Finances, Homeschooling

Differences in curriculum

Confession: I am homeschool catalog junkie.  As a mom, I created our curriculum each year.  With very limited funds, we used what I could find second-hand or on major markdown, create myself, borrow from the library, and request from Grandma and Grandpa as gifts.  No apologies for what we did.  It worked well.  All my children went to college.  They were offered multiple scholarships, and both daughters graduated with honors.  (My sons have not completed their university educations, but are both at the top of their class and thriving!)  Each of them are contributing adults in the communities in which they live.  I wouldn’t change them for the world!

Now they are beginning their own families, and I am the Grandma.  More catalogs come in the mail than when my children were younger; there are so many more choices now.  I love it!  The games, curriculum options, and diversity of ideas is exciting!  As I watch my grandchildren grow, and work with other moms on curriculum planning, I am discovering these things all over again!  One reality I find most interesting and fascinating to explore is each child needs different things, and any budget can be effective with proper planning and focus.  There is no single perfect curriculum which is ideal for everyone.

Here is a sample of what I have learned.  In our home, we have spelling curriculum from Christian Liberty Press, Rod and Staff Publishers, and a copy of McGuffey’s Eclectic Spelling Book.  While all three are not strictly necessary, there are strengths for each one.  I used the McGuffey…Speller for my children.  It covered K-12, cost me $10, and was effective.  The other two series we have acquired for my grandsons.  Some copies were found second-hand; some we purchased new. I love the Christian Liberty Press books for J, my second grandson who is 5.  He is a dually-exceptional learner and does extremely well with consistent formats and review in logical steps.  Rod and Staff is what the 7 year-old is using.  He is highly gifted and loves that handwriting practice (currently cursive), critical thinking, and spelling are combined in one lesson.  We skip the minimal review sections, test orally, and move on to the next lesson as soon as he is ready.  He is currently in book 3, but will be moving into book 4 shortly.  If we were simply testing his spelling ability he would be in book 5, but because each lesson requires he understand and be able to use each word properly, and encourages a bit of thought, we backed up a bit.

As I expand the companies with which I am familiar, the need to understand how your children learn, and to have a budget seems more and more crucial.  If you have the need and/or desire, you can create your own plan for minimal expense and give your children the chance to soar.  If you are not comfortable creating your own plan, you can look into the myriad of options out there to meet the needs of your child.  There are strengths, weaknesses, and biases in each written curriculum.  World-views differ.  Some focus on traditional learners, while others are better suited for advanced and gifted learners who tend to require less practice, more information, and are able to infer connections differently than their peers.  Many are book and seat-work based, or you can find one which leans heavily on computer-use, or is focused on tactile learning.  If you hunt, the selections are seemingly endless.

The method of education you choose does not need to be dictated by your pocketbook.  Classical education supplies can be purchased in curriculum sets for hundreds of dollars or you can gather your own for much less.   Whether you lean towards child-led learning, Charlotte Mason, or some other method, you can teach for pennies or spend a ton on curriculum and fun stuff.  It is more important that you understand how your children learn, what their gifts are, and purchase (or create) from there.  Teaching your own just gets more and more exciting as time goes by!

My favorite catalogs are Timberdoodle, Veritas Press, Dover Publishing, and Critical Thinking Company.  What are yours?


Handcarts list- science box

We live in pioneer country; this list is the result of a question posed to me by a friend.  “What books would you load into a handcart and push to Missouri if need be?”  While the list is a bit long for that actual event, it does represent the items without which I would feel lost as I teach.  This list contains my thoughts on why each item is on the list, and how I use them.  Remember each resource is a favorite because it lends itself to being used in different ways for different learners. This list focuses on science and various ways to expand your studies.  (If you are unfamiliar with the learning levels, please refer to my blogs dated 2/26-28/2013.)

All levels-

  • A globe- seeing the earth as it appears as a whole, and learning to locate places on it, is an interesting and vital ability.
  • An atlas- closer study of the various places on the globe requires a copy of maps that are larger than a globe would allow.  Look for an atlas that has different maps containing geographical and political information.
  • A book of outline maps, both blank and labeled, for labeling and review.
  • Nature notebook, field guides, and pencils or watercolors (one per student)- Scientific study requires the ability to observe, focus, and think about the world around us.  A nature notebook can facilitate that skill and give you and your children a place to record thoughts, pictures, and any other information related to your science study.  Use the field guides as you go out into the world around you to record the common and Latin names of those things you sketch.  We use our nature notebooks as our science notebooks; we do not have a separate one for textbook/formal study.

