I’m often asked whether I use a curriculum or other resources in my homeschooling. I thought it was high time I wrote a post about how we homeschool.
Firstly, it’s important to know that I don’t identify strongly with any one particular type of homeschooling. I consider myself a flexible homeschooler. I do follow a curriculum for certain things, but if there is a life experience available, we set the books aside for a while and go live life. I think it’s extremely important for children to live in and interact with the world around them, instead of being restricted by four walls and senseless testing or rigid mandates.
I’m fortunate enough to live in Ontario, where the Education Act clearly gives parents both the right and the responsibility to choose the education they feel is best for their children. That means I can be very flexible in how I guide my children’s education, and I feel very blessed to be able to help them follow their interests.
For example, my oldest daughter got curious about the planets this year. So we did a whole unit on the Solar System, and learned a great deal about each of the planets, their position in relation to the sun, and more. We found this awesome song (which I’m still geeking out about) on Youtube , and my 7-year-old can now tell you at the drop of a hat the name of all the planets, as well as their position in relation to the sun. She also knows which planets are rocky and which are made of gas, and a whole lot more.
We painted planets and are making a family project out of figuring out how to make them turn around our styrofoam sun. It’s great fun and it’s one of the beauties of homeschooling: we get to choose the things we’re interested in learning about, whether or not the “book” says we should learn about it. Learning this in-depth about the solar system isn’t a provincial expectation for grade 1, but that’s what my kid wants to learn about. So we do. I learned a lot, too!
So, while I do follow my kids’ interests and we favour real life experiences (especially if it’s out in nature) over seat work, there are definitely curricula and materials that we use. I really do a mishmash of things. Here are the resources I’ve used this year and how they fit into our homeschooling lifestyle.
I thought I’d share some of the materials we’ve used this year before jumping in to the books, notebooks and workbooks.
Of course, in a homeschooling house everything is a potential learning material, but here are the specifics we purchased for homeschooling:
Notebooks with space for pictures
Notebooks with calligraphy lines
Spiral notebooks (one of which I drew calligraphy lines in)
Pens, pencils, colour pencils, crayons, markers, scissors, tape, pencil sharpener, ruler
Paint, paintbrushes, Modge Podge, gesso
Binders and sheet protectors
Electric pencil sharpener
And lots more, but the above are the things we use most often.
On to the books, workbooks, and online resources!
General Resources I’ve used this year:
The Ontario Curriculum
I do check the Ontario Curriculum to ensure that my kids are hitting the expectations set out by the province. Although I think there’s lots of room for debate about forcing kids to learn certain things at certain ages, I look at these expectations in case we ever decide that homeschooling isn’t working, and the kids have to go off to school. Looking at the provincial expectations helps me ensure they’ll have an easier transition if they were to move into the school system. Lisa-Marie from The Canadian Homeschooler (a blog I LOVE, by the way), has created these super handy checklists for each grade. That makes my checking nice and quick, and I can always go back to the full curriculum for each subject if I need to do so.
The full Ontario Curriculum for each subject can be found on the government of Canada’s website. You can browse the curricula here.
This is my backup when I run out of time to plan lessons. I have my daughter do 2-4 pages in each section of this book. We do not follow it from front to back; rather, my daughter chooses the pages she wants to do at random. I find she is more excited to complete the work when she has autonomy over her choice for this book.
These workbooks are published by Popular Book Company (Canada, Inc). In my humble opinion, these books aren’t really “complete,” as there’s only Math, English and Science in the books (so it’s missing art, phys ed, etc). Also, they’re strictly worksheets- there are no lesson plans. As I said, it’s my back-up. It’s a tool, but I wouldn’t use it as my only resource.
I purchase these workbooks at Costco, as they’re much less expensive there than online or at other stores.
Math is not my strong suit. I’m convinced the reason math is not my strong suit is that no one taught me math the way I needed to learn it when I was a kid. I’m a kinesthetic learner; I need to touch and do things to learn well. When I was a kid, I sat down with worksheets, listening to teachers who only taught auditory learners, while occasionally giving a nod to visual ones. Never during my schooling do I remember being given any manipulatives to try to make sense of mathematics.
I knew that for my kids, I wanted to teach math in the way they learn best, or at least have several options for how to present the material. So I took to my wonderfully helpful homeschooling communities, both in person and online, and asked for math curriculum recommendations.
Right Start Math was recommended to me by several people, and I love it for many reasons. Firstly, it does not go by arbitrary grade level, but by the child’s current knowledge. So instead of buying a curriculum for “grade 1,” you take a quick quiz to state what your child knows so far, and you get the result about which level curriculum you should get.
This curriculum is an investment in the beginning, but once you have the manipulatives, you’re set for several years, and you only buy the actual books and workbooks for each level after that. I love all the games that it comes with, and we’ll be playing the games even throughout our summer vacation, as my daughter loves them, and I actually find math fun now.
For language arts, I most often create my own lesson plans (I used to be an English teacher). My daughter learned to read fairly early with the book Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. This book worked really well for her, because she has actually enjoyed seat work from an early age. I won’t be using this book with my son, as he’s not interested in sitting down for long periods of time, and he’s not ready to learn to read yet.
