By far, the number one question I get asked about homeschooling is what I use for curriculum. It’s not an easily answered question, so I’m writing it all up here. Given the current state of things, I thought some folks might find it relevant.
This is what I use, not how I use it—that could be a whole ‘nother monster-long post. This isn’t exhaustive; much of what I do with Wanda is fun little one-offs, like hatching butterflies or planting seeds. Some of this list is formal curriculum, a lot of it is less-formal resources. I’m forever tinkering with it, but this is where it stands today. My first stop for researching curriculum and general homeschooling questions is Secular, Eclectic, Academic (SEA) Homeschoolers on Facebook.
Wanda is in the first grade, and I’ve tailored her education to her particular needs. I’ve just now excised a long paragraph that went into more detail about her needs than I’m comfortable sharing. Suffice it to say: homeschooling is working extraordinarily well for us, and I *so* want to travel back in time a year and reassure myself that it’s all going to turn out way better than okay. If you ask Wanda what she likes best about homeschooling, she’ll tell you it’s that she’s finally able to do work at the right level, and learn something.
This is what works for us; we are just one family with just one kid. Our other homeschooling friends have very different-looking days. Many are “unschoolers” who find learning in organically going after passions and through the quotidian details of life. Some use all-in-one-box curriculum programs. Many do a mix of approaches. I can tell you that in the past year I’ve met a large number of diverse homeschooled kids, and dang if they aren’t fantastic, bright, engaging kids. Whatever the parents are doing, they’re churning out solid humans.
There are only a few of these subjects we do every single day: math, some flavor of language arts, news, PE, reading. Other things happen a couple-few times a week, or once a week, or once a month, whenever it feels like it fits.
This curriculum is designed for kids who might otherwise cruise through math. Instead of advancing up the ladder of math concepts quickly, it goes slower and adds some extra challenge though puzzle-based complexity. It develops a solid foundation of mathematical understanding and a playful number sense, and also doubles as growth mindset work. In short, kids like this don’t need to learn math, they need to learn how to handle being stuck, and Beast Academy gets them stuck on purpose but keeps it engaging and fun. Math is Wanda’s favorite subject, and she’d do it for hours (and fry her brain in the process) if I didn’t help her shift to something else. We started at level 2 last year, we’re now almost 1/4 through level 3.
Logic of English
This is an Orton-Gillingham-based phonics curriculum, we’re using it to learn about the structure of words, mainly for spelling. Wanda taught herself to read at 4, so this program is largely overkill and we’re skipping about 2/3rds of it, but I like what we’re getting out of it. I stopped using LOE for a while because neither of us were loving it, but then Wanda asked to start doing it again, so we’ve brought it back and now we’ve found our groove. We started at Foundations B last year, now halfway through Foundations C.
Michael Clay Thompson Language Arts
This is where we learn about words as parts of speech and beyond: grammar, vocabulary, poetry, and how to construct powerful written language to share ideas effectively. Wanda is starting to love the MCT curriculum more and more. We just started the Island level a couple of months ago.
We’re reading alllllll the time, with a lot of variety. Much of it touches on science, history, geography, cultures, etc. We take plenty of pauses to talk about what we’re reading: the place and time a story takes place, the meaning of a new word, the characters’ motivations and feelings, what we think might happen next. Wanda also does a lot of independent reading.
HANDWRITING & TYPING
Handwriting Without Tears
We really struggled to find the way to keep this from being drudgery, but she’s become much stronger in her handwriting and now she looks forward to it (we still do it sparingly).
Write & Wipe handwriting practice book
Great for quick reinforcing of good habits.
Wanda thinks of this as a bit of a treat to get to do, my sweet little weirdo.
Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding
LOVE this curriculum. It seems to be the curriculum of choice for scientists who homeschool. It covers biology, physics, chemistry, earth sciences, engineering, and slowly builds a deep understanding of how they’re all connected and how the world works. It has experiments, but it’s more focused on gently guiding kids to make observations and wonder aloud about how things work and why things are the way they are, so that the experiments are driven by their own curiosity rather than a grown-up attempting to fizz-pow dazzle them into interest. We’re about halfway through the first level, meant to cover K-2.
