March 15, 2011

Home School- Reader Questions- What Curriculum to Use?

I found the following question from Lisa in a folder labeled... "Home School Questions From Readers"... which happened to get buried under a tall stack of questions and answers and other home school stuff... I am hoping that this is a good case of "Better Late than Never"... I think I have actually touched on a lot of these topics already in previous posts. But just in case let me do a little review and answer some of the more specific questions I may have missed along the way.


I've been following your blog for a little while now and I was curious as to the curriculum you use. I have homeschooled for almost 4 years and to be honest I'm feeling a little burnt out:( Especially when it comes to science.

Do you use a lot of websites or programs?

We do okay in reading and spelling but could do better in language (grammar etc.).

You seem to have it all together and if you have any tips I would really appreciate it.

Thank you so much~


Hi, Lisa.  

Thanks for writing.  You have some really good questions, and quite frankly ones that I hear often.  Your email touches on so many topics, for my fingers, and your eyes' sake, I will answer it in a series of posts. 

As I've mentioned before, I have never found any one curriculum that suits me and meets the needs of my children in every subject.  In the end,  I have always done the pick and chose method, often writing my own when I couldn't find what I liked.  I truly always marvel at parents who answer this question by saying, "I use Bob Jones or (fill in whatever curriculum parents use exclusively).  It may be easy to have a curriculum all put together in a box but if you talk to their kids, they will usually say, "I don't like school," or "This subject is so boring."  I don't believe any subject need be boring if you find the right materials for your child.  It is so important to keep in mind that every one of us learns different.  Custom tailoring the curriculum you use to your child will help them to have a true joy for education.  

A word of warning.  One of the biggest pitfalls I see home school moms fall into, is our need to be thrifty.  I agree there is definitely a place and a need for this.  But don't let it create a stumbling block for your child when it comes to learning.  I often have moms come to me wanting advice on a particular subject.  After a few minutes of discussion it is usually clear the trouble boils down to this.  Mom bought this curriculum for the oldest child and has used it for all the kids because she paid for it and wasn't going to invest in something else.  You may have saved a few dollars but if it isn't working or you are dragging your kids through the learning process, what have you really saved?  I have said it before and I will say it again... every child learns different and if there is a subject your child hates, I would ask these two questions:  Are you approaching the subject with the right attitude?  Do you have the right curriculum for your child?

I like to let my children help choose what materials we will use from semester to semester and subject to subject.  Not only will it make your job easier if you really try to get a feel for what they are interested in, but when children have a say in things, they are often more eager to take part in it.  For example, I have struggled to find a history curriculum that really covers all I would like to teach in a comprehensive manner that I find "learnable".  We have been through lots of different things over the years, and many had some good things but nothing really did it all for us.  We tried Tapestry of Grace (Way too much preparation involved...) Mystery of History (Not nearly enough info on each topic...) Rod and Staff (DRY!)... Truth Quest (Not nearly involved enough... hard to find many of the books she lists) and lots of others.  In the end, my favorite of the History Curriculum is Abeka.  I use their texts as a sounding board and expand on their topics with videos, library materials and field trips.  (This is an entire post of its own that I will have to come back to another time) However, I like the way Truth Quest history ties everything back to God and how history was affected by man's relationship with the Lord.  I ended up combining these two to make my own history program.  

Brianna, now in 10th grade, wanted to dig even deeper than these two text books allowed.  I told her to put together her own program using those as a sounding board and bring it to me for approval.  She spent a few weeks, prior to 9th grade, with her Bible, researching books, videos and other materials to put together a literature based history curriculum of her own for the first year of high school.  Our requirement was for her to write a short essay after each component was complete answering a list of questions to help her get what we wanted her to learn from History, including questions about how the study of the topic would help her live more for Christ.  Loving to blog, we allowed her to make these essays blog posts which made it even more fun for her.  She loved it so much, she kept right on going through summer.   And that is the kind of love for learning I want my children to have. 

