Choosing Homeschool Curriculum—A Guide and Could Anything Be Harder?

Let me just start off by saying that having homeschooled for exactly two months, I don’t think I could exactly call myself an “expert” in choosing curriculum… AT. ALL. However, I found it abundantly useful to hear what other people were using, had tried, and how they felt about those things. So that’s my hope here… to maybe offer a little guidance based on my opinions of what we’ve tried out thus far.

When people ask me, “So what curriculum are you using?” or, “What philosophy are you following?” I pause with my eyes wide and slightly in shock, clear my throat, and say, “We’re not really using any set thing.” And that’s the truth. I’m not really a “set thing” kinda girl. I am very opinionated about pretty much everything, though I try really hard not to let you know most of the time unless you’re a really good friend and can handle it. I also like to take the road less travelled. Read—the most difficult possible route I could possibly take because I don’t like people telling me what to do. This is a problem. It makes my life a constant trial, but I just can’t seem to help myself. I’ve gotten better though…I’ve learned to ask for help and accept that those people who have already done this probably do know at least a little bit what they’re talking about. :) (I literally printed off this post from Jodi Mockabee and wrote down every suggestion from this post from Nathalie Bearden.) But this isn’t supposed to be an analysis of my amazing personality. Let’s get back on track.

But let me just add that when it comes to my children’s education. Whew! Watch out! This is SO important to me, but with the above confession in mind, this has been THE HARDEST decision(s) I’ve ever had to make. I mean, it’s their little hearts and minds and souls! What in the world could be more important than the math curriculum I choose?! This could drive one to madness. (See previous post on my schizophrenic homeschooling methods. They’re totally legit.) Before I go into another tailspin, let’s dive into what we’re using right now and what I think about it. (By the way, Diesel is in kindergarten and Lula is in 2nd grade… just for reference.)

One of the main reasons I was excited about homeschooling was because I felt like I was failing miserably as a spiritual leader in our home. We tried to squeeze the Bible in before school each day, but I often became lazy and drifted from my self-imposed schedule. But I knew if they were home and there was no set timeline, this is the first thing I would do every day. And that’s what we’ve done. This alone makes having them home worth it for me right now. And even if they went back to school, this is the one thing I would continue to do with them every day. Nothing else matters in comparison.

So this is the Bible we’re currently reading. When we get through this one, I want to move on to something a little more in depth, but we’ll see. I also read a “truth” to them every day found at the back of Ditch the Baggage. These are similar to what you would find in the Freedom in Christ/Bondage Breaker program, etc. These truths changed my life when I was in my twenties, and I’m hoping they sink in much much sooner for my kiddos. But even if they don’t, they’ll be there as a solid, firm foundation when they need them. That’s my hope. I read three a day and say each one with each of our names and then read the scripture. I know they think I’m crazy, but if these most-important truths can be ingrained in their little minds at this early age, I’ll feel like homeschooling was successful.

Teaching Character Through Literature by Rebecca Manor

So I’ll talk a little more about the Charlotte Mason philosophy of education in another post, but I love the idea of teaching through literature. Having two degrees in English, that’s probably pretty obvious. So when I saw this guide of books that teach character through stories at Beautiful Feet books, I grabbed it up along with the set of books it came with. We’ve been enjoying the stories together as suggested in the guide, and I hope to revisit them over and over again. We don’t have a set schedule for these… just whenever we need some extra reading time.

Early American History by Beautiful Feet Books

I really love the approach of Beautiful Feet Books, which is based on a literature approach. Anything book based is right up my alley! I’m a huge fan of the Charlotte Mason philosophy of education that promotes using real, whole books to learn through. This just makes sense to my mind. So when I heard about this publishing company from several friends (and Jodi Mockabee :)), I thought I’d check it out. There are several other publishing companies that are similar to this one that use whole books to teach through but incorporate other elements as well. I was really impressed with My Father’s World curriculum. They have a whole, completely integrated Kindergarten program that I almost went with. But I finally decided I wanted to do as much as possible with both kids together, so I chose the Early American History instead.

