Welcome to “Ask a NextGen Homeschooler…” It’s your turn to ask the authors of NextGen Homeschool — four formerly homeschooled moms who are now homeschooling our children — to weigh in on your homeschooling questions. From the practical to the personal, all questions are welcome — whether you’re a current homeschooler or just homeschooling curious!
This week’s question is one that we remember being asked often back in the day when we were homeschooled students — and it’s still one of the first questions we receive from the homeschooling curious today:
We realize that curriculum is a very personal choice — personal to both the teacher and the students. So our intent in answering this question is not to necessarily provide curriculum advice. Instead, we want to give you a peek inside our world: What we experienced as homeschooled students, what framed our points of view on curriculum, and what we’ve chosen for our families at this point in time.
NextGen Author Rosanna Ward
Was homeschooled since 8th grade
Began homeschooling in 2005
“When my family began homeschooling us, I don’t believe there were very many options available yet as far as curriculum went. We used the Alpha Omega workbooks — I think because my parents could buy them a few at a time — and picked up free textbooks through a local book drop in the basement of a Tulsa public school, where we could pick up free books the schools no longer used. We also used Bob Jones curriculum for science, and my dad used his own books (which were college textbooks) for German, history, philosophy, and theology.
I enjoyed the workbooks because I felt I had accomplished a goal every time I finished a book or a whole year of books. My parents never seemed concerned about gaps in our overall education or keeping track of credits. I don’t remember having a transcript. I took the ACT college entrance exam when I was 16 and started at ORU (Oral Roberts University) that fall.
The world of homeschool curriculum has changed drastically since the 80s. Now the choices are so diverse, they can make your head spin.
The first couple of years into homeschooling my own children, I was like a curriculum addict, trying everything. There is a curriculum for every learning type and trying to match this with each child was my goal. I felt workbooks wouldn’t allow me to be as involved with my girls’ learning as I wanted to be, so I went with more of an eclectic unit study approach.
My first daughter was very hands-on, so the unit studies worked for her — and I liked them because I got to be more involved. I also enjoyed the fact that I could center them around history, my favorite subject. However, when I look back, I think my second daughter would have been better served with a more visual and independent workbook style.
Now my eldest daughter is graduated and my second is nearly there, so I am essentially starting over again with my son, who is in first grade. I see that he will do well with a workbook style curriculum as well, which will work great for this time in my life when I also have a toddler running around. However, I do miss doing the unit studies.
Buying curriculum can also be a daunting task, especially for larger families, but I’ve found lots of resources to help with that. We have a once-a-month free book drop here where I live in Oklahoma, and I shop at a used consignment homeschool store called Bibliomania and a large Christian bookstore that sells a wide variety of homeschool curriculum. We also pick up used books online and at the local Goodwill stores. Prices range from free to however much you want to spend. I usually buy my main books at Bibliomania — supplementing what they don’t have there with new purchases and free resources I’ve picked up.
With my older girls, we used and liked these curriculum options: Shurley English, Jensen’s Format Writing, Saxon Math, Diana Waring’s History Alive, Drive Thru History, Joy Hakim’s “The History of US,” and Apologia Science. Now that I am starting at the beginning again with Joel, I love the book “Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons,” McGuffey Readers, and I am using Alpha Omega workbooks. I also use E.D. Hirsch’s “What Your _th Grader Needs to Know” (one book per grade) series and Robin Sampson’s “What Your Child Needs to Know When” books.
It is still hard narrowing down my choices. I have to continually drag myself away from the bookshelves and call it good.”
“As a student, I used Alpha Omega books all through grade school, Saxon Math and Bob Jones through junior high and high school. I would say Alpha Omega was pretty easy, but it’s not as hands-on with the parents. I felt like I was stretched to be my own teacher in a lot of areas, because the curriculum required less parent involvement. This is great if you are self-motivated, but I was not and I think I would have benefited from a lot more supervision.
Today, I do use a lot of Bob Jones because I know it (same with Saxon Math), and the rest I mix and match depending on each child’s learning styles. I also try to match my teaching styles with their learning style… all four of my daughters are totally different, and that makes my job fun and interesting! Stormie (my 12-year-old) does better with A Beka books. I discovered this year that Rod and Staff seems to be great for Faith (who’s 9) — she needs less color and pictures in her books so that she can focus, and she also needs to repeat things over and over. I love Shurley English and all of my girls love it too! Mainly, I like to use whatever works with each child.
