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Redwood Games: Curriculum Reviews


The Core Knowledge Series

"What Your 3rd Grader Needs to Know"
"What Your 4th Grader Needs to Know"
by E.D. Hirsch Jr.

These books are list priced at $10.95 and available at WaldenBooks or Costco. Each book contains:

  • Excerpts and selections from literature ranging from "Robinson Crusoe" to short stories from American Indian mythology
  • Poems
  • Explanation of this grade's grammar expectations
  • Geography
  • World History
  • American History
  • Fine Arts (music, paintings, architecture etc.)
  • Math expectations (but no real practice)
  • Science

The literature selections are often too difficult for my kids (4th and 6th grade) to read by themselves. I have them read the selections out loud to me so I can help with challenging vocabulary.

The other material is engrossing and fun. The 4th grader reads out loud to me but the 6th grader is able to read independently. I'm creating short answer questions which you can see on the previous page.

Strengths: The material is interesting and fun. It is not dummied down nor is it patronizing as so much educational material is. All of us enjoy these books.

Weaknesses: The literature selections are too hard for independent reading unless it is reading out loud to an adult who can help with comprehension. There are no questions or tests to go along with the material so you have to make them up. You will definitely have to supplement this with a complete mathematics program like Saxon or Key Curriculum.

Key Curriculum Press Workbooks

These include:
  • Key to Fractions
  • Key to Decimals
  • Key to Percents
  • Key to Geometry
  • Key to Measurement
  • Key to Algebra
Key Curriculum Press is at:
P.O. Box 2304
Berkeley, CA 94702
(800) 995-MATH

These consumable booklets are CHEAP! Each costs about $2.80. There are from four to eight booklets in each series. The first booklets are suitable for grade school and the later booklets bring the subject through high school.

Each lesson is introduced in a step by step manner that allows both child and parent to understand the concept easily. My kids work these without much input from me. My 9 year old is bisecting angles and doing things I don't have a clue about (until I read the lesson material).

You can switch around. Do booklet #1 of measurement, then booklet #1 of decimals, etc. Kids like to have some choice in this.

Key Curriculum Press also has answer keys and tests that go along with the booklets.

Strengths: Easy for anyone including your child to understand. Encourages success. Are mathematically rigorous. Are good for both math enthusiasts and those who think they don't like or understand math. Kids enjoy the workbook approach.

Weaknesses: Since they are focused on each particular area you miss some of the material that you would get in a good textbook. Subjects you'll want to augment include probability, set theory, basic operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division) and word problems. I've found that Kids need to regularly review old material so you'll want to hit the 4 basics and whatever else they've learned previously about every week or so with some supplemental assignments. But the key concepts are here.

Comprehensive Curriculum

American Education Publishing

I got these at Costco for $7.95 but they list for $19.95. They are huge, consumable paperbacks. There is one of these books for each grade K-6. They each have about 400 pages of worksheets supposedly covering all the subjects.

They are boooooring! I use them sparingly to make sure my kids will be able to understand what some of the standardized tests want them to do. I find the grammar pages useful.

The vocabulary is dummied down. Concepts that should be interesting are presented in such a patronizing manner that all excitement is removed from them. They reflect your typical U.S. Educational establishment preoccupation with politically correct subjects and slippery subjects that turn to mush in your hands.

Strengths: Your kids will be exposed to educational jargon and types of questions that they will encounter on standardized tests. They will be reminded of why they don't want to go back to public school.

Weaknesses: Boring, dummied-down, patronizing and fuzzy. They in no way represent a complete curriculum. You cannot use them without additional educational materials.

Treasure Chests

Quarto Children's Books Ltd
The Fitzpatrick Building
188-194 York Way
London, N7 9QP

Running Press Book Publishers
125 South Twenty-second Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19103-4399
  • Aztecs
  • Knights
  • Egypt
  • Greece
  • China

You can order through your bookstore or by sending $19.95 plus $2.50 to the Philadelphia address.

I got these at Costco for about $12-$15 and my kids love them. Each chest is about 10"x8"x3" and has things to make (paper pyramids, castles, wooden siege machines, feather headdresses, etc.) plus a richly illustrated (but small) booklet on the subject. Each also includes a game of that civilization.

Strengths: Provide days of engrossing fun. Hands-on materials bring the subject to life.

Weaknesses: You'll need one for each child because they aren't going to want to share. The assembly of some items requires age 10 and up unless the younger child is willing to let the older help.

