Homeschool Curriculum 101

With the pandemic upheaval leading a number of people to consider homeschooling for the first time, now seemed an ideal time to share some of my thoughts on various homeschooling curricula we’ve encountered the past nine years. While this is not an exhaustive list of all my recommendations and advice concerning curriculum and homeschooling, I hope it will be of some assistance to you. Christian Book or Amazon should have most of the resources I mention. Every family is different, and there is no need to try to be like another family. I’m simply sharing my thoughts, but I know there are plenty of other great ways to homeschool. I tend to be a structured person, but homeschooling also requires flexibility. This year I have a 9th grader, 7th grader, 5th grader, and 3rd grader. Two boys. Two girls. We have homeschooled since day one, and each year I do a little tweaking to our system.

Starting Point

My foundation for homeschooling is the big, fat book, The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise. It breaks down the entire schooling journey by grades and gives many curriculum suggestions and schedule ideas. To be clear, I do not follow all the schedule guidelines, but I find it a very helpful starting point. When I was first entering the scary world of homeschooling completely unsure of myself, a confident, veteran homeschooling mom recommended this book. So glad she did! I highly recommend.

Reading

Learning to read is the essential first step in my homeschooling philosophy. Though teaching a child to read seemed daunting at first, it has become my favorite aspect of homeschooling. Four times I have witnessed a child transform from a non-reader to a competent reader by using the book, Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons by Siegfried Engelmann. Your job won’t be easy as the title falsely claims, but it has the potential to be very rewarding. Despite the book giving incredibly detailed instructions, be assured that you can adapt to your specific child and they can still learn to read. My first child had to be the guinea pig while I figured that out. Poor guy! Once I finished the 100 “easy” lessons, I went through Phonics Pathways: Clear Steps to Easy Reading and Perfect Spelling by Dolores G. Hiskes.

My goal once the kids had learned to read was to train them to love reading. One way I did this was to purposely expose them to books, books, books. Pre-pandemic, the habit was to go to the public library once a week and load up on books, often meeting our library limit of 75. My desire is for the kids to pick out their own books, but I have checked out certain books to bring to my kids’ attention. The books are then kept in a central location in our house. We frequently have an hour long reading time in the afternoon. Prior to getting in the car, I make sure the kids grab a book. We also have listened to many audio-books from the library while driving. When going to bed, I make sure they have a book with them. Since reading aloud to them is still an enjoyable experience for us all, I try to do that around lunch time and let them draw at the table as they listen. While this in the past was often picture books, we now bond with a chapter biography book. Their love of reading was intentionally developed and did not just happen.

While reading comprehension comes easily to some children, requiring no curriculum, others can benefit from the Reading Detective series. Another book that worked well for my science-loving child was Nonfiction Reading Comprehension: Science, Grade 3.

Apologia’s Readers in Residence Volume 1 for grades 4 or 5 was greatly enjoyed by my first two kids.

Grammar

For first through fourth grade, I have taught grammar using First Language Lessons For the Well-Trained Mind by Jessie Wise (Level 1-4). To continue practice sentence diagramming, we have enjoyed Sentence Diagramming: Level 2 by Angela Carter which is for grades 7-12. There are also Beginning (3rd-12th grade) and Level 1 (5th-12th grade) books.

Writing

For handwriting, we have used the Zaner-Bloser Handwriting series. To teach spelling, we have been pleased with the Spelling Workout series. Vocabulary study has been enjoyable through the Wordly Wise series.

Apologia’s Writers in Residence Volume 1 and 2 were greatly enjoyed by my kids and are designed for grades 4-8. The books combine grammar and writing. Note Taking for grades 4-8 was beneficial. We’ve also enjoyed the Editor in Chief series which starts at 3rd grade and helps a student learn to look for mistakes in articles.

This year for the first time I’m using Institute for Excellence in Writing. I had heard high praise of IEW when I first started homeschooling, but it hadn’t seemed like a good fit at the time. However, while writing comes naturally for some children, it does not for all. I found myself needing help with one of my kids and so decided to try this curriculum having heard a number of good things about it. I’m hoping it will be beneficial for my kids also. One homeschool lesson here is be willing to change things up. Not everything works for every kid. Though I’m starting out my tenth year homeschooling, I’m still trying new things as needed.

Math

My husband only had one thing to really say curriculum wise when we started homeschooling. He definitely wanted us to use Saxon which is what he had used in his private school. Though I have heard negative comments about Saxon from fellow homeschool moms, it has worked great for my first two kids. They are proficient readers and easily grasp math concepts. They read the lessons on their own and do the problems. We don’t use DVDs, have tutors, or run into problems normally. However, I will recommend you skip the first three grades. My poor first child endured some very repetitive math lessons as I tried to follow exactly what the curriculum did. One of the beautiful things about homeschooling is that you know the student well and can adapt the curriculum. Some kids need less, some kids need more. Know your kid and fit the curriculum to your child rather than your child to the curriculum. If you use Saxon, I recommend the student learns all the addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division flashcards (a flashcard app went over much better with my kids than tangible flashcards that Saxon provides). This will take a lot of time and practice and endurance. But, then in third grade I started my second child on Saxon 5/4 and she was good to go.