The program recommended we do three lessons every two weeks to get through the curriculum in two years, or three lessons every week to get through it in one year. I chose to do two lessons a week, and we’ll see where we end up! Since we started in the middle of the traditional school year, I’m just kind of playing where we end up by ear. That’s how I work best. However, I feel like we’re moving a little too slowly, and the kids are having trouble making connections and remembering with only two lessons a week. But I also don’t feel like we have any extra time to spare to add another lesson at this point. Hmmm…

So… this particular curriculum. I like the guide and how everything is laid out. We enjoyed the first book that came with the program, which is the only one we’ve gotten through so far. The kids were a little bit bored with it, but I don’t feel like we’ve introduced them to much “literature” so far in their lives, so it’s just a matter of getting used to more intellectual readings. I also started insisting that Lula do something with her hands while we’re reading… like making bracelets or finger knitting, etc. because she is SO fidgety and has a really hard time concentrating if she isn’t doing something active. I’m also planning to put a swing in the school room or add some bouncy chairs or something to help her focus better.

I do like simply reading to gather information about history, but I felt a bit disconnected from history with our first book. So I might have to supplement a bit with our next book.

Reading Lessons Through Literature by Kathy Jo DeVore

Teaching your kid how to read is a daunting task. I mean… reading! If they don’t know how to read, they pretty much can’t do anything else! It’s a big deal. I decided to check out this method based on a reference from Jodi Mockabee (see link above). I figure she’s been doing it long enough, why not just go with what someone else recommends?

I really like DeVore’s simple yet thorough method of teaching phonics, then spelling, then reading. It’s slow, but I feel like the kids will really know how to read when all is said and done. Not only that, they’ll be great spellers and know how to sound out words they don’t know.

The levels are a bit confusing and the instructions for where to begin, etc. are a little hard to navigate in this series. For example, Lula is starting with spelling lists that are in Level 1. I can’t determine if each level is supposed to start back at the beginning or not each year, but since this is our first time, that’s what we did. I’m just moving Lula through the spelling lists much faster than Diesel. This series and method is a bit dry. There’s really no “fun” involved. But I like the thoroughness of it.

English Lessons Through Literature by Kathy Jo DeVore

Like her reading lessons, the English lessons are also simple yet thorough and are based on the Charlotte Mason philosophy of learning through literature instead of random samples. So whole texts are read and lessons are then pulled from those readings. Each lesson typically contains a chapter from a book (we’re currently reading through The Wizard of Oz), a fable, a poem, and sometimes a painting. Level 2 (where I started with Lula) introduces the student to narration, another Charlotte Mason principle. I really like how everything is very specifically laid out since I’ve never done this before!

In this book is also a guide for memorizing some of the poems, scriptures, and rules throughout the book. I appreciate very clear guidelines, even though we haven’t started this yet! It takes me a while, guys. I’m a “dip your toe in first,” not a “dive in” kinda girl!

Diesel will start in Level 1 next year once he can read some. But he loves to listen to all the readings we do and he’s hearing the grammar lessons even though he’s not really involved. I like that aspect of all this.

Math Mammoth

This is the math curriculum also based on the recommendation of Jodi Mockabee. This is probably one of those times when I should’ve just gone with majority and chosen Math-U-See, which I’m pretty sure every homeschooler and their kid brother is using.

Lula has always loved math and been really good with numbers. So when Jodi mentioned that her kids were flying through Math-U-See and that Math Mammoth was a little more strenuous, I thought that sounded like a good plan for Lula. WRONG! She was struggling from day one even though we started with a review of 1st grade math and she had already been through half a year of 2nd grade math before I pulled her out. So… was the school the problem or the curriculum? I’m still not sure, but both kids probably would’ve enjoyed the manipulatives that go along with Math-U-See.

Diesel is doing fine with this path though. I started him in the 1st grade level, but we’re moving slowly through it, typically only doing one page a day. So if it takes us the whole next school year to get through it, that’s fine.

I would at least like to get to May before I switch up too much. Lula really is doing fine, but she gets frustrated very easily and just doesn’t want to put the time and effort in to work at it. This is more of a character issue to work on than a specific subject or curriculum I think.

