This year I took special care to select homeschooling materials that looked interesting to myself as well as to the children. In the past, I selected materials based off of word of mouth recommendations as well as online reviews. While those are great resources, they might not necessarily reflect the values, goals, and preferences of your family. This was the case with us. Over the last couple of years, I grew to dread school time. My son didn't feel much differently. Every day was a struggle, and I felt thoroughly frustrated by the whole process.
If this sounds familiar, know that you aren't alone. My advice is to stop and take stock of what your child is drawn to and the way that you enjoy guiding them. For myself, I like to be somewhat involved, but not the main conduit from which information comes. This is tough when children can't yet read, but as soon as they can, it is a whole new world!
After looking through many materials, I decided on some that I have been working out so well. Here is what I decided on for each area of study:
This curriculum comes with integer blocks, instructional DVD, teachers book, student workbook, and weekly tests. We like that each skill has its own chapter and can be covered in about one week. We test every Friday, and tuck away the completed tests in a file. This curriculum is great for children who are visual learners. It does not require intense guidance from parents.
Language Arts: English 3
This is the way that I learned English (Language Arts). Each area of study is brief and includes guided practice, independent practice, and challenge problems. In grade 3, students learn parts of speech and how to write; book reports, research reports, stories, essays, and poems. Within just a few lessons, my son declared that Language Arts was his favorite topic. This is remarkable progress from a child who, before this year, disliked anything to do with writing.
Handwriting: Handwriting: Cursive (Brighter Child)
Although most schools no longer teach cursive handwriting, I feel strongly that it is an important skill. Research shows that cursive writing stimulates different parts of the brain than printing. Children who have trouble with writing due to dyslexia may also benefit from learning to read and write cursive. You can read about that here.
History: Story of the World
My children are naturally curious about history in general, but I do not have fond memories of what the study of history yielded me in grade school or college. What I do remember is a very disjointed account of events that were not surrounded by context. I can clearly recall copying dates of wars onto note cards so I could memorize them before tests. Learning about history was pure drudgery. When my children began expressing interest in history, I'm fairly sure I let out an audible sigh.
Enter the series Story of the World. This 9 CD set takes it's listener from about 4000 BCE to about 30 AD (other editions cover other time periods). It clearly ties together the various events that take place across the world as we can tell with current records. My intention was to buy one series per year; listening to the CDs in the van as we commute from one activity to the next. We are now on take 3 of the entire set as my children are completely fascinated with the stories and by mid-September, had finished the entire set. I also bought the workbook which we use occasionally.
Science: Infographics Grade 3
We use a variety of things in science studies. This is another area that my children love to explore, so buying a curriculum wasn't a priority (as they are constantly reading, experimenting, building on their own). I do like this Infographics set. Each page has information on one side with follow up questions on the back. and can be purchased by grade level or topic. We typically watch a YouTube video to accompany each topic.
Spelling: Building Spelling Skills
This book uses traditional speak and spell practice along with games to help students learn the proper spelling of words. It lays out each lesson in a simple Monday-Friday format.
Even though it comes near the end of the list, I actually prioritize physical activity in our day. During the summer we shoot for at least four hours of outside play daily. When it starts to get cold and the weather is less predictable, we have as much outside play as possible as well as classes such as gymnastics, skateboard club, and martial arts. In my area, one of the universities offers a free gym class to homeschoolers every Wednesday morning. We have taken advantage of this program for as long as it's been offered.
Again, it's placement doesn't signify it's importance. Although the children have not yet taken formal lessons (my oldest will start next year), I encourage lots of playing on the instruments we have here at home as well as exposure for different genres of music via the radio, trips to the orchestra, plays, and concerts.
We have not yet settled on a curriculum for art, but we have explored different artists through books and internet searches. We then proceed to create art in the designated genre. I am fairly certain that we have more craft and art supplies than any other type.
Volunteer Work/Community Outreach
There is no blueprint or plan for this, but this is near and dear to my heart. Above all else, I want my children to realize that if they want change, they will need to take the first step (sometimes alone) to make that change. For this reason, I take my children with me to most of my own volunteer planning committees, meetings, events. Although they are never required to pitch in or contribute, it's rare that they don't for some amount of time. When faced with an issue, they are quick to offer solutions that put them at center of action.
It looks like a lot, but using these materials has turned the daily battle of school work into a pleasure (well, most of the time). We organize all of the day's work in a daily planner. My child checks of the assignments as he completes them. This keeps us all accountable on a daily basis. I also write down any extra activities we do as a family such as museum visits, outside classes, volunteer work, hikes, gardening, cooking, etc. It's fun to look back and see how much we actually do and learn outside of the written book work.
It takes my third grader about 2 hours to complete all of his work with very little intervention on my part. Again, these are the materials that are working for us this year. If you are looking for a different curriculum or just starting out, I encourage you to look around and keep trying things until you find something that you and your student(ents) enjoy (or at least don't dread).