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!
I am a dedicated cherry-picker when it comes to curriculum. I have never been able to find one curriculum or program that suits me for all the subjects—I wish I had, because that sounds so much easier than what I do! But here’s what I’ve found that works for us.
For preschool and Kindergarten, Concordia Publishing House’s The Story Bible was great.
For grades 1-4, I’ve used the Primary Bible History, Children’s Bible History, and Bible History books from Northwestern Publishing House. I have really old editions that belonged to my parents when I was a kid, and I don’t know if they even sell those anymore, but you can probably find them used online.
For grades 5-6, I’ve used a wonderful book from the 1950s called The Church Through the Ages by S. J. Roth and Wm. A Kramer, which was published by CPH. It takes the whole history of Christianity from creation to when it was written. So it traces some Bible history, but then goes on to explore church history and the lives of martyrs, lots about Martin Luther and the other reformers, and then continues on to the New World and what the Lutheran church in America looks like. It does focus mainly on the LCMS toward the end, but provides such a wonderful overview of church history and the history of the Lutheran church that I’m okay with that.
This year, I found 3 new books that I’m having my sixth-grader read, but I think I’ll use them for lower grades next year, as they’re more of a third- or fourth-grade reading level. CPH sells them as a set called “About the Lutheran Church,” but also sells them separately. They’re Ordering Our Days in his Praise, Worshiping with Angels and Archangels, and Behold the Lamb, and I love them. Ordering goes through the Church Year and explains what all the different parts of it are, while Worshiping explores the different parts of the traditional Lutheran church service and what they’re all there for, and Behold explains common symbols used in Christian churches around the world. I love these and wish I’d discovered them sooner!
We also do memory work together every morning. If the kids have a Bible verse or song to memorize for Sunday school, we work on those. Otherwise, we learn a hymn or psalm from the hymnal together.
I’ve used Abeka’s math textbooks since my first kid was in first grade, and I’ve been very happy with them, though I suspect I’ll be switching that up for high school. I get the test booklets to go with them, but sixth grade is the first one where I’ve gotten the answer keys, as I have always figured I should be able to do the math alongside my kids to check their answers. That gets time-consuming as they get older, though, so I’ve broken down and gotten the answer keys this year, and it is sooooo much faster.
Abeka’s math usually has two pages per lesson, but I tend to only use one unless a child is struggling to grasp a concept. Then I’ll have them do both. I also supplement with things like flash cards to reinforce addition/subtraction/multiplication/division facts, and sometimes I add in workbooks specifically for one thing like telling time or multiplication if a child is really needing extra work on something.
I’m dedicated to using Answers in Genesis for my science curriculum. My son loves science and is currently using their Wonders of Creation series, which is more for high school, but he’s totally grasping it in sixth grade, so I’d say it works for middle school too, depending on the kid.
Starting with grade 1, I’ve used their God’s Design for Science books. There are four years’ worth of books in that series, God’s Design for Life, God’s Design for Heaven and Earth, God’s Design for the Physical World, and God’s Design for Chemistry and Ecology. Each of those has three text books that you read with your kids, and each lesson has either a worksheet you can print off and fill in or a hands-on demonstration or experiment you can do. I don’t do all the worksheets and experiments, but the ones we do are always great at reinforcing the lessons. I love these books and can’t recommend them highly enough.
I’m all over the place with Social Studies, which is kind of a catch-all category for me that embraces geography, US citizenship, and multicultural studies.
For first and second grades, I’ve used little workbooks about the 50 states and about the US Presidents that I got from Target. I’ve also used sticker books about the world and animals around the world, etc., from National Geographic. Little geography workbooks, whatever I can randomly find. I found a book called Here and There from Usborne that is magically wonderful, and my second-grader is loving it this year. I’ve also used Usborne’s Sticker Dolly Dressing books for Social Studies, particularly the ones with costumes or outfits from around the world. Anything to help little ones understand that the world is not exactly the same everywhere!
For third grade, I love Passport to the World from Answers in Genesis. I tend to do just one country a week. It comes with a workbook that has worksheets for both it and for another book, The Children’s Atlas of God’s World, that I use for fourth grade.
