Good Enough Homeschool S1 Ep 12

Books!!

Today we are talking about my most favorite things: Choosing Books for Curricula, and Free Reading.

Jenn:

Jenn: It’s funny when I sat down to write my notes I was stuck for a bit. This topic is completely in my wheelhouse, and yet it is a difficult thing to “teach” It’s actually easier to start with a list of What Not to Do:

  1. Don’t censor your kids choices (within reason of course). What I mean is don’t worry if they only want to read a certain kind of book. IE: graphic novels, tumblr blogs, fan fic, one certain book series, etc. ‘
  2. Don’t hound them with questions about free reading. They’ll share if they want to.

How do I get my kid to read? Read to them. If you hate reading to them, get them all the audio books they like. That is still reading and whether or not your kids switch to book books at any point they will still learn to love the written word. Many adults only have time to listen to books, so it’s not a bad skill to have. 

Let them see you reading. Anything that you take time doing shows them that you value that hobby/pastime/obsession.  

Don’t expect a long attention span at first. Feel free to edit on the fly in order to help the listeners make it successfully through the book.
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Now, let’s get to the fun part and I’ll gush about some books your kids will love. I posted an entire Amazon list. It’s an affiliate link so I’ll get like quarter off Bezos if you purchase 10 books.

AJ: 

Typical classical approach to choosing literature in conjunction with history or geography: historical fiction, contemporary fiction, travelogues (historical or contemporary), biographies, and (my favorite!) traditional tales (=fables, folktales, fairy tales/wonder tales, myths, legends, etc.). The world of 398.2!

Benefits of traditional tales: cultural literacy, short enough for young kids to focus on, convey important cultural values/virtues, clear structure prepares kids for more involved plots, easy to teach basic literary concepts (character, setting, plot, theme, moral…).

The importance of reading traditional tales, poetry, and drama aloud, even with older students.

Traditional tales as preparation for Great Books, especially ancient and medieval. Think about what books you want your high school student to be able to read, and prepare them starting in elementary school with the necessary background: myths, cultural info, historical context, etc. (LCC as an example of a literature curriculum designed for this.) Example: If you want your child to read Homer in high school, give them D’Aulaires’ Greek Myths in elementary. If you want them to read The Divine Comedy, give them the Christian Bible. For 19th-century novels, give them short stories and novellas from the period in middle school.

Courtney gave some excellent advice on teaching children to read and I’ll refer you to her earlier blog post on that.

Good Enough Homeschool S1 Ep 11

In today’s show, we’re focusing on critical thinking: What is it? Can you teach it? And if so, what curricula work best? After you listen, don’t forget to like, share, and leave us a review.

AJ: I thought we’d start by defining what we mean by “critical thinking,” but that’s not as easy as it sounds. Merriam-Webster doesn’t even offer a definition of it as a set term. The Oxford Languages online dictionary defines it as “the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy describes it as “careful thinking directed to a goal.” John Dewey defined what he called “reflective” or “critical thinking” in an educational context as “active, persistent and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it, and the further conclusions to which it tends.” 

“Critical Thinking” article at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/critical-thinking/

Courtney:

[Note that this is from Daniel Willingham’s most recent article on this subject: found here.]

Willingham defines critical thinking as having 3 key components:

  1. your thinking is novel—that is, you aren’t simply drawing a conclusion from a memory of a previous situation; 
  2. your thinking is self-directed—that is, you are not merely executing instructions given by someone else; and 
  3. your thinking is effective—that is, you respect certain conventions that make thinking more likely to yield useful conclusions.

Willingham argues that critical thinking can be taught if you define it this way. For example, teach students to certain criteria for evaluating something, have them evaluate something by that criteria, and et voila! They do better than students who are taught general principles rather than evaluation criteria.

If this is interesting to you, I highly recommend Thinking, Fast and Slow by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman and Priceless: The Myth of Fair Value by William Poundstone, as well as counters against cognitive biases like the ideas in The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande.

Jenn

As usual, I’m here to present practical applications and precedent after homeschooling/parenting for so long.  Basically, my anecdotes support the science that Courtney and AJ quoted. Critical (deep thought) is hard won and IMO only achieved when you get the student heavily invested in the subject matter. I want to do a quick dive into the very many Critical Thinking workbooks on the market.

In my opinion, Critical Thinking workbooks don’t do much besides raise test scores in most cases. They also teach kids how to “game the test” While test practice is helpful- especially for students at home who don’t get as much practice- it doesn’t take long for students to figure out shortcuts on the standardized tests. But, do standardized tests measure Critical Thinking? I don’t think so. 

Good Enough Homeschool S1 Ep 10

Episode 10!! Wow, thank you all so much for tuning into our show. Courtney, AJ and I are thrilled that so many of you are finding our words useful. We hope that you’ll stay with us.

