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Starfall Kindergarten ELA Homeschool Kit Review by Jennifer BowenStarfall Education Foundation
PO BOX 359
Boulder, CO 80306
Our son (“Train Buff”) is beginning Kindergarten English Language Arts with Science and Social Studies the Starfall Way! In the Fall of 2002, Starfall.com began with 15 books, 14 games, 5 movies, and offered free writing journals. Since then, the company has blossomed! They have expanded their website to include activities from Pre-K through second grade, published field-tested and research-based curriculum for Pre-K and kindergarten, and created multiple educational apps for Apple and Android devices. In 2015, they became a public charity called Starfall Education Foundation.
In May 2009, Starfall Education released the First Edition Starfall Kindergarten English and Language Arts program. In 2017, Starfall Education released the Second Edition Starfall Kindergarten English Language Arts with Science and Social Studies. The Second Edition includes everything from the First Edition plus new content. The new content includes increased writing lessons, anchor charts, introduction to grammar skills, new chapter books, more critical thinking questions, modifications for English Language Learners, and additional Science and Social Studies content.
We received the Second Edition Starfall Kindergarten ELA Homeschool kit, the Level-K Practice Books Kit in Block Print, Kindergarten ELA Teacher’s Guide Second Edition in print, and a one-year Home Membership.
The homeschool kit includes a downloadable teacher’s guide, teacher tools, music and rhymes books, Backpack Bear’s Pre-Decodable Phonics materials, Read to Me Fiction Books, Zac and Friends Decodable Phonics materials, Science and Social Studies Books and Posters, Reading Books, Chapter Books, Puzzles and Games, and a one-year Home Membership. Both the Level-K Practice Books Kit in Block Print and the Teacher’s Guide in print are additional purchases separate from the Homeschool Kit.
The materials arrived in four large boxes. We were missing one item from the packing list, and I contacted customer service, and they promptly sent out the missing item.
There is a Read Me First for Homeschool packet. The packet is an introduction to the curriculum adapted for the most part to a homeschool setting. It provides the lesson format; has a scope and sequence; talks about assessments and progress monitoring; has a recommended literature list, daily routines, classroom materials, preparation and setup, a list of standards and benchmarks; as well as discusses English Language Development. While reading this packet, I could tell that it was originally written for a classroom environment, so some of it may not be applicable in a homeschool setting.
The downloadable Teacher’s Guides can be found in the Starfall Parent-Teacher Center on http://www.starfall.com. The online Teacher’s Guide is broken down by the unit. You will have your unit plan, weekly guides, blackline masters, and any other information that pertains to the unit on multiple PDFs. While having access to a downloadable teacher’s guide is nice, I found that I preferred having the hard copy version of the teacher’s guide during the lessons and while planning out our days.
In the Parent-Teacher Center, you can learn more about Starfall including FAQ and their alignment to state standards, have access to the teacher’s guides and other resources, and current News & Events regarding the company and their products. Here you can create ELA and Math worksheets, create custom printables, and print free downloads that complement the Kindergarten ELA curriculum. The Backpack Bear messages have already been created for me, and I can customize the messages for Train Buff.
The Teacher’s Guides contain thirty-one weeks of lessons plus nine one-day holiday lesson plans. The lesson plans are scripted and easy to follow. There are group lessons, small group lessons, as well as independent-practice activities.
The weekly lesson plans are written for a five-day schedule. Every week begins with a weekly overview. The overview includes a summary of what the lessons will cover and a list of all material being used, including the literature selections. Following the overview is a preparation page with everything that you need to get done beforehand. Pictures of items that are needed are also provided. Then the individual five-day plans follow.
The schedule for days one through four includes the Magic Writing Moment, Phonemic Awareness/Phonics Warm-Up, and three sessions. The schedule for Day 5 is a review and progress-monitoring day and includes the Magic Writing Moment, Phonemic Awareness/Phonics Warm-Up, and two sessions followed by a ninety-minute block where the teacher administers individual assessments while students work independently in learning-center rotations. In the margin of the plans, there are pictures of resources used as well as the standards that have been met.
Since the lesson plans are written for a classroom setting, I found that I needed to adjust my plans accordingly. There were some things that obviously took less time to complete as I only have one kindergarten student versus a classroom full of kindergarten students. I found that it took Train Buff and I no more than thirty minutes to complete the lessons daily, and that was a perfect length for him.
Here is a sample day from Week Two for Train Buff. He began the day with learning where to use capital letters in the Magic Writing Moment. Then in the Phonics Warm-Up, he learned the difference between a letter and a word. During the first activity of the day, Train Buff was introduced to the letter A and the sound /a/, including learning the ASL sign for Aa and singing a song about the letter Aa. During the second activity of the day, Train Buff was introduced to two high-frequency words (is and for). He completed a worksheet for the letter Aa and identified the two high-frequency words that were on his worksheet. He then used the Starfall app for practice. Backpack Bear came to visit us, and we read Backpack Bear Learns the Rules and were introduced to the vocabulary words nervous, notice, mistake, and shout.
