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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Beka Arithmetic VS. Teaching Textbooks Math: Why I Switch Midstream

Since listing my 2013-2014 curriculum choices, I have received dozens of emails from mommas all asking the same question...

Why did you switch from A Beka math to Teaching Textbooks?  

Followed by the next logical questions...

How do you like Teaching Textbooks? And why are your younger kids still using A Beka?

A Beka VS. Teaching Textbooks: Why I Switch Midstream {The Unlikely Homeschool}

Naturally, I wanted to give Teaching Textbooks a full year before giving my "official" review.
Today's the day.  Here's the skinny...

I switched because I'm a busy momma trying to juggle four grade levels and a toddler and quite frankly, something had to give!

I needed an easier work load.

There, I've said it.

In an attempt to lighten my load and maintain a certain level of school day sanity, I knew I needed to delegate one or two subjects to someONE or someTHING else.  Although I was an "A" student in most of my math classes, it was never my favorite subject.  Since, for the first four years of her education, it tended to be the subject that my daughter disliked the most also, it was the clear choice for CHANGE.

The computer-based lessons of Teaching Textbooks would require little time from me freeing me up to teach something else to another child, I reasoned.

I also thought that the animated lessons would be a welcome change for my daughter who obviously craved something a little more "jazzy" than the A Beka math that she had been doing up until that point. So, I plunked down the hefty amount and prayed that I wasn't making a huge mistake by potentially damaging my daughter for life! (Because isn't that what we, homeschool mommas, always think before we try something new?!)

So...That's the short answer of why I made the switch.  The one I tell in passing to the lady with the raised eyebrows.  But, you don't want the short answer, do you?
You came here hopin' for the dirt.  The nitty-gritty.
Well, here it is..

Why I start with A Beka Math

Truthfully, if it wasn't A Beka, I would have to start with something else, because Teaching Textbooks only offers materials for third graders and beyond.  

But, I start with A Beka on purpose.

I believe in spiral learning

I know that most homeschool math curriculums advocate for a mastery approach to learning. I, on the other hand, wholeheartedly disagree with that method.  I prefer the spiral approach.  Although A Beka is not the only math curriculum that presents math with spiral learning in mind, it is, in my opinion, one of the best curriculums for this style.  (In full disclosure, I worked for A Beka for four years in the homeschool division AND I taught A Beka Arithmetic for several more years in a traditional setting. I'm comfortable with it.)

I believe in building a solid math foundation

I'm a firm believer that a child should learn all four math processes (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) inside and out...forward and backward.  No counting on fingers.  No memory tricks.  Just memorization of the facts.  In my opinion, if a child has to rely on anything other than quick memory to solve a process problem, he does not really know the answer...even if he can EVENTUALLY come up with the correct answer after using "tricks."  Using finger counting or memory tricks really only affirms that a child knows what "addition" (subtractions, multiplication, and division) is.  It doesn't necessarily show that he actually knows the individual facts.

While a child can coast through life continuing to count on his fingers, I think that puts him at a great disadvantage in higher-level math.  A long division problem, which should only take a few moments to solve, ends up being a thirty minute nightmare.  A weak foundation of math processes cripples a child down the road.  

Having taught A Beka in both a traditional school setting and in homeschool, I have always found it to be an exceptional curriculum for building core knowledge of facts from kindergarten through third grade.  By fourth grade, those foundational facts are combined to create complex, multi-step problems.

I like flare

Perhaps it is because math has never been my fave, I really desire to add as much flare and color to it as possible.  I'm not here to name names or anything, but most spiral-learning based math programs on the homeschool market today look like an absolute snooze-fest.  No color.  No pictures.  Just pages and pages of black numbers on stark white pages.  That's enough to make a clown cry, in my opinion.  A Beka, on the other hand, is a workbook based-program that offers an aesthetically pleasing page...at least in the younger grades.

Yes, it is workbook based. Yes, it often over-emphasizes review.  But, since I have very distinct opinions about workbooks in my homeschool, I have no problem embracing the parts about A Beka Arithmetic that I like and ignoring the rest.  That being said, I have never really loved the fourth grade and beyond A Beka Math.  After third grade, the work tends to be rather dry and has an over-emphasis of long division.

Why I was drawn to Teaching Textbooks

Once I made the decision to "farm out" math, I knew I needed to find a curriculum that would ALSO approach math from a spiral method, offer a great foundation in basic facts, and offer some flare! Teaching Textbooks immediately caught my eye.

With a year of TT under my belt, here's what I've come to really appreciate about the program.

