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.”

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.

Homeschool Day in the Life

This post is an old one from back in 2006. My kids were 1,7,10,12,15. I think I typed this up for one of those WTM threads when I was Jen in IL. It makes me tired just reading it. If you know us, you’ll be able to figure out which kid is which number. I did some editing for clarity but left it pretty much as is.


6 am: I’m up with the baby (I should call him toddler now) drinking tea and reading my oldest’s Biology lesson for the day. It doesn’t look that hard. It calls for him to dissect the bluegill. I can send the oldest three boys over to the pond to catch one at lunchtime.
6:30 am: I put the baby back in the pack n play, switch the laundry, let the cat outside and wonder who was cooking late last night. Dirty dishes first thing in the morning is so annoying.
7 am: I’m hearing movement upstairs, so I start breakfast. 10 comes down and wants to play Mario. Sure. The game noise wakes up 7. They play a game while I cook up a batch of muffins. I run up to shower while they are in the oven.
8 am: Everyone’s up now except 15. I read a book that has you block out every hour of the day and write what each person should be doing during that time. I think it will help with who is watching the baby while I do school with the other kids. It needs tweaking as the times are all off. Nothing takes as long as you think it will. I’m hoping the oldest two will cooperate trying it again today.
8:30 am: Baby threw up all over me, and now I have to change my clothes. He still isn’t talking, but he screams a lot. 7 watches him while I run upstairs to change and try to get 15 out of bed. I get sidetracked sending husband out the door.
8:46- Give 12 his math lesson, 7 has the baby watching Barney, 10 is reading his lit book and 15 is in the bathroom. We’re not too far off track.
9:30- doorbell. The neighbor who stayed home from school wants to play. I send him away because we are doing this block thing. It will work. I tell him to come back at noon, or 3. 10 and 12 are now annoyed with me. 15 is finally out of the bathroom, and I ask him to start his work. I’m letting him choose what he wants to do except when he is on baby duty.
9:40- we should be on a break, but I tell the kids if we go to the next block we’ll be able to catch up and be done sooner. No one likes these blocks but me. I start math with 10. 12 has the baby, and 7 watches a nature video that I’m calling science enrichment, but is really just something to keep her out of the way and quiet.
9:55- 12 tells me that baby has thrown up, and luckily, the dog licked it up. Luckily? That’s up for interpretation. I make a note to call the gastro doc, this is getting to be a bit much. I’ve already eliminated most foods from my diet.
10:00- I do math with 7. We’re using Saxon 2, and she loves the counting bears. 12 is reading, and 10 has the baby. 15 is playing loud music, which means he isn’t reading his Psych book. I go upstairs, and he is reading. Crisis averted.
10:30- My homeschooling friend is here with her 3 girls. I’m teaching all of them Latin. Her twins are 8, and her other daughter is 12. I park them in the dining room with my 10 and 12. None of the kids did their workbook from last time, so I have them start there. 7 keeps dancing through with her army of Polly Pockets. I tell her she can sit with us or go play in the yard. I nurse the baby while we do Latin chants.
11:15- We decide to take all the kids to McDonald’s for lunch and to use the nearly empty play place. Except for a few toddlers, we are alone there. I grab a large soda and am thankful I haven’t had to give that up. Afterward, I drop the oldest three off at the pond. 7 goes home with a friend to play with the girls. I’ll do a reading lesson at night with her.
1:00pm- Baby is napping, and the boys bring the fish in the kitchen. 15 shows me the Biology lesson, and we both agree that he has dissected it according to the directions. I send him off to write it up in his lab book and remind him to read his American History.
1:30- 10 and 12 will not work together. I keep trying to combine them, but they fight nonstop. I make more tea and send 12 downstairs to switch the laundry while I work with 10. We do all his workbook stuff, and then they switch places, and I work with 12.
3:00- the Neighbor kid is at the door right on time. 15 and 12 go outside. I do Math with 10 while nursing the baby again. He cannot get a long division. Understands dividing as a concept but gets lost in the algorithm.
4:00- I call the homeschool day done and check my email, start dinner, and deal with some insurance calls.
5:00- Dinner. Husband isn’t home yet, there is construction on the tollway, and it sometimes takes him 2 hours to get home now. We eat and then I go get 7 from a playdate. We do some phonics and then take turns reading aloud.
6:30- Reheat dinner plate for the husband and talk to him while he eats. Watch him do yard work until LOST comes on. We all watch that, and then I start sending all the kids up for showers at 9.
9:30- get 7 tucked in with audiobook playing. Remind 12 to clean up and feed his ferrets. I can’t even go in his room anymore cause they freak me out.
10- Remind 15 that he needs to mail his tests into the school the next day and to finish them up. Go to bed with book and nurse 1 to sleep.

