So I'm thinking of homeschooling... now what? Part 2: Curriculum Options & Reviews.
Welcome to the world of homeschooling. I may be biased, but exploring the options and lifestyle homeschooling can provide is both exciting and freeing. My hope for you as you explore this new world, is that you do not become overwhelmed, and journey into it with a purposeful direction of finding what resonates the most with your convictions as a family. No approach is perfect, and no curriculum is going to be exactly what you want it to be. There is nothing wrong with changing direction, or revisiting concepts as you go along. Children learn over years, whether we dictate that learning or not. And a fumbled season or two is not unhealthy. Be bold, give grace to yourself, and to your children, and always value relationship above academics.
Last entry I highlighted the major approaches to homeschooling. Now that you have a general idea of what approach resonates with you, let's look at some of the resources I have used, and why I liked, or did not like them. If you did not guess already, we are a very eclectic homeschool family. I like to tailor our year according to interest, need, and the season we are in as a family. Before I delve into the different homeschool curriculum we have tried, I want to answer a few common questions/concerns for those newly looking into curriculum, and homeschooling.
What is aligned curriculum?: This means that the curriculum is aligned with the current schedule, and is often common core. Many companies are based in the US, so it is often by their standards (which somewhat differ from Canada). Although many parents prefer this option, others purposely look for curriculum that uses older approaches. Many rich curriculum are not “aligned”, and when used will not put children behind, but take simpler paths to learn similar material. Although scary at first, this has been freeing for our family, as we realized we can control and direct what our children learn, rather than following strict guidelines.
Does what we use have to be credited?: This may surprise and concern you, but the vast majority of homeschool curriculum is not accredited to provincial standards. Even the more recognized and established boxed curriculum will not provide any official school credit. Some companies offer an official high school diploma upon completion, but this is for the state it is issued in, and will not necessarily transfer in the same way a local diploma would. In essence, by choosing to homeschool you are in fact opting out of the regular system.
How important is it to have credits? If your child is in grades k-8, there is no need for any kind of credits. In fact, my oldest just completed 6th grade, and this is the first year I have given her any kind of regular math and science tests. If your child is in high school (9-12) you can either opt into the credit system, or you can opt out. Contrary to common belief, having a graded high school diploma is no longer necessary to enter university or college. Most universities accept homeschool students through a different process than those who go the usual route. Homeschool graduates put together a portfolio of work completed including writing, and the exams from any math or science courses that have been completed. Occasionally the student may need to take a test to assess their proficiency. Many homeschool math courses are closer to year 1 university math courses, so it is even possible to skip university courses upon acceptance.
Another option is taking on-line university courses through a school like Athabasca University. Their basic requirement is that students are 16 years or over. Once a student has taken a few university level courses, they can then be a transfer student, and no prior transcript is required to apply to a local university. In theory, if a homeschooled student is ambitious, they could take this route and be ready to attend university while their same aged peers are still attending highschool.
When I began to understand the options, I also began to see that the idea of being “behind” or “ahead” were irrelevant for us, if this was in fact the direction we wanted to go as a family. There have been many years where my children have completed work that would be considered “ahead” and “behind” as well as completely outside of the regular curriculum. It took me a while to be comfortable with this, but eventually I loved the value and freedom this provided me and my children. It is also exciting to think about the doors my children will walk through in the future because of this freedom.
Now that the primary fears have been addressed, I want to touch on a couple practical aspects of curriculum purchasing and use:
Books are not the only option: There are on-line options you can use. There are also videos you can purchase to go along with books (math u see for example has videos to accompany their lessons). There are computer programs (teaching textbooks is a popular math curriculum that is all done on computer with tests and has the results automatically recorded for you).
Consumable vs non-consumable: When looking to purchase curriculum, it is smart to consider how many children will likely use the material in your house. If you have a number of children, it may be best to look into curriculum options that are non-consumable. This simply means, look for books that are not written in. Consumable books are workbooks, which you will have to re-purchase for each child.
