Our classical home education program

Since it is the beginning of the traditional school year, a lot of homeschooling families are sharing the education materials and curricula they will be using for the upcoming school year. Some friends have asked me to do the same, so that’s what I am going to do here.

We homeschool year-round and our “academic year” starts after our required evaluation in March/April. This means our daughter is well into what we are calling her third grade year. Chronologically, she is seven years old and would be rising into second grade in a traditional school environment.

We only talk about our daughter being in “third grade” so she will have something to say when strangers ask her what grade she is in. In reality, she is working far beyond that level in many subjects, both by virtue of her native intelligence and the fact that we started homeschooling before she was pre-K aged (we decided she could handle it). Third grade is actually the lowest level we are teaching any subject at.

For each subject, we teach her at the level that she can successfully work at and do not try to force her into some arbitrary education format. This is a considerable advantage of homeschooling. Your child does not have to be taught at the average level of their wildly different talents. You can do what is best for them clear across the board.

There are a lot of free homeschooling resources out there. However, nothing beats investing in high-quality curriculum for homeschooling in my opinion. It’s not free, but it is not out of reach for most people either. And if you have more than one child, they can share resources across the years, which offers a huge cumulative savings from paying for private school tuition. (Our daughter is an only child, but I know a lot parents worry about this.)

I have spent many, many evenings researching curricula and getting feedback from my mother-in-law, who has a PhD in education and literacy and taught in the school of education at her university at the graduate level. I have purchased a ton of academic materials that I ended up simply throwing in the garbage. These are the best resources that I have found that work and that our daughter finds engaging.

Language Arts

In terms of literature, we have piles of novels that we read to our daughter and that she reads aloud to us. We decide what we are reading as we go along. Right now, she is working her way through Little House in the Big Woods. Before that, she was reading The Boxcar Children. (Interestingly, she did not like the latter at all. I think part of that is that the image of homeless children in the book does not fit the modern version of homelessness that unfortunately a lot of kids are familiar with seeing. There’s nothing quaint about it, and even kids catch on to that.) I tried ordering workbooks that would ask questions about the texts and introduce vocabulary, but I found it much more beneficial to simply sit down and talk about the books. We’ve had many impromptu digressions into history, philosophy, and religion that way too. Our daughter has a huge vocabulary already (she loved Martha Speaks when she was smaller), so the words the publishers think kids don’t know are actually kind of tedious to her.

For language arts in general, we started using Michael Clay Thompson’s series from Royal Fireworks Press. Royal Fireworks Press is a publisher that specializes in materials for gifted and talented education. Their catalog is unreal.

MCT’s books are gorgeous. Our daughter refused to do any work until she had studied the artwork in his books and tried to reproduce it. I never thought I would have ever uttered the words “my child is in love with her grammar book.” But these are sui generis.

The tone is conversational and the pages are uncluttered, which makes it easy for kids to read through the books on their own. He introduces children to new vocabulary in every book, but beyond that, there is so much intellectually stimulating, beautiful wordplay. He starts with the observation that if you are good with language, you will be good with every other subject. I’ve found this to be very true in life.

MCT’s book Building Language is especially perfect if your child is also studying Latin (like ours). This book treats language as a code, based on Latin roots, that can easily be deciphered with the right background knowledge.

Yes, MCT’s program also includes a study of poetics for children – how to manipulate how what you are saying sounds to make it more pleasing. It’s brilliant.

Another blogger recommended getting this book, with the sense that MCT’s program was not as strong as it could be on punctuation. I like this book too, because each lesson is short and sweet. It has a powerful cumulative effect, but it’s not painful.

This writing book is absolutely fantastic. It is organized around a long series of short writing projects that all build up teaching a child how to outline their thoughts, brainstorm important or interesting details, and include twists and turns. Best of all, our daughter is very proud and possessive of this book as a collection of her creative endeavors.

We only started the All About Spelling program this year. Our daughter loves this program. I think there are two things that make this a wonderful resource. First, it’s not straight memorization. We grew up having spelling tests in school. At the beginning of the week, the teacher would give you a list of 20 or so random words to memorize and regurgitate for a test on Friday. After that, it did not matter if you could spell them. All About Spelling is about learning to spell words from how they sound. You learn the relationships and then can apply that knowledge going forward. If you used a phonics program for literacy, then these lessons will reinforce those lessons.

Second, the book involves a lot of tactile activities and games. Our daughter looks forward to spelling. It’s wild.

Latin

I wrote recently that Latin has become our daughter’s favorite subject. Song School Latin from Classical Academic Press made that possible. We are planning to finish this series and then transition into their Latin For Children series.

Ecce Caecilia et Verus is part of a Latin series from Royal Fireworks Press. I do not recommend these books as a stand-alone program like Song School Latin. However, they are great books for practicing translation skills (the book is in story format), which will be entertaining and inspiring and reinforce what was already learned.

We started off our Latin studies with Memoria Press’ Prima Latina, which is Ecclesiastical Latin and not Classical Latin. (The difference is a J.) The book is a little dry, but it does make a good supplement, which is what we are using it for now, off and on. The great thing about this book is that if you are Catholic, your child will learn the words to the Latin Mass. I love that.

Classical Studies

We are likewise using Memoria Press’ Classical Studies program. This series starts with Greek Myths and progresses to Famous Men of Rome and Famous Men of Greece.

