What I Use for Curriculum

I’ve been asked by a Facebook friend what I use for my kids, and how much it costs. After fiddling with Facebook’s chat system, I decided it would be easier to answer here, where I can have headings and make real links.

First Things

I am heavily influenced by Charlotte Mason (here, here, and here for some online information). I think checking your library for “For the Children’s Sake“, “A Charlotte Mason Education“, or “A Charlotte Mason Companion” would be a smoother introduction to a woman who wrote 6 books on education!  I’m also inspired by the classical education talked about at Circe (Mimetic Teaching, and almost anything by Kern, is good to listen to; there are more here ). I’m rejecting the one-size, assembly line education, and striving to keep beauty and wonder before my children. I want them outside, enjoying nature. I want them reading uplifting stories and biographies of great people. I don’t want our homeschool to be “sit down, don’t talk, get your worksheet done”.

It’s actually funny to write this post now. We are easing back into school after our 3 week vacation, and it’s been s*l*o*w getting back into the groove. We did almost zero sit-down school on vacation. Of course we learned about the desert, learned camping & nature skills, visited museums & parks, hiked, saw new animals, read about ancient peoples & saw how they lived, went to a hot springs, saw cool statutes (Romans! yay!) & displays (pirates & sirens) in Las Vegas, listened to several fairy tales & a dramatized retelling of the Pilgrim’s Progress, made a lean-to, worked on swimming, read a few chapters of The Hobbit, and got a tan. So we learned a lot, but not in a “traditional” school fashion. All that to say I feel like a hypocrite, saying ‘we do this’, when we haven’t done it for a month.

But I still have to answer the question.


For math we use MEP, a free program from the UK. I like how it teaches kids to really think about numbers, and not just compute. I mainly use the lesson plans (on my tablet, but I used to print them – yuck!) and the practice book (1 page per lesson). This blogger has some great posts on MEP.

MEP is teacher intensive, so if we are in a busy season I use Math Mammoth. You have to print it as well, but the little books are very inexpensive & everything is on the student page (I like simple).  I’ve also used Math Mammoth to fill in gaps in place value or subtraction with regrouping.

English / Language

For reading and spelling we use Spell to Write and Read. It’s very complete, and my eldest son, Jonathan, needed it. It’s overkill for some kids in my opinion (like David, who uses it because he likes having a spelling list to play games on Spelling City – which is free). I’m using it with Andrew because I’m used to its methods.

We attack writing from both sides: having something to say & the process of writing down words. For the first we do narration, and for the second, copywork (I started with Penny Gardener’s book).  I’m really working with the boys to have nice handwriting, because we are going to start writing letters to their great-grandmothers. We do copywork & narration daily, and spelling on most days. The following programs are used 2-3 times a week.

We use Emma Serl’s Primary Language Lessons (2nd-3rd) and Intermediate Language Lessons (4th-6th), which cover a wide range of English skills, including composition, grammar, and usage. You can read Serl’s books free online, I bought the hardcover versions used on Amazon, and we tend to do a lot of the work orally. I am going to try having Jonathan type his answers next week. (He really does learn better if he does something with his hands, like copy/draw/write. If typing works out he can learn computer skills while learning composition.)

Jonathan has recently started dictation. We are doing it three times a week, and I want to switch this to typing as well. You can do dictation for free, but I decided for $15 over 2 years times 4 kids, I’d take the easy way. David is reviewing touch typing with Dance Mat (free), and I’ll drop Spell to Write & Read next year for him when he starts dictation.

We also do Latin and use Getting Started with Latin (best book to start with – short, simple, inexpensive) and First Form Latin (for Jonathan, I like how it makes him think, and he remembers things better when he writes them down). I mention Latin because we don’t do heavy grammar or any vocabulary work – you learn a lot of grammar with Latin. (For modern languages, we watch Spanish videos [SALSA, KnowItAll], and I’d like to add more Spanish next year. But it doesn’t teach you like Latin does.)

I am testing out the McGuffey readers, as I notice the boys need to work on enunciation. I want to use KISS Grammar (hint: choose a “level” first, then under that level, choose a “grade” so the sentences will be appropriate/interesting for your child), but haven’t nailed down how (independently or do it as a group). These would be 2-3 times a week as well.