Another option I use often is purchasing pdfs. This allows me to purchase the material at a discount (or sometimes free!) and then print what I need each year for whichever child is at that level. I hole punch the material, stick it in a binder, and we are ready to go.
Full grade packages: you can purchase an entire package of curriculum for each grade. This will include all the possible courses for that particular grade. This is often very costly, especially if you have a larger family. It is also time consuming (you will need to teach each child each subject individually). I have often bought pieces of a grade, but I have never opted for the full package, as we prefer to do bible, science, art, and history together as a family.
Multiple age lessons: there are many options for multiple age lessons to do as a family. This is primarily for history, art, science, and bible. Many companies offer lessons that can be simplified for younger children, or expanded on for older children. This way you can purchase one thing and use it with all your children.
Faith based: A large proportion of homeschool material is faith based, but not all. When looking through options it is a good idea to keep in mind what world-view the writers are coming from, and whether that world-view aligns with your family's.
Cost: It is often assumed that homeschool families get curriculum for free. Although there are wonderful free options, there are also many expensive options. Depending on where you live, there may or may not be financial aid available to purchase school materials for your children. But don't worry if cost is a factor for you. I have found creative ways to school my kids for free in seasons of financial difficulty. I will highlight those options bellow.
My journey through curriculum has been vast and rich. I have used many resources throughout our years of teaching, and some I circle back to, and others I leave behind. Please note that I do not have any affiliation to any company, and that what I write is based on my experience with my children, and my opinion. Also note that this is FAR from a complete list of available resources. I will be fairly brief with each curriculum, as there are many on my list. If any of them are of interest to you, please feel free to contact me and I would be happy to explain one in more detail.
$ small cost ($40 range per course)
$$ larger cost ($100 range per course)
$$$ most expensive (over $100 per course)
$$$ 1. Abeka: I start here, because entering the homeschool world, this was the curriculum I was first introduced to. It has been around since 1972, and was designed to provide private Christian school education. Many private Christian schools still use abeka today. The videos they provide are recordings of their school classrooms which basically allows your child to live the school life vicariously through the screen. Lessons are repeated, so the memorization of concepts are ingrained and retention achieved. There are scheduled assignments, a lot of writing, and frequent routine tests. I have only used abeka for kindergarten. I did not purchase the videos, nor did I purchase the entire k5 curriculum. Instead I simply purchased the teacher manual for phonics and math, and the workbooks (along with the three writing books). So I was the teacher rather than the teacher on the videos.
Pros: I have returned to using abeka to teach all of my children to read. Their approach to phonics and reading is one that I have yet to find elsewhere. Rather than teaching letters in order (a,b, c etc) They start by teaching the vowels, which are the meat of reading words. As soon as the short vowels are mastered, they begin adding consonants. And what I loved the most was that the very first consonant taught was right away connected to each vowel. So rather than learning letters as stand alone entities, the child right away learned that they work together with other letters to form words. Or at least initial blends. So before the child mastered all of their letters, they already were able to sound out and connect the letters they did know.
Abeka offers both accredited and non accredited options (accredited in Florida). If you want your child to be accredited you have to complete the full gammut of their curriculum, and the child will need to do oral tests , and reading over the phone, as well as all of their exams and tests etc by certain dates. This is of course far more costly than simply purchasing what you desire your child to learn, and you will not be as free to allow your child to learn at a more relaxed pace.
Cons: So. Much. Work. The repetition, though effective, and the 3-4 pages of writing per day (in kindergarten) were quite simply too much for my kids. They were far above their peers in reading by the end of K, but there was not much pleasure in it. It was a lot of learning, but little to no exploration. I found the math to be very dry for kindergarten. There could have been far more fun games and hands on learning to explore math at this level. I have never taught any abeka past kindergarten, however from what I have learned from others, the work load (memorization and writing) continues to increase substantially each year. There is no doubt your child will come out with a ton of knowledge, but for us the stress was not worth the benefits.
$ 2. Math Mammoth: This is strictly a math curriculum. It is common core, and is very thorough in its teaching.
