Inside: Eclectic homeschool curriculum focused on bringing out the best in children, maximizing their strengths, and giving them confidence that they can always learn what they need to be successful in life.
“All men who have turned out worth anything
have had the chief hand in their own education.”
— Sir Walter Scott
It’s an extraordinary claim, but I will make it anyway: the sole purpose of education is to develop mental toughness. Any person with an average intellect can learn algebra or biology at any point in their lives, but how many people grow up knowing how to focus, get things done, think critically, adapt quickly, problem-solve creatively, and be in charge of their minds?
Think about it. Whether you are an entrepreneur, corporate professional, or a housewife, you need to be conscious and intentional. You need to know what your goals are. You also need to know how to segment them into manageable parts, take action, and stay consistent and persistent.
“Unfortunately, people’s thinking is often scattered. We flit from one thought to the next without ever settling on one topic long enough to fully analyze the situation. For some, a normal day is simply a series of distractions. They multitask, juggling numerous balls in the air without making substantial progress. Touching a dozen issues is not equal to tackling one.” — Dr. Richard Blackaby
At the beginning of our homeschooling journey, I envisioned science orientation as an ideal path for our learning journey. That’s why our first “official” homeschool ID said Science Works Academy. Scientific thinking with its induction, deduction, and experimental design focus seemed like a great way to go about learning. In a few years, however, I realized that the STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) framework would be a better guiding force.
Eventually, it became clear to me that math, science, and many other subjects we were covering in our school were just diverse pieces of the same mosaic. Our mind consists of the myriad small pieces of colored thoughts, ideas, beliefs, notions, images, and views. Our imagination, perception, thinking, language, memory, judgment all come from the same place. Our mind!
My thinking led me to the realization that the maximum advantage comes from good habits of mind and attitude, or mental toughness. So, that has become our focus.
How I picked our curriculum
The resources I mention below are the ones that best fit our philosophy, lifestyle, and personal inclinations.
I did a lot of research, read lots of books, sought out experts, and incorporated wisdom from multiple disciplines: don’t laugh, even from the Navy Seals (because those guys have unbeatable minds), from Minerva McGonagall (because fictional characters can be very inspirational), and from Socrates (because this cool guy had some pretty nifty ideas).
We use a ton of stimulating, often unexpected, and totally fun resources in all areas of study. Chemistry class might mean making peanut butter and growing mold, and math can be playing with rekenrek while running a lemonade stand. We just spent two days learning engineering with food structures. No two days are the same. We play it by ear. Try to keep it fun. And constantly reinvent our school day.
That doesn’t mean I don’t have rigorous academic standards. I have extremely high expectations for my kids. But they have a lot of learning confidence, and, as research shows, self-confidence leads to high achievement. “A person is a product of his own thoughts. Believe Big.”
Our Eclectic Homeschooling
Even though we’ve been homeschooling for a long time, I didn’t post curriculum reveals in the past for three reasons:
#1: We’re committed to interest-led homeschooling, and our interests are always shifting and evolving. It was hard to predict what materials would stick around and what would be abandoned a few weeks after a reveal.
#2: We do year-round homeschooling, so our time-table is different from most people’s.
#3: I never hesitate to abandon a curriculum, even the most ridiculously expensive one, if it seems to be killing my kids’ love of learning.
I decided to talk about our curriculum choices this year because I realized that we are still using many of the same resources we have been using for a few years and kids are happy. Also, now that younger kids are joining in, and the same materials/approaches are working for them, too, I am more confident in our selections.
In the past decade, we tried many different approaches and curricula. I learned that bigger textbooks don’t equal more learning. And pretty graphics on the cover don’t necessarily translate into more engagement.
At present, we have a crazy eclectic mix of materials that are engaging, joyful, easy to work with, and fit our philosophy.
I want you to keep in mind that we don’t do all of this every day! Some days we do more of one and less of another. On other days, it’s less of everything. But we do “school” seven days a week, and it works for us.