The Work Smart Academic Planner Review

One of the most common reactions I get to homeschooling is that of parents saying that their child won’t work for them. Usually, those kids aren’t doing great in school either, and it all may be an executive skills deficit.

The Work-Smart Academic Planner is the gold standard of teaching the skills that students (grades 6-12) need to master, and it’s their planner for an entire school year. I’m going to use it alongside my eighth-grader as a sort of ongoing study skills seminar.

Parents/ Teachers can access their user guide to determine how they can present the material to the student. After reading through the planner and teacher materials, it looks easy to implement.

Section 1 includes an Executive Skills questionnaire/checklist/ tip sheets that are useful for both teacher and student. I’m going to copy the questionnaire and answer it for myself, and then we can both look through the strategies and keep each other on task. This section is going to take a while to dig into as it includes these common problems and then the approach you’ll need to draw from to improve:

  • Response Inhibition
  • Working Memory
  • Emotional Control
  • Task Initiation
  • Sustained Attention
  • Planning
  • Flexibility
  • Organization

Section 2 is Goal Setting. Again- great checklists and lots of suggestions that aren’t the same ideas you may have encountered in the past. See also the authors’ Coaching Students with Executive Skills Deficits, which provides additional resources and guidance for professionals working with this population, plus the authoritative Executive Skills in Children and Adolescents, Second Edition. Also from Dawson and Guare: Smart but Scattered parenting guides and a self-help guide for adults.

Section 3 is possibly my favorite. Strategies For Success includes:

  • Studying for Tests
  • Five Paragraph Essay Template
  • Long Term Project planning Form (!)
  • Reading Comprehension Strategies
  • How to write a Summary
  • Managing Distractions
  • and more

That’s all before you get to the actual planner that they can use daily for the entire school year. It’s a slim book despite all that it contains. There are Daily/Weekly and Monthly Planner pages that all include the same terminology that you are familiar with after you’ve completed the first half of the book.

I’ll check back in and let you all know how it went for us in a few weeks. I decided to push the review out now before we get too far into the school year. Trust me, I’ve paid for an ADHD counselor, and this $15 may be the best money you spend this school year.

Read More Buy Less

This the season for Home School Planning. I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned in the last 18 years at this gig. Homeschool success is in no way influenced by how much money you spend on it. You don’t need a Pinterest like school room or even new materials.

Go Ahead and Procrastinate

Probably not what you expect to hear. Here are some things you can do instead of shopping:

  • Wait until you’ve finished everything on hand. Kids change and improve so much over short amounts of time that waiting until you’ve finished is best.
  • Use the downtime to reflect and analyze what truly did and didn’t work this year.
  • Read and learn to be a better teacher. Invest in yourself.

While I don’t condone actually buying curriculum years ahead, I do think you should have an idea where you want to end up with your children’s education. You can even write out different scenarios. Then when you go to order for the next year, you aren’t just buying whatever has a flurry of activity around it.

As far as any long term plans? Think of them as just rough drafts. So, what can you do after you’ve got a couple drafts and the materials you’ll use right away?

Prepare to Teach

  • If you aren’t schooling all Summer, get next years books out and start watching videos on the concepts that will come up this year. This is especially helpful in Math and there are tons of free videos out there. Khan Academy is my favorite. I buy a lot of materials from Memoria Press and they also sell video lessons for much of their curriculum. I’ve already starting streaming those now.
Remind yourself that you are awesome.
  • Choose a Homeschooling Planner- start figuring out a schedule for your school days. You can buy a planner or just use a spiral notebook.

Right now I use a homeschool planner even though I also purchased lesson plans. Instructor’s Guides are awesome and save time and energy, but they are not all you need.

Why do I buy plans? Because there is no need to reinvent the wheel. However, your wheel may look different than mine. Ready-made plans still need to be customized for your situation. Transferring the plans into your planner allows you to work at whatever pace works best for each child. Why not just check off what you’ve done on the plans you purchased? You can. But I don’t. I like to incorporate review, memory work, and sometimes I can see that the next thing on the pre-printed plans just isn’t needed for that particular kid. By writing out each day myself, I can take just what I need from them.

