Quick Curriculum Reviews

I’ve had a few people ask me about what curriculum we use / have used, so I thought I’d give some casual thoughts on our experience with homeschool curriculum so far. Every curriculum has strengths and weaknesses, and some things that fit for our family will tank with yours (and vice versa). So here are my thoughts for what they’re worth.

Five in a Row / Before Five In a Row (for Z’s preK): This is a really “Classic” curriculum–it has been around a long time and meshes well with Charlotte Mason ideals. The teacher’s guide has a list of books you read aloud to your child for 5 days in a row. Each day you talk about a different aspect of the book–the artwork, social studies, cultural references, even math and science. You can also do activities with the book–like bake a pie or have a Japanese style dinner. So its sort of like a bunch of unit studies on excellent children’s picture books. We really enjoyed this curriculum, and I plan to use it for PreK and Kindergarten years for all my kids, since its so gentle and fun. I bought a used teacher’s guide and borrowed most of the books from the library / bought a few we really loved–overall fairly inexpensive. I think it is ideal for ages 3-6. 

All About Reading (for Z’s K): This is a reading program I bought for Z after she was “struggling” with reading in Kindergarten (this was a total rookie homeschooling mom mistake to push reading before she was really ready–I would’ve spared myself a lot of worry if I’d given her an extra year). Nevertheless, I like that it has a lot of games, hands-on activities, and approaches reading from multiple angles. I actually bought AAR1 and AAR2, but by the time she was in AAR2, she had completely taken off with her reading and now devours novels that are grades and grades above her “level.” I remember feeling like this was a little expensive; they have it for all age levels. I plan to use this for lightly for W’s K year, and for any future children I have that are interested in starting reading in their K year.

Ambleside Online (for Z’s K): AO is free! and beautifully Charlotte Mason. I did this with Z’s K (with J listening in), and read them lovely books. I found a schedule another mom had created online and used that instead of creating my own–basically a free instructor’s guide–and it worked really well. A few of the readings were a little intense for Z for her K year–like the Vikings book had some beheadings and burnings-alive, so we skipped it. I decided not to stick with this curriculum though because I felt overwhelmed with the idea of having to try to combine years on my own–with us having four kids, another on the way–and Sonlight combines ages for you. Sonlight and AO are very similar in my opinion–lots of great books. AO is as cheap as free, and can be used for any age. If we have a year where Sonlight just isn’t affordable for us, I’d go back to AO.

Playful Pioneers(used for J’s K and Z’s 2nd): Another Charlotte Mason based curriculum this one is based entirely on The Little House on the Prairie series, like a giant unit study. You read through the books with your kids and do activities based on the books, incorporating art, handicrafts, handwriting, reading, baking. I did a separate curriculum for math (Math U See). A lot of the activities were based on sunny California weather and didn’t work for us–like looking for ladybugs outside was an assignment, but we had snow that day. I think we should have had another handwriting curriculum and science curriculum in addition to this one, since I was using it for Z’s 2nd grade year. However, if I were just using this for K, I wouldn’t add much to it at all.

This was a transition year for us. I wanted to wait another year to buy a curriculum that I plan to stick with for all the kids, all the way up, and I was torn between My Father’s World and Sonlight. Financially and for my own teaching sanity, I would like to stick with a single curriculum and improvise on it to suit each child, rather than switching curriculum every year or so.  The website says this works for up to 3rd grade, but personally I think it’s perfect for ages 4-6, K – 2nd years.

Math U See (for J and Z, K – 3rd so far): I like that MUS has a video in case I’m bad at explaining a concept, has manipulatives, and worksheets–I don’t make the girls complete a ton of the worksheets, just enough to make sure they get a concept. Since this has worked well, we don’t plan on changing it.

Life of Fred (for J and Z, sporadically): I’ve borrowed a few of these books from my sister-in-law, and they are fun and hilarious. I wouldn’t consider this a full math program, but it is a nice little supplement. Eventually I need to buy these for our own.

Handwriting Without Tears (for J and Z, K-3rd): My girls handwriting improved 100% when we started this curriculum with our Sonlight curriculum this year. I had been doing mostly copy work to teach them before. If anything, I wish we’d started this at 1st for Z.

