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When I was pregnant with Liam over a decade ago, I walked into a local baby store planning to itemize a few things we would need. I had expected the process to be easy. I would enter the store, write down a few favorite items, and leave. Instead, I was paralyzed. In each category from breast pumps and bottles to monitors and carriers, I discovered several options, each touting some award they had won or the latest technology or the best safety ratings. Overwhelmed, I promptly turned and left the store. I had no idea what I needed.

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I felt similarly when I first entered the word of homeschooling and had to begin choosing curriculum. The vast variety of options and styles buried me. Really, I get it. Curriculum varies because homeschoolers vary. We all have different goals and styles, but when you’re first beginning, it can be too much, even enough to send you packing out door. It’s one of the reasons I have tried (sporadically) to share the resources I use here, to give you an idea of what we use and how we use it. Before I continue, let me first tell you: you don’t need to outfit a full classroom to begin homeschooling. Over the years, we have accumulated a library worth of books from used book stores and gifts, but we began with a very small cabinet containing art supplies, reading and math curriculum, handwriting paper, and a chalkboard wall. It can be that simple. What I share below is in the context of my own children who now run the breadth of grammar school–Olive (age five, Kindergarten) to Liam (age 10, 5th grade). To save money, I have bought several gently used curriculums via homeschool classifieds (craigslist for homeschoolers) and also keep my ears open for local book fairs, especially the ones where parents have tables to see curriculum they are finished using. I also try to keep a mental tab of supplies we need and list them on our chalkboard wall, so when family or friends ask about birthday or Christmas gifts, I can refer to it. These are helpful tips because if you haven’t noticed yet, the tab to homeschool can rise as quickly as baby necessities (which every parent knows you don’t always need anyway).

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With that said, using curriculum offered me a concrete point of reference, a stepping stone into confidence as a home-educator. Over the years, I have learned how to teach complex math and grammar concepts to my children, how to correctly pronounce letters or organize them to spell a word. I have learned about the elements of shape and the parallel histories of different religions and cultures. Although I leaned heavily on teacher guides with my oldest, I do less now for my younger ones, using what I have learned to lead or direct our days. I have a very eclectic approach to education. I began staunchly in the classical camp and have over time borrowed methodologies from Charlotte Mason, Maria Montessori, and even a bit of Waldorf. This is the glory of home-education: it will and can change shape in different seasons of life. We currently rely heavily on what Charlotte Mason referred to as “living books,” books that teach you through interesting narration, like the Burgess Bird Book or the Story of the World (see more book ideas via Ambleside). Inspired by classical education, I memorize tons of facts, poetry, and Bible scripture alongside my children each year using Classical Conversations curriculum. We use several different types of manipulatives (concrete things that represent abstract concepts) whenever possible as Maria Montessori encouraged. We do limit our technology usage, which is becoming more and more difficult as my kids get older–let’s talk more about this another day–and try to spend as much time as possible outdoors when it’s not August in Texas. (wink.)

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Since I regularly get questions about the curriculums/books we use each year, I thought I mights share a few with you here. I hope you see this list in the context above. Honestly, there are several wonderful choices out there. This is currently where we are:

READING // When my boys were learning to read, I used Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. This reading program was both economical and easy to use without planning. The first 20 lessons or so are quite simple and give the child a sense of progression and accomplishment. Although it does teach phonetics, it’s not in the linear approach most reading lessons use. It trains the child to read with the phonetic symbols, which can sometimes be confusing for parents. It is a great program, and more importantly, it works! With my busy-bee daughters, I switched to All About Reading, which complemented the spelling program we were already using and gave them color sheet or cut-and-paste activities with each lesson. They love it. The program uses a mixture of memorization of phonograms, pre-made activities (your child can cut and paste), and leveled readers. The downside of AAR is it’s a tad expensive, as you have to buy each level as they progress (on average one level per year). Also, for children (or parents) who don’t enjoy pre-made activities, you may find this curriculum cumbersome.

MATH // Saxon (if you’re interested in Saxon curriculum and are new to it, here’s a brief Saxon placement test to know which level to begin with). Right now Saxon is 20%off here. We began with Saxon after it was recommended to us several times in the beginning. We switched to Teaching Textbooks for a year, which was easier for me (and a really fun curriculum), but I realized I didn’t keep as close an eye on where my son was, meaning I didn’t know how to review the concept in the same way TT did. We switched back to Saxon the next year. Other recommendations: MathUSee

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SPELLING // All About Spelling (Blythe). This program is multi-sensory and wonderful for younger spellers, but can become tedious for older children. I’m using Phoentic Zoo this year for both of my boys. It’s an auditory approach to spelling and begins with older elementary age students. They have a placement test also if you’re interested and unsure where to begin.

HISTORY // I have used the Story of the World for years and love it. More importantly, the kids love it. We have learned so much, even though we’ve progressed slowly through the four volumes. I love the curriculum’s flexibility for ages and time. You can easily adapt it to your family’s needs or just listen the audio. You can read more of how our family uses this curriculum over here.

Processed with VSCOcam with t1 presetSCIENCE // We have never used a formal science curriculum. Instead we read tons of library books, create occasional experiments, and take plenty of nature walks, especially in the cooler seasons. Several years ago, my in-laws gave our kids these Character Sketches, read-a-loud nature studies/stories that teach a Biblical principal and where that principal is illustrated in nature. This is fairly conservative curriculum and directs a lot of teacher direction to the father, which would be ideal but doesn’t always work in our family homeschool routine. Just so you know. (Wink.)

