Choosing Curriculum



I have to confess I love to buy curriculum. I have about as much resistance as people do at an extraordinary food bar.  I’ll have one of each please.  Over the years I did find that some basic principles applied to choosing the best of what was available.  Knowing that many of you are still mulling over choices for the upcoming year, I thought I’d share some thoughts.


Choosing Math

   Choose a spiral approach.  That means there is constant review of previous skills woven into the daily work.   Chapter approaches look appealing, but children forget math skills easily and require continual practice to cement them.  It is definitely less painful if the necessary review of previously learned skills is already built into the program.  Children are seldom thrilled with extra practice sheets on top of their daily math work.  Since the goal is to have them love learning (even math) don’t shoot yourself in the foot right from the start.   A chapter approach generally means a constant need to reteach previously  covered concepts, breeding frustration for both of you and perpetuating a serious distaste for math.

Look for a program with some room to work problems on the page.  Unfortunately, I’ve never seen one that I thought really addressed this adequately, but I mention it here in the hopes that curriculum producers will take heed and produce a page with space for kids to work the answer.  I personally loved Abeka’s elementary math, but felt they could improve on the space given.  (I also did not require them to do every problem on every page… Abeka has a multitude of problems to work each day so that you can pick and choose what your child needs.)

Remember:  curriculum is your servant; you are not it’s slave.

Whatever you choose, do math daily.  Kids need math for so many higher level subjects, that just like reading it’s fundamental.  Let them whine, but do it everyday.


Choosing Science

I prefer a standalone science rather than a more integrated unit study approach.  This is probably because my kids loved science to such an extent that they couldn’t get enough of it. I’d have had to write so much of the unit study in order to get enough new information in it for my older kids that it just wasn’t practical to use a unit approach.  Go for colorful material rich in content.  The more the better, and do every experiment that you can fit in your busy life.  Your kids will remember them all.

In elementary school, explore nature voraciously.  Kids love everything about nature from bugs to clouds.  Let them have bug zoos, spider pets, weather charts and gardens.  Teach them about winds, seas, rocks and creatures.


Choosing Reading

There are so many approaches to teaching reading that I think it’s better to cover that as a specialty blog post.  However, once your child can read fluently, make sure they read daily.  For most homeschool kids this isn’t an issue, but it bears saying if you have a reluctant reader.

 Read aloud to your kids.  All through their school years, read aloud to them daily.   In high school you can read books together, alternating paragraphs or chapters, but don’t stop reading aloud.   It makes wonderful memories through shared experience.  Good literature provides opportunities for open discussion about almost every imaginable topic, and when you read it together the values you want to share are naturally and easily communicated.

If you can’t think what to read here are a few suggestions to get you started  (any of these also make great read alone material for your kids)


Owls in the Family, Hank the Cowdog series, The Derwood Series (BJU press), Chronicles of Narnia,  Little House Series,  Boxcar Children,  Grandmother’s Attic Series,  Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Caddie Woodlawn,  Number the Stars, The Sign of the Beaver, A Bear Called Paddington,

Cat of Bubastes ( and other novels by  GA Henty),  The Red Knight,  Men of Iron,  The Little Princess, Across Five Aprils,  Midshipman Quinn, The Lost Baron,

David Copperfield, Olver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities, Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing, and on and on  and on.

Since we are talking about reading aloud, let me also put in a plug here for Five In a Row ( ).  This is my all-time favorite curriculum for Kindergarten or First Grade.   Five in a Row is a unit study program based on a different read aloud each week.  It is rich both in content and fun.  If you aren’t familiar with it, check it out; you and your kids will love it.


Choosing Unit Studies

Many people like the flexibility of unit studies.  They provide a way that the whole family can be learning about the same subject at the same time, just each at their own level.  The weakness here is for the oldest children.  There is a real danger to guard against in not moving the material to a difficult enough level for them.  Make sure you choose to teach to the highest grade in the unit study and let the information trickle down to the younger students rather than trying to take a basic elementary study and enrich it for high school.

Unit studies can be labor intensive for mom.  Probably one of the best I’ve seen and used is Tapestry of Grace.  The author took the time to actually put the information in the teacher’s manual so that mom didn’t have to go out and search for it.  This was especially helpful for me, since history is not my strongest area, nor my strongest interest.

Unit Studies tend to be very strong in history and some language arts areas.  I’ve never seen one that covered science to the level needed, and suggest again that you use a standalone science program.


Choosing Spelling

Everyone in my family is now laughing uproariously.   I think spelling must be genetic.  In fact, I’ve decided it just has to be.   I’ve tried almost every spelling curriculum available and the reality is some of my kids can spell like champions, and others need to wear the t-shirt that displays the slogan

 “Bad Spellers of the World”


  I won’t even begin to give advice on spelling curriculum.  I just included it so that you’d know I knew that the subject existed, and as a disclaimer if some of my kids ever write you a letter without spell check.