Discovery level-

  • DK Publishing has multiple series of books which young children love.  Eyewitness Books, Why….?, and Look Inside are just a few.
  • Science picture books- some of our favorites include H. A. Rey’s books on the constellations, books published by Golden Book on various life science topics (Nature Around the Year, Wonders of Nature, etc.), Gail Gibbons has a series of books on a variety of science fields of study.  Ask your librarian, book store clerk, or other homeschool moms what they love.  There are so many great reads for young children in this genre!
  • Janice Van Cleave has a great series of experiment books for young children that are simple to follow, well thought out, and fun to do.
  • File folder games by CarsonDellosa- fun and effective ways to reinforce vocabulary and concepts.

Late discovery and analysis level-

  • Reader’s Digest How……..Works series- this is not a textbook series.  Each book covers a different discipline of science and is filled with pictures, basic definitions and diagrams, and experiments that reinforce the concept being studied.   These books do not contain enough detailed information to constitute a high school level text, but are an interesting and inviting introduction to the various branches of science.
  • Kids Learn America by Gordon and Snow- We used this book to teach the states and capitols.  There is a USA map to color, as well as regional maps, trivia about each state, and a little something to help you remember the capitol.
  • DK Science Encyclopedia- Written primarily in two-page spreads, this book covers most of the scientific disciplines, i.e. chemistry, physics, biology, earth science, etc.  Each spread provides information on a specific area within those disciplines.  Students gain basic information, and can learn to take notes, outline, as well as creating a framework for science study.  When used in conjunction with the Reader’s Digest series, it allows for comprehensive, in-depth study for the middle/upper grades.
  • Exploring Our World published by the National Geographic Society- This book is an encyclopedic list of geographical terms and photos, maps, and cross-referencing makes geographical studies easy and interesting.  A great reference book!

Application level-

  • High School texts by Apologia, RonJon Publishing, or another homeschool supplier can be effective and clear for high school-level study with a creationist worldview.  (I have read some reviews expressing concerns about misinformation in the science used.  If your children are headed for a traditional university, look for a text written by a more secular company.)  Use in conjunction with hands-on kits for all branches of science. (Timberdoodle is my favorite supplier for anything hands-on.)  To spend less money, or if you are looking for a scientific approach closer to the mainstream, look for second-hand books in you town or on the net.  I used the DK Science Encyclopedia/Reader’s Digest Series and was happy with the result, but I know some parents feel more comfortable with a text for high school.
  • If you choose to send your children to the local high school for science, ask their teenage friends who take classes there.  Which courses are interesting?  Is there time in the lab?  Are the teachers interesting and involved?  I have found my kids’ friends to be honest-to-a-fault and much more helpful than most parents.

Handcart list- math box

We live in pioneer country; this list is a result of a question posed to me by a friend.  “What books would you load into a handcart and push to Missouri if need be?”  While the list is a bit long for that actual event, it does represent the items without which I would feel lost as I teach.  This list contains my thoughts on why each item is on the list, and how I use them.  Remember each resource is a favorite because it lends itself to being used in different ways for different learners. This list focuses on mathematics and various ways to expand your studies.  (If you are unfamiliar with the learning levels, please refer to my blogs dated 2/26-28/2013.)

Discovery level-

  • a good math course with objects to use as manipulatives  (we love Math U See for visual and kinesthetic learners if you have the money).
  • Saxon Math is also good, and can often be found second-hand.
  • Manipulatives- young learners need to learn that “5” is the symbol for a group of five things.  One… two… three… four… five.  Teaching math in the abstract is not only not helpful, it can create a host of challenges when math becomes more difficult and they need to understand how the “real world” relates to their math assignment.
  • Family Math and Family Math for Young Children published by the Lawrence Hall of Science.  These books contain learning games and activities which encourage mathematical thinking and exploration.  We loved to take one day a week of our studies for non-traditional math time.  These books provide LOTS of ideas!
  • Picture books- many authors including Cindy Neuschwander and David M Schwartz have written entertaining books which explore and play with a whole host of mathematical concepts.  Illustrators Stephen Kellogg and Phyllis Hornung are also names for which to look.  There are also great picture books which introduce mathematicians and math history such as The Librarian Who Measured the Earth by Kevin Hawkes.

