of the keyboard and have a child follow modules to learn the correct way, right? TypingQuest—at like $25 a year or something–accomplishes what I wanted it to, and my son didn’t even hate it. After one year, however, I’m not exactly sure where we go next year. We could repeat the module. Actually, we might, as my son has not exactly mastered typing but there appears to be only one kid-friendly “quest.”

MOZARTS MAGICAL FANTASYClassical Kids Collection, vol. 1-4. This collection of four CDs, beginning with Mozart’s Magical Fantasy, is a sort of home education classic. What do we say? Boo! There’s no moral opposition here, it was just odd and goofy (in a bad way) and didn’t feature enough beautiful music. Mostly, it is a poorly-written story told in cheesy voices, with some music here and there. Not the way we will be introducing our kids to music, in the end. I sold it before even opening the second volume.

ALFREDS BASIC PIANOAlfred’s Basic Piano Library, Palmer, Manus, and Lethco. We used level 1A this year. If we were better at practicing (or enforcing practicing), we could have done more than that. There is a lot I like about this series. If you buy the whole set (which I did), the student is introduced to theory at the same time. Starts super-basic, which we needed. My only complaint is that you have to do a little snooping around in the books to figure out how the four of them weave together. I just made a chart, so that I only had to do this once and then refer to the chart for each lesson. Recommended. But do yourself a favor and make a chart.

ART FOR KIDS DRAWINGDrawing, Art for Kids, Kathryn Temple. I decided that for art this year, we would concentrate on the art form that my kid likes best: drawing. I wanted to encourage him to draw something more than stick figure men and a constant stream of mechs shooting other mechs. While he did end up branching into jellyfish, I think this book was a little intimidating for a child. He was on board for lines and perspective, but then when he was thrust into drawing cats and dresses using shapes… it just moved too fast to instill any confidence. It’s an okay book, but there have to be better, and maybe I should have gone with drawing comics instead.

LITTLE BOOK FOR BOYSLittle Book for Boys, M.L. Stratton. I bought this when my kids and I were wandering the shop at a historical farm. It appealed to me because I feel how very different childhood is now from when I was a child. There wasn’t that huge of a difference between my childhood and my parents’. This book ended up being my favorite thing to teach all year. I called it “Boyhood,” and (although I realize it would be better if these things had happened naturally with neighborhood friends) it was fun and, I think, beneficial for my son to participate in everything from making Worms in Dirt to playing Kick the Can. It also added some variety and fun to the random school day.


WHAT YOUR FOURTH GRADER NEEDS TO KNOWWhat Your Fourth Grader Needs to Know, E.D. Hirsch, Jr.. I buy a grade-appropriate copy of this book every year. It’s like my life-line to degreed teachers and traditional classrooms. (It comforts me.) I’ve never yet figured out how to use it within the educational experience, but I can at least reference it out of curiosity. I have read the literature readings to my son most years, but I never use the common phrases or whatever they are. We did use it to do some review before taking the end of year tests, this year, and that was mildly helpful. (Note: Science and history will vary, obviously, as different schools break it down different. While many kids around here were doing local history and general science this year, I was teaching early world history and botany and zoology. It’ll all come out in the wash.)

USBORNE CHILDREN'S ENCYCLOPEDIAThe Usborne Children’s Encyclopedia, Jane Eliot and Colin King. This is meant, I think, more for keeping out and about and looking through it with your young kids. It is hard to use as a reference, but it is interesting and fun to look at. A great book for a child’s bookshelf. Not so much for a school shelf.

dict complete jacket revthursSSDictionary for Children, MacMillan. Our copy of this is as old as my own childhood. A classic, it doesn’t have every word, but it is bright and has large print (for a dictionary), which makes it a great beginner dictionary. (It’s also not too kid-dy to be useful.) Eventually, we will graduate to our copy of The American Heritage Student Dictionary. Not yet. Recommend.

USBORNE SCIENCE ENCYCLOPEDIAThe Usborne Science Encyclopedia. This book is cool, but is also hard to use as a reference. Even so, we pulled it out to supplement our science learning. Like all the Usborne books, it is great to look at and to engage the child’s imagination in learning.

USBORNE GEOGRAPHY ENCYCLOPEDIAThe Usborne Geography Encyclopedia. This was not particularly useful as an atlas. As always, interesting and pretty, but hard to use as a reference. We used our copy of National Geographic’s Student Atlas of the World more often, even though ours is out of date.

USBORNE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF WORLD HISTORYThe Usborne Encyclopedia of World History. This Usborne product, on the other hand, we loved using. In chronological order, basically, it was easier to place where we were in our lessons, and I believe it really helped to bring history more alive to see bright drawings of the places and times we were learning about. Recommend.


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