Choosing Writing

Most of the language arts curriculums available address writing adequately in the elementary grades.  Choose one with a good balance between grammar and writing.  I did find though that I loved the Institute for Excellence in Writing ( ) for middle through high school.  It’s a little bit pricey, but the DVD’s are wonderfully engaging and the writing portions are solid instruction for college prep.


If you just feel like browsing curriculum, check out  or


Happy hunting. As always if I can be of any help to you, just let me know.

Homeschooling : Opening Day




I can feel the excitement brewing in your heart and home. It is almost opening day, the first day of a fresh new school year.

You want your kids to love being homeschooled, and let’s face it they’re bombarded this time of year with all sorts of back to school images that don’t look anything like their school.   The first day is a great time to remind them that homeschooling is awesome, and that family life is fun.

Sounds good but you’re already out of ideas?   Well, here’s a few to help get you started.


  1. If you’re really wanting to make a bang, consider having your first day back be a Homeschool Wacky Olympic Day.

We often did this as our homeschool opening day and played all sorts of wild and crazy games.   Race with water balloons between your knees. Blindfold your kids and see how many marbles they can pick up out of a tub of water with their toes and put in a bucket in a minute. On a side note and not to brag or anything, but if this was an Olympic sport, I have a daughter who could whomp them all. It’s a measure of how fun and memorable this is that this very lad- like daughter who is now a mom of many still will brag on her undefeated title.

Take a different color of yarn for each child. Unwind it through the house and outside. Throw it out windows, tangle it through trees, go upstairs, downstairs, under furniture, and around table legs. Wind around every tricky thing you can think of.  Go out the front door, around the house and in through the back door (it is amazing how long a skein of yarn really is). Then let the kids race to roll their yarn color back up in a ball. To be fair make the younger children’s skein of yarn shorter and easier, use the whole skein as they get older, and do some semi- impossible challenges for the teens.


  1. Consider a breakfast picnic.   Pack the kids up and take them to a park or outdoor play area, have breakfast outside and play. Or, do it in your front yard and then have….    Homeschool Wacky Olympic Game Day.


  1. Set up a treasure hunt. Early that up morning plant clues around the house and neighborhood that end up with some special school supplies, or a special treat for lunch.



  1. Take a field trip.   While everyone else is loading up on the school bus, pack your kids and take them to the zoo, local science museum, beach, or whatever fun and interesting place is near you. An added benefit is that these places tend to be pretty empty on the first day of school.


  1. Have a picnic lunch and fly kites. If you’re feeling adventurous, home-made kites are easily made with garbage bags and dowel rods. Having the kids design a structure that will fly is both challenging and fun.


6.  Try Air Force and Navy Challenge Day. Make paper airplanes (there are library books that give design ideas if you aren’t airplane makers)  Have challenges for longest distance traveled (always make it the best out of three tries to compensate for the inevitable occasional bad throw), best trick plane (for the ones that fly wonky no matter what you do), best design or artistry, and best carrier plane (tape pennies or paper clips to the wings).

For the Navy challenge make boats out of aluminum foil. Test them for weight by adding pennies one at a time until they sink.



The possibilities are endless. Any of these special days also work during the school year to spice things up and add a change of pace. I share these just as a spark your own creativity, and to encourage you in making the first day an awesome memory.

Praying the Lord richly blesses your homeschool this year.

Have an awesome first day back.

Let me know how it’s going, and how I can help you.

Help us all out and add yourfamily’s favorite first day activities in the comments.


Homeschooling: Remembering Bread…..really?





Opposition is uncomfortable, but in the end it makes you stronger and more determined.

Distractions however are deadly.

If you really want to destroy something, distract it.

Turn it from its original purpose.

Give it something else to be focused on and passionate about.

It’s especially insidious and effective if it’s a “good thing”.

Homeschooling’s greatest enemy is found in that very principle.

I won’t touch any of the current distractions I see dancing around on social media sites, at homeschool conventions, and in homeschool mom conversations.  Instead I’ll travel back to the 90’s to something that’s no longer in vogue to make my point.  If you weren’t homeschooling back then it’s probably hard to believe that this is true, or even imagine how strong the pressure was.  I’m sure it will even seem silly, but to the homeschool community of the 90’s along came militant bread baking.   I’m sure the idea that you could turn hard-working already stretched moms into militant anything is ludicrous to you, but I assure you it happened.

Now don’t misunderstand me.  I love homemade bread. I have a daughter who enjoys making it, and I relish every loaf she shares. I’m not even slightly bashing bread or bakers.   This is just an easy example because this particular cause doesn’t have the following or draw that it once did.

