Tag Archives: Charlotte Mason

Oops, I did it again! Changing curriculum again… and again

1 Nov

By Renée Gotcher

My tango with homeschooling curriculum has been pretty well documented on this blog. If you haven’t followed my journey, here are the highlights of our curriculum exploration over the past two years…

First Year: My Father’s World and why it didn’t work for us

Second Year: Why I chose to try Heart of Wisdom & Charlotte Mason method

Ask a NextGen Homeschooler: What textbooks or curriculum do you use and why?

What I haven’t divulged this school year is that in the beginning, we were trying yet another new multi-age Christian homeschooling curriculum. We started our “official” year with the highly regarded Heart of Dakota — in hopes of finding something more flexible, more “laid out” (read: ready to go) and more easily customizable to my three daughters’ ability levels, while also being faith-based and unit-study driven like Heart of Wisdom.


We gave HOD an honest go for about a month, and it quickly became clear to me that my eldest daughter — 11 1/2 years old and the avid reader in the family — would quickly speed way ahead of my 10-year-old daughter (with a short attention span), and that if I tried to keep them both working on the same unit according to the lesson plan, one would be bored and the other would be frustrated with too many items on her daily “to do” list. I also tried to find cross-over with my 5-year-old daughter’s HOD curriculum for our daily enrichment activities, but her suggested track with HOD for her age was actually quite different in subject matter from what I was doing with the older two, so there was very little we could do together (such as art projects, read-aloud living books, etc.).

When it came to math, we had discovered early on in our homeschooling journey that Math-U-See worked fabulously for all three girls. That was a real blessing, so no issues there! Shurley English, which is new for us this year, has worked really well for both my sisters in law Rosanna and Elizabeth and working with their multi-age daughters together. So far, it has been working smoothly for us as a grammar and writing curriculum for both of my older girls together, while my youngest is still learning to read with Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, combined with BOB Books.

I was really hoping that HOD would provide the “laid-out” lesson plan that I was looking for to handle the rest of our subjects in a unit study, multi-age, Charlotte Mason kind of way, with a strong biblical foundation. And don’t get me wrong — it’s a fabulous curriculum if you like the unit study format with a biblical worldview. There was a lot we enjoyed about it, but unfortunately I was spending way too much time trying to re-customize the given assignments for each child to fit our daily plan together and challenge my older daughter while breaking things down better for my younger daughter.

On days when I thought I had it all figured out, school lasted hours longer than I had planned. My eldest was always ahead and asking “what’s next?” while my younger two were overwhelmed and quickly began to lose interest. This is after I negotiated great deals on securing our new curriculum online via used homeschooling sales on Facebook and other group Web sites.

Seriously? Are we here again?

If there’s one thing I have learned on my previous two curriculum expeditions, it’s that there’s no reason to waste any time trying to reconfigure something that isn’t working for you. You’re the teacher, so you can switch gears whenever you feel that it’s necessary — no need to wait for a semester break or new school year. It’s more important to do what works for you than worry about being “inconsistent” or having a few extra books on your shelf.

So just as quickly as I purchased this year’s HOD books online, I was able to resell them to other eager moms waiting to score a used curriculum deal too. The buyers were happy — and I was happy. No harm done to the pocketbook.

Now what?

Earlier this summer when I was investigating Heart of Dakota, I had also come across a curriculum called Trail Guide to Learning by Geography Matters. I had originally been attracted to this curriculum because it was not only multi-age and unit-study driven, but it actually provided grade/ability-specific “notebooks” for each child that followed the main curriculum. The student notebooks provided different assignments (already predesigned in PDF form!) that were matched to their skill level for the main unit the entire family was studying. It was so close to what I was looking for, I was initially sold from the Web site alone. However, when I asked around on Facebook and other social media outlets, I didn’t hear back from many moms who’d been using it and could provide their experienced opinion. So I moved on.

