Saturday, May 30, 2009

Review: Itty Bitty Bookworm (and a giveaway!)

The pitfall I've found in telling parents of toddlers and preschoolers that they don't need a homeschool curriculum is that the vast majority are uncomfortable with such a relaxed approach. It's all well and good for us veterans--who have already had the fun of digging into catalogs and experiencing our first Box Day--to say, "A library card is all you need! Read, play and have fun!" We, after all, have shelves full of the most alluring and enticing historical fiction, handbooks on grammar and math games. But their shelves are depressingly bare.

It doesn't feel like they're doing anything to homeschool their child. It can't be as simple as a library card and a lap, anyhow. And even if it is ... someone must have the market cornered on the best way to do that, right?

So the newbie homeschooling parents end up falling into one of two camps: the I'll-Just-Get-A-Couple-Of-Workbooks-Because-My-Three-Year-Old-Is-Smarter-Than-You-Think-And-Picture-Books-And-Real-Life-Won't-Cut-It camp, or its equally common subsidiary, the We-Read-Fiction-Intended-For-Upper-Elementary-Children-Because-My-Three-Year-Old-Is-Smarter-Than-You-Think-And-Picture-Books-And-Real-Life-Won't-Cut-It camp.

Neither of those options leads to really good places in 99% of the families I've seen. The preschooler usually begins to balk at homeschooling by the time first grade rolls around, if not before. Often, another child or two has joined the family at this point, and the mother is feeling overwhelmed. She starts her days exasperated because the bar has been placed so high. Her seven year-old either cannot be entertained with the simple beauty of Blueberries for Sal because he has already cut his teeth on the Chronicles of Narnia and has therefore left his siblings in the dust (creating a massive gap the homeschooling mother has to straddle for years) or finds his own, far-advanced schoolwork dry and dull in comparison to the simpler stuff mom is pulling out for the younger crew.

How do I know so much about the thinking of these mothers? Well, because I was one myself, of course! Witness this excerpt from my journal, dated December 2000, when Jo was just three years old:

Finished reading Charlotte's Web again tonight. Jo is still infatuated with pigs and can't get enough of them. I got everything the library had on the shelves regarding pigs, fairs and farms and tomorrow we'll start reading through them. I printed out a writing worksheet so that she can practice the letter "p" and found a "finish the drawing" coloring page where she can try to complete the outline of a pig. It feels really good to be doing something that's tangible. I finally feel like I can account for all of the hours we spend in the day.

See? I know of what I speak, ladies and gentlemen.

Which is why I always tell parents that they don't need a curriculum. Then I wait, watch their reaction and gauge whether to go ahead and give them leads anyhow. Up until now I have really only had one recommendation to pass along. Today, I have added another to my short list of Preschool Curricula That is Worth Your Time: Itty Bitty Bookworm.

First and foremost, Itty Bitty Bookworm is a literature-based learning program. This fits perfectly with my thinking on educating very young children: READ TO THEM. Cuddle up close and read, read, read and then, read some more. Itty Bitty Bookworm helps moms give themselves permission to do this. Each month's lessons are built around a variety of excellent picture books that engage curiosity, build vocabulary and build interest in the world outside your front door. From this spring board, parents lead their children through activities as rudimentary as cut-and-paste skills and
simple sing-alongs to more advanced skills like cooking and hands-on experiences. These are perfect "little guy" activities: things you might come up with on your own ... or might not, depending on how much laundry is stacked on your couch at that moment.

While Itty Bitty Bookworm isn't designed exclusively for the homeschool market, it's extremely adaptable. Each month's unit (which retail for $25 each) contains forms that remind me exactly how blessed I am to have my toddler at home under my own care. After all, I've never received a checklist letting me know when he
pottied and when he ate a cracker. I guess I could fill that out for my husband, but I chose to ignore those pdf's and get to the good stuff.

