What does our curriculum look like?

Our Goals
Bible
Phonics and Spelling
Reading and Literature
Handwriting / Penmanship
English Grammar
Classical Languages
History and Geography
Mathematics
Science
Music and Art

Academic excellence is not the primary goal of our homeschool. Our first priority is to raise children who are strong in their faith, take God's word as their only rule for life and thought, and demonstrate Godly character. Nonetheless, we have very high academic standards for our children. Our oldest is only 6, so our plan for our children's education is not fully fleshed-out beyond the next few years (although we are already making plans and considering materials for high school and beyond).

We find the Classical Method a useful framework and very compatible with our goals and philosophy of education. Christine Miller's Classical Christian Homeschooling page is an excellent online resource. The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise is an essential reference book for the Classical method, though we have chosen to do things differently for many subjects and do not care for some of their recommended materials. Our most obvious departure from the suggested course of study recommended by every advocate of this method that we have read, is in the area of classical languages.

Our plan for grammar stage instruction is fairly complete. It has been influenced most strongly by writers on Classical education, but we have also taken some ideas from Charlotte Mason and have made modifications in many areas based on our own ideas or ideas whose sources we have since lost track of.

Bible

By listing the Bible in our curriculum overview we do not intend to limit it to simply a school subject. God's word is our rule for all of life and the foundation of all our knowledge. However, we thought that it might be helpful to mention our practice in this area. We strive to have a Word-saturated home. Matt leads family worship (usually geared to one or more of the children and topical) twice a day whenever possible, and never less than once a day. When we married, we began to read through the Bible at the meal table, starting in Genesis. We have not always been able to do this three times a day and there have been seasons when it has not been practical at all (staying with relatives, for instance) but we are on track to read the entire bible at the meal table every two to three years. God's word is brought to bear on discipline and on situations and questions that come up throughout the day. In addition, we have a set of CDs -- the complete Authorized (King James) Version, read by Alexander Scourby -- which our kids go to sleep listening to almost every night. The first year of our history cycle is also Bible-based, as we go from Genesis 1 to the Fall of Rome.

Memory work begins in preschool. We have revised the Catechism for Young Children to remove the Covenant of Works theology of the Westminster Standards, which we disagree with. We use this revised Catechism starting around age two, and we will choose selections from the Westminster Shorter Catechism for our kids to memorize as well. At about four or five (when they have completed the Catechism for Young Children and learned to read), our kids start on the Heidelberg Catechism. School-aged children have a time each week for doing projects from Doorposts ' books Polished Cornerstones or Plants Grown Up, and many of these projects fall into the category of Bible study. In addition, our kids learn selected memory verses and passages and master some "basics" during the preschool years: the Apostle's Creed, the books of the Bible, the Lord's prayer. When they learn to read, they are given their own Bible and expected to begin a time of private reading every day. At this age they also begin to keep a notebook for copying Scripture memory verses and notes from Sunday sermons.

Phonics and Spelling

The Writing Road to Reading by Romalda Spalding is far and away the best method for giving children the tools for using the English language. Using the book alone is possible but requires carefully study on the part of the teacher. Most people find it easiest to learn the method from an experienced teacher, a WRTR workshop, or a companion program. My favorite of the numerous companion programs is Reading Works by Jay Patterson. I found it very helpful while I was learning to teach the WRTR, though I refer to it very infrequently now. In addition to the Reading Works manual, Jay Patterson's "Legal Definitions" and "Multiples" flashcards are invaluable tools.

I have started both of my children on the WRTR the fall after their fourth birthday. We work on phonics for 10 - 15 minutes a day, learning to write and recognize the first 26, and then the first 54 phonograms. Talia mastered the phonograms after about 2 months, at which point we began the spelling list while continuing to review and test the phonograms. In this first year with a four-year-old I would introduce 3 - 5 new words a day, testing every day and keeping a word on the spelling list until it had been spelled correctly 5 consecutive times. I kept the running spelling list limited to 10 -15 words, introducing fewer new words if necessary to avoid testing more than 15 words each day. We made wall charts for selected notebook pages and spelling rules (er words, silent e rules, name sound rules) and did all our work on 1" ruled ("1st grade") penmanship paper. At this pace, we were able to finish the A-G list and master the basic spelling rules that year.

The following year, when Talia was five, we used 1/4" ruled ("3d grade") penmanship paper and kept a "spelling notebook" in a 3-hole-punch binder. We made selected notebook pages to go in the binder as well as keeping our running spelling list there (daily spelling tests were not kept in the binder). Our spelling time increased to about 1/2 hour. We did not have a consistant school schedule with Talia during this second year (or the first one, for that matter) but she progressed to the M list.