  • The lessons are clear and easy to understand.  
  • All lessons can be repeated or played back should my kids not understand any of them the first time.
  • The "worksheet" problems are self-grading.  My child immediately knows whether he/she got an answer correct and can retry the problem or opt for a "hint" if need be.  
  • I was very impressed with the "real life" math scenarios emphasized in Math 7. Every single new concept was explained with a "how and when will you use this in every day life" approach.  (I have read through the entire Math 4 curriculum that my son will be completing this year and I have NOT found it to have a "real life" element.  But, I'm assuming that is because the foundational facts need to be completely covered first before the "application" is emphasized.)
  • The first few problems of each lesson are practice problems and do not affect the daily grade. This definitely helps with a child who demands perfection from herself.  My daughter was able to have a few tries at the new concept before being graded.
  • It is CURRENTLY not aligned with common core standards.
Here's a sample of Math 7, lesson 10.

Some things you should know about Teaching Textbooks

The review is sometimes lacking

Although it is a spiral-approach to math, there is not as much review of old concepts as other spiral-method curriculums. When looking over Math 4 for the upcoming school year, I can clearly see that I will have to do some additional drilling of multiplication facts.  They are taught. And it looks like they are taught well.  But, I think most kids need more daily practice of the foundational facts than TT offers.  

Order a la carte

The full package comes with both the CD program AND a traditional textbook/workbook. While, I have friends who loooooove having the workbook because their children prefer to handwrite the answers, my daughter NEVER wanted to write in the workbook.  For us, it was a waste of money.  So, this year, I only purchased the CD package.  

It is not as hands-off as you might think

Because Teaching Textbooks requires very little parent involvement on a daily basis, it can sometimes be tricky to help a child when he/she becomes confused or needs additional explanation.  While I know math, I'm admittedly a little rusty on some math concepts that I just don't use very often in everyday life...like finding percentages and lowest common denominators. For this reason, I tried to listen in to my daughter's lessons every now and again in order to stay current with what she was learning. If I did not take the time to keep abreast of the units, it was difficult to help her.  I'd have to go back and skim a few lessons in order to get the gist and be able to explain the concept more clearly to her.

The methods can vary from the norm

Every now and again, TT would teach a concept in a completely different way than I ever learned it...sometimes in a more clear, much easier way...sometimes not.  

The grading scale is misleading

I really don't like the way TT gives daily grades.  A child is given two tries to get the right answer.  So, even if my daughter got every single problem wrong the first time but was able to get them all correct on the second attempt, she received a 100%. That's not a clear representation of her ability, in my opinion.  If she got it wrong the first time, I think she should be given a chance to re-do the problem in order to correct her mistake. But, I also think the problem should be marked incorrect.  The final grade should reflect the original error...sadly, it doesn't.  

The grade screen does, however, tell you how many times she attempted each problem.  So, I just take that into consideration when assessing her work.  (Since I don't give grades in my homeschool, this is not a huge "con" in my eyes.  But, I thought it was worth mentioning for those homeschool mommas who DO give daily grades.)

Here's what I mean.  You can see in this picture that my daughter clearly missed problem 21, and yet, she received a score of 100.

The lessons can be lengthy

The audio lessons can be quite long.  For this reason, many kids opt to just read the lessons out of the textbook. They can skip the sections that they have mastered and focus their attention on the unfamiliar portions.  

The placement tests are a MUST

I STRONGLY recommend taking the free, on-line placement tests before ordering...especially if you are switching from a different math curriculum.  In my opinion, TT tends to be a bit inaccurately leveled.  What most curriculums teach in third grade, TT doesn't cover until fourth. The placement test will give you a better idea of which grade level to order.  (This year my 6th grader will be doing pre-algebra which is the TT 8th grade materials.)

The replacement costs are reasonable

Should you lose or scratch a CD, TT will replace individual CDs in a pack for around $15. I'm sure I don't need to tell you how thrilled I was to learn this when I was faced with the thought of potentially replacing an ENTIRE $130 set when one of four CDs mysteriously vanished. (Found it weeks later...but only after I had ordered a replacement. Sigh!)  In addition, TT is one of the rare CD-based curriculums that allows you to legally resell the program to someone else...and in turn, buy it used.  (A word of advice...some of the older versions are not self-checking.  If you decide to buy the program used, PASS on the older versions. Just my two cents!)

A final word

As with all curriculums, both A Beka and Teaching Textbooks receive mixed reviews.  People either love them or they hate them. I hope this lengthy look into why I choose to use BOTH has given you a better understanding of whether either one of these programs will work for YOU.  

In case you're curious, I also switch English midstream.  Here's why>>>

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Third Grade Homeschool Curriculum 2014-2015

Third Grade Curriculum for Homeschool 2014-2015 {The Unlikely Homeschool}

Like all second-born children, my Super Boy has the "privilege" of being parented...and homeschooled...with a big helping of hindsight.  Because I am now traveling the same path with him that I had previously carved with my first born, I find that the way is a little smoother and easier to navigate (in theory, anyway).

That's not to say that I can just press "repeat" on the educational curriculum "playlist."  His learning style and personality is completely opposite of hers.  It just means that by the time he reaches the same ages and stages that she reached not long ago, I'm a little more versed in the basics and feel completely confident adding and detracting when necessary.  (This post contains affiliate links.)

