When I’m asked what curriculum we use, I usually answer something like “self-efficacy, personal accountability, problem solving, critical thinking, social skills, team work, 3Rs, media literacy…” and by then either my point is made, or the questioner has dismissed me as avoiding the question.
Below, then, are the answers those folks are generally looking for. I do not use boxed curricula for several simple reasons: no kid on the planet is at the same level in every single subject, they all seem to come with some ideological paradigm or other, and I can put together materials for my own kids very easily, not to mention much more cheaply!
Please note that I link to Amazon frequently. I do this because Prime membership is worth its weight in gold, esp for homeshoolers who might be ordering in dribs and drabs all year, and because that way you can read reviews other than my own. That said, I LOVE brick and mortar bookstores for comparing workbooks, and will buy from them when I do so, just to thank them for that opportunity. Also worth noting is that the materials I use tend to be very inexpensive (like rarely more than $10, let alone $20), so trust me when I tell you that photocopying pages just isn’t worth it, even just in printer ink alone.
Workbooks: I have handwriting resistant children, and I find it hard to keep track of where they are in their 3R’s otherwise, so we have an assortment of workbooks that the kids can choose between for their ten pages per day if they want to use their computers the next day.
Brain Quest Workbooks, Grades K, 1, and 2 are the basic, core workbooks we use for homeschooling. D is starting the year in Book 2, Beara is finishing up Book 1, and Buddy is rushing through the END of his K book, so he can start in on his already purchased 1 book, and try to catch up to his sisters. Good basics in every subject, if, well, a bit elementary. (Buddy was peeved that his K book didn’t ‘have any math in it!’ meaning no addition or subtraction challenges.) Great for making sure kids have benchmark skills, and it saves social studies and science for last, because, well, they are the best, duh! We’ve never used the Extras at the back, and have never felt a lack, but we like the posters and letter stickers. $9.
Handwriting Without Tears: The yellow ‘My Printing Book’, for first graders, for Buddy and Big D (who needs more practice), and the second grade green ‘Printing Power’ book for Beara. I still think some of the numbers are shaped in a rather silly manner, but I get the point. Note that we will be teaching how to READ cursive, but not write it. If the kids want to learn, they can, but we won’t focus on it as a family. Less than $9 each, but shipping is a doozy, so buy with friends.
School Zone Math Basics Grade 2 is basic computation, including addition and subtraction with three digit numbers, place value, and multiplication concepts, with just enough repetition for the kids to get it solidly, but with fun colors and pictures to keep it fun, and at less than $4, a total win. I picked up my copies of this at Staples. I’ll present with this material with Marilyn Burns looking over my shoulder, because she is my math hero for all time. John A Van De Walle’s spirit can look over my other one. (I need to get one of his later editions of Teaching Developmentally; I have 2nd!)
Math for the Gifted Student, Grades 1 and 2. I really, really wish these books didn’t say ‘gifted’ right on the cover because, well, I could write a whole post on just that, and probably will at some point. These are basically regular math books but with questions that make kids THINK, and not just plug in algorithms. The math isn’t any harder than any other same grade level math workbook, just how they ask it. My only complaint so far is that the reading level required is higher than what I would expect from grade level. This will be no problem for Big D, but Buddy will have to have adult help with the reading. Less than $8 per copy.
Let’s Grow Smart Workbook of Science Projects, from Dalmation Press, 2013, is an exceptionally nice little book of kid-friendly experiments one can do in one’s kitchen with stuff even I have lying around. Each experiment gets its own page, and photocopying rights are provided, but for only $1 per book (at Target), I just bought multiple copies. My girls could do these totally by themselves , and while explanations for the science are provided, they are on separate pages, so kids are thinking, not regurgitating. Great little product from the same folks who put out the Motion Math app series for iPad that we adore. Wish I could send you a link to the book!
Harcourt Family Learning Spelling Skills, Grade 1 is the spelling book we lost in the move, but I was happy with it, so I bought three copies this time; Buddy is thrilled to be in the same book as his sisters! I spent a lot of time in an actual B&N comparing spelling books, and picked this one for a number of reasons: units one and two review consonant and short vowel sounds, then, starting in unit three, kids are asked to work with word families, doing just enough writing to get kinesthetic memory involved. It also teaches grammar in an easy going way. Same publisher for this and the Gifted Student Series. Less than $7.