Analysis and Application level-

  • A good math course-Even if your students are not planning on a career where math is heavily involved, the discipline and logic required for algebra, geometry, and trigonometry is beneficial.
  • How Math Works  published by Reader’s Digest- This book deals with topics not often covered in standard math books including statistics, measurement, shapes, and some logic.  (Could be used for an advanced late discovery learner who loves math.)
  • A tutor (barter is often a good option for this if money is tight), or enrolling your youth in a math class at the local school is recommended if you are not fully comfortable with upper level math.  Do not allow the subject matter to be so intimidating (to Mom) that your youth fail to continue in their studies!  (And yes, you could benefit from learning it too, but you have a family to raise, a house to keep, and other things that require your attention.  If you have time– great.  If not, that’s okay.)

Handcart list- language arts box

We live in pioneer country; this list is a result of a question posed to me by a friend.  “What books would you load into a handcart and push to Missouri if need be?”  While the list is a bit long for that actual event, it does represent the items without which I would feel lost as I teach.  This list contains my thoughts on why each item is on the list, and how I use them.  Remember each resource is a favorite because it lends itself to being used in different ways for different learners. This list focuses on language arts and various ways to expand your studies.  (If you are unfamiliar with the learning levels, please refer to my blogs dated 2/26-28/2013.)

Discovery level-

  • McGuffey’s Readers (Revised Edition, set of seven books)- the Primer begins with the alphabet and very basic beginning reading.  The books progress through to the Sixth Reader, which is a great text for teaching vocabulary, comprehension, elocution, and vocal reading on a high school level.  I have used the books as readers,  a dictation source,  presentation pieces, and a resource for excerpts to incorporate into our history study.
  • McGuffey’s Speller- The companion to the McGuffey Readers, this book covers spelling lists beginning with basic reading/spelling words through vocabulary for high school learners.  I don’t have my students study every word on every list.  Some are archaic, and unnecessary; others are already known by the students, and can be skipped.  The lists in the back of the book contains foreign words and words that are not used every day.  These lists are some of my favorites.  Look them up in a dictionary, and you can have a vocabulary list for Mom for that week!
  • Phonics rule flash cards- the English language is much more phonetic than most people think.  Over 90% of the words we use follow phonics rules, and if your children are taught  the sounds of each letter and the rules that govern that letter, reading and writing will be so much simpler.  Phonogram cards should have both the sounds for the individual letters and the rules for them, as well as the sounds and rules for the most common blends i.e. “ea”, “th”, “ough”, etc.
  • Reading phone- two elbows, and one straight 3 inch piece of PVC makes one of the handiest reading/elocution tools ever!  Put them together so they look like a phone receiver and talk into it.  If your young one is struggling to move from decoding to fluency, or your teen needs help cleaning up the “um”, “like”, and “you know” from there public speaking pieces, have them speak into it as they talk.  They will be able to hear themselves clearly; it will make smoothing things out much easier.  My daughter even discovered that having her son use it on the days when he can’t seem to “quiet down” works wonders.  He can hear how loud he actually is and is able to correct it.
  • Shurley Grammar Kits- learning to parse and diagram the English language is the most effective way to lay a foundation for writing and reading.  Use these with older discovery learners.
  • Mad-Libs- I love these priceless, silly gems in tablet form.  You can find them at book stores, second-hand, or on the web.  Help your children learn the proper terms for the various parts of speech as you giggle your way through these fill-in stories.  I am still giving them as gifts to my adult children.  They are just fun.
  • Lots of paper (lined and unlined), pencils, erasers, crayons- having the tools for writing, creating, and experimenting with letters and words encourages growth;  not having them can prove to be frustrating to Moms and budding authors.  Doesn’t look good?  No problem.  Toss it, and start over.
  • Quality picture books- look for well-constructed phrases, clear pictures, and text that is fun to read.  Illustrations can be watercolor, photographs, pencil drawings, or any other media.  Be aware of harsh, creepy, or distasteful pictures, or texts that are mindless, dark, or introduce unsavory topics.

Analysis level-

  • 1828 Webster’s Dictionary- the ORIGINAL American Dictionary.  Definitions change with time and usage.  In order to understand what was meant in centuries’ old documents, you need a dictionary that defines words the way they were defined when used.  Make use of it when studying early European or American documents/speeches, or even your scriptures.
  • Shurley Grammar Kits- learning to parse and diagram the English language is the most effective way to lay a foundation for writing and reading.
  • Solid literature- There is so much great literature out there.  From board books to the classic books for adult reading, there is no way to read it all.  Don’t even try.  Not everyone will fall in love with the same book, or author, or genre; that is as it should be.  Dabble a bit, and find the ones that you love, just make sure that it is good reading, not twaddle.   Does it connect with you on an emotional level?  Does it teach you something?  Does it have real words, complex sentences, and require thought?  Then enjoy!  Leave the dumbed-down, dark, and junky books alone.  Don’t waste your time.  Great reads are out there!
  • Lit. cube- I have two.  One for discovery learners.  One for older learners.  Using them can encourage discussion about the books you are reading, and can take the fear out of writing about them.  (See post dated 4/12/2013 on Lit. Cubes for full instruction.)

