Choosing curriculum can be a daunting task. There are so many different programs available, and deciding on one is often fraught with difficulties.
Whether you do research online or attend a book fair or pick the brains of a seasoned homeschooler, it’s important to choose books that fit both the learning style of your students as well as your own personality as their teacher. Below is a list of our family’s favorite time-tested resources, along with the reasons we like them.
One word of caution: If you’ve already found a program that works well for your family, stick with it. That’s not to say that the programs you haven’t tried aren’t great or that you shouldn’t switch if what you’re using isn’t working at a particular stage or age. But you’ll waste a tremendous amount of time, money, and energy if you abandon your current curriculum every time a new one hits the market.
Choosing a curriculum that caters to your child’s learning style
Our favorite READING curricula:
We start this book as soon as one of our children shows an interest in learning to read or in “doing school”–usually around age four, give or take a couple of years. By the time the child finishes the 100th lesson, he’ll be reading at a second grade level and ready for Pathway Readers below.
And as an added bonus, this book is non-consumable and can be reused for younger siblings (although our original copy eventually fell apart and had to be replaced).
For the past couple of years, we’ve been using Funnix to teach our younger children to read. This CD computer program was developed by Zig Englemann (the same researcher who wrote 100 Easy Lessons). It is formatted in such a way that I can easily use it teach more than one child at the same time, and our kids love the interactive nature of the stories and reading activities.
One of our children who had always struggled with reading worked through this program, too, and jumped four grade levels in reading ability in just a year’s time. The associated worksheets and storybooks can be printed off PDF files included with the program, or you can purchase those items pre-printed and bound for a nominal fee.
This set of readers are designed for 1st-8th grades and are full of engaging stories that teach good moral values without sounding preachy. Very reasonably priced workbooks are available for each title, which we’ve used from time to time, depending on the child’s enthusiasm (some of our kids LOVE workbooks, but others… not so much) and what other language arts curriculum I happen to be working through with siblings at the time. Workbook activities include grammar and vocabulary exercises and comprehension questions. I especially like the workbooks for the earlier grades.
- ABeka Read and Think
These books contain short reading passages followed by a series of questions to be completed in a timed drill of three to five minutes. This is a quick and easy way to improve reading comprehension, as well as to prepare for standardized assessment tests. There are three books in the series, designed for grade levels 4-6, although if your child has never taken timed tests before, this can provide helpful training even for older students.
- The Gift of Dyslexia
A very helpful book about Dyslexia which outlines a proven method for overcoming struggles in learning to read.
- A Workbook for Dyslexics
This is another effective resource we’ve used with great success to help our struggling readers gain mastery and confidence in decoding the written word.
Our favorite MATH curricula:
- Horizons Math
My little ones really enjoy the colorful workbooks Horizons Math sells for kindergarten and early elementary. We’ve used these transitionally until our kids were ready to start Saxon 54 (usually around third grade).
- Funnix Math
This is the program I used with my last set of preschool boys. Like Funnix Reading, it is a computer CD which can be used to instruct several children simultaneously (this comes in handy when our grandkids show up at our house during school time – they can just pull up a chair and join in). About halfway into the program, the lessons start getting a little long for very young children, so at that point we either split each day’s work over two days, or just do the first part on the computer and the remainder with Mommy giving instructions so that the work doesn’t proceed so slowly.
- Saxon Math
In my opinion, Saxon is unparalleled for its upper elementary through high school math programs. The material is laid out in a very straightforward manner, with lots of mental math tips and practice, and lots of drills and review to ensure mastery.
With very rare exception, Saxon explains new concepts exactly like I would explain them myself, so this has been a great fit for me as a teacher. Some kids will complain about the amount of daily homework, but if they understand the material, they can work through the problems quickly, and if they don’t, then they probably need the extra practice.
The upper level courses will effectively prepare students for college level work. In fact, we’ve had kids easily CLEP out of College Algebra after finishing Saxon Algebra 2, with no additional study or review. They’ve likewise earned CLEP credit for pre-Calculus and Calculus after completing Saxon Advanced Math and Calculus, respectively.
New Saxon “Home School” Editions are available now, but I still teach from the old editions I’ve been using for twenty-five years (pictured below). There is also a Math 87 book that I’ve had most of my kids test out of before beginning Algebra. A stand-alone Saxon Geometry course has recently been added, as well, but I’ve not tried it. A full year’s worth of Geometry concepts and practice was incorporated into the older editions of Saxon Algebra and Advanced Math in an effort to keep formulas fresh and familiar for students taking SAT and ACT exams. I didn’t like the way Saxon did that at first, but after having successfully taught so many using the integrated books, I really admire his wisdom in arranging the material as he did.