I also keep a list of what they should be learning (core skills) each year, so that I can check off what they know and keep track of what they need to work on. I use a lot of additional books to supplement. I have used Goodwill, Bibliomania, Craigslist, thrift stores, Amazon.com, and the Free Books trade at a local church. Oklahoma is such a big homeschooling state that finding used books can be pretty easy. For example, I got a Saxon Math book at Goodwill for $1 and picked up the accompanying answer keys for free at the book trade. If you’re resourceful, you can assemble a very complete curriculum for your children without spending thousands.”
“When my mom started homeschooling us, I only had two years left of high school. And for all intents and purposes, I was pretty much done with core requirements for college: All advanced math (up to calculus), required language (two years of Spanish), and AP classes in English, history and government. Wrapping up those few credits that remained didn’t require much in the way of formal curriculum.
However, that didn’t stop my mom from giving me her version of a full school schedule. For example, even though I had completed my math requirements, she purchased a Saxon Algebra 3 textbook for me to work on — because we can all use more Algebra, right? Even though I had the required language credits in Spanish, she (being a French minor in college) started teaching me French as well. And she gave me great in-depth projects to work on, such as creating an entire newspaper from scratch (pre-desktop-publishing days). If I had to give it a label under today’s homeschooling standards, I’d say it was an eclectic approach.
Her curriculum choices worked for me because I was able to work the way I was already used to — independently — and work at my own (speedy) pace without instruction or lectures. The only lectures my mom gave me those two years while I was still home were about things like biblical character qualities and being spiritually prepared for my adult life. I didn’t always appreciate it at the time, but I’m extremely grateful for those lessons now because I can see the Godly influence my mom was able to have on me when I needed it.
I do wish we’d done more “hands-on” activities together, which is something I try to keep in mind when working with my girls. Not because I had need to learn anything more to be ready for college, but because I think there are a lot of skills and gifts my mom possessed that I would have loved to have passed on to me — authentic Mexican cooking, for example! She did let me edit one of her big freelance writing projects, though, and at the time I didn’t consider that part of our homeschooling. However, I can see now that the back and forth between her and I on that project was probably one of the most important influences on my future career as a journalist and editor.
When I finally decided I was ready to homeschool my three girls, the curriculum scene had drastically changed. I recognized a few familiar names in the Christian curriculum publishing industry, but there were so many more — and so many educational philosophy terms I’d never heard of before (classical, directed learning, eclectic, unschooling, literature-based, and so on). I was really overwhelmed, so I started by simply interviewing every mom in my local homeschool group with children the same ages as mine, to see if someone was already using something that made sense to me. Better to ask a veteran who’s had experience with these methods and curriculum options than to try and digest all that was out there on my own.
My first year, I went with My Father’s World — one of the curriculum packages recommended by several moms —and although I loved the books selected for the year and some of the activities included in my teacher’s guide, I didn’t gel with the structure of the lesson plan. The more I tried to rework it to fit my personality and the learning styles of my girls, the more frustrated I became.
I also didn’t feel like I’d hit the mark with my personal mission for homeschooling: For me, it wasn’t enough to just add a Christian spin to our curriculum. God had been challenging me to center my entire educational plan — from the method to the content and context — around His Word. That our focus on Him would radiate out into everything we do as a family — not just at Bible time, during school hours, or at church. (See my previous post on Getting Ready for a New School Year.)
This year, we’re using Robin Sampson’s Heart of Wisdom Teaching Approach for our unit studies, which combines some of the things I love about Charlotte Mason, delight-directed learning, and recognizing your children’s different learning styles, with Robin’s own Heart of Wisdom philosophy of giving up man’s standards for education and leaning on God for what He would have us teach our children. (For more on how this looks in practice, see my previous post on A New Relationship with Learning.)
I’ve also switched from Singapore Math to Math-U-See, and although my three girls had different experiences and issues with math in the past, they all really enjoy Math-U-See. They are mastering key concepts at a much faster pace and really look forward to math for the first time.
