Saturday, August 23, 2008

Homeschooling Curriculums

A friend from high school recently asked for my thoughts & some information about homeschooling. I am by no means an expert, having just 7, 5, & 3 Year Olds, but I'll be happy to share what I've gathered so far! Keep in mind that Indiana has different laws than other states, and it's important to find out what your state requires.

First, I talk about basic information, and then I'll share how I've applied it and what I've done and plan to do.

The biggest, #1 piece of advice I’ve heard over and over and over from seasoned home schoolers is this: Don’t burn out too fast. Until your child is seven, teach them to read and count to 100. Focus on character in the younger years. Everything else is extra.

The biggest #1 thing
that took me way too long to figure out: For the most part, there are 3 categories to subjects for homeschooling: Reading, Math, and Everything Else. People generally have a Math Program, A Reading Program, and then fill in with either a curriculum that covers the rest or whatever suits them.


There are 4 main styles of Math, that I’ve found.

  1. Work-book style.
  2. Hands-On Approach.
  3. Some combination of workbook/hands on.
  4. Practical Life only, with no actual lessons until they’re 10.


I haven’t figured this all out yet! So far, what I’ve done works, but I haven’t explored all the options. You need to teach them the fundamentals of how to read, then build with a phonics program, and eventually work on spelling, advancing to writing and grammar and always including copywork.

Everything Else:” They all seem to teach the same things, with a different focus.

- You can choose to learn through history, and then get your science from that time period and literature from that time period and language from that time period, geography from that time period…

- You can choose to learn through literature. And from that good literature, you’ll draw out biographies, history, science, geography, etc.

- You can choose to learn through Bible Passages, and from that, pull out science, historical context, biographies that relate, geography of the area.

- You can choose to learn through geography, and from that location, learn about biographies in the area, literature of the area, missionaries in the area, animals (science) in the area, the history of the area…

- Or you can break it all up. For example, learn American History. Do a few unrelated sciences books. Read literature from a good book list…

Then there are 2 main choices within these, that I think you should choose based on your teaching style:

1 Daily Lesson Plans. These break down each day what you are to do. “Monday: Read pages 3-7 in Book A. Read pages 15-24 in book B. Do workbook pages 8-10.” Sometimes these are restricted to a certain age of child and are not able to be taught at multiple levels. (It depends on the curriculum)

2 Unit Studies. These are more free flowing. They usually list a whole slew of ideas and you pick and choose when and what you do. These can usually be taught with children of many ages.

My Personal Experience:

I agree w/ much of what Charlotte Mason taught, that young children need to be allowed to play outside for many hours a day and have good literature read to them. There is a summary of her writings here:

I am a Unit Study Girl. I prefer to make up my own thing, but I appreciate having a guide from people who’ve already been through it.

I am also a relaxed home schooler, though not to the point of unschooling. As you’ll see below, I haven’t tried to teach every subject from the beginning, but have prayerfully had a very narrow focus that is slowly expanding as they get older.


Preschool: My focus was the Bible and Fun. Abby loved to do “school” so from birth we’ve done school type things. My first reference book was “Slow and Steady Get Me Ready.” When she was a bit older, I used for preschool activities and games. We went through the letter of the week program twice. It took around 30 minutes/day, 2-3 days/week. We also read many Bible Story Books and focused on character and training.

PreK/Kindergarten: My focus was the Bible and Reading. When she was 4, we started “Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons.” It took us two years to finish, simply because I didn’t want to push her. She’d get to a point where she would be antsy, and we would take a break. We’d also memorize a passage together as a family and break it out verse by verse. Each day she’d have a copywork passage and a page to color, and usually a craft, simply because she loved doing them. We’ve done all sorts of things, like animal themes, creation themes, Easter Themes, Christmas Themes, Medieval Themes, Obedience Themes, Psalm 23, Psalm 1, etc… In the summers, we do “Handwriting Without Tears (HWOT).” Then during the year, we reinforce it with copy work.

1st Grade: My Focus was the Bible, Reading, and Math. To our Bible lessons explained above I added Shiller Math, a Montessori-based hands-on approach, and finished book 1. We also did Explode the Code books 1 & 2, HWOT, and some Phonics Pathways for drill. We also started “First Language Lessons” which is a gentle introduction to Grammar.

