If you just need a place to start, I’d recommend these. Then as you get more comfortable with homeschooling you can branch out. To start with, cover reading, writing, and math. On crazy days, make sure you do those 3 things. I’d suggest doing history 2 days per week, and science 2 days per week. Your child will also need to do PE. Generally this isn’t hard for kids to accomplish, and there are an endless variety of sports options for kids to participate in.
This list is meant to get your started, not limit you. I’ll obviously encourage you to add in some art and music, but here I wanted to get the basics covered.
Criteria Used for curriculum selection
- Can be used by a parent with no experience in teaching.
- Can, with slight variations, accommodate different learning styles.
- Many can be used with multiple children of different ages in the same year.
- Is solid academically, while also being developmentally appropriate.
- Is engaging…because let’s face it many programs are boring or annoying and no child (or parent) needs that.
- Provides a mix of work a child can do independently and work they will require a parent to help with.
- Is reasonably priced.
- Has a proven track record. Many excellent and unique curriculums have been developed within the homeschool community that are amazing. On the flip side, anyone with a computer can write and publish a curriculum and many of them are not that great. (I’m being kind.) So the programs recommended have been around long enough to prove their worth. This is not to say new ones aren’t fabulous, but they haven’t been in place long enough to assess.
The Big Picture for the Elementary Years.
- You have roughly 6 years to work with your child to lay a solid foundation for a life of learning and growing. Your focus during these years are the following:
- Instilling a love of reading and learning.
- Cultivating curiosity.
- Establishing good habits.
- Providing a rich environment filled with books, music, poetry, art, science, and nature.
- Developing proficiency in reading and writing.
- Mastering basic math functions to ensure success at higher level math.
- Establishing a basic understanding of the flow of history.
- Developing aptitude with maps, atlases and a globe.
- Proficiency in basic grammar and punctuation.
- Laying the foundation in scientific language and concepts to facilitate high school courses.
- Amazon (Note: I am an Amazo Associate and receive compensation from some of the links in this post.)
- EBay (They have a portion of the site dedicated to homeschoolers)
- Craigslist (Same deal, go into the homeschooling portion of the site.)
- Rainbow curriculum sellers (Massive catalog)
- Direct from publishers like Apologia, Saxon, Singapore etc.
- Complete programs…I would recommend Sonlight and Beautiful Feet
Obviously, with the Internet there are more, but these will give you a good start. I’ve listed general prices for some items to give an idea of costs, and to compare programs with more ‘bells and whistles’ to some that are more basic.
I have provided some alternative curriculums under some categories, but the curriculums and other essential elements that I’ve chosen as the Foundation of our program will be highlighted in green.
- Basic Schedule Grade 1-3 (for illustration only…adapt to fit your family) About 2 hours per day. (The actual working time of the child is about 2 hours. You will also want to work in breaks. If you start at 9 there is no reason not be done by noon…and NO HOMEWORK. Woohoo!)
- Math – 15-20 minutes per day
- Reading Lesson – 15 minutes per day
- Once children can read fluently on their own, switch from doing a phonics lesson with them to having a silent reading period each day. Build up to 30 minutes.
- Explode the Code – 10 minutes per day
- Handwriting – 5-10 minutes per day
- Spelling – 15 minutes per day
- Science – 30 minutes 2x’s per week.
- History – 30 minutes 2x’s per week.
- Fine Art – 15 minutes once a week
- Library – once a week
- Nature walk and notebooking – once a week (or more)
Basic Schedule Grades 4-6th (for illustration only…adapt to fit your family.) About 3 hours per day.
- Math – 30-45 minutes per day
- Reading – Reading silently, either a book of their choice, or a biography or historical novel that co-ordinates with their history or science study. 30 min. per day
- Handwriting – 5-10 minutes per day (Once students have mastered both manuscript and cursive writing) you might consider moving on to a typing/keyboarding program with them
- Grammar – 10 minutes per day if doing Daily Grams…a bit longer for Easy Grammar or Winston Grammar
- Spelling – 15 minutes per day
- Science – 45 minutes 2x’s per week.
- History – 45 minutes 2x’s per week
- Geography – 30 minutes once a week
- Fine Art – Once a week
- Library – Once a week
- Nature Book and notebooking – once a week.