Sonlight (used for J’s 1st and Z’s 3rd): We did Sonlight this year for the first time and plan to use it again next year. I love that it has excellent books, a complete open-and-go guide for each day, and is easy to combine grades. Z and J did the same Bible/History/Science, but had their own Literature/Reading/Math/Handwriting.  There were only two books we abandoned–one fiction book on bullying Z was supposed to read but didn’t like and one on a missionary that I was supposed to read aloud but was hopelessly boring. The rest of the books we loved! And I liked how they tied in our read alouds with our history or science.

Their bible book wasn’t as good as some we already owned (we substituted it with The Ology) and their scripture reading for each day was sporadic, so we replaced it with our family reading through Matthew together. The girls really liked their scripture memory songs, and I added in hymn singing and catechism in our morning routine.

Science reminded me of science I did as a kid, so maybe its Abeka-ish, I don’t know. The reading was interesting, science projects accomplishable for the STEM-challenged (ME!).

History was excellent–we used a combination of books, switching between readings, which kept everything alive and multi-faceted. We also kept a timeline (and I added the girls birthdates into it, so they could see how far away we are from Roman times, etc!).

I think Sonlight of course can work for younger grades, but I plan to use it 1st and up for my kids. The major downside is that Sonlight is expensive, probably the most expensive curriculum I looked at. However, with all the books you get, it isn’t necessarily over-priced–I figure that if I use it for 4+ children, then I’ve absolutely gotten my money’s worth, and the books are worth owning either way. You can find Sonlight used too, but I’ve bought new since I hope to use it for a lot of kiddos.

So those are my curriculum experiences in the past few years I’ve been homeschooling. If you have any questions, feel free to comment / email / message me!


name the 50 states.

“We have confused real intelligence with rote memory. We think the 4 y.o.child who can write and recite the alphabet, count to one thousand, name the 50 states, all the continents and the oceans is somehow further ahead of his peers. We especially think this is better than the child who cannot do these things, but who can and does play in mud puddles, create rope traps to ensnare passing siblings, build elaborate block castles, and who can enjoy sitting and watching ants around an ant-hill for an hour or more. We are wrong.

The child who squanders, or has squandered for her, her `play’ years can never gain them back completely. The play that occurs in the early years is invaluable, and it cannot be replaced by pen and paperwork.”

i almost bought homeschool books to start with susan this summer, but “buy homeschool books?” has kept getting moved down and down, from day to day, and week to week, on my to-do list and we just keep going to the library instead and singing hymns and playing in the grass and mud and i just don’t think it is going to happen. and of course, there’s always someone on the internet to support whatever you do, so here you go, The Link..

if you are a Charlotte Mason devotee, school starts at 6, not 4.5years old, and so now i am wondering, what is the rush? i can’t say “pressure” really because i don’t feel too pressured, though maybe i will next year when her buddies go to “real school”–i don’t know if pressure bothers me much anyway, i do have a degree in poetry which is not THE wisest thing to do–so i guess a lot of it is pride, i’ll be honest, seeing Tangible Proof of how smart my kid is. though how smart they are has not very much to do with me in the first place, now does it?

so i’m thinking maybe another year of not-picking-up-pencils (except for drawing time, right?) and not tracing letters and not doing worksheets and instead trying to spot the woodpecker drumming into our maple trees in the front yard and figuring out what words sound pretty together (“paw patrol cup” is z’s current favorite). i guess the lure of starting curriculum now is that i would have that “stamp of approval” i’m always desiring–people could see us succeed, could see that what we’re doing is working and approve of it. it’s a lot harder to show fruit from the hours of sunshine and digging in the sand. well the fruit looks like mosquito bites and outside-sweaty-smell.

so, more of that, let’s do a lot more of that.

march homeschool

Hymn: What Wondrous Love Is This and Nothin But the Blood
Music: Beethoven
Bible:  Jesus Storybook Bible
Chapter Book: Ralph S. Mouse by Beverely Cleary
Poetry: A Child’s Anthology of Poetry (we finally finished this one. what next?)
Habit Training:
 please / thanks
Pre-Reading: talking about letter sounds
Art: play-doh, free painting, coloring. Also studying paintings by Matisse