So, while his third grade list might seem very similar to hers, I've cut out a lot of unnecessaries and made small changes here and there.  

Content-rich Subjects

Since we do all of our content-rich subjects (like history and science) and many of our extra curriculars (like art and creative writing) all together and since I've already shared those, I will not list those here. Please see our GROUP CURRICULUM for more details>>

Personal Devotions

  • The Action Bible
  • Gotta Have God for Boys - Admittedly, this is not a very DEEP devotional book.  Sadly, I've struggled to find meaningful devotionals for boys his age and reading level.  For now, it will have to do.


  • BJU English 3 (4x a week)
  • All About Spelling Level 3 (4x a week)
  • create a writing notebook that he will use to keep all of the final drafts of his writing assignments (every few weeks)
  • continue writing to the penpal he has had for the last three years (1x a month)
  • read for pleasure every day
  • Read and Think Skills Sheets 3- These worked well to help my daughter improve her reading comprehension as well as prepare her for the timed reading comprehension sections of the mandatory annual state achievement tests.  I'm hoping they will be just as helpful for my son. (1 page a week)
  • read a Mom-assigned book...classic, biography, exceptional fiction...that I select for him. (4x a week)



  • Help make one breakfast, lunch, and dinner each week.
  • Participate in an oh-so-fantastic-program that The Hubs is creating with our four boys in mind.  (I can't wait to tell y'all about it!  It is nearing completion and I'm just chomping at the bit to announce it to the world!!  In due time.  All in due time.)

Critical Thinking

This year, critical thinking is a wild card.  I have materials for each of my kids (hand-me-downs from the sibling above them).  But, with the addition of a brand new, much-more-time-consuming history program, I am going to start the year off with the assumption that critical thinking will have to be shelved for the year. Only so many balls can be juggled at one time! However, since I always re-assess our curriculum a few weeks into the school year, I am going to reserve the right to add critical thinking back into our week if time and sanity allow.
IF, I do eventually add it back, Super Boy will complete the second half of Building Thinking Skills, Level 1 that he started last year.

Extra curriculars

He'll be a busy boy!

Friday, August 8, 2014

What We're Reading in August 2014

What We're Reading in August 2014 {The Unlikely Homeschool}

CONFESSION TIME:  The beach, the park, the county fair, and lots and lots of sun this past month have left quite a thick layer of dust on our stack of books.  We've tried to nab moments of literary adventure here and there as we've been able, BUT, with summer passing at supersonic speed I'm OK with letting the dust settle a bit longer in order that we can savor a few more moments running, swimming, and scratching mosquito bites in the sun. (This post contains affiliate links.)

Here's what awaits us whenever we come inside. 

Read Aloud- Everybody

Rabbit Hill- Similar to the sweet adventures of a classic Beatrix Potter tale, this book has been on my TO READ list for quite some time.  We're finally getting around to it.  

Jamie- that's me!

Conform- This highly controversial new book from Glenn Beck has me staying up until well past midnight each night.  It's the kind of book that has me elbowing The Hubs and reading large portions of it aloud to him...whether he likes it or not.  It is an eye-opening look at the hijacking of our country's educational system.  

Sweetie Pea- 6th grade

Super Boy- 3rd grade

Turn on the Light, Thomas Edison- He's got about two more chapters left in the book he began last month.  

Then, it's onto to...

Blonde Warrior- 2nd Grade

Greased Lightning- Kindergarten

Step Into Reading Phonics First Steps, set 2- This is a series of graduated phonetical readers that comes in a boxed set.  

That's what we'll be dusting off during the month of August every chance we get.  What about you?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

6th Grade Homeschool Curriculum 2014-205

6th Grade Homeschool Curriculum 2014-2015 {The Unlikely Homeschool}

Middle school.  
We've hit middle school.  
Deep breath.  I just need to take a deep breath.  
(This post contains affiliate links.)

Can it be possible that the little pink bundle the nurse handed me late one winter night not so very long ago is starting middle school?  Whether I like it or not, here we go! {gulp!}

To be clear, according to her age/birth date, she is suppose to be in 5th grade.  But, since her homeschooling course doesn't have to follow someone else's previously chiseled path, she's chosen to carve her own way.  She started learning early and learning quickly.  So, while I dub THIS her 6th grade year, there's a lot of hodgepodge melding of grades going on...from 5th to 9th and everything in between.  

Content-rich subjects

To avoid redundancy, I'll not list the GROUP subjects that she will learn with the rest of us, like history and science.  You can find those all here>>>

This will just be an inventory of the curriculums that are specific to her and her alone this year.

Personal devotions

She will continue to read her Adventure Bible that she received for her Christmas gift of Myrrh.  In addition, she will also be working through the following:  (The rotation of the two books is entirely up to her.)