Episode 10:

Introduction to Hirsch’s work:

E. D. Hirsch, Jr., is best known as the author of the book Cultural Literacy and as the founder and chairman of the Core Knowledge Foundation. For decades, he has championed the idea of a knowledge-rich, sequential curriculum. Although his work is focused on public and charter schools, many homeschoolers will be familiar with his “Grader” series: What Your First Grader Needs to Know, What Your Second Grader Needs to Know, and so on. The Core Knowledge Foundation also makes their entire K-8 scope-and-sequence document available for free, as well as their language arts and social studies programs. (Their site is coreknowledge.org) It’s an incredible resource for homeschoolers who want a well-designed, coherent, and academically rigorous program that is broadly compatible with classical education. Hirsch’s most recent book is How to Educate a Citizen, in which he argues that American students need a shared knowledge base and a healthy sense of patriotism if we are ever going to overcome our divisions as a nation.

We discuss his newest book: How to Educate a Citizen

Our guest Julie is a fan of the Core Knowledge Sequence.

AJ:

AJ: Ten years ago, when I was given a chance to design the curriculum for a PreK-12 classical school, I chose Core Knowledge as the basis for our Lower School’s program. Our Upper School’s Humanities program was all Western Great Books, and Core Knowledge gave kids the background they needed to discuss those intelligently. I still believe that it’s a very solid program and miles better than what you’ll find in most American public schools.

In the intervening years, though, I have developed some serious concerns about the assumptions that underlie Core Knowledge, and those tie into my problems with Hirsch’s most recent book, How to Educate a Citizen.

I’m fully on board with many of Hirsch’s basic ideas: that students need a knowledge-rich curriculum, that the curriculum should be cumulative and therefore carefully designed, that it should include heavy doses of world history and geography and literature, and that kids of all backgrounds are capable of high academic achievement when given the right kinds of support. 
Hirch’s premise in How to Educate a Citizen is that a common knowledge base, instilled in elementary school, will lead to a unified national culture. He bases this assumption on periods in American history when, at least on the surface, we had such a thing, and he claims that it was largely created by a common curriculum in the form of textbooks like McGuffey’s Readers and the patriotic education of the 1940s and ‘50s. Right away, this raises some red flags for me. I’d argue that we’ve never had a unified culture in America, but we had and still have a dominant culture – WASP culture: white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant culture. Emphasis on the white. When Hirsch talks about “cultural literacy,” he’s talking about fluency in the language and assumptions of this dominant culture, including its presumed superiority. In short, he’s conflating cultural unity with cultural dominance.

Courtney: This is a long-term divide in social studies education, but I don’t think it’s necessarily all that out of touch. Historically, one of the purposes of public school was to be educated in what it was to be a US citizen–think about the naturalization process, for example. You are actually tested on your knowledge of what it means to be a US citizen. Part of the explicit goal of social studies is to socialize children into our culture.

And yes, our idea of what our culture is, is changing, broadening, becoming more inclusive, and I think that’s a good thing. I don’t think it’s an impossible task, although I do think it’s a difficult one. I thread that needle every week when I teach social studies, and it’s by far the most difficult task I face as a teacher. A couple of years ago, I read a blog post by Jasmine Lane, an early teacher from Minneapolis, and she made the excellent point that it’s a privilege to not have to worry about test scores–that for children who are not of the dominant culture, choosing not to know these pieces of knowledge is not an option if they want to be successful in this culture. 

Jenn: I feel like again, like I do with religious curriculum I’m forced to cherry pick from the CK list of “cultural literacy” In other words what happens when the story of us- is no longer us?

Good Enough Homeschool S1 E9

Religious Curricula We Love and How We Secularized Them

One thing that sets the Secular Inclusive Classical Teachers Facebook group apart from other secular support groups is that we’re open to using religious curricula if they get the job done. All things being equal, we prefer secular materials, but sometimes things just aren’t equal, and an otherwise ideal curriculum is religious. How do you make that work?

Jenn: Let me start by listing the material that I’ve seculariized. Then if anyone has questions they can ask me over on SICT.

Seton Homeschool

Kolbe Homeschool

Rod and Staff

Memoria Press

Lit Based:

Sonlight

Winter Promise

Guest Hollow

These very different companies offered something that suited us at one time or another.

Seton was my jumping off point into homeschool, all workbooks and graded for you. It made homeschooling seem doable. However it is very religious and soon after that I read the WTM and we moved on. Over the years, I used parts of the rest of the list for different kids. We used Kolbe in part for their grading and the fact that they have a completely laid out classical curriculum. In the younger years Kolbe worked well for us because Memoria Press didn’t sell anything except Latin and with Kolbe they were actually mostly secular materials in the younger years except Latin. Their high school is different and very hard to tweak.

The reason that I lean towards Lit based curriculums is that I can delete entire books easily, then add my own math and science. I can basically frankenstein their booklists, use their schedules and get a “poor man’s neo classical “ curriculum.

AJ: I have two very different curricula to discuss here. First up: Classical Academic Press’s Logic and Rhetoric books for high school. I used a few of these as-is when I taught in a religious classical school and then, more recently, in my secular online tutorials. These aren’t the kind of books that have Bible quotes on every page, but they are written for Christian classical schools, and it shows. For my tutorials, I use the books as an outline for structuring my class. I create short lectures based on the materials but rarely use anything verbatim from the teacher’s manuals or students workbooks beyond some basic definitions.
I supplement heavily, either from college-level textbooks or from the internet. When we went through the Art of Argument, which covers logical fallacies, I brought in examples from Facebook, letters to the editor, memes, Reddit, YouTube, and other realia, and I asked my student to find examples of our “fallacy of the week” on her own. (She really enjoyed pointing out when her family members used those fallacies!)

