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So You Want to Be a Homeschooler?

A Homeschool Mom's Guide for Choosing Great Literature for Her Homeschool

Leah Courtney
So, mama, you've decided that you want to use great books in your homeschool. You want classic books, living books, books that will inspire and stimulate the minds of your kids. You want to find Really. Good. Books. So you head off to the children's section of your local library.

When you arrive, you look first at the current books that are displayed. Hmmm. These seem to be books about television and movie characters. You dig a little deeper. You find a few kids' series, but you can't seem to find those awesome living books that you've been looking for. Too many of these books have animated characters on the cover or seem to be the "diaries" of an often whining and complaining child. Now what?

First, let me give a little disclaimer. My kids have read and probably still will read books that are based on television characters. They've read the predictable and mundane kids' series. They've read the diary books that just seem to consist of kids either whining about the difficulties of their lives or plotting ways to pull one over on the adults in the books. In true Charlotte Mason fashion, I call those books "twaddle." But my kids have read them.

Those are the books that my kids have occasionally been drawn to when I leave them free to wander the library shelves. And, provided the books weren't morally or Biblically problematic, I've let them check those books out. But I've maintained a much higher standard for the books that we read aloud, the books we use as a foundational part of our curriculum, and the books that the kids use during their Book Basket time- a guided reading time where they choose from books I've selected. I want the books I choose- those great living books- to be the main course, the books that the kids are primarily consuming. Those twaddle books? Those can be the occasional piece of candy that's allowed.

How to find living books for your homeschool
{We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. Occasionally posts contains other affiliate links as well.}

So where can you find these great, quality, living books? If it isn't easy to spot them in the library- and it often isn't- where are they? How can you know what books to choose? And where do you find the books once you've chosen them?

This post is part of a five day series- Five Days of Literature-Based Homeschooling. You can find the landing page with links to all of the posts here. And, if you're looking for some great books recommendations, check out my free Living Books Catalog. I add to this periodically and try to give lots of great recommendations as well as age/grade guidelines and cross-curricular connections.

Sites and Books With Suggestions for Great Living Books


There are several go to places when I'm looking for great living books recommendations.

Ambleside Online- This is a free online Charlotte Mason homeschooling curriculum. You could use this as your complete curriculum, although I've never done that. What I do use, frequently, are the books suggested for each grade level. On the site you can choose Year 1-12. For each year, there are books listed for all subjects. I've found some great living books on these lists.

Sonlight- Sonlight is another complete literature-based curriculum company. Each year's curriculum that you can purchase is rich in great books. I like to look at the booklist for each year to get ideas for books to use at different grade levels.

Amy Lynn Andrews Living Books List- Blogger Amy Lynn Andrews has a great living books spread sheet that gives book names, summaries, author, and approximate reading level.

If you're looking for historical living books, you can find 100 in this post of 100 books that correspond with a Classical history cycle.

You can also download my free 2018 Read Aloud Planner that has books suggestions for each month and a planner to help you plan our what great books you'll read this year.

Honey for a Child's Heart by Gladys Hunt is an excellent resource book that includes some great reading choices for kids up through age 14. After that, you cab check out Honey for a Teen's Heart with great recommendations for high schoolers.

How to find living books for your homeschool

Where to Find These Books


Now that you know how to choose some great literature for your homeschool, where are you going to get these books? And is it possible to do it without spending a fortune?

The Library


Even if you can't easily find great books in your children's library, that doesn't mean they aren't there at all. Look in your library's catalog and see if you have the option of inter-library loan. Sometimes you can request the book and have it sent from a different library in the state. I've found quite a few books this way. You'll usually have to put it on hold and wait, but you'll eventually get your book.

Amazon


Although this isn't a free option, I can find so many great books for very good prices on Amazon. You can often find a used option that is cheaper than the new version. Just be sure to check shipping. I have Amazon Prime which gives me two-day free shipping on most items. I do this because I can then order books and have them in hand to begin reading within the week.

Project Gutenberg


This site has over 30,000 classic books that can be read as ebooks for free. You can find a large variety on their Children's Bookshelf. There are usually a variety of options for reading so you can read on your computer or send books to your Kindle or phone to read.

Librivox


Want to listen to your books instead of reading them yourself? Librivox has a great catalog of audiobooks available for free. You can search by category, and there are lots of great children's books to choose from.

Library of Congress


At the Library of Congress site you can find a collection of great kids' books that you can read for free. These books are only able to be read online, not sent to an ereader. But it's great for classic picture books because you can see the original illustrations.

ReadAnyBook


This site has a large collection of books. These aren't just classics, but they include more contemporary books as well, so you'll have to be selective in finding really good books. Some of the books can be downloaded and sent to mobile devices as well as read online.

The Literature Network


On The Literature Network you can find books listed by author. There is also a complete collection of Shakespeare's work. Most of these books can only be read online, but there are some that can be downloaded. One of the cool things about this site is that when you choose an author, you can get a brief bio as well as a list of books written. The site only shows text for books, not pictures.


Don't get discouraged. Even if great books aren't readily available on your library shelves, it's possible- and simple- to choose great literature for your homeschool.



Why Immersion Is the Best Way to Learn a Foreign Language in Your Homeschool

Leah Courtney
Years ago, before I had my own children and began homeschooling, I taught second grade in a traditional private Christian school. One year the school hired a Spanish teacher that was actually from South America and spoke Spanish as her native language. She was going to come into each elementary classroom a few times a week and teach the kids Spanish.

Now I had taken Spanish in high school. I had two years of Spanish. All I can really remember is watching videos of a teacher- who spoke English- going over lists of vocabulary. "Today we're going to learn Spanish greetings...." I remember very little of what I learned. Even just a few years out of high school when I went on a missions trip to Mexico, I couldn't speak in Spanish or understand most of what was said.

