We have been homeschooling for almost 4 years now, which seems like a long time to me, but isn’t long enough to prove that a single one of my ideas will work.  Then again, Nathanael Greene was one of the Revolutionary War’s most successful officers and until 1773 he was a Quaker. He had never fought a battle in his life when he was asked to be a brigadier for the Continental Army in June of 1775. He bought his first military tactical treaty only a year before that assignment and spent that year devouring every military history and tactical book he could get his hands on. On top of all that, the man walked with a pronounced limp. And yet…

I’m a firm believer that we’re given the guidance we need to fulfill the jobs we’re given so long as we’re firmly dedicated and pursue the necessary knowledge

I came into homeschooling with plenty of ideas but little knowledge of available curriculum, and I’m so grateful for the experience of friends and family and online review sites. It seems to me that I owe the home school universe a few reviews of my own. I’ll precede each subject with my educational philosophy for that discipline so you can decide if you want to bother with my recommendations. By the way, I’m not getting paid in any way for these reviews – they’re all mine.

Math changes how you think. Math helps you think, helps you solve problems creatively, logically, and thoroughly, helps you look at every angle and follow through to the likely result of your actions. It does all that if it’s taught right.

This is the dreaded subject in most households (including mine when I was a kid). There were two reasons for this at my alma mater – my teacher wasn’t clear on the concepts herself, and the curriculum was designed to teach steps, not concepts. There was no room for finding my own way to the answer, almost no mental math, and few word problems. My approach to math with my kids is to teach concepts, starting broad and narrowing to help them conquer the problem at hand. Math should be hard work, but rewarding. At the end of the lesson, the student should feel proud of herself and her ability to beat the challenge. When I first started E on Singapore Math she said “this isn’t math, it’s number puzzles.” That’s when I knew Singapore was it for our family. I do supplement with math facts practice – Singapore is a little slim on the elbow grease part of learning math. To be honest that works out nicely because I get more entertaining, small volumes for addition, subtraction, multiplication, time and money, etc. The kids like finishing a book quickly and moving on to something new, and I usually have no trouble finding these books at the Dollar Store or Target for a buck a piece every fall.

Singapore Math with supplemental, cheap workbooks and for the very early years, I love Kumon Workbooks

Grammar is not arbitrary torture meted out by the demons of the educational establishment. Grammar is your child’s key to the universe of communication. Since I took a class on grammar in highschool, writing has become my favorite form of entertainment. Once I could express myself with clarity, I could write with confidence. I keep this blog to keep me sane. Inside the rules of grammar, there is unbounded freedom to create and share, because when you understand grammar, others can understand you, and beyond that, good grammar and a little style can make the most mundane thoughts elegant, even dazzling. Like math, the rules of English give structure to young and mushy minds, helping to free all the lovely little thoughts and ideas floating around in there.

The first way to teach grammar is to LEARN IT YOURSELF. Go buy Strunk and White’s Elements of Style It’s $5 or $6 on Amazon. I’m not kidding – buy it now, read it through, and every time you sit down to write an e-mail or a note to the cleaning lady (ha! Every homeschool mom’s dream, right?), use correct spelling, punctuation and grammar. If you can’t remember a rule, or you’re not sure how to spell demand (gets me every time), look it up. And speak well. Teach your kids that words matter, and they will start to love the English language from their high chairs. Praise them when they use a big word correctly, encourage them to read good books. I have thrown away every Junie B. Jones book that has made it into our house even though my girls would love her. I won’t tolerate baby talk in print!

And for formally training their young minds in language arts, I start in the earliest years with Draw Write Now. L will be 5 in a few months, and has started sounding out words and copying sentences. She’s a highly motivated writer and artist, so I gave her a Draw Write Now workbook (there are journals at WalMart that work just as well) that has a blank page for drawing and a facing lined page for writing. I’m using these workbooks for all my kids. Every day they have to draw a picture and write as many sentences as I think are appropriate for their age, ability and mood. When the big girls finish a chapter book, we discuss it, then I ask them to draw a picture and write about it – I usually help them pick one thing to focus on, be it their favorite scene, favorite character, what they didn’t like, or even how long it took to read it. If you give strict writing assignments your kids will hate writing and you. A person should write about something she’s passionate about. For general work, I highly recommend Explode the Code in the early years, The ABC books from Rod and Staff Publishers (absolutely beautiful books, visually and conceptually), more Dollar Tree books for writing letters, strengthening phonics, etc., and starting in Second Grade, the Wordly Wise series, Daily Language Review by Evan Moore and Grammar and Punctuation by Evan Moore. In second and third grade, as my kids become more prolific readers, I try to have one project a week relating to a book they’ve read. Get on the net – there are millions of projects for any chapter book you can think of.

Elements of Style by Strunk and White, Draw Write Now, ABC Books by Rod and Staff Publishers, cheap phonics workbooks to supplement, Handwriting Without Tears, and starting in Second Grade, Wordly Wise series, Grammar and Punctuation and Daily Language Review by Evan Moore, and picture journals starting as soon as your kid will use one.

Science has been a little bit of a challenge for me. I want the kids to learn to ask questions about how the world works and start to get the answers. At this stage in their academic careers, I think science should involve asking questions, doing experiments to find the answers, then listening to and writing about the explanation for what happened. I’ve gone through a few different books in the past couple years, and what I’ve settled on is hardly perfect. I have a science tutor come to the house once a week to do an experiment and some worksheets with them. I made a list at the beginning of the year of subjects to cover, and I made copies from a bunch of science books (including several Evan Moores) to give her a step-by-step how to and explanation. If anyone has any suggestions, I’m all ears, but I have to say I really disliked REAL Science Odyssey.

No big discoveries yet – for now Evan Moore Read and Understand Science and Hands On Science and DK, Usborne and Kingfisher Science Encyclopedias.

History in the early years of education ought to be about getting an idea of what time is – yesterday I saw a bluebird, last month I went to the zoo and last year my brother was born for kindergartners, and as the kids get older, reach back further in the time line to ancestors. That doesn’t mean Kindergarten history should only extend one year. All kids love stories, and the first 3 or 4 grades (in my opinion) can pretty much share a story and project-based history program. For history we are using Story of the World and the Story of the World Activity Book, which are great for kids up to age 10 or so. After that, we need to get more serious with primary sources and deeper investigation of causes and consequences. One thing I love about Story of the World is the continuous time line. I think that kids should go through human history at least twice before high school so that by the time they’re ready for real meat they are already familiar with the sequence of events that has brought us to the present day.

Story of the World and Story of the World Activity Book.  I also loved Evan Moore History Pockets for Ancient History – not sure what we’ll do later.