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Homeschool Curriculum Choices 2019 – 2020
Enhance math learning with these 9 awesome activities (a long list + explanations on how we do it)
My efforts and attention go into helping my kids understand mathematical reasoning and problem-solving. To this end, we do a lot of math games, puzzles, math talks, and more. You can get a fuller picture of my approach from the first post above.
CTC Math is what I use to take care of the basics. This is what helps us build “a solid grasp of foundational concepts first, such as fluency with numbers, operations sense, rounding, conceptual understanding of place value, and much more.” My oldest son has already finished five grades with CTC math.
- Brave Writer
- Wordly Wise
- All about Spelling
- Spelling Games: Scrabble Junior edition, word scavenger hunts, hangman, crossword puzzles, Word Play, and Quiddler.
My kids have seven language arts lessons a week. They can choose to do something once a day, or batch it up. So one day, kids might choose to do Brave Writer (super fun writing curriculum) with me, or play writing games, or they might choose to do Wordly Wise on their own, or play Quiddler with their siblings, or play with letter tiles (All about Spelling), or write a letter to a friend, or work on their book journals.
The choice is theirs, but we do take a Spelling Test once a year. I need it for my own peace of mind as proof that our method is working (and it does).
- Kitchen Science
- Amazon Science Club subscription
- Groovy Lab in a box
- Science sections from Oak Meadows curriculum
- Science toys
- Chicago Science museum
- Science books
We’re science fanatics. My kids are always coming up with creative science projects that totally surprise me. The other day, my daughter decided to put pieces of different fruits (including lemon) outside to see which one would attract more ants. Then, she colored water with different color gels to see if ants would respond differently to different colors. After, she sat outside with her journal recording her observations and making drawings.
You can find lots of fun science experiments on my blog. We also like to try different science kits and subscriptions, play with science toys, and design STEAM and engineering challenges for even more science fun.
- 5 ways to nurture your child’s musical mind at home (I will link up to this post later this month when it goes live).
- Music books
- Music games
My kids take cello, piano, and violin lessons with music teachers. We also do a ton of music activities at home and read music books.
- 365 Days of Art: a creative exercise for every day of the year
- Masterpiece Society
- Art Museums
- Art classes
We don’t do art every day, but whenever I realize that it’s been a while, I make it a point to get the supplies lined up and add art to our schedule, sign up for art classes, or come up with art projects for us.
I bought 365 Days of Art as a way to connect with my daughter. My idea was that together we would do one page a day. It turned out that the book is so addictive, once we start, we can’t stop. So we usually do 10-20 projects at once. Then we might take a week or more off. I’m happy to say we are almost done with all 365 projects! Once we’re done, I’ll buy the same book to work on with one of my kids.
Read-alouds and Independent Reading
We read as a family, we read individually, we listen to audiobooks, and we love to discuss books. I’m never far away from a book (or two), and my kids are the same way. They read what I recommend (sometimes) and also whatever catches their interest. When they were into Harry Potter, they read all of the Harry Potter books, as well as related works like Care of Magical Creatures and books about spells.
As I’m writing this post, my eight-year-old has been reading on average three to four Goosebumps books a day. She’s really into scary stories right now. She also just recently finished Courage to Soar, an autobiography by Simon Biles. (She sure had a lot to discuss while reading this book).
My 11-year-old loves to read history books, mysteries, and detective novels. His latest obsession is FBI special agent books by Preston & Child. (And, yes, I’m aware that these books have quite a bit of swearing. I believe that being good because one doesn’t know what bad is isn’t as valuable as choosing to be good while knowing other options).
This is our third year of learning Latin. During the first two years, we did Sing Song Latin volume 1 & 2. This year we’re making our way through Latin for Children: Primer A. It’s a more advanced evolution of the classic Sing Song approach by the same publisher. Our additional Latin resources are reading favorite English books in Latin (yep, even Harry Potter), a dictionary, prime videos, and a brilliant Latin tutor. We also got through about one-third of Latin in the Rosetta Stone program.
