Friday, March 2, 2012

Our homeschooling resources

In the past, I've received emails from readers asking what books we use when teaching our daughters. I figure now is as good a time as any to go over what we're using.

Please remember this is what we're using at the moment. Our resources are fluid and often change.

We don't use pre-packaged curriculum. Besides being beyond our price range, we prefer the flexibility of what we call the "wing it" school of teaching. This means we can draw our core subjects from a variety of resources.

The basic topics we cover are:

• Math
• Science
• History
• Civics
• English
• Required reading
• Geography
• Foreign language(s)
• Bible

We've had excellent success with the Spectrum Math series, which carried both girls through 8th grade. Unfortunately that's where it stops, so it left us floundering for additional resources until we found a few that worked.

Right now Older Daughter is finishing up Algebra. We've used a number of different books for her.

We have books in reserve for geometry and advanced algebra but haven't started them yet. Younger Daughter is working through the last of the Spectrum books.

Despite both Don and I having master's degrees in the sciences, I was groping a bit. We have tons of resources, of course, but I lacked a logical progression of the various fields. We worked through some very nice books but couldn't find anything more in-depth.

I finally got some guidance from a science series put out by Classical Conversations.

These cards are merely guides, which I then back up with numerous other resources we have at home, in the library, or online. So far they've proved very useful, providing overviews of biology, geology, astronomy, anatomy/physiology, etc., along with the famous scientists who contributed to each field.

Don and I are history buffs, so we have dozens -- maybe hundreds -- of books on various periods of history. It was a little more difficult to find a good comprehensive overview for the kids, though. Some of the Christian history books were too skewed toward a Christian perspective, to the point where I felt history was distorted. I found the same with modern text books, which are almost comically negligent about religious influences through history (not to mention lots of PC re-writing of history).

For world history we started with A Child's History of the World, purchased through the Calvert School.

We supplement world history with lots of resources, including the Usborne Encyclopedia of World History...

...which has beautiful illustrations.

For American history, we worked our way through the excellent 12-book series History of the United States (put out by Golden Books). Unfortunately this series was written in the early 60s, so their history stops at that point.

We supplement with lots of other sources, such as Don't Know Much About History as well as our set of World Book encyclopedias, etc.

Right now Older Daughter is working her way through this text, picked up at a library sale. She finds it interesting but very "PC."

For civics we're still using Bruce Gorden's Self Evident Truth, which is the guide the girls used when memorizing the Declaration of Independence.

Since we do a lot of political writing, needless to say we have a large number of resources around the house. But specifically for the Constitution, we'll soon be starting a 10-week course on this document put out by Hillsdale College called Constitution 101.

Now this is a funny subject to address, because we don't really study it.

A few years ago we were trying the usual round of spelling tests, writing assignments, etc., and for a variety of reasons they just didn't work with my girls. As a homeschooling mom, I learned there are times to back off and leave something alone. As a writer, I didn't want to be a "stage mom" and insist the kids write write write (I didn't want them to learn to hate writing).

So I left them alone. And you know what? They're excellent spellers and excellent writers. Comes from all that reading, don'cha know. I've always told them if they can write like educated young women rather than a couple of texting monkeys, they'll be miles ahead of the curve. So far so good.

Oddly enough, for a professional writer my grasp of grammar is purely instinctive. We have grammar references, and the girls are forever asking me to clarify points of punctuation, such as the proper placement of apostrophes.

Required Reading
Needless to say, with over 5000 books in our house, there's no shortage of reading material. Nonetheless, there are certain classics I want the girls to work through.

There's all kinds of lists of books every high schooler should read which can be found online. While I'm not following any of these lists slavishly, I'm finding a lot of good recommendations.

This is a subject about which I feel strongly. There are far too many pathetic examples of high school kids who literally cannot find the United States on a world map. Not my girls!

We started with this oversized children's atlas, bought at a library sale when they were toddlers. It's been very useful... and still is, when we need a big map.

Last year we did states, state capitals, and state locations.

For world geography, we bought a board game called Where in the World?, though we never use it as a game but purely as a learning tool.

The box contains color-coded regional maps with no names, only numbers.

They're accompanied by color-coded cards for each country, divided by region (usually by continent).

The kids are memorizing the location of every country. They will also learn the capitals of many (but not all) of the countries. We also discuss cultures and environments of various regions and nations as well.

Foreign Language(s)
This was a toughie. Older Daughter needs to concentrate on a language for her future plans as a nanny, so we're studying French... which is the one and only foreign language I studied as a student. (It's bringing back a lot of memories!)

Trouble is, Younger Daughter has less than no interest in learning French (though we make her sit in on the lessons, poor kid). Instead she wants to learn... Japanese. Clearly this is a language in which I have no experience whatever, so she's teaching herself.

She has an interest in someday teaching English in Japan, so learning the language is very important to her. Unfortunately she's on her own here, but she's driven and fascinated by Japanese culture, so she's making progress with the help of some online sources which aid in pronunciation.

We don't use any particular Bible resources, though we probably should. Rather, the kids are just assigned Bible readings.