*Singapore Math – If I were starting over this is the program I would use. Brought to the US in 1998, this program has taken the homeschool community by storm. There is a reason Japanese students score high in math, their programs stress thinking mathematically, not just memorizing facts. These books lay a foundation by taking children through a three step process, moving them from concrete practice (manipulatives) to pictures, to abstract learning. Each of these steps are necessary for mathematical thinking, and children need extensive practice moving through them. Children are challenged to approach problems from multiple angles to increase understanding.
Currently you can purchase a U.S. Edition, Common Core Edition, or Standards Edition. Changing Editions between years is not a problem. Each semester children work through a Textbook and corresponding Workbook (or 4 books a year). There is a teacher’s book available as well. The Singapore website provides teaching helps and videos on how to use the program. I would order directly from them. NOTE: Be aware if you order from another seller, often supplemental materials from other publishers use the Singapore math tagline, but they are not the actual program, they are extras.
Other solid Math Options
Math u See – A manipulatives based program that is very popular with the homeschool crowd. I have never used it, and have had mixed reviews from those who have, many feeling that it was too easy. However, if you have a kinetic, hands on learner this could be a good fit.
Miquon: A creative, manipulatives based program that develops mathematical thinking over memorization. Personally, I loved this program but would supplement with some sort of math drill to memorize basic math facts as I feel that is also an important component.
Saxon: Traditional program. Very well respected in the homeschooling community. In k-3rd there is a kit with manipulatives, calendar etc. to supplement the textbook. This makes the program pricey. I personally used Saxon for 4th grade and up. My husband loved their approach (He’s the math one in the family) My kids, not so much. It’s an old-school, solid program where each lessons builds on the last, and each day includes problems that review past lessons. This program has a great track record, solid test scores, even if it lacks all the bells, whistles, and fun.
Abeka: Traditional textbook math program. Solid approach, colorful workbooks. Inexpensive. You won’t need the teacher’s books in these early grades, just purchase the workbook.
Horizon: Traditional textbook program, complaints that there are too many repetitive problems that bog down the process.
How to Read in 100 Easy Lessons (To be used anytime from Kindergarten until child is reading fluently.)
I taught all of my sons to read with this program, despite different learning styles. Many others in Grace Prep have also had success with this book. For $15 you get a complete program; phonics, site words, and writing. The reading develops into stories naturally. The layout is extremely easy to use, giving parents exact instructions and a script to follow. Each step flows into the next at an easy pace.
There has been some criticism that the markings in the book (long and short vowel markings, some marks to clue children into blends, making silent ‘e’s smaller.) will confuse children when they move on to normal books, but none of my children, or those I’ve worked with, have had any difficulty transitioning.
This program takes about 15 minutes a day. If your child isn’t getting it, you can remain on one lesson for as long as necessary, or move ahead quickly if it is too easy. My children were reading fluently by lesson 70 or so.
This program is also appropriate for older students who struggle with reading. Unlike many programs there are few illustrations or other indications that the book was written for young children. This makes it less embarrassing for older students to work with.
For comparison, I was intrigued by the phonics program from Veritas Press which uses real books and works of art in their program. It also costs over $200 for the kindergarten and first grade combo set. (around $130 for one grade). Not only do I not feel the extra expense is worth it, I also fear all of the ‘extras’ detract from the business of learning to read. (Although it looks very cool, and if you have the money…get it. I want to check it out.)
My recommendation spend $15 on this reading program, and use the money you would have spent on an expensive program to purchase good books to add to your child’s library.
Explode the Code Book 1 and 2 for 1st grade, 3 and 4 for 2nd and 5 and 6 for 3rd. (Note: The link is for the entire set, or you can purchase the books per grade) These are a basic phonics workbook series that gives children additional practice and only takes minutes a day to complete. If your child knows her/his letters and sounds you can go straight to the Explode the Code series. Plan on doing 2-3 books a year. The series has 3 pre-reading books that teach letter recognition and some other skills. These would normally be done in kindergarten, but can also be used in 1st grade if students are struggling. There are also ½ books between each of the books that can be purchased if extra practice is needed. Some students LOVE doing workbooks, they feel a sense of accomplishment filling up those pages…if you have a child like this go ahead and add in the ½ books. Sometimes, as teachers and parents we feel the need to constantly be pushing our children forward toward new skills, but in reading it’s very beneficial to let children practice, practice, practice at the level they are at,so that the skills become automatic. This will facilitate later reading enjoyment. Of course, if your child HATES workbooks, just have them do a page or two a day.