Application level-

  • The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White- This small book will help keep your writing clean, clear, and readable.  It covers the fundamentals of writing better than anything else I have found.
  • Shurley Grammar Kits- learning to parse and diagram the English language is the most effective way to lay a foundation for writing and reading.
  • Classic literature- See solid literature above.

Science study

It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom; without this it goes to wrack and ruin without fail. It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty.

                                                                                    Albert Einstein

The study of science can be one of the most fascinating parts of your school year.  Teacher and students alike learn discipline, reasoning, observation, and love for God as we study the world around us.

Most science text-books are dry, void of reference to a Creator, and limiting to the student.  Rather than depending on them, get your hands dirty.  Dissect, draw, experiment, and experience what our world has to offer. Do not get between the child and discovery. There are wonderful DVDs available that cover a wide range of subjects.  Watch with your children in order to aid discussion. Using a sketch book for science recording allows for sketches, thoughts, graphs, charts,  tables, and experiments to be contained in one book.  Study each discipline separately.  Human anatomy, botany, astronomy, chemistry, etc. are easiest to understand when studied systematically.  Study the lives of famous scientists. Learn what led up to their discoveries, and the thought-processes they used.  Encourage your students to experiment and invent. You can find science kits, books, stories, and experiment ideas at the library, second-hand stores, on the internet and at the mall.  Give kits as gifts for special events, or request them from grandparents.  If you are going to make the investment, spend money on well-made equipment. Do not buy the cheapest microscope or telescope, for example.  They may not serve you very well. Do your homework before you purchase!

If you study history on a four-year rotation, you can integrate science as a part of those studies.  The rotation may then look something like this: Ancient world- Life Science, Medieval and Renaissance- Earth Science and Astronomy, Early Modern- Chemistry, Late Modern- Physics.  Perhaps summers could be used for computer science, electronics, or anything else on which you want to spend extra time.   (If you are unfamiliar with the learning levels, please refer to my blogs dated 2/26-28/2013.)

Discovery Level

Memorize facts, figures, tables, vocabulary, etc.

Read biographies, literary science, etc.

Spend time in the kitchen experiencing the wonders of food interaction.  Learn safety and how to improvise.

Keep a nature notebook.

Learn about the world by experiencing it.  Go for nature walks.  Ask questions.  Try new things.  Hands-on activities are a great way to learn, and are often easier to remember.

Organize collections and learn to label and classify.  Try using Latin classification for the serious scholar.

Orderliness and focus are important skills for any scientist.  Encourage these at every opportunity.

Analysis level

Study and outline science texts.

Read and write reports. (Include data from experiments performed or observations from the world around them.)

Biography reading will enhance their study of both history and science.

Put science history dates on a time line; watch for the effects of scientific discovery on history in general.

Perform experiments, go on nature walks, ask questions, etc.

Keep a nature notebook.

Application level

Read biographies of great scientists as you study what was happening in the world around them.  Look at the ways science, history, and literature play off each other and affect the world as a whole.

Take Honors level classes at the local high school or enroll in college courses.

Perform experiments, dissect, investigate.

Learn and utilize the laws and principles of scientific study.

Record experiences in their nature notebook.

Some of my favorite books for science study

How __________ Works  published by Reader’s Digest

Eyewitness Books published by DK Publishing

Time/Life Discoveries  series

Reader’s Digest Pathfinder’s series

Wild Days by Karen Skidmore Rackliffe

Usborne science books

The DK Science Encyclopedia

Field guides published by Golden or the National Audubon Society

There are great books in the non-fiction section of the library to take home and explore.


Handcard list- history box

We live in pioneer country; this list is a result of a question posed to me by a friend.  “What books would you load into a handcart and push to Missouri if need be?”  While the list is a bit long for that actual event, it does represent the items without which I would feel lost as I teach.  This list contains my thoughts on why each item is on the list, and how I use them.  Remember each resource is a favorite because it lends itself to being used in different ways for different learners. This list focuses on history and various ways to expand your studies.  (If you are unfamiliar with the learning levels, please refer to my blogs dated 2/26-28/2013.)