When it comes to Language Arts, I love the Rod and Staff Reading Curriculum for K-3  but find it cumbersome once the children are comfortable with reading.  At that point I find grammar more important.  I have used Rod and Staff Grammar before but eventually settled on Easy Grammar.  (You can read more about Easy Grammar by clicking here to go to my previous post) I found Rod and Staff grammar to be too repetitive.  We like the colorful Abeka Spelling, Vocabulary & Poetry books, as well as their writing workbooks.  My kids love to read the Rod and Staff and Abeka (hint... I bought these at a fraction of the cost on eBay) Readers so I keep those collections on our book case.  I think I have mentioned this before, but I don't continue with a structured reading program past the point of a child being able to read well on their own.  Why teach what they already know?  My children all have a love for reading and so I make it a point to always have lots of good quality books on our book case that will nourish their minds and their spiritual walk.

A note:  In case I've not mentioned it before, with the exception of the Bible Nurture and Reader Series (Rod and Staff), the Rod and Staff Bible program for 5th-10th grade and Math-U-See I rarely, if ever, invest in the teacher editions.  This allows me a huge savings.  I have found that the teacher books rarely include any further information that I find a useful addition to our home school.  If you do feel you really need a teacher manual, be sure to check eBay or ask around the home school community for a used one.  End Note.    

I really like Rod and Staff Bible Series for older kids.  These start in the fifth grade with God Chooses A Family and continue through 10th grade. I don't necessarily agree with every little teaching but it is a good comprehensive over view of the Bible.  I also incorporate a discipleship tool on the Bible called "ABC's of Christian Growth."  I don't start this in any specific grade but instead look for the time that each child is spiritually ready to further deepen and develop a greater understanding of Bible doctrine.  For my youngers I like the Boyers Proverbs People.  I have a half written post that gives lots of detail into this so I won't tell you too much more at this time.  I will tell you, that my big kids like to sit in on this teaching, too, so don't be put off by the fact that I mentioned it is usually directed at my youngers.  Of course, we have our daily Bible reading that teaches more than any of these subjects combined.

Science is a another subject where I end up adding in a bunch of other stuff to keep it fun.  Our primary textbooks are Abeka but that is just the beginning.  This again is a very in depth topic that could take up a lot of time, so I will save that for another post.  

For Kindergarten my kids loved the Rod and Staff ABC series.  (As a matter of fact they just came out with the latest addition to the series and even though my boys are in second grade, when they saw their younger kindergarten brother was getting it, they were dying to have it.)  However, in the older grades, while I think their text books have good content, I found them dull and dry and quite frankly boring.  I couldn't expect my kids to keep their attention on them when I couldn't stand to look through them myself.  I like my children to be attracted to text books just as they are to all the beautiful books on our bookshelves or those we bring home from the library.  It makes school fun and interesting.  It makes them want to learn.  It keeps their attention.  It gives them what I really want to teach them in their 12 years of learning... to love learning for themselves.  

In walked Abeka.  When I started using a few Abeka books here and there and caught my kids curled up on the couch reading them for fun, during "non school hours", I knew I had found a real treasure.  And that is how we use our science and history text books.  The kids read them through, almost as they would novels.  They bring different topics up at the dinner table and we discuss what they are learning.  If they happen upon a topic they are particularly interested in, we go to the library and find more books or videos on it and figure out how to incorporate a field trip.  I don't give tests or lots of question and answer work they have to spend hours writing out.  I know that may be incredibly shocking to everyone reading this but hear me out.

When I was in school I hated science and history alike.  For one thing, they were taught from the perspective of memorizing facts, doing long pages of questions at the end of the chapter and then stressing over whether I would remember all of it for a test.  When I reached 9th grade, though, it all changed.  At last I had a teacher who loved history and brought it alive.  I fell in love with the whole mess of it.  Likewise, when I entered nursing school and science had a point to it, I found it endlessly fascinating.  I didn't want my kids to waste all those good years of learning hating these two interesting subjects.  This eawas further impressed upon me when we discovered Brianna had dyslexia.  More than anything, we wanted her to love reading.  I have explained before about my philosophy of teaching a child to love reading as a means of teaching him to learn anything he wants or needs.  (You can read more about that by clicking here, if you are interested.)  I abandoned all testing in order to encourage her to just read for the sake of reading.  Often I sat beside her as she worked her way through her text books.  The results were so impressive, I have never gone back.  (You should note I do test in Math as a way of making sure the concept has been fully mastered).  In the end, ask yourself what is the point of testing anyway?  Teachers issue tests to large groups of children because it is the only means they have for making sure that each of the 30 kids they are working with in each class period has fully learned the material.  I know if my children have learned these subjects through our discussion, which is a vibrant and constant part of our home school life.  

