August 7

Our First Year Homeschooling: Curriculum Picks

Picking our homeschool curriculum for our first year homeschooling was a daunting task, but at the same time, it was extremely fun for us to do the research and finally find the curriculum that we loved and worked best for our children.

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Each of our children was very unique in what they needed, so everyone got a “tailored to them” curriculum. That’s the beauty of homeschooling. It’s not one size fits all. Each child is different and you have the ability to choose different things for each one. You can read our homeschooling story in my post “Why We Homeschool”.

Choosing the Best Curriculum for Each of Our Children

We wanted to make sure each child had the curriculum that worked best for them at the time. So we did research, we asked our homeschooling friends for recommendations, and we attended a homeschool convention. By the way, if you ever have a chance to attend one, don’t pass it up. They are a homeschooler’s dream!

first year homeschooling curriculum picks
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Our First Year Homeschooling a Middle Schooler

With our daughter, we needed something simple, that would allow her to learn to work independently, and would require minimal “teaching” from us. With her, we needed to focus on teaching her how to work and how to become a better learner. We wanted to be able to focus on that, instead of teaching her the actual material.

sitting at the kitchen island, our daughter writes out math problems in her notebook using a pencil as we start our first year homeschooling a middle schooler
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A Complete Online Homeschool Curriculum

So we chose an online program that does most of the teaching through interactive videos and lessons and takes care of about 90% of the grading. Short answers, essays, projects, and experiments are graded by the parents. Monarch offers 5 subjects for grades 3-12: Language Arts, Math, Science, History, and Bible. Our daughter worked through all 5 subjects each day.

a girl completing a homeschool assignment on the computer using monarch
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One really great thing about Monarch is that you can choose different levels for different subjects. For example, she was strong in Science and Language Arts but was several years behind in Math. We were able to mix and match grade levels according to where she was at. For an in-depth look into Monarch, check out Ryan’s Monarch Review.

the curriculum screen on the monarch online homeschool system
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We used Monarch for three years and were very happy with it. The only change we made around year two was to exclude the Math from the Monarch curriculum and substitute it with CTC Math because we felt that the CTC Math program was better suited for our daughter. This year, we feel we are ready to move on, and we are going to try something totally different with her. Read our Curriculum Choices for 2020-2021.

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Our First Year Homeschooling High Schoolers

For our older son, Ryan, we did a mix of things. He focused mostly on taking dual credit classes online at our local community college this year, while still taking some courses at home. His first year he completed English, History, and Economics at the college. Here’s what he did at home:

Homeschool Math Curriculum for High School

Since we started our first year homeschooling Ryan halfway through the school year in 10th grade, we started off using Aleks for math and he really enjoyed it. There’s a lot of practice with Aleks, and he felt he understood some things faster and easier than he did when they had been explained at school. Aleks has a math placement test the child takes, and it works from that point to make sure they complete a “pie” with all the different areas of math for that school year. So you can start at any point within a math year.

a math pie chart from the aleks math website
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We finished out the year with Aleks and were really satisfied with it. It’s a great resource, and I feel it can be used as a supporting program for whatever course your child is taking.

A First-Class Math Teacher Right in Our Home

The following school year, we wanted to have access to an actual teacher. My husband Ryan did a lot of research and found a great program that got awesome reviews. It’s called Mr. D. Math and offers math for high school, so we could use it for both our boys. We had already decided on using Mr. D. Math before going to the homeschool convention, but when we went to the convention, we were lucky enough to meet Mr. D in person!

a screen capture of the mr d website that offers homeschool math curriculum
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Well, after meeting him, we were definitely convinced this was the high school math program we wanted to use! He’s a great man, with a love for math and teaching. He offers courses for high school, as well as an SAT boot camp. He also offers extra live help sessions every week for his students. You can take his classes live or self-paced. We chose self-paced Algebra I and Algebra II for the boys the first year. They later completed Geometry and Trigonometry as well. You also get a sibling discount if you let them know you will enroll more than one student!

These are all the math courses available from Mr. D.:

  • Pre-Algebra
  • Algebra I
  • Pre-Calculus with Trigonometry
  • Geometry
  • Algebra II
  • Consumer Math

My boys took Mr. D for 3 years and I can tell you without a doubt that my kids LOVED Mr. D! They loved the method of teaching, and they enjoyed doing Math! They loved it so much, they actually both would work a few nights during the week, trying to get ahead! That was so surprising to me! One night, my son Phillip came into our room and exclaimed “I just learned a new way to divide! It’s so easy! I’ve been lied to my whole life!” We thought it was hilarious!!