The second curriculum is one I used with my daughter, Rod and Staff English. It’s a very traditional grammar program from a conservative Mennonite publisher in Kentucky. This one does have Bible quotes on every page and lots of references to farm life and church events. The illustrations are black-and-white and show kids and adults in plain dress. These are folks who don’t teach any secular literature in their schools, only the Bible and Anabaptist devotional writings, so it’s about as sectarian as they come.

But I love it. It’s clear, it’s thorough, and it Gets the Job Done. It’s also much less expensive than comparable secular programs, like Hake. Now my kid doesn’t have a religious bone in her body, and even at age nine, she thought a textbook called “Building with Diligence” was a hoot.

Courtney: I agree, and perhaps this is why I am more attracted to Well-Trained Mind style education. Because it doesn’t have prescriptive content, I can pick and choose which books or individual I use with my kids. I can seek out own voices texts, add in updated history texts, and so on. I also keep an emphasis on skills-based programs like mathematics, science, and writing. 

Also, I think that because I grew up and still live in rural West Virginia, I have a much higher tolerance for curricula that include religious content than most people. For example, when I worked at a local public school, the principal brought in a pastor to lead a prayer at employee meals, and everyone who attended high school football games bowed their head and prayed before the games. In that milieu, a passing reference to a Bible verse or the inclusion of Bible stories in a history text are not an issue.

“Thanks for listening to Good Enough Homeschoolers. Before we go, show some love for your favorite podcast by leaving us a review. Then stay tuned for next week where we will show some love and hate for another curriculum.”

Episode 8: Michael Clay Thompson (MCT) ELA

Part 1: Question

“What kinds of tests should we give our kids? Why should we test them?”

Courtney: I have used:

1) end-of-chapter tests — good for assessing whether they’ve learned that particular chapter

2) normed standardized academic tests (CAT, TerraNova, Stanford, SmarterBalance, MAP, etc) — good for assessing where they are in relation to their peers, meets state requirements

3) criterion referenced academic tests (ADAM, DORA, etc) — good for assessing what they know as compared to an external standard, like national standards in mathematics

4) normed intelligence tests (WISC, Stanford-Binet) — good for helping to determine whether giftedness, learning disabilities exist

5) normed achievement tests (Woodcock-Johnson, etc) — good for determining knowledge relative to their peers, helping to ID whether learning disabilities exist

6) curricula placement tests (RightStart, Saxon, etc) — good for determining the right level of curricula for the student

Jenn– All of the above Only I would Memory Work/Recitation as a sort of test. If you begin when your kids are little it becomes routine all the way through school.

History of Classical Education: Traditional or “Latin-Centered” Classical

In our last episode I talked about what is probably the most popular style of classical education among homeschoolers: neoclassical education, as represented by TWTM and Christian classical publishers like Classical Academic Press. For all the details, check out episode 7.

Today we’re going to look at the other major style of classical education that homeschoolers are likely to encounter: traditional — or what’s sometimes called Latin-centered — classical ed. This is much closer to what “classical education” meant until the 1980s, and what many people outside the US would understand by the term even today.

The tl;dr version is that traditional classical education uses the study of Latin and Greek — the European classical languages — as its organizing principle. Just as TWTM is structured around the four-year history cycle, Latin-centered education is all about mastering the classical languages and their literatures. It’s an education in and through the classics of the ancient Mediterranean, with some later Great Books added in. In practice, this approach balances its strong language emphasis with equal amounts of mathematics. Both Latin and math are cumulative and require years to master.

Some of us in the secular homeschooling world are looking for ways to preserve the positive aspects of this style of education (the rigor and the simplicity, for example) without the cultural myopia and retrogressive politics.

Links for the show notes:

https://www.memoriapress.com/articles/apology-latin-and-math/https://rfkclassics.blogspot.com/2019/04/on-history-of-western-civilization-part.htmlhttps://eidolon.pub/how-to-be-a-good-classicist-under-a-bad-emperor-6b848df6e54a

Finally we talk a bit about (MCT) Michael Clay Thompson Language Arts Curriculum and why we have mixed feelings about it.

Jenn:

One of my boys used MCT Vocab (Word within the Word) in high school and I tried the Search Trilogy with my daughter and it wasn’t a good fit for her. So I had mixed results.

I think selecting a level and understanding how the parts of this program fit together is difficult. I like that it is written by an expert. I didn’t gravitate towards it simply because of the amount of books that were required and there was no schedule included.

He’s pretty enthused about grammar. And he is a word nerd- which I love- cause Same.

I’m still planning on using his vocab program in high school this time around.