Our favorite SCIENCE curricula:
- Young Explorer Series:
These Apologia books by Jeannie Fulbright are perfect for multi-level instruction during elementary school. Volumes include Astronomy, Botany, Zoology 1, 2, and 3, Human Anatomy & Physiology, and Chemistry & Physics. Lab kits and Notebooking Journals are also available.
- Apologia Science
We absolutely love Apologia’s upper level science texts. Author J.L. Wile writes from a Christian creationist worldview, but takes great pains to provide a fair, balanced, and detailed understanding of Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, without which a student’s science education could scarcely be called complete.
Apologia also offers second-year, advanced-level textbooks for Biology, Chemistry, and Physics, but with the exception of Anatomy & Physiology (Adv. Biology), we have not thus far done any of those. Our older kids began taking dual-credit courses in the Biology and Chemistry departments at our local junior college during their senior year of high school, having only completed the first-year levels of Apologia Biology and Chemistry beforehand.
Apologia’s basic science texts more than adequately prepared them for college-level work (and this, despite the fact that we’d completed very few of the assigned labs at home). Three of our kids have now graduated with high honors from state schools, each with a BS in Biology. Moreover, one was named Chemistry Student of the Year at Tyler Junior College (at age 16), two were named Organic Chemistry Students of the Year UT Tyler, one taught Supplemental Instruction Classes in Organic Chemistry while attending A&M, two were hired to work as lab instructors in the biology department at TJC. (UPDATE as of 4/7/2015: We currently have two children in dental school, one in medical school, one in nursing school, and another who is studying Civil Engineering — and they all started with Apologia science and Saxon Math.)
- Exploring the World of Science Series
If you have a child who loves science, you might consider investing in these supplemental books. About 150 pages each, they present historical vignettes related to each field of study. Comprehension questions follow each short chapter. One of my sons read the first in the series (which I had assigned) and begged me to buy the other titles so that he could read them on his own, in addition to his other schoolwork.
- More Than Meets the Eye
This book, by Dr. Richard Swenson, is one of my husband’s personal favorites. He read it aloud to the family during our nightly story time several years ago, and we all thoroughly enjoyed it, as well. The first half of the book is about human anatomy and physiology and the second half focuses on astrophysics. That may sound like heady stuff, but it is really a delightful and easy-to-understand read, written from the perspective of a Christian physician awed by the wonders, intricacies, and expansiveness of God’s creation. We’ve bought more copies of this book than I can count to give as gifts.
Our favorite HISTORY curricula:
- The Story of the World
This four-volume set is great for getting little ones excited about history — especially if you use the corresponding activity guide that goes with each book. When my eight year old saw me working on this curriculum page and noticed the Story of the World books on it, his eyes immediately brightened and he voluntarily launched into a detailed description of all the stories he remembered from the last time we worked through them, several years back. That makes me so happy, I’m ready to start the series all over again, so that his younger siblings might catch that same enthusiasm!
- The History of the World Series
Susan Wise Bauer (the author of the above set of books) has now begun work on a series of books for older students, as well. Two volumes are currently in print: History of the Ancient World and The History of the Medieval World. Our high schoolers have already started on these and are eagerly awaiting the next installments.
- Genevieve Foster books
Genevieve Foster does a wonderful job placing historical figures in context. Find out who were the contemporaries of Augustus Caesar, Christopher Columbus, George Washington, and others, and learn what was going on in other parts of the world during the years of each man’s life. I’ve read this set aloud to my children three times now, although this is the first year we’ve been able to add The World of William Penn to the list, as it was out of print for some time and more difficult to find.
- WORLD Magazine
We trust World Magazine to keep our family informed about current events. The kids call dibs on who gets to read new issues first. I usually am the last one to get my hands on it these days, but when the children were younger (and I was the one retrieving the mail), I would read through it cover to cover before passing it on, marking articles I wanted them to read, highlighting vocabulary words for them to look up, and jotting down questions for further discussion. A yearly subscription is a great investment (especially if you are like me and don’t have time to read the paper or watch the news) and is now available both in print and e-versions.