Pros: It is very low cost. Each year is approx $40. The creator also makes free math videos you can watch on youtube if the work texts are not enough explanation. You can either purchase the worktexts, or purchase the pdf downloads. These are consumable. This is great for kids who are good at sitting and focusing on math for longer periods of time. I use it only for my son, who basically can teach himself most math concepts, and who has a great number sense.
Cons: It is a lot of very full worksheets. Plus, it gives many options for solving a problem, which is common in todays math teaching, but does not benefit students that need a simple explanation. I found that my daughter did not do well with this curriculum because the worksheets were too full, and she had to complete too much in one day. The multiple methods were also confusing to her.
$ 3. Life of Fred: This is a non consumable quirky book series that uses a story to teach math concepts (as well as some history, geography and science). I used it with my daughter in grade 1&2. It was fun, and helped her enjoy math. These books become more like work texts (and complete) in higher levels. The series starts at the most basic math and continues into high level math and science.
Pros: These books are fun, engaging, and allow the child to understand how math is a practical part of life. If your child is adverse to math, I highly recommend going through these books. They are in alphabetical order (starting with apples), and are a story so don't skip the beginning, even if the math is too easy for your child.
Cons: Although some people use this as their only curriculum, I would view the elementary books as supplements. They do not cost much, and are not consumable, however, if you already purchased a full math curriculum these may not be in budget.
* 4. Easy Peasy: This is a FREE website created by a homeshcool mom. It is a full curriculum for all grades, and allows your child to learn online with older texts, various webpage links, and an outline that is provided through the website. It includes all courses (reading, writing, grammar, spelling, math, history, art, science, etc) and goes through all grade levels: pre-school – 12.
I often recommend this site to people who are interested in homeschooling. There is no cost, so why not try it out for a while?!
Pros: Free. I used this website for a couple years when our finances were lower than usual. It is thorough, and full. The literature is excellent, and the math and science both include worksheets, games and various other learning tools. My children that used it enjoyed it a lot. It may be concerning to use something that is offered for free, however I found this curriculum to be very excellent. I joined the easy peasy facebook group, and found their insight extremely valuable.
Cons: It was a bit hard to track their progress, as it was not recorded as they went. If there was an activity that my child did not like, they could easily skip it unless I was sitting with them through the whole lesson. The way it works can be a bit tricky to navigate at first. Each day is set up with lessons and links. This way you need to move back and forth between the easypeasy website and various others. So although easy peasy is open and go (no prep needed), it does sometimes necessitate you to sit and supervise and watch that portions are not being skipped due to technology confusion or your child's dislike of the lesson.
$$All About Spelling: This is a spelling program that incorporates all learning types. There are physical tiles that the child uses to make and remember words, there are also oral and written components. I used this with my older two children for a few years to solidify the spelling rules and words. They also offer “All About Reading” which is a reading program that is taught in a similar fashion. The idea is that if your child understands the spelling, reading will come easier. I have never used the reading curriculum so I cannot comment on its effectiveness.
Pros: My children enjoyed using the tiles. Any curriculum that is not a chore to get through is a winner in my books. I also found that it was fairly good at teaching the material resulting in retention. If you have a struggling speller, I would recommend using this over summer break, or winter break, or even added onto your school year.
Cons: It is tedious for the teacher, especially if there are littles at home (enter toddler running away with a handful of tiles ... ) If you are averse to many moving parts in a curriculum, this one will likely frustrate you. I also found that although this curriculum is fun, it was unnecessary to have a stand alone spelling curriculum. Most (if not all) english programs have spelling included. Some spelling instruction is better than others, however as long as it incorporates rules and repetition, I have found similar results. It simply added an extra $50 to our english.
*, $, $$ The Good and the Beautiful: This is the curriculum I currently use for english for all of my children. I am also using it for my third child for math. They offer english levels 1-5 for free as downloads, and the other levels are very inexpensive as downloads. The math comes with a box of manipulatives, which makes it more expensive to purchase and ship. They also offer science/health/safety, and history units. I have only used the maturation unit (which was fantastic!)
