When I start talking about homeschooling, inevitably somebody will ask the question: “So what curriculum do you use?”
And I find myself faced with a dilemma. Do I..
B. Respond with something vague and mostly pointless like, “We use a mix of things,” which I know tells them precisely nothing about our homeschool.
Neither seem like good options. But after I finish this blog post, maybe I can answer with, “We’re eclectic homeschoolers. See my blog for details.”
A couple of weeks ago I shared what our homeschool day looks like, without offering many specifics about our curriculum choices. Today I thought I could give you a little more detail about the curricula we use and/or some of the methods we implement.
I debated lining our curriculum out for you child-by-child, but that didn’t seem practical considering I do several of their subjects combined. I also knew that a lot of people might be looking for me to list out very distinctive grade levels for each of my kids, in spite of the fact the distinctions are blurred quite a bit in our homeschool, primarily among my younger kids. Honestly, for me the question, “What grade are your kids in?” is almost as difficult to answer as, “What curriculum do you use?” so it seemed easier to list out our curricula subject-by-subject.
So here goes…
As I explained in my last post, we usually read the Bible together–sometimes a chapter, sometimes a passage, sometimes just a verse or two, depending on what kind of discussion it generates–and we talk about any people or places we’ve encountered in what we’ve read and how to apply the scripture to our own lives. We also work every day on scripture memorization and review things like the books of the Bible and basic Christian doctrines.
**And a theology degree is not necessary when it comes to teaching your kids the Bible! I’ve heard women talk like teaching Bible intimidates them in ways math and science never could! But you don’t need to be a great theologian; just have a love for God and His word and then eagerly plant those little seeds. A concordance, a Bible dictionary, and sometimes a good commentary can help, too. Download e-Sword and you can have all of those things in one place!
I also mentioned before that Adventures in Odyssey is a great asset to our homeschool. AIO is a staple in our home all the time, but on Fridays we have what I call “Odyssey Friday” and my kids get to listen to one episode as part of their Bible for the day. I usually try to choose an episode that relates to something we’ve been talking about or a character issue we’ve been dealing with. There are free episodes available at www.whitsend.org, but I really do recommend investing in the CD or MP3 albums. We’ve built our library slowly over time, often purchasing used CD albums on eBay or Amazon for less that $10.
Another resource I have to mention is the What’s in the Bible? DVD series created by Phil Vischer. It provides a simple, book-by-book overview of the Bible presented in a way that is perfect for children. (And pretty hilarious for adults, too!) I love that it does more than just tell Bible stories; it also teaches kids about things like the trinity, the sinfulness of man, the sovereignty of God, the inspiration of scripture, and the atonement, all in a fun, easy-to-understand way. And just a personal side note: Volume 10 is AMAZING. I would never have dreamed puppets could present the gospel in such a powerful way.
We are definitely a Math-U-See family!
We’ve been so happy with this math curriculum that over time we have moved all four of our children into MUS. The short DVD demonstrations at the beginning of each lesson are clear and easy to follow and the math manipulatives have been a Godsend, particularly for my dyslexic child who struggles so much to visualize math concepts. Though the worksheets are a dull black-and-white and they’re not particularly fun, (which is obviously more of an issue with my younger ones than with my high schooler,) they are also brief and very doable, so my kids never feel overwhelmed with the load of math problems they have to do. And word problems are inserted into every single lesson, which I love, since that is really the way math is useful to us in our everyday lives.
In the lower grades, Math-U-See books are labeled with letters of the Greek alphabet rather than stamped with clear grade levels. At age 6, Peanut uses Alpha while Little Man and Doodle are in Gamma. Math-U-See offers placement tests to help you determine just where to begin your child, and I can tell I have been very, very pleased with the customer service. I had a lot of questions when I first moved my oldest to the program and the live chat was very helpful. And what a shock it was to receive long, detailed responses to the questions I sent via email! It proved to me that Math-U-See was very interested in customer satisfaction.
Last year was Polly Wolly’s first with MUS. I felt like the curricula she had used in the past had allowed her to move forward without fully understanding some basic concepts so I actually pulled her back and had her work through both the Epsilon and Zeta books last year, just to give her a more solid footing before we moved into higher math. As a high school freshman she is taking Pre-Algebra. And, no, I don’t regret that she isn’t beginning Algebra 1 in 9th grade. She needs the extra review and her Pre-Algebra credit will count as an elective toward her graduation requirements, besides helping her be better prepared for Algebra 1 later this year or next. (Another joy of homeschooling: If she finishes Pre-Algebra, I can move her on into Algebra 1. There’s no need to keep her in step with the rest of her classmates!)