Phonics Readers – Okay, false advertising here. I don’t actually have a set of readers to recommend. They are all so similar it really doesn’t matter. Phonics readers are very short books that limit the phonetic sounds required to read them. Probably the most well known is the Bob series. Search on Amazon for Phonics Readers and you will find a variety of them…or check them out at the library. As these books are not the sort you will want to read over and over again, but are simply for reading practice I would go the library route, and use your money to buy books with good stories.
We made a lot of our own Phonics readers, which added in some writing practice and art. Simply staple paper into a book, and then pick a word like ‘at’ and have your child draw pictures of all the words that end in ‘at’….bat, cat, fat, hat, mat, pat and help them write them on the page. (then move on to ‘et ‘op’ ‘an’ ‘us’ etc.) With a few simple words you can expand these homemade books into simple stories your child can read to family members. If your child is wanting to read, but having trouble with writing, as you make these books you can make the words with dots and then have your child trace over the word.
Literature Read Alouds
Parent should be reading aloud to their children. A child’s ability to comprehend and enjoy a good story is generally far more advanced than their reading level. If you restrict a child’s books to only those they can read on their own, they will likely be bored and moan about reading. So help bear the burden. Read wonderful, engaging books with your child…a memory every child should have.
If you don’t know where to start with reading children’s literature start with the Caldecott and Newberry Award winning books. The Caldecott’s are picture books, and the Newberry books are chapter books. These books are the best that are published each year. I’m putting together a small store on Amazon that will have some of my favorite read alouds…but you don’t have to purchase the books, most of them are available at your local library.
Literature – For children who are fluent readers. Once children are reading you will move them toward a practice of reading silently for 30 minutes a day. (Minimum) You can pull books for this reading time from books children choose for themselves, from the library, add a historical novel that is set in the time period you are currently studying for history, or an autobiography of a favored sports star. Once kids are reading, sources of good material are abundant.
A Reason for Handwriting Grade 1 is book A, Grade 2 is book B etc. This handwriting series only takes a few minutes a day to complete. You should insist that your child give these lessons (since they are so short) their full attention and best effort. On the first day of the week they will practice a particular letter, on day 2 a few words, on 3 and 4 they copy a short verse or saying. Then on the last day of the week they take a page from the variety at the back of the book that has all sorts of fun borders around the paper. The student colors the border, and copies the verse they have been practicing, and then they give it to someone. We sometimes mailed them to Grandma, or a cousin. This gives the students a ‘Reason for Writing’. These books are consumable, although I would suggest copying the writing sheets at the back of the book so that your kids can reuse their favorites.
Spelling Power This is the only spelling program you will need for 1st-12th grade. The price tag can put some people off…it’s $59…but since you will only need to purchase it once, for every grade, for all of your kids, it’s a great deal. You have to spend the 30 minutes it will take to read through how to use the program. It takes just 15 minutes a day and your children will master the 5,000 most used words in the English language. This makes a great deal more sense than memorizing random lists of words students will never use.
Christian Book Distributors description of the program….
“Spelling Power is a multi-sensory, multi-level spelling customized program that will help your students master the rules of spelling in only 15 minutes a day! A 5 minute test starts off the day, which helps to review, check retention, and preview new words to study. For the next 5 minutes, you’ll test misspelled words, and for the remaining 5 minutes, you’ll test new words, picking up where you last left off. In only those 15 minutes, you’ll be on your way to mastering the 5,000 most frequently used words, phonetic principles, and spelling rules! Glossary, Scope & Sequence, Verifying Research, and sections on dictionary and proofreading skills are also included. A Quick Start Seminar DVD has been added to this new fourth edition, along with a Teacher’s Resource CD-ROM. The DVD contains the author introducing each element in the Spelling Power Program, followed by a real homeschool families completing each step. The CD-ROM contains forms used in the program, including printable skill-building activities, a searchable word list and even more helpful tools and hints. 330 pages, softcover. CD-ROM is not Mac-compatible.”
