Quick Curriculum Reviews

I’ve had a few people ask me about what curriculum we use / have used, so I thought I’d give some casual thoughts on our experience with homeschool curriculum so far. Every curriculum has strengths and weaknesses, and some things that fit for our family will tank with yours (and vice versa). So here are my thoughts for what they’re worth.

Five in a Row / Before Five In a Row (for Z’s preK): This is a really “Classic” curriculum–it has been around a long time and meshes well with Charlotte Mason ideals. The teacher’s guide has a list of books you read aloud to your child for 5 days in a row. Each day you talk about a different aspect of the book–the artwork, social studies, cultural references, even math and science. You can also do activities with the book–like bake a pie or have a Japanese style dinner. So its sort of like a bunch of unit studies on excellent children’s picture books. We really enjoyed this curriculum, and I plan to use it for PreK and Kindergarten years for all my kids, since its so gentle and fun. I bought a used teacher’s guide and borrowed most of the books from the library / bought a few we really loved–overall fairly inexpensive. I think it is ideal for ages 3-6. 

All About Reading (for Z’s K): This is a reading program I bought for Z after she was “struggling” with reading in Kindergarten (this was a total rookie homeschooling mom mistake to push reading before she was really ready–I would’ve spared myself a lot of worry if I’d given her an extra year). Nevertheless, I like that it has a lot of games, hands-on activities, and approaches reading from multiple angles. I actually bought AAR1 and AAR2, but by the time she was in AAR2, she had completely taken off with her reading and now devours novels that are grades and grades above her “level.” I remember feeling like this was a little expensive; they have it for all age levels. I plan to use this for lightly for W’s K year, and for any future children I have that are interested in starting reading in their K year.

Ambleside Online (for Z’s K): AO is free! and beautifully Charlotte Mason. I did this with Z’s K (with J listening in), and read them lovely books. I found a schedule another mom had created online and used that instead of creating my own–basically a free instructor’s guide–and it worked really well. A few of the readings were a little intense for Z for her K year–like the Vikings book had some beheadings and burnings-alive, so we skipped it. I decided not to stick with this curriculum though because I felt overwhelmed with the idea of having to try to combine years on my own–with us having four kids, another on the way–and Sonlight combines ages for you. Sonlight and AO are very similar in my opinion–lots of great books. AO is as cheap as free, and can be used for any age. If we have a year where Sonlight just isn’t affordable for us, I’d go back to AO.

Playful Pioneers(used for J’s K and Z’s 2nd): Another Charlotte Mason based curriculum this one is based entirely on The Little House on the Prairie series, like a giant unit study. You read through the books with your kids and do activities based on the books, incorporating art, handicrafts, handwriting, reading, baking. I did a separate curriculum for math (Math U See). A lot of the activities were based on sunny California weather and didn’t work for us–like looking for ladybugs outside was an assignment, but we had snow that day. I think we should have had another handwriting curriculum and science curriculum in addition to this one, since I was using it for Z’s 2nd grade year. However, if I were just using this for K, I wouldn’t add much to it at all.

This was a transition year for us. I wanted to wait another year to buy a curriculum that I plan to stick with for all the kids, all the way up, and I was torn between My Father’s World and Sonlight. Financially and for my own teaching sanity, I would like to stick with a single curriculum and improvise on it to suit each child, rather than switching curriculum every year or so.  The website says this works for up to 3rd grade, but personally I think it’s perfect for ages 4-6, K – 2nd years.

Math U See (for J and Z, K – 3rd so far): I like that MUS has a video in case I’m bad at explaining a concept, has manipulatives, and worksheets–I don’t make the girls complete a ton of the worksheets, just enough to make sure they get a concept. Since this has worked well, we don’t plan on changing it.

Life of Fred (for J and Z, sporadically): I’ve borrowed a few of these books from my sister-in-law, and they are fun and hilarious. I wouldn’t consider this a full math program, but it is a nice little supplement. Eventually I need to buy these for our own.

Handwriting Without Tears (for J and Z, K-3rd): My girls handwriting improved 100% when we started this curriculum with our Sonlight curriculum this year. I had been doing mostly copy work to teach them before. If anything, I wish we’d started this at 1st for Z.

Sonlight (used for J’s 1st and Z’s 3rd): We did Sonlight this year for the first time and plan to use it again next year. I love that it has excellent books, a complete open-and-go guide for each day, and is easy to combine grades. Z and J did the same Bible/History/Science, but had their own Literature/Reading/Math/Handwriting.  There were only two books we abandoned–one fiction book on bullying Z was supposed to read but didn’t like and one on a missionary that I was supposed to read aloud but was hopelessly boring. The rest of the books we loved! And I liked how they tied in our read alouds with our history or science.

Their bible book wasn’t as good as some we already owned (we substituted it with The Ology) and their scripture reading for each day was sporadic, so we replaced it with our family reading through Matthew together. The girls really liked their scripture memory songs, and I added in hymn singing and catechism in our morning routine.

Science reminded me of science I did as a kid, so maybe its Abeka-ish, I don’t know. The reading was interesting, science projects accomplishable for the STEM-challenged (ME!).

History was excellent–we used a combination of books, switching between readings, which kept everything alive and multi-faceted. We also kept a timeline (and I added the girls birthdates into it, so they could see how far away we are from Roman times, etc!).

I think Sonlight of course can work for younger grades, but I plan to use it 1st and up for my kids. The major downside is that Sonlight is expensive, probably the most expensive curriculum I looked at. However, with all the books you get, it isn’t necessarily over-priced–I figure that if I use it for 4+ children, then I’ve absolutely gotten my money’s worth, and the books are worth owning either way. You can find Sonlight used too, but I’ve bought new since I hope to use it for a lot of kiddos.

So those are my curriculum experiences in the past few years I’ve been homeschooling. If you have any questions, feel free to comment / email / message me!



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