It’s halfway through the school year, and I’ve already found the need to tweak what I thought was a pretty solid plan for our family. I have a feeling the perfectionist in me will probably be fine-tuning “the plan” for years to come. But I do love that part of homeschooling: All curriculum decisions are up to you!
Unlike traditional school, you don’t have to be stuck with any curriculum or teaching approach that’s not working for your children. You don’t have to cross your fingers and hope for a better teacher next year. You can make adjustments whenever they are necessary, and you’ve got more than enough tools at your disposal to create the ideal homeschool environment for your family.”
“So curriculum… this can be super scary for some, I’ve learned, but I have absolutely enjoyed choosing curriculum. I think this is because before I ever looked at any, I had a clear idea of the direction I wanted to take in educating my children after reading many books and blogs from recommended authors. That advance research helped me narrow down the possibilities from thousands of options — and I didn’t even go to one of those big homeschool conventions.
Choosing curriculum has so much to do with your faith (what you believe is important to impart to your children), your season of life (one kid, two kids or eight kids like my mom) and your own personality in general (whether you like to read teachers manuals to give you security or you are more creative and like to be a part of the entire learning process).
That said, I have to admit that I am starting my journey as a homeschool mom veering far from the ways I was homeschooled. I can see in retrospect that my mom’s approach as a mother of eight probably had a lot to do with survival. We used Alpha Omega packets for science and history and regular school textbook for math and English. Being an older student, I generally was doing my work independently, which wasn’t too hard to do with these basic tools.
Though I was artistic at heart, we never made a point to read any great literary works (just some biographies), observe nature in its natural setting or study any art history — which I don’t begrudge because I have found my way to these things as an adult. We covered the basics, and I was also able to stay clear of traditional school socialization pitfalls (see our previous post on homeschool socialization).
Because of my past experience, I didn’t gravitate to the homeschool books I remember seeing on the bookshelf as a kid: Instead, the first book I picked up was “For the Children’s Sake” by Susan Shaffer, and I am so glad I did. I found my eyes opened to an even more exciting reason to educate my children at home rather than the usual “fear of the government” and “bad kids” motivators. I saw an opportunity to open doors for my children to a true love for learning and beauty in all aspects of life through the educational philosophies of Charlotte Mason.
This was a totally different way of seeing education that I was used to. Not just reading, writing and arithmetic, though those things will always be a part of education. Charlotte Mason said “Education is a discipline, education is an atmosphere and education is a life.” This point of view is seeing your children as born people who — when nurtured on a feast of noble ideas through “living” books, picture study, nature study and all the things we usually deem as “extras” — are better able to develop their own ideas utilizing all that is at their disposal: God’s world in nature, art, literature, history, music and, of course, God’s written Word.
Some websites I enjoy and resources for living books lists:
Simply Charlotte Mason: Free ebooks about Charlotte Mason Education.
Ambleside Online: I don’t follow scheduling exactly, I just use the resource lists.
Moments with Motherculture: Encouraging and inspiring author, her books are a “must” read.
For math, language arts (copy work), science, and history:
Queen Homeschool: Love the Language for Little Ones and Living Math Series. Workbooks without being dumbed down — still following Charlotte’s methods (like including poetry, picture study and living stories).
Other Resources I found helpful and enriching:
Five in a Row: I don’t do the actual reading Five in a Row, but I use the study guides when we read the books to cover a particular subject. Practical Pages: Pulls together Charlotte Mason and notebooking.
Doorposts: For habit and character training.
Explode the Code: Phonics
Handwriting Without Tears: Introduction to handwriting.
Montessori Letters Montessori-Small-Movable-Alphabets-Box: For spelling practice.
It is my hope that my kids will become truly educated individuals in every sense of the word, to be able to discourse with every type of person, to see every day as an opportunity to enjoy what God has created, to see beauty in words and art and life, and to put God first above all else in all of life’s circumstances.”
How did you decide what curriculum you would use for your homeschool, and has it changed over the years? Did any prior experience with homeschooling have an impact on your decisions? We’d love to hear what you think!
We are also taking NEW questions for upcoming “Ask a NextGen Homeschooler” features. Send your questions to email@example.com or post them as comments to this article (and let us know if it’s OK to quote you if we use your question). We look forward to responding to your homeschooling questions!