Monday, January 22, 2018

Reflections of a Curriculum Junkie

Choosing "the right" curriculum can be a challenge for homeschoolers.  Does it match your homeschool philosophy/method?  Is it interesting and engaging?  Is it teacher-intensive?  Does it match, or can you balance it out with your family's religious views?  Will it challenge, without overwhelming, your kids?  There are so many aspects to consider that it can feel overwhelming.

This week during the Virtual Homeschool  Fair we're discussing Our Homeschool Curriculum, so I think now is as good as any to do a mid-year update, since we just had a major curriculum overhaul and finally made it through the first term of the new program.

I fully admit to being a curriculum junkie.  Thankfully I've had the Schoolhouse Review Crew to provide a steady flow of new curricula and supplements to satiate that desire to "change things up" all the time.  Despite this, I've still bounced around a little over the years.  Nothing drastic; I haven't gone from one extreme to the other; we've always been literature-based and relaxed homeschoolers, but this year we've circled right back around to where we started.

When I first discussed Transitioning to Ambleside Online, I mentioned that we had actually started there, but we got off to a rough start and I fell into into that "maybe there's something better out there" trap.  I'm not going to rehash all of the backstory, or how I circled back around to AO (you can read that post for the details), but I will say, I have learned a few things from changing curricula a few times since then.

I have learned that I need to learn to be content with what is working and not try to find something "better" just for fear of missing out.  I should want to find the best, but only when what we have is not working.  There's no need to be constantly hunting for the next best thing, because something shinier will always come along.  I have also learned that I can love something, but I have to know when it is time for my children to move on.  Even a beloved or rich curriculum may not always meet our needs.

So here we are with Ambleside Online, and we've finished the first term, so I thought now would be a good time to share some of our thoughts so far.

The Content/Books
The books are fabulous.  They are truly living books.  They are literary and interesting and engaging.  Out of all of the books that are assigned between Years 2 and 4 (we have only omitted a few, and even that is only temporary--I have plans to work them in eventually) the boys like almost all of them, they even seem to love several of them.  I am just so impressed and thankful that a group of homeschool families, not being paid for their effort, have managed to put together something so engaging and thorough and have shared it for free - and that it is so effective!

My Year 2 son loves Our Island Story and A Child's History of the World, and of course The Burgess Animal Book for Children because it's all animals all the time.

My Year 4 said his favorite book is Robinson Crusoe, definitely for the story line.  Otherwise, he likes The Storybook of Science because it's "science" and short chapters.  I wasn't doing the optional activity/experiment book for science, and he did ask for more activities this past week, so I need to be more consistent about assigning hands-on science.  (He goes back to co-op this week, though, where he has a science class, so that might help too.)

I may try to get around to going more in-depth about the kids thoughts and progress with their individual years, should I find the time after this series is finished.

The Schedule
I really love how the schedule is designed.  It's laid out so that it says what to read each week, but I get to assign the days we read those passages.  They have a variety of formats too, so I took an editable schedule and tweaked it to meet our needs.  For instance, I deleted the Bible reading lines, and changed the name of the poets, because we already had something in place for these.  There were a few small tweaks otherwise, which I addressed in Transitioning to Ambleside Online Year 4, the transition and

I typed up a quick grid that tells me which books we'll read each day.  I tried to spread out the subjects so we aren't reading two books from the same subject in a day.  I tried to keep Wednesdays slightly lighter, so I don't feel rushed in the afternoon into the evening.  Then Thursdays are off for co-op,  which is enrichment subjects. Fridays are lighter, so that if we don't finish a passage, or if it's longer (like two chapters for Burgess Animals) we can just roll it over to Friday and finish then.  I also read some stuff over lunch most days, usually poetry and a book that is for everyone.  I have to rearrange things for my oldest for second term, as a few books are added, but we'll see how things go.  We might slide a morning reading in on Thursdays if necessary.

I never follow the Enrichments schedule, so I intend to update it on my schedule.