Courtney:

First, as far as I know, Michael Clay Thompson came up with his unique grammar teaching system all out of his own mind. I actually asked a sales rep about that at a conference, and that was the impression that I received. I’m suspicious of any full bore curriculum that one individual person came up with, because I think that real experts will have their work double-checked by other people and ideally, be co-written by a team. For example, when I wrote that book on online teaching this summer, I sent chapters hither and yon, asking people to double-check my work, and I worked with someone who reviewed each chapter as it was written. So, already I was a little…well, skeptical. 

But Gwen is gifted in English language arts (yes, that’s not just proud mama talking, I had her tested), and I’d heard that it’s great for gifted students, so I thought I would give it a try. This was when she was finishing third grade. I emailed Royal Fireworks Press, listed all the curricula she’d completed in the last year, and asked them what package I should buy. I was willing to lay out the cash for the whole set if need be. Keep in mind, she was reading at the high school level at that point. They emailed me back and recommended Level 2 (ages 9-11) or Level 3 (ages 10-12). In other words, despite the fact that she was already advanced, they didn’t recommend any acceleration at all. That’s an entirely different, but relevant discussion. 

AJ: My experience with the levels was similar. We were advised to use level 2 (the “Town” level) with Ruby in 4th grade. She was a very strong reader (like Gwen, high school level) and had been in a classical cottage school in 2nd and a private classical academy in 3rd. We’d been doing Latin together since she was maybe 5. We went through Grammar Town and Paragraph Town, which the publisher recommends for 5th grade, and Ruby had learned everything in those books years earlier. (I also really wonder how many 5th graders are going to be excited about talking ducks; the presentation seems pretty childish for kids that age.)

So I can see using those books with a child who’s gifted in LA, but you’d have to do the same thing you do with most programs: zoom through multiple levels in a year or skip to a higher level to challenge the child. That’s not what I’d expect from a company that positions itself as a “gifted education” resource. But to be fair to the folks at Royal Fireworks Press, part of the challenge of working with gifted kids is that they are so individual in their needs. Many display asynchronous development, meaning that they are at very different levels in different subjects. That’s why it’s so challenging to put together a curriculum for them and also one of the reasons that homeschooling is such an appealing option for families with gifted or 2E kids. But I’d also expect a curriculum company to be aware enough of what’s taught in their competitors’ products that they can accurately place a child based on the curricula that child has already completed successfully.

That said, I think the products themselves are nicely done. They’re quirky and the art is high quality, which was a plus for my aesthetically driven child. She liked that the author threw in little asides about Greek words, in actual Greek letters, probably because, well, she’s my kid. I just would have used them with her at a much earlier age. The “Town” books would have worked for us when she was in K-2 range, not 4th or 5th.

Episode 7: The One About The History of Classical Ed and Oak Meadow

“Welcome, listeners, to the Good Enough Homeschool podcast, where we cheerfully eviscerate popular homeschool curricula. In today’s show, AJ will give us a classical education history lesson. Finally, we’ll talk about Oak Meadow and what we love and what we don’t love.

From A.J.: Dorothy Sayers, Douglas Wilson, SWB, and the redefinition of “classical education”

Last time around, I talked a bit about the idea of “the grammar stage,” “the logic stage,” and “the rhetoric stage” that was popularized by Susan Wise Bauer’s excellent homeschooling guide, The Well-Trained Mind. I’d like to dig a little deeper into that history because I think it helps explain why there are several different definitions of classical education out there and why the modern classical education revival has been so closely tied with conservative Christianity and politics.

First, a couple of definitions. The Trivium refers to the study of grammar, logic or dialectic, and rhetoric, which were the three language arts disciplines established by the ancient Greeks and Romans. They were taught, in various forms, all the way through the European Middle Ages and Renaissance until at least the Enlightenment. 

Grammar referred specifically to training in Latin and Greek grammar and literature. Logic meant how to structure arguments correctly and dialectic is how to engage in debate. Rhetoric covers the art of persuasion, especially in public speaking.

So how did we get from those arcane subjects to the idea that young children are good at memorization and middle school kids are sassy?

Part 2: Oak Meadow

Courtney: First, let me start by saying I really like the concept of Oak Meadow. I have no idea if this is true or not, but I dearly love the idea of a bunch of hippies on a commune in Vermont sitting around and coming up with their own progressive, nature-oriented low-key curriculum. But, I never really messed with it much when my kids were younger because they tend to have integrated programs and my oldest child was so wildly asynchronous in her academic development. At one point she was on six different grade levels in six different subjects. 

When she hit middle school, I decided to look into their Ancient Civilizations, Grade 6. Keep in mind that I have a current teaching certification in social studies, grades 5-12, a B.A. in history with a specialization in Middle Eastern history, and I’ve professionally taught WTM-style history at both the middle school and high school level. When I review a history curriculum, I’m using that perspective.

Jenn:

 Reading and talking with Courtney really helped me to clarify my OM feelings.HEre’s a list of the grade levels and results that I’ve purchased:

Kindergarten- I wanted to love this, only it went so slooow. A letter a week? Nope. 

4th grade- We used the whole thing as is after coming off of a few years of MP and just wanting to slow down.

