A Very Visual Learner – So Which Curriculum?

A Comparison of A.C.E. vs Horizons For a Very Visual Learner. 

I’m early in my Homeschooling adventure.  My kids are 5, 4, and 2 1/2 (and minus 7 months but who’s counting). I will not claim to be good at this yet nor will I pretend to provide professional or experienced advice…because frankly, I just don’t have it yet.

They say experience is the name we give to our mistakes.  Let me introduce you to my first one and maybe I can help someone out there avoid making the same costly mistake.

IMG_3488I was so excited to get started homeschooling that when my son was the ripe old age of 3, I spent nearly $300 on a full scale curriculum.  I thought I had done my homework. I attended the homeschool conference in my area and I really liked what I saw with this curriculum.  It was HUGE. These 4 volumes are full and they are just the teacher’s manual.  It outlined
what you should do for every minute of every day.  It was a type A users dream come true (probably should have been my first warning).  It looked fantastic and exactly what I would have wanted for myself were I back in kindergarten. The program was A.C.E.  It had a gazillion of weekly workbooks covering lots of subjects.

The only problem was, I didn’t really know enough about my son’s learning abilities to recognize that it absolutely wouldn’t work for us.  The program was a highly “audible based” style of learning.  The parent (or teacher) would read a long story, with 1 picture only, and the kids were supposed to sit and listen and comprehend the story.  That sounds great…right up until you find out that you have a child who excels at learning visually and struggles audibly.

IMG_3487This program had a huge amount of weekly workbooks, and that looked great too – right up until I realized they did not include written instructions.  These were parent led instructions given “audibly” so you probably wouldn’t be able to pick one up and work through any of it without the lesson planning books to go along with them. The reading books were not really reading books.  They were pictures that supplemented a story that you read aloud – only.  At least, that’s as far as we got.

For my very visual learner with a couple auditory challenges, this wouldn’t cut it.  I went back to the drawing board.  For one thing, I needed to know more about my son and that took another couple of years.  He’s not just a visual learner, he is also hyperlexic.  Basically, this means that he is a natural de-coder of language and he was teaching himself to read using visual cues and basically memorizing his way through the entire English language.  This is good, even great…but challenging.  His comprehension didn’t work at the same speed as his memorization and decoding so we had to struggle to help him learn to fully understand what he was reading – and hearing!  Having him just “listen” wasn’t going to happen, because processing auditory language was at the other end of his abilities.  He could read it, but if I spoke it to him, his eyes would glaze over as I realized I probably sounded a lot like the teacher in a Charlie Brown  cartoon.  (Wha wha wha, wha wha!) This means that we have to go about learning language the hard way – i.e. as if audible language were his second language and reading was his first.

None of this is really a big deal though – unless you bought a curriculum that expects him to listen to a story and understand it.  It was utterly useless for us.

I visited the big homeschool store here in the Greater Houston area run by a homeschool family.  I asked the owner to show me very visual based programs for kindergarten.  She directed me to the Horizons program.

What a difference!    This program doesn’t require you to read 3-6 pages of “here is what you are going to do minute by minute for the entire day/week/month/year”.  I’m not saying that is bad.  It just didn’t work for me either.

Instead, this program has a small teachers guide that briefly and visually instructs you how to  demonstrate the daily lessons for that day using a whiteboard or other tactile objects.  It’s concise and let’s you get the information across quickly and succinctly – and most important, it’s very very very visual.

IMG_3489The instructions for each section are right on the workbook page too.  This means that my visual son was beginning to learn the pattern of the instructions and watch for changes between sections.  After 2 weeks, he was reading the instructions for the sections by himself and then following them correctly.  That’s not to say he just magically got it.  We had to work at that.  Lots of times, he would assume he knew what the instructions were asking and just start working away.  Hello big eraser!  Instead, I made him focus on the instructions, recognizing what instructions are, and how important they are because they tell us what to do.

One way I made him focus on comprehension was I made him start to underline certain words in the instructions. So if the instructions asked him to circle something, I would have him underline or circle that word in the instructions and then underline and circle whatever item the instructions indicated.

Another aspect of this program that I really like is it’s attention to learning spacial concepts very early: left, right, top, bottom, first, beginning, middle, end, inside, outside and so forth. They cover left and right very early and so it is easy to explain why we read and count from left to right and work that way too.  They cover beginning, middle, and end  as well because it’s important to recognize where letters might appear inside of words. The approach just makes sense.  It uses a spiral learning approach so that the same topic would be covered, and then reviewed, and the covered again so that it isn’t a “once and done” program.  In fairness to A.C.E, we didn’t get far enough into it to know if this is the same or different.  We sort of flopped right out the gate.  I did attempt to restart it a year later, but the results were no better.

Basically, we have progress and it is going so well.  My sons (I made the 4 year old start too) love the school room and getting to do “school”.  They love the workbook pages and they really love my whiteboard and large flip charts.

The ACE program went about things one way, and Horizons took a different approach.  Like I said, for some kids and classrooms, I bet the ACE program is outstanding.  But if you have a very visual learner – and especially if that learner has auditory challenges, this might not be as helpful as you think.  The Horizons program seems to be a better fit for us.  From a Mama perspective, I’d look long and hard look at both – especially the teacher’s manuals.  If it overwhelms you to look at the detail for a single day…

Please understand that I am not trying to say that A.C.E. is a bad program. The problem happens when  you don’t know much about your kids learning style – and really, how would you truly know that until you start getting into a kindergarten program.  And if you are a super overzealous parent like me, maybe hold off on buying an entire curriculum at 3, thinking you can get a head start.  I’ve got nothing against head starts, but reading the wise words of Charlotte Mason…don’t start too early.  But even if you do, try not to open up your wallet just yet.