Friday, November 11, 2011

How we homeschool...

I get a ton of requests for curriculum recommendations and I admit that I have hesitated to share here because even though I have home educated "officially" since 1993 I am more aware than ever of how very many options and approaches there are in home education.  What is a good "fit" for our family might not be for yours and might not even be right for us in another year or two.  So please sift... this is just what works for us, right now and with our large family and my husband's schedule.

Tom is a policeman and works evenings.  This is *so* much fun for us because the children get to spend so much time with their father.  However it can make it challenging for us to accomplish schoolwork.  For many years when the children were younger I put together a very comprehensive schedule using this method.  It was a huge help for me with so many little ones at home.  As we had more older children though I began to notice that it created problems for me since Tom's love language is quality time and when he was home in the mornings he would really like for me to drop what I was doing and spend time with him.  When we were strictly following my schedule it was difficult for me to do that.  I'd spend time with him while in the back of my mind I'd be thinking "I'll *never* be able to get caught up now and complete our day!  Never!"  Aaaack!  A few years ago I ditched the schedule in favor of simply following an "order of daily events" with the most important first.  It was easy (well, easier!) for me to stop and visit with Tom or do whatever he needed done, knowing that we could simply pick up where we left off and if we didn't get to the things at the end of the list it was ok since those were the least important things anyway.  That has been a huge relief for me and has helped me to enjoy my time with Tom more.

For many years I leaned toward a unit study or Charlotte Mason-type approach, but as our older children neared high school age Tom requested that we move them to a more textbook-centered approach.  "Aaaaack!"  I thought, they'll be ruined!  Ruined!  I didn't argue though and I am now very grateful that I followed his advice.

First of all, it helped with my workload.  When my oldest daughter was in 12th grade I had 9 other children officially school age, a toddler and gave birth to our dozenth baby in December of that year.  Talk about busy!  With textbooks, I could give the older children their assignments and they pretty much taught themselves.

In addition, textbooks and tests gave them some good practice for how school is done "in the real world" to help them if they wanted to pursue further education in a more traditional setting (like college).

I do still tend to lean toward using "real" books as Charlotte Mason promoted, especially with the younger children, but for me it was too burdensome to completely follow a Charlotte Mason or even a lapbooking or unit study approach, as much as I "believed" in it.  I think that if I had fewer children that might work for me, but it simply isn't a good fit for us.

So here's the breakdown of what we are using right now.  I will start with the younger children and work my way up to the oldest.

Grade School:
Reading: I am a huge proponent of doing a lot of reading aloud and reading "real" books.  In addition to lots of reading aloud, for many, many years we used Alpha-Phonics to teach beginning readers.  I loved the fact that it was non-consumable and even though it tended toward boring, it did work.  This year I decided that we had more than gotten our money's worth from that book after using it for 17 years (!!) and actually purchased some new beginner reading books!

We are currently using The Reading Lesson with Daniel and Timothy.  All three of us are thrilled with it.  The content is comprehensive, has plenty of review yet still moves along at a good clip.  The illustrations are cute.  We like it!

Just for fun and extra practice I also purchased this set: Now I'm Reading: Animal Antics.  This super-cute set of 10 little books reminds me of the Bob Books, for those of you who have been around doing this for a few years, but with cuter illustrations and story lines too.

Science: For science with all of my grade schoolers I *love* Jeannie Fulbright's "Exploring Creation with" series.  I love the fact that all of our younger children can work together.  Not only is the text colorful and full of illustrative photos and diagrams, in addition Jeannie's conversational tone makes these books a pleasure to read aloud.  She includes many prompts for the children to "tell what you have learned in your own words" and a ton of experiments as well!  This year we are working our way through Exploring Creation with Human Anatomy and Physiology.

English: For English in the past we have used Shurley English and while I did like those books, we were ready to use something different this year.  After reading glowing reviews I decided to try a new curriculum.  We are using Sandi Queen's "Language Lessons" series for all of the children, all the way through high school!  She has a very gentle Charlotte Mason-ish approach to teaching English which includes some phonics instruction (in the younger levels), copywork, poetry appreciation, beautiful full-color artwork for picture studies (my favorite part of the books!) and so much more.  The lessons do not take long each day, but provide a very nice comprehensive English curriculum.  

Spelling: First up: SpellQuizzer on the computer.  You can read my review here of that spelling program.  It works and it saves me a ton of time dictating spelling lists.  End of story.

This year I have added the Sequential Spelling curriculum.  Sequential Spelling teaches spelling using word families.  Intuitive and yes, it works.  

Handwriting: Start Write has played a key role in our homeschooling for quite a few years now. Every morning I print handwriting pages using Start Write.  The super-cool thing about this program is the huge number of font options available.  We teach Italics handwriting here and I have the option to use that, in either the printed or cursive form.  (12 different fonts are available)  I simply copy several of the Bible verses that we are currently memorizing (we are memorizing Ephesians this year) and copy them to Start Write.  I can then print pages with outlines of the letters and "start dots" for my younger students to trace, or make pages for the older grade schoolers which has a blank line under each line of text so they can copy the verses themselves.

Math: For many years we were Saxon Math fans from grade school all the way through high school, and while it did "get the job done," quite honestly it became more and more tedious with each passing year.  The hardbound books really are more suited to classroom situations where a teacher lectures and explains the lesson before giving an assignment.  I had so many students in school that teaching math became increasingly time consuming.  We did use the D.I.V.E. DVDs to help with the instruction for several years before switching to our current love, Teaching Textbooks.  

Oh, Teaching Textbooks, how do we love you?  Let me count the ways...  
These DVD/book combinations are our favorites.  Each lesson is presented in an engaging way, giving the children an opportunity to work practice problems at the end of each lesson and receive immediate feedback on their work.  The animated characters are adorable... bottom line: all of my children *love* Teaching Textbooks.  So much so that they ask to work a math lesson on their days off school!