  • BJU English 6 (4x a week)
  • All About Spelling Level 5 and Level 6 (4x a week)  In case you're curious why she will be doing two year's worth of spelling in one year, here's a little back story>>
  • continue adding the final drafts of her BJU English writing assignments to her writing notebook (every few weeks)
  • continue writing to the penpal that she has had for the last six years (1x a month)
  • read for pleasure (every day)
  • read a Mom-Assigned book...classics, biographies, and exceptional fiction that I assign her to read each month (4x a week)


Life Skills

This year, Sweetie Pea will read through a short list of books that I've collected for her in preparation for the changes in both physical and emotional development that are on her horizon.  With purpose, I have determined a reading order of the books.  I've mapped it out in such a way that she will read roughly one chapter of ONE book each day until that book is complete.  She will, then, move on to the next book on the list.  I have already discussed most of the topics of these books with her already. The books will just be resources to help fill in the details. (4x a week)  I plan to forgo any Mom-assigned books until all of these have been read.  (There's just not enough hours in the school day otherwise!)
In addition, she'll also make/help make breakfast, lunch, and dinner once a week and continue her Mommy's helper roll through October.

Critical Thinking

  • Who is God? (3x a week, one complete lesson every 2-3 weeks)- This is the first in a series of books designed to help establish a Biblical worldview.  This particular book focuses on God and Truth.
  • The Fallacy Detective (1x a week)- One of The Hubs' biggest pet peeves is the lack of logic/reasoning skills in young adults today.  He desires to raise discerning children who can recognize the faulty reasoning that is so prevalent in main stream media, pop culture, and sadly even in many churches.  By learning how to detect a fallacy, my daughter will be more equipped to stand for TRUTH.  Dissecting current events and filtering them through a grid of Scripture is practically a daily occurrence at our home. We hope this book will be an extension of our efforts.  

Extra curriculars

A lot to tackle in one year.
But, like all self-motivated learners, she's up for the challenge!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Our Homeschool Places and Spaces 2014

Our Homeschool Places and Spaces 2014-2015 {The Unlikely Homeschool}

I'd had hopes that my 2014-2015 homeschool "tour" would be in a NEW space and a NEW place.  But alas, our house still hasn't sold yet.  So, we'll press on and be content with cottage-schooling for another year.  

As I've mentioned many times before, we live in a teensy-weensy little home (One bathroom...seven people...'nough said!).  But, we are so grateful to have a lovely, memory-filled place to call our own and have learned to use every square inch of it.  

In our pursuit to keep the HOME part of homeschool a top priority, we choose not to have a "classroom", but opt instead to mesh learning with life by spilling school time into every area of the house.  We do, however, need a place to store all our books, tools, paper, books, books...and did I mention, books?!  Our dining room has defaulted to our school-time catchall.  

In addition, we have gotten pretty creative over the years and have learned to camouflage our learning so that it blends into our eclectic, early-American decor.  

Come on in and take a tour!  

Our Homeschool Places and Spaces 2014-2015 {The Unlikely Homeschool}

School hutch

Our celery green homeschool hutch is our primary storage space.  Salvaged from a second-hand shop, this little beauty was a gift of time and love from The Hubs to me in preparation of my first "official" homeschool year over eight years ago.  (Oddly enough, I get a TON of questions about how he refurbed this piece.  Sadly, we can't recall the exact color of paint that he used.  But, I can tell you there is one pre-coat of off white, one coat of crackle varnish, and one coat of some kind of celery green paint.  The hardware is all original and the inside of each drawer and cupboard is untreated.)

On the buffet table of the hutch, you'll find a long, skinny basket that holds all of my currently-in-use flash cards, a magnetic calendar, all of my personal notebooks and binders, and the Bible we use for family devotions (not pictured).

Our Homeschool Places and Spaces 2014-2015 {The Unlikely Homeschool}

Inside the hutch, are my parent/teacher resources, a few of the kids' books that will not fit in their personal storage bins, art paper, science kits, and larger odds-and-ends learning manipulatives.  

Our Homeschool Places and Spaces 2014-2015 {The Unlikely Homeschool}

The top four drawers are mine to store stationary supplies.  And the children have claimed the bottom three for their non-art related supplies.  

Our Homeschool Places and Spaces 2014-2015 {The Unlikely Homeschool}


Our next big work-horse is this antique dresser that has passed through three generations of women in my family.  I always sit at our dining room table within arms reach of both this upright dresser and the green hutch so that if I need something while I'm teaching a lesson, I don't even have to get up.  (Call it lazy, if you must.  I call it efficient!)  Underneath the dresser is a cardboard box lid full of scrap paper. And behind it, between the dresser and the wall, you'll find our collection of large, white project boards...a MUST HAVE for project-based learning in a small space.

