Friday, May 30, 2014

How I Organize Our Homeschool - Part 2 (Curriculum)

I am so excited to share this next part of our homeschool organization with you.  When it comes to curriculum selection, I am like a kid in a candy shop!   
I love finding the best materials to help my children learn!

If you are just joining me, last week we started a series on homeschool organization and I encouraged you to select your educational philosophy and I shared how I organize to help my children learn concurrently.  You can find that post here.  As I mentioned then, I love hearing from you and would love to help you if I can.  If you have any questions or want more details, please comment at the end of the post or visit my Facebook page
As I mentioned last week, you can select curriculum from companies which give you all of your subjects in one box.  There are too many to mention here, but suffice it to say you can go that route.  There are also companies which specialize in just one component, such as Science or Math.  Again, there are a plethora of choices.  

What I want to share here is more of a “how” than a “what” of curriculum selection.  I will mention what we choose, because, you know, I love it.  But, more than that, I want you to know how to go hunting and how to know when you found what is a fit for you.  

So, enough appetizers, let’s get to the main course: 

First of all, I pray.  This may sound almost silly, like when our five-year-old prays for his stuffed dog to be safe.  But, truly, we are fulfilling the most essential role on the planet as we mother and educate our children.  If it is that crucial, it warrants some prayer.  I can’t tell you how many times I have poured out to God a thought or desire I had about what I wanted to find for our family for a given subject or asked Him to lead me in selecting between two programs for Math, for example.  And He has been beyond faithful to lead me so specifically to what we need and more.  He is interested in creating spiders who can weave amazing artwork from their miniscule bodies.  He is interested in your curriculum selections.  

As I mentioned last week, I see history as our backbone.  So, I consider the “era” we will be studying and that is a springboard for my search.  I select a ”spine” book (okay, let’s be honest, I pick more than one!).  A spine book is a book that will give a broad overview of the subject.  Being an avid Charlotte Mason fan, I select what she called “Living Books” and that approach doesn’t change when I look for a core “textbook.”  We pick books usually written by one author who is passionate about their subject and who makes the subject come to life through either storytelling narrative or an approach that addresses the reader directly.  Some of our favorite spine books go through the whole of History from creation to relatively modern times.  We love Child’s History of the World by V.M. Hillyer, Story of Mankind by VanLoon, and Stories of Nations by Simply Charlotte Mason.  We also love the Geneveve Foster books such as “Abraham Lincoln’s World.”  Some other great books are the “Famous Men Of …” series.  We have used the collection, “A History of US” by Joy Hakim.  Let me mention here that for my youngest child (when they are in Kindergarten or 1st Grade) we don’t really use a “spine” book.  We use a compilation of stories from the era because young children learn best through play and story.  

Once I have selected our spine, I go hunting.  I look on various sites for our literature.  I’m giving muscles to the bones of history.  My approach is to pick three main characters from each era and find engaging biographies written to children about those people.  When I say “written to children,” I don’t mean that they are dumbed down or made into a cartoon, I just mean for my elementary school children the stories will keep them engaged and still stretch them to know much.  I try to pick people who represent the era well.  We just finished reading Hitler, Stalin and Churchill for WWII.  During another era we read Dickens, Darwin and Helen Keller (the late 1800s).  In American Revolution Era we read Ben Franklin, George Washington and Nathaniel Bowditch.  We often read our Missionary Stories in line with the era we are studying, but not always.  I also select novels set in that time period to give them a feel for what life was like.  When we read novels from a time period, my children learn nuances and facts about that time they would never learn from a dry text.  And. They. Love. It.  

Where do I find these gems?  Ok, hunters, pack your bags, we’re going on some trips!  Some disclaimers here first: I don’t want to get into a curriculum war.  I know we all feel strongly about our curriculum.  (If you don’t, switch!!!)  But, each site I visit, I find aspects I love and some parts that are just not for us.  So, as I mention what works for us, I will sometimes imply what I don’t find helpful in that curriculum, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be a fit for you.  Alright, small print aside, here’s where I go searching to compile my list.   

Sonlight was our first curriculum.  Long story short, I had wanted to homeschool and my husband was a skeptic.  Two weeks before my son was slated to return to the local public school to start second grade, my husband turned to me and said we could try home education – after I had given up the ghost completely.  I was in shock followed by a frenzy of thoughts about where I would gather what I needed to do this job well.  I didn’t know you could wait to start school until you had your act together (at least mildly), so I called my friend who used Sonlight and asked if she had what my son would need for the coming year.  She said, “You want to start in Ancients even though that would have been 1st grade,” and she lovingly dropped off a Rubbermaid full of all of that year’s worth of supplies.  From that day forward we have always gone to their “Core History” page for the era we are studying and we pick the books they have listed (not usually their spine, but the novels and biographies).  We have never read a bad literature selection from Sonlight.  