Like I said above you don’t need an expensive planner, I’ve had great success with a plain old spiral notebook. Every night I’d write down the next things and then the kids would have a list when they woke up in the morning and know exactly what to do.

My final homeschooling tip today is simply to be prepared. You and your kids need to know what is expected of each person in the family to ensure that homeschooling gets done, everyone eats, and is reasonably clean. It may sound simple, but it takes dedication to see it through.

BORROWING VS. BUYING BOOKS

It’s a chicken and the egg scenario at best. There isn’t one right answer. I find that it depends on the type of book. I buy textbooks because I have a slew of kids and odds are someone else will use it. If not, I can re-sell it and recoup the money quickly. I buy books that we love even if I was gifted an ARC. It’s my way of giving back.

I don’t buy books we “like” as in, “That was good, or okay” Those books can sit at the library and wait for us. I don’t buy new release big name books anymore either. I’ll be able to pick up the latest Patterson or Grisham at the library sale in hardcover next Summer for a quarter. I can wait- it’s probably going to be a movie anyway- right?

BUYING PRO:

You own it. It’s always there. Finding it on your shelves may not be easy- but it is there somewhere.

Immediate Gratification is no small thing when it comes to new books. You can be reading that new release book the day of publication, especially if you’ve been waiting for a sequel.

The Re-Read. Each Autumn I re-read all or part of the Harry Potter books. It’s a tradition.

Sometimes buying is the best financial choice. Have you ever checked the same book out of the library two thousand, million, times and then either spilled on it or lost it? I have, and then I ended up buying it anyway. If you or your kids love a book- buy it. Library fees add up, and Library versions are more expensive than regular hardcovers.

Write a dedication or memory in front of books that you love. I found some books that my great grandmother wrote in and they are the only things I have from her. Do that for your kids and grandkids.

Buy classics and favorites in hardcover. If you have multiple kids who love that book, you may want to consider multiple copies so that they each have one as adults.

BORROWING PRO:

Library Trips. A weekly trip to the library is a fun and useful tradition to start with your kids. I use this list from Susan Wise Bauer and have each kid pick up a book in each category:

History, Science, Fiction, Poetry, Art, Craft, Biography.

Deadlines. Yes, books can get renewed. But, there is something to be said for a period. I know if its a library book I have to read it while I have it rather than letting it sit on my TBR shelf for months.

No Buyer’s Remorse. You can ditch that book at 3% and not look back. Yes, you can borrow E-books from most libraries which make it even easier to decide that you aren’t finishing it. Just hit delete and move on.

You won’t break the bank. Even if I were Bill Gates, I wouldn’t be able to buy every book that interested me. Unless I had that library from Beauty and the Beast- Hmmm.

Librarians are awesome. I was even more convinced of this after attending ALA. Librarians know books, they know old books and new books and can lead to books that you’d never find on your own.

Not sure if you’ll like that book? Borrow it and find out. Thinking about buying a boxed set as a holiday gift? Borrow the first book and see if your kids love it.

Our 8th Grade Plan

I’m about to teach Eighth Grade for the 5th time! This time around I’m using old favorites and brand new resources.

Textbooks:

  • Saxon Math 87
  • Grammar for the Well Trained Mind Red Set (year 2)
  • Writing With Skill Level 1
  • Wordly Wise 3000 Book 8
  • Spelling You See Level F
  • Memoria Press Geography 1 (The Middle East, Africa, Europe)
  • Memoria Press Geography 2 (Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Oceania, & the Americas)
  • Story of the World 1,2,3,4
  • Sonlight Instructors Guides G and H
  • Memoria Press Introduction to Classical Studies (Bible, Greek Myths, Famous Men of Rome)
  • Getting Started With Spanish

Literature List:

  • The Bronze Bow
  • Adam of the Road
  • The Door in the Wall
  • Poetry & Short Stories- American Literature

Science List:

  • MEL Chemistry Kits (affiliate link, if you use it we both save $)
  • Science Conservation, Robotics & Technology 

Extra Stuff:

  • Timeline (homemade with figures from Sonlight Core G and H)
  • World History 1 Lap Book ( Sonlight Core G)
  • Read Alouds from Sonlight Level G and H

You can see just about everything on one page: here. You’ll support this blog with a few cents that I’ll earn on commission from Amazon.