Our Homeschool Places and Spaces 2014-2015 {The Unlikely Homeschool}

Each drawer of the dresser holds enrichment items as follows:
  1. Drawer 1:  flashcards...lots and lots of them
  2. Drawer 2:  small math counters, dice, dot-a-dot blotters, learning magnets, etc.
  3. Drawer 3:  phonics games for my little guys
  4. Drawer 4:  board puzzles for The Newbie that don't fit in our puzzle rack

Our Homeschool Places and Spaces 2014-2015 {The Unlikely Homeschool}

On top of the dresser, you'll find the kids' book bins.  This is where they keep the majority of their personal workbooks, journals, folders, current mom-assigned library books, and task cards.  

Our Homeschool Places and Spaces 2014-2015 {The Unlikely Homeschool}

Baskets & Crates

Over the years, I've found it much more efficient to keep our living-literature books that we use for specific subjects near the places in our home where we actually DO that subject.  Using baskets and antique crates has been a great way to control the chaos while still keeping true to our comfy-cottage decor.  

Our four most-used baskets/crates are as follows:  
  1. Green crate: Tapestry of Grace read alouds
  2. Square basket: science read alouds, nature journals, current science notebooking supplies (when applicable)
  3. Round basket: our "start-the-day-together" resources 
  4. Army locker: just-for-fun library books and current fiction read alouds
Our Homeschool Places and Spaces 2014-2015 {The Unlikely Homeschool}

Art caddy

Formerly an old milk crate, this little wooden bin is the center of our passion-directed learning. Three out of my four oldest kids never stray too far from this art caddy that houses all our basic art supplies. We also have one plastic tub that holds our more professional grade art supplies and another one that holds clean junk like old oatmeal canisters, egg cartons, mint tins, magazines, cardboard, etc. that can be up-cycled into any number of fantastic creations.  These two tubs are stored at the bottom of a closet.

Our Homeschool Places and Spaces 2014-2015 {The Unlikely Homeschool}

Task Cards

And lastly, you'll find my wall-of-sanity...I mean, the wall that holds the base charts to our Task Card system.  This coming year, our wall will be without pink as Sweetie Pea will be using the same concept in a school planner and will no longer need a base chart and cards.

And that completes our tour!
In case you're curious, all our currently-not-in-use books and curriculum are stored in a large cupboard and a few plastic tubs in the basement.  I'd invite you down the steps to see, but you'd have to pass through the boys' room along the way and well...you might just end up tripping over a mound of Legos. For your safety, I think you'll just have to use your imagination.  

Thanks for swinging in for a look-see.

While you're preparing for the upcoming school year, don't forget to grab your copy of The Big Book of Homeschool Ideas, a must-have resource form 55 seasoned homeschool mommas.  This is a book that will grow with ALL your ages and stages of learning!

Be sure to visit the Not-Back-to-School Hop hosted by iHomeschool Network to see other homeschool places and spaces. 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Big Book of Homeschool Ideas: 54 Mommas (and Me) Share Their Homeschooling Expertise

The Big Book of Homeschool Ideas: 55 Homeschooling Mommas share their expertise in 103 different areas of homeschooling. {The Unlikely Homeschool}

Alright, y'all, I'm not gonna lie. I've read a lot of homeschooling books.  A.LOT.  And while they were all very well-written and while I gleaned much from most of them, they each were penned by ONE author with ONE perspective and ONE homeschooling approach making it difficult to see the large spectrum of homeschooling possibilities. (This post contains affiliate links.)

When I was first starting out, I read a few Homeschooling 101 books.  Later, I desperately needed the Help!-I'm-homeschooling-and-I-just-had-a-baby type.  Then, I started adding those harder-to-find niche' type books that dealt with homeschooling boys or homeschooling on a tight budget.  In this current season of homeschooling, I appreciate those books that offer practical tips for teaching specific subjects...the ones I'm not always the most comfortable tackling {ahem!}.  

While I COULD continue to add book after book to my collection...seeking to fill all the gaps and cover all the bases, I'd much prefer to have ONE go-to resources that spans a multitude of ages and stages of homeschooling.  One that will grow with the needs of my homeschool.  

I'm so proud to be able to say that I've not only found a book that meets that lofty goal, but I helped write it!

The Big Book of Homeschool Ideas: 55 Homeschooling Mommas share their expertise in 103 different areas of homeschooling. {The Unlikely Homeschool}

The Big Book of Homeschooling Ideas

Written by 55 experienced homeschooling moms from around the globe, The Big Book of Homeschool Ideas is a jam-packed, all-in-one resource that covers just about every possible unique homeschooling situation imaginable.  

Need a resource you can rely on when you have a question like the following:
  • How do I keep my babies and toddlers occupied while I'm teaching my older children?
  • How can I encourage my child to be a more independent learner?
  • What do I do with my struggling learner?
  • Can I homeschool my special needs child?
  • What about my budget? How can I possibly homeschool when curriculum is so expensive?
  • Can I homeschool when I'm a work-at-home mom? or a single mom?
  • Will I really be able to homeschool my mega-sized family?
You'll find helpful answers to these and many more questions in this 560 page eBook.  