That's about all for the moment. And those are key words -- for the moment. Our subjects and resources change all the time, but these are our core subjects.

Oddly enough, we seldom use the internet as a teaching tool, though we're aware of its richness. I've downloaded printable versions of such things as the Periodic Table of the Elements, bios of people we're studying, and we've used YouTube clips for watching the process of meiosis and mitosis.

The girls have reached the age where some of their subjects can be studied independently. They often work through history and geography, Bible reading and required reading on their own. Together we go through math, science, civics, and French, and often history and geography as well.

There are zillions of homeschooling resources out there, and unfortunately we can't afford them all. These are the things we've cobbled together within our budget. So far we're pleased with the girls' academic progress and feel proud of their accomplishments.


  1. I really like the Khan Academy. The kids log on and it will keep track of all their lessons. The parents can log in as a "coach" and see how they do and where they are having problems.

    Main page:

    Practice page:

    TED Talks video:

  2. BRAVO!!! Dear Patrice and Don. thank sharing..very helpful to me. Girls, how very blessed you are!!

  3. Excellent list,thank you Patrice. Currently our two are in a small, excellent (so far - knock on wood) public school. My son has autism but works at grade level and the teachers & I work very well together. Daughter is in the gifted program and in such a small school, they're very willing to work with us to challenge her.

    I supplement at home when requested - daughter is also a history & reading buff. Dear son loves anything - movies, books - that he considers "classic". I found was an excellent resource when working on biographies.

    Next on my list, Spanish. Daughter is taking the 6th grade intro to Spanish and loving it. We don't really want to wait until 9th grade for the full blown class. I'll probably just ask the school to lend us the first text & workbook over the summer.


  4. Patrice,

    I dare say that your children will be much more well rounded and stable young adults than 90% of the kids coming out of public schools these days!

  5. I guess you're aware of it, but there is a glaring mistake in the French lesson. It should be "ils/elles disent."

    As someone from France and seriously considering homeschooling my children if I have any, I'm always very interested in how other persons do it.
    Thank you!

    1. Mea culpa, you are SO RIGHT and I thank you for pointing out my mistake! I've made sure everyone's notes are corrected. That's what happens when a non-fluent speaker tries to teach the language, LOL.

      - Patrice

    2. It's been many years since I took French in high school and college, and I've forgotten far more than I remember. I don't follow the "glaring mistake" that was made. You wrote "ils disent and elles disent," one above the other. What's the difference between that and writing ils/elles disent? Aren't they saying the same thing? If not, why then isn't the "il dit and elle dit" the same, written "il/elle dit?" Please refresh my fading memory, 'cuz I'm not seeing the glaring mistake. Thanks! --Fred in AZ

    3. LOL -- that's because I was so embarrassed by my "misteak" that I corrected the verb conjugation on the white board, took another photo, and inserted it in place of the original photo which had the conjugation error. Don't worry, your memory isn't fading.

      - Patrice

  6. Does your local library have databases? My library (that I work at) has the Learning Express Library Database, as on your algebra book. The database could include math, English, test preparation GED, GRE, ACT, software tutorials etc. If it is available it is a good resource.

    Cris in AZ

    1. Our town is tiny and our library is correspondingly small, so its resources are limited.

      - Patrice

  7. Dear Patrice, I was thinking that perhaps it wouldn't be a bad idea for preppers who have children at home to start stocking up on books like you have in your vast library. Even if they're not homeschooling, they might have to some day! And if they don't have any children at home, they might some day use those books for bartering with those who could use them. Just a thought. --Fred in AZ

  8. I only took Spanish in high school and college, and at first thought it was okay. Now, I HATE it! However, I've learned some Japanese on my own because of my fascination with their pop culture, which incredibly enough, has many influences from their traditional historical culture (and sadly, it has far bigger influence than our historic culture has on our current pop culture). Though I'm older and wiser now and am drifting away from many darker influences of Japanese pop culture (I'm choosier now. Its like searching for diamonds in the rough at times, but I don't know if I'll completely give it up.) I still love learning about their history. Much of what I learned has been picked up by watching and reading stuff in Japanese (TV, news, animation, blogs, comics, music). I do recommend getting 'A Guide to Reading & Writing Japanese' from Tuttle Language Library. It has all the essential characters arranged by the grade level they are taught in and all the general use characters arranged by stroke. Its supposed to have the complete list of all characters that are commonly used in the media, as well as information on their meanings, how they're pronounced, and examples. It has also helped me do a few Chinese translations as well, since Japanese characters were borrowed from the Chinese. The meanings are still the same.


  9. i am a stauch supporter of homeschooling and i applaud you and your children. being in military careers, we did alot of "homeschooling" as well as dod schools overseas..and we saw as well as experienced the successes that these types of education offer.

  10. We attended a great event today at the Post Falls Library ... a traveling exhibit on Lincoln and the Civil War .. there are other exhibits relating to Lincoln scattered through out the next month or so as well. including a Civil War Re-enactment group (minus the PC sway of current history ;)

    The link has many books and websites too.

