COVID-19: Tips for Homeschooling Under Duress Part 2 – Curriculum

When I started this post series it was under the assumption that most students would be back in their regular classrooms within a couple of weeks. However, as things are progressing it’s seeming more likely that families are going to need more long term educational solutions than just a couple of weeks. With that in mind I thought I would chime in with some of my curriculum recommendations.

There are more different curriculum choices out there than you can even imagine and the process of deciding on a curriculum from scratch can be truly daunting. However, as most parents that are diving in right now aren’t necessarily looking for super long term solutions (just a couple of months rather than a full educational career) I thought I might chime in with some ideas for curriculum that is easily adaptable without too much hassle.

Most of my kids’ schoolwork is completed online which means that I am not actually the one teaching them. I know lots of parents have different feelings on using technology with kids. For me, this is a critical element of any curriculum that we use – that my kids can largely go through the work with little intervention on my part. Especially as many parents are working from home now while trying to get their kids through their schoolwork this seems extra critical. I will look over my kids’ schoolwork but the only actual teaching I do in a typical day is to do a 15 minute reading lesson with my kindergartner and once a week I will facilitate science and social studies – and none of those require any real prep on my part. I might work out problems on the whiteboard with my 3rd grader, or help my 5th grader through his grammar lesson – but I don’t actually prepare lessons or teach. While my older kids are working on school work I can mostly work on other household tasks, or entertain the 2 year old.

I’m also personally opposed to curriculum that has a lot of worksheets. Our first year of homeschooling we used K12.com which is a public-school-at-home curriculum – all free, and the actual curriculum was pretty good – but it was SO many worksheets. It killed my 1st grader’s love of learning and it was at least a year before I could even mention the idea of a worksheet without him melting into a puddle in a PTSD tantrum. I’ve heard the same from many others who have used K12. I will use worksheets but I’m very particular about the ones I use – it can’t just be to keep someone busy, it needs to have a really good purpose behind it.

Our Curriculum Picks

I use different curriculum for different subjects. I will break down below how I cover each different subject in our homeschool, as well as some resources that I’ve used in the past or ones that I’ve seen highly recommended. If you’re just looking for a specific subject I’ll link to the different subjects here –

All-in-One

Before I jump into my personal favorites though I should give a plug for Easy Peasy All-in-One Homeschool, The Good and the Beautiful, and Family School Online.

Easy Peasy is a free, complete homeschooling curriculum. You can go in, print out the assignments, and be off to go. They have workbooks that you can buy, and books that you could purchase if you don’t want to look for them at your local library. I know lots of people who have used their curriculum and love it for being easy to just open and do. It didn’t fit our personal style but I know lots of people love it. And did I mention that it’s FREE? Free is always a best seller πŸ˜‰

The Good and the Beautiful is not free, but the curriculum is low priced and very modular so it’s not a huge investment like some other curriculum are. I’ve heard so many great things about how well their units integrate many different aspects of learning as well as incorporating a spiritual side of things. Lots of people LOVE it, but again, it didn’t fit our personal style so we haven’t used it ourselves.

Family School Online is FREE through the end of June! This is a faith based curriculum geared towards members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I haven’t used this curriculum before in large part because it’s usually fairly pricey. It is definitely a more hands-on curriculum than I usually go for as well, but the quality is excellent. Everyone who I’ve heard that has used it has been very happy with it!

As far as an all-in-one option that I’ve actually used – Time4Learning. I don’t currently use Time4Learning but I have in the past and I think it’s a great option if you want low effort, complete, online learning. For $19/month for your first student, and $15/month for additional students in your household you cover all of your basics – math, language arts, social studies and science. I wasn’t thrilled with the assessment process – I felt it was too easy for kids to keep progressing through many of the activities without mastering them. I also wasn’t overwhelmingly impressed with their social studies and science curriculum. They were fine, but nowhere near as involved as their reading and math, and not as high of production value. However I haven’t found any other single online curriculum that covers all the bases at such a low price so I felt I needed to start with that recommendation.

Math

We have used so many different Math curriculum through the years. Currently each of my kids each use a different math curriculum so I’ll try to break down those three, plus a great free option.