In addition, you'll glean useful teaching ideas that will guide you towards schooling outside-of-the-box. Did you know that it's possible to teach an engaging lesson while using...
  • postage stamps
  • LEGO bricks
  • American Girl dolls
  • and even video games?
It sure is!  But the ideas don't stop there.  
There are 103 different topics covered within the pages of this homeschooling-momma-must-have.  Check out the table of contents to see why The Big Book of Homeschool Ideas is a resource that will follow you throughout the entire length of your homeschooling journey.

I'm excited to join together with so many expert, homeschooling mommas in order to support you in your call to "train up a child."  We have linked arms and are ready to share our stories and experiences.

The Big Book of Homeschool Ideas: 55 Homeschooling Mommas share their expertise in 103 different areas of homeschooling

To purchase your very own copy

The Big Book of Homeschool Ideas is a digital product available for download in the following formats pdf, mobi, and epub. Your $10.99 purchase gives you access to ALL THREE formats.  The digital download allows you to read on the following devices:
  • computer
  • iPad
  • tablet
  • smart phone
  • laptop
  • any other device that allows you to access pdf, mobi, or epub products
Instantly after you purchase, you will be directed to a link where you can download the eBook immediately.  An email will also be sent to your Paypal email address that will provide an additional link so that you can download the eBook at a later time.  (This may or may not be sent to your spam folder.  So, if you do not receive an email, please check your SPAM folder.)

For more information 
or to purchase your very own copy of this fantastic resource from 54 seasoned homeschooling mommas (and me), please head to iHomeschool Network.  

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

10 Summertime Steps to School Time Prep

With summer quickly slipping through my fingers, I have shifted into full-boogie mode.  I've got my game face on and I'm prepping for the coming year.  While I hold fast to my summer days desiring to relish each and every one, I am also committed to using this slower-paced-schedule to ready myself for the fall and all the wonderful learning adventures on the horizon.

Here's a brief look at my TOP TEN summertime steps to school time prep.

10 Summertime Steps to School Time Prep {The Unlikely Homeschool}

Technically, my prep for the coming school year happens the year before...mid spring when I do the following:

  1. Determine a skeletal curriculum plan.
  2. Prepare a shopping list.
  3. Purchase the core of my curriculum at my state's annual homeschool convention.
Assuming that I've started the summer with these first three items checked off my list, I can officially go into summertime prep mode.  

1.  I create an annual portfolio of last year's work. (First week in June)

While school is still fresh in my mind, I set aside the first week(s) of summer vacation to prepare our annual portfolio.  With our year neatly compiled in a new binder, I feel a sense of closure to WHAT WAS and can begin to formulate plans for WHAT WILL BE.

10 Summertime Steps to School Time Prep {The Unlikely Homeschool}

2.  I order any last minute curriculum items. (June)

After our portfolio is complete, I try to do very little school related planning for the rest of the month of June.  My brain and sanity demand a break.  And so, with the exception of ordering any last minute curriculum items that I was not able to/chose not to purchase at the annual convention, I turn "school mode" off for an entire month.  (I'm a little behind on this one THIS year.  But, only because I'm holding out to see if my remaining BIG TICKET PURCHASE miraculously gets a significant price reduction closer to fall.  Admittedly, this is wishful thinking and I need to just take a deep breath and fork over the cash. But, stranger things have happened.)

3.  I begin praying for a word from God. (Early June)

Homeschooling is hard. H.A.R.D.  On those hard days, I cling to the TRUTH...a verse in Scripture that God has given me to keep me on this path that He has prepared for me.  Sometimes, the big yellow bus looks mighty appealing, but with the Word ever before me, I square my shoulders, and press on.  So, I start each summer praying for a piece of Truth that God has providentially chosen for my upcoming year.  He gave this one to me a few weeks ago>>

4.  I pack away the old and bring out the new. (First part of July)

I designate a large portion of a day to sort through last year's curriculum.  I toss what needs tossed. Set aside what I plan to resell. And pack away all the rest in a tall storage cabinet or a group of plastic tubs in our basement.  I bring out all of our "new" items including curriculum that was formerly used by another child and will be regurgitated for a sibling AND any brand new curriculum specifically purchased for the coming year.  I organize these into three groups...child-specific materials, group materials, and parent resources. The child-specific materials are packed away in each child's magazine bin, while the other two groups go into the school hutch.