- The Story of the World 1 and 2 (with textbooks, activity books, Audio CDs, and Teachers guides)
- History documentaries
- Living Books
- History website
Every year I make a list of topics I want my kids to learn by using history websites as a guide. Then I try to make each subject as much fun as possible by rounding up as many interesting resources as I can find.
My kids also often discover their own topics that they want to learn more about. For example, my sixth-grader is now interested in World War II, especially D-Day. So he spends a lot of his time reading history books (written for adults), mapping out invasion routes, watching documentaries, and talking to our neighbor who was in D-Day. I believe that he knows more about D-Day than most people.
We are also slowly working our way through The Story of the World. We have already finished volume 1: Ancient Times and 2: The Middle Ages. Usually, our kids listen to the audio lessons in the kitchen, following along with the book, while I cook dinner, clean up, or color with one of the kids on the floor. And then we do activities from the activity book. The most memorable so far was when we made bags after the fashion of ancient times (well, they used animal skins, but we used fabric), and the kids have been using these bags for nature studies for a few years now. It’s a fun curriculum.
We have a couple of globes, two giant maps (a map of the world and a map of the USA), and lots of Atlases. We like to find on our maps the places mentioned in stories or cities that come up in conversations. The 39 Clues series was particularly good in helping our kids learn about world geography.
Our favorite atlases are the National Geographic Kids’ Beginner’s World Atlas, the Smithsonian’s Children’s Illustrated Atlas, and DK’s Where on Earth. From time to time, we do activity books (50 states), play geography games, and put together puzzles (this one is very hard!)
We also play geography games. In Geography ABCs, we find a country (or state) for each letter of the alphabet. How far is… is played with a ruler and a calculator. We measure distances between places and try to figure out how far it is and how long it’s going to take us to get there. Finally, we play States Bingo, which is suitable for even very young kids.
We do lots of sports every day. I have kids who are on a gymnastics team, swimming team, and I have two kids in martial arts. We are always active, walking our dog, running, playing badminton in the backyard, or having pull-up competitions in the basement. The activity we fall back to if we feel uninspired is my fitness app. Fifteen minutes of family fitness on a rainy day goes a long way to keep crankiness away.
My kids are learning Russian and French with Rosetta Stone, and we also did a few levels of Spanish with Foreign Languages for Kids.
Civics & Economics
I make a list of topics by using books like 180 Days of Social Studies. Then I smoothly integrate them into our lives. For example, when the topic was Constitution, we read We the Kids (really good book, check it out!), and then we asked questions to make them think about the topic: Why do you think the Constitution was written? What rights do you want to have? Why do you think the Constitution begins with “we the people”? What material was the first Constitution written on? If you wanted to add a new rule to our family’s rules, how could you make everyone agree to it?
We finished the Handwriting Without Tears cursive books, and now we’ve started new ones we bought from Oak Meadow.
We also do lots of Cooking (with cookbooks and kits), coding (Bitxbox), and my version of Mindset & mindfulness training.
My six-year-old is involved in many of the lessons his older siblings do. For his age, we do a mix of Oak Meadow, Christopher’s, Hooked on Phonics reading curriculum, and CTC math. He loves to move, and that’s why he does karate, swimming, and gymnastics. He is also learning how to play the piano.
Learning at this stage is about fun. I have a rotating schedule of sensory and hands-on activities to incorporate into our week. I use a lot of Waldorf and Montessori ideas I’ve learned over the years of homeschooling my older kids.
We have lots of educational toys for her age—blocks, puzzles, wooden stacking toys, etc. Since she loves to play “school,” I also have a huge pile of coloring and activity books that I whip out when she’s in the mood to do “school.”
I hope our resources inspire you and I would love to hear how you get on.
Looking for more curriculum inspiration? Check out Back-to-School Blop Hop!