One thing that I am doing this year is a completely planned 14 week Summer School. We start on Monday and we’ll be finishing up Saxon 76, and our Science program. We’ll also be studying the States and Capitals, The Hobbit, Grammar, and I picked up the program Myself and Others from Memoria Press in order to study a bit of Manners, Safety, and Nutrition.

I’ll update a bit on Instagram using the Story function if you’d like to follow along.

Science and the Secular Homeschooler


Biology is the study of complicated things that have the appearance of having been designed with a purpose.

Richard Dawkins

As a secular homeschooler, this is one area that you have to be cautiously pessimistic and do your due diligence. 

When my kids were little one of them wanted to study dinosaurs. I thought, “Sure. It’s first grade, that’s science.”

Nope. Every program out there was written from a creationist stand point. I could have put something together myself, but I had four kids to homeschool that year. There was no time for that. We ended up just reading a lot of books from the library and called it good.

There is probably a whole other post in the reasons that science is so complicated in the homeschool world. 

When kids are older it is even more important to stay diligent. High school students need real science. For one thing some colleges require you to prove that you’ve completed a laboratory science program in high school. 

Even if they don’t ask you for proof your student will need to be familiar with all kinds of scientific methods whether they enter the trades or attend a University.

There are three kinds of science programs marketed to homeschoolers:

  • Mainstream Science: Includes information about how current science views evolution, the age of the Earth, and the age of the universe, including the Big Bang.
  • Creationist: Evolution didn’t happen. All things created by God.

  • Faith Neutral: They omit key information about the age of the Earth (and universe) and evolution.

Keep in mind what you choose may have long lasting affects. Kids may not know what they want to study after they finish homeschooling and if you haven’t exposed them to enough science or math (for that matter) you’ll handicap their future before they make any decisions on their own.

Using the classical method each stage of science requires a different focus. Susan Wise Bauer breaks it down for you here. And if you are already home educating or soon will be her book can be your bible/roadmap from preschool to high school graduation. The best endorsement I can give is that I’ve purchased all four editions over the last 17 ish? years.

We’re planning on creating a curriculum recommendation list soon. We’ll list purely secular programs and those that we’ve tweaked and used ourselves. 

Teaching Your Child to Read

Simple View of Reading

Teaching your child to read is perhaps the most difficult and most important job you will ever have as a homeschooling parent. Reading is a complex, multi-part task that requires seven strands of education for children to become fluent readers. Addressing each strand is necessary, but insufficient on its own. Classical education addresses all of them, often with specific curricula.

Decoding

Comprehension

Put a Ring On It

“I wish I could go in there like Moses and part the waters, and carry everyone to freedom on my ark.” said my friend Nadine.

I laughed and laughed at that. We were chatting about homeschoolers who won’t consider any curriculum that espouses or includes mention of any faith. That is a totally legitimate viewpoint and if it is your line in the sand, have at it. Go you!

Not all secular homeschoolers feel this way. People like to label themselves (despite not wanting to be put in a box, we often put ourselves in one) But why are we afraid to use curriculum as a tool, rather than an identity?

On one hand, it is convenient to slap a label on our “brand” of home education. If you meet at a park day and you introduce yourself as a Lit Based homeschooling family, your new friend won’t expect you to be as happy as she is over her new workbook program. And you know she’ll cringe at the sight of your box day. But aren’t we all lucky to have these choices? That’s part of the reason that most of us educate our kids at home, so that we have these choices in their education.

I’d go out on a limb and say that you might identify with whatever the curriculum company that you bought from tells you that they are. It’s quite a good sales technique and make no mistake, you are purchasing a product.

What they don’t mention is that their plans and books are just that. You can take them apart and use them any way you want to. Ever heard the phrase Every Tool’s a Hammer? I hadn’t until I read Adam Savage’s new book and it got me thinking about how curriculum is a tool, not a methodology.

Adam says things like, “don’t wait until everything is perfect to begin a project, and if you don’t have the exact right tool for a task, just use whatever’s handy.”

His book is about creating a culture of people who know and want to make things- “makers” It’s the same culture we’re in as homeschooling parents. His advice holds true for us all well.

I’d like to ask you to take some time to plan out where you’d like your kids’ education to end up. Do some reading about educational methods and take a good hard look at the kids you have, before you spend money on the latest box of homeschooling goodness. Don’t worry about the religious beliefs of whomever wrote it or is selling it.

We’re planning more posts about curriculum we like, why we like it, how it works, and why we can ignore any faith based elements that may be included in it. We hope you’ll stick around and see what Good Enough Homeschooling looks like for us.