Homeschool Science Curriculum for High School

For science, the boys used Apologia. They went through Physics, Biology, and Chemistry. It’s a creation-based science curriculum so that was a plus for us.

materials for a homeschool science curriculum for high school sitting on a desk, including the exploring creation student notebook for biology from apologia
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We chose the self-paced pre-recorded videos for both our boys. They both enjoyed the videos and were very interested in the material. It’s important to note my boys love science in general. For Biology and Chemistry, Apologia has an extra Student Notebook you can purchase. When Phillip first saw his Biology student notebook, he was overwhelmed and thought it would be hard. After using it for just a week, we agreed that it was genius!

a student notebook for homeschool science opened on a desk
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The student notebooks are perfectly organized and lead the student through the units meticulously. I’m so glad we got it for him. Unfortunately, they didn’t have one for the Physics class back when we used it, and they still don’t seem to have one.

Apologia is a rigorous Science curriculum. My children enjoyed it but there was a lot of work, both for them and for me. There was a lot of grading as well. I have never been a big science fan, so this was not a plus for me. On the other hand, my kids enjoyed the material a lot. If your high schooler loves science and is a hard worker, Apologia may be a great fit for you.

Homeschool English Curriculum for High School

For Phillip’s English curriculum we used a great program called Total Language Plus. TLP has bright yellow workbooks for all kinds of great literature books. For example, we started out the year reading Around the World in 80 days, and used the workbook that goes with it.

a boy working on homeschool english curriculum for high school
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Total Language Plus is a comprehensive language arts homeschool curriculum. The workbook covers grammar, spelling, vocabulary, writing, critical thinking, and communication. We did approximately 4 of these workbooks with Phillip for the school year.

an all in one language arts curriculum
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Total Language Plus offers materials for kids in grades 3 through 12. We even got a couple of workbooks for our daughter to use as a supporting activity for her language arts curriculum. She enjoyed them a lot. TLP is a part of our Homeschool Curriculum Picks for 2020-2021 as well.

Homeschool Geography Curriculum for High School

Finally, we had to decide on a Geography course for Phillip. We were completely undecided when we went to the convention so we made sure to stop by several booths to see our options. One of the booths we came across really caught my attention. It was a program called Visualize World Geography.

homeschool geography curriculum for high school
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When they first started talking about the program, my initial thought was “this is cheesy”. But by the time we were done, my mind was totally made up that this was the program I wanted to use!

See, they use mnemonics and silly stories to teach you the locations of countries. So here I was thinking it was cheesy, but by the end of our conversation, I knew where Algeria, Morocco, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique are located when you show me a blank map of Africa. I was impressed! You have to open your mind to the silliness because it works!

a computer screen displaying an online homeschool geography curriculum lesson for high school
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The program also has lessons on culture and physical features of each country. So the student gets a full high school geography course. It really is awesome! It’s perfect for all ages, and we also used it for our daughter a few years later. 

Homeschool Electives for High School

As far as electives, the boys did piano, art, P.E., and Phillip even trying his hand (or should I say tongue) at Japanese!

For piano, we decided on an online course called Playground Sessions. The boys are enjoying it so much! The program was co-created by music legend Quincy Jones and it got amazing reviews.

a screen capture of the playground sessions website
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My boys enjoyed the program and used it for a semester. They worked together on the lessons, which made for some quality brother time!

boys sitting at a keyboard while taking piano lessons for their homeschool elective
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For Phillip’s art classes, we decided on Proko. After much research, we decided this was the way to go. Phillip had been taking his free lessons on YouTube and loved them. The paid course got amazing reviews. While Phillip is quite versed in art, the courses are “approachable enough for beginners and detailed enough for advanced artists”.

A word of warning: do your research before choosing one of his courses because some of them (the Figure Drawing & Anatomy courses specifically) do include nude models and are intended for a more mature audience. For high school students with an avid interest in art, I would suggest his Portrait Drawing Fundamentals course and his Art of Caricature course. He also provides a huge library of free lessons as well.

a screen capture of the proko art lesson website
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Finally, for Japanese, we used Rosetta Stone. We figured it was a well-known name in language learning, and hoped it would allow Phillip to achieve his dream of speaking Japanese! That didn’t go as planned, as Phillip found it overwhelming and did not complete the course. He felt it got too difficult too fast. But that’s the beauty of homeschooling, you can change courses as you see fit!

a screen capture of the rosetta stone website
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That’s it for our curriculum choices for our first year of homeschooling. If you have any particular questions about any of the curriculum I mentioned in this post, please let me know and I’ll do my best to help!

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