Our current Language Arts program isn’t working as well as I’ve hoped, so I was intrigued by Eclectic Foundations. So far, they have three levels of Language Arts programs (we picked Language Arts Level C – more on that later), with a fourth one coming out in April this year.
What it is (and who used it)
Eclectic Foundations is a complete Language Arts curriculum, comprising 144 lessons, to be done four times a week. The short lessons cover phonics, grammar, spelling, reading comprehension, handwriting, and poetry (one of the lessons even had a Science component). Another big plus was that all you need is the teacher’s guide, the student workbook, the word cards, and the McGuffey reader (which is available as a free download). We took the digital option—a hefty 526-page PDF download.
The program is based on the McGuffey Readers and the Eclectic Education series used from 1836 to the 1960s, modernized and enhanced to make them easier to use. It includes a Biblical worldview, with Bible verses and biblical lessons throughout the program. Eclectic Foundations Level A is meant for first grade; Level B is for second to third grades; and Level C is for third to fourth grades. They do have general guidelines on the website to help determine what level you should start at.
Based on the level guide, Level C was the closest fit for Breeze, my 6-year old first grader. She can read, comprehend, and write above grade level, although her handwriting needs work—she isn’t that great at cursive, which starts in Level B of Eclectic Foundations.
The lesson set-up
The McGuffey Reader, the main book used in the program, is available as a free download online. You can print and bind it, or like us, read it online.The four lessons a week alternate between two days of reading aloud from the McGuffey Reader (ours is the McGuffey’s Second Eclectic Reader) and working on the word cards. “We color the word cards on even days,” clarifies Breeze. All four days have exercises for phonics, handwriting and memory, and grammar.
Ideally, the digital edition of the teacher’s guide should be printed, as should the student’s workbook, McGuffey reader, and word cards (the latter on card stock). Ideally. I’m pretty stingy when it comes to print outs, so I chose to read my teacher’s guide on screen, and Breeze reads the McGuffey Reader on my iPad. I print the workbook sheets as needed (although on hindsight, I should have printed in batches rather than per lesson so I can print lessons with two workbook pages back-to-back). Instead of the laminated Phonics Practice Sheet, we used either Breeze’s whiteboard and whiteboard marker, or her Language Arts notebook.
On odd-lesson days, Breeze will read from her McGuffey Reader; the exact pages are specified in the teacher’s guide. There are some comprehension questions (answers given in parenthesis), also in the teacher’s guide. Then Breeze will read through the word list for the day. I help her with any that she has problems with, then I dictate them and she writes them out on her notebook or whiteboard (or for those who use it, on the laminated Phonics Practice Sheet). A quick phonics rule is also discussed, like, “A vowel is short when there are two consonants having the same sound between it and the next vowel,” as in filling; or that the letter combination ai can make the short i sound, and ea can make the long a sound.
After phonics, Breeze moves on to handwriting and memory. There’s a weekly Bible verse that she is to memorize, and a different quotation for her to copy each lesson. We also discuss the quotation. Her favorite so far was “There was never a good war or a bad peace,” by Benjamin Franklin. “I like what it means,” says Breeze. “And it’s the first one I understood all by myself. Therefore I will like it.” I make her repeat the copy work until there are no errors in her writing.
Finally, we move on to grammar. So far, we’ve talked about statement and question sentences, capitalization, punctuation (periods and question marks), and subject-verb agreement.
Even-lesson days are identical to odd days, except that instead of reading, we sort and color the word cards. These words are sourced from the previous lesson’s reading. We sort them into nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, conjunctions, and prepositions, then Breeze colors them according to kind (e.g. nouns are red, adjectives are orange, etc.). Lately, she’s able to sort the word cards on her own; she just checks with me before coloring them.
Our experience: a quick rundown
Honestly, I wasn’t too keen on the McGuffey Reader at first. I was thinking that Breeze would find it boring and old-fashioned. I mean it’s an obvious scan of an old, old book. The format, the font, the photos were all old-school (naturally). It’s just…old. To my surprise, she enjoys it! She loves the stories. I guess that proves yet again that good writing never loses its appeal.
Because the lessons were short, Breeze is also more willing to do them. Her favorite part is sorting and coloring the word cards (she draws out this task because she enjoys doing it). She has a box that she keeps the cards in, and she’s always arranging and rearranging them according to some criteria that only she knows.
But with all that sorting, she’s gotten quite good at identifying what kind of word group each belongs to. We’ve also discussed how some words can be both nouns and verbs, or nouns and adjectives. I appreciate the regular exercise in classifying the words; we haven’t really done that intentionally before, so the habit will make it more natural.
Another surprise for me is her attitude towards copy work. For some reason, Breeze “sort of” likes Eclectic Foundations’ copy work (we did have copy work in our other program). “They give me more space to write. Way more,” she says. Whatever reason, I’m glad for it because she almost does not mind when I make her redo her work until it is error-free. Must be all that available space.
The reading and comprehension, though, are too easy for her. She reads chapter books already, including Raine’s Percy Jackson books. That’s why I was worried that she’d be bored with the McGuffey Reader. But as I said, she enjoys the stories, and I suppose it boosts her confidence more that she can sail through that part of the lessons.
On phonics—Breeze can easily read the words, but writing them out each time shows us that she can be very careless with her spelling. We’re working together on paying more attention to the details, like does i come before e in field? And we tackled the difference between hoping for ice cream and hopping for ice cream (one can get you pretty tired!). Sometimes I think since these things come easy to her, she just rushes through most things. So this is a reminder to work on diligence and excellence rather than just speed.
What we liked
Breeze’s review: “I like Eclectic Foundations because it’s more fun because you get to color and stuff. And I don’t have to keep changing books. But it’s not so easy because some words like bureau are hard to pronounce. Copy work is enjoyable. I learned prepositions and conjunctions.”
I also like the fact that the lessons are brief. Also, I like that little rules of grammar and spelling are given out in snippets. Although the same can be said for our current program, with Eclectic Foundations it seems easier to understand and implement. I haven’t quite pinpointed why, given that both programs take a natural, gentle approach.
What was so-so
As with my previous product review, my main issue is printing. The entire program is more than 500 pages! While I would have loved to have a print out, my frugal self cringes at the thought of printing that many pages. Breeze, on the other hand, didn’t like memorizing and reciting the poems. Like her writing, she speeds through her recitation, without proper pauses, and it frustrates her when I make her slow down and make her repeat them.
For those looking a straightforward, easy to use Language Arts program with no frills, I would recommend Eclectic Foundations. And as Breeze says, “I think we should keep using this. I really like it.”
For more reviews by other homeschooling families, click below!