Meanwhile, my high schooler is taking Exploring Creation with Biology and, I will confess, we’ve both been a little less than thrilled with it, though we have no intention of switching to anything else as of yet. This book is incredibly heavy on vocabulary and sometimes the test questions are obscure and very difficult to grade. A little research has shown me I’m not alone in that thinking. For now, however, we’ll continue with Apologia, though I’ve decided to abandon the lesson plans and do things at our own pace, perhaps with alternative tests.
As far as grammar, composition, and literature goes, I don’t use a formal curriculum for my younger children. I will confess to hating formal grammar and doing everything within my power to avoid things like diagramming sentences. I’m just not convinced it makes for better writing. But we journal and do writing to tie in with other subjects and make corrections where necessary, although I feel like nothing teaches grammar and composition skills better than exposure to good quality writing found in good books.
Phonics — My little guy is still learning to read, so he needs phonics and we had heard and read wonderful things about Reading Eggs. It’s an online program that uses games and songs to teach kids to read and Peanut really enjoys it. I’ve been happy with it overall, although I’ve noticed my son can pretty easily move ahead in the program without having really learned what he was supposed to learn. While you can pull your child back to earlier lessons, it’s also very easy for them to skip ahead again when you’re not looking. (But maybe your little angel would never try that…)
And in spite of the fact Reading Eggs is supposed to be PC compatible, many of the games are designed for a touch screen and are very difficult to do with my laptop’s touch pad. We tried using it instead on our tablet and ran into even more issues, so I just have to help Peanut with those particular games.
Now be warned, trying to actually reach someone via the customer service number is next to impossible. I have not had good experiences in that department. But I do have to say that my son really likes Reading Eggs and of course using something fun as well as educational definitely has its benefits. Incidentally, my dyslexic also uses Reading Eggs on occasion for some phonics review.
There’s no curriculum required, but a good ol’-fashioned white board comes in very handy for more phonics review when I feel like we need it, which is relatively often.
Handwriting — Honestly, handwriting was something I never emphasized before this year, but Little Man, my lefty, had some pretty atrocious handwriting and it didn’t seem to be improving. And Doodle’s dyslexia evaluation also pointed out how labored her handwriting sometimes is, in spite of the fact it is usually very neat and easy to read. Obviously some instruction in proper letter formation was in order.
|Photo courtesy Amazon.com|
So having heard wonderful things about Handwriting Without Tears, I decided to give it a try with all three of my younger kids.
And let me just say…I’m a little stunned by it! Little Man, who DESPISED handwriting in any form or fashion before does not complain about doing his handwriting any more. That makes Handwriting Without Tears a winner in my book all by itself! But the pages are short and sweet and never overwhelming and Little Man’s handwriting seems to be improving. Doodle is also doing much better, begin more careful to write her letters correctly and not just beautifully. It seems to be helping Peanut as well, so we’ve been very pleased with HWT.
Spelling — Having a dyslexic child for whom spelling is NIGHTMARISH, I have searched high and low for the perfect spelling program for her and her brother. I’m finally beginning to realize it doesn’t exist. We’ve used some tremendous programs which focused on spelling rules, but the rules became overwhelming and confusing for Doodle and did absolutely nothing to improve her spelling. Sequential Spelling, though not without its faults, has worked better for her by focusing on letter sequences in words rather than on spelling rules. And she insists she likes her spelling, in spite of the fact it’s one of the most challenging subjects for her. I’m looking into other possible options, but for now we’re continuing with Sequential Spelling and are mostly satisfied with it.
Personal Reading — I read to my youngest often and Doodle and Little Man must spend time each day reading to me from a book of my choosing. The practice is good for them and it also helps me identify any problems either of them may be having with their reading or phonics.
Read Aloud and Narration — I read aloud to my children daily and consider it one of the most essential parts of our homeschool day. While I read picture books on occasion in addition to the others, I always read from good fiction books, even those that may seem above-level, particularly for my youngest. We’ve worked our way to the fifth book in C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia and have also read books like The Wind in the Willows, The Indian in the Cupboard, Johnny Tremain, and Ben and Me. For some time we’ve also been reading every day from a nonfiction book as well, with titles like Daniel Boone’s Own Story and, currently, Steve Sheinkin’s King George: What was His Problem?
