The Schoolroom

Recently, I’ve had a number of conversations with folks who are looking for educational resources.  This is my attempt to share some of the books that we’ve found to be helpful along the way.

Before we jump in…

~Regardless of your age, educational background, or philosophy of education, I hope that there is something new and valuable for you on this list.  It can serve as a “wish list” for Grandma as she selects birthday and Christmas presents, a supplementary reading list for your child who is in school, or as suggestions to round out your own reading or library.

~If you’re new to homeschooling or have very young children, don’t let the list overwhelm you.  If your kiddos are still young, play with them.  Read to them.  Talk with them about their world as they experience it in the everyday.  There is plenty of time for more formal instruction.

~For those of you who are new to homeschooling, keep in mind that this list was compiled as the result of 16 different school years (each of my 3 children have used different resources depending on the year).  Each child and family has different needs.  My experience is just one of many, and that experience continues to grow and change every year.  Some books listed have been staples in our educational diet.  Others have been of occasional treats from time to time.  The menu offered is much larger than what you will actually consume.

So here we go…

History

“Educate and inform the whole mass of the people… They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.”  Thomas Jefferson

Biblioplan for Families – This has been our blueprint for history since day 1.  It’s a scaffolding for history planning.  One page for each week – each page has a the major topic covered, family reading, map and timeline activities, and readers for each major age group.  We may have actually used 1/3 of the resources suggested (you pick and choose), but it’s the best place I’ve found that pulls from all the different curricula’s great reading lists.  I plan a semester at a time, so it was so helpful to be able to map out the weeks, then  all I had to do during the semester was make sure I ordered the suggested library books every so often.  This plan was built around the Well Trained Mind (Classical Education), but for you Charlotte Mason folks, it has virtually the same reading lists as Ambleside.

Turning Back the Pages of Time –  This is a small, paperback pamphlet that provides excellent age-approprate booklists for each era in American History.  Perfect for young ones and those who are new to homeschooling.

A Child’s History of the World by Hillyer – Written in a story format for children.  Covers major events in history.

Story of the World by Susan Wise Bauer – Similar to Hillyer’s, but more detail. Comes in 4 volumes – one for each of the 4 sections of history (Ancients, Middle Ages/Renaissance, Early American, Modern).  For each, there is an activity book including games, activities, worksheets, maps, booklists, etc.  We often listen to the CD’s by Jim Weiss while in the car rather than reading (particularly helpful with older kids who just need a refresher).  This is also a great resource for adults who missed out on chunks of history in school and want a painless way to “catch up.”

Also, books by Genevieve Foster, Alice Dagliesch, the We Were There series, Landmark books.  Our favorites are “living books” – well-written pieces of historical fiction that pull the reader into the story of history, but there are too many to list here.

Art

“Art is a microscope which the artist fixes on the secrets of his soul, and shows to people these secrets which are common to all.” Leo Tolstoy

A Child’s History of Art by Hiller.  Originally published as one volume, then eventually published in individual volumes (painting, sculpture, architecture) with colored pictures.  I don’t know of a better “spine” for art history.  It’s not too hard to find good used hard-backed copies – worth the hunt.

SImply Charlotte Mason presents Picture Study Portfolios by Emily Cottrill.  These are amazing.  We’ve taken our time and worked through Rembrandt this year.  She has written studies for nine artists.  Each package comes with beautiful, laminated pictures to be used for picture study and display.  We try to cover 1-2 artists a year.  Read historical fiction if it’s available, visit galleries to see and sketch paintings, rent videos, etc.  More on resources for Rembrandt, in specific, found here.

What Makes a Rembrandt a Rembrandt? by Muhlberger.  One of a series.  Walks through a a number of famous paintings by the particular artists, hi-lighting unique aspects found in the artist’s works.

Getting to Know the World’s Famous Artists by Venezia.  Great series that is often easily found at the library.  Both books and dvds.  Highly child-friendly, fun, somewhat silly but accurate.  Great for little ones.

Katie and the Sunflowers by Mahew.   Katie visits an art gallery with her grandmother.  She is wooed into the paintings, and proceeds to go on great adventures with their subjects.  This delightful series provides a fun, memorable introduction to some of the worlds’ most famous artists and their works.

Science

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it is tied to everything else in the universe.” John Muir

Pets in a Jar by Seymour Simon.  Collecting and Caring for Small Wild Animals.  A must have if your kiddos are adopting bugs, crickets, toads, etc.

Burgess Bird Book for Children and Burgess Flower Book for Children by Thorton Burgess.  Think Beatrix Potter, only exploring the worlds of birds and flowers.  Again, worth the purchase of hardback copies if you can find them.  Also available on kindle.  (for young ones, you can’t beat the individual animal books as well).

Apologia – We’ve used Apologia to study birds and plants the past few years.  It can be a bit much for younger students, but each book comes with internet links, experiment ideas, and uses the Charlotte Mason methodology of narration during lessons.  I’d say we use it as spine, taking what we need, then supplementing with the Burgess books, books from the library, relevant field trips, etc.

Pocket Full of Pinecones by Karen Andreola – I’d actually forgotten about this book until I started to make our list.  Such a sweet introduction to nature study.  Both inspirational and instructional, this book is best enjoyed with a cup of hot tea in hand.

Science in a Nutshell – My kids love these kits.  They contain very short lessons and all the materials needed for experiments.  We’ve used these over a few summers to have something fun to do, but they could also be used for your core science.

The Great Backyard Bird Count – A great “hands-on” way to learn about birds.  For a few days in February, your family observes and documents the birds in your backyard, then shares the results to be used for research.  We’ve also participated in a longer study through the Cornell Dept. of Ornithology.

