Subject Area Ideas

You have some ideas for choosing areas of study and what sorts of materials appeal to your approach and your child’s learning style. Now it can be useful to get a few ideas about materials for different subject areas. These ideas are just a starting point that may be useful in choosing what works best for your own family.

Math

Different programs use different approaches.

  • A mastery approach expects students to fully master a topic before moving on; learn all of addition before introducing subtraction, for example.  Math-U-See and Singapore math are examples of popular math curricula that use the mastery approach.
  • A spiral approach introduces a topic and teaches a few skills in that area; then introduces another area and teaches a few skills.  The work is interwoven with lots of review and each topic is re-visited several times and new skills added each time.  Saxon Math and Horizons Math are examples of popular math curricula using the spiral approach.

Some curricula are workbook-based and consumable.  These options are portable and convenient, especially if you have chosen the resource to address the needs of a particular child.

 Some consumable programs are quite inexpensive– for example, Miquon Math is a 6-workbook program designed for grades 1-3.  A new set, including the teacher resource guides, is about $55.  You’ll need to add a set of Cuisenaire rods, which range from $10 to $36 depending on the size of the set and what’s included.  Replacement workbooks for additional kids are $5.50 to $7 each.

The “Key to… “ series provides short, no-frills workbooks on most middle-school and early high school math topics.  The workbooks can be used in a mastery fashion by working completely through each set before moving on to another, or in a more spiral fashion by doing book 1 in each of several sets, then doing book 2 in each of several sets, etc.

Some curricula are textbook-based and reusable.  They may be more practical if you have more than one child and would like to re-use the same curriculum again or if you’d like to sell your used curriculum when you’re done with it.  If a program really appeals to you and your child but seems too expensive, look at used versions to get an idea of the resale value.  You might find a used version to purchase for a more reasonable price, or you might choose to buy new and recoup some of your investment by selling it when you’re through – it’s sort of like renting curriculum.

The program “Math on the Level” focuses on providing parents with all the resources they need to teach math to their kids from grades K to 8.  This program has kids work a very small number of problems each day (typically just 5) to see whether they truly grasp the concepts being taught.    Neither textbook nor workbook-based, the program can be purchased one level at a time or as an entire set.  Individual levels are $55 to $80; the entire set is $295.

There are video lessons available to go along with a variety of math programs.  DIVE, which uses the Saxon textbooks, Thinkwell, Teaching Textbooks, and VideoText are popular math programs that use video instruction either on CD, DVD, or via computer programs.  The Teaching Company offers a variety of math instruction videos (as well as many other courses) and many are available through our local public library systems; the company also has excellent sales several times a year.  A few textbook companies offer free video lessons on their websites when you buy their texts.

The Life of Fred series of textbooks begins at the kindergarten level and continues through Calculus.  This series is written in an engaging, humorous storyline about a 5 year old math professor at Kittens University.  It provides a good overview of topics before introducing problem-solving skills and can be a good resource for those who want to know how and why you would use a skill before learning it.  Most books in the series are about $20.

The UK Mathematics Enhancement Programme, or MEP math, is a complete K-12 math program available at no charge on the internet.  You can look through the resources and print what you want at home or order complete units already printed for you.

Using graph paper, especially larger-size grids, can really help keep numbers lined up correctly when young learners are still mastering place value and handwriting. You can buy 1-centimeter grid graph paper from many sources or 1-centimeter grid whiteboards to use with dry erase markers; some online sites will create graph paper grids in a variety of sizes that you can print on your own printer at home. Math journals combine both lined and graph paper in a booklet.

Critical thinking and logic puzzles and games help develop mathematical thinking and are lots of fun besides. The Think Fun brand has many terrific logic games.

 History

The world is full of interesting resources for studying history.  Especially in Virginia, opportunities abound to visit historical sites with living history and reenactments, especially during the colonial, revolutionary war, and civil war eras.  The chance to get a true feel for a historical period can really spark an interest to know more about the people and events of that era.  Mount Vernon, Claude Moore Colonial Farm, Colonial Williamsburg, Yorktown, and Jamestown are just a few of the places you can visit to get a taste of history in Virginia.

Besides non-fiction accounts, consider the value of field trips to living history sites and of watching videos together.  Good-quality historical fiction can also do an excellent job of bringing a time period to life and creating a desire to find out if events depicted were actual or invented.