I expected that the new Spanish teacher would come into my classroom and begin to teach these second graders lists of Spanish words. I can remember thinking, "Maybe it will work because they are starting younger."

And then the teacher came in for her first visit with my class. She spoke no English. None. The kids looked at each other. They looked at me. I was sure this wasn't going to work. But our Spanish teacher continued talking to the kids and using gestures or motions to get across what she was saying. Occasionally she also indicated for the kids to repeat words or phrases. By the end of the class period, the kids- and I - had figured out quite a bit of what she was saying. I was surprised.

This continued each week. She talked to the kids, occasionally using English, but primarily speaking in Spanish. She showed the kids Spanish cartoons. She had the kids repeat Spanish words and phrases. I was amazed. By the end of the year, I had many kids who were speaking and understanding basic Spanish. I could even understand much of what was said!

Online Spanish Language Instruction
Disclosure: I received free access to the curriculum and compensation for this post. All opinions are always my own.

This was my first indication that immersion in a foreign language works. It really works. Research has found many benefits of using immersion to learn a foreign language. I'm sharing just a few here. I'm also sharing an online Spanish learning program for kids that uses immersion with kids teaching kids the language- Foreign Languages for Kids by Kids®. It's an awesome way to teach kids Spanish through immersion. And there's a discount code and a giveaway! So keep reading.

Students who learn a foreign language through immersion develop speaking and listening patterns that are very similar to native speakers.


When I was in high school memorizing my lists of Spanish vocabulary words, I wasn't learning much about the speaking patterns of the language because we weren't using the words in context. The video teacher would point out pronunciation, but that isn't at all the same as hearing the words spoken in conversation. Students who are learning a language through immersion, however, are hearing the speaking patterns and pronunciation in the context of conversation, so it's easier to pick up those patterns.

Students learning through immersion are typically much more fluent in speaking the language.


I am evidence of this. When I went on my missions trip to Mexico, I couldn't really speak to any native speakers in Spanish. I knew some words, but I had rarely heard them in conversation, so I wasn't at all fluent. I could try to piece together some of my words in order to make myself understood, but it wasn't easy. In contrast, when students are learning a language through immersion, they're picking up on how to use the language in real conversation, so they're going to be much more fluent.

Becoming proficient in a second language through immersion can actually help students develop better thinking and problem solving skills.


Learning a language is really about much more than memorizing lists of vocabulary. To really be able to speak and understand a language involves complex language skills such as learning how to decode words by knowing the sounds of letters and understanding sentence patterns. Research has shown that as students develop these complex skills, they're also developing critical thinking and problem solving skills in other areas. It's almost as if putting those thinking and problem solving skills to practice in one area strengthens and grows them in other areas as well.

Online Spanish Language Instruction

Foreign Languages for Kids by Kids® for Homeschool Spanish


About the Program


Foreign Languages for Kids by Kids® is a video-based language learning program. Right now there are videos for Spanish, but other languages will come. The videos feature kids, but they can be used by any ages. The accompanying student workbooks are intended for kids who can read well.

The program consists of eight levels. Each level has five or six video lessons, reading and listening practice, assessments, and optional cultural study. The videos are like sitcoms where kids are in real life situations speaking only Spanish. Learners are building their Spanish language skills as they go listening to the language used in context.

In addition to the videos, you can get student workbooks and detailed teacher's guides. You can also get an online subscription which has the video episodes online instead of in the form of physical DVDs. If you purchase the online version, you can purchase the physical resources separately.

What Makes It Awesome?


~You don't have to know Spanish to use this program. This was good news to me. The videos are designed so that kids can learn the language without you knowing it to teach to them.

~The videos can be used for any age. They feature young children, so your older children may consider them too "young" at first. But if they stay involved they'll see how easy it is to pick up the language. This can allow the whole family to learn together, and I love homeschool resources that do that!

~The program is very easy to use without much parent planning or setup. To make it even easier, you can purchase the teacher's guides which break everything down into specific lessons and give you extras, like the vocabulary that will be covered in each level.

~Spanish is presented with real people having real conversation about normal, everyday activities. This total immersion and learning language in context is very effective, and the kids- and you- will begin to pick up the language quickly.

Try It Out


There are several options for you to choose from to try out this program.

The Super Set gives you one year of the online program or videos with levels 1-4. There are also other resources, including a teacher's guide and student workbook.

The Early Learner Set is specifically for ages 3-6 and includes levels 1-3 in either videos or one year online program. It also includes some fun hands-on resources, including a stuffed animal, coloring book, and stickers.

The Single Level Set includes Level 1 (Azul) in either video form or three months of the online program. It also includes a teacher's guide, student workbook, a card game, and stickers.

And the Complete DVD Set includes DVDs for levels 1-8.

And you can use this coupon code for a discount: Coupon code 20OFFFORYOU grants 20% off any order. It is valid through April 30, 2018.

You can also enter the giveaway below to win this awesome curriculum in the giveaway below.





Ten Reasons to Use Great Books in Your Homeschool

Leah Courtney
I firmly believe that one of the great benefits of homeschooling is that we can choose the approach that works best for us and for our kids. Some families may thrive on more structure while some love flexibility. Some homeschool moms may prefer to keep each child on grade level, working independently while others like to use resources that allow the whole family to work together. Homeschooling allows for this. And I definitely encourage homeschool mamas to choose a homeschooling method that works for them.