SongSchool Spanish

I desperately want my kids to learn another language. I think this has been one of my number one goals since they were born, but I never can seem to make it happen. I’m sure my lack of motivation and not knowing another language myself are the culprits. If I knew a second language fluently, they would’ve been learning it from day one.

Anyway… so with the option to choose their curriculum for homeschool, I was super excited about implementing language lessons. They love music, as all kids do, and I thought this would be a good approach to introduce them to Spanish and get us started. I know a bit of Spanish and my husband speaks it fairly fluently. So this seemed like a no-brainer. Unfortunately, this program moves pretty slowly and seems disjointed in my opinion. I have a master’s degree in Teaching English as a Second Language, so this is an arena I am very familiar with. And I’m not impressed. The kids seem to like it for now, but I definitely want to find something better. I’ll just leave it at that.

Gizmos & Gadgets

Lula absolutely LOVES science and doing experiments. So I’ve decided to try to add an experiment once a week. We’re just going to go through Gizmos and Gadgets for the time being. It explains a bit about scientific principles with a simple experiment you can create with items typically found around the house.

She also loves to watch these types of things on YouTube Kids and wants to recreate them. So I’ve decided to try to assist her in this since it’s something she’s interested in and excited about. The other day they created slime from cornstarch and water. They had SO much fun, and it was really easy.

I’ll be honest though, this is not my forte! We’re on the wait list for a co-op in town that would teach them science, history, art, and music/PE (rotated every other week). I just have to say that having science and history taken off my plate would be a huge relief! I’m praying hard and keeping my fingers crossed just to cover all my basis. :)

Music

I know some families actually take the time to sing together every morning and/or study classical composers together, and this makes my heart so happy. But we take a simpler road. I turn music on at random times throughout the day either on our CD player or on my phone. We have lots of CDs with little kid songs, and I have a special mix on my phone with songs from Deliberate Kids and Psalty, etc. as well as classical pieces and favorite worship songs. I play our Mozart album when we’re working on math or coloring. I don’t feel like music appreciation has to be deliberately taught. If it surrounds them constantly, it will become part of them. I can’t tell you how it warms my heart to hear Diesel sing a phrase about Jesus that’s stuck in his head over and over and over and over throughout the day. Mission accomplished!

As far as learning instruments, etc., they will be starting a class once a week at Children’s Music Academy where they will learn so many things on top of piano.

Art

The kids are currently taking a homeschool art class once a week at the Springfield Art Museum. I’m so thankful for opportunities like these… and that I get a teeny tiny little break every week!

If we got into the co-op I mentioned earlier, then they would have art lessons there.

I’d love to include some more art/craft lessons at home, but our schedule is pretty packed right now. I’m super interested in working through this book with the kids: Drawing with ChildrenThis is something I would LOVE to learn alongside them. We’ve also implemented some “craft/art” days into our schedule because this is something I love to do and want to teach them so much. It’s a nice break and gives us all something to look forward to.

PE

Lula is currently taking hip hop classes at a dance studio once a week. This totally counts for PE! :) They also both play soccer during the spring and fall sessions. And when it’s nice outside, they are “required” to go out and play! Thankfully it’s been a very mild winter, so they’ve been outside A LOT. :)

I know that I will make changes as we go along… that’s just how I roll. There are so many great resources out there, it’s hard not to want to use them all. Since I first started writing this post, I’ve actually relaxed quite a bit and our schedule isn’t nearly as full. For history, we’re reading what we want to read when we want to read it for now. We’re going to Maryland this week and will visit the Capital building and monuments, etc. So I decided to pull out our George Washington book and then we’ll read about Abraham Lincoln. Anyway, the point is, I love being able to adapt things to my whims and they’re interests. As long as they’re learning something and our days are not wasted, I’m satisfied. (And let me tell you, learning to get a long with your sibling because they’re your only playmate, that’s a vital lesson in and of itself. Not to be scoffed at!)

I hope a peek into our curriculum is somewhat helpful!

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