2nd Grade: My Focus is the Bible, Reading, Math, and Geography. We’re continuing with HWOT, Shiller Book 2, Explode the Code books 3-6 (using the teacher guide lesson plans), and 1st Language Lessons . We’re also using “Galloping the Globe” Unit Study. We’re going around the world, studying 3-6 countries per continent. In each continent, we are reading literature from the area, doing a science lesson (like an animal from the area or volcanoes), reading a Biography, learning about a Missionary, memorizing a Bible Verse that applies, doing an art activity from the area, and cooking a meal from the area. We’ll also continue to learn larger Bible Passages together. Our first one will be Colossians 3:1-11. (We learned 12-17 last year). I also purchased a typing program for her to use.

And if I had to choose today, this would be my future plan:

3rd Grade: My focus will be the Bible, Phonics/Spelling/Grammar, Math, and American History.

4th Grade: My focus will be the Bible, Spelling/Grammar, Math, and starting the 4-Year History Cycle (starting with Ancients)


She’s following pretty much the same routine, however she didn’t do the preschool activities. She did whatever I did with Abby. Here path has looked like this:

Preschool/PreK: HWOT, Explode the Code books A, B, & C, and whatever Bible Lessons/Themes I was teaching Abby. We also made it through lesson 60 in Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons and will finish later.

Kindergarten: My focus is the Bible & Reading, but she’ll also do Geography with Abby and a little math. We’ll do Explode the Code books 1 & 2, we’re reading through Sonlight’s “I Can Read It” Program, and we’ll do Shiller Math book 1, as long as her interest is there.

1st Grade: I plan on focusing on the Bible, Reading, Math, & US History (because Abby’s already there.)

Ok, that’s probably more information than you cared to know, but feel free to ask questions!


Becky said...

I want to clarify that this year, 2nd grade, is the first year where I'm attempting to school all 5 days. It takes about 2 hours to complete our lessons, unless we really get into it and keep going with a topic or art project. Previously, my goal was to "school" 3-4 days/week. That being said, I do try and have a Bible Lesson and read aloud time every day.

Dena said...

Great post, Becky. We have very similar styles. We'll be using Mystery of History with Story of the World this year. I'm really looking forward to it. I like that I can teach all three from the one program.

Becky said...

Let me know how you like those, Dena! They are on my "watch closely" list for the historical cycle we'll do later.

A said...

This was so helpful! Thanks for the post!!
Amie Hubbard:)

A said...

CONGRATULATIONS!!! I am so happy that you are expecting blessing #4! Please keep us posted on your pregnancy journey. I am praying for you and baby!

Cristi said...

Hi Becky,
So I'm coming back to your post now that I'm further down the road!! :) What has guided you in what to focus on each year? (Like starting the 4-yr cycle in 4th grace for instance)? Thanks!

Becky said...

Good question. :) I think the biggest factor is the age and spacing of Abby & Katie. I'd like Katie to be at an age when we start the cycle so I can truly teach them both together. Many curriculums start in 3rd grade, so if she's in 2nd & Abby's in 4th, it would be a nice compromise.

Also, I've really loved laying the groundwork for geography this year! In fact, I'm not all the way through but I'd highly recommend this step prior to history. My girls have a good grasp on the fact that this is a large world full of very different people with different tastes, styles, cultures, etc. They are not geography experts, but at the beginning of the year, they didn't know the difference between the terms Continent, Country, & State, or Ocean, Lake, and River. I can see how my girls would have been lost in the world if I had gone right into history.

Also, reading about people from all over the world has really opened their eyes to others around them.

So, I see this as having been a really great jumping off point for future history studies.

I suppose I could start the 4 year cycle next year, and there are a lot of opinions both ways as to when to do US History (in order, or first) and the bottom line is that I'm excited about doing US History and also the curriculum (Bigger Hearts for His Glory) that at this point I plan on using, so I think it will be a good fit for our family. We've been focused pretty broad this whole year, and it will be nice to narrow it down to our country next year.

How's that for a long-winded answer? :)