In addition, on the gradeschool level the children's work is graded and they find out right away if they worked a problem correctly or not.  

This curriculum, while not inexpensive, has saved me at least 4 hours of instructional time/day, perhaps more!  I love teaching my children, but saving 4+ hours/day has been pretty sweet for me, I must admit! Teaching Textbooks has curriculum from 3rd grade all the way through Pre-Calculus.  A worthwhile investment, for sure.

In addition, after reading a number of glowing reviews, I decided to purchase the Life of Fred math curriculum.  This unusual series came highly recommended. To be quite honest, it hasn't been a huge hit with us.  I let the older children choose if they wanted to use Life of Fred or Teaching Textbooks at the beginning of this school year.  All of the older children chose Life of Fred.  Everyone loved it at the beginning of the school year, but now all except one have switched back to Teaching Textbooks. 

That being said, I'm going to still include a link here, because it might be a great fit for your family!  The text for LOF is funny and engaging and he does to a great job explaining the "why" of math.  The children thought that he was hard to understand and required a little too much "figuring" without enough explanation.  In addition, I found the format of the grading frustrating as a teacher.  Some answers are in one book, some in another, etc.  

I haven't yet decided to sell our set, thinking that it might be a good "fit" for someone here in the future, but then again, I might sell it.  We'll see.  For now, for us, Teaching Textbooks seems to be a better fit.

History: We have used a variety of curriculum for history... currently we are using BJU textbooks from grade school all the way through high school.  While these are pretty basic and not very Charlotte Mason-ish, they work and they get the job done.  Believe it or not, even my grade schoolers look forward to me reading to them from theses books.  

On the junior high and high school level it does take a whole school year to complete these texts, but at the grade school level we are usually done by the end of December.  In the spring I will use a different book, most likely Ann Voskamp's book A Child's Geography.  We started this last year and will finish it this year.  I *love* Ann's conversational tone, worldview and content.... highly recommended!

Typing: Typing Deluxe.  We have used this for several years and the children enjoy it.  Not too "gamey" but still fun and instructive.  It works.

High School:
In addition to the resources mentioned above, on the high school level we use:
Foreign Language: Spanish with Rosetta Stone, the homeschool edition.

Science: We heartily endorse Apologia's secondary level texts for science.  These challenging textbooks are written in a conversational style that is engaging and well-written.

Math: As mentioned above, we love Teaching Textbooks.

Social Studies/History: Again, as reviewed above, we use BJU's Heritage Studies books.

English, Spelling and Typing were all mentioned above.

In addition to all of that, our two oldest boys at home are working through a drafting curriculum this year.  (I always thought drafting and all of the tools used for that was *so* cool when I was in high school!)  We are using Practical Drafting and have been very happy with it thus far.  In the fall semester the boys are going through the book manually and in the spring will go through it using CAD software.

So there you have it... the vast majority of the curriculum that we are using this school year!  I do hope that this is helpful.

Homeschool Record-Keeping Software:
This past year I switched from Edu-Track Homeschool (which is no longer supported, I don't believe) to Homeschool Tracker.  I have been *very* happy with this software.  This program actually does *way* more than I will ever need, (you can read about all of the features on their web site), but I think one of my favorite features is that I was able to take each of the children's school books for this year and schedule each assignment for the whole year for each book.  Now each week when it is time for me to plan the coming week's lessons, all I have to do is send the next assignments to their assignment grid.  I don't even have to get out their books!  It did take a lot of time last August, but now that work is all done and I even took into account the number of school days that we will have this year to be sure that we would finish the text book by the end of the year.  In addition, as other children go through those books in the future I can simply reuse the same lesson plans again!  Genius!  There are many, many more cool features included with this program... do yourself a favor and check it out!

I thought I'd include the following resources as well:

Used Homeschool Curriculum Resources:
Vegsource  This huge site can be a hassle to navigate, but I have found some great deals there.  Now though I primarily use Homeschool Classifieds.  When I have curriculum to sell it will be listed at that link. You can also search the whole site for whatever you are in need of.  Good stuff and a great way to save money too!


  1. Loved reading all your choices. We use LOF too. Some like it some do not. So we also use Teaching Textbooks for the ones who like that better.

    Love your relaxed approach to learning and engaging the children.

    I can just imagine how peaceful schooling in your beautiful kitchen can be, with a hot cup of tea....mmmmm~ sounds wonderful.

    Thanks for sharing~ Cinnamon

  2. LOVE this post my friend! Thank you for posting your homeschool recommendations and thoughts...what a blessing! I am bookmarking this post for future reference. Thank you again!


  3. Thanks Cinnamon and Camille... wouldn't it be fun if you both could come by and visit in my kitchen?!! Our children would have such fun playing together!

  4. Had to come for a quick visit! Smiled to see you have morphed into more textbooks as you go. Me, too! When the babies are coming, textbooks can be wonderful! We love Teaching Textbooks, Apologia, and several others. I'm going to have to check out your spelling recommendations. I finally posted a schedule without times, also! Takes much of the pressure off and we get more done!

    Always love catching up with you and your family!


  5. Hey there, Susan!

    I've *missed* you! Hope you and your family are doing well! Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

  6. Hey Susan, this is Alicia from morning Master's swim at the Y. I sure miss you. Fun to find your blog and see what we have in common and see the races you've done.

    1. Hi there Alicia! I miss seeing you at master's swim too! I ended up getting a membership to Prairie Life since it was cheaper ($39/month) and master's swim is included! Sweet! So now I have a gym to use as well. : ) I sure do miss seeing all of my RB swimming pals though! : (


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