6th grade- bought and returned- the writing was way too hard

High school we used their art and photography and that kid is now getting her BFA in studio arts Photography so I guess that part worked? 

I just purchased a bunch of OM high school books as an insurance policy for having most of a high school curriculum here at home in case of apocalypse. I had the old American history from 2007? And then bought the 2018 version.

Lesson 4: Read about the American Revolution. This course doesn’t require a specific textbook. 

Students can research this on their own. They are told to make sure they read about 

The French and Indian War

British taxation and restrictive policies in the colonies

Significant events leading up to the American Revolution

Declaration of Independence

Articles of Confederation

Their assignment is to then write a newspaper article from the POV of either the Americans or British about another list of events like the Treaty of Paris.

All of this is creative and interesting, I like that you can tweak it for different students’ strengths- like you could make a newscast or something. But— this is what I think of as extra stuff. If students don’t have those pegs from earlier years none of this will stick either- no matter how engaged they are this week.

Further reading:

The Pandemic Created A Surge in Homeschooling: and Concerns about the Movement’s Christian Culture

Why I an (not) an Evangelical

Introducing AJ Campbell and we stan the WTM: Ep. 6

“Welcome, listeners, to the Good Enough Homeschool podcast, where we cheerfully eviscerate popular homeschool curricula. In today’s show, we’ll introduce our new co-host, AJ Campbell. Welcome, AJ! Then we’ll talk about a common question: “Shouldn’t homeschooling be joyful? Instagram-worthy? Don’t kids learn better when they’re joyful about it?” Finally, we’ll talk about the Well-Trained Mind book and associated materials and what we love. Honestly, we can’t think of much (anything?) we dislike!
Let’s begin with AJ! (Full disclosure, we love AJ! He’s an admin on SICT, a tutor, and one of our wise sages of homeschooling.)

AJ: Thanks! I’ve been working in education since the 1980s and have been actively involved in the classical homeschooling world for about 15 years now. I started out as a homeschooling parent, then was a cottage-schooler, then a classroom teacher and administrator at a classical school in New Hampshire, and now I’m a private online tutor for writing, literature, and Latin, working with homeschooled students. I’m the author of The Latin-Centered Curriculum, a classical homeschooling guide that’s now OOP, and I Speak Latin, a Latin curriculum for elementary age kids. I’m married to Anne, who is a web designer, and we have one adult daughter, Ruby, who’s currently taking a pandemic-induced break from her graphic design studies. My family and I just moved from rural Western Massachusetts to Orlando, Florida. You can find me at quidnampress.com and the SICT group on Facebook.

Now let’s switch gears to our question of the day: “Shouldn’t homeschooling be joyful? Instagram-worthy? Don’t kids learn better when they’re joyful about it?” 

Jenn– Let me say, that if internet culture had been around when I was a young Mom I would have failed at it entirely. Especially for parents of bigger families the pressure to have every kid look put together, your house spotless, and every kid happy in order to Instagram your life to everyone you ever met and strangers? *picture me shrugging* It’s too much. 

Courtney–I think this idea that you should find joy in homeschooling is deceptive. Obviously kids can’t learn when they’re in full meltdown mode. But many sullen students have been poked and prodded through long division or learning phonics. Reading is hard. Math can be hard. It’s OK to acknowledge that something is hard, that we don’t want to do it, and that we’re going to do it anyway. If we just avoid everything that’s difficult, we’re going to have a hard-knock life.  I also think that making everything easy and happy for students robs them of the agency in mastering a difficult skill. We can successfully engage with things we don’t like–we do it all the time! I hate cleaning, but I engage in it every day!  

We throw out some love towards The Well Trained Mind Press Courtney works for The Academy so she stays quiet while AJ and Jenn say only nice things.

Side note from Courtney: SWB takes a lot of heat for not being religious enough on the one hand, and a lot of heat for including religion on the other hand. Personally, I am less interested in whether materials are religious and more interested in whether materials are effective. You’ll note that up until this point, Jenn and I have not differentiated between secular and religious materials. Part of that is because the definition of secular varies. Another part is that we’ve both been shamed by various groups for our choices in curricula, whether that choice was secular curricula or religious curricula. Good Enough Homeschool is about whether the curriculum is good enough, not about whether it carries a whiff of secularism or religion.

We talked in a previous podcast about what classical was. We do discuss curricula that aren’t seen as traditionally classical because these are frequently recommended, and we’d like to know what they’re about. Also, we discuss them because classical is open to interpretation–if you interpret it as different subjects at different age levels, then the content of the curricula is more important than the way in which the material is presented. Finally, we discuss a wide variety of curricula because we aren’t purists–we’re about what’s Good Enough, not what meets some debatable narrow definition.

Book Lists, Dr. Kripa Sundar, and BYL- Ep 5

In today’s show, we’ll talk about a common question: “How do I make a book list for my child?” Today we have a special guest, Dr. Kripa Sundar talking about distraction in curricula.  Finally, we’ll talk about BYL and what we love–and what we don’t love.

Booklist: I’m going to give away my secrets, and we’ll link to my free lists on our Amazon shop

First off, I’m so excited about this because I adore a curated booklist. It is one of the “chores” (air quotes) that I look forward to each year. 