I am definitely an eclectic homeschooler. I don't use any one method exclusively. I do what works for our family. But there's been one consistent thing throughout all of our homeschooling years. I love to use great books- both fiction and nonfiction. No matter what homeschool methods you choose, I encourage you to make great books an important part of your homeschool.

This post is the second in the series- Five Days of Literature-Based Homeschooling. You can find the landing page with links to all of the posts in this series here. You can also find a free Living Books catalog here. This catalog is designed to help you choose great books to use in your homeschool, and I add to it regularly.

Ten reasons to use great books in your homeschool


So why should you use great books in your homeschool? Here are ten important reasons.

Great books draw kids in and inspire them to learn more.


When we read good books, we want to read more and more. If you use great literature as a base for learning in your homeschool, kids are going to want to keep on reading because they are drawn in and interested in the subject or the story line.

Using real books to study a subject gives kids the opportunity to go deeper.


Textbooks can be good for getting an overview of a topic. But they're typically trying to cover a large body of information, so they don't go very deep into any subject. When I used a world history textbook with my middle school girls, I realized quickly that there were some subjects we just really wanted to know more about. But this book was trying to cover world history from ancient times to modern times. And there was no way it could cover any topic very fully.

We decided instead to use the textbook as a jumping off point. We could read the overview of a topic or time period. But then we went deeper into that topic with real books. This is great when kids find a subject that particularly interests them. Real books give them the opportunity to read and learn about that subject in more detail.

Great books stir kids' imaginations.


Great books can help you to see, hear, and smell what's happening. They can inspire the reader- or listener to imagine what's going on and what could happen. They encourage the reader to think creatively. Even well-written nonfiction can do this.

Great books help kids to develop a worldview and value system.


Reading about characters who make difficult but right decisions in hard times can inspire and encourage kids as they're developing their own worldview and value system. When kids read stories of characters who are brave and courageous, they can be inspired to develop those values as well. Great literature can encourage this development of worldview and values.


Reading good books together inspires great discussions.


Some of the best discussions I've had with my kids have been centered around something we're reading. Does the character in a story face a difficult situation? Talk about how he handles it. Predict what will happen in a story. Talk about alternate endings when you're reading fiction. Great books inspire great discussions.

Well-written books help to develop kids' vocabulary, comprehension, and writing skills.


Kids who are exposed to good writing from early on develop vocabulary, comprehension, and writing skills. We tend to mimic in vocabulary and in writing. So when kids are reading well-written books- either fiction or nonfiction- they are going to develop good vocabulary and good sentence structure.

Great books encourage critical thinking.


Want to get kids thinking big thoughts? Have them read thorough, deep, thought-provoking books. Good books -fiction and nonfiction- will inspire kids to think creatively.

Kids can often relate to the characters and situations in great books.


Too often a textbook isn't very relatable. It's written in a straight-forward, report style. There often isn't anything for kids to relate to. A real book, though, has characters and situations that kids really can relate to. This is where great historical fiction comes in especially. Historical fiction books for kids have characters who are the age of the target reading audience, so readers can relate to what the character is thinking, feeling, and doing in the situations that arise.

Reading great books helps kids make connections with real life.


Because good books- both fiction and nonfiction- are more relatable to the reader, kids can make real life connections when they are reading. Making these connections will increase comprehension and understanding of the material in the book.

Great books help kids become independent learners.


One of my ultimate goals in homeschooling is to help my kids become independent learners. Reading great books contributes to that. There's no way that kids can learn an entire body of knowledge about all subjects throughout their school years. But if they're taught to learn from great books, that can carry over into their day to day life, allowing them to continue learning long after their official "school" time is over.

Ten reasons to use great books in your homeschool


No matter your choice of homeschool method, I hope that this inspires you to use some great literature in your homeschool.


Literature-Based Homeschooling: What Does That Really Mean

Leah Courtney
Whether you're new to homeschooling or have been homeschooling for years, you're probably aware that homeschooling- like many things- has its own vocabulary. People throw out words like "unschooling", "deschooling", "child-directed", "lapbooking" and it's sometimes difficult to know what some of these words actually mean.

So when I say that I'm a literature-based homeschooler, sometimes people- even people in the homeschooling community- look at me askance. What does that really mean? I'm glad you asked.

This post is part of the Five Days of Literature-Based Homeschooling series. You can find links to all of the posts here. And if you have a desire to use great literature in your homeschool, you can access my free Living Books catalog here. It's got books organized by subject, grade level, and history cycle, and add to and update it often.

Literature-based homeschooling defined
{We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. Occasionally posts contains other affiliate links as well.}

Literature-based homeschooling uses real, living books instead of textbooks.


When I first began homeschooling, I used textbooks and workbooks. It was all I knew. I had taught at a Christian school before beginning to homeschool, and we used a structured, textbook-based curriculum. As homeschooling progressed, I realized that it wasn't really working for us. The real moment of truth hit me when I was reading a K-1st grade history textbook with my oldest daughter one day. It was so, so boring. Bless her heart. She loved school, and she was trying to like it. But both of us were truly bored. And I realized that I didn't want years and years of homeschooling to stretch on like this.

I began looking at other methods, and a friend introduced me to Charlotte Mason. I don't consider myself a Charlotte Mason purist, but one of the things I really, really liked about her methods was that learning came from real, living, interesting books- not textbooks. This was eye-opening for me. As an avid reader and book lover, I felt like we would be "cheating" somehow if we just read books to learn. After al, in my schooling days, reading books for pleasure was something I had to do after the tedious school work was done. Now other legitimate educators were telling me that I could read books to my kids and call that school. What?!!

But I know it works. Reading good books has encouraged me to love science and history more. It's encouraged more of an interest in those subjects for my kids. And it's resulted in the kids retaining much more than kids often do out of a textbook where they memorize and regurgitate a few facts and then move on and forget it.