Khan Academy – Let’s start with the biggest selling feature – Khan Academy is FREE! I also really like their learning model. Khan Academy is all mastery-based learning. To move on you have to really prove that you understand the material. It’s easy to move at your own pace and the videos do a great job of explaining the material – albeit in a bit of a dry manner. Khan Academy also offers other classes in many subjects (all still free), but I’ve only used their math courses personally. Their math curriculum includes representation of same gender relationships. I’ve found that their courses can be a little bit difficult for kids to navigate and they’re not really easy to work with if you have a struggling reader. I actually like using Khan Academy for myself because it’s a great way for me to brush up on my math skills without much investment or time. One day I hope to make it to higher levels of math than I completed in school, but with 4 littles running around… it hasn’t made my top priority πŸ˜‰

Beast Academy – This is my current favorite curriculum for Math! It costs $15/month for your first student and $7.50 for additional students – but there are discounts if you pay annually rather than monthly. Also right now they have a coupon code for $15 off a new subscription (i.e. a free month if you’re paying monthly!) – FLATTENTHECURVE. The program is set up with comic books that explain the concepts as well as short, engaging video lectures. I like this curriculum because it does a great job of teaching logic as well as math. It includes lots of great problem solving skills which I think is awesome for kids to learn. This is what my 11 year old is currently using and he’s loving it! My 3rd grader was too set in the curriculum he was using and wouldn’t really give this one a fair shake, but I think if I were starting him fresh this is what I would put him in too. It’s a little higher level though than my kindergartner is ready for – it’s geared for ages 8-12. They have a partner curriculum – Art of Problem Solving – that’s for grades 5-12. So if you have a student that’s grades 3-12 this is where I would start!

Teaching Textbooks – This is the curriculum my 8 year old prefers. It’s super straightforward – a short video lecture, a few practice problems and then 22 problems per lesson. There are quizzes sprinkled throughout. It’s not quite as “fun” as Beast Academy but it’s very clear and not dry. You have to purchase this curriculum by the level rather than having access to the whole curriculum for a subscription fee, but it’s only about $43/year for the lower levels up to $67/year for pre-calculus – so on a monthly basis you’re only looking at between $4-6/month which is a pretty good deal. They also offer FREE access to the first 15 lessons of any level, so you have a good chance to try it out before committing. Teaching Textbooks is taught on a spiral method – which means that they keep coming back to earlier concepts if you didn’t get them the first time which I really like. They also have the clearest grading system and the ability to reassign different work for your kids which I think is helpful. Their style is definitely the closest to a traditional school setting for better or worse – I don’t think it’s the most innovative, but it’s clear and easy to use. My 8 year old loves that he knows exactly what will be required of him. I have him go through the lecture and the problems on his own. When he’s done I will review with him any problems that he got wrong and we will discuss them. When he finishes a full level I save a copy of his gradebook and then I go through and delete all of the problems he got wrong (this takes forever because it’s a super manual process). Then I make him spend a few days going over each of the problems he got wrong until he gets them ALL right. That may sound like cheating, but I’m more interested in him learning all of the material before moving on than any grading system.

MathSeeds – If you have a student that’s K-2 this is my favorite curriculum for them. It is also paired with their ReadingEggs curriculum which I’ll talk about below. They offer a free trial but a subscription is only $59/year – or less if you hold out and wait for good coupon codes (they’ll start emailing them to you when your subscription expires) plus you can get even more money back if you use Honey. The activities are fun and easy to do. It’s all approached as a game so if you’re sneaky about it you might even be able to convince your kids that it’s not work at all πŸ˜‰ I like that it won’t let your child move on until they master an activity – however sometimes my kindergartner gets frustrated when she’s stuck on an activity. I find that if I keep an eye on her we can get through things together though when she gets frustrated. The reporting isn’t as complete as I would like and it’s not as easy to send a kid back for a single concept or lesson, but for the age level and the price, I think it’s fantastic and I would highly recommend it.