Here I like to implement some of the Charlotte Mason method by having my kids narrate back to me the things I’ve read. I honestly think it’s one of the most valuable teaching/learning methods I use in our homeschool because it requires my children to listen, comprehend, and then tell back what they’ve heard in a way that is clear and understandable. When they can tell it back to me, in detail, then I know they’ve learned it and understood it. And as they’ve grown accustomed to using narration in language arts, I’m amazed at the way they apply those same good listening and retension skills to every other subject as well.
For more information on using narration in your homeschool, check out Simply Charlotte Mason.
Literature — After desperately searching for a high school literature program that suited my fancy, I finally gave up and created my own. And, believe me, doing so is much easier than people may realize! Of course you should look into English/Language Arts requirements in your own state, but I love the liberty of directing my daughter’s reading and assignments and being able to schedule them to coincide with the things she’s learning in other subjects when I want to do so.
With the exception of some poetry by Edgar Allan Poe, we’ve focused so far this year on Shakespearean plays and have read and analyzed a comedy, a tragedy, and a history in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet, and Henry V. Next she’ll read some things to coincide with what she’s currently studying in American history.
Sometimes I come up with writing assignments on my own, (summaries, author biographies, and character analyses are always an option,) but there are plenty of unique and creative ideas to be found online as well. PW had to write her own puppet script related to A Midsummer Night’s Dream and she had to compose several entries from Gertrude’s diary after reading Hamlet. A Google search also yielded a great list of questions for analyzing Poe’s The Raven.
American history is another subject I do without a formal curriculum and making use of some great Charlotte Mason ideas. We often add events to our Book of Centuries, which I think is a great tool for helping kids grasp a little better the chronology of historical events. We’re also putting together a simple lapbook with Famous Faces of the American Revolution using a basic template and pictures I find on the internet. We use the library a plenty, too, and pick up books related to whatever event or historical person or place we’re discussing.
|Our Book of Centuries: Always a work in progress|
I also use the Liberty’s Kids series where I can and my kids love it. Most of the episodes can be found on YouTube, but I purchased a complete DVD set on Amazon for just $6. I also love the Drive Thru History series, but most of the episodes are still a little advanced for my younger kiddos. There’s a lot of information thrown out in some of them and I’ve found it can be a little overwhelming for them. But I’ll bring Drive Thru History around again in a couple of years.
American History for High School — I can’t tell you how many American history curricula I poured over trying to find something I felt would do justice to my favorite subject in all the world. Most of what I found, honestly, looked pretty dull and reminiscent of my worst public school textbooks. Regrettably, I even purchased one of these sad-looking curricula and thought I would have to make it work.
|Yes, Polly Wolly has to take notes from Mr. Raymond’s lectures.|
But wouldn’t you know it? The very next day I came across a sale for Dave Raymond’s American History and something about it just intrigued me. I read about it on sites like Cathy Duffy Reviews where it got some pretty high marks as an interesting and very thorough history curricula and I was nagged by the thought THIS was the curriculum I should have bought! So, in spite of the fact I had already purchased something else, I took advantage of the sale and bought Dave Raymond’s American History, too.
And I do not regret it. I LOVE this curriculum. Every lesson includes five video lectures, each about 10 minutes long, and then a daily assignment with an exam following the final lecture. My daughter has to keep a portfolio and then complete three projects, including a colonial map, a costumed speech, and a thesis paper, in the course of the year.
I find the lectures pretty fascinating and I love the Christian perspective. Now don’t assume from that that Mr. Raymond’s history is all one-sided — the Christians were always the good guys and everybody else was always the bad guys. He gives a wonderfully balanced view of history and points out clearly the inconsistencies and outright sins of Christians throughout history.
But I find the Christian perspective so refreshing. Looking at history through the scope of a Biblical worldview makes it all the more fascinating to me. I only wish I could have learned American history this way.
This post has been quite long enough without me sharing every single supplemental material I use or every website I visit regularly as part of our homeschool. I love the eclectic homeschooling style because it’s open to every kind of curriculum and approach and resource you can imagine, and the variety helps keep things interesting and fun.
“Doesn’t that drive you crazy,” I’ve had people say, “using all those different materials from all those different companies?”
Actually, no. I love it. And I can’t imagine being happy trying to homeschool any other way.