Then AO offers a blank grid for daily and weekly subjects (math, copywork, dictation, etc.) along with their term schedules, and I can add/delete rows before I print, to customize it for each child.  I just do a checkmark inside the box each time we complete those!

Daily subjects should have at least 3, preferably 4 subjects by the end of the week.  It's easier than a note booking method, because I don't have to write anything.  I have a total of three papers per term - The Reading Schedule, The Daily/Weekly tasks, and my weekly subject guide.

The Richness
When following a CM education, it is a broad and rich feast.  There is so much to offer, and I am using many elements of Ambleside Online's riches, and following our pre-AO schedule for others.  Next week we'll be discussing Enriching Our Homeschool, so without giving too much away, I just want to say that I considered myself a "good" student - I got straight A's and I liked learning, reading, and going to school, and I feel like I missed out on so much by not having the same depth and breadth that I am able to offer my kids.  There's just so much to discuss next week, though!

The Other Stuff
We are following AO for History, Geography, Literature, Science and some of the riches.  We're doing our own thing for a few other subjects.

Bible:  readings/AWANA for all
Math:  CTCMath & Xtra Math at their level
Lang Arts:  We're following AO/CM with narration, copywork, cursive practice (Y2) as well as dictation and weekly written narrations (Y4)  My oldest has done enough grammar for awhile, and we'll do a crash course down the road.
Typing:  Elliott is doing typing lessons so that he can type his written narrations
Co-Op:  All of the kids go to weekly co-op
Choir:  We have someone who has volunteered to start a junior church choir, and my 3 oldest children are participating in it!

(I"ll share more about the co-op and choir next week too.)

Final Thoughts
So overall, things are going well this year.  We obviously had some bumps in the road early on, but now that we have switched to AO and I have a schedule to keep me consistent and moving forward, we've made a lot of progress and our days are smoother.  I must admit though, that it isn't so much about finding "the perfect curriculum" as it is about knowing when and how to make the changes that are needed.  It's about having the mindset of making the curriculum serve us, not the other way around.  It's about finding a curriculum that is academically engaging, but also brings beauty and joy to the day.

Looking for more curriculum ideas? 
Visit my fellow homeschool bloggers! 

 Note: all posts will be live after 8 am EST on Monday, Jan. 22nd.
Our Homeschool Plan for 3rd, 6th, 8th, & 12th Grades by Susan @ Homeschooling Hearts & Minds
Our 10th Grade Plans by Christy @ Unexpected Homeschool
Planning Out Our Unschooling Studies by Jen @ A Helping Hand Homeschool
The Details of Curriculum by Michele @ Family, Faith and Fridays
Freedom through nature journaling. by Kim @ Good Sweet Love
Our 2018 Homeschool Curriculum Choices by Amanda @ Hopkins Homeschool
Top Home Educating Resources by Sarah @ DeliveringGrace
Homeschooling Curriculum We Are Using This Year by Laura O @ Day by Day in Our World
Use the Force and Complete the Course by Kym @ Homeschool Coffee Break
Our Curriculum Needs - grade seven by Annette @ A Net in Time
The Heart of Our School by Laura @ Four Little Penguins
How to Avoid Gaps in Education by Kristen H. @ Sunrise to Sunset
Tricky Subjects and Starting the Decision Making Process by Lori H @ At Home: where life happens
High School Syllabus by TrueNorthHomeschoolAcademy @ GoldenGrasses 

The Virtual Homeschool Fair is hosted annually by Susan @ Homeschooling Hearts and Minds, and here are my posts for this year.  

Week 1:  5 Reasons We Love Homeschooling (The Reason We Homeschool)
Week 2:  How Charlotte Mason Transformed Our Homeschool (Our Homeschool Method)
Week 3:  Reflections of a Curriculum Junkie (Our Homeschool Curriculum)
Week 4:  (Enriching Our Learning)

©2011-2018 Mom’s Heart.  All rights reserved.  All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.

Monday, January 15, 2018

How Charlotte Mason Transformed our Homeschool

When we first decided to homeschool, I researched for a long time, but it didn't take long for me to fall in love with Charlotte Mason.

