Lutherans love a good potluck! Everyone brings something to share and, while you never know exactly what you’ll find, you know it will be good! In this series, we dish on curricula we have used. Pull up a chair and dig in!
Our family has been part of a Classical Conversations community for over four years now. We meet once a week for twelve weeks in the fall and twelve in the spring, and we memorize content in seven academic subjects: history, math, English grammar, science, Latin, geography, and a history timeline. That memory work provides a spine that is fleshed out during the week at home. Thus far I have not supplemented the Latin and geography, but I do use additional materials to study the other subjects at home.
Math: We have always used Saxon Math. It is straightforward and thorough, and I appreciate the built-in review of the spiral approach. I skip level K, and start my kindergarteners with Saxon 1. (We first learn counting, shapes, and numbers 1-20 on our own using pages from an inexpensive preschool workbook.) The Saxon lessons as they are written in levels 1-3 are way more math than I have found my kids to need. I tend to use the teacher books more as a reference, and I rarely teach the scripted lessons; there just isn’t time in my day for four scripted Saxon lessons. I have my kids do either the A or the B worksheet for the lesson, teaching them new concepts as they encounter them, and that’s their math for the day. Bonus: if child 1 does only the A sides, when child 2 reaches that level they can do the B sides and you save some money. Saxon levels 5/4 and on up are textbook style and have a different feel than the earlier levels. When my oldest reached 5/4, I encouraged more independent study. He reads the lesson, does all the lettered problems and the odd numbered ones, and then checks his work with the solutions manual. I check in with him regularly and answer any questions he has. This independence has worked really well so far for him, but I imagine it may not work so well for all my kids. We’ll see.
Language Arts: I begin with Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. I don’t love everything about it, but it does a great job of getting the kids to think and sound out words phonetically. The lessons can start to get long. If it is becoming stressful for my child, I feel free to take a break for awhile or split the lessons up and do half a lesson each day. For 1st-3rd grades, we use First Language Lessons for grammar and Writing with Ease for writing. Both are from Well-Trained Mind Press. They are simple, straightforward, require no prep, and the lessons don’t take a lot of time. They are available for purchase as PDF’s, and I appreciate the money and bookshelf space that it saves me. I also have my kids work through the Explode the Code workbook series for extra phonics practice. When the kids reach 4th grade, their grammar and writing is taken care of with their Classical Conversations Essentials class and homework. I have really loved their Essentials of the English Language program for its methodical approach to English grammar; I have learned quite a bit myself and I love that my kids are starting with such a solid background. For the writing portion, they use Institute for Excellence in Writing. It took me awhile to get used to the program, but I appreciate how it has gotten my kids writing, both creatively and from source texts. We use the Spelling Workout workbooks for spelling. I have the kids complete a workbook page and write their list words each day, and we have a spelling test on Friday. If they have a bad week, we have sometimes repeated lists. I sometimes also give mid-week practice tests, and those seem to help the kids recognize and remember tricky words.
Handwriting: I have used a smorgasbord of materials for handwriting. I’ve used Zaner Bloser for 1st grade to really help them get proper letter formation down. I’ve used copybooks from Memoria Press and Classical Conversations, and I have occasionally printed my own copywork. I use New American Cursive from Memoria Press to teach my kids cursive. The format of their workbooks was exactly what I was looking for when we started cursive, but they do simplify some of the capital letters. I’ve had no problem going back and teaching my kids the proper form of those few letters later. If I were starting from scratch right now, I think I would look at The Good and the Beautiful for this subject; their samples online look nice and the PDF downloads are affordable (and reusable!). But as things are, I have no need of more handwriting materials, so I continue to use what I have.
History: We have really enjoyed Story of the World. I print out worksheets from the activity books with a picture on one side and the map for the lesson on the other, and the kids color those as we listen to the audiobook lesson. Now that my big kids are a little older, I sat down with a couple of history encyclopedias we own and listed the pages that correspond to each Story of the World lesson. After all the kids have listened to the week’s lesson together, the older two get out their history notebooks and encyclopedias, read the assigned pages, and write ten facts in their notebooks. I also put a big timeline on the wall in the basement, and they are responsible for adding important dates to it as we cover them. It should be noted that Story of the World tries to remain religiously neutral. At our house, we have covered creation, the fall and promise, the flood, and the tower of Babel before beginning volume 1. We have frequent discussions about religion and worldview following our history lessons. Each volume has 42 lessons; I try to cover one lesson each week, so it takes us more than a school year to finish a volume. I don’t stress about not finishing. We set it aside when we go on break, and later we pick up right where we left off.
Science: We have been using Elemental Science for several years now. What you purchase from them is basically lesson plans, and the content comes from science encyclopedias that you purchase separately. Each week’s lesson has an experiment or demonstration to go with it. We have used all four courses in their Science for the Grammar Stage series (but not their Into to Science). I wouldn’t try to do everything listed in the lesson plan; think of it as options to choose from. We’ve especially enjoyed the lapbooking templates. We would generally read the assigned pages, do the lapbooking activity, and sometimes do the experiment. This year we started our first Science for the Logic Stage course. I have continued to do science with all the kids together by following the Logic Stage course for our reading and experiment, and matching up the corresponding Grammar Stage lapbook activities for the younger kids while the older two complete their written assignment. It is working well for everyone so far. I have really liked the structure and classical approach of Elemental Science, but there are some worldview issues to address. Some of the science encyclopedias this curriculum uses are written from an evolutionary perspective. I haven’t noticed any evolutionary slant to Elemental Science itself, but there will be content in the encyclopedias that you will want to discuss with your child. I’ve especially noticed this with the Logic Stage reference materials. The curriculum is not written from a creationist perspective, it attempts to be neutral; you will want to bring in discussion of God’s creating and sustaining work that is apparent all around us. I have also supplemented with apologetics DVDs such as Is Genesis History and several from Answers in Genesis. I have never finished a year of science. When a week gets hectic, this is the first subject that gets skipped, and that’s ok. Every topic we study enriches our understanding of the world around us, and those topics that we miss on this tour of physics we will pick up on the next. (And really, how much physics is covered in your average 4th grade classroom anyway?)
Religious studies: We use On My Heart, a memory work program my husband and I put together many year ago, to help us memorize the books of the Bible, Luther’s Small Catechism, Bible verses, and a Bible timeline. We also read from the Bible, memorize hymns, and read the sections from Luther’s Large Catechism that correspond to the Small Catechism portion we are memorizing.
I want to close this list with a note of encouragement. In our homeschool, we have seasons of thick and thin. There are times when all of the above balls are in the air and everything is moving forward like clockwork. And there are weeks when I let one or two (or three) subjects drop for a beat or two while we focus more deeply on an area that needs more attention. That area may be a school subject or it may be a behavioral issue or a life event. We may just need a break! Take what you can use from this list, and don’t be overwhelmed by the rest.
I’d love to hear about the curricula you have found useful too!
Amanda Moldstad is a co-founder of the Lutheran Homeschool Association. She and her husband, John, homeschool their five children in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota.