7.12.2014

If I Could Turn Back Time

I have very few regrets about any aspect of our homeschooling journey.

Early on, I made one very big mistake - but, thankfully, God snapped me out of it before too long and prevented any long-term damage that could have resulted from my foolishness. And I do wish I hadn't gotten sucked into an "alternative" math program for three years when I now know that a good, old-fashioned approach works much more effectively for my kids. But at least I eventually came to my senses, and we've since changed to a curriculum that has filled in the gaps the girls acquired during their time in "weird method land" while also enabling them to make continued steady progress.

And other than those two big missteps, I think back over the last 13 years - because, of course, I've been homeschooling in one way or another since the day my older daughter was born - with a boatload of satisfaction and fond memories.

Of course, that isn't to say I'd do all the same things, academically speaking, if I could turn back time. The girls learned a ton through the wide variety of resources with which I experimented in the early years, as well as with the materials I've settled on in the past few years. So I don't feel bad about the fact that I wouldn't use some of it again. But as I've learned more about my children and about the resources available to us - and especially since I started my research project into where homeschool materials stand on the common core - I've thought quite a bit about what I'd utilize if I had a do-over on our years to this point.

With as many things as are available to homeschoolers - 2,000+ possible resources on my database alone, not counting myriad other possibilities of which I'm not even aware - I surely haven't fully vetted every option in every subject area. But knowing what I know right now, I do have ideas about what I know I like.

In my state, the homeschool law requires me to somehow "cover" six areas - reading, language arts, math, science, "social studies," and "health" - each year. So, though I despise the term "social studies" - which has its roots in the promotion of socialism - and find the "health" label superfluous since I meet my kids' health needs simply by virtue of being their mom (without need for formal curriculum), I've used that as my framework. I'm also free to include anything else beyond those six areas, and I've listed my preferences for additional studies in the Other category.

Of course, gleaning from what I learned after my big mistake, I would no longer start any child on formal "kindergarten" academics just because she'd turned five (in fact, I'm not a fan of the artificial construct we call "grade level" to begin with). Instead, I'd watch and wait for true readiness and make the academic schedule as well as the materials serve the child, not the other way around. Thus, my listing here of grade levels and ages is merely meant as a rough frame of reference, not a hard-and-fast proscription.

I would also never overload a very young child with formal academics because I know that an hour or two - spread throughout the day in between plenty of playtime - would more than meet a five- or six-year old's academic needs. And I'd focus our time and energy on Christian discipleship, learning to read, penmanship, math, and read-aloud time from quality children's books (using Honey for a Child's Heart  by Gladys Hunt as one treasure trove of source material). I'd include other content areas regularly (though not daily), but I now understand that discipleship and "the 3R's" ought to be a child's academic meat and potatoes in the primary years, with other "subject areas" serving as side dishes and dessert.

Year 1 / Kindergarten (Age 5-6)
Reading Daily Literature Read-Alouds
Language Arts Pentime 1, Book 1 (Rod & Staff)
Math
Science 106 Days of Creation Studies (Simply Charlotte Mason) Days 1-53
Social Studies History Stories for Children (Christian Liberty Press)
Read-Alouds from Biblical History & American History
Oral Narration & Copywork
Health Fitness Activities
Read-Alouds, Discussion, Activities in Health, Safety, Character
Other Bible Study/Devotions (Egermeier's Bible Story Book)
Artistic Pursuits
Various Arts & Crafts (Seasonal, etc.)
Worship Songs, Folk Songs, Patriotic Music
(Cedarmont Kids, etc.)
Life Skills (Little Keepers at Home)





One of the best pieces of advice I heard when I was starting to explore curriculum came from speaker and consultant Carole Joy Seid - who has, incidentally, recently produced this wonderful video outlining her suggested approach to home learning - when she strongly recommended focusing on American history in the primary years rather than attempting to launch immediately into a chronological study of world history from the beginning. For one thing, she said, it's easier for young children to understand history about places relatively close to home than to grasp stories about people and locations as far away in time and space as is ancient history. For another, it's confusing - and spiritually risky - to introduce young children to the concept of multiple gods and goddesses inherent in the study of ancient history before they are rather grounded in their understanding of the one true God, the God of the Bible.

Year 2 / 1st Grade (Age 6-7)
Reading Daily Literature Read-Alouds
Language Arts
Pentime 1, Book 2 (Rod & Staff)
Math
Science 106 Days of Creation Studies (Simply Charlotte Mason) – Days 54-106
Social Studies Finding a New Land (Christian Liberty Press)
Stories of the Pilgrims (Christian Liberty Press)
America's Pioneers and Patriots (Christian Liberty Press)
50 States and Where to Find Them (Barefoot Ragamuffin)
Little Passports: USA Edition
Health Fitness Activities
Read-Alouds, Discussion, Activities in Health, Safety, Character
Other Bible Study/Devotions (Egermeier's Bible Story Book)
Artistic Pursuits
Various Arts & Crafts (Seasonal, etc.)
Worship Songs, Folk Songs, Patriotic Music
(Cedarmont Kids, etc.)
Life Skills (Little Keepers at Home)