Often literature-based learning is based on the history cycle.


Our literature-based learning has typically been based on a Classic history cycle. The books that we read follow history through the ancients, the Renaissance and Reformation, the age of exploration, and modern history. We read about history as the base of our learning and then other academic subjects tie in with that. For example, when we were reading about Ancient Egypt in history, we covered the science of pyramids and for literature we read The Golden Goblet, historical fiction set in Ancient Egypt.

Our core literature choices include both fiction and nonfiction. I try to look for living books, books that draw us in and keep us interested in the topic, books with rich vocabulary and vivid descriptions. This post has a list of 100 living books that follow a Classical history cycle.

Some literature-based homeschoolers use a textbook as a "spine" for learning.


Although I don't use textbooks as our primary reading material, we do occasionally use a textbook as a "spine." We follow the topics covered in the textbook and read some of the material in the textbook as an overview. But we flesh out our learning with real books. 

A few years ago I used an American history textbook as a spine. We read some of the lessons as an overview, but then we learned much more about the timeline and events in American history by reading the Our America series by Susan Kilbride. Reading those books really drew us in to American history and helped us to enjoy it and learn so much.

Literature-based homeschoolers may use unit studies, notebooking, or lapbooking in addition to reading real books.


I fully believe that it is okay to just read. Read good books. Enjoy them. Learn from them naturally. But it's also occasionally a good thing to expand on your reading with unit studies, lapbooking, or notebooking. I could write whole posts on each of these (and actually I have), but I won't give lengthy detail about each.

All of these are great ways to take your reading even deeper. Unit studies help tie in cross-curricular learning based on the book you're reading. Lapbooking provides a hands-on component that helps kids remember what they've read and learn more. And notebooking can be involve writing written narrations, taking notes on reading, creating original works of writing based on the book you're reading, and much more. (If you're looking for some literature-based unit studies to get you started, check out my free ebooks 31 Days of Literature Unit Studies and 15 MORE Literature Unit Studies).

Literature-based homeschooling defined

Literature-based homeschooling has been a great thing for our family. It's given us the opportunity to share and learn from some awesome books. Make sure that you check out the other posts about literature-based homeschooling in this five day series here.


Five Days of Literature-Based Homeschooling

Leah Courtney
If you've been around the blog for long, you've probably heard me say that I used a literature-based homeschooling curriculum. But if you're new to homeschooling or even if you've homeschooled for awhile using a different method, you might wonder what in the world I'm actually talking about when I say that.

If you've been curious- or if you're curious now- you're in luck. This week I'm joining other members of the iHomeschool Network in a Five Days of... series. And I'm posting about my all time favorite subject- using literature-based homeschooling resources. I'm going to answer those burning questions that you have (because you have burning questions, don't you) and hopefully encourage you to use more real literature in your homeschool as well.

Five Days of Literature-Based Homeschooling posts

As each post is live, I'll be linking it up here for easy access.

What is Literature-Based Homeschooling?



I Have the Books. Now What? Ways to Use Great Literature in Your Homeschool

Huge Round Up of Literature-Based Homeschooling Resources

Five Days of Literature-Based Homeschooling posts

If you love literature like I do, I'll be posting some literature-based freebies this week as well, so make sure that you catch those. To begin the week, make sure that you pick up my ebook- 15 MORE Literature Unit Studies. You'll find fifteen unit studies based off of great kids' books. You can get it by signing up here.

Are you a literature-based homeschooler? I'd love to know! Let me know in the comments, and don't forget to check back for each day's post.

Five Days of Homeschooling posts


Need a Homeschool Writing Curriculum That Is Flexible, Adaptable, and Relevant?

Leah Courtney
Ya'll there are probably hundreds of homeschool writing curricula out there to choose from. I've probably used at least a dozen. And, to be honest, I've liked many that we've tried. But I've been on the lookout for something that I could use with my middle schoolers or with a middle school co-op class. And when I recently had the chance to try a new-to-me writing curriculum, I jumped at it.

Homeschool writing curriculum review
{I received a free curriculum and compensation for this post. All opinions are always my own.}

We received a writing curriculum is written by Debra Bell and is published by Apologia: the Writers in Residence™ Vol. 2 All -In-One Student Text and Workbook and Answer Key.  This is the second volume of a (currently) two volume set.

About Writers in Residence™ Vol. 2 All -In-One Student Text and Workbook and Answer Key


The curriculum came with a student text and workbook in one spiral bound book and a book with answer keys and teaching notes. It contains sixteen modules. There is a suggested daily schedule in both the teacher notes and the student text that breaks this down into thirty-two four-day weeks of learning. There are also some suggestions given for how to use this schedule in a co-op or writing group.

The writing assignments in this curriculum focus on and cycle through four main types of writing.
  • Remember- personal narrative writing
  • Imagine- creative writing
  • Investigate- research writing
  • Think- opinion and argumentative writing
Grammar and punctuation skills are taught within the context of writing throughout the curriculum. There are also rubrics given to help students and teachers/parents evaluate writing.

Both of the volumes available so far are intended for students in grades 4-8. Information in the teacher notes indicates that the target age of the first volume is grade 4, and the target age of the second volume is grade 5. However, there is much flexibility in that. And it would be quite easy to adapt this curriculum for older- and possibly younger- students to allow multiple grade levels to work together.