All levels

  • A timeline- timelines allow for review each time they are used.  They organize  human history into an intelligible series of causes and effects, and allow for connections to be made.   There are some massive pre-printed timelines available for purchase (and they can be very helpful).  I recommend creating one as you study.  Whether it is on your wall or in a binder, building a timeline as you learn about people and places takes on the feeling of putting a great puzzle together.  Take apart old books, and encyclopedias which have boring texts, and use the maps, pictures, and documents to add interest to your timeline.
  • Biographies- learn about the heroes who made great decisions and, consequently, changes for the better throughout history.  Read about their less-than-stellar decisions and the resulting effects.  We need to have an understanding of the principles of this life, not just a knowledge of celebrities.
  • Well-written history books- textbooks are a dry, uninteresting way to learn history.  Look for books with great narratives, engaging photographs, and accurate information.  Read primary source materials, and draw your own conclusions.

Discovery level

  • Books by Genevieve Foster- I have never found one of her books that was not worth reading.  Foster’s writing style is easy-going, and informative.  Definitely a favorite among my family members!
  • The Story of Mankind series by Olive Beaupre Miller- currently out-of-print.  I have found copies of the series at used book sellers and on the internet.  Another good narrative.
  • America is My Country  by Brown, Guadagnolo-  found this at a used book clearing house.  Great information on American symbols and patriotic themes.
  • Books from the Childhood of Famous American series- written for middle grades, but my teenagers loved reading them “just for fun”.  Focuses on the early years of men and women who accomplished great things for America.  Some have been republished; many are out of print.
  • Books from the If You Had Lived….. series- published by Scholastic.  This series asks and answers questions about various time periods, and events in history (What did they eat aboard the Mayflower?  Did the pioneers have fun? Etc.)  Informative, and engaging.
  • Dover history coloring books- Dover Publishing produces lots of coloring books in various subjects, but my favorites are those relating to history.  I use them in conjunction with historical read-alouds.  Photo-copy a picture from the book (I only use the books as a master) and the kids can color while I read.  Great for visual, and kinesthetic learners!

Analysis level

  • 1828 Webster’s Dictionary- the first dictionary published for American English.  When you are reading original, founding documents and speeches it is invaluable.  The definitions of words change over time, and having a source that references how those who helped create our nation understood things makes all the difference in the world.  It is also very helpful when reading scriptures.
  • The Story of Mankind series by Olive Beaupre Miller- (see note in “all levels”)  These books cover early human life through the explorers.  I like the narrative style in these books.  I use the portions that apply to what we are currently working on; I do not read them straight through as read-alouds.  They do require something like the Eyewitness Books from DK publishing for visuals.  There are few illustrations to accompany the text.
  • Books from the American and World Landmark history series- written for late elementary and junior high school-aged youth.  These books are interesting, well-researched, and much-loved.  They cover both historical events, and individuals in history.  Some are back in print currently.   I have found many of them through second-hand sources.
  • DK World History Encyclopedia– Great overview for world history.  Does contain some evolutionary information (we simply start further on in the text).  Use the two page spreads for outlining basic information, and supplement with biographies, maps, and other sources for in-depth study.
  • Whatever Happened to Penny Candy? by Richard J. Maybury- Love this book!  If you have ever wanted to understand the basics of economics, this book covers it in a simple, easy-to-understand format.  Ten year-olds can understand the information, but Maybury’s writing style is interesting enough for adults to enjoy the books (see below) as well.  A MUST READ!
  • Whatever Happened to Justice? by Richard J. Maybury- Same style as above.  This book explains the genesis for common law, and how our legal system has evolved including the difference between scientific, and common law.  Fascinating!  *NOTE*  Richard Maybury has written numerous other books.  I enjoyed the first four in the Uncle Eric series.  The later ones are interesting reads, and thought-provoking, but not as highly recommended (at least, not by me). Maybury has decided views on history and I disagree with many political, and social stands he takes, i.e. we should have stayed out of WWII, etc.
  • Sunday Editorial page (newspaper)- Read with your youth to help them as they become more aware of current issues.  Discuss the views expressed, and help your young people develop the ability to express a well-worded opinion.

Application level

  • A Basic History of the United States  by Clarence Carson- currently out-of-print.  I have found it on Amazon, and Ebay.  Carson’s history is clear, politically incorrect, and well-written.  There is a teacher’s guide available which I found helpful for discussion. (Often I don’t bother with teacher’s guides.)   While I do not endorse everything this author has written, I found this set to be helpful and easy-to-use.
  • Are You Liberal? Conservative? or Confused? by Richard Maybury- Not sure what all the labels in our political system mean?  This book explains the labels, and the philosophies of past, and present parties, and potential effects for businesses and the economy.
  • Evaluating Books: What Would Thomas Jefferson Think About This? by Richard Maybury- Learning to be a discerning reader is vital for everyone.  This book deals with the various philosophical slants of different writers, and gives suggestions of things against which to guard as you choose books for yourself and your family.
  • The Making of America and Study Guide number one, published through the National Center for Constitutional Studies.  The book is divided into halves.  The first half discusses the Founding Fathers; the second half discusses The Constitution.  If you are interested in what the writers of The Constitution thought, wrote, and said, this book is for you.