This post contains affiliate links.

This week's topic for the Virtual Curriculum Fair is Our Method of Homeschooling, and I am sharing why Charlotte Mason is important to our homeschool.

What is Charlotte Mason?  
If you're not familiar with the Charlotte Mason (CM) method, Charlotte Mason was a British educator in the late 1800's, and what we call the "Charlotte Mason method" is derived from her educational philosophy and the methods she used.  She believed that children are born persons, they're not blank slates to be filled, they have an innate curiosity and thus need living ideas to feed their mind and soul.  To facilitate this, Charlotte Mason used living books instead of textbooks, narration instead of rote memory or dull worksheets, nature study to learn about the world firsthand, handicrafts to develop skills and to make useful and beautiful items, a study of fine arts to feed the soul, and so much more in order to offer students a feast for the mind.

I could go on, but I'll share some links at the end of the post, if you're interested in reading more, because I can't describe the ideas as eloquently as others.  What I really want to do today is share how returning to Charlotte Mason saved our homeschool.

How Charlotte Mason Transformed Our Homeschool
Our Charlotte Mason Preschool years went really well, but I slowly strayed and dabbled in some curriculum that, while lovely and full of fascinating living books, wasn't particularly Charlotte Mason.  I don't regret the years with our other literature-based programs, they were great for us at the time, and I would still recommend them to others under the right circumstances.  I just started to feel as if something was missing in our homeschool.

In hindsight, we should have just waited a year to start the curriculum we used, but eventually, we slowly made our way back.  I haven't finished reading Mason's books, but I did start slowly adding in elements, one at a time.  I added in fine arts (picture study, hymns, folk songs, composer studies, daily poetry), I added in copywork or dictation for the boys, we started dabbling in Shakespeare.  Suddenly, I was overwhelmed and frustrated with the curriculum we were trying to use, and felt like we were at a complete standstill, with no quality progress.  It wasn't producing the same joy and interest as the "extra" Charlotte Mason elements.

The living books were great, but I was trying to force a curriculum and "work" around them, and it just wasn't working.  So I stopped.  I researched for a couple of days, and decided we were going back to true Charlotte Mason.  I changed curriculum the very next week, and I can already feel the progress and intangible benefits in just one term.

That sounds so dramatic, especially because I know things aren't actually perfect around here; we are all human, and we still have bad days.  Overall though, I can feel the dynamic of our homeschool and our daily attitudes slowly changing, and I think this is due to a number of little things that add up to a more pleasant experience.

Better Attitudes
One thing I noticed within just a couple of weeks is that the amount of complaining has reduced dramatically.  That's not to say that there isn't whining or procrastinating, but it doesn't happen as often.  There isn't pure dread in their eyes when I say "It's time for . . . " and I think it because of the short and varied lessons, the living ideas, and NO BUSY WORK!  Sometimes, they even look forward to a particular book, because it's just that good!

They are already making connections on their own.  When we were doing literature-based units (not quite unit studies, but certainly not CM either), I felt like I was just fluffing out their studies and they were just going along for the ride, rushing through and unfortunately not retaining as much as I thought.  When we did a streamlined, chronological history approach, they loved the history, but everything else still felt disjointed.  Now that we're using a full Charlotte Mason curriculum (Ambleside Online - more on that next week) that is so meticulously and carefully curated, and following the CM methods, it doesn't feel forced.  I also feel like there is just enough of a peg from one subject, for it to resonate when something comes around again in another book or subject, and they get the joy of making that connection on their own.  Like when my 8 year old recognizes that the  King in today's story is related to the Duke in his history biography, and was the "winning" King in one of the first battles we read when we started this curriculum.   It might be interesting when I tell them how things are related, but it's certainly not as meaningful as when they realize it on their own - as evidenced by the way their eyes light up during the discussion.