K-girl has a “writing notebook” that she started when she was doing the 100 Easy Lessons book, and that we have continued using since then. She also has a “stories” notebook. I’ve cut out several pictures from magazines, and sometimes she will pick a picture, glue it in the book, and write a “story” about the picture. Mostly the stories have only been 1 sentence long so far, but we’re working on it. Her reading is well ahead of her writing, but this is normal for this age.
For science, we usually follow K-girl’s interests. Whenever she says she wants to learn something, I work my science lesson plans to fit what she requests. For example, this year, she was asking a lot of questions about the planets, so we did a solar system unit. We borrowed several books from the library (one book about each planet, books about the sun, and books about space in general (I’ll share the whole list in a new post – stay tuned!). We would read the books, and then K-girl would answer some questions in her science notebook, and sometimes she drew pictures. I also found this awesome video about the solar system and this amazing song, which I mentioned earlier.
Earlier in the year, she wanted to learn about fish, so I thought it was a great opportunity to introduce animal classification. We got a few books about animal classification and books about fish, and watched a video about animal classification also.
Just a word of warning, be careful which videos you choose if you go the YouTube route. There’s a lot of misinformation out there, now that it’s easy for anyone to create content online. If you’re unsure about a subject, try and research a bit more deeply before choosing a video to learn from. Anyway, you get the picture – K-girl says she wants to learn about something or shows interest in something; I try to create lesson plans around that interest.
Also, for science in general, I’m a big fan of Pinterest for finding fun experiments to do with the kids.
Finally, we participate in a nature program at one of our local conservation areas. It’s always a lovely time (except in the winter). We also went to a BioBlitz this year, which was lovely.
Yep, Pinterest to the rescue. We find a lot of ideas for art on Pinterest. K-girl loves to draw, so we spend time each afternoon finding step-by-step drawings and doing them together. She also loves crafts, so she likes to watch My Froggy Stuff videos on youtube, and then adapting to create her own crafts. Finally, K-girl does some sewing and quilting with her grandma when possible.
I believe that art is a very personal thing, and that encouraging freedom for children to create their own art is important. Guided art creation is fine too, but I think letting children create for the sake of creating will encourage them to continue creating throughout their life. That’s why I don’t have a specific art curriculum, nor do I intend on purchasing one.
We also sometimes participate in a local open arts studio, and our local homeschooling association always includes art in their group lessons each year.
Physical and Health Education
For Physical & Health Education, we spend lots of time outside, go to playgrounds, and I teach the kids active, co-operative games. We also did gymnastics with a group of homeschoolers at a local gymnastics club this year. If the kids show interest in a certain sport, I seek out a way to introduce them to the sport and/or to join a club for it. I try not to force team sports on the kids (though I’d love for my hyper-competitive oldest kid to join a team sport… hopefully one day).
We also do “family exercise” each morning – I put on some kids’ songs and we dance and move to them. Some of our favourites include Waka Waka Zumba kids, Dr’ Jean’s banana dance (and other videos by her), The Learning Station’s “Shake You Sillies Out,” and simply dancing to some music. I especially like Move and Shake by MercyMe and this dance set to “Follow the Leader” by the Soca Boys.
Sometimes I exercise using the kids as weights or as partners, and they love that. Here’s something I wrote about exercising with baby. Now that my kids aren’t babies anymore, I still do exercises with them, but they look a little different. Instead of carrying them like a baby for the squats, I put them on my shoulders; I do sit ups with them by singing “Row, row, row your boat,” and having them as “rowing partners,” etc. It’s lots of fun! I’m not as awesome as this mom, but am I ever inspired by her!
I’ve also created games like “exercise tag,” where after you are tagged, you have to choose an exercise (squats, push ups, burpies, jumping jacks) and do it 5 times before you can tag someone else. This does two things: it prevents the kids from tagging someone immediately after being tagged (without having to repeat the rules of the game ad-nauseum), and it gets everyone some extra exercise! There are lots of other games we play, but I’d be here all day if I were to list them all (maybe in another post!)
Catholic Heritage Curriculum
I purchased just the religion curriculum this year (CHC does have full curricula also), but for a variety of reasons, I no longer enjoy these materials, and will be making my own lesson plans for religion for next year, as well as using some that I have found online. One of my favourites for Catholic religion lessons is The Catholic Toolbox. I find lots of options here for lessons plans for the liturgical year. Be aware though, that there are so many resources in there, it can become overwhelming at times. It’s best to go in knowing more or less what you’re looking for.
Other Books for Religion
I’m helping K-girl prepare for her first communion, and we’ve used three books to prepare. To help her follow along with the Mass and to understand the different parts of it, we purchased the book Let’s Celebrate the Mass!, and I help her follow along each Sunday. We also purchased the books We Prepare for Reconciliation and We Share in the Eucharist. We’ve gone through both books, and K-girl and I have discussed that once she can show me for three straight weeks that she can participate fully in the Mass, we’ll go ahead and book her first communion celebration.
We also pray together as a family each morning and evening, and I sometimes have Katia write down a prayer of her choice in her writing notebook. We read passages in the Bible that go along with our lesson plans as well.
These are some of the resources we’ve used for our homeschooling journey. We’re still discovering and learning as we go.
It’s important to note that while I separated the subjects on this post for ease of reading, most of our lessons are cross-curricular, meaning we hit on all the subjects while doing activities/lesson plans. I’m a big fan of unit studies and of incorporating my kids’ interests into our days.
There are several other resources we use, but these are the ones we use the most often.
What is your favourite homeschooling resource?