Reading for the Gifted Student, Grade 2 I got this just for Big D for now, as her reading skills are great (although her word attack could be better), but her comprehension could use some work. Each reading passage and questions gets its own page, the text is nice and large, and, like every other workbook we’re using this year, is typed in a font that looks like actual handwriting (ie, not like this, with weird ‘g’ and ‘t’ that has a little swoop at the bottom) since otherwise my D gets really confused when she’s trying to write down the words she reads! Passages include a full range; from science fiction to recipes, with space to draw, prompts to write, and mad libs for grammar. Less than $8. Note that there is also a Vocabulary series in the Gifted Learner collection. We have not investigated that one yet, but may in future.
Bob Books are my go-to early readers, so we’ll keep using them with Buddy this year, so we can get him firmly launched. I liked Explode the Code with the girls, but with them actually reading now, Buddy wants BOOKS not, another workbook, and it feels more natural anyway, esp now that he knows the sounds, and they are getting reinforced in his spelling book regardless. Also, the drawings are adorable. $12+ a box; totally worth it, but libraries often have these series, also.
This was the academic year that wasn’t. We started moving in September, and finished in July. The kids had some workbooks, and we did spurts on them, but basically they all hunkered down in one place or another and read, drawed, or played Minecraft. We did use Singapore Math US Standards Edition 1A until it got lost in the move, and, as the girls were almost finished with it anyway, we didn’t replace it. Basically, the kids did great on the combo of strewing and benign neglect. I also can’t begin to describe how much they all learned playing Minecraft, but I’ll try in some posts.
- Handwriting Without Tears: First grade (yellow) for the girls, and Green (pre-K) for Buddy. All three kids are starting to make that leap from all capital letters to appropriate use of lower case letters, but asking them to pen (or pencil or crayon) *anything* they aren’t completely invested in is just a waste of time, so penmanship is more a forte of some than others.
- Explode the Code: Both girls are in Book 2, Buddy is in Book A. We’re pretty lax about this in our almost all unschool almost all of the time new homeschooling year, but it really has been invaluable for all three kids.
- Bob Books and Tag Reader: All of the kids read better in general than they do when ‘quizzed’ on it, but these formats seem to be nice scaffolding when they are building new skills. (We got the Tag Reader with phonics sets 1 and 2 on super sale on Amazon – keep your eyes open!)
- Story of the World, Part 1: The kids haven’t touched this resource, but it got me thinking, and strewing, and now I’ve been reading up on Babylonia, we visited the Pompeii exhibit when it came to Boston in 2012, the kids draw chimera for fun, and we read Greek myths at bedtime. Suffice it to say that we’ve taken this to a very unschooly place, and we like it there!
- PBSKids and PBSKidds play online: the kids have full time access to a laptop and a netbook now, and use them regularly, but not obseesively. Buddy has proved to be a true digital native, which is more than a little disconcerting, esp as his sisters just are NOT. He still cosleeps with us, and frequently tucks me in at night then goes back to his computer on our bedside table to work on whatever until he decides he’s ready for bed.
- Sprout, PBS and Qubo: Yes, we watch TV, but mostly it is these commercial free or commercial-light channels, and yes, some of the programming is young for them now, but hey, I watch Grey’s Anatomy, so who am I to talk? They get some real issues out of Qubo, too, so why not?
- Amazon Prime Streaming video: We bought access to Discovery Education Streaming a couple of months before Amazon came out with their free streaming video, and WOW, we certainly won’t be paying for DES again! We get tons of free, good quality stuff on Amazon, and the stuff we DO pay for a) doesn’t add up a fraction of the price tag DES does, and b) all comes with reviews, so we can get some idea of what we’re watching before we watch it, and c) has a way better interface and infrastructure, so finding and playing videos is a snap, as opposed to a hassle. Really folks, don’t waste your money, and get free shipping to boot. What isn’t to love? (No compensation, just a happy customer!)
- We’re backing up the Spanish coop class a local homeschool mom ran last fall with a boxset of Hooked on Spanish that the kids got for Christmas. At least now I’ll be learning how to pronounce things, too!
- Our homeschooling and general community: We have Friday Play, and Book Club, and town soccer, and our local homeschooling newsletter, and our local yahoo group, and… yeah, we are crazy blessed to live in an area so HUGELY welcoming to homeschooling families, esp secular ones!