  1. Don’t reinvent the wheel: there are a lot of companies that are literature based and they have wonderful booklists. There may be a ready made solution out there for you. I’ll list my favorites in the show notes.
  2. My old world go- to was the library, if your library is still open (by the way, what kind of reality has me uttering those words?) Simply go to the section of the subject matter and grab a stack of books, sit down on the ground and flip through them. 
  3. If you are online with your library, or Amazon- I highly recommend using Amazon as a bookish search engine- you can always request what you find at the library or order from your Indie Bookseller.
  4. Add Middle Grade or YA to your search term. Then add nonfiction, historical fiction etc.
  5. Example: children’s books american revolution brought me a list that was random and even included adult titles. historical fiction american revolution YA provided me with a great list.
  6. So, you’ve got the list and if you haven’t read any of the books, it is still a daunting task. Use the preview function and check the reviews. Book reviewers are honest, it isn’t like a vitamin review where people are getting paid to post 5 star ratings.You can check GoodReads also.
  7. What ratio of fiction/nonfiction should your reading list contain? I’m a big proponent of nonfiction written at or under the grade level of the kiddo. That doesn’t mean a board book for your 8 yo- it does mean that your high schooler shouldn’t have to struggle with a dictionary to get through a college level text. I’d aim for a 60/40 split. The larger end should be what your child prefers to read.
  8. My secret: Sometimes I add meaty picture books or graphic novels to even my high school lists. 

Thriftbooks

Library Extension

Curriculum Companies with excellent Book Lists:

The Well Trained Mind– Credit where credit is due- this is an entire book of book lists that will take you from K-12. There is no bigger bargain out there.

Build Your Library– more on this below.

Book Shark– (note neutral science)

Guest Hollow– (not all secular, but nonsecular is labeled)

Ursa Minor Learning

Wildwood Curriculum

Mater Amabilis– (not secular)

Winter Promise– (not secular)

You can find lots of great books for your kids even if the company is not secular. Check the descriptions and reviews on Good Reads.


In looking at curricula, parents seem drawn towards “pretty” curricula, with aesthetically pleasing color choices and lovely graphic design. But Jenn and I were chatting the other morning, and agreed that when the pedal hit the metal, we both preferred simple black and white textbooks and workbooks. I mentioned that there was a science to this. Can you tell us a little bit about this science and what you’ve found about how it affects learning?

Dr. Kripa Sundar is an independent consultant, researcher and parent working to spread the love of learning. She grounds her research and practice in the science of learning to inform and develop effective, engaging, and efficient learning

She is currently most excited about launching a resource hub for adults to support their kids’ learning called Learning Incognito and her forthcoming book How do I learn? for young kids to learn and explore how they learn, every day.  

Check out her website- www.kripasundar.com

Spoiler- We were slightly wrong in our hot take of pretty curriculum in Episode 4. Say it isn’t so.


Courtney mentioned Jennifer Hallock and her website- History Ever After.

We also talked about Build Your Library and how much we adore Emily’s booklists.

Courtney: Love the book choices, love the ability for a child to work independently.

Don’t love the younger years, but that’s partially because I don’t love Charlotte Mason’s younger. Not great for children who are not auditory learners, doesn’t demand enough in terms of handwriting, IMO. This illusion of joyous hours of reading out loud (I hate reading out loud). Very whole literacy movement that children will learn to read by exposure, but that’s not how it works. Students need to engage with material, and just having soundwaves in the room doesn’t make it happen. Need specific, directed narration questions–need to test them!

“Make sure to join our Facebook group Secular Inclusive Classical Teachers if you haven’t already where we talk about homeschooling all the time, with many veteran homeschoolers.”

“Thanks for listening to Good Enough Homeschoolers. Before we go, show some love for your favorite podcast by leaving us a review on SoundCloud. Then stay tuned for next week where we will show some love and hate for another curriculum.”

And finally, I’m plugging myself over at The Bookish Society. We are just getting started and I’m bursting with all the cool bookish programs that I’ll be rolling out this year! I’d love to see your child in one of our Round Table groups and/or help you with navigating the curriculum maze!

Classical Education in Our Words: Podcast Episode 4

What is classical education? The name is thrown around enough that sometimes I wonder what people mean when they self identify as classical home educators.

We talk about the stages:

  • Logic – connection (more, deeper, more difficult texts)
  • Rhetoric – argument (persuasive argument analysis)

Courtney says:

For me, it’s mostly about method. We put equal time for science and social studies in K-8, assign more language analysis (sentence diagramming), have a literature emphasis (as opposed to screens or experiential (i.e., unschooling). The focus is on building key background knowledge. Yes, we do Latin, but not as the “point” of classical homeschooling. Other views may vary.

Jenn says:

Can you classically homeschool without Latin? I think you could, but I also think that it isn’t what most people mean when they say classical. That’s something worth talking about because methodology should change with the times. The point of Latin to me is teaching English grammar and logic skills and speaking Latin would be a side benefit. So could you sub in another modern language? In Europe students learn 2-3 languages routinely – and that is everyone from age 6 upwards. So I think you could make the argument that learning any language other than your native one would provide the same neurological growth. Just my 2 cents. For me I chose Latin because I like to buy scripted or nearly scripted lessons.    

