Homeschooling, a Report From the Trenches – Part 3, by N.C.
(Continued from Part 2. This concludes the article.)
Resources and Recommendations
Sorry, I don’t have a free full curriculum link for you. All new homeschooling parents look for it and I was no exception. Now, with a few years under my belt, I am suspicious of things claiming to be a complete curriculum let alone a free one. Every teacher supplements the curriculum and it’s a surprisingly fine line between supplementing and building.
Your job is to keep your child challenged and working at their best. Too rigid a curriculum, or sticking too rigidly to one, will hamstring your child. Look for understanding and mastery and then stretch to the next goal. You are guiding growth and you need to be flexible to keep your child growing as they should. To that end I will give you is a selection of resources, that is, places for you to find tools. I’ll also recommend some specific tools I’ve found.
I encourage you to experiment with a wide range of things as a part of your homeschooling practice. Your child should be brilliant in the basics but also exposed to a wide variety of activities. Your children will need physical activity, they will need recess (my state specifically states how many hours of recess can be included as instruction hours) and they will each need to create. Music, art, and shop class should be included. Everything that you think your child needs to be competent at, you get to teach or find someone to teach.
Finally, make sure to take these recommendations, and all recommendations, with a grain of salt. Follow Bruce Lee’s wisdom: “Retain what is useful” as you delve into homeschooling advice. Some things work for some families and not others. Some things work for some kids and not others, even in the same family. It’s your job to find what works for your family and your kid in order to get where you all need to be.
My number 1 resource? My very top resource? The public library. Even with my extensive home library I am constantly finding useful resources with the public library. Many public libraries have books aimed at educators and even home educators. Most public libraries are also part of a network of libraries so you can access a much larger collection through the online catalogs. My local library may only have a handful of books on ancient Rome but there are a couple hundred across the entire system. My local library may not have anything on the Assyrians but across the entire system there will be several sources.
Importantly, the library is not a fire-and-forget resource. You really do need to proof the books you get. In the nonfiction there is less likely to be objectionable material but you’re looking for a lot more than that. Some books will be too advanced and others too basic. Many books will repeat each other too closely. Your job is to find the good resources that are at your student’s reading level that also catch their interest. Cast a wide net and winnow it down. You will find nuggets of gold and a lot of dross but that’s okay, just return the dross.
More conscientious users may worry about “taking advantage” of the library but generally you shouldn’t think that way. Libraries, as a rule, prefer having higher circulation numbers. Sometimes that’s part of their funding and generally it’s how they demonstrate their value to local government. Interlibrary loans from outside the system may cost your library some money but generally there aren’t charges for between libraries in the same system. You have already paid for this system with your tax dollars, absolutely use it to educate your children.
There has been a lot of change in libraries over the last 10 years. You’ll find a lot of new stuff to help your child learn. It may be a “maker space” where your child can learn to use tools you don’t have at home or it may be tools you can actually take home and use. I’ve seen looms, silk screen printing sets, leatherwork tools, cake pans, sergers and sewing machines, 3D printers, a KitchenAid mixer, musical instruments, board games, education kits, puzzles, video games, and sewing patterns. You won’t know what’s in your system unless you look.
A final note on libraries: their book sales are incomparable places to get books for your personal library. The modern library bias towards new books mean that many old and excellent books are sold for a pittance. Additionally, many donated books are simply resold again for pennies on the dollar. I’ve found books on curriculum design, art projects, history, science, and math kits all for a song. I’ve found books that I loved as a child and grabbed so that my children could meet Encyclopedia Brown and explore Dinotopia. The book sales are almost always worth a browse and it’s also a good chance to let your children do some shopping and buy books they like. 10 bucks won’t go far even at a used bookstore but may result in a bag of books at a library sale.
My second most useful source: garage sales and secondhand stores. The bargains aren’t as good as they are at library sales but there are still many good finds. I’ve found sealed science experiment kits that retailed for 75 bucks resold for 5 bucks. I’ve found workbooks and educational books for excellent prices. Garage sales likewise I’ve found a lot of homeschool resources sold for a good price since they are finished with the job we are still undertaking.
These are also excellent places to get supplies that aren’t on their face educational. You’ll find board games that you can use to develop logic and mathematical reasoning. You’ll find toys that encourage building and experimenting (marble runs, blocks, tinker toys). There are cards and dice which are wonderful random number generators for math. You’ll most definitely find craft supplies galore.
My third source is the Internet. Caveat emptor applies, doubly so if it’s free. Don’t just accept testimonials or popularity. Test it yourself. I’ll go to bat for the Learning Company’s “cluefinders” series but I will not pay money for ABC Mouse. Sadly, cluefinders is fairly defunct and doesn’t play well with modern computers. I’ve heard good things about Khan Academy for math but I haven’t fooled with it. Ultimately you’ll develop your own standards and your own instincts for whether or not the “resources” are worth your children’s time (and your money). Ask yourself: is it challenging your child? Are they learning things of value? Be brutally honest here.