The 90’s bread baking revolution wasn’t just a gathering of souls who loved the smell of homemade loaves, and enjoyed the process.  No, this was a  movement that avidly researched the various grains of wheat, and the best ratios for the richest gluten flours.  They gave classes on the timetables for grinding to baking and the benefits to your colon.  Pre-ground wheat was useless.  White flour was akin to poison.  Every homeschool convention had classes on wheat grinding and bread making.  Next to the newest reading program would be a vendor showing enlarged pictures of your family’s squeaky clean pink colons brought about by eating homemade home ground wheat bread using their superior grinding system.

 Their booth was packed.

Their classes were full.

If you fed your kids Wonder Bread, you didn’t mention it.

The health benefits touted were huge. Grinding your own wheat and baking your own bread would cure everything from learning disabilities to deadly disease.  It prevented every ill, and testimonials abounded to its curative powers. You were a substandard mom, if you didn’t get on the train with everyone else and at least lust after and save for the Lexus of wheat grinders.  Not knowing what a wheat berry was made you unenlightened and in need of evangelizing.

Moms that before would have discussed how to raise their families, educate their children, and focus them more firmly on what mattered, were now clustered together discussing how to find time to grind and bake.  Understand me.  These moms were passionate and sincere about their family’s health.  Their motives were the best.  They only meant good.  A tremendous amount of each finite mom’s energy went to the cause.  Many could not keep up and had to choose.  It’s a measure of how powerful these deceptions can be that the choice was a hard one, rather than an obvious one.

Recently a popular homeschool speaker shared his privileged visit at the deathbed of a dear saint. She was a beloved, well-known homeschool mom, and he asked her what she would have done differently if she had it to do over.  She considered, and very wisely said,

I would have baked less bread“.

Amen sister.  In the light of eternity… Well said.

Health and nutrition are good things, but homeschooling is a better thing, and raising godly children is the ultimate thing.

In the end the body is merely the bag you lived in.  Your children are the eternal souls you are entrusted to raise.

That’s the focus.

That’s the call.

That’s the thing to never waver or be distracted from.

I could have chosen many “good things” to focus this post on.  Homeschooling had only been known about for a few years, before the distractions starting hitting the movement, and hitting it hard.  These distractions were always “good things” or at least appeared as “good things”.

If you want to destroy something, distract it from its purpose.


Nehemiah said it best when his enemies called him from his wall building for a meeting.  He was not fooled and replied,

” I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down.  Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?” (Neh.6:3)  Four times his enemies came to him and four times they received the same reply.  “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down.”

Moms, don’t let the good things and the interesting things distract you from the one thing.

Homeschooling your children is a God-given privilege and purpose.  I won’t list distractions for you.  Everyone has their own, and the movement itself always has any number vying for your attention. They always look like “good things”, but they take your energy and focus from the “best things”.

Avoid them.

Ignore the clamor.

Evaluate your focus.

Remember the goal.

You are raising mighty men and women for the Lord.

Bread is irrelevant.


Learning to Win

Sportsmanship.  It’s the first thing that we try to teach our little ones when they start to play team sports.  “Don’t be a sore loser”.  And it’s true.  It’s hard to lose.  It is important to be able to do so with good grace and a cheerful attitude.  There’s no argument there.

I just didn’t realize until this last tournament how important it is to learn how to win.  I’m not talking so much about attitude here as I am about the experience itself.

  My guys team recently competed in a one day, double elimination tournament.  The schedule was grueling, especially if you came from the loser bracket.  We unfortunately lost our first game, which put us there.  If you end up in that bracket

 the only way to win, is to defeat every other team in the tournament,

including the one you just lost to.

The guys played back to back matches with no break, no dinner, no down time.  Every match went to 3 games (volleyball matches are best 2 out of 3).  They played and played and played and won their way out of that bracket.

Championship matches are best 3 out of 5.  Our match started at  8:45pm with 7 exhausted, hungry players facing off against a larger rested team.  We were frankly just excited to have fought back to be assured of second place.

And then something wonderful happened.

We won the first game of the match.

  There was a glimmer of a chance.


We lost the second….

won the third…

lost the fourth.

   It was now really late at night, and hungry had given way to famished.  Teenage guys do not miss meals.  They were facing the tie-breaking game.  A game to 15 instead of 25, with winner take all.

I called a time out at what was a 14-14 tie game…. and looked at players who could barely stand up, let alone win. But they were only 2 points from being champions.  We huddled, we prayed, we planned, we encouraged; and they went out to win 16-14. It sounds like one of those feel good movies, but it’s really how it happened.

So what’s my point?

For the rest of their lives these guys will remember that God has put more inside of them than they think there is.

They don’t have to lose.

 When it’s tough or looks impossible:

you pray

give it everything you have

and work together.

You can win. That’s a huge experience and a tremendous lesson.  How many times do we give up because the goal looks too hard or impossible?

Excuses are so easy.

Sometimes it’s just as important to learn how to win.

It was hard work, and that is the point.


Congratulations guys, you earned it.


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