Every module throughout this curriculum has a few key elements.
  • Unit introduction- This section tells the kids and the parent/teacher what to expect 
  • Rubric- Students get a look at the rubric that will be used for grading that module's assignment; there is a rubric for students and a rubric for the parent/teacher.
  • Writer's Questions- These are questions that encourage students to focus and think; throughout the module, the questions will be answered, and the kids will discuss them at the end.
  • Sneak Peak- This is a look at the objective students will cover in the module.
  • Assignment- The assignment is detailed for the student early in the module.
  • Expert Model- This section shows students an expert example of the type of writing they'll be doing for the assignment.
  • Student Samples- Students also get a chance to look at student samples of the writing assignment.
  • Writer's Toolbox- These are writing strategies that the students are given throughout each assignment.
  • Graphic Organizers- Students are taught how to come up with and organize ideas with graphic organizers.
  • The Sandbox- In this section, students take a break from the longer assignment and have a chance to experiment more informally with some of the writing strategies they're learning.
  • Word Sleuth- Students get the opportunity to learn new vocabulary related to writing; there's a glossary in their book where they can reference the words.
  • Module Checklist- This checklist allows students and parent/teachers to keep up with what work they've completed throughout the module.
  • Writer's Workshop- In this section, students learn elements of sentence structure in the context of writing.
  • Review Your Progress, Unit Review, Mastery Tests, and Final Review- Throughout the curriculum, students review what they've learned in each module. They also have mastery tests and a final review at the end of the course.
  • Journeyman Log- In this record-keeping section, students can record points they earn on various assignments, tests, and rubrics throughout the course.

Homeschool writing curriculum

Why You Need This Awesome Homeschool Writing Curriculum


So, what's so great about (another) homeschool writing curriculum? There were several things that I particularly liked about this one.

~ It is very well-organized for the kids and parent/teacher. I am an organizer and planner. I can write my own lesson plans- and I often do- but any curriculum that lays it all out in a nice, organized format for me gets bonus points.

~ Kids can do much of it by themselves. Obviously any writing curriculum will require that kids are getting feedback about their writing assignments. But the curriculum and daily schedule are laid out in such a way that kids can follow along, completing much of it independently instead of me teaching it personally every day.

~ The writing assignments are relevant to real life. In some writing curricula that I've seen, the assignments are very contrived. Kids know they'll never need to write something just like the assignment in the book, so they aren't very motivated to learn how to do it in a writing curriculum. The assignments in this curriculum, however, are more relatable. For example, in the very first module, the kids are able to research an animal that lives in our local area and write about it. This is something that is very interesting to them. It's relevant, and that makes them pay more attention, try harder, and learn more.

~ I love, love, love all of the rubrics and checklists. Okay, I'll admit that I might be a tiny bit of a checklist fanatic. But, in teaching writing, these are especially important. Writing can be very subjective. If I read a research paper written to defend the theory of evolution, I'm probably going to be very critical of that paper. It's a concept I don't agree with, and I'm probably going to- maybe not even intentionally- look for every error I can. In contrast, if I read a paper that explains how valuable reading aloud to your kids is, I'm probably going to overlook some errors because I agree with the premise of the paper. 

To avoid that kind of subjective evaluation, we need to use checklists and rubrics. They give students- and teachers- objective points to check off as they're evaluating a writing assignment. Having a rubric that the students use and then one that the parents use teaches the students to self-edit- an important skill for any kind of writing.

~ I also love all the samples that kids can see of each assignment. Have you ever told a student or a class of students who have never written a research paper, "Hey, guess what, we're going to write a research paper in this module." I have. They typically begin to panic. Many of them probably have a concept of a research paper. Some may have actually seen one that an older sibling wrote. But if they've never personally read through a research paper- or several- they don't have much of an idea of what they're going to write, and they assume the worst.

When this curriculum shows an expert sample and student samples right off the bat in each module, kids don't have to panic. They see right away what they're going to write. Best of all, when they see the student samples, they'll know kids their age have written these things...and survived! Samples are awesome for helping kids to know what to expect and taking away their panic.

~ This curriculum would work well for one student, a family with kids of multiple ages, or a co-op. My middle name is "flexibility." (Well, at least when it comes to homeschooling." I want a curriculum that has the basics that I love but that has the flexibility for me to adapt it to our needs. This one fits that need nicely.

One child could easily use the curriculum, partly independently and partly with a parent. Kids of multiple ages could all use the curriculum if you adapt some of the assignments for older or younger kids. A co-op could use the curriculum because kids could do the four days of assignments at home during the week, and the fifth unscheduled day could be when co-op meets and goes over what kids have done so far. I love the adaptability.

Homeschool writing curriculum review


Find Out More


Want to know more? Of course you do. You can find Writers in Residence™ Vol. 2 All -In-One Student Text and Workbook and Answer Key here. You can also pick up samples of both volumes, an F.A.Q sheet, and a free ebook here. And you can watch the video below to learn more.


And this isn't writing related necessarily, but Apologia also has an awesome freebie for readers here. It's all about solar eclipses. Hey, maybe you could have the kids write about what they learn from it?



Intentionally Embracing the Moment

Leah Courtney
I have a very hard time living in the moment. I'm a planner and a worrier, so I'm often thinking about what's coming up. I'm also a second thoughts person. "Should I really have done that? Maybe this would have been better." Between planning for the future and second guessing the past, I don't do a good job living in the moment.

But, ya'll, I have kids who are getting older and older, and I've seen the importance of embracing the moment. That little child who was just a toddler is a teenager now. And those days of learning to walk and learning to talk are gone. I've also had over 20 years of marriage to a wonderful husband that have just flown by. So I've learned to live a little more intentionally, to be deliberate about the time we have to spend together and what I'm doing with that time. If you struggle to live in the moment too, here are some things I've learned about embracing the moment.

Choosing to be intentional about motherhood
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It really is true that "The days are long, but the years are short."