Following random questions
If Wanda has a question about something, if at all possible we drop everything to dive into it. I guide her through honing her question based on what she already knows, considering how she can research the answer, and then summarizing what she learned. Her questions are always about science, and her curiosity usually goes all the way to wanting to understand why something is the way it is, so we wind up talking about evolution and adaptations A LOT. Like, I don’t know what the no-evolution weirdos do with all the extra time. Recent questions from Wanda have included: “Why can I see my veins but not my arteries? If I’m made up of half Mom’s genes and half Dad’s genes, why are my fingerprints different from both of them? If there’s a CO2 (carbon dioxide), is there a CO and a CO3? How do cats perceive the world?”
Science Comics & Human Body Theater
Great book series, can’t say enough good things about how they’ve fostered Wanda’s understanding.
YouTube & science shows
I proceed with great caution with these, but there’s no shortage of videos, and the visuals they’re able to provide often deepen understanding or inspire deeper questions. Also provides an opportunity to talk about considering the source of the information, comparing the quality of different information sources, and noticing and handling conflicting information and oversimplifications.
Wanda has a making space where she’s got a supply of cardboard, fasteners, rubber bands, etc. for building random machines and contraptions.
Big Life has a few products: a journal, sets of printables, and a podcast. We use all three, and get the most traction out of the printables. Specifically there is a A-Z of growth mindset behaviors to practice, we keep it posted on our wall and we pause often to celebrate when we’ve been using them, and to notice which ones might have helped us when something went south. Especially gets a workout during math.
We’ve done a lot of learning about how the brain works, especially how it strengthens through repeated use. There are many resources I’ve used for this, but most helpful has been an analogy about learning how to do something new being like making a path through a forest in your brain. The first time you do something, it’s very hard: you’re hacking your way slowly through dense forest. The next time you try, it’s slightly easier, there’s a bit of a path. Through repeated efforts, you turn that path into a dirt road, then gravel, then it’s paved, and eventually it becomes a superhighway—but only with a lot of effort. We recognize every step of the way as a big success, and we celebrate the failures that are building that pathway through our forest. We recognize that when we’ve become good at something, it’s because it took a lot of effort, it didn’t happen automatically. Something coming easily isn’t impressive, it’s working for the hard things that’s impressive.
Cable news is effing garbage IMO, but this 10-minute daily news program for kids is pretty well done and gives Wanda a dose of what’s going on in the wider world. Often prompts discussion about how to be a good citizen.
Wanda is included in the whole voting process whenever I vote, including research on each issue, meaningful discussion of pros & cons, going to the polling place, and watching the results come in.
Wanda sometimes comes up with ways she wants to spread kindness in our community, and we try to make that happen.
GEOGRAPHY & CULTURES
Globes & maps
We have a great big wall map of the world, and three globes in different sizes, two political and one relief. Wanda will often run to go get our favorite globe to find the location of a spot we’re reading about. We use the globes often in our science talks and our reading.
A Child’s Introduction to the World
Great little book, not a whole curriculum, but I’m using it as if it were, reading a few pages at a time. First half of the book talks about Earth’s place in space, and introduces map and globe concepts, how to read & use them. Second half of the book goes through the whole world region-by-region.
I’ve created this fictional airline, we use it to study countries and states. Wanda is given Acorn Airlines boarding passes and a passport, and she “boards” small chairs in the living room, where I play a jet take-off sound. I serve juice and pretzels on a TV tray, and then show her a presentation I’ve prepared on an iPad, usually about 15-20 slides, no bullet points, just high-quality images, while I tell her about the country. I include a sample of the language, show where the country is on a map of its continent, usually show photos of a major city and a small town, show some of the natural terrain, talk about the climate, talk about the culture and traditions, the food, the music, particular features the country is well-known for, and sometimes touch on some of the country’s history. We then spend some time doing activities based on that country: doing a craft activity, some art, making some food, listening to music, watching a show or movie. She later fills in a passport page, by writing the country, some details about it, coloring it in on a map, and coloring its flag. It is entirely BONKERS that I do this, it’s a lot of overhead.