No Planning and No "Stuff" to Do
Ambleside Online is laid out pretty clearly, and I just have to buy the books (my preference over e-books or library) and print the schedule.  I sometimes print a map, but the most effort I have to put into planning/scheduling, is creating a reading schedule for the core books.  It's really that simple.  Charlotte Mason's methods mostly rely on reading and narrations, so there are no worksheets to print, busy work assignments, or unnecessary projects.  This means I'm not scrambling at the last minute to print something or gather supplies.  When I do scramble, our days fall apart.  If I stick to the basics and avoid busy work, our days run smoother and they don't feel forced into doing meaningless activities and projects.

If they want to explore something in greater depth, I am happy to help them, but then it is their choice, and that just means I know the method is working - living ideas are creating curiosity!

How Do I Know It's Working?
Maybe I don't.  We're only one term in.  I don't "have it all down" yet.  I certainly don't have any long-term results, only anecdotal results from other homeschoolers . . . but the attitude adjustment, the ease of the methods, the less stress I feel, and those "aha!" moments are enough for me to feel there is so much more fruit to bare!  Homeschooling, no matter what method, is trial-and-error, and ever-changing process.  We must learn to adapt and learn from our mistakes, make improvements, and grow along with our children.  That's what I'm doing.

For more reading about Charlotte Mason
Charlotte Mason's original books
An Introduction to Charlotte Mason
CM's 20 Principles
What is the Charlotte Mason Method?

What do my fellow homeschool bloggers have to say about their Homeschool Method? Go visit them to find out! 

Note: all posts will be live after 8 am EST on Monday, Jan. 15th.

How Our Academic Co-op Completes Our Eclectic Homeschool by Susan @ Homeschooling Hearts & Minds
A Method to Our Madness by Michele @ Family, Faith and Fridays
Finding Our Homeschool Method by Christy @ Unexpected Homeschool
How We Homeschool by Amanda @ Hopkins Homeschool
Give Us.... by Annette @ A Net in Time
A day in our Home by Sarah@DeliveringGrace
Lit-Based Education: How We Homeschool by Debra @ Footprints in the Butter
Overhauling Our Homeschool - Adjusting our "How" to fit our "Why" by Sabrina Scheerer @ Kids, Crunch, and Christ
A Day in the Life of a Homeschooler: Expectation Vs. Reality by Leah @ As We Walk Along the Road
Captain's Log, Supplemental - Our Homeschool Days by Kym @ Homeschool Coffee Break
How we get it done. by Kim @ Good Sweet Love
How to Organize Daily Curriculum with the School Cart by Jeniffer @ Thou Shall Not Whine
Learning For Life by Lori H @ At Home: where life happens
Eclectic Homeschooling: When It All Comes Together by Jen @ A Helping Hand Homeschool
A Typical Day? by Lizzy @ Peaches@Home
This is the Way We Do Our School, So Early in the Morning by Laura @ Four Little Penguins
A Little of This and a Little of That: Eclectic Homeschooling by Laura O @ Day by Day in Our World
Still Classically Educating After All These Years by True North Homeschool Academy
So what exactly is Life Led Homeschooling? by Dana @ Life Led Homeschool
Our Homeschool Routine by Joelle @Homeschooling For His Glory
Homeschool Methods � 8 Tips for the Journey by Kristen @ Sunrise to Sunset

Week 1:  5 Reasons We Love Homeschooling (Why We Homeschool)
Week 2:  How Charlotte Mason Transformed Our Homeschool (Our Method of Homeschooling)
Week 3:  Reflections of a Curriculum Junkie (Our Homeschool Curriculum)
Week 4:  Coming Soon:  (Enriching Our Learning)

The Virtual Homeschool Fair is hosted by Susan @ Homeschooling Hearts and Minds and we have two more subjects left to discuss, so be sure to come back next week!