Now that I was basically back to the drawing board, Trail Guide to Learning was my first stop, and their first series, Paths of Exploration, seemed like an ideal place to start with the ages and skill level of my girls. One thing that had always appealed to me about POE was the fact that you can download one unit at a time online, rather than purchasing a whole year’s curriculum at once for a higher price. The PDF file of each unit comes with both a teacher’s guide and student notebook pages, as well as related appendix pages. Perfect for tentative buyers like me who want to see if something is going to work before making a full-fledged investment!

Another plus: Downloadable, predesigned lapbooks that accompany each volume of the year’s curriculum. This is about as “well laid out” as I could have imagined! Last year we had experimented with lapbooks, and although the girls loved the creative aspects of them, they really wanted more direction as to what to include and how to present the information in an easy-to-discover format. The templates and cutouts provided by the POE lapbook PDF were exactly what we needed to bring lapbooks back into the picture without creating additional work for me and additional research for them.

I also appreciated that the books on the recommended reading list were not only “living books” (a Charlotte Mason recommendation), but easy to purchase used online or download to a Kindle. I had no trouble securing the books for Unit One the same night I downloaded the unit’s curriculum from the company Web site. Within two days (Amazon Prime delivery time), we were ready to dive into our fourth curriculum expedition.

It’s been two weeks, and…

I’m happy to report that we love our Paths of Exploration curriculum! I love it because I have that well “laid out” lesson plan that saves me time and keeps us on track for the year. Along with that, my daughters have their own tracks to journey along with the family in our unit study in a way that meets their skills and ability level — and I didn’t have to come up with those customizations on my own. They are also enjoying the week-long lapbook project that goes along with our daily lessons and notebook work. It’s a great way to switch gears for my short-attention-span learner and provide extra work for my speedy learner. Even my five-year-old has gotten into her own sping on the lapbooks, because why not? It’s all ready to print out and go — and she loves anything that involves coloring and cut-outs!

The recommended reading for “enrichment” (read: speedy learners) is just as compelling as the required reading for the unit. My eldest has already read two books off the recommended reading for enrichment, and she is learning more than I ever learned in school about these subjects. There is plenty to keep her challenged and engaged, while my 10-year-old gets the same content covered in smaller bites she can swallow.

Dare I say that we might have discovered the ideal curriculum for our family?

I’m too pragmatic to call this particular stop “the end” of our curriculum journey. However, I’m extremely optimistic that Trail Guide to Learning could really work for us. Right now, it’s working: The girls love it, I love it. It truly fits my family in this particular moment in time.

And this moment in time is all that matters.

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” — Matthew 6:34

Renée Gotcher is an entrepreneur, writer, wife & home-educating mother of three daughters: Audrey, Claire and Elise. Renée was homeschooled during her last two years of high school and started homeschooling in 2010. She and her family currently reside in Castle Rock, Colorado.

Ask a NextGen Homeschooler: How do you schedule your day?

10 Feb

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 see posted almost daily to the many online homeschooling Web sites, blogs, Facebook pages and Twitter feeds:

How early do you start your homeschool day? How long do you spend on each subject, and how long does your homeschool day last?

The basic question here is scheduling: What does a day in the life of your homeschool look like, and what can I learn from your experience? Just like curriculum and lesson planning, we all have a unique answer to this question. But we hope that giving you a peek into our days — as varied as they might be — will provide a few tips, new ideas, insight and encouragement as you shape your own homeschooling agenda.

NextGen Author Rosanna Ward
Was homeschooled since 8th grade
Began homeschooling in 2005

How early do we start our homeschool day? Well, even though our family has owned a donut shop for more than 13 years (which means a very early start to our business day), I am still not a morning person. The children and I usually get up somewhere between 7:30-8:30 a.m., get dressed and eat breakfast, and try to start school at about 9:00 a.m. Sometimes it’s closer to 10:00 a.m.

I used to try to stick to a strict schedule, but invariably things come up that throw off this type of schedule. So it just works better for us to have a routine and be flexible. For instance, my husband usually gets home from our donut shop between 8:00 and 9:00 a.m. He likes to spend time with the boys before he takes his nap, which means our school work gets pushed back for a little bit.