There have been some days I thought would never end. Sick kids, runny noses, dirty diapers, and huge messes- all happened on the same day sometimes. And it seemed as if the day was never ending. But looking back in retrospect, the years have flown. I should still have babies! But now I have teenagers.

You have to take the bad along with the good.

Dealing with wrong behaviors, nursing sick kids, and cleaning up messes are all parts of being a mom. But they are only a very small part. There's also hugs and kisses and bedtime stories and cuddles and fun trips together. The same is true with marriage. There are times of arguing or disagreeing, but there are some great times of enjoying each other's company. I can choose too focus on the great things and make a point to enjoy each one fully.

Our loved ones need us to be fully present, fully attentive.

I need to put down the phone, step away from the computer, mute the t.v. I'm the queen of multitasking. But when it comes to doing things with my kids, I need to focus on that one thing so that they know I am fully attuned to what they are doing. When it comes to listening to my husband, he needs to know that I care about what he's saying.

Sometimes I need to prioritize and focus on what's really important.

There are always dozens of things that need doing at any given moment. Embracing the moment means choosing the important things and doing those things well instead of trying to do all those things and not doing anything well. If I need to meet with a kid over a school problem, that's more important than sweeping up the endless rounds of dog hair in my living room- even though the dog hair might be driving me batty. I need to focus on that child and that situation instead of half-heartedly paying attention. Taking the time to find out what things were really important to my husband has helped me to choose what to pay attention to when I had so many things going on.

Choosing to be intentional about motherhood

Choosing to embrace the moment really pays off. Embracing time with my kids as they've grown up has resulted in teenagers who- so far- like to spend time with us. Embracing time with my husband has caused us to have a strong relationship this many years down the road.




History Reading for Middle Grade Girls - No Textbook Needed- Using Great Children's Books From Candlewick Press

Leah Courtney
If you've been around the blog, it's no secret that I love- really love- literature-based curricula. I would much rather use real books over textbooks any day. But every once in a while I seem to forget this myself and need a little reminder.

This year, in an effort to save myself time, I decided to buy and use a history textbook for my middle grade girls. Why? I don't even know. Can you see me shaking my head here? It looks as if I would've learned a thing or two in fourteen years of homeschooling. So, we started off the year with this textbook. Soon, not only were the girls bored with history and not retaining anything, but I was bored trying to read and discuss history with them. So after Christmas, I chucked the textbook and set about looking up some real books to use for history for the remainder of our year.

One of the reasons that homeschool moms sometimes hesitate to just use good literature for history is that they just don't know where to begin. Some of us- me included in the early days of my homeschooling- have been so trained to use a structured curriculum that we don't know how else to go about giving kids information. In this post I'm sharing a very simple way to get started using real books for your history curriculum, and I'm sharing five great books that I recently had the opportunity to use with my middle grade girls for history.

American history with great kids' books
I received compensation and free books in exchange for this post. All opinions are entirely my own.

We received five great books- a combination of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry- from Candlewick Press.  We've enjoyed reading these and learning about various periods of American history. 

How to Use Real Books as Your Homeschool History Curriculum


Step 1- Use a spine to guide your reading.


I typically use either a textbook covering a specific time period or a timeline of the period to guide my choices of books and to help my kids see the big picture of the time period we're studying. For example, a few years ago we used an ancient history textbook to guide our study of ancient times. I would read short sections from the textbook and then we would go further in depth by reading a fiction or nonfiction book about the same period or topic. When we studied the Renaissance and Reformation time period, we used a timeline to see major events of the time and then read books about some events and people involved.

Step 2- Choose a combination of fiction and nonfiction books.


It's great to find nonfiction books that cover people and topics in the time period you're studying- books about the pyramids when you're studying ancient Egypt, books about gladiators when you're studying the Roman Empire- but it's also valuable to read historical fiction. Good historical fiction presents information about the time period in the context of a story that readers can really relate to. Often reading a story about a child growing up during the Civil War can give kids as much information about the Civil War as a nonfiction book, and kids may actually understand and retain more because they relate to the story. If you're looking for books to fit specific time periods, I have a list here of 100 books that relate to the time periods covered in a Classical history cycle.

Step 3- Add notebooking and hands-on activities to round out learning.


There are times that we get so engrossed in a book that we're reading together that we just want to read. And we do. But I often try to incorporate other things along with our reading to help us understand and assimilate the information we're reading about. Notebooking is a great way to do this. Kids can write summaries, draw pictures, create charts or graphs with information, make maps of places in the story and keep all of this information in a binder as a visual representation of the time period or subject they're reading about. 

In addition to this, you can find hands-on activities that go along with the time period. Pinterest is a great resource for this. We've made recipes from countries that we're reading about, created covered wagons when we read about pioneers, dressed up in ancient Egyptian costumes, and more. These hands-on activities allow kids to relate even more to the books they're reading.

American history with great kids' books


Great History Reads from Candlewick Press


My middle school girls and I have been taking a look at American history and reading these awesome books.

Siege: How General Washington Kicked the British Out of Boston and Launched a Revolution by Roxane Orgill- In 1775 the British occupied Boston. George Washington began to lead small skirmishes that would ultimately lead to the American war for independence. This book uses verse to focus on specific people and happenings of the time.

We've enjoyed this unique approach to reading about the early events in the Revolutionary War. The sections are short enough that the girls and I have been taking turns reading them. The poetry of the book gives the reader a picture of what's happening as the war begins.


Dolls of Hope by Shirley Parenteau- This book- and two others in this series- is based on a real historical event. In 1926 a teacher-missionary helped American school children send dolls to children in Japan as a sign of peace and hope of preventing war. This book is written from the perspective of Chiyo, a young Japanese girl who is in a school that receives one of the dolls. She's assigned to be the doll's protector, but a jealous classmate wants her to fail.