For fourth grade, of course, we also concentrate on the state we live in, and we study the other 49 states to a lesser degree as well.
For fifth and sixth grades, I’ve used map and geography workbooks that I picked up… somewhere. No idea where. I also like the Of America I and II books from Abeka for fourth and fifth grades because they have a lot of just random Americana stories and poems, etc. Also, I’ve gotten some Usborne books on things like Understanding Politics and Government and Understanding Business for fifth and sixth grades.
I’m just making this up as I go. I really am.
For Kindergarten, I loved using two books: One-Minute Stories of Great Americans by Shari Lewis (yes, the Lambchop person) and The Children’s Book of America ed. By William J. Bennett. I would read something out of each of those about once a week, trying to alternate them in ways that made sense chronologically.
For first grade, I mostly used the If You Lived… series of books. Things like If You Sailed on the Mayflower and If You Lived at the Time of the American Revolution and If You Travelled on the Underground Railroad. I got some of them from the library, but I’ve collected up most of them from used book stores and such over the years. Those were just so wonderful for giving first-graders a thorough understanding of what life was like in different eras of American history!
For second grade, I mostly relied on the Cornerstones of Freedom books for my son. For my daughters, I used three books that I didn’t have yet when my son was that age: American Girl: The Story of America, Eyewitness Books: Presidents, and First Facts About American Heroes. We cycle through them in chronological order so we read everything about one era all together, alternating between each book. I also tend to take about 3 weeks to read all the books in one particular American Girls series aloud for history in second grade – for my son, we did the Molly books about WWII, for my first daughter, we did the Kit books about the Great Depression, and for my youngest, we’re doing the Maryellen books about the 1950s.
For fourth, fifth, and sixth grades for my son, I’ve been using some out-of-print history textbooks that were once put out by Answers in Genesis by Diana Waring called Ancient Civilizations and the Bible; Romans, Reformers, and Revolutionaries; and World Empires, World Missions, World Wars. They’re supposed to be for middle school and into high school, but he was tired of learning American history, so I found these online used. I don’t love them. Mostly, I just have him read a chapter, and then we read the corresponding chapters in The Story of the World by Susan Wise Bauer, and then I find him books from the library about various leaders and events from whatever era we’re studying. I think when my girls get to sixth grade, I’ll use The Story of the World for them.
Meanwhile, my current fourth-grader is reading nothing but junior-nonfiction biographies of Americans this year. Most of these are from my own homeschool library. The best ones are the “Heroes of America: Illustrated Lives” series and the chapter books by Jean Fritz. I highly recommend both of those.
We also go on a lot of field trips because we’re blessed to live not terribly far from Washington, DC, with all its wonderful museums, and we try to visit historical sites like Colonial Williamsburg several times a year too.
I teach my kids music. I play the piano, so I’ve just been teaching them using the James Bastien books. I’m not huge on pushing music on small kids, so my deal with them is they have to take piano lessons from me for grades 1 through 4, and then they can decide if they want to continue them or not. Or if they’d like to switch to a different instrument, I could teach them the recorder or the trumpet at that point. I don’t push them to practice a certain number of minutes every day – we just try to run through the song they’re practicing at least once. My goal is just to enable them to know how to read music and understand how it works, and then if they want to pick up an instrument later in life, they’ll be able to.
I’ve also used some music history books from Usborne, like The Usborne Story of Music and The Usborne Famous Composers Reference Book.
I mainly rely on Usborne sticker books for art history. They have some wonderful ones. My First Art Sticker Book is great for Kindergarten and first grade. Art Activity Book is good for second and third grades. The Story of Art Sticker Book is good for third and fourth grades. And The Famous Artists Sticker Book is good for fourth through sixth grades.
Our homeschool co-op provides hands-on art lessons as well as some additional art history.
All three of my kids are studying German using the DuoLingo website. I also got them a book about German vocabulary from Usborne called First Thousand Words in German.
I’ve done a more detailed series of posts on creative writing, so I won’t address that here.
From first grade on, I’ve used Abeka’s curriculum for phonics, language, and grammar. But not for spelling. I tried their spelling curriculum and it just did not work for us.