10 Summertime Steps to School Time Prep {The Unlikely Homeschool}

5.  I do some basic house cleaning of our school areas. (Early-Mid July)

While I try to maintain a semblance of order throughout the school year, clutter happens!  Somewhere in the midst of cleaning out the school books, I clean out the school clutter.  I have the kids help me go through each supply drawer/bin...testing the usability of every item.  If a marker/pen no longer writes well, a crayon is down to nubbin-size, or glue bottles are permanently crusted shut, we toss them and make room for new fall school supplies.  I compile a mental list of what needs to be replaced and convince myself to STICK TO THE LIST!!!  (Perhaps you know about my stationary supply addiction?  It's a sickness that no 12-step program can cure me of. I think I need some kind of accountability partner for these specific aisles of Target.  But, I digress...)  

I also use this time to re-organize my flashcards.  Since I invest in quality flashcards, they all have a specific numeric order...making it easy for even my kids to put the mammoth stacks back to "start mode".  I farm-out this job to my "willing" participant(s)...the ten and under crowd...and start my year with order.

10 Summertime Steps to School Time Prep {The Unlikely Homeschool}

6.  I form a school year calendar-of-events. (July)

I check past school-year calendars and brainstorm any upcoming events that might fall within the school year in order to formulate a tentative calendar for my year.  I share more about the INs and OUTs of creating a calendar here>>

7.  I schedule my entire school year. (Mid July-August)

I recognize that scheduling an entire school year seems constrictive to some.  But, I prepare my plan with purpose knowing that it is a FLEXIBLE plan and can be revamped as needed.  Here's how I do that>>

10 Summertime Steps to School Time Prep {The Unlikely Homeschool}

8.  I sketch out a "daily flow".

As I've mentioned before, I don't make an actual daily schedule with time slots and rigid order.  That's just a bit too unrealistic when you are trying to weave HOME with SCHOOL.  But, I do like to have a skeletal plan to how our day will look...how it will FLOW.  So, I make a list of all the subjects that need to be tackled each day as well as any home tasks that will require my daily attention...such as making meals, putting The Newbie down for a nap, answering emails...and I sort this out into a "penciled in" order of events.  The "penciled in" part is KEY.  I can't assume that a flow plan is going to work until it has been put to the test.  I usually reevaluate this plan after the first week of school. Often, things need to be tweaked.  

9.  I brainstorm First-day-of-school-fun ideas. (End of August)

I want the start of our homeschool year to be a bang, not a fizzle.  In order for that to happen, the first day has to look different than all the rest.  In year's past, I've planned scavenger hunts, wrapped new school supplies in gift wrap, organized special field trips, and much more.  WHY?  Because FIRSTS and LASTS should be monumental not monotonous, in my opinion anyway.  Here's what a typical "first day(s)" looks like in our home>>

10.  I take a big gulp and leap...with a smile.

The call to homeschool has been one of the biggest blessings the Lord has ever given me.  It's a responsibility I don't take lightly.  But, even though I feel like I start each year prepared ON PAPER, there's always a sense of "Can I really do this in real life?"  I've learned to recognize that as a whisper from the Enemy.  So, when summer gives way to fall each year, I hold fast to The Word I was given, hike up my big girl pants, and START.  With much fear and trembling...with a little bit of self-doubt...but with a passion for raising up arrows that God will one day shoot forth into the world for their good and His glory.  

And that brings us to the last week in August...
which for us, marks the BEGINNING.  
The beginning of something great. 
The beginning of something memorable.
The beginning of a new school year.  

It's almost here and I'm currently working on step 7.  I'd better get crackin'!

Need more HOW DO I HOMESCHOOL....FOR REAL tips, be sure to follow my Homeschooling 101 Pinterest Board.

While you're preparing for the upcoming school year, don't forget to grab your copy of The Big Book of Homeschool Ideasa must-have resource form 55 seasoned homeschool mommas.  This is a book that will grow with ALL your ages and stages of learning!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Homeschool Curriculum 2014-2015

Homeschool Curriculum Choices 2014-2015 {The Unlikely Homeschool} 6th, 3rd, 2nd, Kindergarten, and tot school

Big changes are happening 'round here, folks!
Big changes.

With one child launching into middle school and another child just beginning the journey in kindergarten...not to mention the two other boys pressing forward in elementary and the toddler who prides himself in running-at-the-speed-of-sound..., I've officially hit a stage of homeschooling that requires evolution.  

Evolution of technique.
Evolution of schedule.
And for the sake of momma-sanity, evolution of core curriculum.  

With a huge gulp, I said "so long" to a history curriculum that we have absolutely loved for the past five years, and welcomed change.  (This post contains affiliate links.)

Some day I'd love to expound on the many reasons that I shelved TruthQuest and replaced it with Tapestry of Grace.  But for now...for the uber curious...the short answer is that I needed a curriculum that would not only WORK for a wide rage of learners, but CAPTIVATE them all and allow us to remain somewhat cohesive in our studies.  I needed a curriculum that would allow my kindergartener to learn about the same topic as his 6th grade sister but at his own level and pace.  Looking down the road a few years, I knew I needed a curriculum that would accommodate for an 8 year learning span (the total number of years between Sweetie Pea and The Newbie).  I'm hoping that I've found that in TOG...but, for now, the verdict's still out.