HANDWRITING + KEYBOARDING // I’ve used Handwriting Without Tears from the beginning at the advice of a dear friend who is also an Occupational Therapist, and I’m so grateful. I love it for so many reasons and have included it in several of my preschool posts. If you’re interested in HWT and want some ideas of where to begin, I wrote out what you’ll need here. Also, HWT introduced a new keyboarding program this year I plan to try. I’ll let you know how that goes.

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ENGLISH GRAMMAR // In the early elementary years, I have used First Language Lessons and at other time they have simply memorized parts of speech, lists of prepositions and irregular verbs via Classical Conversations’ curriculum. I’ve also led an English grammar and writing class, called Essentials, through a local chapter of Classical Conversations for the last four years. This year our family is taking a break to give some room in our budget and routine. I plan to use the grammar curriculum with both of my boys still this year because I’m so familiar with it. Unfortunately, it’s such an intense and differently structured program, so CC prefers you’re apart of a campus to use it.

WRITING // In the early elementary years, once they can easily write their letters, my children do tons of copywriting and dictation. Sometimes I have used a formal curriculum like Writing With Ease, but in recent years have leaned more toward pulling sentences out of our current read-a-loud or a recently read poem. The kids often practice dictation with their independent reading (having to summarize what they read in a chapter) or during our history reading. This year, the boys and I will use one of the Institute for Excellence in Writing‘s Theme-based writing, most likely this one.

THE ARTS // I’ve always admired artists and really try to encourage my children’s natural love to doodle and explore color and form. This is perhaps the hardest area to cover on a budget, since most art, music, dance lessons can be expensive. If you have something to barter I recommend trying to do so. If you want to introduce your children to these areas yourself, here are some of my favorite resources: Drawing With Children, The Story of the Orchestra, Can You Hear It? A Child’s Introduction to Ballet, A Child’s Introduction to Poetry, Discovering the Great Artists, and this series of piano books.

Now to go and organize our school area. Here’s a preview just above. More images coming soon. ;)

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In every case, the remedy is to take action. Get clear about exactly what it is that you need to learn and exactly what you need to do to learn it.
– Miguel de Cervantes

When I first stumbled into homeschooling, my dear friend Amy introduced me to Handwriting Without Tears’ products and songs, something she had used for years working as an OT in local elementary schools. I’m forever grateful as it has provided a common thread for all of my children to share and has taught me how to teach my children handwriting. Naturally, I now want to pass on these tools we’ve loved so much to help other young homeschooling families on their own journeys. That said,  I know the HWT website can be difficult to sort through. So instead of just referencing the sources, I’ve shown the real products we’ve used (and enjoyed) in our home the last five years with the appropriate links for the website. In our home, I store all of the non-jarred items in the top section of the photo in that clear plastic bin (from IKEA); this makes for quick access during our mornings and easy storage when we put it away. The bin also helps make the tools more portable to grab if we’re heading out-of-town or more likely — to the backyard.

{things to note}

+ I forgot to include the I Know my Numbers booklet Blythe is coloring in the first picture. This give kids extra work with writing and understanding numbers.

+ The HWT crayons and chalk bits are not necessary, as you could use alternative ones from a store. Their tiny size and the double-sided crayon is what makes those products unique.

+ They also make Touch & Flip alphabet cards (not pictured or linked because I already had sandpaper letters).

+ The teacher’s guide has changed since I purchased my own, so the picture in the link won’t match the image above.

+ If you can’t afford to buy everything at once, start with the wood pieces, laminated wood piece cards, chalkboard, Mat Man book, and the student book. I often make copies of the student book, so they can work on a letter more than one day.

+ Pay attention to the videos on the product pages. Each one will give you a sample lesson using that particular product — so helpful if you have no experience using this curriculum.

Good luck!

homeschooling

Have I mentioned I’m a daydreamer? I know, a daydreaming homeschooler is such a cliche, but truly, words, pictures, ideas — they stir regularly in the space between my ears in such a way that I often have to will myself to be present, to be all here. And I do, only sometimes better than others. I see how this rich inner-life complements and enriches our home-education journey with the kids, dousing it with spontaneity and creativity and the love of learning, but often I find myself losing blocks of time, unprepared to succinctly move from one location to another. Sigh. When we have to be somewhere, it’s as though twenty minutes seems to vanish altogether — have I not learned anything about how long it takes to load kids [with shoes on and teeth brushed and water bottles or snacks on hand] into a car in almost a decade of parenting? Sigh.

Aware of all of my logistical “blind-spots,” I lean heavily on weekly planning during the weekend, doing my best to prepare for our many daily transitions and pitfalls, but I still have not successfully mastered the exit strategy. Double sigh. And yet, as the kids are getting older, we’re leaving the house more often, taking our work with us on the road, to the park, to the gym, etc. In effort to make our homeschooling more flexible in this way, I’ve reverted to diaper bag mentality. You know, everything you always need waiting for you in a bag neatly by the door so you don’t have to run through a list in the exact moment you try to exit. Only this time, I don’t have to think about diapers or pacifiers or bibs (success!). I’m sure none of you know what I’m talking about, but just in case, I thought I would share some of  the essentials in our homeschooling non-diaper bags:

1. tote or backback for each child ( I love the modern assortment from bagged + loaded) with the below inside

2. giant envelope to insert math or handwriting worksheets or coloring/cutting pages for Olive

3. stickers (non-essential, just fun and inexpensive)

4. water bottle (after it’s cleaned it gets returned to the bag, waiting for the next outing)

5. pencil pouch with pencils

6. colored pencils with sharpener (They won’t melt in the car like crayons or dry up like markers)

7. large sketchbook to double for coloring/sketching or a hard surface for writing. (There’s also a large pocket inside to hold stickers or papers.

Good luck, and happy outings to you!