by Mark & Patti Virkler
People often ask for my recommendations of curriculum for homeschooling their children. I have put together the following ideas and suggestions based on my experience and research. You, of course, know your children best, and are therefore best qualified to make the final choices concerning their education.
When we began homeschooling our oldest child in 1980, only one Christian school curriculum source was willing to sell to the homeschool parent. That made our curriculum decisions very easy for the first few years! However, as the homeschooling movement has grown and the market has exploded, the number of choices available has become almost overwhelming to the average parent, especially those who are just starting out. Sometimes when I go through a new catalog, I almost wish I were starting all over teaching my children again. There are so many exciting and fascinating resources available that can make home education a daily adventure. I hope my thoughts will help you make a wise and informed decision and lead you into your best year of homeschooling yet.
A. Learning to Read
Teaching your child to read seems to be the most challenging task facing the new homeschooler. You want to be sure to do it right since his future success in school and in all of life rests on this important foundation. What a responsibility! Well, take heart. The creators of homeschooling curriculum recognize the importance of this skill and your concern over doing it well. Every nationally-recognized curriculum resource company has a detailed phonics-based learning to read program which, if followed carefully, will guide even the novice parent to success with most children.
1) I used the Learning to Read series from Christian Light Education, and was delighted with the results. Both of my children are avid readers, excellent spellers, and still intensely interested in expanding their vocabularies. Learning to Read is a simple, inexpensive but thorough phonics program. The Teacher’s Guide leads the parent step-by-step through the learning process, even telling you word-for-word what to say in each lesson, if you feel the need for such detailed help. The student works through ten workbooks called LightUnits.
This is not a very “jazzy” reading program with lots of games and songs to stimulate the child’s interest. However, I found that my children were so eager to learn at that early age that I didn’t need to entice them. All I had to do was respond to their desire to know with appropriate information and not destroy their curiosity and thirst for knowledge. By following their lead and offering bite-size lessons on a flexible schedule, my children and I thoroughly enjoyed their adventure into learning to read.
Christian Light Publications, Inc.
P.O. Box 1212
Harrisonburg, VA 22801-1212
2) Although I have not used it, for many years I have heard the praises of Sing, Spell, Read & Write. Multi-sensory learning activities and sing-along teaching songs are combined to create the most effective teaching strategies for all learning modalities - auditory, visual and kinesthetic. All lesson plans are provided. If I could afford it, I would probably use this program if I were starting over.
Available from ChristianBook.com and many other sources
3) My daughter-in-law successfully taught our three grandchildren to read using Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons by Siegfried Engelmann. It is inexpensive, simple, straightforward, and effective. A complete, step-by-step program requiring only twenty-to-thirty minutes a day, the book includes everything parents need and doesn’t require complicated planning or difficult add-on activities. Building from simple exercises that cover sound identification, decoding words and sentences, irregulars, and more, lessons slowly build to more challenging tasks; vocabulary, examples, and the teacher’s aspect of the lesson are carefully controlled to help children comfortably progress to a fluent level. Lessons are fully scripted with teacher instruction integrated into the examples and demonstrations.
This program can be used for bright 3-year olds, on-track 4 and 5 year olds, and non-reading elementary students, but is not recommended for struggling readers who make mistakes.
Available from ChristianBook.com and many other sources
B. Integrated 12-year Curricula
As more curriculum companies recognized that homeschooling was here to stay and that more and more Christians would be making that choice for their children, the options available for parents to choose from became much greater. I personally sampled many different curriculum possibilities throughout my homeschooling years, including Bob Jones, A Beka, Christian Light, Christian Liberty Academy, Saxon Math, and Alpha Omega.
1) If you want to follow the traditional educational model that you are familiar with from your schooling, I strongly recommend the Bob Jones University curriculum. Their texts are authoritative, attractive and Christ-centered. While Bob Jones is a strongly Baptist university, and I am not a Baptist, I did not find anything objectionable theologically in any of the texts I used. The material taught on each grade level is readily comparable to that traditionally taught in public schools, and my children always scored well above average on the required standardized tests. Texts and teacher’s guides are available in the full spectrum of courses on all grade levels.
Greenville, SC 29614-0062
If you have several children, or if you are insecure about your ability to teach any of the subjects, you may wish to look into the Distance Learning program from Bob Jones. This is tailored to meet the specific needs of homeschoolers, offering teaching for K5 through 12th grade in a wide range of subjects.
2) Alpha Omega Publications has developed an excellent program to their LIFEPAC Curriculum which has been used in Christian schools for decades. Switched-On Schoolhouse is a comprehensive, Christian homeschool curriculum that offers computer-based learning for grades 3-12. With animation, video clips, and other fascinating multimedia, Switched-On Schoolhouse is the perfect Christian homeschool curriculum for today’s generation. With this flexible, best-selling curriculum, you can customize student learning to fit individual educational needs.
Curriculum is available in the five basic subjects (Bible, History and Geography, Language Arts, Mathematics and Science) for grades 3 through 12, along with several electives.