How long do we spend on any subject? This year I have a high school senior who only has four classes (and is very independent) and a first grader. Joel, my first grader, spends about 10 minutes on Bible (Alpha Omega workbook), then 30 minutes on math, which includes a lesson or two in Horizons and some Addition Facts Practice. After math, he takes a short break. Then we read out of his reader (currently Christian Liberty Press Nature Reader 1), I read a story to him, and he does some printing practice and a phonics work page (also Horizons).

We just started a journal with Joel, where he writes the day and date, copies a sentence about his day, and draws a picture. After English, which takes about 30 minutes, we break for lunch.  After lunch, we try to sit back down for a lesson in history and/or science (Alpha Omega workbooks). This might take another 15 to 30 minutes.

On Tuesdays and sometimes Thursdays, we go to my sister Elizabeth’s house to have school with her family. When there, Joel does history, geography, sometimes a science experiment, and music theory with Elizabeth’s girls — besides his math and English work. On Mondays he goes golfing with his dad after lunch, and on Thursday he has P.E. after lunch.

How long do we homeschool each day? Actual school work time fluctuates. On a good school day, I’d estimate that it’s between one to two hours of focused work time. But I believe learning happens all the time. Joel has learned math while golfing with his dad, and his understanding of measurement and distance is way beyond his years. He also understands weather conditions better than many first graders.

One of the great things about being a homeschool parent is looking for those teachable moments in life, whether it is during official “school” hours or any other time. And when your child has a passion for learning, you can wrap his education around that passion—  and his chances of both learning and remembering what is learned will increase dramatically.

NextGen Editor Renée Gotcher
Was homeschooled in 11-12th grade
Began homeschooling in 2010

I recently wrote a “Day in the Life” post as part of “Q&A Friday: Your Day in the Life” at Simple Homeschool.net. But the day I shared wasn’t exactly typical, and I know that when I was a prospective homeschooler asking this same question, what I was really asking veteran homeschooling moms was what does this homeschooling life really look like on a day-to-day basis, and can I do it?

I quickly discovered that the short answer is: It depends! It depends on your family size, the ages of your children, the working schedules you and your spouse keep, your location and access to outside resources and enrichment programs, what curriculum you choose, what teaching approach you take, and so on and so forth. If you embrace this concept of “choose your own homeschooling adventure” and the fact that it is absolutely, completely up to you, it’s quite liberating — and even energizing! So here’s what our typical daily schedule/routine looks like these days…

How early do we start our homeschool day? I will admit in cyberspace print that we do not start our homeschool day in the early morning hours that are typical to traditional school days. Or typical to morning people. Because morning people we are not! Even when the girls were infants, they slept past nine most mornings. And nothing has changed.

When my daughters attended private school in Durango, we were fortunate that our school day started a full half-hour later than the public schools — 8:20 a.m. instead of 7:50 a.m. And even with that extra half-hour of sleep, it was a daily struggle to pull my then first-grade and third-grade daughters out of their deep sleep to quickly dress, eat breakfast, and hop in the car for a 10-15 minute drive down the mountain to school. They never enjoyed it, and frankly, neither did I!

So when we proposed the idea of homeschooling to our girls, their first questions were: Does that mean we won’t have to get up early? And can we stay in our pajamas? Ah, girls after my own heart! I decided the answer was yes — as much as possible.

Most days, we start family devotion time and school work around 10-10:30 a.m. By this point in the morning, everyone is fed and fully awake, and I’ve had enough coffee, done my personal devotions, and checked e-mail. PJs are sometimes still on if there are no afternoon activities on the schedule, otherwise the girls are also dressed by now. Occasionally we start earlier when there’s a field trip or other special outing on the morning agenda.

How long do we spend on any subject? Last year I used a curriculum that came with a lesson plan where we covered almost every subject every day, breaking up the day into lots of tiny segments. It sounded like a good idea to me, and I thought my girls would appreciate the variety throughout the day, but it turns out that when given the opportunity, the girls like to get very focused on the subjects they enjoy — and don’t want to be interrupted to move on to the next task until they are “done” with their work. And “done” means different things to all three of them.