Pros: I found this curriculum a few years ago, and started my kids on it in January of that year. There were a number of grammar concepts my children had not yet touched on, so they had to go down a few levels at first. They quickly caught up and I am so glad we chose this route for them. The lessons are mostly short, and there are a total of 120/year. The english incorporates grammar, art, geography, spelling, reading, and writing. And it emphasizes high character and beauty throughout the lessons. It teaches what to look for in a book that will build character and knowledge. It has poetry memorization of poems that also encourage high character. I feel that even my eight year old has a fairly good grasp of the components that make up a proper sentence.
This curriculum also takes a gentle introduction to writing. They do not emphasize writing until level 4. Until then, there are opportunities for the children to expand on simple sentences, or to dictate while you transcribe for them. I like this approach to writing, as it is harmful (in my opinion) to force a child to physically write before they are confident they can do so. Allowing them to orally tell stories is a far better approach. (please see brave writer bellow for more on this).
The math they provide is open and go, varied, uses many hands on manipulatives and games throughout to reinforce concepts, as well as minimal worksheets. It is fun and engaging for the child.
Cons: I have heard from some moms that their curriculum is too hard to figure out. I think this is in part due to it's emphasis on grammar. There are components that I do not remember learning in school. I have found though that the concepts are easy to understand, and are repeated enough for the child (and you) to easily remember them.
Another issue some families have with TGTB is that the creator is LDS, and they are concerned that that will shine through in the curriculum. I have not found that to be the case at all. I have worked through lvls pre-k through lvl 5 and there has not been a single thing that concerned me in the least. Other Christian curriculum creators (like masterbooks, which I also use) are very vocal on avoiding TGTB on this account, however I believe this is largely to increase their own sales.
A con to the math is that although it is open and go, it is very teacher intensive. I need to figure out what the games are for the day, how to play said game, what is being taught, etc. I decided it was worth the effort, as there is nearly no resistance to math time because it is so much fun. If you have a very busy house, and many children, this may become frustrating to you. At the same time, if you have a very active child, it may be worth considering.
$ Masterbooks: This company is also fairly new. They are a strong evangelical christian homeschool company that offers gentle courses in english, math, science, history, bible (including apologetics), and more. They are affiliated with Answers in Genesis, so they have a new earth view of scientific history. I purchased the full “God's Design for Science” books (grades 3-8).
My middle child tried their math, but it was not the right fit for her. My oldest daughter has used their math (called math lessons for a living education) for 5th and 6th grade, and it has worked very well for her. She enjoyed the story included in the lessons, she benefited from the copy work and oral narration of concepts, and the shorter lessons were ideal for her attention.
Science: I have tried a number of different science curriculums and resources. Some did not work because of a conflicting world view. Both the brains on podcast and mystery science website were extremely evolution focused. Others did not work for me because they offered too much reading or too many hands on experiments. An example of this was the Science in the beginning, which is a fantastic curriculum, but very heavy on both terms and experiments. Yet another problem I came across was being too light on the teaching side. Although fun, Sassafras Science Adventures falls into this category. As a supplement though, the audio books make great road trip stories!
Masterbook's God's Design for Science has proved to be a perfect balance for our family. I don't have to try to coordinate an exeariment for every lesson, my kids don't have to memorize large amounts of scientific terms, yet they get a comprehensive understanding of concepts. And there are fun activities and some experiments throughout. Lessons are clear, short, and require some extra research as the children's interest peeks. Best of all I don't dread teaching science anymore!
Math: MLFLE (math lessons for a living education: uses some Charlotte Mason techniques, such as copy work and oral narration. Kids will make their own flashcards, and use them through the course. These methods create an opportunity for kids to remember concepts without as much busy work (worksheets). Thus lessons can be shorter and retention still be achieved. Plus the story throughout the lesson can add to the fun of math time for children that love stories.