The next stop on our hunt is AmblesideOnline.  The women there eat, sleep and breathe Charlotte Mason.  I personally owe these home educating moms a debt of gratitude.  When you see the magnitude of what they have put together as they simultaneously educate their own families at home, you want to buy them a mocha, send them flowers and get them a massage!  I will talk more about them (all good) in my next post.  Truly the only two reasons I haven’t boarded the AO bus fully is that I want to synchronize history in our home and the other is I like gathering my own menagerie of materials.  Just go there and see the spread.  You won't be disappointed.  I look at Ambleside to see which books overlap with the ones I have already selected from Sonlight and which they suggest that may not be on my Sonlight list.  

I hunt other sites after this, such as Beautiful Feet Books and Simply Charlotte Mason.  I may check out the Newberry Award list (it is available online) and I will look at my “go-to” book called Books That BuildCharacter.  Another great resource for history books is All Through the Ages.  It is a book which is actually a book list and you can look for books by age and era in it and read the short description of the book before buying.  

The next step is where God has rocked our homeschool world the most in terms of blessings.  I go onto four sites on the internet simultaneously.  Multi-tasking, girls!  I check our local county library online,, and  I first see if our library system has the books I want.  Any they have, I make note of on my list.  Free is such a great price.  Thank you, Ben Franklin for the public library system!  If we have to inter-library loan the book, I figure when we will need it in our coming year and mark my calendar with a reminder as to when to get it.  Then I go on the other three sites for the books still left on my list.  This year I’ll be adding a step.  My town now has a Facebook group for buying/selling/trading homeschool materials.  I’ll go there before I shop.  There are other swaps like this online and they are worth finding.   
This is the selection for my 6th grader in studying WWII

Next I compare prices for what I want and buy the books I can’t get for free.  I often get gently used books for as low as fifty cents plus shipping.  Home Education doesn’t have to break the bank.  Why I say God blessed us richly in this stage of gathering materials is that often, as I am searching (especially on Amazon), I will see something about “Customers who bought this also bought …” and I can go and look inside a book I hadn’t heard about.   Some of those finds have been such a blessing to us and they came completely out of the blue.  Never forget that as you hunt, God is providing and leading you.  He cares about your home school.  

I have much more to share! We only covered history!!   I’ll put more together for next week.  Come back as I’ll be sharing what we do for Language Arts, Science, Math, and Fine Arts such as Composer Study, Artist Study, Art and Music.  We study foreign cultures and Foreign Language as well as Plutarch (if you don’t know, I’ll explain) and Shakespeare.  I’ll come back at the end of next week and give you links and ideas to help you share in some of the most fun and engaging aspects of our home education.  Please share comments or questions here or on Facebook so I can support you on your hunt. 

Photo of Candy Shop by Shawn Zehnder Lea; Backbone picture by Pearson Scott Foresman; Spiderweb by Luc Viatour c/o WikiCommons


Heather Armstrong Martin said...

I plan history in almost exactly the same way, with those exact same resources! I'm so glad I'm not alone in the universe.

HeartsHomeward said...

So glad to meet a comrade and like-minded (crazy!) person who goes to all the effort it takes to craft our own home education. You are not alone in the universe! And, your children are blessed. I am so glad you came by HeartsHomeward. I hope you come back again.

Barbie said...

I love how you homeschool. I wish I were home with my kids. I will be taking the next year off, but resuming again with my 7th grade son. We pretty much use workbooks and on line things. We love Teaching Textbooks for Math and I love Mystery of History for History.

HeartsHomeward said...

Barbie, you know it is a labor of love. Every day at home with them is a gift, but that isn't the path for every family or even every phase of a child's life at home. We have many friends who have had to (or chosen to, or felt led to) put their children back into the public or private school for a season. God is with you and your child as you go.

We love Teaching Textbooks too! I am in awe of what it must have taken for them to put that whole program together. Simply amazing. And I have many friends who use Mystery of History. I may check it out down the road. There's always more out there than we can take in, to be sure.

Thank you for coming here and commenting. You are such a faithful encourager to me as I blog.
~ Love ~ Patty