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One of the first questions people usually ask when they find out we homeschool is what curriculum we use. Since we don’t use a prepackaged boxed curriculum, explaining what we do is a little more complicated than just naming a supplier. Contrary to popular misconceptions un-schooling also doesn’t mean I just let me kids run free and learn (or fail to learn) whatever they want. While they do have a LOT of say in their learning, it is my responsibility as the parent and primary educator to introduce new thoughts and topics. I am responsible for making sure they have the basics they will need to be confident and productive members of society. We do this several ways including, family or one on one discussions, books, internet research, iPad/Kindle apps and movies/television. Here are a few of my favorite resources for each major subject.
Reading, Spelling and Vocabulary
We believe the best way to teach reading is to read with your child as often as possible. We also believe it is far more important that they have a love of reading than it is to stress about when it happens. We have always tried to have plenty of good children’s books in our home and visit the library regularly. When we go to the library I let each child pick two books. I used to tell them they had to choose at least one non-fiction book. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that when I stopped telling them what to choose they often chose the non-fiction book all on their own. I also select a few books that I know are several grades above their reading level, but have stories that they are able to understand with maybe a little explanation from me as we read. I do this to encourage them to continue to push their reading skills because they have a desire to read the more difficult books on their own. Right now our children’s favorite picture books are Fancy Nancy, and Henry and Mudge. I have been reading them The Little House in the Big Woods with plans to read the entire series. I am working on a list of our favorite books so stay tuned for that later! We recently added the Life of Fred Beginning Readers to our curriculum as well. We absolutely love their math curriculum and the beginning readers are every bit as much fun. We do not have any spelling and vocabulary specific curriculum choices. This is because we believe that proper spelling and increased vocabulary are best learned through consistent reading and writing. The majority of their writing instruction occurs in their artwork or through writing letters to family members. As they get older we will encourage journal keeping, blog writing, and other formal writing assignments.
In addition to reading together we also have a few electronic resources we use. We currently have one iPad and one iMac that the children take turns using. On the iPad we have the Hooked on Phonics application. You can download the first unit of the application for free to give it a test run.The entire application is a little pricey at $49.99, but it has been well worth it for our family. It is currently on sale on Educents for only $29.99, which is DEFINITELY worth it! On the computer they use the Starfall website. We used to have the Starfall app, but the kids preferred the desktop version and rarely used it. We use the free version of Starfall. There is a paid version with more features, but we haven’t found a need for it. We also love the Leapfrog movies that discuss phonics.
Our primary resource for history is the “The Story of the World” book series. These books present world history in a chronological order through telling the stories of various people in different societies. Our children have enjoyed reading these as a part of our nightly story time. We plan to read through the 4 book series then start again with book 1, repeated as many times as possible until there is no one left at home. As they get older, and we cycle through them again, we will take the time to go more in depth and find additional resources on each of the stories and peoples mentioned. For teaching US History we plan to take our children to as many historical sights as possible.
Our main math curriculum is Life of Fred. Life of Fred (LoF) is not your traditional math book. Instead it is a story that includes tons of real world math examples. My children absolutely love reading about Fred’s silly adventures. After each section there are a few questions to see if they understand the concept. The number one thing I love about LoF is that it is not a strictly linear program. They are learning algebraic principles and story problem solving from the first page of the book. For grades K-5 there is a ten book set. It is recommended that you just read the books in order as many times as necessary until the concepts are fully understood. After that there is a 3 book bridge set to complete elementary grades. Once they know these 13 books completely they move on to the higher level books which include fractions and decimals, physics, algebra, Geometry and even Calculus. In addition we try to point out the real life moments where mom and dad use math to function. When we go to the store I let them weigh the produce and talk about how much it costs per pound. If something is in sale 10 for 10 I ask them “how much would it cost to buy just one?” We count money together, measure ingredients when cooking, and calculate what time we will arrive at a location based on the distance and speed.
On the digital side we love the DragonBox applications. The original Dragon Box app introduces algebraic concepts in a fun game structure. There are two versions the 5+ and the 12+. We own and love both. The 12+ version is more difficult, but my 7 year old was able to get through it after completing the 5+ version and understanding most of the concepts. The object of the game is to get the box all by itself on one half of the divided screen. You use the basic concepts of algebra to balance the equation and get the box alone. Every few levels you get a new “power” which represents a different algebraic principle. Dragon Box also has an application called Elements. This one introduces the basic concepts of geometry in the same fun game scenario. Even the 3 year old will get on and play these games. Their newest application is called Numbers and focuses on the basics of counting, addition and subtraction. They also really enjoy playing the board-game “The Allowance Game”.
Social studies are mainly learned by simply living life. We talk regularly about our role as members of a family and a society. We try to take every day teaching opportunities to point out the structure of the world in which our children live. We discuss different religions and what they believe. We try to spend as much time as reasonable out of the house at church, the park, and other events so they can learn to interact with their community. We talk about different cultures in other countries and how they are the same or different than our own. Our best resources for this are documentaries that we stream on Netflix and Amazon Prime. For geography we love the apps Stack the States and Stack the Countries.
Like social studies our homeschool curriculum for science is primarily what we observe in every day life. We talk about the water cycle when it rains, the food web when we see a bird eating a worm, and biology when they ask me how the baby got out of my tummy. Science is one thing that we are planning to follow a more formal curriculum for when our kids are older. At this stage, however, we are mainly focused on getting them excited and interested in the topic. We have watched several documentaries on how things are made, different animals, and other scientific principles. Their favorites are The Magic Schoolbus, Raw to Ready, How It’s Made, and Mythbusters.
When we lived in Nevada we had an annual pass to the science museum and tried to go a few times a month. Our children absolutely loved exploring everything they had to offer. We have not been able to do the same here in Georgia with our finances being a bit tighter and the museum being further away. There are several science museums across the country that participate in the ASTC Travel Passport program. If you buy a membership to one museum it will grant you access to every museum on the list. We are planning to buy this pass when we have more ability to travel, hopefully sooner rather than later.
We also recently got a subscription to the Magic School Bus Science Club. I hang my head in shame as I admit we haven’t opened any of the kits yet. I’ll be sure to post a review as soon as we do! We also have a few kids that really love playing with the Snap Circuits set we bought the oldest for his birthday several years ago. In fact Ben (6) played iwth it for almost six hours the other day!
We believe that the arts are every bit as important as any other academic pursuits. Our children have to opportunity to draw and create on a daily basis. Whether it’s play dough, sidewalk chalk, or markers we try to do something artistic every day. Madeline especially loves art and she has had a lot of fun learning how to use Mom’s digital art resources. She is currently learning how to use Corel Painter and will be learning Photoshop as well. If the other kids show interest they will also be taught these programs.
With mom and dad both being musicians music is also a fundamental part of our homeschool curriculum. Cameron and I both served in the Marine Corps Band and cameron is still serving in the National Guard Band. We sing regularly throughout the day. Music is a great tool for educating on other subjects as well as simply a source of enjoyment and opportunity for relationship strengthening. We plan to teach the fundamentals of music theory to each child. If any of them show an interest in pursuing a musical instrument or singing we will provide or find formal instruction and find opportunities for them to play in ensembles as well.
I think that covers all of the main subjects. As you can see even without a formal homeschool curriculum there are an endless supply of educational resources for our children. We are just beginning to scratch the surface of what is out there and learning what works for our family. As we learn more about what is available and how our children learn best many of these resources may be added to or dropped. That is the joy of homeschool. The freedom to teach our children what interests them, when it interested them, in a way that they are able to learn and retain what they are taught.
What are your favorite educational resources?