Curriculum Potluck

Choices, Choices: Curriculum Potluck—Beth

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!

There is a smorgasbord of curricula. And if you are a super-nerd homeschooler like me, it’s like being a kid in a candy store. And, if you are plagued by decision-fatigue like me, it can be overwhelming! Where to start?

If you are new to homeschooling, I highly recommend using a program that covers all the basics for you. One program is Classical Conversations. I tried that program with my daughter when she was young. It was not for us, but I know many families who are very happy with it. Not only does it provide a strong base for learning all the core subjects, but there are also weekly meetings that provide families with an opportunity to learn together and socialize. Another program that is a complete “skeleton” for your homeschool is Sonlight. This is a wonderful, literature-rich program that provides a complete 180-day schedule to follow so you don’t even have to do any planning. A warning about Sonlight: there is a LOT of work included. It is not meant for you to do everything. Don’t feel overwhelmed by all of the readings, assignments, and projects. Rather, pick and choose what you and your students are interested in and feel comfortable completing in a day.

I did use Sonlight for several years and we really enjoyed it. We found and loved books I had never even heard of. But time passed, my children began to diverge more in abilities and interests, and I became more comfortable tailoring our home education to meet each of their needs. Now I cobble together my own grade level for each child on a yearly basis.

The following are some of the individual subject curricula that have worked for us.

History

I still love Sonlight for this. Their book selections are interesting and engaging. I love history and I do not mind reading a lot about this subject. Between Netflix and Amazon Prime, I have found several documentaries to supplement our readings. Sometimes it’s nice to take a break from reading and have a snack while we watch a video.

Grammar 

First Language Lessons for the Well Trained Mind is an excellent program for the early years. I wish they went past the 4th level; I would have used it longer.

Rod and Staff has an English grammar series that you can find through most Christian book distributors. While I found this to be an excellent and thorough program, I also found the lessons to be very long and very advanced. I think I was doing the kind of diagramming in my 10th grade English class that they were introducing in the 6th grade book. Not that this is a bad thing, I just personally thought it was more than we needed.

Easy Grammar is a good, straight-forward series. I am currently using it with both of my children. 

Reading

Your best resource is your local public library! Seriously, do I need to even expand on that? Caveat: as your children get older, and as our local public libraries get more “progressive,” you may want to preview your children’s selections.

I have to mention Sonlight again because they have such wonderful selections and collections. And since this is a Christian curriculum, all of their books have been vetted, and you don’t have to worry about questionable or surprise content. This isn’t to say that some books don’t contain difficult or challenging ideas, but they are always age-appropriate and you will be able to have real discussions with your children using a Biblical world-view.

Sometimes when I’m at a loss, I’ll just google ideas for grade-level books. The choice is always up to me on how appropriate I think the content will be. Read a few reviews of a book on Amazon, and you’ll get a pretty quick idea about the contents.

Writing

I don’t know about your children, but my children do NOT like me to critique their writing. I think this is because writing is very personal. Even if it is an assignment, writing comes from your innermost thoughts and ideas. Style is subjective, even content (to some degree) is subjective. For years now, I have outsourced their writing assignments to other teachers online.

There are two online programs I have used and appreciated for this task:

Write at Home 

San Diego Scribblers

Both of these sites also have literature courses. I have not tried Write at Home for literature, but I have been pleased with San Diego Scribblers for literature.

Yes, you do have to pay for these courses, but in my experience, it has been well worth it.

If you cannot afford (or do not want to pay for) online writing classes, may I suggest you find another mom or adult who would be willing to correct/edit/grade your children’s assignments? I have a kind neighbor (a retired, former teacher) who has offered her services free of charge to my children. We have not taken her up on it yet, but it’s nice to know she’s there and willing to help us.

Math

I have probably made the most curriculum switches in this one area. If you have found a program that works, keep it! (Unless and until it doesn’t work anymore; then you’re in my boat.)

These are the programs we have tried: Horizons, Saxon, CTC Math, Singapore, DreamBox Learning, Khan Academy, and Teaching Textbooks

All of these programs have pros and cons. With the exception of Singapore, I didn’t “hate” any of them. Yet I had a friend with a daughter who absolutely loved Singapore, so there you go.

We are currently using Teaching Textbooks, which is an online program. My son is in pre-algebra and my daughter is in geometry. (She’ll make it through, but I’m not sure this geometry program will be right for my son, so I’m taking recommendations.) We will proceed with Teaching Textbooks algebra I and algebra II, respectively, for both children next year.

Science

I have used Sonlight science programs and been happy with them.

Khan Academy has good science resources for high school-aged students. 

This is our first year using College Prep Science. My daughter is taking a forensic science and human anatomy class through this online program. They have virtual labs. This is clearly not the same as a real-world lab, but better than no lab experience. In the high school levels, they have the option of taking “life prep” or “college prep” biology, chemistry, and physics. Life prep science courses make high school science attainable for those students not going to college or not preparing for a college career in the sciences. The college prep science courses are (obviously) designed for students who want more rigorous and in-depth science to prepare for college-level classes.

Foreign Language

Many people like and use Rosetta Stone. My daughter was not a fan, but that should not deter you from trying it.

We have been using Mango Languages. You pay monthly, but for $20/month you can have up to 5 users on one account. For a family of multiple children, this is a good deal.  

We are able, through all these choices, to find the programs that work for our individual time, interests, and skill-levels. It can be expensive to try all these things, so I highly recommend using free trial periods for online courses when available. Borrow texts from friends when possible, or find homeschool fairs that sell second-hand books. And if you precede the next generation of homeschoolers, consider blessing them by sharing your gently-used courses so that they may have an easier time of it. The options abound. It can be overwhelming, but it can also be a blessing. Question your choices when appropriate. Make changes when necessary. And above all, enjoy the freedom you have to pursue the best fit(s) for your family.


Beth Bruer lives in beautiful Colorado Springs with her husband, two teens, and goldendoodle. She loves reading, (lifelong) learning, hiking, and yoga.

1 thought on “Choices, Choices: Curriculum Potluck—Beth”

  1. So much useful information here, Beth! And I’m especially thankful for the way you blessed me with so many wonderful used books in our early days. The other day I noticed my 10 year old reading one of the many chapter books you handed down to us (The Door in the Wall, if you’re wondering 🙂 ). And I just took my 4th child through your First Language Lessons 1 book; I think that’s a pretty good return on your initial investment! Thank you!

    Like

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