Year 3 / 2nd Grade (Age 7-8)
Reading Daily Literature Read-Alouds
Language Arts
Pentime 2 (Rod & Staff)
All About Spelling, Level 2
Queen Language Lessons for the Very Young, Vol. 1
Math
Science Considering God's Creation (Eagle's Wings)
Social Studies A Child's Story of America (Christian Liberty Press)
State History from a Christian Perspective
50 States and Where to Find Them (Barefoot Ragamuffin)
Little Passports: USA Edition
Health Fitness Activities
Read-Alouds, Discussion, Activities in Health, Safety, Character
Other Bible Study/Devotions (Egermeier's Bible Story Book)
Artistic Pursuits
Various Arts & Crafts (Seasonal, etc.)
Worship Songs, Folk Songs, Patriotic Music
(Cedarmont Kids, etc.)
Life Skills (Little Keepers at Home)
Piano Lessons



Just as I appreciated Carole Joy Seid's wisdom, I also resonated with an idea put forth by David and Marie Hazell, who recommend taking a year to study world geography before getting into world history. However, I cannot recommend their curriculum since it includes a few books aligned with common core. Instead, I've chosen another resource that is engaging and age-appropriate.

In terms of math for third grade, I would make a choice based on a child's needs and abilities about whether to finish out the Miquon or Verbal Math series or begin Teaching Textbooks. Perhaps some combination of whatever I'd chosen early-on and Teaching Textbooks would be helpful during a transition time to the more independent work required by Teaching Textbooks, or perhaps - if I'd been using The Verbal Math Lesson - I'd simply continue with it until Pre-Algebra.

Year 4 / 3rd Grade (Age 8-9)
Reading Daily Literature Read-Alouds
Language Arts
Pentime 3 (Rod & Staff)
All About Spelling, Level 3
Queen Language Lessons for the Very Young, Vol. 2
Math Teaching Textbooks Math 3
Science Considering God's Creation (Eagle's Wings)
Social Studies How to Study the World (4 Little Penguins)
Little Passports: World Edition
Health Fitness Activities
Read-Alouds, Discussion, Activities in Health, Safety, Character
Other Bible Study/Devotions
(The Child's Story Bible by Catherine Vos)
Artistic Pursuits
Various Arts & Crafts (Seasonal, etc.)
Piano Lessons
Life Skills (Keepers of the Faith)





For fourth through seventh grade, I list two possible options for science. I have used Answers in Genesis and really enjoyed it; I feel it's a very good elementary-level overview that contains an appropriate amount of depth without going overboard. However, Jay Wile has recently begun to publish his Berean Builders elementary science series and, because we use and value his secondary series, I am drawn to the new books. I think my kids would get a great foundation using either program; it would just be a matter of studying the contents of both and deciding on the better overall fit. But I'm convinced I couldn't really go wrong with either one.

The Answers series is designed to take about four years, so it's easy to map out for fourth through seventh grade. Berean Builders will be a five-book series when it's complete. However, since each book only has 90 lessons, it's not an unreasonable stretch to manage all five books over the course of four academic years.

On the other hand, The Mystery of History is a four-book series that I would spread out over five years' time. It's do-able in four, but I would feel too rushed. It also makes sense to me to wrap things up at the end of eighth grade to facilitate the switch to high school level coursework after that.

Year 5 / 4th Grade (Age 9-10)
Reading Daily Literature Read-Alouds
Language Arts
Pentime 4 (Rod & Staff)
Queen Lang. Lessons for the Elementary Child, Vol. 1
Math
Science Answers in Genesis: God's Design for Life
OR
Berean Builders: Science in the Beginning
(Lessons 1-90) and Science in the Ancient World (Lessons 1-15)
Social Studies Volume 1 (Weeks 1-25)
Health Fitness Activities
Read-Alouds, Discussion, Activities in Health, Safety, Character
Other Bible Study/Devotions
(The Child's Story Bible by Catherine Vos)
Artistic Pursuits
Piano Lessons
Life Skills (Keepers of the Faith)





I felt my girls gained a great deal of understanding about writing quality paragraphs by using The Institute for Excellence in Writing's Student Writing Intensive, so I've decided I would do that program again, in about 5th grade. And IEW has a comprehensive program that can carry a student through high school graduation. However, I've recently realized - in large measure through the insightful musings of my younger daughter - that I actually resonate more with the notion of making composition a more holistic, natural activity. And so for that reason, I'll be making a switch to Brave Writer with my girls when we start back to lessons in August and if I could go back, I'd launch Brave Writer after the one-year IEW Student Writing Intensive.