Word Power Made Easy

by Norman Lewis
Pocket Books
List price $7.99

This is the way to learn vocabulary! The author points out the Latin, Greek, French, etc. roots to the words so that you can start to figure out unknown words from their parts. There is lots of descriptive use of the words in context which is real important in these days when people use thesauruses and misuse words because they don't know the nuances. I recommend it for age 12 and up.

Pro One Windows Computer CD's (Windows software)

Pro One Software
P.O. Box 16317
Las Cruces, NM 88004

I bought these for just under $30 each at Costco. I don't have the Math one so these comments are about the others. Each box contains a number of cd's, all of which follow the same format. There are a series of lessons with a written explanation, a verbal introduction and several multiple choice type exercises. Each has "video" but it is a waste of bandwidth since it just features a person standing and talking. There are no pictures. I'm convinced there must be programs like this out there that use the multimedia capabilities of the computer far better.


For Spanish, you can click on the words and phrases and hear them spoken which is a huge advantage over tape and books. But without pictures or dialogs this program is lacking compared to what it could have been had the authors taken advantage of the computer's graphics capabilities. Oddly enough, my kids enjoy the Spanish programs. They are paced well and easy to learn from and give me a rest!


This has 4 cd's. The Composition cd is just a lecture on how to write and worth the paper its written on < >. The vocabulary is OK but I prefer the book, Word Power Made Easy. The Grammar is just multiple choice questions similar to what you would get in Comprehensive Curriculum. It includes both Middle and High school grammar. All in all, you can get this material more cheaply and better by buying a couple of inexpensive books.


Includes Biology I and II, Chemistry and Physics. The material is pretty good and the multiple choice format works OK for this. Static illustrations comprise the "video" lecture portion. Most of the material in a junior high or general biology course is covered in the two disc biology. There is not enough depth to make this an AP Biology course or even to explain the concepts. One advantage: you can hear the words pronounced. I would have never figured out how to say "Cnideria" on my own! Other than this, a written text would probably do the job better and have more illustrations. However, you can't beat the price.


Strengths: Clicking on foreign words is an excellent way to learn. There is a lot of information packed into a very inexpensive box. The lessons are paced well. The information is solid and you can print out the lesson. They have a lot of speech and good feedback for correct and incorrect answers. Overworked homeschool moms get a rest while the computer takes over correcting students' mistakes.

Weaknesses: The video is a useless selling gimmick. There are no pictures. The programs require good reading skills since there is really no useful multimedia aspect to them. There is no way to print out progress reports, no way to print out tests and no way to print out exercises. Disappointing because of the lack of graphics.

Math Rescue (DOS software that runs under Windows)

This is a great program that you should run right out and buy! OK, OK, I admit it: I wrote it so I might be just a little prejudiced. I'll try and give an unbiased report.

Math Rescue provides a way to get practice with addition, subtraction (and in the registered version, multiplication and division) number problems and word problems. The child controls a boy or girl (their choice) and runs around collecting math problems and pouring slime on alien Gruzzels. The program is about 75% game and 25% learning. In defense of this, though, my kids DID learn their number facts using this game.

You can try out the shareware version from the Redwood Games Home Page

Strengths: Kids like this type of scrolling game and will play it for hours. It is used in many schools. It reinforces basic computational skills and supplies 300 (in the registered version) story problems with unlimited number parameters.

Weaknesses: It is a DOS program that runs under Windows so you have to set up the icons yourself. It is 16-color. It may appear to be more game than learning.

Oak Meadow Courses

We got the Oak Meadow 6th grade English/Social Studies syllabus and the 6th grade Science (Life Science) syllabus. These are zeroxed booklets with hand drawn b&w illustrations. Oak Meadow includes a variety of activities which integrate writing, reading, art, and experimentation into their curriculum which is good for people like me who have a hard time thinking up fun activities. The price was pretty steep though, and the science had a few errors and out of date information.

Strengths: Lots of fun activities. Structured material so you don't have to design the course yourself.

Weaknesses: Expensive. Science had some mistakes. The language arts aspect seemed more advanced than the science. My boys found the science too simple but the language arts too challenging.

Expert Maps (Windows software)

Expert Software
800 Douglas Rd
Coral Gables, FL 33134

Even at $9.95 at Costco this was a waste of money. All it has is two maps of the world, one with country boundaries (no names) and one that is a relief map (no names either). You can zoom in on these maps and put your own legends on them. You can access information by clicking on them. But they are pretty useless, IMO. If you want maps go back to Redwood Games Homeschool Page and then click on "Virtual Tourist". The maps there are wonderful!