Are You Homeschooling in 2020?
This school year is starting off like no other, isn’t it?
My husband and I both grew up attending private schools. I earned a teaching degree in college (and later a school library degree), and I’ve worked in both public and private institutions. I love school: the traditional calendar, the hubbub of teachers and students, the pep rallies, the clubs, the classes…. I also swore I’d never homeschool.
But the Lord has a way of steering our lives in different directions, doesn’t he? Five years ago, we made the decision to homeschool mid-year, with one week’s notice. We were moving across the country, didn’t know what school district we’d end up in (since we would be in temporary housing initially), didn’t want to float private school tuition and two house payments until we sold the first house, … and I was a teacher. We figured we could make homeschooling work, at least for a semester, right?
We never looked back!
For those of you who, like me (and Megan!), fall into the homeschool camp this coming year (regardless of reason), here are some of the resources my family has found worth our investment.
Homeschool Methods: A Brief Word
This isn’t a “how to” post, nor is it a homeschool methods post, but you might find it helpful to know that my family educates according to Charlotte Mason’s principles. My favorite resources will naturally reflect that methodology. My children will be in 8th and 9th grade, so many of the resources below are best for middle grades and up.
Unfamiliar with Charlotte Mason’s principles? It’s impossible to sum up her 6 meaty volumes of educational philosophy in a few sentences. However, some of the hallmarks include reading “living books” instead of textbooks, aiming for a generous curriculum (multiple subjects and ideas), considering each child as an individual person, spending time out of doors, and seeking to know God better through all of our studies. Interest piqued? I recommend this Charlotte Mason summary at Ambleside Online. *Notably, Charlotte Mason never prescribed a “book list.” Don’t let anyone tell you that they have the corner on Charlotte Mason just because they have a great book list!
You Do You: Choose Homeschooling Resources for YOUR Family
Before you choose any resource to use in your homeschool, it’s a good idea to evaluate what works for your family, both philosophically as well as practically. Don’t ever buy a resource just because someone else is raving about it! Of course, the flip side is also true: just because you hate spelling doesn’t mean you never have to grapple with it alongside your third grader.
And, of course, the only required book is the Bible. We, at Redeemed Reader, firmly believe that. There is no perfect book list. There is no book or resource so awesome that you must sell your third child in order to purchase it. Children have been educated for years with little more than the Bible and a book like The Pilgrim’s Progress. Don’t go into debt striving after this world’s recommendations, even if they are Christian people’s recommendations.
Betsy’s Favorite Homeschool Resources
These are all resources my family has purchased unless I’ve noted otherwise. Believe it or not, I’m limiting myself to the true favorites, not everything we’ve used successfully. The homeschooling community is great at swapping things around, so don’t hesitate to ask on social media or via text/phone to see what is available for free!
Per usual: We are participants in the Amazon LLC affiliate program; purchases you make through affiliate links like the ones below may earn us a commission. Read more here.
Favorite Creation/Nature Study and Science Resources
We have never regretted one iota of time spent in God’s magnificent creation. Sometimes, it means driving to a hiking spot to meet up with friends. Sometimes, it’s lunch on the back porch, looking at the clouds. Sometimes, that means watching birds at the bird feeder. The money we’ve spent on birdseed alone is a small fortune. No regrets. Zero. (Once, during an impending snow storm, I sent the following text to my long-suffering husband before he left the office: “Coffee. Milk. Birdseed.” #priorities, right?) You can find my book recommendations in Monday’s post about Nature Study.
Other favorite science resources:
- Microscope: This has been well worth having. We’ve studied prepared slides, but we’ve also looked at bees (and their stingers), pollen, salt crystals, hair, fabric, sugar, …..
- Secrets of the Universe series by Paul Fleisher (link is to the first book). These deceptively short volumes are packed with robust information that absolutely captivated my 7th graders.
- Field Guides. I mentioned these in my Nature Study post on Monday, but we have LOTS and use them all the time.
Favorite Math Resources:
I’m not going to list our curricula here; we’ve used a variety of programs with good success. The items below are ways we’ve enriched our math studies, mostly through games. All have been worth every penny!
- Math Dice, Jr.: We’ve used this in endless ways and for various challenges. I’ve also used the dice to roll to see whose turn it is for the next event.
- Sumoku: Fun with factoring and multiples, cross-word style.
- 24 Game: We’re the kind of nerds who enjoy playing this after dinner occasionally. Dad is the best, but all find it challenging.
- Graph paper (“Quad Ruled”) Composition Books: GET THESE FOR MATH WORK. It doesn’t need to be the particular version linked; we’ve used a variety. But they have simplified our math pages as well as helped when tackling giant problems like double digit division.
- Chocolate. Really. It makes math better.