Starting this third year of WRTR with a six-year-old Talia, we are using regular-sized looseleaf penmanship paper and a bound (sewn) spelling notebook. We have begun the year with review of the 70 phonograms and all of the spelling words from the A-G lists through the M list (which she studied during the previous years.), testing 50 words a day and analyzing and re-testing any missed words. We will make all 7 notebook pages this year and continue the spelling list at a pace of about 30 words per week. Assuming that 30 words per week does not prove to be too much when we reach more difficult sections of the spelling list, it is likely that we will finish the Ayres list completely this year. In any event, we will probably review the final 500 words of the spelling list next year, possibly adding Jay Patterson's supplementary spelling words from Reading Works , before replacing spelling with grammar in our school schedule.

Another homeschooler's thoughts on the WRTR and Reading Works.

Reading and Literature:

Using the WRTR eliminates the need to teach reading as a separate subject. Talia began to read shortly after we started the spelling list (when she was about 4 1/2 years old) and by her 5th birthday could and did read just about anything that interested her. Minimizing television, video and computer time (we have no television) and reading aloud constantly during the preschool years has much to do with producing a voracious reader. Her only "required reading" right now is the Bible, but we do review and approve the books available to her in order to ensure that what she reads meets our standards for both worldview and morals, and quality of writing (no mass-market junk food books.) I highly recommend the book lists at Valerie's Living Books for information about excellent out-of-print children's books. Reading aloud together has always been and continues to be an essential part of our day.

Talia is 6 now, and we are already working on our core book list for junior high and high school. (Even so, it may get adapted as we go and from one child to the next). This will cover classical authors both in the original languages and in translation, as well as study of history, government, theology, etc.

Handwriting / Penmanship

The WRTR includes instructions for both manuscript and cursive writing. Learning to write the phonograms and spelling words has been the focus of the first half of the first year of instruction with my four-year-olds. When we finish the A-G list (which I expect will happen before the end of this first year if we are working consistantly) the child will begin to write an original sentence every day, usually using one of the new spelling words, and copying the sentence a second time with any corrections necessary. Around this time, or at the beginning of the second year of instruction, I will also give my children selected Bible passages to copy, coinciding with their Bible memory work. Cursive writing is taught in the second half of the second year or the first half of the third year, at which point the copywork and sentences are written both in manuscript and cursive. I think the kids need to be able to read and write cursive but I am not convinced that they should be expected to use cursive exclusively or that there is any advantage to learning cursive first. In fact, I think there is a disadvantage, as I want my four-year-olds to associate the letters they write with those they see in print, and it is impossible to use Jay Patterson's explicit "legal definitions" (instructions for writing manuscript letters) with many cursive letters. When cursive is mastered I allow the kids to choose to use either manuscript or cursive for their written work (but ask them to be consistent, that is not to switch back and forth on one project.)

English Grammar:

I have used Jay Patterson's Grammar Works with Talia, and have looked over several other grammar programs intended for elementary school-aged children, including many recommended by advocates of Classical Christian education. We have not found one that is suitable for our purposes. It became tiring to introduce a "new" grammar term or concept to Talia and hear her reply, "Oh, I already know about that from Latin." We have eliminated English grammar from our schedule this year. Our kids will learn grammar best and most thoroughly from their study of Latin and Greek. We expect to finish the WRTR before Talia is eight, and will then spend a year or two going through a junior-high or high-school level grammar text that includes diagramming. The year we do this will likely coincide with her final year of Latin and Greek grammar, before she begins reading classical authors. If this works well for Talia we will likely continue it with our other children: I will make sure they are familiar with parts of speech by the time they can read and write English well enough to start studying classical languages, and we will put off formal study of English grammar until they have finished the WRTR and had two years of Latin and Greek. This system will reinforce what our kids learn from Latin and Greek grammar and ensure that they are applying it to English.

Classical Languages

Matt starts our kids on Latin and Greek as soon as they are reading and writing English competently. He has developed a method for teaching Greek phonics and handwriting based on the methods used for teaching English phonics and handwriting in the WRTR and Reading Works . We do not believe it is necessary to wait until 8 years old or third grade to begin instruction if a child has reasonable mastery of English writing and phonics. We feel that using the WRTR is a key to our being able to start our children's Greek and Latin instruction when they are five or six years old, because the WRTR eliminates the unneccesary components of other phonics programs and gives children the tools for writing and spelling quickly and efficiently. Most of the methods recommended for Latin instruction for Classical Christian schools and homeschools are "primers" or "pre-Latin" courses, which are followed after two or three years (or more) by an introductory Latin couse. This is unnecessary. Matt currently uses Eccce Romani, a middle-school Latin text. It is necessary to slow the pace considerably when working with a younger child, but because Ecce Romani is widely used, there are many supplementary materials available for it. Ecce Romani is not as rigorous in drilling grammar concepts as some programs, being designed to start the student reading Latin with little or no knowledge of grammar. This is easily correctable by the teacher. Matt uses games and flashcard drills for reinforcement. After an initial period of learning the Greek alphabet and phonics, Matt uses Athenaze, a high-school level Greek textbook, again, progressing slowly with the younger student.