Language Arts

Language Arts covers Reading Comprehension, Handwriting, and Language Mechanics. For my kids my goal is that we’re making progress in each of those three categories and I design their assignments to cover those categories. Language Mechanics covers a few different disciplines and in my mind the progression roughly goes Phonics -> Spelling -> Grammar -> Composition – but there’s a lot of overlap. I don’t really have a full curriculum that I follow for each of these but I will explain what I do to cover these subjects.

Reading Comprehension

This is probably the easiest one – READ! If your kids can’t yet read on their own, then read to them. If they can read provide them with great reading material and let them loose πŸ™‚ I’m not very structured in how we do reading. I don’t assign particular books, there’s no worksheets or quizzes – I just want them reading and enjoying it. My oldest can’t be kept from reading so he has no requirements set on him. I have set him up with a GoodReads account and ask him to review his books and track them there. My 2nd son struggles with reading so I have him set a timer each day and he’s expected to read for 30 minutes – lately he’s been enjoying his dad’s old Boxcar Children books and the Magic Treehouse series. My kindergartner listens to a lot of audiobooks. I try to discuss books with my kids and we’ve set up a small book club with some other families so the kids can discuss their books with other kids – but that’s really it.

I have an Audible account and each of my children have an Echo Dot in their room. They all listen to books as they go to sleep at night, and sometimes throughout the day as they’re doing chores. My oldest has a Kindle Paperwhite and it is his most prized possession – we check out lots of digital books from the library and I’ve purchased him a lot of books with Prime shipping credits and off of sales through the years. We check out lots of books from the library and I buy books all the time. Reading is hardly considered a chore in our house, I feel like my job is to facilitate a love of reading and learning.

Handwriting

Handwriting Without Tears has been my favorite handwriting curriculum. I should follow it more closely than I do but I’ve mostly just had my kids fill out their workbooks. I set a timer for 15 minutes and expect them to work through whatever they get through in that time. I like making handwriting a timed thing rather than a completion thing because it doesn’t incentivize them to rush through and do sloppy work – if they get through 1 page or 25 pages they still have to write for 15 minutes, so they might as well do a good job πŸ˜‰

Right now none of my kids are actually actively using their HWOT materials. My 11yo combines his handwriting practice with his grammar curriculum which I’ll talk about below. My 8yo is assigned to write a journal entry every day. His entries are to have the following things in them –

  • The date written out long hand (i.e. Thursday, March 19, 2020)
  • A brief report on the weather (he’s been struggling with associating months and seasons so this is his practice for that)
  • His 5 spelling words
  • A paragraph of free write that must be at least 30 words long (I have to be really specific with him so he doesn’t try to pass off crap work with me πŸ˜› )
  • His full name written out

My kindergartner has very simple handwriting worksheets that I printed out for her. I googled “kindergarten handwriting worksheets” and I’ve printed different ones from different sources. She would probably be better off doing the HWOT workbooks, but this is working for us right now.

Language Mechanics

Reading Eggs is my favorite online tool for teaching language mechanics. It goes from preschool through about 6th grade and it has great phonics, spelling and grammar. It’s combined with the MathSeeds curriculum that I mentioned in the Math section, and it’s only $60 or less per year for the two programs which is a fantastic price! Plus you can add on extra students for even less. Right now only my kindergartner uses this, but I’ve used it with all of my kids in the past and I would use it again. The only reason my 8yo isn’t using it right now is that he gave me too much push back and I surrendered and got him Reading Kingdom instead. Reading Kingdom is $15/month and does not include a math curriculum (I’m realizing while writing this what a ding dong my 8yo is and how much extra his stubbornness is costing us in different curriculum… we might be having words πŸ˜› ) but my son is making really great strides in his reading so it’s probably been worth it.

Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons is one of my favorite resources if you have a child just beginning to learn to read. It’s only about $15 off of Amazon and it is SO easy to use. I recommend reading through the introduction before starting as it explains a lot of the methodology – but once you do that it is a no-prep reading lesson that is very effective! The lessons take about 15 minutes to get through and they’re really easy. I found though that sometimes the lessons get too hard suddenly. When we get to a point where we’re struggling too much with the lessons I will sometimes go back 5 or 10 lessons (or sometimes back to the beginning) and re-do the lessons we’ve already completed to build confidence and get more practice before moving on. You don’t need any other supplies to use this curriculum and it’s a one time purchase that you can use with multiple children. However I purchased these pointer fingers because reading is much more fun with ridiculously oversized pointer fingers πŸ˜›

Fix It Grammar has been great for my 11yo for working on his grammar and handwriting. At the beginning of the week we introduce a new concept that he will be working on for the week. Then each day he has a sentence that he’s supposed to correct using that new concept and each of the concepts from the previous units. Then he rewrites the sentence to practice his handwriting. At the end of the week he takes all 4 sentences and rewrites them into a clean copy. The sentences all connect together to make a story that goes through the whole book – so it’s fun each week to get a new part of the story.

Social Studies

The Tuttle Twins books have been my favorite resource for teaching civics/government/economics to my kids. Their books are fun to read and easy to understand. I have learned so much from them and my kids have impressed many people with the complex concepts that they’re able to discuss. Each week we will pick one of the books, read it, discuss it and then maybe do a couple pages from the workbook. They’re super easy lessons and they’re great! Right now you can get 35% off their combo pack with discount code COMBO – which includes all of their current books in the series as well as the pdf workboks. I’ve also purchased the audiobooks so that I don’t even have to be the one *reading* to my kids (I’m a pretty lazy homeschooler πŸ˜› ). They also have a great economics curriculum that’s on sale right now for only $5/month – they will email you a new unit study each week which has a short lesson, activities and discussion questions. I’ve been doing this with our kids and I’ve been very impressed with them. I would probably start with the books to set a really good foundation before moving on to their Free Market Rules curriculum.

Story of the World is a really great history curriculum for kids. I like it because it ties in many different cultures and histories together. I also like that you start at the beginning and work your way through to modern times so everything feels continuous instead of chopped up. Again with these books I’ve purchased the audiobooks and I’ll have my kids listen to a chapter and then we’ll do a worksheet from the workbook and discuss. No prep beyond printing out the worksheets. There are other books that are recommended that you can purchase or check out from the library to enrich the study, but the books are pretty great as standalone material.

Both of these I think are great for all levels. I will have all 3 of my older kids – kindergarten – 5th grade – working through the curriculum and discussing it together. They all get different things out of it but there’s appropriate content for each different level.

Science

Kiwi Crates have been one of our favorite ways to do science. Each kit comes with reading material, lots of expansion activities and a few building projects. I have purchased a single subscription for my kids and we have fun building the kits together. I’ve been impressed with how much they pack into each kit and my kids have learned a lot. I can stretch a kit out over a full month if we do all of the activities but we have a lot of other places we go for science as well.

Mystery Science has a lot of great “open-and-go” science lessons. They have a limited number of free accounts that they give away each year, but even if you miss those it’s only $70/year for your whole household. We have a subscription but haven’t used it as much as we should – only because we cut off access to YouTube on my kids’ computers which made the site unusable πŸ˜› But the lessons that I’ve done through there have really been great. I really need to get my kids back into Mystery Science!

We watch a lot of YouTube science videos and other science videos. I mentioned these in my first post but they’re worth repeating here –

  • Mark Rober – I can’t say enough good things about Mark Rober’s channel. He is by far and away my favorite YouTuber, everything he publishes is high quality and teaches complicated concepts in ways that make them seem simple.
  • Wow In The World – This podcast is SO much fun for kids! My almost 9 year old (he won’t accept being called 8 anymore) LOVES this show so much – he insists on listening to it almost every night and talks to me about what he learns all the time.
  • DIY Sci – Steve Spangler has long been a staple in the children’s science world. If you have Amazon Prime I highly recommend this series as well. My kids have learned so much from this and I’m always interested to hear what’s in their brains after watching these episodes!
  • Magic School Bus – If you didn’t watch Magic School Bus growing up I’m sad for you. These shows are fun, engaging and they teach kids a lot! The series is available on Netflix – along with a new remade series which I find every bit as enjoyable as the originals!
  • Smarter Every Day – Another great YouTube channel with lots of interesting things for kids – and adults too!