So I no longer break up our days into subject-specific segments. Instead, I have divided up our day into group work and individual time. The morning section of the day (after breakfast) is carved out for group interaction: We sit around the couch for family devotions, then we do unit study work together around the dining room table in the front room (separate from our kitchen). Then in the afternoon, we shift into individual work mode, which includes math and grade-specific language arts, and I work with each of the girls one on one.

Unit studies include work that covers many basic “subjects” such as reading, vocabulary, memorization, art, history, science, geography — even some math at times. We do some lecture and discussion, followed by a video or some reading, some writing work, and creative projects known as “expand” work in our Heart of Wisdom lesson plan, where they get to choose from a menu of options to apply what they’ve just learned in a creative form that they can use to “explain” the information to someone else later. Unit study time can take from one to two hours, depending on how creative the girls get with their unit projects and how hard it becomes for them to put it down for a lunch break.

After lunch, I give the girls some free time to play in the backyard or do something fun indoors to work out some of their energy. Once a week, the girls also participate with a homeschool P.E. program for an hour immediately following lunch.

During our individual study time, all three girls (including my four-year-old) use Math-U-See — that involves watching a DVD lesson and practicing with manipulatives with me, then completing math worksheets on their own. While I’m doing math with one, the other is working on language arts and reading independently, and then we swap. Then I check back in with both older girls again after they’ve completed their written/independent work. We usually spend about two hours in this mode, then the girls have free time again or a late afternoon activity.

This is also when I get hands-on learning time with my 4-year-old Elise. For most of the day, I let our preschooler do what she is interested in doing alongside her 3rd- and 5th-grade sisters — and I’m surprised how much she is learning by osmosis. While we’re doing our unit studies, she may listen with focus and participate with any work that involves coloring and art. Or she’ll just play nearby and listen casually. Either way, she blows us away with the information she can recite later! I’m pretty sure she’s an auditory learner.

However, while the older girls are working independently, I look for opportunities to sit down with Elise for some “focused” lessons. Sometimes she’ll come up to me and say, “I want to do my math now!” Other times, I’ll have to make suggestions, like “Would you like to read with me right now?” Our lessons are a short 15-minutes and are always followed by a progress sticker on her subjects charts (posted in our homeschool area), because she is big on instant recognition. If she’s not excited about doing a formal lesson when I am free, then we read together, play educational games, make up new ways to use the math manipulatives, or do a craft that involves my support, or just role play with her Princess dolls.

How long do we homeschool each day? My elementary age girls easily spend at least 3-4 hours on school work of some kind each day. On days that we have enrichment activities, they spend less time doing table work with me, but will do independent work (such as reading, writing, or finishing a creative project) in the late afternoons. Even though we’re not “scheduling” time to specifically cover each subject everyday, I am finding that we’re doing more than enough with this approach — and most important, the girls are really engaged with their work!

I have also come to realize that schooling doesn’t have to be limited to traditional education activities. So our days are filled with just as much informal learning as structured time. Whether it’s helping with the cooking, reading to younger sister, spontaneous Web research on a topic of personal interest, or watching a Discovery channel show with dad when he’s done working, the girls continue to learn beyond our specified school time.

Learning is everywhere, and life is full of experiences that teach and grow our children just as much as books, worksheets, and notebooks full of finished assignments. Learning is a journey, and I’m very thankful that my girls are truly enjoying the journey — and that I’m along for the ride.

NextGen Author Cristina Eklund
Was homeschooled since the 6th grade
Began homeschooling in 2010

How early do we start our homeschool day, and how long do we spend on each subject? We start between 8:30-9:00 a.m. That half hour is spent mostly making beds, reading a devotion or finishing up breakfast — unless I know we have to be out of the house by 10 to get somewhere (a field trip, etc.). In that case, we will start a little earlier.