I, personally, would not use solely a computer program, especially for my elementary age children. I enjoyed being a part of their learning too much to give that up. However, for variety, to renew the interest of an older student, or to take some of the load if I were homeschooling several children, I would definitely make use of this exciting program. It is excellent.
Alpha Omega Publications
300 North McKemy Ave.
Chandler, AZ 85226-2618
C. History Alternatives
A Note to Non-United States Residents:
Patriotism seems to be an ingredient of American Christianity. Since the majority of Christian curricula are produced in the United States, there is a very strong emphasis on American history and heritage in these materials. Alpha Omega and Switched-On Schoolhouse include very little world history in their curriculum. I strongly recommend that you not include their history-geography series in your program. Bob Jones also has many United States history courses but they do seem to be a bit less ethnocentric in their upper level materials. Here are my recommended alternatives.
1) The Greenleaf History series reprints classic history books and offers study guides for each. When a child completes the series, he will have an understanding of ancient civilizations from having “lived with” the material through his elementary years. Study guides offer discussion questions, projects and vocabulary words drawn from the readings.
Available from www.Amazon.com
2) American homeschoolers who choose to use Greenleaf will also want to include some specifically American history. Excellent alternatives to the traditional texts or workbooks are the materials by Peter Marshall and David Manuel. With complementary books available on three levels (ages 5 and 6, ages 7 - 11, and ages 12 and up), the whole family can take part in these unit studies.
3) What Was It Like? This fun American cultural history curriculum (created by my daughter-in-law) is a great way to engage kids’ interest by allowing them to experience some of what everyday life was like for children through the ages. As a study in the lighter side of life throughout America’s history, instead of memorizing facts and dates, you’ll experience what kids actually ate and see how they dressed.
Available from www.WhatWasItLike.school
D. Unit Studies
A unit study links multiple subjects around a common theme so that the student learns about the topic as a whole in its actual context, rather than learning about each subject independently. The brain is much more attuned to studying things in this connected way than reading a linear history and memorizing dates. If I were starting over with homeschooling, I would take advantage of the many unit studies which are available today.
1) Five in a Row is a literature-based curriculum for PreK through grade 6 (ages 4-11). It provides lesson plans for geography, social studies, science, art, math and language arts based on outstanding children’s literature, most of which can be found in your local library. Christian Character Bible Study Supplements link biblical truths to each story and provide character lessons to further extend the learning experience. Lessons include discussion guides, teacher answers, suggestions for hands-on activities and much more. Beyond Five in a Row units also include numerous essay questions, career path investigations, and Internet sites to explore. Recommended by Cathy Duffy, Diana Waring and others.
2) Designed specifically with homeschoolers in mind and based on the philosophy that children learn best when the subject matter is made practical, Learning Language Arts Through Literature integrates all aspects of language arts into its daily study of classical literature. Lessons include phonics, reading, spelling, grammar, vocabulary, handwriting, higher-order thinking skills, research, creative writing, oral presentation and much more. Winner of the Practical Home Schooling Readers’ Choice Award for literature. The first and second grade packages include teacher’s book, student activity book, and readers. Other grades use books found in your local library rather than readers.
Available from Christianbook.com and many other sources.
E. If I Were Starting Over...
As I look through the catalogs of curricula available to the homeschooler today, I imagine what I would try if I were starting all over with my children. This is what I think I would do:
Age 3 - 5:
Begin a learning to read program very casually and with great flexibility. If my children were eager to learn and willing to sit down with me to work on workbooks, I would use Christian Light’s Learning to Read program again. However, if my children were very active, not very interested in learning, or strongly kinesthetic learners, I would use Sing, Spell, Read & Write.
Begin introducing math skills with the use of manipulatives such as Cuisenaire Rods and Miquon Math.
Also use Before Five in a Row for activities focusing on reading readiness, development of large and small motor skills, love of reading, and more.
Ages 6 - 11:
Language Arts: Learning Language Arts Through Literature
Math: Miquon Math through age 8; after this I would choose one math publisher to follow through the rest of school. I personally prefer and would use the Bob Jones series, though many homeschoolers are very happy with Saxon.
History and Geography: Greenleaf History
Unit Studies: Five in a Row; supplement with some of the many delightful unit studies available.
Bible: No specific Bible program is necessary since both Greenleaf History and Five in a Row have strong biblical emphases.
Ages 12 and up:
Language Arts: Learning Language Arts Through Literature
Math: Continue with the chosen series, probably Bob Jones; supplement with Switched-On Schoolhouse, particularly for upper level geometry and algebra. (The level to which we would pursue math would be dependent on the interest and gifts of each child.)
History and Geography: The Light and the Glory series and unit studies of particular eras, individuals, and countries of interest.
Science: Switched-On Schoolhouse or Distance Learning from Bob Jones. (The level to which we would pursue science would be dependent on the interest and gifts of each child.)
Bible: Christian Leadership University courses (www.cluonline.com)
Supplement with a wide variety of unit studies to keep interest alive and provide for whole family learning activities.
Courses on leadership, worship, counseling, and Christian living, as well as many others are available from Christian Leadership University (www.cluonline.com). They will accept high school students who demonstrate they are able to do the work.