Year 6 / 5th Grade (Age 10-11)
Reading Daily Literature Read-Alouds
Language Arts Pentime 5 (Rod & Staff)
Queen Lang. Lessons for the Elementary Child, Vol. 2
Math
Science Answers in Genesis: God's Design for Heaven & Earth
OR
Berean Builders: Science in the Ancient World (Lessons 16-90) and The Scientific Revolution (Lessons 1-30)
Social Studies
Volume 1 (Weeks 26-36) through Volume 2
(Weeks 1-15)
Health Fitness Activities
Read-Alouds, Discussion, Activities in Health, Safety, Character
Other Bible Study/Devotions
(The Child's Story Bible by Catherine Vos)
Artistic Pursuits
Piano Lessons
Life Skills (Keepers of the Faith)





Based on my personal convictions, I've made a choice to eschew resources with connections to common core, and I'm grateful that most of the things I've used and would continue using have chosen to remain independent of that initiative. I had to make a hard choice to replace the grammar I'd come to enjoy with Winston Grammar - starting in sixth grade here - but I believe that standing on principle is the right decision, and I don't regret my choice even though we'll miss the old program.

Year 7 / 6th Grade (Age 11-12)
Reading Daily Literature Read-Alouds
Language Arts Pentime 6 (Rod & Staff)
Rummy Roots
Math
Science Answers in Genesis: God's Design for Chemistry & Ecology
OR
Berean Builders: The Scientific Revolution (Lessons 31-90) and Science in the 18th Century (Lessons 1-60)
Social Studies
Volume 2 (Weeks 16-28) through Volume 3
(Weeks 1-13)
Health Fitness Activities
Read-Alouds, Discussion, Activities in Health, Safety, Character
Other Bible Study/Devotions
(Write Upon My Heart Character Series)
Artistic Pursuits
Piano Lessons
Life Skills (Keepers of the Faith)




Year 8 / 7th Grade (Age 12-13)
Reading Daily Literature Read-Alouds
Language Arts
Pentime 7 (Rod & Staff)
Rummy Roots
Math
Science Answers in Genesis: God's Design for the Physical World
OR
Berean Builders: Science in the 18th Century (Lessons 61-90) and Science in the 19th Century (Lessons 1-90)
Social Studies
Volume 3 (Weeks 14-28) through Volume 4
(Weeks 1-11)
Health Fitness Activities
Read-Alouds, Discussion, Activities in Health, Safety, Character
Other Bible Study/Devotions
(Write Upon My Heart Character Series)
Artistic Pursuits
Piano Lessons
Life Skills (Keepers of the Faith)
Keyboarding



Given our January-through-December year-round schedule, we are actually in the middle of "7th grade" right now. But I've included below my ideas for 8th grade to help round out my summary of a solid middle school program.

My plan right now is to use The Reader's Odyssey and Brave Writer (doing one more year of The Writer's Jungle before launching into Help for High School in ninth grade), referencing Grading with a Purple Crayon and Honey for a Teen's Heart, to create engaging, personalized high school-level reading/language arts courses for my daughters from eighth grade through twelfth grade. In fact, I firmly believe in the philosophy promoted by Dena Luchsinger, the author of The Reader's Odyssey and Grading with a Purple Crayon, who postulates that allowing teens a great deal of choice about what to read and write greatly enhances both their motivation and their overall learning.

However, if I were giving advice to a homeschooling parent who felt intimidated by the idea of designing an individualized program, I'd direct her to Excellence in Literature, a five-year program that combines the reading of a great deal of exceptional literature with college-prep writing instruction. And it's possible - though not probable - that I'll end up going that route myself.

Year 9 / 8th Grade (Age 13-14)
Reading
OR Reader's Workshop (The Reader's Odyssey)

Daily Literature Read-Alouds
Language Arts
Composition: Excellence in Literature connection

Pentime 8 (Rod & Staff)
Rummy Roots
Math
Science Apologia General Science
Social Studies Volume 4 (Weeks 12-36)
Health Fitness Activities
Read-Alouds, Discussion, Activities in Health, Safety, Character
Other Bible Study/Devotions
(Write Upon My Heart Character Series)
Artistic Pursuits
Piano Lessons
Life Skills (Keepers of the Faith)
Keyboarding



I have ideas for high school and have begun to map them out. For starters - given the goals my husband and I have for our daughters along with what we've seen in terms of how the Lord has wired them - we know we'll require four years of study in language arts, history/geography, and math and at least three in science. We'll also include four years of elective credit in Christian discipleship, some foreign language, and continued music study (piano for one daughter and piano and voice for the other). And I think I have a handle on many of the resources I'll use for those courses. But since we're not quite there yet and because quite a few elective possibilities remain in flux, I'm still leaving my options open at this point and, thus, won't post my tentative plans just yet.

It also bears repeating that what I've laid out above is what resonates with me for my kids. And what works for one family may be an abysmal failure for another. So I'm not suggesting that anyone else needs to follow my plan in whole or in part; instead, each homeschooling parent should walk through a rather detailed process to determine good fits for her own kids, regardless of what anyone else might favor or suggest. After all, meeting the real needs of each of our uniquely-created kids is one of the extraordinary beauties of homeschooling, and we need to remember to hold tightly to our privilege and responsibility to do so.

Photo Credit: Patrick Down

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