Bailey's Curriculum is designed for 18-36 month old children and their very limited attention spans. Using two books over the course of a month, young toddlers are led through simple finger plays and large motor skills, as well as some early learning activities that will appeal to moms who need a little leading to feel that their child's play has value. Thankfully, Bailey's Curriculum is not centered on tying toddlers to seatwork. This is an experiential, enriching curriculum that has its priorities in order.

Bo's Curriculum is the 3-5 year-old arm of Itty Bitty Bookworm, and features four to six books per month. Tied more to early-education standards and the celebration of holidays and seasons, moms who like the idea of a more traditional preschool approach will be challenged by the vast array of ideas. This is play with a purpose: enough organization to keep kiddos on track and moms feeling accomplished. The literature is truly what shines in Bo's curriculum, though. Classics like The Little Engine That Could are interspersed with silly recent titles like Dinosaur Train, keeping the overall feeling light and the focus on fun and parent/child interaction. I love the selection of books. They are age-appropriate, engaging and necessary. I'm sorry--but if you haven't read Barn Dance or One Duck Stuck to your preschooler, you really should!

Mini-units, which I have not seen, are also available. I noticed that some of these are Bible units, which would add a spiritual element to an otherwise secular curricula.

A second year of Bo's Curriculum is in process, while the first is complete for both Bo and Bailey. Itty Bitty Bookworm allows parents to order an entire year's worth of lessons, or to select a month at a time. Because each month is a separate, self-contained unit, parents can truly customize by skipping entire months in addition to picking and choosing among the recommended activities and readings. This month-by-month approach may be a blessing to parents feeling a money crunch, too; there have definitely been years when Mr. Blandings and I would have far preferred paying $25 per month for curricula rather than ponying up $250 at one pop.

The biggest downside I can find with Itty Bitty Bookworm is simply this: the onus is on the teaching parent to collect the books and materials to be used in each week's learning. Parents with expendable income can easily purchase all of the books and supplies using the lists provided. Those with an excellent library system and the opportunity to work a weekly outing into their schedule can easily take advantage of resources as well. But a mom with many littles or older children with educational needs of their own may find the extra legwork just enough to negate the benefits of having a pre-written plan to pull from.

Tara Rison, the founder of Itty Bitty Bookworm, has graciously offered to sponsor a giveaway for people who comment on this post. Simply visit the Itty Bitty Bookworm site, peek through the Bo or Bailey pages and let me know which book listed has been a family favorite in your house. You'll be entered in a drawing for three months of either the Bo or Bailey programs.

Happy reading!


Mom Of E's said...

This curriculum looks like it would be a lot of fun!

In our house, we love the book from Bailey's Curriculum called "Little White Duck". My grandma had an old 45 record with this song, and my brother and I listened to it constantly as children. So, when I found this brightly illustrated book, I bought it instantly. We've read it enough times that it has been taped and re-taped. There's no better sight than a well-loved children's book!

Thanks, MG!

Melissa said...

We love lots of the books I see on their lists-- Goodnight Gorilla, Blueberries for Sal, The Napping House...

Thanks for the review. I hadn't heard of Itty-Bitty Bookworm before.

W said...

Oh my! In our house, my almost-3-year-old is currently dazzled by "The Little Engine That Could". Many other favorites in Bo's Curriculum too. So glad I came across this! -wendy

Anonymous said...

So many great book selections. We all love the Napping House and Blueberries for Sal. Even my 10 and 9yr olds will gather around for those treasures.

Anonymous said...

Hands down The Napping House... that is a book that I have memorized. I love it... the details beyond the words are amazing.

Thanks for the review. I was looking for something super simple to do with my three year old this fall. But I'm not looking to do school... just some activities. This sounds perfect!

(Speedy Mom from SL)

ThyHandHathProvided said...

Thanks for the review- I have never heard of this curriculum and I have a 3 1/2 year old who will be sitting with us to do school in the fall. This sounds really great. We've read Good Night Moon and Blueberries for Sal (as well as others)- Bo Curriculum. Thank you!!

Lindy Lou Who said...

Oh, me! ME! The Napping Book. LOVE IT!

CJ said...