I feel like science is the easiest subject to get in. Kids are naturally curious and love learning about the world around them. Of course, my mom is a scientist so maybe I just inherited her love of science πŸ˜‰

Technology

Technology can cover a huge range of things but I’ll limit my suggestions here to some of my favorite computers & programming curriculum as well as one more hands on product. I should note that I have worked as a computer programmer since 2004 so I have a little bit of experience in this area πŸ˜‰

Kids Typing Bundle – if your kids are learning to type I think this is the way to go. You get two different programs for about $25 total, and you have access to them for all of your kids forever! The programs that are in the bundle are both fun and easy to use. There are free programs out there but I’ve never found anything that my kids have liked as much.

Tynker – if your kids are ready to get into programming I think Tynker is a great place to start. They teach programming and a lot of the courses are based around programs that kids already love like Minecraft! My kids have loved these courses. Plus, right now they’re offering FREE access during all of the school closures so you really don’t have anything to lose by trying them out!

CodeCombat is my favorite resource for teaching serious programming. It’s a game that kids play by programming their character to do different things. It’s free for the first couple of worlds – which is actually quite a lot of material before you’d need to pay. The game does involve swords and killing monsters so if that bothers you then this won’t be for you. None of the game play is graphic at all though so it’s not something that bothers me personally.

Snap Circuits are great if you’re looking for a more hands-on approach to technology. Their kits have lots of fun projects with electricity and building circuits. These are a great place to start if your kid has any interest in robotics or electricity. My kids have really had fun with their snap circuits kit!

Music

My kids have been enrolled in music lessons that are in person which obviously doesn’t work so well during the shutdowns. But I still feel like I need to put in a plug for Let’s Play Music. I’ve enrolled my 8yo and 6yo in their program and it’s been AMAZING. The only reason my 11yo hasn’t gone through the program is that he was too old for it by the time I found it. But my kids have learned so much great musical theory and had so much fun doing it. By the end of the 3 year program my 8yo was able to *compose* his own piano piece and perform it. I can’t say enough good things about their program.

During the shutdown we’re trying out Hoffman Academy which offers free online piano lessons for kids. I’ve heard great things about it from lots of people so we’ll see if those recommendations hold true in the next few weeks.

Art

I wish I could say I had good recommendations for art curriculum… but I don’t. For art we do a lot of coloring sheets or google for art projects. I should come up with something more concrete for art for my kids but it hasn’t been a priority for us.

Social Thinking

Social Thinking isn’t necessarily a subject explicitly covered in schools but I have some kids who struggle with behavior and social interactions. We have purchased the “Social Thinking and Me” book as well as the Thinksheets workbook. We read one chapter from the book together and then over the next several days my son will work through at least one thinksheet each day. When he finishes all of the thinksheets for the unit I will go over his thinksheets and we’ll discuss his answers. I feel like these have been so helpful for us – it helps teach my son and it’s given us all a shared vocabulary to talk about these behavioral problems.

Foreign Language

DuoLingo is a great FREE resource for learning a foreign language. None of my kids are currently actively using it but my 11yo has used it before, we’re just focusing on other things right now. My husband and I both use it though and I’ve been reasonably impressed with it. My dad also uses it and frequently tries to impress us with how many lingots he has (lingots are the in game currency… they aren’t good for much except bragging to other people about how may you have πŸ˜› ). This curriculum also includes representation of same gender relationships. They do have a premium membership that’s you can purchase on a monthly basis if you don’t want to have ads interrupting your learning. I’ve really enjoyed making my foreign language practice a game!

Conclusion

Wow did you stick with me through all of that? Great job! Whatever you choose to do I would generally recommend starting out with the shortest subscription or a starter set of any new curriculum. You’ll notice that I have several recommendations for most subjects – that’s because we’ve changed curriculum several times and chosen different things for different kids. Even within the same family what works for one kid doesn’t work for another – and what works for me might not work for you! Pick one and give it a try for a couple weeks, and if it doesn’t work for you then try something else. You know your kids and you’ll figure it out. You got this!

Tell me your thoughts :)