The Internet Archive online library
You have to make an account and they ask for donations periodically but the books are available at no charge. Whether or not this lasts is an open question, they are in litigation, but while they are up and running I use this as a parent to research things. They do also have some video, that’s less intuitive than the books. They do have children’s books but I use it as an educator rather than for my children to use. I have found many books I’ve then gotten from the library or bought myself.
The well-educated mind: a guide to the classical education you never had.
The single best book on homeschooling I’ve read. I do not educate as strictly as she does but the strokes she draws are excellent. It’s worth reading and borrowing elements from for your homeschool. I highly recommend this for any homeschooling parent.
What your [ Kindergartner, 1st grader, 2nd grader…] needs to know
This is not a whole curriculum but it is a good reality check. Even if your child is advanced for their grade (they probably will be) they will enjoy the poems and stories contained inside. It’s also a good reminder for you as a teacher since we all have our strengths and weaknesses. You’ll find something that you realize you need to put some extra study time on for your child. The series goes through 6th grade. Well worth reading.
The story of the world
An excellent whirlwind tour of world history for children. I describe it to my children as a skeleton and the rest of their reading about history fills in the muscles, sinew and organs. I bought the 4 book series to use with my children. I have looked at the accompanying workbook and it is filled with ideas to flesh out and add to the book. I didn’t buy the supplemental workbooks but I do refer to my library’s copy.
Brainquest (cards and workbooks)
The children enjoy playing with the cards and the workbooks are my preferred resource for workbooks. I have generally bought these secondhand but they are excellent supplements for homeschoolers.
Learning Cursive Handwriting Instruction for the Right-Handed Elementary Student by Diana Hanbury King and Karen K Leopold. This is a well laid out method of instruction. My kindergartner loves it. They put an emphasis on learning like letters (L’s and E’s,I’s and T’s, a,g,d…) and immediately using them to make words which is the entire point of cursive. I borrow the “palmer” method of moving the arm and the “stylus” grip instead of the standard grip but this is the best handwriting progression I’ve hit. This is what I’m using to teach them to write.
World Book Mathematics
These are in my library system and I’ve checked them out at least a dozen times each. Very useful and fun. They show multiple ways to understand the concepts and I have no quibbles with their conceptions (which is big for me as a numbers guy) and the kids enjoy them. The other subjects in this series are a little more hit or miss but the math ones are excellent.
Your children will play cards to roll dice in order to capture cute monsters. They have to decide how many dice to roll and then compare the rolls to the monster they are trying to capture. This helped my kids a fair bit with addition and now even some basic statistics.
The letter factory, The talking words factory, The code word caper, and The math circus. Not all of leapfrog’s products are worth your time and money, but these shows absolutely are. The best phonics and basic mathematics DVDs that I’ve seen. And I’ve seen a lot.
The Elephant and Piggie series by Mo Willems
Kids love this series for a reason. From an educator’s point young children will read and love it. That’s half your battle.
How Rocket learned to read and Rocket Writes a Story by Tad Hills.
Charming well told stories that will grow with your kid from pre-K through independent reading. He captures the experience of learning to read and learning to write (and learning to make friends).
The great illustrated classics. Abridged and illustrated versions of classic novels. While I would rather re-read Call of the Wild unabridged, the illustrated classic version still holds a special place in my heart. They are text on one page and an illustration on the facing page. This will let upper elementary first meet classic novels and make it easier for them to comprehend the unabridged books as they are ready for them. I often encounter these at goodwill and garage sales and rarely does a hardback one refrain from following me home.
The Eyewitness Books series
Whatever your child is interested I can practically guarantee there’s an eyewitness book about it. Heavy on pictures with small boxes of text these are useful across a wide range of ages.
“Rock & Roll Literacy” by Sigmund Brouwer. An excellent (and short) guide to helping your student write. Especially if you didn’t enjoy writing in school give it a read. It’ll help you light the fire for your student. And it’s encouraging to know that somebody with dozens of published books struggled through all his writing classes until college.
Here’s a quick list of some useful shows. You’ll have disagreements and that’s fine, but they’re worth considering or excerpting. Some of these are available online and some that’s the only place. Your library may have some and some may be uploaded to youtube. I recommend the following:
The original Magic School Bus series
Bill Nye The Science Guy
The Eyewitness video series
Henry’s Amazing animals
Animated Hero Classics by Nest Entertainment
Cyberchase (seasons 1 and 2) from PBS
Between The Lions PBS
Odd Squad PBS
The Composer’s Specials and the Artist’s Specials (surprisingly both by HBO but both child appropriate I’d say PG level),
David Macaulay PBS specials (pyramid, cathedral, roman city)
Popular Mechanics for Kids
Weird but True National Geographic Series
Some physical resources to have on hand:
Graph paper (2×2 instead of 4×4, each square is a half inch by half inch)
The larger squares are easier for children to color in and for writing numbers. I’ve used these a lot for art and math (number lines and graphs especially), I highly recommend it.
Most newspapers sell this for very little money. The catch is that it is low quality paper. A roll could last you years and they can use it for many applications (drawing painting paper mache)
Dice, cards, and poker chips
My old Baptist pastor in the church I grew up in may be rolling in his grave but for teaching math I’ve found these indispensible.