Grammar Once again we encounter two different camps when it comes to grammar. The public schools have been moving away from traditional grammar instruction. Part of the reasoning is that students pick up proper grammar by listening and reading. This is very true, we learn sentence structure, as children, as we learn to talk. There is also the feeling that over emphasizing proper grammar and spelling keeps children from writing. When a teacher is hyper focused on grammar, a beginning writer can feel stifled and become fearful of making a mistake. In response, they only write very simplistic sentences.
On the other hand we have traditionalist who bemoan the fact that our students can no longer spell and construct decent sentences. It is difficult to give a high school student writing help when they are unfamiliar with the vocabulary of grammar. I have used several different grammar programs in elementary school.
Easy Grammar is a favorite among homeschoolers. It’s a great, basic program. If you can’t remember an adverb from an adjective, you’ll want to order the teacher’s manual as well.
Winston Grammar This is a solid, introductory, grammar program. There is a ‘hands on’ element, in that the child works with color coded cards to do some of the work. There is now a more advanced program to augment the basic set. Here is a course description… The Basic Level Winston Grammar Program covers the following concepts: Nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositional phrases, coordinating conjunctions, interjections, nouns of direct address, subjects, direct and indirect objects, and appositives. There is a pre-test which may be given as a placement test if the student has already had exposure to grammar concepts. The Basic Program has 30 worksheets, four quizzes and a post-test. A Teacher’s Manual, Student Workbook, and a set of color-coded cards are packaged in a velcro-closed vinyl storage case.
Apologia Science – (If you have multiple children in elementary school or are part of a co-op class please note that any of the Apologia books can be used with multiple grades. (See notes below.) The Apologia, elementary series, is a wonderful combination of text, pictures, experiments, projects, and journaling.
Each book is a year long curriculum digging deep into one topic. There are books on Astronomy, botany, zoology, chemistry, human anatomy and more. There are also Notebooking Journals that can accompany each text. These provide all sorts of enrichment materials to add to the books.
Note: This year, at Grace Prep, we will be doing a class with the elementary Marine Biology book.
Nature Notebook – Along with Science we strongly recommend that you help your child start and keep a nature notebook. There is nothing fancy about this, any composition notebook from Target will work. Encourage your child to take note of the world around him and record it in his notebook. Drawings, descriptions, bark rubbings, pressed flowers…any recording of what they observe while at the park, on family hikes, or in the backyard are perfect.
I’m going to keep it simple here. There are some AWESOME history programs out there…my favorites being Beautiful Feet, and Sonlight. But, they are a bit more involved. If you are feeling up to the challenge, check out their websites…again, the are awesome. But if you find them a bit overwhelming and you want to start small, you can’t go wrong with The Story of the World.
I’m going to let the product description tell you about these books.
This first book in the four-volume narrative history series for elementary students will transform your study of history. The Story of the World has won awards from numerous homeschooling magazines and readers’ polls―over 150,000 copies of the series in print!
What terrible secret was buried in Shi Huangdi’s tomb? Did nomads like lizard stew? What happened to Anansi the Spider in the Village of the Plantains? And how did a six-year-old become the last emperor of Rome?
Told in a straightforward, engaging style that has become Susan Wise Bauer’s trademark, The Story of the World series covers the sweep of human history from ancient times until the present. Africa, China, Europe, the Americas―find out what happened all around the world in long-ago times. This first revised volume begins with the earliest nomads and ends with the last Roman emperor. Newly revised and updated, The Story of the World, Volume 1 includes maps, a new timeline, more illustrations, and additional parental aids. This read-aloud series is designed for parents to share with elementary-school children. Enjoy it together and introduce your child to the marvelous story of the world’s civilizations.
Each Story of the World volume provides a full year of history study when combined with the Activity Book, Audiobook, and Tests―each available separately to accompany each volume of TheStory of the World Text Book. Volume 1 Grade Recommendation: Grades 1-5. Illustrated throughout with black-and-white drawings and maps
Here is the link to the first book, they do not have to be done in order, although that would be ideal. Be sure to check out the activity books that you can get to accompany them. If you are intrigued, there is also an adult series.
I will be doing additional curriculum reviews on the website for Art, Geography, Music etc. so please subscribe. But these guides should get you off to a phenomenal start.