Of course, not all kids are the same. When my thirdborn was ready for math, the thought of him using Saxon didn’t sit well with me since he is more of a visual learner. Consequently, we began using Horizons Math for my younger two which is a bright and colorful curriculum. I let them independently do a lesson, and if they run into problems, they can ask me. They also use a flashcard app to practice math facts. Every parent is different; personally, I’m big on my kids doing as much as they can on their own.

History

Years passed before I found a curriculum I was happy with for history. The Mystery of History was the final winner. In classical education, world history is covered over four years. The audio-books were worth the extra money to me, and I highly recommend. My kids also really enjoy the coloring pages. One of my kids highly values completing the time line.

We have also enjoyed studying world geography. I don’t use a specific curriculum but have found Seterra to be very helpful. My kids love studying geography with the app. I also print out maps to be labeled and colored. We focus on one continent per year. I assign certain countries each week. We check out library books and DVDs on the countries. Then the kids write a short report about the country and draw a picture. Every few years instead of covering a continent, we study the states of USA and the various presidents following a similiar method.

Science

Believing in the Bible and creation, I desire those elements in the science curriculum. Apologia has done a great job and is the one I would most recommend. However, very early in my homeschooling journey in an effort to save money in the long run, I made the mistake of buying the entire line of the Answers in Genesis curriculum called God’s Design for Science. I have learned that it is best (at least for me) to buy just the current year’s curriculum and not buy for future years. The Answers in Genesis curriculum works, but Apologia is my favorite between the two.

Other

The only reason my kids started learning Latin is because my original homeschool mentor highly recommended it. We have really liked Memoria Press’ Latin series. Typically I start with Prima Latina in third grade. At a homeschool conference I attended once, the Memoria Press person I spoke with recommended a student then do Latina Christiana, First Form Latin, Second Form Latin, and then Third Form Latin. My first child was very resistant to that final year of Latin. After finding out from my mentor that she only had her kids do three years of Latin, I decided to not force my child to do that fifth year of Latin. Another lesson in homeschooling is to keep getting advice. You need advice when you start out, but sometimes along the way you will run into a problem and need an outside perspective. I’m thankful I listened to some different voices and changed my plan and allowed my son to stop Latin. However, my second born is excited about doing Third Form this year. Each child is different.

The Mind Bender series is a fun way to practice logic for grades K through 12th.

Drawing with Children was recommended by my mentor, and we have greatly enjoyed it for art.

As to music, The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra was beneficial. We then were able to attend a homeschool event at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra which was a special treat. Also, three of my kids take piano lessons (started in first grade). Having grown up in an environment that highly encouraged learning piano, I have passed that value onto my kids. However, my husband also grew up in that environment and does not want to force a child completely against their will to learn piano. So, we have one child who will not be a piano performer ever. However, the deal always was that if I ever started karate (which he begged me to do), he would take lessons. So, this past January, he started some lessons while I started karate. But once I realized I loved karate and he still hated piano, we ended his brief encounter with the piano. Each child is different. But perhaps I already mentioned that.

Having done school acting and speech activities in my past, I highly valued my kids participating in those as well. Thankfully, we have a hybrid school near us that produces excellent musicals and plays each year. We have thoroughly enjoyed getting involved the past couple years. Sadly, this year with the pandemic, life will look different for us. But, hopefully we will soon be back on the stage.

Last but certainly not least, we study the Bible. While there is plenty of curriculum out there, I love reading straight through the Bible every year with my kids. To accomplish this we use The MacArthur Daily Bible. We read the Old Testament portion right after eating breakfast and while still gathered around the table. The Psalms and Proverbs are read after lunch. And the New Testament portion after supper. I have a little white board that we sometimes make notes on. I also at times use the Chronological and Background Charts of the Old Testament by John H. Walton to help further our understanding. I especially utilize the list of the kings of Judah and Israel.

Conclusion

I never dreamed I would homeschool, and I know many of you during this pandemic could say the same. And, yet, here we are homeschooling or considering it. My journey has been hard but very rewarding. Now nine years completed, I am thankful this is the choice we made for our family. I hope that you will find it beneficial for yours as well even if it is just for this pandemic season. My last recommendation is to take your homeschooling journey just one day at a time. You don’t have to homeschool 180 days. You only have to do today.

2 comments

  1. So many resources! Thank you for writing this. I have wanted to homeschool since my first was born, but now I am just overwhelmed at the concept of having to sit down with my soon to be kindergartener (next year) and be his teacher. He listens so much better to …. just about anyone but me. I’m “mom” and while I wouldn’t say he’s disrespectful to me he isn’t as reserved as he is with other people. Thoughts on that? How did you handle the new role in your child’s life, or was it not that different?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your comment! I hear you! The firstborn son is a challenge. It will require much patience and diligence to train him to listen to you, but it is possible. It’s hard for him as well since you are new to homeschooling also. He’s the guinea pig. I recommend seeking advice from veteran homeschool moms of sons when feeling exasperated. You’re learning as he is learning. You can do this!

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