    Mrs. Mac

  11. Patrice,

    I encourage making college texts available to your kids. I used to read my mother's books when she was in college and I was 4th grade. She was a biology major - there is no reason children can't read and enjoy college level work. It can be much more interesting than kid stuff. Also - many courses are available for free from premier colleges as podcasts (check iTunes or their websites), covering all imaginable subjects.

    Additionally for language, check out - there is a whole series online that you can access for French and for Spanish. Another idea: I picked up a set of Berlitz language tapes for Japanese on eBay for something like $25. There are also free language audio files available online - just run a search.

    Last but not least, you might consider renting or checking out foreign films (interlibrary loans are great). I use Netflix so have access to a large number of foreign films. It's a kick to watch a movie and realize you still do in fact understand much of a language you learned 30 years ago.

    Northwoods Jean

  12. Patrice, I'm stunned by your post. See, I have a bro-in-law who put his daughter into a private Christian school "'cause they don't ask questions"....ok, that's fine, but I don't think the child can really read. She is 10.... They don't read to her at night or weekends, or really ask her to read. She goes 3 days a week. Last Christmas she could not read the card we gave her! If you query him about pulling her out of that school (financial reasons - too long for this post), he will reply "well, we will just teach her at home." But one time I asked my MIL what resources they had - she pointed to about 6 books on a shelf. They don't go to the local library (they would get free cards), they don't put her in the summer reading program, they don't have a you see my point? There is a homeschooling group, very active one, in my area, but the bro in law doesn't want to be part of that, "they might ask questions"...... *I* do not think I could teach a child effectively, I am wayyyy too out of date. I am just stunned. I am concerned about this young girl's future, but I'm "not allowed" to say anything 'cause it makes bro in law angry to question his judgment.....Sigh. I think HE needs to see your post to get a better idea....but I'm not sure it would do any good. So totallly frustrating.


    1. Oh gosh, Kathleen, I'm so sorry to hear about your niece. Unfortunately I've met people like your brother-in-law, both within the homeschooling community (where the children do NOT get educated) and in the public school system (ditto). The home environment is SO critical, regardless of how or where a child is educated. I recall a local family (they've since moved away) whose children participated in an impromptu spelling bee within our local HS'ing group. The ten year old girl could not spell three-letter words! Meanwhile our younger daughter (who was five at the time) was out-spelling her left and right. The poor child was so embarrassed but her mother didn't care.

      Just out of curiosity, what kind of "questions" is your brother-in-law concerned his daughter might be asked?

      - Patrice

    2. Patrice, in all honesty, there were questions about his sister and their children....whether there probably was some sort of abuse going on. I'm not exactly sure, it was several years ago, and it was only made clear to me as it "wasn't your business".....but this same bro in law has difficulties with government, schools, and even accepting assistance from the Southern Baptists for yard cleanup after a big storm. So I really don't understand. You can say what you will, but he refuses to sign up for WIC to help with formula costs for the baby born in August. Yet he will allow his wide to take SSI.....and they spend a LOT of money each month that they don't have in order to keep the niece in that private school. It's a really convoluted problem. He doesn't want "the government" to know who he is, which I respect, but still he dabs into benefits. And if you question him, he gets very angry. And he thinks MY husband has problems......


    3. It sounds like your brother-in-law has some mental problems -- clinical paranoia is nothing to sneeze at. (shaking head) What a sad situation. I hope his family comes through okay.

      - Patrice

  13. Thanks Patrice, for such great information! I've been home schooling too long and needed your great motivation. I got out our 'Where in the World?' game and signed up for Hillsdale's Constitution 101. My oldest son was home schooled through high school, just graduated from college in VA and now is working in DC as a govt defense contractor. We have 3 more and youngest daughter is 13. I love and believe in home schooling but now I need a pick-me-up to keep going (started in '91) and your books helped. We only keep our favorite 5000 books, too. What if we relocate to San Diego from OK with new job? We'll know soon! That's a lot of books to move! Maybe I'll send you some more great books!!
    Thanks again!
    --K in OK<><

  14. I think the comment about including college level texts is great but as an "older" nursing student I often went to the library and looked in the children's section for simpler explanations that gave me a base that I could build on. It sort of works both ways.

  15. Hi Patrice,
    I want to thank you for all the wonderful information on homeschooling resources. I myself have just recently started homeschooling my 4 yr old, J, in prep for Kindergarten for the B&M school. In the process of me doing that this year my oldest daughter, AL (7 yrs old) has been bullied relentlessly at the school I was to enroll her into. Needless to say I have since found a online Virtual school to help us with the materials that are needed to homeschool both my daughters next year. I am up against my husband on this one for the homeschooling. He is pro Public school and doesn't want the girls to be "isolated" which there is no way since they are both involved in Girl Scouts. I am doing this all behind his back in order to protect my girls from injury at that horrible school again. He is one of those that has the mentality that its part of growing up to be picked on. Not when she comes home with a busted lip from a rock that was thrown at her and bruises from a child grabbing her.
    Any suggestions on how to handle him and defuse a potential nightmare when he finds out???