- The SCA: The Society for Creative Anachronism has been a huge part of DH and my lives for oh, ever (it is how we met, after all), but this last year it really became part of the kids’ lives too, instead of just being people we hung out with who were fun. The kids do archery, dance, weave, sew, take on leadership roles, meet folks from all over, and, best of all, get co-parented by some really neat people who have chosen us as family.
- Handwriting Without Tears, Kindergarten Edition. I made my own versions of some of their other tools, and Buddy does the stuff with chalk and clay, and has a cheapy alphabet workbook so he can work like the girls and ‘be big’. I’ll likely get him the Pre-K book next year when I get the 1st grade books for the girls. Easy peasy and quick to use, and the workbooks are reasonably priced.
- Explode the Code and Wordly Wise, both of which I think are brilliant, and which I used as a kid. The girls are both using ETC now; Big D in book one, Beara in book A. Buddy will likely start in on A in the Fall. Wordly Wise will likely get added in next year.
- We have some other general workbooks, including Brain Quest, but I don’t see them being a big part of our plans from here on out, unless requested by Big D, who I think kind of gets a kick out of them sometimes. I’m pulling targetted pages from the IF Math with the Standards K series, since I think it really addresses the key intellectual skills needed to thrive in mathematics. I’d also be interested in some decent spelling workbooks, like I used to have in school back in the 70’s, if anyone can suggest a series.
- Anything ever written by Marilyn Burns, who is one of my professional heroes. She’s a math educator who understands that math is WAY more than just arithmetic algorithms, and she really emphasizes problem solving processes, which I love. The math workbooks I mentioned above include great extensions for each page that are SO in line with the kind of stuff she promotes.
- PBS Kids Play and pbskids.org; the first is a whopping $8 a month for up to four kids (they can even use it simultaneously), and the second is free, if not bug-free. All three kids have been navigating around on the computer (mouse AND touch pad), using these and Open Office, since they were about 18 months old. I also just picked up a copy of some really old Reader Rabbit software that I think they’ll get a lot out of. [Editor’s note: Turned out to have been awesome a decade ago, and kind of meh now. Oh well.]
- Dora, Diego, and Kai-Lan videos. Our kids speak WAY more Spanish and Chinese than we do, and I’ve been complimented on their pronunciation by native speakers like I had anything whatsoever to do with it, other than letting them have way too much screen time.
Other stuff that makes our homeschool lives tick:
- White/magnetic boards, and lots of stuff to stick to them. I’m all about a small number of very flexible, open-ended tools, esp ones that don’t eat paper. Math manipulatives, too.
- YouTube videos. I pull specific clips, but I also go very unschooly, getting them to tell me where they want to start, and off we go, moving from one video to the next as whims (and Mom-checked appropriateness) take us.
- Problem solving games. I personally kind of hate ‘educational’ games, since they are generally boring, but REAL games are pretty darned awesome. We particularly like Carcassonne, SET, RushHour, Settlers of Catan, Chess, Connect 4 and anything we can play on Mom’s smartphone, esp Angry Birds (aka Smug Pigs) and Cut the Rope
- Wii Fit, Wii Sports Resort, Wii Nickelodeon Fit, etc. Letting my kids run off some energy, cheer each other on, and get their competitive streaks dealt with in pro-active way are all good in my book. Some other fun games that let them be a little escapist (and not make a mess while they are at it) are good too.
- Books, books, books, and the library. We are a family of bookworms, and our house would likely be a LOT cleaner (not to mention non-existant) if we were all illiterate.
- Crayons and reams of paper, obviously. Whomever invented the gluestick should get a Nobel, seriously. Also, if I ever win the lottery, I’m buying stock in Crayola. Them and Amazon, baby. Wow.
- Our New England community. We live in Vermont and have family in Massachusetts, so we like to get out end enjoy social, cultural and natural resources whenever we can, which isn’t really often enough, but we’re working on it.
- Five in a Row-esque stuff. I got introduced to this by Julie of Creekside Homeschooling back in 2011, and it really jives with a lot of how we utilize literature *anyway*. I strongly doubt we’ll go that formal with it, but ideas are always fuel for the fire!
- Maps and National Geographic in general. Darned little in this world one can’t learn through the viewpoint of geography.
- Play. Much of what we have learned has been through the real work of playing with open-ended toys; blocks, duplo/Lego, dolls, paper, tape, string, etc. If they are seriously engrossed in creative play, I leave them to it; engagement like that is worth encouraging, esp if all three of them are doing it peaceably together!