The reason we study history

I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided and that is the lamp of experience.  I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past.   –Patrick Henry

I hear from so many moms who dread history.  I remember taking it in school, and it was definitely on the bottom of my list of preferences!  Here are some thoughts that might help make it FUN! (If you are unfamiliar with the different learning stages, check out my blogs dated 2/26-28/2013.)

History is the story of anything that has ever happened.  Science, art, music, religious history, family history all contribute to the history of the human family.

Use good books-real books-rather than textbooks for your history study.  Biographies, auto-biographies, family histories, scriptural history, historical fiction, maps; documents and speeches are great places to find inspiring and edifying stories.  Scour second-hand stores, grandma’s attic, sales, etc. for great finds.  Before you spend money, ask around or check resource lists to find history worth reading and re-reading.  Some older books may have uninspiring texts but wonderful pictures.  Save the pictures for a time line and discard the text.  Look at maps, atlases, photographs, literature, or the arts and music of the period and/or region you are studying, or the books will have great information but no illustrations.  Find related pictures in other books and combine them to help bring history alive.  Help your children see that all people are worth our understanding and respect.

Many have found it helpful to study history in a four year rotation.  Ancient history, medieval and renaissance/reformation, early modern history, late modern is a fairly common division.  Our family adds summer units on anything not given enough time during the school year.  Constitutional studies, worldviews, religious history are just a few things we have found can use extra attention.  Having a plan lessens the probability that one time period will be studied at the expense of another.  (i.e. American history without world history, or getting stuck on the Civil War and never moving on to the 20th Century, for example.)

All levels

Memorize poetry, speeches or short documents.   Perform scenes from history in period dress.

Play the games of previous eras.  Try foods from different ages and cultures.

Study the origins of the holidays we celebrate.  Study the special celebrations of other cultures and times.

Cook unfamiliar foods.  Listen to music that corresponds with what you are studying.  Learn to identify different cultures and periods through the senses.

Interview someone with a first-hand account of events you are studying.  The Depression, the Second World War, the home front during war-time.  Write it down!  Take pictures!  Or make up questions to ask those in the more distant past and research to find answers.  Hold a Q &A dressed in the costume of the time.  What did they learn?  What was hardest?  What do they miss?

Keep a written time line to help younger children understand the passage of time. (Grandpa, Martin Luther and George Washington did NOT all live at the same time.)  It also orders events as you learn, helps you understand how events relate to one another, and is a way to review what you have covered in a moment.

Discovery level

Dress up and re-enact famous (or not so famous) events of the past.

Read biographies.  Our children need more heroes!  We live in a day of celebrities; we need to find true heroes to learn about and emulate. Helping them see what made great people great can encourage correct choices and character development.  Help them start their autobiography.

Study maps of various times.  Draw some with changes in political divisions or include voyages, battles, etc.

Focus on the basics of the history.  Save negative or controversial topics for older learners!

Analysis level

Now is the time to begin writing papers and researching events in history.  Begin by aiming for two-three pages per week (or so) of researched, relevant, cohesive writing.

Look for documents, drawings, and maps in their original form.    Writing and printing changed over centuries.   Try reproducing some methods used in the past.

Study maps and geography as you study history.  Political boundaries change.  Our world evolves in surprising ways.

Outlining a short section of a book helps with study skills and retention.  The two page sections in a DK or Kingfisher History book are great for this.

Look at relationships between events in history.  Discuss how they interrelate.  (Example-the American, French and Russian Revolutions are all within a relatively short time.)

Have a history notebook with a time line and a place for longer reports and papers.

Get and use a copy of the 1828 Webster’s Dictionary.  Definitions change with usage.  Some words fall out of use.  To read what Washington really meant in his Farewell Address you may well need it.  Scripture study reaches new depths as you use it!

Study current events.  Introduce the “tweenies” to the world around them and some of the issues they will face.

Remember how young these children are.  Use wisdom in introducing troubling events-the Holocaust, the terrors of war, the darker side of slavery, etc.-to your family.  It may be wiser to save these topics until your children are a little older.  There will be time.

