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    Curriculum Review: Critical Thinking Press Workbooks

    January 17, 2011 by Brandy Vencel

    This review was supposed to be posted on Saturday, but I’ve been sickly for quite some time now, and I’m only now feeling up to it. So, let us thank the Lord for my autopost function, which is why this blog happened at all last week. The regularly scheduled Miscellaneous Musings on Monday will be back next Monday (Lord willing and my cough continues clearing up).

    Quite honestly, when Timberdoodle contacted me and offered to let me review some workbooks from Critical Thinking Press, I was thrilled.

    And I am not a workbook person.

    All but one of these was sent to me by Timberdoodle (gratis, mind you), that I might reveiw them. I went ahead and added in the workbook that I have already been using with my 8-year-old son, as it is part of the same happy workbook family.

    First, a Note on Workbooks
    I have a lot of angst concerning workbooks. In general, I think they are a poor way to teach…well, anything. I also usually think they are developed for the purpose of keeping children busy (please see Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child if you do not see why this is a concern).

    With that said, I was at a loss a year or two ago. My son was struggling with math, and he started telling me he was “bad at math.” At these early ages, I think it is so much more important to grow in love for learning than it is to be at any particular level of any particular subject. So, I began to ponder what to do about the situation. After searching the internet and talking with friends, I decided to purchase a workbook from Critical Thinking Press called Beginning Thinking Skills Book 1. I read about these workbooks improving math skills, and even though test scores are not my particular concern, I wondered if it managed to work with the brain without looking and feeling like math. So, I bought the workbook and used it to replace math for about two months.

    Which brings me to my first review.

    Beginning Thinking Skills Book 1

    When I flipped through this for the first time, I was pretty doubtful. To me, the first half just looked like pages and pages of shapes. But I had already invested, so I figured we should try it out. One of the things I love about these workbooks is that they come with reproduction rights (meaning you can make copies). So, I copied the first few pages and gave them to my son, who was six or seven at the time.

    About fifteen minutes later, he came back telling me that he loved these pages, and could he please do some more? I still remember the smile on his little face. I also remember feeling baffled that something that appeared so boring (to me) could be called, in his words, “fun.”

    So, we stuck with it. We did just thinking skills for a couple months, and then we dove back into math. We weren’t finished with the workbook, though (which is quite lengthy), and so he still does a few pages per week “for fun.”

    Math, by the way, hasn’t been a problem for him since we did this. I don’t know if it was that the workbook actually helped him, or that his brain really did need a break, and came back refreshed, but either way he is happy, which means his mama isn’t doing too badly, either.

    Beginning Word Roots (Grades 3-4)

    When the folks at Timberdoodle said that I could pick a workbook for each of my children (except O., of course, who is a bit young and doesn’t actually sit down), I jumped on it. Since we already had the workbook I mentioned above, I chose Beginning Word Roots for my son.

    Again, I flipped through it and felt dubious. I confess: I am a workbook cynic.

    And, again, my son really liked it.

    With that said, workbooks are not my preferred method of instruction, especially for grammar and language. However, I see this as an introductory step, and he is definitely learning some things. I think I’ve talked with him before about prefixes and suffixes, but he never really understood that they had meaning and that if you know the meanings, you can sometimes figure out what a new word means by breaking down its parts.

    I think the workbook makes words feel a bit like a puzzle to him, and that is why he’s enjoying it. We will definitely continue this until we finish it as he is having a good time playing with words, and play is important in learning.

    Beginning 2, Mathematical Reasoning

    I am less thrilled with these last two workbooks, but I’m not sure that this means there is anything wrong with them. I already admitted I had angst about workbooks, and that really hit home with this workbook.

    I don’t know what I expected, but I’ve decided that workbooks, if they are not a fit for our family in general, are especially not a fit when it comes to my littles. This is just (1) not the early learning experience I want for them and (2) not the way I want to relate to them as their mother, nor as their teacher.

    To keep the workbook from separating me from my children, I used it more like a person would use a chalkboard. I didn’t give the girls (ages just-turned-4 and almost-6) workbook pages, but rather opened the book on my lap, with one girl on each side, and talked with them about the pages.

    Probably 90% of what is covered by this workbook can be taught in daily life. For instance, counting objects is much better done by having children count real objects, rather than drawings on a page. (But the girls loved being asked to count pictures!) The same goes for learning the concepts of tallest or taller, shortest or shorter, longest or longer.

    With that said, I like to keep books like this on hand. I have always done so. I use them when I am sick (and let me just say that they definitely came in handy during Bedside School last week when I was dying ill). I also like to flip through them and see if there is anything I am forgetting in our School of Daily Life. Sometimes when a child seems bored, I flip through some books to figure out what I can teach him next. I may or may not actually use the book with the child, but the books still stimulate my imagination when it comes to teaching the child.

    Building Thinking Skills Beginning

    A lot of what I said about the previous workbook can be said about this one. There is a huge focus on learning colors here, and I really think that colors are best taught by doing laundry. I am serious! It is amazing how many colors children pick up if you let them do laundry with you and talk to them about the clothes.

    “Pass me that blue dress.”

    “Do you like this red shirt?”

    Having them match socks is a great activity for little ones, too.

    I did have one child (my oldest) that had a little difficulty learning his colors, and so perhaps I would have appreciated it more then than I do with two little girls who know all their colors backwards and forwards, even though I don’t remember teaching them brown or black or white.

    There was one activity that I really appreciated. It was called Can You Find Me? Basically there’d be four similar pictures on a page, and there would be a little poem that gave clues, and at the end it’d say, “Can you find me?” The girls then had to figure out which picture the poem was referring to. They really had to think about it (including the almost-six-year-old, even though she is technically “too old” for the book), and I think it was great for their minds.

    There was one activity that my girls did poorly on. This was sequences. There would be a line of shapes in a pattern (red circle, blue square, red circle, blue square, for instance). Then, there’d be this little magician looking person covering up the next shape, and they were supposed to guess what the next shape or color would be. The little magician guy was so distracting for the girls! They kept asking me why he was there, and I never did figure out if they understood sequences and could guess the next shape. I keep thinking that if I set up a sequence with blocks, and covered one block, then maybe they would understand the concept.

    In Summary
    I’m keeping all of these, but my usage with the little girls will be much more sporadic than with my oldest. He’ll continue doing a few pages per week. For the little girls, I’ll mostly keep them for reference, or as something to do when Real Life Lessons just aren’t happening, for whatever reason.

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  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts January 18, 2011 at 1:07 am

    Ellen, Thank you! I wonder if that is why I liked some of them better than others–because they are just more appropriate for that particular student. After reading KM’s comment I sort of thought–hmmm…what is the difference (in math) between a workbook page and copying problems from a textbook? What am I missing here?

    KM, I actually felt like a baby mentioning being sick because I knew you had been in and out of the hospital. I am glad to hear you are getting better…I was really concerned!

  • Reply Kansas Mom January 18, 2011 at 12:46 am

    We’ve had some luck with workbooks to practice math facts. They have nice color pictures which seems to make it easier for First Son to add or subtract. He understands the concepts and just needs to speed up his work.

    I’m sorry you were feeling poorly and am impressed you managed to continue school. I think I felt almost normal today for the first time since Christmas.

  • Reply Ellen January 17, 2011 at 11:38 pm

    Hey! My mom used a variety of different methods with us, though mostly Charlotte Mason-esque when we were young, and she laughed a bit when I told her that a lot of homeschoolers were really anti- workbook. She said that she started out that way, too, but she found that workbooks could be good for certain tasks at particular times and ages and not to discount them entirely. So there ya go… for what it’s worth. =)

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