Recommended Book

We complained about yet another state department of education providing a non secular list of homeschool providers. Here is our more balanced list.

Note: If you’re looking for materials that are strictly secular, you’ll also need to make a decision between “neutral” science and mainstream science. Neutral science omits information about the age of the Earth (and universe) and evolution. Typically, religious kits include creation science.

School in a Box Kits with Mainstream Science:

  • Moving Beyond the Page: (K-9) “Moving Beyond the Page is a comprehensive homeschool curriculum that covers science, social studies, and language arts. Moving Beyond the Page curriculum is most closely aligned with what is known as the Constructivist Theory of Learning. Constructivists view learning as an active process in which the learner actively constructs knowledge as he tries to comprehend his world. Constructivist theory is about facilitating the learner to go beyond simple memorization toward understanding, application and competence.”
  • Calvert Education:  “For more than one hundred years, Calvert Education has provided families with the curriculum and instructional support to successfully educate their children at home. A carefully curated curriculum from best-in-class educational content providers. Traditional print materials/online format or Online only. Engaging projects that challenge students to apply what they learn in deeper, more meaningful ways.”
  • Oak Meadow: “Oak Meadow provides flexible, progressive homeschooling curriculum for students in K-12. Our student-centered, nature-based approach allows families to set their own natural rhythm of learning and encourages creativity, critical thinking, and intellectual development through hands-on activities and interdisciplinary projects.”
  • Build Your Library: “Have you been looking for a literature based homeschool curriculum that is secular? How about a way to incorporate narration, copywork, dictation and memory work into your child’s education? Or art study that ties into history? What about a secular science that is mostly literature based in the elementary years? Well, you have come to the right place! Welcome to Build Your Library Curriculum!” (Math, and if desired, spelling and grammar, must be purchased separately.)
  • Rainbow Resources Kits: “Made with the new homeschooler in mind, we wanted them to be easy to jump into and get started. We also wanted them to be solid and strong in academics. And we wanted them to utilize a variety of homeschooling products, so you would have a better idea of what works well for you and your students.”

School in a Box Kits with Neutral Science:

  • Timberdoodle: “The “Timberdoodle family” loves Jesus and we are thrilled to offer products with a Gospel perspective to our customers. When we choose our products, we look for ones that are the best and most unique overall, so sometimes it is Christian-based curriculum, and sometimes it is not. As always, we want to help you find what is best for your family, so if you are looking for a curriculum that has either more of or less of a Christian perspective, please feel free to contact us; we want to help you find exactly what you need!”
  • Bookshark: “BookShark is a complete, literature-based, homeschool curriculum developed for Pre-K to Age 16 students. Our curriculum uses a variety of educational resources including literary fiction and nonfiction, biographies, illustrations and hands-on experiments to deliver an engaging and complete education that extends beyond textbook memorization.”

School in a Box Kits with Religion:

  • Memoria Press: “The Classical Core Curriculum is a complete classical Christian curriculum that emphasizes the traditional liberal arts of language and mathematics and the cultural heritage of the Christian West as expressed in the great works of history and literature.”
  • Christian Light Education: “Christian Light is dedicated to the development and distribution of Christian materials to spread the Gospel and evangelize the lost; to edify, inspire, and build conviction in the saints; to strengthen families; to support the church; and to provide a Christian education curriculum for children and youth.”
  • Sonlight: “Books – quality books – can distill the wisdom of an entire life into the span of a few pages. They can feed us with spiritual insight beyond imagination. Whether written by Christians or non-Christians, great books help us to develop critical thinking skills. These benefits of great literature have inspired us to build our Christian homeschool curriculum on quality books that present content in a highly engaging fashion.”
  • Abeka: “Abeka’s curriculum is parent led and focuses on building character. Every subject is approached from a Christian perspective, and you’ll find Scripture and biblical principles used to emphasize or illustrate concepts. It’s all the basics for that grade level, plus art in preschool–6th and electives in 7th–12th.”
  • Bob Jones University Homeschool: “BJU Press is a publisher of textbooks and video lessons for homeschool families. We are committed to creating materials that help parents deliver an education that is based on sound educational principles, inspires a joy in learning, and is rooted in a solid biblical worldview. We believe this approach helps children see how all learning is connected and important. As mastery and perspective increase, so does the desire to learn and create. As Proverbs 14:6 says, “knowledge is easy unto him that understandeth.”
  • Our Lady of Victory: “Our Lady of Victory home study program was founded in 1977 by Roman Catholic laymen and was the first Catholic home school program established in the country. For over 35 years our apostolate has been dedicated to providing parents with the support and confidence that they need in order to succeed in their home school endeavors. Wherever the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is discussed, you will find our materials always refer to the Latin Tridentine Mass, as promulgated by Pope St. Pius V”
  • Seton Home Study School: “Seton Home Study School is a nationally accredited, faithfully Catholic private PreK-12 distance school located in the state of Virginia. We serve an enrollment of approximately 12,000 homeschooled students, and several thousand more families through book sales and by furnishing materials to small Catholic schools. Seton Home Study School provides a Christ-centered, academically strong program designed for the Catholic homeschooling family in today’s world.”
  • Kolbe Academy:  “We are devoted to providing a philosophy and method of education that is thoroughly Catholic, that will form the whole individual—mind, soul and body—to renew the world with children and young adults with high educational, moral, civic and spiritual values. Kolbe Academy’s classically based curriculum focuses on studying the greatest spiritual, literary, artistic and cultural achievements of Western civilization by reading the original sources whenever possible.” (mainstream science)