Favorite History, Geography, and Social Studies Resources:
As a Charlotte Mason homeschooler (and a Redeemed Reader writer), we’ve read many wonderful books for our history studies. Here are our collective favorites:
- Paddle-to-the-Sea by Holling C. Holling (and his others) (American history/geography)
- Land of Hope by Wilfred McClay (American history; read the RR review)
- Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown (American 20th c. history)
- Answering the Cry for Freedom by Gretchen Woelfle (American Revolutionary War history; read the RR review)
- Bomb: The Race to Build–and Steal–the World’s Most Powerful Weapon by Steve Sheinkin (American WWII history)
- The Faithful Spy by John Hendrix (biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer; read the RR review)
- Missionary/Christian biographies, especially: Through Gates of Splendor by Elisabeth Elliot, God’s Smuggler by Brother Andrew, The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom, Jacob DeShazer by Geoff and Janet Benge (and other YWAM biographies), Michael Faraday: Spiritual Dynamo by Derick Bingham (and others from Christian Focus)
- Radiant by Richard Hannula (church history; read the RR review)
- Our Northwest Heritage by Richard Hannula (Northwest/Washington State history)
- Student News Daily: a nice, daily email news service for students that’s free!
- Seterra: the best geography quiz site ever! I don’t know if the app is still free; we use it on the iPad.
Favorite Grammar, Composition, and Literature Resources
- Redeemed Reader: really and truly. Many of the books just listed above for history are books that I discovered through the work of my colleagues here at Redeemed Reader. And many of the books I’ve read with and to my children for “English class” have come from their recommendations, too!
- Grammar for Writers by Jonathan Rogers: a short, targeted grammar course that was my kids’ favorite class this past year. Before you think they must have really suffered because their favorite class was a grammar class, you should know that they enjoyed many things this past year. It was everyone’s favorite year to date. Read my review of Grammar for Writers here.
- Wordsmith and Wordsmith Craftsman by Janie B. Cheaney. I don’t love Wordsmith just because Janie wrote it. It’s really been a great fit for our family alongside our regular reading and writing. Wordsmith Craftsman is going to be a real asset as we start high school; so many of the assignments can be used with the other courses my daughter will be taking. Read my review of Wordsmith here.
- Audible Subscription. We’ve subscribed to audible for years, back when my husband had a 45 minute commute, one-way, to work, and we didn’t even have children yet. It’s been particularly handy when we wanted to listen to a longer book than we could finish in the 3-week library checkout time (for instance, this past school year, the kids and I listened to The Yearling).
- Public Library. I live in a county in which our public libraries are still closed. Gasp! I never thought I’d be able to go without the public library for 4 months (and counting). But we continue to use the digital resources, particularly the audiobooks. And we’ll be streaming some of the Great Courses for a few classes this coming fall.
- Brave Writer “Arrow” and “Boomerang” Guides. These are especially helpful for those months when you need an “easy button” for language arts. (And, if you can’t imagine needing an “easy button” once in a while, you’ve never been a classroom teacher OR a homeschool mom; February, I’m looking at you).
- Poetry Books of All Sorts.
Music and Art
I like to say on Instagram that #musicisoursport. My husband plays multiple instruments, including piano and organ for church. All three of my children play piano; one also plays violin and guitar; another plays the trumpet; the third plays the recorder. My role? Facilitator of all the music. What with schlepping people to lessons and orchestra, coordinating the practice times, remembering recital dates, and whatnot, it’s a full-time gig I have going on. Here are some of the resources we enjoy for music and art:
- Foldable Music Stand: This has been a winner (and we’ve tried others).
- Spotify Premium: If you use Spotify as much as we do, then it’s worth not hearing the commercials. We use it for composer study, to listen to music performance pieces, and just for plain old enjoyment. It’s on all the time in some room of the house (or car). If you’re just getting started with composer study, there’s a very fun playlist on Spotify of John Williams music in Spielberg films. It’s fantastic.
- Classics for Kids: a lovely little podcast that is just the right amount of information.
- Picture Study Portfolios from Simply Charlotte Mason. Megan and I actually swap these around, mailing them across the country when one or the other needs them. Consider doing something similar with a friend because these are a bit pricey. I’ve also used–and recommend–the ones from A Humble Place.
General Homeschooling Resources
- Other homeschoolers! There is no new question. Someone out there has already had these thoughts and can help you brainstorm and troubleshoot. Online, phone calls, email–use your contacts and your friends’ contacts. Ask your questions. And ask to borrow materials, even if only to decide whether you should purchase one or not.
- Autopilot Planning Course: This has been so helpful for me! I first bought the Plan Your Year materials several years ago, then I upgraded to Autopilot last year. I went through it again this summer. Pam breaks down the planning process into doable chunks and helps you figure out your scenario.
- Cathy Duffy’s Reviews: Cathy Duffy reviews all sorts of curricula and is a helpful starting point, especially if you can’t see something in person.
- Targeted Webinars and Conferences: Have a unique situation? There’s a webinar for that whether it’s special needs, homeschooling high school, bilingual education, you name it. These can provide terrific training in bite-size chunks, especially if you’re not feeling very confident about a particular area.
What are some of YOUR favorite homeschooling resources? What has been worth the money for you?