History and Geography

We begin the study of history chronologically, with Creation. This year, we have begun to use the history cards from Veritas Press as a "spine" for our study, which helps keep us on track.  For Ancient History, the Bible is our main and definitive source, and we have sought out other resources as necessary to study the ancient civilizations (Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Greek, and Roman) as they are encountered in the Biblical narrative. Two resources we turn to often are the Wall Chart of World History and A Picturesque Tale of Progress (we do not use this book to cover Biblical history, but only other ancient civilizations. Talia keeps a History Notebook (binder) and narrates entries based on our reading and study. We include maps when relevant, and occassionally have her do question-and-answer quizzes when the material is not suitable for a narration. As our first cycle of History (Ancient through Modern) continues over the next several years, the approach will be similar, but Talia will gradually progress from narrating her History work to narrating and copying, and eventually writing it out herself. We will also increase the amount of assigned reading for her to cover alone.

Geography is taught together with history -- when we study a set of events, we will locate where they took place on the globe, and often create or study more detailed maps. An understanding of geography tools and terminology suitable for this level of study does not require separate course time. I expect my kids to be able to use a globe independently by about age 6, to locate the continents, latitude and longitude lines, and places significant to them ("Where do we live? Where does Grandpa live? Where did Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden live at the beginning of the book, and where did she move to?"). They play with a GeoSafari that their grandmother found at a school sale for $5. Our detailed map study at this stage deals primarily with Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the Mediterranean region.

Mathematics

I have used Saxon Math with Talia so far, and we have both been satisfied with it. In retrospect, a detailed scope and sequence would have been sufficient material for the first several years of mathematics instruction. However, this would have required much more teacher preparation time, and I enjoy the convenience of the ready-made worksheets and drills. I do find Saxon more repetitive than necessary. We began with Saxon 1 (skipping K) and I chose to skip some lessons and worksheet problems when Talia had clearly mastered the concept. When we finished Saxon 1, we proceeded directly to Saxon 3 (skipping 2), without a problem. We use a shareware computer program for drilling math facts in addition to Saxon's flashcards and paper drills. We also have a partial set of Wynroth Math Program games which were given to us, which my kids enjoy. We use these for a change of pace, to reinforce concepts and for preschool math.

One of the reasons I selected Saxon is because it is suitable for self-teaching. This is not really possible with the K-3 program, however, Talia is learning to become more independent in her math work this year (working through Saxon 3) as I assign her worksheet problems and expect her to attempt to figure things out alone before she comes to me for help. When she begins Saxon 54 I will assign lessons and problems to her, check her work regularly, and administer tests, but will avoid tutoring unless she has read and re-read the lesson in question (and the previous lesson) and still does not understand the concept (I don't expect this to happen often). I expect the amount of supervision required by the time she reaches the upper-grade math books will be minimal.

Science

We intend to have two cycles of Biology / Chemistry / Physics in junior high and high school years (with the final year of Physics coming after our kids finish calculus). For the grammar stage, we take a much less structured approach. We have numerous children's science books (books of kid's science experiments and questions and answers, nature encyclopedias, anatomy and physiology, etc) which our kids enjoy looking at, and we answer questions as they come up "How big is the baby inside you now? Why does the moon look small when it's really big? Why can't I feel the earth spinning round and round?"). In addition, we have a nature study walk once or twice a week. Talia keeps a Nature Notebook with pictures and observations of birds, plants, and animals. Anna Botsford Comstock's A Handbook of Nature Study is an excellent resource, along with field guides and a nature encyclopedia. We want our children's study of science in the grammar stage to teach them to make careful and detailed observations, to make classifications and measurements, and to be interested in and curious about the world around them. We feel this is easily accomplished without a formal textbook study at this stage.

Music and Art

Talia began violin lessons when she was four, and wants to learn to play the harp as well. Aedan wants to play the cello and I have been putting him off. I played flute briefly in junior high, picked up folk guitar in high school, have been taking violin lessons with Talia for the last year, and have an as-yet-unrealized desire to collect and fool around with various other instruments (mandolin, dulcimer, banjo...) Matt tried violin lessons and decided he was too busy, but is taking piano lessons this fall. My goal is to have a bunch of homeschooled kids I can play folk music with. Matt's goal is to be able to listen us playing Bach trios. We'll see...

I probably will not start another four year old on an instrument, because for the practice time to be effective at this age requires a great deal of parental investment. In the future, I hope to space things out so that I only have one young beginning musician at a time who needs my attention and correction while they practice. This will probably mean starting Aedan on cello or another instrument of his choice in another year or two when Talia is old enough and accomplished enough to be trusted to practice alone.

Most art activities are self-directed at this stage. The kids have access to many kinds of art materials and enjoy using them. Occasionally an adult helps with a particularly messy or complicated project. We also sometimes use the excercises and lessons inDrawing With Children by Mona Brookes. Art and music history will be integrated with the history curriculum, to familiarize the children with the lives and work of key composers.

See Talia and Aedan's art work.

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