Our favorite GEOGRAPHY curricula:
- Sheppard Software
Sheppard Software is a free online program packed with all sorts of educational games, but our favorites are the geography drills. The year we first discovered this site, two of our sons finished first and second in our homeschool group’s Geography Bee, and the primary thing they did to prepare for the competition was master the geography facts presented on this site.
- Seterra Geography Games
This site is extensive. It boasts over 400 free map games in more than 40 languages. You can play online or download their app or even print out maps, quizzes, and reviews to do offline.
- US States and Capitals Songs
Eight very catchy songs that teach all the States and Capitals of the US in such a way (northern border, southern border, eastern border, and central states) that kids who learn the state names can easily identify them on a unlabeled map, as well. We pack this tape in the car for listening/ reviewing US geography on long road trips.
- Sing Around the World
This volume of geography songs covers continents and oceans, plus all the countries of each geographical region. The tunes are fun and make learning easy.
- Maps, Charts and Graphs
These workbooks teach map reading skills in a way my kids really enjoy. We’ve only used selected volumes, but I have a couple of boys who’d likely finish the entire set before it’s all said and done.
- You Can Change the World
I think this two volume set may now be out of print, but you can still sometimes find copies on Amazon. Each page features a different people group with information about the country in which they live, their customs, and their needs. Children are given specific needs to pray for each group.
Our favorite SPELLING curricula:
- Sequential Spelling
Some people seem to be naturally good spellers. For those who aren’t, Sequential Spelling is a God-send. This program has taken those of our children who struggled in spelling and helped them achieve success where many other programs had brought only tears and frustration. We saw amazing and rapid improvement not only in spelling, but in reading and writing abilities, as well, after switching to this program. There is even a Sequential Spelling for Adults, for older students who need to brush up on this important skill. I will be ever-grateful to my friend who first recommended Sequential Spelling to me, as you will be, too, once you’ve tried it.
Our favorite curriculum for LITERATURE:
- Sonlight Curriculum
Sonlight provides a wonderful plan for studying history and literature in an integrated fashion. Be warned, there is a LOT of reading associated with this program, both for the parent (reading aloud) and for the students (reading independently). If your family already loves to read, you should definitely consider using Sonlight, because it will be a natural fit. If not, you should still consider this program, as nothing is more likely to turn kids into avid readers than being assigned vivid, well-crafted, and engaging “living books” instead of dry, boring textbooks. Through Sonlight, our family has not only gotten to read (and re-read) classic old favorites, but we’ve also found many new and delightful treasures we may never have discovered had they not been assigned by this program.
Our favorite LANGUAGE ARTS curricula:
- Easy Grammar
This very thorough grammar course groups topics according to the part of speech they involve. Extensive practice is given on each concept introduced, with multiple worksheets provided to ensure mastery.
- Daily Grams
Each “Daily Gram” consists of a short, five-minute exercise designed to reinforce and review grammar rules and conventions. These books were designed to accompany Wanda Phillip’s Easy Grammar books, but can easily be used to supplement other programs, as well, or to retain knowledge during summer vacation. Older children can check their own work using the answer key provided in the back of the book.
- Learning Language Arts through Literature
The lessons in Learning Language Arts through Literature are built around short passages from classic literature taken from dictation (or assigned as copy work), then dissected and examined in a fashion that teaches vocabulary, spelling, and various rules of grammar. The program adapts easily to multi-level teaching and provides a nice change of pace from more traditional grammar workbooks. It is similar in structure to Sonlight’s Language Arts program, and we’ve used it on years we weren’t doing Sonlight, but I can see no reason or advantage to working through both concurrently.
- Editor-in-Chief These books are published by the Critical Thinking Company and give excellent practice in proofreading. Each exercise contains a brief news article, story, or mock advertisement that is riddled with grammatical errors. Students are told how many mistakes are present and instructed to first find and correct them, then rewrite the passage incorporating those corrections.
- Better Sentence Structure Through Diagraming We do just the first book in this Basic Skills series on sentence diagraming, sometime around middle school, just because I always loved diagramming sentences way back when I was in school, and I don’t want my children to miss out, as many books don’t teach it at all any more.
- 1100 Words You Need to Know
We’ve used this vocabulary program for SAT prep. A new word list is introduced each week, followed by five short exercises (one per day) to help teach and reinforce them.
Our favorite curricula for teaching HANDWRITING:
- A Reason for Handwriting
These colorful workbooks combine letter-formation practice with longer copy work. Templates are included in the back of the book for writing longer passages and coloring illumined borders. It has a nice balance, and the children with whom I’ve used this program have enjoyed it very much.