And by the way, moms.  If you can not confidently say the same, then you are missing a huge part of the blessings of home school.  Start talking with your kids about what they are learning, what they enjoy learning, what they want to learn more of... do it while you cook, clean, eat, drive, walk, garden, whatever you do, talk and talk some more.  Not only will you be getting a gauge as to where they are in learning, you will be expanding on what they are learning and making it more interesting to them by giving them a REASON to know it.  But most importantly you will find conversations opening doors to great opportunities to share what you believe and why you believe it that will be tying heart strings to last a life time.

Math.  I have touched a lot on math in other posts so I will direct you to click here and go to this post if you want an in depth discussion on the topic.  Otherwise, I will let it suffice to say, I use Math-U-See and after much trial and error would NOT recommend anything else.  Only one person I ever recommended it to, ever turned away from it.  She used it for 5 years and then switched because she wanted to test her daughter and was worried her daughter couldn't pass the standardized testing.  (If you don't know my opinion on teaching to the test read some of my previous home school posts) Her child constantly complains to my children about how much she hates math now.  And there in lies the problem with any other math we ever tried over the years - there are lots that work but few kids actually enjoy them.  Steve Demme has something that kids love.  Go figure.

As far as specific curriculum for specific grades, I have previously written separate posts for each of my children covering their materials for the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 school years.  So even though this is not a full list of our materials I think it gives a good idea of where we are.  If you would like to view the more grade specific curriculum scroll through the list and click on the grade you are looking for.

Samuel Kindergarten
Nathaniel and Aedan First Grade
Nathaniel and Aedan Second Grade
Emma Rose Fourth Grade
Emma Rose Fifth Grade
Brianna Ninth Grade
Brianna Tenth Grade

Posting with Carnival of Homeschool


  1. thanks for posting this. it was a boost of encouragement and as always, very helpful.

    we've done some tweaking to our homeschooling this past year. to the point i feel we're the only ones doing things 'THIS" way, but it's working for our family, our situation, but more importantly, the kids are learning (and LOVING it).

  2. Great resource list to help with picking out homeschooling programs. It's wonderful there are so many more options now for my grandkids than there were when I was homeschooling my children. :) Have a blessed week.

  3. Thanks so much for this informatie post. I agree that MathUSee is probably the best math curriculum out there. Our youngest has Down syndrome. We got to chat with Steve Demme at one of the homeschool conferences, and he has a child with DS, too, whom he had in mind when he created MUS.
    We are eclectic homeschoolers and have used different curricula over the years, also. It's funny how we all like different things. My kids and I used and liked Mystery of History for the middle school years. Then in high school we've used Notgrass, which we really like! I also have a dd in elementary and we use Time4Learning with her. She loves the online interactive learning and loves being able to learn independently. It can be used as a sole curriculum or as a supplement. I like that it keeps a record of her progress and work. It makes record-keeping easier for me. She also is at different grade levels in math than she is in some of her other subjects. So it's helpful that we have access to 3 different grade levels for each subject. We are thinking of trying Time4Writing for all 3 of our kids, including high school.
    Thanks again for your thorough post. I'm sure it will be helpful to many.

    1. Hi, Janet.

      I am so glad you stopped by Art's Chili Pepper. I could not find an email for you so I am leaving my reply here. Thanks for your encouraging words! Sometimes you wonder if you are doing anything to contribute to this world.

      I would definitely say we are, as you put it, eclectic when it comes to our home school. And even what we use this year or with this child we might not use next year or with the younger children. I think that is one of the beautiful things about home school. You do just what works for your child and you can use just what you like, because everyone is different and not everyone learns the same way.

      I have never heard of Notgrass but I will be looking it up. I love to check out different curriculum... especially when it comes to Science and history because my kids love these subjects and I can't ever seem to have enough to satisfy their desire for them.