Learning history provides a wonderful opportunity to weave language arts skills into so much of what you do, and to incorporate the needs and interests of multiple children in a family or homeschool group.  For example, you might choose to study the gold rush period of US history.  You could choose one or two good resources on the gold rush to read aloud to the entire group, select some independent reading materials at appropriate levels for older children, and add a video from the library to round out the mix.  Everyone might enjoy the opportunity to try panning for gold, and making a list of necessary items to pack in your imaginary covered wagon as you head out west is an activity in which the entire family can share.  You can practice math as you add up the costs for loading that wagon, and use more math when you tally up the value of the gold you imagine finding. Creating a notebook or lapbook on the era can blend artistic and language arts skills at a variety of levels.  Other activities and resources can be added to fit the ages and skills of the children involved, and the depth of interest.  You can write an essay on aspects of the gold rush, create a skit or play, build a model, sew a costume – the sky is the limit.

If you don’t want to create your own reading lists and accompanying activities, there are many resources to find these things already mapped out.  The internet will help put you in touch many resources created by homeschoolers and freely shared.  There are a variety of packaged curriculum options, too, including unit studies, lapbooking kits, and the “Story of the World” series of books that includes narrative history books, activity guides with extensive reading lists, and even audio CDs read by Jim Weiss.

Audio books and stories, in general, are another great curriculum option.  Audio books

  • let you take read-alouds with you on the go– in the car or on a portable player
  • support kids who are not yet fluent readers
  • let kids hear the same story or material over and over
  • keep learning going while a parent makes lunch or works with another child.

The opportunity to combine learning history with field trips and hands-on learning is a wonderful benefit of homeschooling.

 Handwriting

If your child is still learning to write or is having trouble, there are some techniques that may help along with (or instead of) a handwriting curriculum.

First, if your child is struggling with the physical part of writing, then separate the composition and spelling skills from the act of writing.  Use copy work and letter tracing to work on handwriting skills, so that he doesn’t have to juggle all those new skills at the same time.  For the skill of composition, have someone act as your child’s scribe or secretary or use a recording device to capture your child’s words and transcribe them later.  He or she can practice spelling using magnetic letters or something similar instead of writing the words by hand, or a slightly older child can try typing.  If writing is really a struggle, then do other subjects orally or be your child’s scribe for written portions so he or she can really focus on those math skills (or whatever) without sweating over writing the answers down.

Developing both upper body strength and fine motor skills can help enormously– so you can head to the park for your child can improve his handwriting by swinging from monkey bars, climbing trees, and having wheelbarrow races.  Indoors, children can dig small objects out of Play-Doh or tubs of raw rice; clip clothespins, screw nuts and bolts together, build with Legos, and use tongs or tweezers to move tiny objects. These types of tasks help build the muscles needed for handwriting.  As those muscles strengthen and movements refine, you will likely see improvement in handwriting skills, too.

Physical Education

You don’t need a special curriculum.  Enjoy the great outdoors; try out a new sport; get together with friends for fun and exercise.

Parks & Recreation Center classes and homeschool park days can be fun ways to enjoy physical activities with other kids.

When the weather is too hot or too cold for outdoor fun, consider:

  • Local ice skating arenas frequently offer discounted homeschool skate sessions
  • Many bowling alleys offer great weekday rates for groups of homeschoolers
  • Park days sometimes move to an indoor or outdoor pool
  • SportsRock indoor climbing gyms and other sports facilities frequently have homeschool sessions at a discount

Lessons in martial arts, dance, gymnastics, horseback riding, and other pursuits can sometimes be found at discount rates for homeschoolers who take classes during normally slow times.  If you can’t find something already established, try contacting a vendor near you and ask.  You’re more likely to meet with success if you already have a small group organized.

Science

Homeschooling can give you a chance to really dig in to science and learn with a hands-on approach.  Monitoring a bluebird trail, doing Project Feeder Watch, or watching the life cycle of tadpoles and butterflies as you raise them at home are all wonderful ways of opening the door to science studies.  The Journey North website has a wide variety of free activities and opportunities to participate in real data-gathering exercises as students observe the effects of the seasons on the earth.  Their online Mystery Class hunt uses the changing length of daylight combined with geographical clues to identify ten hidden locations around the globe.  It’s a virtual scavenger hunt that combines math, science, and geography to solve a mystery – and it’s free!

Don’t forget the opportunity to make many messy science experiments to illustrate a variety of principles:

  • baking soda and vinegar give some foaming, oozing fun as they give off carbon dioxide
  • white glue, borax, and water make flubber– a polymer.
  • cornstarch and water make oobleck– a non-Newtonian fluid that acts like a solid when pressure is applied.

If you need recipes for those, the Internet is your friend.

Home Science Tools and Carolina Biological Supply are two big catalog suppliers of science curricula and materials. If you’re a member of VaHomeschoolers, you have full access to The Happy Scientist website for a variety of science learning and experiments using mostly household materials. Not a member? You can get all our membership benefits for only $29 a year– The Happy Scientist site charges $20 a year for access.

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