Before anyone can either choose a curriculum or make a recommendation we need to talk about the principles that drive our homeschool – our education philosophy so to speak. If you want your homeschool to look one way, then taking a recommendation from someone who had their homeschool look a different way will only bring frustration, exhaustion and a sense of failure. We need to know why we choose certain curriculum over other choices.
- I want to teach all ages together until each student is able to study independently
- I want to deliver a broad general knowledge education in primary school, and allow for narrowing focus based on individual passions and talents as they move through highschool
- I want to have the freedom to choose to study subjects as interests or needs become obvious
- I want to have minimum prep on knowledge based subjects so I can focus on heart lessons, or skills
- I want to be able to engage with my children – to talk over ideas
- I want there to be scope for creativity – hands on learning and communication – not just worksheets
What do you want for your homeschool?
Before I buy a curriculum or resource I would consider these questions:
- What need is it meeting? (this could be a family need, or a need of an individual)
- What preparation does it require of me?
- What teaching time per day / per week does it need – does it fit our study schedule?
- Does it work with notebooking? Can I tweak it to fit?
- If it is a new resource I also have to ask, What is it replacing? (I can’t keep on adding good things to my family – something has to go if something is being added.)
I appreciated Ruth Beechick, Sally & Clay Clarkson, Chris Davis and Charlotte Mason – many of my practices came from reading their thoughts on education. Though I was/am strongly influenced by natural learning – that we learn when we pursue an activity, I also had specific learning goals and some more formal learning structures in our rhythm of days. I would describe our homeschool as eclectic: identity focused and whole life driven.
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So with that all in mind here are my favourite choices that I made over the years:
I purposefully chose not to use a Bible Curriculum that took me from whoa to go as I wanted to teach my kids from what was on my heart as well as taking into consideration the heart lessons they really needed at any particular time. Some highlights were:
- Heart of Wisdom Teaching Method taught me to read, talk and write – we used a Narrated Chronological Bible, read a story, discussed it and the heart lessons we can learn. We then created either notebook pages, or a lapbook. There was no specific lesson plans – it is a teaching method
- Grapevine Studies – we enjoyed these studies for a season – it was good to incorporate different learning styles.
- Specific books written for Teenagers – Max Lucado a favourite author
In the highschool years we studied ‘how to study the Bible’: we learnt how to use Bible study tools and how to study a verse, chapter, book, theme, topic etc. We used Rick Warren’s Bible Study Methods, but there are many similar titles available.
(Can I please make a note here, maybe a disclaimer, when looking for resources I look at each title with open and discerning reading. In recommending one resource, I don’t necessarily recommend everything by that author. I hope you will be able to do the same.)
Character First material has been so central to the growing of our family. I see character as the quality of our response to people or situations – and by intentionally teaching our kids character we are teaching them to respond in life in ways that are consistent with your value system. Many of the primary school lessons and materials are now for free online.
Learning to Read: We used several programmes especially to help my youngest with his learning difficulties. But my hands-down favourite is Reading Made Easy by Valerie Bendt. It follows key practices from Charlotte Mason and Ruth Beechick, and it is easy for a parent to use.
Learning to write: I used Charlotte Mason and Ruth Beechicks methods – copy work, dictation, narration.
Though Reading Made Easy does include copywork etc, if my children were struggling with the writing aspect, I let that bit go until they were reading, and then we came back and did the writing aspects. I found some of my children struggled with doing so much – sounding out letters, remembering phonetic spelling, and how to form letters. So we did one aspect at a time – learn to read, learn handwriting (shaping the letters), learn to write (writing words).
Once our kids were reading and writing letters, I didn’t have any formal reading or writing lessons. I followed an idea of Ruth Beechicks that you learn to read, and then read to learn. I used this in writing as well: we learnt to write and then we wrote to learn. Added to that the ideas of Charlotte Mason of oral narrations, copywork, dictation and written narrations our children wrote for both their Bible lessons as well as their general knowledge lessons most days. I would use this opportunity to teach them aspects of writing – spelling, grammar, punctuation, structure etc. My favourite resource for this was:
Write Source – We loved these language arts manuals. The kids had their own and it was used as a reference. If they wanted to write a letter they looked at their age/level appropriate manual and learnt how to write a letter. I used the manual to set different writing assignments – encouraging diversity in their notebooking. I also used the manual to teach grammar and spelling rules when they struggled with a particular word. These manuals were central to our learning as you needed.
IEW – Institutes of Excellence in Writing – I recommend this for highschool writing. My personal preference is to use natural writing methods in primary school – create a context, a need to write, and then learn as you need – using copywriting, oral narrations as the foundation for any writing. We used IEW to fine tune their writing – I would recommend their primary product: Teaching Writing-structure and style – for any homeschool mum who struggles with writing. This teaches the teacher. We did these lessons and then incorporated those things into our writing / notebooks.