Stack the States & Stack the Countries
iPad apps that teach geography, they’re surprisingly effective, Wanda can label all of the states on a blank US map without pausing to even think now.
History is HARD
I haven’t loved the history curricula I’ve reviewed. It’s much-improved over what was used when we were kids, but nothing is a slam-dunk. I try to collect diverse resources from the library. As we talk about history, we spend a lot of time noticing what voices are missing, who had power and who didn’t, and try to figure out how we can surface the stories and experiences of the less powerful. Ancient Egypt is great for pointing out the connection between having power and having a story that lasts through time, and thinking about our responsibility to try to correct that. History reading has to include lots of pauses to point out how a simple turn of phrase can sideline whole groups of humans. For instance, it’s not uncommon to come across text like “people started coming to America from Spain and from England, and eventually other countries, though not everyone came to America voluntarily,” and then breezily continue on. WHOA, HOLD ON, WE’RE GONNA TALK ABOUT THAT. We’re not going to let the enslavement of human beings slide by as an afterthought, and continue sidelining them. We’re going to stop now and truly include the African experience in America. And we’re going to ask what the indigenous people thought of all this. I don’t care only about the people who carved out the most power, I care about all the people who were there and alive and trying to make a meaningful life. It takes a lot of careful, critical reading and supplementing.
What Your [Kindergartener, First Grader, etc.] Needs to Know
This book series was produced by a group that was attempting (and had some success, maybe, I think?) developing standards for schools to use across all subjects and grade levels. They cover all major subjects, not just history. They’re inexpensive, and good for a gut-check that we aren’t leaving any big gaps in her learning. I’m loosely looking at the history covered here and using it as a starting point. It’s helpful to see an approximation of what is getting taught in schools, so I can make sure similar terrain is covered.
Vincent’s Starry Night
This is a book of short historical vignettes centering on 68 artists, going in chronological order from early man to Ai Weiwei.
I have a timeline in a binder, I’ve been bad about updating it, but it gives Wanda a visual sense of the scale of time.
- Wanda doodles quite a bit, and is increasingly inspired to create art based on her other lessons. I encourage that.
- She has an entire art cart full of supplies she can access at any time, and we often do watercolor painting together.
- Vincent’s Starry Night (as seen in the History section)
Rich handles this one (he studied music composition at university), he has some instruction books and they play a bit together sometimes.
Instruments around house
Wanda has her own ukulele, and there are many percussion instruments within reach in the living room.
Wanda participates in a growing number of taking-care-of-things responsibilities during our school days: cooking, laundry, cleaning.
Cosmic Kids Yoga & GoNoodle
Trampoline & crash pad, swing & trapeze bar, jumping on the bed
Snowball fights & dance parties
In The Before Times, our PE was different: we had a homeschool swimming meet-up once a week, we had at least one big homeschool playground meetup once a week, and we did frequent field trips around San Francisco, to the beach, or through nature.
- Wanda has an almost daily virtual get-together with her best friend, a badass 52-year-old in Seattle (they mostly talk about butts)
- Other virtual one-on-one meet ups with friends
- We’re working on starting a regular virtual group with the children of some online moms I’ve stayed in contact with since pregnancy
- Wanda’s social life is the biggest change for us since the lockdown, as it has been for everyone. San Francisco has a robust homeschool community, they’ve been a big part of our life this year and we miss them very much.
- Wanda gets plenty of self-directed time to let her imagination take over and do whatever
- Games: Wanda has access to a ridiculous number of games, but her favorites are chess, the DragonBox math games, and the aforementioned geography games.
- If her Dad is within earshot during a free moment, Wanda without fail will ask to watch a Strongbad short. She drew a beefy arm on a duck tonight.
CALIFORNIA COMMON CORE STANDARDS
The standards for what is covered in various subjects for each grade level in California public schools are available as PDFs on a State of California website. I grabbed them a while back, and I review them every once in a while to make sure I’m not leaving some weird gaping hole in her education. It’s not a requirement, and my general experience when it comes to Wanda is “alignment, HAH!,” it’s just another bit of information out there to consider.
OOF! There you go. That's what we use for curriculum.