(Almost) Everything Else

For almost everything else – we read. I use books from Ambleside Online as our base. I assign their biography, geography, literature, natural history and science selections for individual reading. I use their hymn, folksong, nature study, artist, and composer rotations for group work. (We aren’t very good about the last two yet, but are working on it.) I choose from their poets, and we enjoy those as a group as well — currently A.A. Milne and Alfred Lord Tennyson. And we read books together too. (Right now I alternate between Hatchet and At the Back of the North Wind; Kevin chooses a chapter from Fifty Famous People when he does bedtime reading.)

I also like this list (look at the literature selections), and many of these are on Librivox. I LOVE Librivox, with the kids understanding more than they can physically read with their eyes (especially with the older classics), Librivox bridges the gap and saves me time. I’ve heard from several homeschoolers that having the child follow the words while listening to the audio is good for reading fluency as well. We also memorize poetry (again, you don’t need a program, but it makes little kids more independent to have the audio) and scripture. This (also here) is my aspiration for our group learning. (She also wrote this and this, which I love as well.)

I like Charlotte Mason Help’s personal devotion selections, and Milestones Academy has a lot of good ideas as well (drawing, financial knowledge, foreign language, Plutarch & Shakespeare), though she seems to be rearranging the site, sometimes leading to blank pages. There are so many good ideas online, the problem isn’t finding them, it’s not becoming overwhelmed.

Hands-On Stuff

We spend time outdoors – walking, fishing, playing, or even sitting & watching. We draw, paint, and play music (we have a piano and several recorders). I have Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding, which I’m trying to use more consistently. The kids do some woodwork/carpentry with their Dad, and we will be doing Leatherwork in 4-H, when I actually buy the book… (it’s on my errands list).

What does it cost? 

Very little – I try to time major buying with my tax refund, and I pick up good deals on books year round. Math is free for printing, and I have a B&W Laser Jet (with off-brand toner). I’ve spent more on English, but if I had to I could teach for free to the younger boys. (I needed it for Jonathan, the boy has struggled on every step of reading. I don’t know if he is dyslexic, but I know no part of it is natural for him.) I haunt used book stores when I get a chance, and trade in books I don’t need for children’s classics & language books. I finally joined the digital age, and am using both a tablet and an ereader. They make using PDFs and public domain books a breeze. They also make it so I don’t have to print the lesson plans for MEP – I can use them from the tablet. I decided to move to the ereader when I totaled the cost of hardcopy books that are available free (on google books or amazon kindle) and found the ereader would pay for itself in one year.

I tend to avoid any programs requiring consumable workbooks that aren’t available as a PDF (First Form Latin is an exception). I think homeschool costs (except learning challenges/disabilities) are very controllable, especially with access to the internet or a good library.

I’ll try to be more exact. Last year I averaged $20/month on Amazon for books, but not all of them were for the boys’ school, AND we restarted Ambleside Online, so I had to buy books at 2 levels (I had all of Andrew’s), whereas in the future I’ll only need to buy for my eldest child. (The local books I almost always trade for, but they would be sub-$5 online with shipping.) This year, since I have the ereader, I expect to spend far less on books. Of course, I bought a balance beam for science and need to buy a microscope, so that can drive up costs, but it’s still not a true need.

My Main Sources of Information 

  • The Well Trained Mind forum. Just be careful and hold onto your wallet – this is a great place to ask about curriculum, but it’s also full of people who love certain programs and will tell you how great they are, which you may not need but may sound really cool.
  • Ambleside Online forums. You need to sign up to read (for privacy I assume). They are starting a study group on Charlotte Mason’s Twenty Principles, which I plan to participate in.
  • Lots of blogs – some are linked in this post, and many others linked from the signatures of the above forum participants. Just remember that 90% (myself included) don’t get everything they talk about done every day/week. We all have cars that break, dogs that get loose, computers that refuse to boot, and kids that get sick. Real life with murphy’s law in full force. 

Someday I’ll do a “real day” post. But not today. Since it’s 11 o’clock, we stayed up late last night, we have a house guest, Kevin didn’t go to work until 10, and I haven’t eaten breakfast (no worries, Kevin fed the kids).

In Conclusion … 

I hope this is not completely overwhelming. I’ve been doing this for years, stumbling along, and I like to think I’ve learned something. And I’ve learned there is a lot I don’t know.

I’ve been interrupted a gazillion times this morning, and this post isn’t as polished as I’d like. I did reread it, and it seems to make sense. Haha!

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