Math has been an interesting (read hard) journey for us. We have used Math-U-See and though I think it is an excellent programme, if your child is not mathematical then I would suggest supplementing it with living math books and experiences (I leant this too late!) Math-U-See though it covers all aspects of math, is very numbers orientated and this can become monotonous. When we did living math we of course used number, but we were also experimenting and learning with shape, space, measure, data – all other very necessary aspects of math.
Though living math is really using math in everyday living situations I found it helpful to have a story to help focus and teach the principles. This worked with our story based learning styles. There are so many books and websites now available with this idea – just do a Google search.
I blend all other knowledge subjects into one category ‘general knowledge’. It was our goal for our children to have a broad general knowledge before they narrowed their studies in highschool focusing more on their personal interests and bents. So general knowledge includes History, Science, Geography, Technology, Arts.
In primary school my absolute favourite – of all homeschooling resources – is Five in a Row. It not only introduced my children to the world (general knowledge) but it shaped how we homeschooled for the rest of our journey.
Five in a Row is a literature based unit study – you take one picture book and read it five days in a row (hence the name!!) and each day you take an aspect of the story and dig deeper into a Language Arts, Science, Art, Society & Environment, or Math issue. FIAR is very mother friendly – the discussions are laid out for you in the manual, but if you want to dig deeper then there is plenty of scope for that as well. We enjoyed lapbooking with our FIAR studies – and there is plenty of help these days with this online. Love FIAR!!
For readers in Australia – you can buy FIAR from Rainbow Resources
After we finished with FIAR, my children still studied Science with me, though they were independent in other areas. This is because we struggled to enjoy Science and my involvement kept it interactive and alive (that was my hope anyway!!)
My favourite Science has been Answers in Genesis’ By Design series, though I also liked Noeo.
By Design is promoted as a primary school curriculum, but for my non-science driven kids it was a great introduction to all fields of science and that was the only science they completed. The subject matter is told in a narrative (but not story telling) way; engaging, short lessons that are adaptable for different ages. It was easy to tweak a notebook prompt from the questions and worksheets provided. Highschool students used this independently as well.
Noeo was very much like FIAR – based on reading picture books and non-fiction titles. We were able to buy the whole kit so there was little to do in terms of prep.
History: We didn’t move into history until the children were studying independently – which in turn, meant our choice of resource needed to fit the individual child.
- Diana Warring’s What it the World? We used it as a spine – providing book lists and discussion questions. This is a very comprehensive resource. Though this resource includes science, language arts, and art we didn’t use those aspects as it didn’t fit at the time. Though I would have no problem doing so. This is a very full curriculum and you need to be able to choose what to go with and what to not do.
- I highly recommend Diana Waring’s audios for family listening – not only giving an overview of history but also from a very strong Biblical foundation.
- Mystery of History – my favourite in terms of a quick overview of history and family friendliness. There are also audios available for part of this resource – though I haven’t heard them yet.
- Living Books – some of my children just chose a topic of history, or a person, or a period and found books and read, talked and wrote. Doing it this way wasn’t as comprehensive as a sequential study but it did include learning! Sonlight was one source for good book titles
Most of our geography was learnt through general knowledge or history studies. Though one of my students completed Wonderful World of Geography instead of doing a history unit. Once again we tweaked it to fit our situation and in our case my child did very little of the hands on activities, and instead reported back to me orally about what he was learning.
We did preschool type art – paint, glue, playdough. Then we did art with FIAR which taught some technique and formal language of art. We tried other art programmes but it was hard work and often didn’t happen – it was the thing that got dropped when life got tough. I decided instead to encourage creativity – allowing the kids to pursue some form of creative pursuits that they enjoyed.
Interest driven (and hands on subjects)
After our kids finished their formal studies each day (the subjects that I decided was important for them to learn) they spent time pursuing things that they wanted to learn. By the time they get to senior highschool they spend more time on these subjects than the traditional school subjects.
Udemy has been our favourite go-to for interest driven subjects for our more hands on highschool students: learning computer software, photography, art skills and life management skills. There are so many courses on offer – all delivered via video.
Books: The internet didn’t play such a big part in my older two’s learning – they used the library, and inter-library loans when they wanted to learn something particular. The library is still a great resource for all those who want to learn.
Along side of these resources there were some specific methods that we used – enabling us to step outside of boxed curriculum, and use living books and helpful resources. (Stay tuned, I’ll blog about these sometime soon.)
- Oral narrations
- Notebooking (lapbooking)
- Unit studies
- Reading lists
- Productive Free Time
- Create a context
Creating a successful homeschool experience is more than the resources and curriculum that you buy. That being said, if you buy a curriculum that doesn’t fit with your objectives you will find yourself a slave to the resource instead of it being a tool to help you and your kids learn.
If you buy the wrong resource, if it isn’t working for you – don’t be afraid to tweak it: use parts of it or use it as a guideline, or if you absolutely have to – stop using it altogether! But if you get to that place, you need to be really careful before you buy the next curriculum. Take some time to consider what you need, what your limitations are, what your strengths are. Ask other homeschoolers why something worked for them to help you see if it is a match for you.