©2011-2018 Mom’s Heart.  All rights reserved.  All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018 review

Homeschool families are always looking for that elusive perfect curriculum.  It may be nearly impossible to find perfect, but what if I told you there was a website that offered you hundreds of courses for all grade levels, and one flat rate would get you access for an entire family - no matter how many children or how many courses you need? review
This post contains affiliate links. is a comprehensive homeschool curriculum website, and I'm happy to review the Yearly Membership so that you can get a glimpse of everything they have to offer!  SchoolhouseTeachers offers courses in all subjects for all grades, supplemental materials, parent resources and much more.  It can be used to enrich your homeschool, or it can effectively be an all-in-one stop for the entire family.

SchoolhouseTeachers can be used for so many different purposes and in so many ways, so there are different ways to navigate the website.  For brand new members, there is a New Members Hub that gives you information about what you will find and how to find it.  The two main ways I like to navigate are to Browse by Grade or Browse by Subject.  Browsing by Grade has the advantage of narrowing down courses that are targeted at a specific age range.  Browsing by Subject allows me to look for topical or interest based courses that supplement our homeschool. review

The vast number of courses offered is astounding.  I couldn't begin to list them all, but suffice it to say, you can find something for everyone in your family, from the preschooler to the high schooler, and everyone in between.  Plus you, the parent, will find courses and resources.

We are Charlotte Mason homeschoolers, and primarily rely on living books, and yet I can still find quite a bit of amazing materials to use in our homeschool.  In fact, there is an entire section called the Charlotte Mason Learning Center, that lists all of the courses that include a Charlotte Mason component/method.  While not every course is directly influenced by the philosophy, the ones on the list are the most compatible.  It would obviously be up to the parent to decide what works best in their homeschool, but I've found a few courses that work well for us!

Each term we do picture study by studying several works of a famous artist.  To accompany our picture study, I can easily pull from a couple of the different art courses once or twice a term, just to enhance our learning and bring it to life!  The All About Artists unit study is for 1st-3rd grade, and gives a brief biography on a few different artists, along with pictures of some of their famous works.  I think it's a great course for jumping into your first few picture studies, because the author has chosen prominent artists that are interesting to children, but it is simple and effectively executed.

Elementary Art:  Twelve Great Artists is an elementary level course, that offers a brief overview of the artist, a project inspired by the artist (Leonardo da Vinci's project focuses on inventions), and some suggested books you might consider getting from the library.  Although my children enjoy traditional picture study for what it is, they also enjoy the occasional art project, so having some simple biographies to introduce the artist at the beginning of the term, and a project to end with, are a great way to add a little something special to our days.  I appreciate having it all collected into one document and readily accessible.  {This course actually has another section as well, called Advent Art, which is 10 lessons of scripture and projects/crafts, though we didn't use it this year.}

Here's the thing, though.  In addition to all of the great courses, there are other amazing features.  Many of the courses use video content from streaming providers like, Drive Thru History, RightNow Media, and more.  Some videos require a separate login, but access is free through  The other phenomenal feature is the access to World Book.  Some courses are created around this content, while we also have access to ten different World Book Libraries!  This is an excellent resource to have available for research or general browsing, because yes, I have a kid that just likes to sit and read encyclopedia type fact books.

This is only the tip of the iceberg, as I can't possible discuss the rest of the courses we want to try, like the animal science courses that interest my 8 year old animal lover, the Guitar course for my 11 year old, or the different music courses I want to do as a family.  There is even a Charlotte Mason course for parents!  Other resources available to parents are the Schoolhouse Planners, Applecore (record keeping and transcripts), printable course certificates, and Molly Green the magazine. really does have a little bit of everything.  The website is comprehensive and offers a variety of courses and resources to meet the needs of almost everyone.  They also have a variety of subscription options to best meet your needs, but whatever you choose, it is for all students; you do not pay extra for more children!  Right now, they are also offering a special New Years sale, where you can receive a significant discount.

Schoolhouse Teachers 2018 Fresh Start New Years Speical

The Homeschool Review Crew has over 40 reviewers sharing their thoughts and experiences with this vast website, so be sure to check out the rest of the reviews!

Homeschool Curriculum for Everybody - { Reviews}

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©2011-2018 Mom’s Heart.  All rights reserved.  All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.