Cons: I do not really have any cons for the science, however, the math can prove to be tedious if the child does not enjoy writing, and the story may be annoying for math minded kids that want to simply tackle the lesson. The oral narration can be a chore to get through with children that have not been asked to restate things out loud before. Also, for some, extra practice may be needed for proper retention and understanding.
$, $$ Biblioplan with Story of the World:
I have used Story of the World with my children for a few years. It is a history book that goes through historical events as a story rather than a textbook. It is recommended for younger elementary, so I added Biblioplan to our history time once my daughter got up to 5th grade. I have used some of the supplement components included in the Story of the world supplement book. Biblioplan offers similar lessons, but adds details and extra information that Story of the World misses. I love the way Story of the World is written though, so we have continued to read it as an add on to our lessons.
Pros of Biblioplan: The age range of this curriculum is 1-12. They offer a shorter text called “remember the days” as well as a longer text called the “companion”. Parents can read from either text and then use whatever extra purchases they wish to reinforce learning. There are a number of additional purchases you can make: family discussion questions, age appropriate questions, coloring pages, crafts, etc. Rather than making the extra purchases this year, I simply had the children write notes as we listen to the audio book.
Cons of Biblioplan: Extra purchases may be a benefit to teaching, but they can also be frustrating when every component costs extra. If you want the accompanied plan (corresponding extra books, bible readings, encyclopedia readings etc) in addition to the text, that is a large extra cost. If you want the questions for both young elementary and high school, those are both extra, as well as the crafts, the maps, the coloring pages, etc.
$,$$Brave Writer: This “curriculum” is extremely different, as it's claim is that it is more of a lifestyle than a curriculum. Upon finding this curriculum, I nearly wanted to shout for joy, as the approach resonated with me so strongly. The author and founder, Julie Bogart, emphasizes that writing, like speaking, has stages. And she encourages us to enjoy those stages without pushing the physical writing too early. Children are encouraged to narrate their stories very early, with you being their scribe. Then as they grow, you are encouraged to co-write, and then finally hand off the writing completely to them. She uses copy-work from children's novels to teach grammar and spelling. And she wrote a book for parents and teachers that explains how to teach writing called The Writer's Jungle. Although I only used the grammar and spelling copy work one year, I have continued to use her book as a reference to teach my children how to write. I greatly encourage anyone who wants to teach their children to visit her website and explore her method. It makes writing an adventure of expression, rather than a chore. Also, if you have come across poetry tea time, this is the lady who has made this a norm in the homeschool world.
These are the main curriculum choices I have used. There are a few others, but I will leave this list as it stands.Below, I have included a short list of “extras” I have used that are not curriculums, but my children have benefited from.
Dreambox: This is a website that requires a small monthly fee and a subscription. There are many online math games, however I found this one to be by far the most effective and engaging. Other games are either boring (IXL) or time consuming without much learning (Prodigy). Dreambox follows the children's progress, and allows them to advance once they master a concept. In this way they can work on components of different grade levels at the same time. I have gotten my children a subscription over many Christmas, and summer breaks. I have even known homeschoolers to use this as their curriculum, however they would need extra instruction for this to work.
Letter Factory (leapfrog): If you have a pre-schooler or K child who needs to master their letters and sounds, it can be tempting to use an app or website for practice. I have tried a number of these (starfall, abc mouse, etc). None have done much in actual retention. Surprisingly though, this short video repeated a time or 2 a week for a couple months does the job well. Letter factory is available for purchase, or is currently available on netflix (along with a few other leapfrog videos)
Read Aloud Revival: If you want to enjoy a podcast done by a homeschool mom all around reading aloud, then check out this podcast and website! This lady is fun to listen to, and she often has fun children's authors join her for their advice. Plus she is a goldmine for book recommendations!
Thank you for reading through my curriculum insights. I know how overwhelming the curriculum world can be! My hope for you is that you can leisurely explore the options as you enjoy the lazy warm days of summer.
From my happy warm summer home to yours,
be blessed, choose joy, and stay sane!