Choosing a homeschool curriculum can be overwhelming. Whether you’re just starting out and choosing an elementary program or choosing high school books, there are so many choices. As a former homeschool parent, I hope some of my experiences will help you through the process. (Both of my “kids” are now 20-something college graduates!)
I was very eclectic and used each curriculum as a guide, rather than following it strictly. We always preferred real books to textbooks, but textbooks are good as a jumping off point for topics. Every child is different, and individual learning styles will vary. Your own teaching style will develop over time!
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Reading and Language Arts
The Explode the Code program for Phonics instruction was engaging and fun for my daughter and worked extremely well. She learned to read quickly with this curriculum. It comes as a series of inexpensive workbooks, which can be used independently by the student, or together with you. The link I have here is for the set, but the books can be purchased individually, if you prefer.
There are pictures and humor, and the program progresses smoothly. Once your child is reading fluently, there is no need to continue with the workbooks. I highly recommend it. (It’s now available as an online program as well, but I have no experience with that.)
Keeping kids engaged and enjoying the process is really important. I supplemented with reading games and activities, and I let my kids pick out their own books at the library. As a reading tutor, I now find lots of fun reading games at teacherspayteachers.com.
Reading daily is really important for all kids, and reading time often becomes a favorite part of the day. (My daughter devoured books and almost always begged for more reading time. My answer was always, “YES!” My son loved to read to the cat.)
(And, please, don’t feel guilty if your child doesn’t like to read. I encouraged both of my kids equally. One liked to read, and one did not. Just never stop encouraging.)
Reading aloud to kids is also a must, and reading aloud to them while they silently follow along is extremely beneficial. After all, as they follow along, they are reading too!
Journaling is a big help in developing writing skills. (Plus, journaling is usually fun for kids and they will have their memories recorded on paper.) For the younger grades, you can buy composition books that have a blank space at the top of the page for a drawing, and lines at the bottom for writing. These are wonderful.
My kids also loved to make little books. These can be made from anything – wallpaper samples, construction paper (or any scrapbook or handmade paper), coffee filters,etc. Before my daughter was old enough to write, she loved to dictate the stories to me, and I would write them for her. Then she would draw the pictures.
For Grammar, we used a variety of different resources. Easy Grammar was just one of the programs we liked. It is very comprehensive.
To supplement any grammar curriculum, I highly recommend Grammar Songs by Kathy Troxel via Audio Memory. We used to listen to this in the car a lot, and it was a fun and very effective way to remember grammar rules. (Audio Memory’s motto is “You never forget what you sing!” I’ve really found that to be true!) This WORKS.
Math is best learned when practiced daily, and it’s the only subject that I feel is actually associated with grade levels, because it is so cumulatively learned. In the early grades, we used many different types of Math activities and had so much fun with it.
(Hint: Multiplication and Division are VERY fun to learn with mini M&Ms. We’re not big candy eaters, but used sparingly, this makes Math REALLY appealing. Of course, any small manipulatives work for this and can be fun.)
Horizons Math is excellent for the early elementary grades. It’s colorful and clear.
I recommend Saxon Math for upper elementary and middle school. Kids don’t always like the repetition that Saxon is famous for, but in my opinion, it really cements the concepts. We also found it worked well for independent work.
The Saxon instructions emphasize that every problem must be completed each day, but here’s our secret, we usually did half of them (there are often two similar problems with each lesson), and my son still tested into the advanced math class when he attended school for a little while at a rigorous private school. (And, honestly, math was not his greatest strength.)
From very early on, we always had interactive books and software devoted to different science topics–Human Body, Magnets, Planets, etc. You will be amazed at how quickly and effortlessly kids will learn science when it becomes part of their everyday activities. (Once when my daughter was 3 years old, while I was washing her ears at bath-time, she said, “Don’t hurt my cochlea!” She loved her “human body book” and learned about ears purely from that book.)
We used curricula from many sources for science, and my kids had some amazing classes found through local homeschool associations.
History and Social Studies
History comes to life with historical fiction. This is where a literature based curriculum really shines. (Also, timelines are a BIG help with placing events relative to other events.)
Sonlight (a Christian, literature based curriculum) is wonderful for history and social studies. They have many other subject available as well, that I’m sure are of excellent quality. I really love how the Sonlight curriculum focuses on the whole world early on, not just the United States
Art, Music, Foreign Language, P.E.
In the elementary and middle school grades, we did a lot of art activities at home and in classes, listened to a lot of fun Spanish songs and stories on tape, joined sports teams and had private lessons in figure skating, had a batting coach for my son, went on a lot of field trips to the art museum, had guitar, piano, and photography classes, etc. The choices for enrichment activities were seemingly endless, and for me, they were so much fun to choose.
Private lessons can be expensive, but in our area we also had many options for group classes. Plus, the group classes were so much fun and my kids met many friends there.
We were fortunate to have many local classes to choose from, but if you don’t, maybe consider getting a group of other homeschool parents together to create a co-op.
For high school, there were even dual enrollment classes at a community college and at a local university. My son did several of those for all kinds of subjects, so he was able to have a semester of college completed by the end of high school.
And, finally, I published a “back to school” post a while back. I’m reposting the tips from it here, below, in case you haven’t seen it, as it has some ideas you might find helpful.
Some school day tips I’ve learned (some the hard way!)
- Include some protein in breakfast, not just a bowl of cereal or a waffle. (Cereal or waffles without a protein food will cause a mid-morning crash.)
- Keep books and school supplies in assigned places for each student . Sounds very commonsensical, but those books seem to land all over the house if you’re not careful. My daughter kept one of those wire storage cubes in the bottom of her closet, dedicated to her school books. (By the way, commonsensical is really a word. But you probably already knew that. I thought I made it up…)
- Establish routines early on (but stay flexible!) If you are homeschooling (even if you are an “unschooler”), have some form of structure in your days. Most kids feel more secure, happy, and productive if they know what to expect than if you are always “flying by the seat of your pants.” (By the way, do you know where that term came from? In the early days of aviation, pilots didn’t have electronic instruments and had to fly by the feel of the plane’s direction and movement in their seats. I just learned that today…)
- It’s especially important that Math and Spelling are practiced daily.
- Foreign languages are most easily learned when begun in early childhood. You can find really fun foreign language CDs, music, and games.
- Projects, creative presentations, posters, murals, and anything else that helps your kids learn by doing are very important. (When I think about my own school days, the material I remember best was learned in those ways.)
- For homeschooling, textbooks can be used as guides and inspiration, rather than as the sole curriculum for subjects. You can supplement with other materials and activities that are a good fit for your child. For instance, my daughter has always loved to read, and her grasp of history grew by reading historical fiction. Had we used the textbooks only, history would not have come alive as well or appealed as much to her.
A final tip (related to the last one) and should go without saying – Make sure your kids are reading every day.
Even though some days will be frustrating, nerve-wracking, and even scary, the “days are long, but the years are short.” Enjoy this time with your kids!