The Holiday Lesson plans are located at the beginning of the First Semester Teacher Book and include plans for Labor Day, Veteran’s Day, Thanksgiving Day, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, 100th Day of School, Groundhog Day. President’s Day, Earth Day, and Memorial Day. The holiday lesson plans include suggested literature, historical figures, vocabulary, and three mini-lessons about the holiday. You can easily add the activities from a Holiday Lesson plan to one of your regular school days.
Throughout the year, you will use various resources to introduce concepts to your kindergartener. The resources include teacher tools, music and rhyme books, Backpack Bear’s Pre-Decodable Phonics materials, Read to Me Fiction Books, Zac and Friends Decodable Phonics materials, Science and Social Studies Books and Posters, Reading Books, Chapter Books, and Puzzles and Games, including using Starfall.com and Starfall apps.
Some of the resources include posters and items to display on the wall or using a wall chart. Since we don’t have a dedicated room in our house for a schoolroom, we have used these resources differently. I have been displaying the items on our dining room table during the lesson and then put it away when done for the day.
As part of the pre-decodable and decodable phonics materials, six plush animals are used in the lessons. During the first semester, Backpack Bear visits kindergarten. His friends Zac the Rat, Peg the Hen, Mox the Fox, Tin Man, and Gus the Duck do not visit until the second semester. All six of the plush animals are quality-made stuffed animals. Train Buff has enjoyed Backpack Bear’s visits and has been disappointed that the others are not visiting yet.
During both semesters, students will cover social studies and science topics, which are woven in through their daily lessons using included books, posters, and cards. They will learn about historical figures such as presidents, The Wright Brothers, artists, and conductors. For science, students will learn about plants and animals, the environment, and our solar system.
Between all the books in the homeschool kit as well as the recommended literature list, students will have ample time to be read to as well as practice reading.
The first set of books introduced to students is a combination of pictures and high-frequency words. For example, in“A keyboard is for Backpack Bear,”the high-frequency words in the sentence are a, is, and for. Then there is a picture of a keyboard and a picture of Backpack Bear on the page. Then the next set of books includes simple one-sentence-per-page books. On the top half of the page is a picture, and one sentence about the picture is written below. Children then move on to books where the sentences become longer, and sometimes there are two sentences per page. Toward the end of kindergarten, the children progress to basic chapter books.
Starfall uses puzzles and games to reinforce concepts children are learning in two games (on one double-sided board), five puzzles as well as activities on the computer and Apps for Android and Apple devices.
The two games are Starfall Speedway and Starfall Alphabet Avenue. The game board is double sided, and one game is located on each side of the board.
Starfall Speedway is an educational phonics game for two to six players, ages three and up. Starfall Speedway uses one of three decks of cards. You place the deck that you choose on the game board. Players take turns identifying the letter, sound, or word of the card they draw. If they are correct, they receive a “thumbsup” from the other players. If the player who draws the card cannot identify the letter sound or word, the other players help him/her to identify it. The first person to get to the checkered space wins the game.
Starfall Alphabet Avenue is an alphabet identification game. No game cards are required to play. Players identify the letters on the spaces they land on. The player can do this by saying the letter, making the letter sound, or naming a word that begins with the letter. If they are correct, they will get a “thumbs up” from the other players. If they are incorrect, the other players help identify the letter, and then the play moves on.
There are also five twenty-four-piece alphabet puzzles. Each puzzle covers one of the short vowels. After assembling the puzzle, your student will go on a word hunt or play a clue game. In word hunt, the student will look for and identify all the words that contain the short vowel sound.
Every puzzle comes with a sturdy box and a ziplock bag to store the pieces.
Starfall has apps available for Android and iPhone as well as activities on Starfall.com. These activities complement the Starfall curriculum.
Throughout the lessons, there are suggested activities to complete on Starfall.com. The Starfall apps for iPhone include the activities found on Starfall.com. Their interfaces are similar to the website.
Starfall.com has activities for Pre-K through second grades, as well as activities to use with the holiday lessons. On the main page are the activities for Pre-K and kindergarten, then there are links to the first- and second-grade materials. Some of the activities include colors, calendar, reading, and math activities. The books that are included in the homeschool kit are interactive books on Starfall.com, and some have games to go along with the books.
Our thoughts about Starfall Kindergarten ELA Homeschool Kit.
Train Buff has been enjoying kindergarten. He looks forward to it every day, especially letters that are written to him from Backpack Bear. He will come running to the kitchen table when he hears that it is time to begin his lessons. The only thing he doesn’t eagerly complete is writing, but what five-year old boy wants to sit down to write? Most boys would rather be running around, building things or playing with cars. Thankfully, the handwriting pages are short and sweet.
I like that the books in the kit are available as interactive books on the website and app. It allows us to change things up a bit with the lessons.
While lesson plans were easy to adapt to teaching one child, I do wish the lessons plans in the Homeschool Kit were written more for a homeschool environment rather than a classroom setting. I appreciate the Teacher’s Center and having the ability to customize items. Both Train Buff and I look forward to what is in store for us during the remainder of the year!
-Product review by Jennifer Bowen, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, September 2017