History and Geography

For studying world history, we are using Susan Wise Bauer’s The Story of the World and the corresponding activity book. I did not start this series until last year. I know some folks who are trying to start it with Kindergartners, which I think could be a bit premature. The difference in maturity between a 5-year-old and a 7-year-old when you are talking about topics like war is tremendous.

There are several things I like about this series. First, SWB is really telling the story of humanity at a kid level. She starts with the dawn of humankind and works her way across the centuries talking about what was happening in each major civilization on each inhabited continent and when. This makes it very easy for kids to grasp the collision of certain cultures when it happens. If you like timelines, this is one long, well organized timeline.

Another thing I like about this series is SWB introduces kids to every major world religion in an unbiased and charitable fashion. I like the idea that when our seven-year-old daughter talks to the Buddhist owner of our favorite Thai restaurant, she has an understanding of what he believes and a respect for his wisdom tradition. This is exactly the sort of thing a good liberal arts education should do for a person.

The corresponding activity books have a lot of brilliant projects and games for children to reinforce what they are learning about. But what I really love about them is the mapwork. Our daughter knows so much about geography now it is truly unbelievable.

If you love timelines, Smithsonian’s History Year By Year is an essential resource. The book has vivid pictures of artifacts and maps. It explores subtopics for specific civilizations, like the introduction of new technology or what it was like to be a child in a certain culture.

We supplement our history studies with a lot of high-quality children’s books, field trips, and travel. Here is a sample of some great books related to the Middle Ages, which is the volume of The Story of the World we are working on now.

I can’t imagine teaching history without a great globe. This one plugs in and lights up with the constellations when it is dark.

We recently subscribed to Kiwi Co’s Atlas Crate to supplement our history and geography lessons. Every month, we get a box with projects related to a specific country. These are great!

Science

We are such STEM enthusiasts that I wrote this crazy long post about creating a homeschooling science program with tons of handy resources.

This year, we have been focusing on ecology and biology in our science studies. We used a middle school level textbook for ecology, which was pretty dry. I’m not sure I would recommend it. For the most part, we ended up checking out dozens of books on the topic from the library. That in itself is, I think, a brilliant approach to teaching science.

A friend recommended the “Exploring” series of books from John Hudson Tiner. I don’t know how to describe these books except to say that they a delightful and nuanced study of each topic, with lots of the unusual and esoteric information that children love to collect.

Tiner is intense in his science, but he is also religious. He loves to talk about important scientists that embody Christian ethics (particularly having a strong work ethic). This will certainly disqualify his work for many secular homeschoolers, which is a shame, because these are some of the most intellectually rigorous science books I have encountered. And frankly, talking about the rewards – not only for individuals, but all of humanity – of a Christian work ethic is wonderful.

His other books are on the history of medicine, astronomy, chemistry, physics and mathematics.

We try to take as many nature walks and hikes as possible, and the following three books have been invaluable.

Logic and Mathematics

We are not planning on starting formal logic courses for a couple of years, but Royal Fireworks Press has a wonderful series of logic books for children, which are more along the lines of pattern recognition, understanding attributes, part-to-whole relationships, and a sort of introduction to symbolic logic. These books are fantastic for mathematical reasoning.

We use Saxon Math for our math curriculum. There are things I do not love about it (like the constant repetition), but I see them as necessary evils more than dealbreakers. I have a lot of friends who use Singapore Math. To be honest, the main reason I did not choose Singapore was that I don’t know a single person who has stuck with it. There are a lot of resources and online communities for supporting Saxon.

We have loved the Awesum Alex series from Royal Fireworks Press as a fun diversion. I like the reinforcement of place value. Most of the times I have seen a young child struggling with math, it has derived from difficulty understanding place value. The books are creative and fun.

Engineering and Computer Science

As technology is the family business, computer science is treated as a core subject in our household. Right now, we have our daughter working through projects from BitsBox, which is another monthly subscription service. They do not send only one project for the month, however – it’s more like monthly units of study. For example, you will receive several projects that all involve the use of coordinates. This is also a great way to reinforce math concepts.

We also subscribe to KiwiCo’s Tinker Crates. Each month, your child receives an engineering project with a magazine that explores some concept related to physics and engineering. I have been amazed by some of these projects and the ease with which they explain concepts in physics to children. I like having these boxes around for sick or rainy days too. “I’m bored.” *pulls crate from closet* “Here, learn about hydraulics. It involves drenching my kitchen with water.” *ecstatic scurrying of little feet*

Playing with a homemade LED light.

Philosophy and Religion

Both of these books are excellent for early discussions of philosophy and religion. The first tackles various historical arguments for the existence of God through a kid-friendly story where the characters represent famous philosophers and theologians. The second book talks about what it means to be a saint and the traits that make saints special.

Art and Music Appreciation

So this is a very, very cool book. It is loaded with projects that kids can do that give them a sense of the techniques the masters used to produce their great works.

Memoria Press also has a great art book for young children that covers technical topics like color theory and perspective.

It’s easier to post a picture of all the books we use for teaching music and dance than to cover them singly. They are all excellent.

Extracurricular Activities

Our daughter usually has at least two extracurricular activities going. She rides hunter-jumper at local horse farm and has done her first horse show. She had been taking piano lessons, which we allowed her to quit to take up karate. (Karate is more social and suits her character.) She might go back to piano eventually, but we are okay with her taking a break.

Great Books for Homeschooling Ideas

2 thoughts on “Our classical home education program

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