I recently heard of this curriculum and am thinking about using it with my daughter. Blueberries for Sal gets read over and over again at our house.

anya* said...

Ok, apparently we need to read the Napping Book! Everyone is recommending it. But we love Blueberries for Sal, Green Eggs and Ham...Chicken Soup with Rice- there are tons of good ones on the list- but also lots we haven't read in our house. What a fun give away!

The Beaver Bunch said...

Wow. There are a ton of books in this curriculum that I like.

The Napping House
Silly Sally
Goodnight Moon

Oh, I'd be so stinkin' stoked if we won this!

Allie said...

I feel a little silly saying we like Goodnight Moon the best, but for both my boys (ages one and two) it is a winner. Especially for Cory, my one year old, Goodnight Moon is the one he requests above (almost) all others.

We love to use a library card and a lap - but there are many people in my church who are interested in homeschooling, but coming from a public school mindset and don't know quite what to do. (I was homeschooled myself, or I know for sure I'd be with them!) I'd love to win this and show them that they can preschool their kids. :)

Anonymous said...

You are so right-on!
A friend of mine has two kids who are over three years ahead in their curriculum ~ and two kids who are about two years behind in their curriculum. She (the mom) is burnt out completely and wants to put the advanced two into school, however they are so far ahead that they are unable to place them in the right group. "Do I let my ten year old go to ninth grade with kids who are well into their teens, or do I let her be 'dummed down' and go to fifth grade and be bored out of their skulls?" she asked me one day. I just shook my head. What a pickle!

Bethany said...

We have enjoyed reading Corduroy. I still have my book from when I was a kid and have read it to my children and to my daycare kids.

Amanda said...

There are a lot of books there that we have enjoyed. But, my favorite, by far, is The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big, Hungry Bear. I know what you mean by wondering if reading to them can really be enough and feeling the need to do something more tangible with preschoolers. That thought creeps in, but I have seen the difference between kids who are read to and kids who aren't. For anyone who doubts, I suggest reading Jim Trelease's book, The Read-Aloud Handbook. It is full of great titles categorized by age, too! It made me a believer!

Beth said...

Hmmm. Several good books, but I love Blueberries for Sal and Goodnight, Gorilla.

Looks like an interesting curriculum.

The White House said...

Hello MG! Thanks for stopping by my blog, after you found me through Anya! I would love to be able to email you, but I can't seem to find a way to do that on my blog. So shoot me a line over at thetallamy @t H0tmail d0t c*m. What city are you in?

Birthblessed said...

When Belen was 2 1/2, she wanted me to read Make Way For Ducklings every day at naptime. Now it's Eden napping, and she wants Is Your Mama A Llama every day. :)

(I have to add-- I didn't find their website all that comfortable to navigate. Looking at the books for each month required a lot of clicking and back-browsering.)

Anonymous said...

The kids have loved "Make Way for Ducklings" and we all love "The Napping House".

There are so many great books.


Heather Benza said...

We love "Guess How Much I Love I You" the most, but really there are tons of great ones! We are definitely interested in Bailey's. Thanks for letting us know about this!

EllaJac said...

Wow, we used to have One Duck Stuck - SO CUTE! I don't know what happened to it. Probably my second-born.

A current favorite is Goodnight Moon. I remember being introduced to that book in college (El. Ed. major), and COMPLETELY scoffing at such goofiness, and how did that book last so long as such a highly-recommended read?!? Haha, eating my words now. "Goodnight nobody."

Tanya said...

I see favorites from all of my children on there. Here are a few of the current favs:
Goodnight Moon (my 18 month old and 3yo)
The Little Engine that Could (3yo)
Miss Spider (3yo and 6yo)

Looks like a nice curriculum!

Carie said...

We have loved Clap Your Hands in Bailey's Curriculum! My older boys couldn't get enough and I can't wait to read it with the baby.
Thanks for entering me in your giveaway!
Carie Shinn

Kimmie said...

Thank you Father for the library...all good gifts come from above! ;-)

Praying for you...
mama to 7
one homemade and 6 adopted