Last but not least, we decimated the beautifully graphically designed Scientific Connections Through Inquiry.

Some Books Go Out of Print For A Reason Podcast Ep 3: Pandia Press

In today’s show, we’ll talk about a common question: “What is the best online curriculum?” Next, we’ll talk about types of curricula, and finally we’ll talk about the Pandia Press’s Ancient History, Level 2 curriculum, and why we won’t use it.

We chat about parents moving to homeschooling. They want all online curriculum and there are definite problems with most online curricula.

Don’t get wrapped up in pedagogy. When you start wading into homeschool curricula you are going to be affronted (accosted?) with so many kinds of methods. Put that aside for now. Think: one room schoolhouse. If you continue homeschooling after this is all over you can tweak a basic 3R routine into whatever flavor of homeschooling you desire. Remember that we are all in emergency mode. I was looking at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs this morning and although we are accepting this new normal- none of this is the old normal and kids know that too.

For all ages you need Math, Science, History (social studies in school is history and geography), Reading and Grammar. Start with Math and reading and do a placement test test like DORA. Start your child where she is is even if the grade level is nowhere near their age group. You need to fill in whatever gaps she has.

For history, most kids in public schools haven’t had any substance so  I’d start with the ancients no matter what the grade level. Make a timeline and match your reading to the history and science. None of this is actually my idea by the way- it’s all courtesy of learning about education from classical educators like Susan Wise Bauer. In grade school I’m a huge proponent of interest led science so I’d choose something your kid wants to learn about and save more formal science progression for high school- although in the 4th edition of the WTM even Susan Wise Bauer has changed her stance and said you can switch up the order even in high school.

A great online store for all things homeschooling is The Rainbow Resource Center. You can search and more than likely they will have several homeschool programs with unique long descriptions. They do include religious curricula, but it is all marked. You may find that you are willing to tweak some religion out if it is an otherwise perfect fit for your student. They also have excellent pricing.


Look at all the sample pages you can before hitting that purchase button. It’s tempting to take too much on when you first begin learning at home. Concentrate on the minimum this year and leave some time for projects. I think we’ll talk about scheduling another episode.

Pandia Press says: *The Story of Mankind: Due to the polarizing nature of The Story of Mankind by Hendrick Van Loon, it is optional reading in this level two course. It should be considered a possible resource for gathering information. If students choose not to read TSOM, they might need to seek out other resources on the Internet or at a library in order to complete some of the lessons. 

We compared Van Loon to Wikipedia

In the seventh century, however, another Semitic tribe appeared upon the scene and challenged the power of the west. They were the Arabs, peaceful shepherds who had roamed through the desert since the beginning of time without showing any signs of imperial ambitions.

Van Loon

versus

The Nabataeans, an Arab people, formed their Kingdom near Petra in the 3rd century BC. Arab tribes, most notably the Ghassanids and Lakhmids, begin to appear in the southern Syrian Desert from the mid 3rd century CE onward, during the mid to later stages of the Roman and Sasanian empires.

Wikipedia

Here’s another example.

When they listened to Mohammed, mounted their horses and in less than a century they had pushed to the heart of Europe and proclaimed the glories of Allah, “the only God,” and Mohammed, “the prophet of the only God,” to the frightened peasants of France.

Van Loon

versus

The Umayyads continued the Muslim conquests, incorporating the … Iberian Peninsula (Al-Andalus) into the Muslim world. At its greatest extent, the Umayyad Caliphate covered 6,000,000 sq mi and 62 million people, making it one of the largest empires in history in both area and proportion of the world’s population. Survivors of the dynasty established themselves in Cordoba which, in the form of an Emirate and then a Caliphate, became a world center of science, medicine, philosophy and invention, ushering in the period of the Golden Age of Islam. The Umayyad caliphate ruled over a vast multiethnic and multicultural population. Christians, who still constituted a majority of the Caliphate’s population, and Jews were allowed to practice their own religion but had to pay a head tax (the jizya) from which Muslims were exempt.[12] There was, however, the Muslim-only zakat tax, which was earmarked explicitly for various welfare programs

Wikipedia

This is a problem with many older spines, and why I’m not terribly attracted to Ambleside or very pure Charlotte Mason style curricula, which tend to use older books. The racism, sexism, and casual xenophobia are baked into the texts that are chosen. 

Here is a handy dandy list of Middle Grade novels set in Ancient Times.