For spelling, I get lists of words from K12Reader.com for the year. I choose words from a week’s list and type them up with space for my kids to copy each word once. We do that on Monday, and then on Tuesday, they have to spell those words out loud for me. On Wednesday, we have a test. If they get a word wrong on their test, they have to write it correctly five times. At the end of the year, I gather up the words they missed on tests and we go over them again. For first grade, I do six words from the list; for second, eight words; for third grade, ten; and for fourth grade through sixth grade, twelve words.
I have my kids read aloud once or twice a week to me in first, second, and third grade, usually something from an Usborne collection of short stories like their Ten 10-Minute Stories or Aesop’s Fables or Stories from Around the World. Once they’ve read a story out loud, we review it together in their Bookworm Journal, which I bought on Amazon. I LOVE the Bookworm Journal because it lets them rate the story, write a short review, and then have a little activity that usually relates to that story somehow. I’ve used them for all three of my kids for the lower grades. So fun. Sometimes I just have them review a book they got from the library with those instead of something they read aloud to me.
For fourth grade this year, we started with the Abeka literature book, but we finished that very quickly, so now I’m having my daughter read some classics like The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Jungle Book, The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland, The Hobbit, and Heidi. She reads a chapter or two a day, and when she finishes a book, she does a short book report on it, just a simple one I found online and printed off. I printed off about eight different ones so she can choose which one she wants to do for which book. She also read a couple of Usborne books, Illustrated Stories from Shakespeare and Illustrated Stories from Charles Dickens.
For fifth grade, my son read The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien. He was ready. I don’t think my girls will be by fifth grade, so I’ll probably keep doing what my fourth-grader is doing right now, just reading shorter classics and writing up book reports on them.
For sixth grade, we also started out with the Abeka literature reader, but again, we finished that super quickly. I also found some books from the Poetry for Kids series that we’ve dipped into. And I’m having him read three Usborne books: The Usborne Complete Shakespeare, The Usborne Complete Jane Austen, and The Usborne Complete Dickens. Obviously, those are abridged stories, but they are a wonderful overview of these classic stories, and their illustrations are marvelous. I fully intend to use them for sixth grade for my daughters too when they get there.
Then there’s handwriting. For Kindergarten and first grade, I’ve just used any books on how to write the alphabet that I can find. It was a total bonus if they involved Winnie-the-Pooh or Disney princesses or Minecraft. I don’t start teaching cursive until third grade. At first, I used a cursive book from Abeka, but that was soooooooo boring. Then I realized that bigger kids probably would like fun themed handwriting books just as much as littler kids, so I found a Harry Potter cursive practice book on Amazon. And then I found a Pokemon one. And now I’ve found oodles, with everything from Bible verses to lines from great literature to Anne of Green Gables– and The Hobbit-themed cursive books. So I am going to just keep getting things that interest each kid to practice in. After they learn the letters, I just use the back pages where it’s all about practicing words and sentences, not just individual letters.
That’s a pretty complete view of what we do for schoolwork! I don’t do all of these subjects every day, by the way. We do religion, math, science, history, and language/grammar/phonics every day. On the days when we write spelling practice words and the ones where we have spelling tests, we don’t do handwriting. I kind of cycle through the social studies and art books, doing something from one of them every day, but not all of them every day. We do literature most days, but sometimes we skip it. German happens when we have the time. I’d like to do a formal typing course for my sixth grader, but so far, it hasn’t happened. But it will one of these days! I didn’t learn to touch-type until I was in ninth grade, and by college, I could type 90 wpm, so I’m not fussed if I don’t get around to teaching them typing just yet.
Rachel Kovaciny was homeschooled K-12, graduated from Bethany Lutheran College with a BA in Liberal Arts, and promptly married her college sweetheart. She now lives in Virginia with her husband and their three homeschooled children. Rachel writes a monthly history column for the newspaper Prairie Times and bi-monthly articles for the online magazine Femnista. She also blogs about books at The Edge of the Precipice and about movies, writing, and life at Hamlette’s Soliloquy. Her 2017 book, Cloaked, was a finalist for the Peacemaker Award for Best YA/Children’s Western Fiction, and her follow-up, Dancing and Doughnuts, is now available in paperback and e-book. To learn more about Rachel and her writing, visit www.rachelkovaciny.com