First Lego League – This was my 12 yr old’s first year in FLL.  It was a fabulous experience – tons of work, but so many subject areas were covered.  Scientific research, applied math, public speaking, problem solving, and working intensely in a group. Although it was a rookie team, the kids obtained a provisional patent for their invention and won the regional competition.  It was well worth the time.  If you have a child who is interested in science, robotics, math, etc., this could be a great option.  Others have had similar experiences with Science Olympiad teams.

Math

“That vast book which stands forever open before our eyes, the universe, cannot be read until we have learnt the language in which it is written. It is written in mathematical language, and the letters are triangles, circles, and other geometrical figures, without which means it is humanly impossible to comprehend a single word.” Galileo Galilei

Each of my kiddos has used some combination of the following.  I don’t think there is a perfect plan out there – it’s really about the best fit for the needs of each child.

Singapore – Great program that pushes kids to think mathematically early on.  Although the parent is the teacher, Singapore has recently published a homeschool version of the Teacher’s Handbook, complete with games and activities.  I’ve found that some sections require us to stop and make sure the basics have been mastered before we continue.  It moves rapidly and doesn’t provide much repetition (which for most kids, is needed at some point).  There are “Extra Practice” workbooks available, and you can also supplement with online worksheets or drills as needed.  Right now, my 2nd grader is the only one currently using Singapore.

Teaching Textbooks – My boys (4th and 7th) are both currently using Teaching Textbooks. Although the class is taught via the computer, they have built in plenty of checks and balances.  If the child misses a problem, they are asked if they want another chance, or if they want help in solving it.  I love that errors are caught quickly, preventing them from making the same mistake several times over.  Practice problems and homework are automatically graded, so the parent can review the “grade book” at anytime to see how the child is doing.  It’s also animated, and my boys think that it’s great fun.  We’ve been very pleased.

Life of Fred – Clever, clever, clever.  The Life of Fred teaches via narrative.  For those kids who love story, and who don’t necessarily see the relevance of math to everyday life, this may be your program.  It’s self-teaching and comprehensive.  We’ve used it to bridge the summers (particularly the books on decimals and fractions).

Math Fact Cafe – An online worksheet generator.  Great for practice.

Living Math Book List – In the younger years, these were our primary resources.  I should probably reserve these books from the library more often than I do!  Pigs Will be Pigs is a favorite.

Family Math – A book of interactive math games that can compliment any math curriculum.

We’ve also used Saxon and Math-U-See, but it’s been a few years.

Language Arts

“Language is very powerful. Language does not just describe reality. Language creates the reality it describes.”  Desmond Tutu

Institute for Excellence in Writing – A very systematic way to approach writing.  The process of writing is broken down, block by block, then the children are taught to build back up.  There are teacher’s dvds to support the parent, and we’ve used the History-based lessons that correspond with whatever we’re covering in history.  Next year, we’re uber-excited to use the new series based on The Chronicles of Narnia for the boys and Fables, Myths and Fairy Tales for my girlie.  I also highly recommend their system for poetry memorization.  More on that here.

Language Lessons by Queen Homeschool – I’ve used this for my kiddos in their younger years.  A perfect introduction, but not too much.  This series touches on all aspects of language – picture study, narration, basic rules of grammar.  Very sweet.

Rod and Staff – If you want traditional grammar lessons, this is your place.  I used it with my 12 yr old when he was in 3rd grade, and he learned to diagram sentences ad nauseum.  He did come out of that year knowing parts of speech and diagraming better than I could, but I’ve shifted in my perspective since then.  Now, I tend to teach grammar and syntax through writing (and they’ve gotten some grammar in a homeschool Latin class).  So… my younger two have been spared.  The jury is out regarding the wisdom of this shift, but it is what it is!

Spelling Workout – We’ve used this from the beginning.  It is very straight forward and logical in the progression of lessons and words, and teaches spelling tips, editing and proofreading along the way.

We’ve used both italic and zaner-bloser (traditional ball and stick) handwriting.

Music

“Music… will help dissolve your perplexities and purify your character and sensibilities, and in time of care and sorrow, will keep a fountain of joy alive in you.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Sebasatian Bach. the Boy from Thuringia by Opal Wheeler – This series is a treasure.  Wheeler tells the life stories of famous musicians, largely focusing on their childhoods.  Much of the music is woven throughout.  Companion cds which include coloring pages, sheet music, and templates for lapbooks are also available and worth the investment.  These books have recently been republished in hardback.

Getting to Know the World’s Famous Composers by Mike Venezia – Same format as his art series listed above.

Mr. Bach Comes to Call  (Classical Kids Series) – Each cd features one of the great composers who goes on an adventure with children.  Perfect to be used along with the Wheeler or Venezia books. We’ve found many of these cds at our local library.

Periodicals we enjoy:

God’s World News – Think of it as a “Weekly Reader” with a Biblical world view.  Current news stories appropriate to each age level help children make sense of world events.  Each issue comes with a teacher’s edition, and the online resources are fabulous.

Ranger Rick (and Your Big Backyard for younger ones) – Published by the National Wildlife Federation.  Filled with stories, activities, and beautiful photography.

Clubhouse and Clubhouse Jr. – Published by Focus on the Family.  Great fodder for conversation.

My boys add that Popular Science and Sports Illustrated, Jr. are also favorites.

 

You may want to consider visiting:

Great books about books

The Fabulous Foundational Five

Books for Boys: Why it Matters

I hope to add more to The Fabulous Foundational Five and Books for Boys this summer.

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“Thought breeds thought; children familiar with great thoughts take as naturally to thinking for themselves as the well-nourished body takes to growing; and we must bear in mind that growth, physical, intellectual, moral, spiritual, is the sole end of education.” Charlotte Mason