My middle daughter snatched up this entire book series as soon as it arrived. She's truly enjoyed them so far. This is a great book to read as you focus on the time between the two world wars and what was going on among the world powers at the time.


A Tyranny of Petticoats:15 Stories of Belles, Bank Robbers & Other Badass Girls, a collection of short stories by various authors- This book is a little different. It's a collection of short stories, all historical fiction about the lives of American girls. From early American history to more modern times, the stories cover a wide range of characters and historical time periods. But they all feature strong female protagonists. 

This book has content that is more young adult. It's fine for my middle school and almost high school aged girls. You might want to pre-read for younger girls. We're really enjoying it! I especially like that after each story there's a short section that gives some historical context, explaining what parts of the story are true and the time period or characters that the story is based on.


The Orphan Band of Springdale by Anne Nesbet- Set in 1941, this is the story of eleven-year-old Gusta. Her father is a foreign born laborer and has to flee the country when Americans begin to distrust and fear foreigners. Gusta is sent to live with her grandmother who runs an orphanage. She only has a French horn as a memento of her father. But when the family needs money, she finds herself trying to keep her French horn from being sold.

This book has truly been a favorite. We're reading it aloud, and all of us are enjoying it immensely. It's a great book to read as you discuss World War 2 because it gives the perspective of Americans as the country teeters on the brink of entering the war.


Voices from the Second World War Stories of War as Told to Children of Today- This unique book is filled with stories from those who lived through World War 2. Many years after the war, children interviewed their family members and people from their communities and wrote down their first-hand stories of their experiences. There are a variety of stories- from soldiers who fought to Holocaust survivors to resistance fighters to those who were evacuated as children and many more. Along with the stories are some great photographs.

It's always great to hear first hand stories from people who have lived through an momentous event. Many of those people who lived through World War 2 aren't around anymore, and it's awesome to have their stories and experiences recorded, especially as interviewed by children. This is a great book that will help kids to really see how the war affected real people. It's easy to read about the war as just another historical event, but this book reminds us that the people who were there were real people with real feelings, real hopes, real dreams.


American history with great kids' books


We are truly enjoying American history through reading real books, books that are alive and interesting instead of dry and dusty like some textbooks. If you want to help history come alive for your kids, check out some of these books.




Mega List of Poetry Resources for National Poetry Month...And Free Poetry Copywork

Leah Courtney
Did you know that April is National Poetry Month? I'll admit that, as much as I love reading and literature, I'm not very knowledgable when it comes to poetry. There is some poetry I love, but there is also some I just don't understand. I know this comes from not being exposed to all kinds of poetry when I was in school, so I'm trying to remedy that in my own kids. And I'm developing more of a love for and understanding of poetry as we go along.

If you haven't had the opportunity to introduce poetry in your homeschool or if you just aren't sure what to do about poetry and where to start, this post is for you. It's a mega list of poetry resources that you can use to introduce your kids to poetry and expend their- and your- understanding of it. Most of these resources are free. A few are paid resources. I've tried to note which is which to help you as you select resources that fit your homeschool. You can also pick up a packet of free poetry copywork with quotes from some of my favorite poets and poems.

Poetry resources for kids
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Poetry Books


Poetry for Kids: Emily Dickinson- Emily Dickinson is one of my all-time favorite poets. This beautiful picture book introduces kids to her poetry. Poetry for Kids is a series with books for other well-known poets.

Poetry for Young People: Robert Frost- Robert Frost is a good poet to introduce to younger kids because his poetry seems more straightforward and easy to understand. Poetry for Young People is a series with books for various well-known poets.

The Random House Book of Poetry for Children- This book is an excellent collection of poems from classic poets and newer ones as well. There are 572 poems- some humorous, some inspiring, some thoughtful. And the book has beautiful illustrations by Arnold Lobel (the author of the Frog and Toad series).

The 20th Century Children's Poetry Treasury- Jack Prelutsky- a leading children's poet in the country- selected over 200 poems from modern children's poets in this collection.

Poems to Learn by Heart- This collection of more than 100 poems includes deep and meaningful poems as well as light and happy poems. It's broken down into categories, each with an introduction by author Caroline Kennedy.

Read Aloud Rhymes for the Very Young- Want to introduce even your youngest children to poetry? These rhymes, collected by Jack Prelutsky, are a great way to start. They are simple and often silly and will get young kids interested in poetry.

A Child's Garden of Verses- Robert Louis Stevenson has some beautiful poetry that evokes scenes from childhood. I remember owning and reading this book as a kid myself. And the simple poetry, easy to understand and full of scenes I could picture really drew me in.

Favorite Poems Old and New- This is a collection of over 700 poems from classic poets, selected specifically for kids. This would be a great resource for studying a particular classic poet and reading selections of their poetry.

Read Aloud Poems for Young People- The poems collected here- over 300- are from classic and more modern poets. They are arranged into categories and are illustrated beautifully.

Where the Sidewalk Ends- No collection of poetry books is complete without the works of Shel Silverstein. He has several collections of poetry and some short stories. His poems range from silly and funny to heart-warming and touching. He also illustrates the books with great black and white drawings.