- Handwriting Without Tears
This program is great for kids who struggle with letter reversals or have a difficult time writing legibly. Initial work is done on a small blackboard which is embossed with smiley face prompts to remind students where to begin letter strokes.
- Getty-Dubay Italics
We used these italics books for all of our older children, and I still love the fluid script this method teaches. This is a particularly good series for artistically meticulous types and for anybody interested in learning how to write in calligraphy.
- Personal Correspondence
We provide opportunities for our children to get extra handwriting practice through writing thank you notes, exchanging letters with pen pals, writing in journals and diaries.
Our favorite curricula for teaching CREATIVE WRITING:
- Jenson’s Format Writing
This is a very elegant high-school-level program designed to teach students how to write in a tight, well-organized manner. The book provides practice in sentence structure and transition, explains good paragraph construction, and teaches various forms of essay writing. Hint: It is a great way to brush up writing skills before taking the SAT.
- Devotional Journals
This is a series of books I designed myself to encourage my children to write down their thoughts about different topics, recount favorite memories, and keep a record of personal information, milestones, important phone numbers, and addresses. Every page contains a short writing prompt and/or passage of Scripture to get them started. The book can be tackled in any order using whatever medium your child is most comfortable with. There is plenty of space for writing, drawing pictures, pasting mementos, composing poetry, etc. The boys’ and girls’ versions (Be Still, My Soul and Moment by Moment, respectively) are almost identical, except for covers and clip art, which makes it easy to assign a couple of pages to all the children in our family and have everybody working on the same thing. We use the books with all ages — my five-year-old enjoys it as much as my fifteen-year-old. There are even volumes designed especially for Mom, so you can join in on the fun, as well!
Our favorite BIBLE curricula:
- Bible Study Guide for All Ages
This program covers all major Bible stories and historical events with daily discussion and review questions. The guides also contain memory aids for helping children learn the names of the twelve tribes of Israel, the twelve apostles, the ten commandments, the books of the Old and New Testaments and their authors, etc. It focuses solely on scripture (not on church doctrine for any particular denomination) and can easily be used to teach multiple grade levels at once. I think it may be out of print, now, but if you can track down an older copy, it’s a great program.
Our favorite curricula for teaching THINKING SKILLS:
- Critical Thinking Company
We have owned and used almost all of the books and software published by the Critical Thinking Company over the years, but our favorites are the Building Thinking Skills series, the ThinkAnalogy series, Dr. DooRiddles, and Editor-in-Chief.
- Bananagrams – Our entire family loves this game in which players must race to build a crossword puzzle using all their letter tiles. Who will finish first?
- Mobi Math This one is played like Bananagrams, only instead of building words, you are building arithmetic equations. It’s a fun way to sharpen your math skills.
- Rush Hour – Single player strategy game with four levels of increasingly difficult challenges. How many moves will it take you to get the red car out of the traffic jam?
- The Fallacy Detective
This 212-page book teaches readers to recognize the fallacies they encounter every day, including loaded questions, equivocation, circular reasoning, either-or arguments, generalization, and many more. I especially like the propaganda section, as children who learn to recognize these common techniques will never look at advertisements the same way again. The material is written for ages 12 and up, but I’ve read it aloud to younger kids, who still benefited from the discussion.
Looking for more fun ways to build your child’s thinking skills? Check out this company. We’ve shopped here for nearly thirty years. They sell lots of slightly quirky and wonderfully fun educational products and thinking games for children, and we’ve loved everything we’ve ever bought from them, using their products not only in our schooling, but giving them as birthday gifts and tucking them into Christmas stockings, as well.
Our favorite FOREIGN LANGUAGE curricula:
We love Pimsleur. It has been engineered to teach foreign languages in the same way children learn their native tongue. Pimsleur offers about 50 different languages, and this method makes learning languages easy. Several years ago, our family spent three weeks backpacking Europe. We used the 30-day Pimsleur programs beforehand to study German, French, and Italian and learned enough from just the first 10-12 lessons of each to get around very comfortably. Advanced levels are available for several of the most common languages and come with reading booklets, but the bulk of the instruction is auditory. If you pick Spanish, you can download the free tests I created for my children to track their progress and assign a grade.
- Rosetta Stone
We’ve also used Rosetta Stone, which some of our more visual learners have preferred to the audio lessons of Pimsleur. Rosetta Stone programs are available for 25 languages, including Latin, and include parent administrative tools that make it easier to check your student’s progress.