Since I follow the Charlotte Mason method and have a six-year-old boy, I have found that short lessons (10 to 15 minutes) and changing up the “type of learning” (i.e. workbook, manipulatives, reading, games) works best for us. So we do about 30 minutes on Language Arts (divided into 10 minutes of handwriting, 10 minutes of phonics/sight word lessons, and 10 minutes of reading or games). Then we spend 10 to 15 minutes on a math lesson, 10 to 15 minutes of math games/manipulative practice, 15 minutes of reading a science/history lesson, 15  minutes doing a science/history activity (sometimes this means exploring together outside), 15 minutes of reading good literature (fairy tales/fables/Five In A Row books/Beatrix Potter), 15 minutes memorizing poetry/songs/bible or drawing/art/listening to the composer of the month.

All of these lesson types are interchangeable and can take place in any order during our morning school time. After this period of the day, we have free time (outside) unless we go to the library or park, until lunch time. I also like to read to the kids during lunch (a short non-picture book to get them used to listening without needing pictures to entertain). Because I have both a preschooler (my daughter Arielle) and Kindergarten/1st grader (my son Elijah), I’m a lot more hands on than I know I would be with children who are in 3rd grade and beyond.

How long do we homeschool each day? We try to end our “sit down” lessons by 11 a.m. Of course, I also expect that more reading together, as well as piano practice and Spanish review time, may take place in 15-minute increments later in the day, after nap/quiet time (which ends around 3:00ish). But those activities are not very “schoolish.” They are activities that we can do together to entertain during the downtime, rather than turning to a TV or computer — we save those privileges for “diligence rewards.”

One day a week, we attend a local co-op class from 9:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m., then go to the park afterward. All classes within that co-op time are 30 minutes long, and include subjects such as art, science, Bible, Spanish, and tea time for learning manners. They are designed for K-6th grade level students.

NextGen Author Elizabeth Thomas
Was homeschooled from K-12
Began homeschooling in 2009

How early do we start our homeschool day? We start our homeschool time at about 8:00 a.m. on good days, but most of the time, it’s by about 9:00 a.m. We start with Bible and pray, then we dive into math — math is a subject we work on everyday.

How long do we spend on any subject? This year we have been spending about an hour on each subject. But because I have one daughter with special education needs in the areas of reading and math, most of the time we end up spending longer on these two subjects. Right now I seem to be spending about two hours just doing math (using Saxon Math) with all four girls every morning — I get a little sick of it, but I just try not to watch the clock, especially if the girls are really needing the extra time with something.

I really do try to cover each subject every day, but my focus will change from week to week. For example, I like to leave science for the summer time — because it’s just a lot easier that way and the girls seem to get a lot more out of it — but during the school year, we’ll still do something science-related once a week and read science-related books from time to time. I use Shurley English with all the girls, and we do the same history lesson — and the girls will do work that is appropriate to their grade levels. This year, we have focused on American history together using the History of US books, which makes teaching history easier for me, but they still have workbooks that are grade-specific to work on.

How long do we homeschool each day? We usually do not finish as early as I would like. I like to say we never finish… or at least I don’t! On days when I have too much to do and can’t teach as long as I normally would, I will give the girls some life skills work, workbooks, and reading to do. I also keep a bag in my car full of stuff the girls can work on — even for a fast trip to the doctor, the girls will still have something to do.

Balancing my time with all four girls and everything else we have to do is a lot like juggling to me! Sometimes it feels like a huge mess, but it works out somehow.


What does your homeschooling day look like? How have your teaching approach, curriculum choice, age of your children, and family likes/dislikes influenced your daily homeschool routine or schedule?

We are also taking NEW questions for upcoming “Ask a NextGen Homeschooler” features. Send your questions to nextgenhomeschool@gmail.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!

Ask a NextGen Homeschooler: What Textbooks or Curriculum Do You Use?

17 Jan

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:

What do you use for textbooks and curriculum? What did your parents use when you were the student, and how did your prior experience being homeschooled influence your curriculum choices 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’sWhat 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.

NextGen Author Elizabeth Thomas
Was homeschooled from K-12
Began homeschooling in 2009

“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.”

NextGen Editor Renée Gotcher
Was homeschooled in 11-12th grade
Began homeschooling in 2010

“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.”


NextGen Author Cristina Eklund
Was homeschooled since the 6th grade
Began homeschooling in 2010

“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 nextgenhomeschool@gmail.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!

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