Application level

Read primary sources from the various times and place.  Use an 1828 Webster’s Dictionary.

Read the literature, mythology, and poetry.  Read speeches and philosophy.  And talk, talk, talk.

Write papers using argument and opinion.  Learn to make comparisons and to express viewpoints with clarity.  Write a letter to the editor or become involved in cause you feel strongly about.

Learn about our Constitution, and the laws of other lands.  Read the Richard Maybury “Uncle Eric” books if you haven’t already.  Become aware of how government works and what our part is in it.  They’ll be voting soon.

This is the time for your adult-in-training to internalize the deeper lessons of history.


Curriculum planning rant

It is that time of year again.  Now is often when homeschool moms get into the books for the coming year, and put an academic plan together.  If you use a programmed curriculum, it is fairly straight-forward.  You buy their books, and use what works with the learning level for your child.  It may require a tweak or two, but nothing too crazy.  Then again, if you are trying to assemble curriculum on your own (as we did), it can get confusing.  Let me explain.

Obviously you need math, language arts, history, science, and some fun stuff for the year.  Add in critical thinking, cultural arts, religious studies, life skills, and a bit of this and that and it can look undecipherable.  Let’s try making sense of it.

Math.  Pretty clear.  You have a text-book, flashcards, and maybe some math songs for learning basic skills.  Done.  But what about games and activities like tangrams, pattern blocks, or other math-related critical thinking options?  Is that math?  Is that critical thinking?  Is it just for fun, and not recorded at all?  Is cooking math, science or life skills?  Hmmm…

Let’s try it with language arts.  This generally includes reading and literature, spelling, vocabulary, penmanship, grammar, and writing.  Oh, boy.  Do you do spelling and vocabulary together?  One list for each?  Isn’t that a lot of writing?  If so, does it also count for writing?  Not really.  Oh.  Okay.  Grammar could be done in your best hand, and then it may also count for penmanship…or not.  Reading.  Simple enough.  Pick a book and read.  Literature means find a well-written, classic work.  Read and talk about it.  Okay.  If we are reading The Door in the Wall, is that literature?  Do we count it as history?  It does provide a great jumping off point for a discussion about life in medieval Europe. If we are reading Bible stories is that literature, history or religious studies, or something else?  If you teach them to outline on the computer, is that writing or computer skills?

Enough of that.  Let’s look at history and social studies.  History- the story of what has gone before us.  Social studies- the lives of people throughout the world.  Sounds pretty basic.  Where do you add geography?  Or is that a subject on its own which deals with different cultures and covers also orientation and map-reading skills?  If you study specific countries around the globe, and include commonly used phrases and a titch of their grammar, has that just become a study of foreign language or language arts?  What about political studies and law?  If you include a study of your nation’s founders, and the creation of your government is that history?  Law?  Or does it get a more specific title such as Government Studies?  Then there is economics.  It generally falls under the social studies umbrella, but does it count for math if you are working on interest rates, checking and savings accounts, and such?  Or do we call those things life skills instead?  Perhaps some of each?  And is the study of art and/music history part of history or cultural arts?

Is science any easier?  Are we simply working on a specific branch of science such as physics, or biology using reference materials and experiments?  What if we begin studying about Newton, and Darwin?  Is that still science?  Has it just become history?  Or if it is a classical work they have written, are we now doing literature (which is language arts)?  Do we teach evolution or creation science as science or do we create a comparitive study of them as a critical thinking exercise?  Is growing a garden and preserving the surplus considered botany and chemistry, or should you call it life skills?

You get the idea.  In all seriousness, Mom, don’t over-think this!  The answer to these questions if YES;  you can place this material where ever you see fit.  Set your goals.  Choose your materials.  Put your plan together, and get to the exciting business of learning as a family!  If you have high-school age youth who will need a transcript, you may find it helpful to use more diverse labeling for their studies in order to include what they will need for college admissions.  (Just ensure that you cover enough information to be able to claim completion of that subject!)  What matters most is that your children receive a broad, well thought out, and challenging education that provides them with the knowledge base, discipline and study habits to serve them throughout their lifetime.  However things were categorized when they were children, they will remember it as part of their education.  Isn’t that what really matters?


Handcart list- preschool

We live in pioneer country; this list is a result of a question posed to me by a friend.  “What books would you load into a handcart and push to Missouri if need be?”  While the list is a bit long for that actual event, it does represent the items without which I would feel lost as I teach.  This list contains my thoughts on why each item is on the list, and how I use them.  Remember each resource is a favorite because it lends itself to being used in different ways for different learners.  Today’s portion focuses on early learners (birth to preschool age).

