Charlotte Mason, Education, Homeschool

Choosing a literature based homeschool curriculum

I’m new to homeschooling (or thinking about homeschooling), how do I choose a curriculum?

This is THE most common question I get asked about homeschooling, and the most difficult to answer. There are dozens of ways to homeschool, and I am no expert by any means, but I’d like to share how I decide what to teach my children.

I think the first step is to figure out what your educational goals are. Why are you homeschooling? What do you hope to accomplish? How much time can you dedicate to education? What are your beliefs about education?

Coming from a public school system you might not have established your beliefs about homeschooling yet, but you know there must be a better way. I find that my ideas about homeschooling are constantly changing. I first tried to model the public school classroom but realized that was sucking the life out of us. I am currently focusing primarily on the Charlotte Mason style of learning. As the needs of your family evolve, your methods will evolve and as you learn more your ideas will change how you homeschool.

For those just starting out or for those looking for a change, I highly recommend making a visit to your local library and getting three books. Educating the Whole Hearted ChildThe Well Trained Mind and A Charlotte Mason Companion. These books will share ideas about why and how to homeschool as well as provide inspiration and motivation. For older children I also recommend A Thomas Jefferson Education. There are dozens of other excellent books about educational theories and methods, these are just the ones I am familiar with and have found helpful for my family.

I believe, as Charlotte Mason taught, that little children gain knowledge by personal exploration and through living books- that is books that are written by someone who has a passion for the subject, not a boring textbook full of academic facts to be memorized, regurgitated and then dumped. In order for a child (or adult) to really know a subject, they must study it for themselves and have a desire and enthusiasm to learn. (For more about what I have learned and love about Charlotte Mason methods, click here.)

One of the best ways I’ve found to accomplish this in children is to read engaging stories and provide hands-on experiences. For this reason I choose individual books rather than a packaged curriculum. You may find a packaged curriculum is the easiest for you to manage, but I think a literature based curriculum can be just as easy to do. Even if you have a boxed curriculum you’re satisfied with or if your children attend public school, you can supplement their education at home with great literature through living books.

I start out by creating a list of all the subjects and skills we’d like to study for the year and categorize them (be sure to include things here like sports, musical instruments, foreign languages, handicrafts, field trips, etc).

Then comes the fun part. Finding living books (engaging, story-form, written for children) for each subject or topic. I get our primary literature list from Ambleside Online’s booklists. They also have a schedule you can follow (I don’t). I find our other books from reviews by other homeschoolers, our local library and by searching on amazon. This initial planning requires a bit of research, however I think it provides a lot of flexibility and creativity, and in the end what you’re doing is curling up with your children and a good book rather than sitting at the table crying over worksheets.

For very young children, I recommend starting out with just the level 0 or 1 booklist from Ambleside Online, a math program and nature studies using a nature notebook and narration as primary curriculum. After you and your children get in the flow of things, you can begin to add more. Here are a few recommendations to get you started.

Math

Life of Fred: We just started using this for Joshua and he just loves it. It’s teaches mathematics in a super silly way and is so much easier to use for a child who cries at anything remotely resembling a textbook.

Here is a fabulous list of books for teaching Living Math  I can’t wait to add some of these to our curriculum!

Science 

We use Apologia Science for our main text and love it. They are written so that you can read them like a story and they include lots of fun activities. They also have notebooks to go along with the main text, however I am not using them until my children are older.

We also do nature studies using the Charlotte Mason method using notebooks/journals which is simply spending time outdoors observing and having the children write about and or draw pictures of what they observe. We also use the Handbook of Nature Study as well as living books for whatever they want to study.

For example we use the Burgess Bird book and the Burgess Animal book, Backyard Books, etc… Find books at your library for whatever it is they are interested in. How do you know they’re learning? Ask them questions! When they tell you all about a creepy crawly they just read about or observed, you know they’re learning and it will stick with them because it is exciting to them.

We also used the Magic School Bus Young Scientist Kits and they are a lot of fun. There are a ton of ideas on Pinterest and I love the Science Sparks site, they have a ton of great ideas you can do at home.

History

For history we use Story of the World as our primary text and add in books recommended from Ambleside as well as books that interest our children or relate to places we will travel. For example, since we are living in Germany, I found some children’s books to read about Einstein, the Berlin Wall, Gutenberg’s Printing Press, etc… Next fall we will be going to Italy and Greece so I’ve ordered a bunch of children’s books about the history of Rome, Greek myths, Pompeii, DaVinci, etc… There are countless children’s books about history so there is no excuse for boring history lessons!

Language Arts

Children learn grammar from you, so if you speak correctly, there is no need for a formal grammar program until they are much older. Much can be learned through reading classic literature (see Ambleside Online for great booklists). They can look up the definitions of words as they encounter them, practice writing and illustrating passages or poems, and narrating back what they have learned.

I’ve also recently learned about this fun series of LA books by Brian Cleary, I haven’t tried them yet, however there is a great review of them by Courtney over at Ordinary Happily Ever After.

For reading, I recommend Starfall.com, Usborne Phonics Readers and Very First Readers, as well as The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading.

Artist and Composer Study

I love the books by Mike Venezia and use them both for artist and composer study. I did a review of his artist series here, and Courtney did a great review of his composer series. There are plenty of other books available as well, these are just the ones I happen to be familiar with.

Read Aloud’s

For me, the best part about homeschooling is reading all the classic books with my children. It is so much fun to see their excitement and hear them beg to read more. Here are just a few places with great booklists:

Ambleside Online
Books for Boys & Other Children Who Would Rather Make Forts All Day
Twaddle-Free Book Lists
Charlotte Mason Help

For a complete list of what I use, see our curriculum for next year

I think I’ve mentioned this in previous posts, once you have all these great books trying to get three little boys to sit still and listen to you read them is easy…for about five minutes! Unless it’s a really engaging book where we can snuggle on the couch, I get them something to work on, drawing, building blocks, wikki stix, playing in the sandbox, etc. and read to them while they keep busy with their hands. I pause periodically and ask questions to make sure they’re listening.


When daddy comes home from work they narrate back what they learned during the day. This is how you know they are learning, if they can repeat it back. Taking quizzes, writing worksheets etc. is fine for a teenager, but for little kids if they can tell you something in their own words, they know it and will likely remember it.

Happy reading and I’d love to hear some of your favorite books- I’m always looking for new things to add to our growing library!

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