I'm excited to be able to share my 2014-2015 curriculum choices with you.  Today, I'll only be sharing those titles that we will all be doing collectively during our GROUP LEARNING.  In the coming days, I'll share what each child will be using for their individual lessons in grammar, spelling, math, etc.  I have highlighted any NEW items in pink.  These are books or resources that we have never used before and so, I can not vouch for their quality or usability.  

Morning "circle time"

This year, for our start-the-day-together basket we will be focusing on learning hymns and sign language. We will be using the following resources.  
  • weekly memory verse- These are intentionally selected and placed in our family verse pack.  We make it a goal to practice the week's verse each school-day during morning circle time and at night after supper. (7x a week)
  • Manners Made Easy for Families- (4x a week)
  • Hymns for a Kid's Heart- It saddens me that so few young people today know any of the foundational hymns of the faith.  While my children know many already, I hope to introduce them to many more this year as well as recount the stories BEHIND the hymns.  (one chapter 1x month)
  • a hymnal- I plan to teach a new hymn each week. (4x a week)
  • a homemade song book that contains dozens and dozens of kid's praise type songs (4x a week)
  • How the Bible Came to Us- This is a reference book that explains how the Scriptures were originally written, how they were compiled into one Sacred Book, and how they continue to be retranslated and spread throughout the entire world. (1-2 pages a month)
  • Hero Tales volume 1- My kids love missionary stories. So, I've had my eye on this book for about four years.  I'm excited to finally be able to enjoy it with them. I will read a page or two of a chapter each day in hopes of getting through an entire chapter each week.  (4x a week)
  • various sign language books we get at the library- Ever since Sweetie Pea did a presentation on sign language for one of her independent projects, our whole family has been a bit intrigued by sign language.  Throughout the summer, we learned a sign or two every few days.  And even began memorizing some of our weekly verses in sign. (This is a painstaking process, but well worth it as it really helps us to set the verse to memory.)  I hope to continue learning a few signs each week in the upcoming school year.  (4x a week)


At the end of the last school year, as is my habit, I took a family poll.  I wanted our science choices for 2014-2015 to be delight-directed and so, I needed to uncover the scientific passions of each of my children.  Although many ideas were tossed around, two stood out above the rest and were clear family favorites.  I have taken these two topics and have formulated homespun units for each.  (2x a week)
  • Dinosaurs from a Creation perspective- We will study this for the first third of the year using lots of living literature, creation-based books (I'll be sure to list those later.), a documentary, and a dinosaur fossils kit
  • Machines/Robotics-We will study this for the last two thirds of the year using a combination of living literature style biographies/non-fiction books and a simple and powered machine set by Lego Education. 


Tapestry of Grace is a classical curriculum that combines history, church history, geography, vocabulary, and writing.  I'm still exploring the HOWs and WHATs of the curriculum, but know that we will start where we left off in our timeline last year.  At the end of our first unit, I will reassess and decide whether we will continue into the next phases of history with TOG or head back to what we know and love...TruthQuest.  (4x a week)

  • Tapestry of Grace, Year 1, Unit 4 Rome- At this point, I plan to split our learning into three different areas of focus.  Twice a week, we will center our learning on history.  One day a week, we will look at church history.  And the final day, we will focus on geography and extra projects. 
  • History notebook- I'm not sure how this is going to look yet, but we are no strangers to notebooking and look forward to creating a year-long Tapestry of Grace history notebook.
  • Family timeline


Last year, we veered off of the beaten art-time path quite often...scrapping my original plan for a fun youtube tutorial or pinterest project.  I've decided to continue with that plan and dub this year as the year of ORGANIC ART.  I will be pulling projects from the following resources to make a tentative plan, but will deviate to PLAN B whenever the notion strikes.  (1x a week)

Phy. Ed.

Admittedly, we do most of our Phy. Ed. requirements in the summer when we sign up for local community-sponsored sport's programs.  But, since we live with arctic temps for over half the year, it's nice to have a sanity-saver plan for getting the wiggles out. (as often as we need to)

Creative Writing

  • Creative Thinking Journal Topics- We will use these as story starters. (1x a week)
  • continue using our homemade creative writing journals

Additional curriculum by grade level
(Coming in the next few weeks...)
2nd Grade

Curriculums from year's past
2011-2012 (3rd, K, Pre-K)

Be sure to head over to the Not-Back-To-School Hop to check out more 2014-2015 curriculum lists from around the web.

While you're preparing for the upcoming school year, don't forget to grab your copy of The Big Book of Homeschool Ideasa must-have resource form 55 seasoned homeschool mommas.  This is a book that will grow with ALL your ages and stages of learning!


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