  • Board books-I admit to a bit of an attitude when it comes to board books.  If there is as much text as you find in a picture book, get the picture book.  Board books should have fun, interesting pictures, minimal text, and if there is chewable handle or other tactile addition, so much the better!  Sandra Boynton, Jan Brett, Winnie-the-Pooh, and so many others are great.   Non-fiction is a great way to go as well.   It is a waste of time to bother with odd or harsh illustrations, and bad text.
  • Bath toys i.e. cups, bowls, boats, funnels, rags- Bath time was one of my favorite times of day as a young mom.  Not only were my kids in a confined space, they were able to experience things in the tub that got them in trouble anywhere else!  Water is a fascinating substance.  Let them splash, play, and experiment in it.
  • Music recordings and songs sung by Mom- Lullabies, folk songs, children’s favorites, religious music.  Expose your young children (and the rest of the family) to a variety of musical genres, and arrangements.  Orchestral, choral, solo, barbershop, silly, action songs (i.e. Eensy, Weensy Spider), and Mom singing to them all help them experience the wonder of music in a different way.  Take them to live concerts (outside at the park, or at the local school where you can leave when you need is best).  Play recordings at home, in the car, or sing as you work. Try to vocalize various instruments.  Add harmonies if you can.
  • Basic toys i.e. rattles, balls, blocks, dolls and stuffed animals, cars, shape sorter, stacking cups, something with buttons to push and knobs with which to play, lacing cards.  There is such a variety of textures, materials, colors, and sounds that can be explored  through toys and play.  Have fun with it- just be sure to purchase things that will not break with the first use.  Cheap toys are not just a let-down, they can be unsafe.  Often you can create your own.  Use fun pictures glued or laminated onto cardboard for lacing cards.  Re-use clothing fasteners (from discarded pieces) to produce a practice board for buttons, snaps, velcro, buckles, etc.  Look around.  You may be surprised by what wonderful things are available.
  • Give them time with clay, sand, salt dough, mud, etc.- make a mess.  Let them pound, stomp, squish, spread, and generally get dirty. An old shower curtain or some newspaper makes a great drop cloth for easy clean-up, or go outside and have fun there.  Large and small motor skills can be developed as they try making snakes, crude pots, and other objects.  As they grow older, form letters, numbers, maps, etc.  Work with them.  Children love to participate with the adults in their life!
  • Basic art supplies- crayons, watercolor, large pencils, chalk, paper.  They will need supervision while they learn how and where to use these supplies, but early exposure with no expectations of neatness or or quality of work allows them to freely explore these media.
  • Slow and Steady, Get Me Ready  by June R. Oberlander or Teach Me Mommy by Jill W. Dunford- not sure where to start, or looking for a more structured approach?  These books are full of great ideas! 

Games keep learning fun!

Every now and then in your homeschool you will have one of “those” days.  Everyone is edgy, or nothing seems to be going right, or there is stress elsewhere in the family and it is affecting everyone.  Every now and then it can be helpful to keep the books and programmed curriculum on the shelf, and take a day to play.  Don’t think I am necessarily advocating a day off academics completely (although that can have a place too).  I am talking about having a day to remind everyone-including Mom- how much we love being together as a family, and why we chose to homeschool in the first place.  One of the highest goals in our home was to love learning, and have joy in our time together.  That is not possible if we are so busy being “school-marms” that we forget that we are teaching our children whether or not we are “teaching” them.  It is so important that we show them how to have fun as well as how to work!

Here are some of our favorite games for various academic subjects.

Language Arts:

Scrabble by Milton Bradley

UpWords by Milton Bradley


Password by Milton Bradley

Whiz Kids by Discovery Toys

ABSeas by Discovery Toys

Brainy Daze by The Learning Cottage



puzzles- both tabletop jigsaw and 3D

Social Studies:

Five-State Rummy by School Zone Publishing Corp.

USA Bingo by Trend Enterprises


Dem Bones by The Learning Cottage

Go to the park, have a picnic, and draw.  (Okay.  Not really a game, but a great way to decompress!)


Made for Trade by Astroplay

Risk by Hasbro Games

Constitution IQ by National Center for Constitutional Studies

Blokus by Educational Insights

Labrynth by Ravensburger

Labyrinth by Ravensburger

Q-Bitz by MindWare



Just about anything from ThinkFun

Just for fun:

Apples to Apples or Apples to Apples, Jr.  by Out of the Box

Blink by Out of the Box

Twister by Hasbro

Leverage by Milton Bradley

What is your favorite way to let your hair down as a family?