Poetry Websites


Poets.org presents a poem a day to expand your reading of poems and poets. You can also browse for specific poets or poems on the site, so it's a good way to dig deeper into the poetry of a specific poet you're learning about. There's also a special section of poetry for kids. You can also find specific information about National Poetry Month here. (Free)

Ken Nesbitt is a former children's Poet Laureate. On his site you can find funny poems, play games, and help kids write their own poetry. (free)

DLTK has a great poetry resource page. You can find poems about seasons, holidays, and various other themes, as well as look for poems from specific poets. (free)

Family Friendly Poems has a great collection of poems for kids. You can search for topics or just browse the poems there. (free)

Limericks are a fun type of poetry for kids to experiment with. Kidzone has a page with some limericks and challenges for kids to write their own. (free)

Story It has a great collection of classic children's poems. They also have some that are printable. (free)

DK Find Out! has a fun, interactive page that introduces kids to various types of poetry. (free)

You can find a great collection of classic poems for kids at the American Literature site. (free)

Read Write Think has a collection of interactive tools that will help kids write their own poetry. (free)

The Library of Congress has a Poetry 180 page designed to give you a poem to read with kids each day of school. The poems are geared toward high school students. (free)

Poetry Resources for Kids

Poetry Activities


Kids can write color poetry and shape poetry with the free templates here. (free)

Encourage kids to start and keep a poetry journal throughout the month. (free)

Real Life at Home has eight great hands-on poetry activities. (free)

Create poetry baskets to help the poems become more concrete for kids. (free)

Found poetry is a fun activity to do with younger or older kids. (free)

Imagination Soup has a fun activity to teach kids about onomatopoeia in poetry. (free)

You can find a freebie that helps kids to think about a poem they just read here at Creative Classroom. (free)

Homeschool Share has a free poetry lapbook that will guide you through reading and discussing well-known poems and poets. (free)

High school students can study poetry and well-known poets with this lapbook from Hands of a Child. And younger children can use their Preparing for Poetry lapbook. (paid)

IEW has a great resource that we used a few years ago that guides kids through memorizing poetry as a means of language development and writing skills. The student book is here, and the teacher's manual is here. (paid)

Education.com has a great collection of free poetry related printatbles. (free)

I love the magnetic poetry kits that inspire kids- and adults- to arrange words and compose new poems. (paid)

Kids can use Scholastic's interactive poetry idea engine to create different types of poetry. (free)


Free Poetry Copywork


Want to use poetry copywork throughout National Poetry Month- or any time? Pick up this packet. It has ten copywork selections of poems from well-known poets and a blank copywork page that you can print as needed for the kids to copy from the poems you're reading.

Free Poetry Copywork for Kids



Great Books to Read Aloud With Your Older Kids

Leah Courtney
It's no secret that I love reading aloud to my kids. It has always been a foundational part of our homeschool and of our family culture. It's usually easy to convince people that reading aloud is valuable. But many people make the assumption that when kids are able to read independently, the reading aloud can or should stop.

Let me give you a big, big NO! There is so much value in treading aloud to your older kids. And it's such a sweet time to spend together. I read aloud at lunch through the high school years of my older kids until they began working or taking outside classes, and we weren't all home at lunch together. I still read aloud to my middle schoolers.

Older kids can have good discussion about what you're reading, and as the kids get older, I sometimes introduce books with viewpoints that may be different from what we've taught our kids. I may not only read books from a Christian worldview. But it often brings up some great discussion points to read those books. If you're reading to children of multiple ages, you'll want to be more careful, of course, based on the age of your younger kids. And always preview books you're going to read aloud so that you aren't incredibly surprised by something you read.

Read aloud suggestions for older kids

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With that in mind, here are some suggestions for reading aloud with older kids.


A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle


I've recommended this book, which is actually the first in a quintet, before. I love it. Some of the author's theology is a bit problematic for a Christian worldview, but it makes for interesting discussion. I'm reading it aloud to my four kids now- ages 9 and 1/2 and up. All of them are able to understand that there are some issues with doctrine, but my teens especially have had some good talking points as we're reading.


Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers by Ralph Moody 

My younger girls listened in on this story when I read it aloud to my older ones who were then probably 11 and 12. Although nothing is really inappropriate, the book deals with the complexities of relationships and the handling of tragedies that may be hard for younger readers. It's a great book, but there are some really heavy parts. There are other books by Ralph Moody that continue to follow the family in the novel.


The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain


Although this classic is about an adventurous boy, the dialect used in the conversations can make it hard for kids to read. If you can swing the accent, read it aloud. Or choose a good audio book to listen to the story.


To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

This classic has some heavy subject matter, so preview it before you read it aloud. But it's another one that will bring up some great things to discuss with your teens.

The Giver by Lois Lowry 

I wasn't aware until recently, but this dystopian classics is actually the first in a quartet. Reading about this futuristic "perfect" society brings up some good talk about what makes the ideal society and whether or not that's what our goal should be.


I Am David by Anne Holm

Set in Eastern Europe about a boy who escapes from a concentration camp, the subject matter in this book is pretty heavy. Reading aloud a book like this can give kids the opportunity to process some of the things that may trouble them if they are reading the book independently.


Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling

No reading aloud recommendation list is complete without listing one of my all time favorite book series. I know that there's constant arguing about (1) whether or not Christians should read Harry Potter and (2) whether or not these books are really well-written. I'm not going to tackle the arguments here. I love the series. I recommend reading the first two or three aloud and then letting kids read the rest on their own. The books get longer and darker, and the fourth book really gets pretty deep. If you really want to dig into the series, this post has a round up of resources you can use with the books.


Animal Farm by George Orwell

If you're looking for a book that can inspire great discussions, this one is awesome. It's an easy-to-understand allegory that takes a look at socialism and communism. You can read it as you're talking about types of governments and as you cover the Cold War in history if you want to tie it in to other learning. But it also makes for interesting reading on its own.



So these are a few of my suggestions and some I've read aloud with my own kids. Do you have any favorite read alouds for older kids?

Read aloud suggestions for older kids




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