A lot of you have asked, and here it is! A complete write-up of Lena’s homeschool curriculum choices, including some information about Classical Conversations. I wish I had found a blog post out there like this when I was looking at curriculum, so I’m excited to summarize this for those who are a year or two behind me.
First of all, this year our goal was to ease into formal education and to have a lot of fun along the way. Children learn best at this age through listening to stories, playing, and living life in a loving, structured environment. So we don’t necessarily do school every weekday (although we do try), and we don’t spend more than about two hours total on school each day (including reading aloud). It’s just kindergarten! In California, it’s not even required.
Knowing myself, though, I wanted some accountability. I am much more likely to look at a free morning and say, “Yay! Let’s go to the zoo!” rather than sit down with schoolbooks and science experiments. So we signed up to be a part of two programs to enhance our homeschooling experience.
The first was to sign up with a homeschool charter school. These, I think, are unique to California. By signing up for FREE, you are given at least $500 per semester to spend on educational materials and classes, you are assigned a California state-certified teacher who will meet up with you monthly to check on your work and give you guidance, and you can sign up for optional weekly enrichment classes, field trips, and activities. There are multiple charter schools in southern California; Julian, Dehesa, The Learning Choice, and Inspire are some.
We signed up for Inspire Charter School, and I have been very happy with this choice. With Inspire we received $1600 in the fall and $1000 in the spring to spend on curriculum and classes — with the only stipulation that they not be affiliated with religion in any way. (Hence our secular kindergarten curriculum. The texts themselves do not mention God or faith, but of course our worldview and beliefs influence our approach and teaching.) With this money we have purchased almost all the materials listed below, and Lena has taken Monart classes, piano lessons, and gymnastics lessons so far.
Our teacher meets us once a month at our local library, and she always goes over the “I Can” statements that address what California kindergartners are learning each quarter. I can write numbers 1 to 10. I can recognize food as a source of energy. I can retell a story. This way I can also teach Lena these things and make sure she’s not behind in or missing any area. We are always ahead of what the state expects, but it’s helpful to have anyway.
The other thing we signed up for is Classical Conversations, a homeschooling support community that is distinctly Christian. I’ll write more about this another day, but for now we are very happy with and grateful for this support, inspiration, and group of friends.
Last but not least: I read reviews of all curriculum on Cathy Duffy Reviews, a website that I highly recommend for all homeschool curriculum.
And now, our curriculum choices!
With Inspire, we were required to teach four subjects: Math, Language Arts, Science, and History. Here is what I chose for each one:
For Math I chose Math-U-See after comparing it to many programs including Saxon, Life of Fred, and Singapore Math.
Math-U-See is a complete program that includes a fun and simple workbook as well as manipulatives (those snap-together blocks pictured above), a teacher’s manual, and even a songbook and CD. Truthfully, I have barely used anything except the workbook, which is very straightforward. Lena really likes it, too.
I bought both the Kindergarten (Primer) and First Grade (Alpha) programs together, and I anticipate that we’ll start the First Grade one before the end of the year. For First Grade I’d also like to try Christian Light Education Mathematics which looks engaging and interesting with a lot of shorter workbooks. The program is written by Mennonites, so the word problems are all about farm chores with cute, simple illustrations.
For handwriting, we are using Handwriting Without Tears, and I really like it. We bought a kindergarten workbook for Lena and a preschooler’s workbook for Gil, and they finished them in a few months. I just ordered the First Grade workbook for Lena for more printing practice. She’ll do a cursive workbook in a couple more years.
For reading, we have only been using Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. This book is taking us quiiiiiite a while. Our experience definitely not been ‘just 100 days and your kid is reading,’ as I think we’ve been plugging through it for about a year and a half now and we are on Lesson 75 (of 100, obvi). I like the commonsense way that new sounds and words are introduced, and how each lesson reviews and then builds upon previous lessons.
For beginning readers, we’ve used the Bob Books, which are fun and quick reads. I’ve been loving books by Margaret Hillert from the library, too, which are simple, colorful, and repetitive. They were published in the 1970s and our library has about 50 of them. We also have a collection of Dick and Jane stories, which is what my dad used when he was learning to read. Gil loves them just as much as his grandfather did 50 years ago!
I didn’t want to go overboard on science because there is a lot to cover in the Classical Conversations curriculum. So I bought just one science kit and one book. The Magic School Bus is about the level of a kindergartner, and it’s colorful and fun.
I have also purchased a few other kits: Glow-and-Grow Terrarium, Crystal Growing Kit, and Mind-Blowing Science Kit. We actually gave these to the kids for Christmas gifts! (Nerds.) I also bought this fun book of science experiments. Mostly I just want to make science fun and cool and accessible — for all of us.
As a busy mom, science kits are great. Everything I need + instructions arrive in one box, and voilà… science! I’ve also looked into signing up for a monthly craft/science subscription like Kiwi Crate or Little Passports, but I haven’t bitten the bullet yet.
I heard a lot of good things about The Story of the World history curriculum, which includes a read-aloud history book, an activity manual with all kinds of coloring pages and craft ideas, and a CD on which Jim Weiss (our favorite book narrator) reads the history book out loud. There are four volumes: Ancient Times, The Middle Ages, Early Modern Times, and The Modern Age. For our first year with a kindergartner, one volume (just The Middle Ages) has been enough. I like the curriculum enough to want to invest in all four volumes, though, which potentially will last us through middle school because the activity manual includes assignments for kids of all ages, from coloring pages for Lena to writing assignments for older children.
This is not a Christian curriculum, so the charter school is fine with us using it. However, it is told from a classical education worldview and is very sympathetic to Christianity. In addition, the author is a well-known Christian homeschool educator.
Of course, as anyone who does Classical Conversations knows, there is a LOT of history to learn for that program alone! But there is so much to say about Classical Conversations that I will save it for another day.
I invested in a few art materials, but we haven’t used these too much. Lena got a lot of art education from her Monart class, and she gets a weekly art lesson at Classical Conversations as well. She has, however, really enjoyed these colored pencils! We’ll use the other two books in the photo more in future years, I think.
Last but not least, we read a lot together. I used charter school money to buy this pretty set of books and this rainbow-colored collection of Puffin Children’s Classics, too. Lots of reading ahead of us! Right now I am reading Wind in the Willows aloud to Lena from this gorgeously-illustrated volume we bought at a used book sale years ago, anticipating days just like these.
And there you have it! What do you think? Do any of these books look familiar to you? Any recommendations for other things I should consider for First Grade?
I’m not sure yet if we’ll be homeschoolers forever, but for now… this is our life, it is challenging, but it has also been wonderful so far. I love our slower pace of life in which our whole family works and learns together. Are you homeschooling? Have you found the same thing?