We’re delving into “middle school” this year for the first time. My oldest is so excited for this milestone. He’s my Flint Lockwood (from Cloudy and a Chance of Meatballs), my absent-minded, super-dramatic, techy science guy. So putting together his curriculum is always a lot of fun. For the most part, we are classical homeschoolers, making a few adjustments here and there for our rampant ADHD. To accommodate for personality and attention-span, we include lots of variety with short lessons. None of our subjects extend beyond 20-30 minutes at a time, but I serve up a variety each day to keep all his firing cylinders on task. In classical terms, he will be in the logic or dialectic stage this year, learning to think critically and make deeper connections with what he is learning in his homeschool curriculum for 6th grade.
There is nothing that beats being able to hold a curriculum and flip through its pages when you are trying to decide what to buy, but that’s not always possible. Whether you simply can’t make it to a homeschool convention, or the curriculum you are interested in isn’t anywhere to be seen, shopping homeschool curriculum online can be done. Even though it’s not quite the same as seeing a book “in person,” you can still get a good idea of what a curriculum is like with a few simple tips.
Tips for Shopping Homeschool Curriculum online
Tip #1: Read reviews
My go-to site when I’m starting my search is always Cathy Duffy reviews. Whether I’m checking out a curriculum a friend has mentioned or beginning a search without a clue of what I’m looking for, this site is THE BEST! Not only are her reviews thorough, giving you a great perspective of pros and cons of curriculum and how much is involved in using it, but also she has reviewed just about everything on the market. The website is well-organized and easy to maneuver. Select the subject you are searching for, then scroll through the options and click on what interests you. The Cathy Duffy “top-picks” are usually well-worth her recommendation and can narrow your search even further.
Once I have a curriculum that I think I like, I google “[curriculum name] reviews” to read from homeschool mom-bloggers in the trenches who have put these products to use. These reviews are valuable because I get a chance to see the curriculum working for a family like mine. I can see where the kids may be similar or not-so-similar to my kids and get a better idea of how this particular curriculum works with different homeschool styles and learning styles. Although you could spend all day doing this, usually one or two of the first reviews listed will give you a pretty good idea.
Tip #2: Find online previews
While nothing beats being able to hold a book and flip through it, there are some really great online preview options that will let you get a pretty good idea of what you are looking at. Many curriculum websites will provide you with some online samples, but I’m not always thrilled with the limited sample I’m given. In those instances, I’ve got a couple of other websites that I depend on for sample previews:
Amazon provides decent curriculum previews, but most of the time, I find my best sample previews at ChristianBook.com. Search for the curriculum you are interested in, then click on “sample pages.” Christian Book usually provides both teacher guide samples and workbook samples on their website. Shopping homeschool curriculum online isn’t always easy, but these two websites have made it a whole lot easier.
Tip #3: Shop for the best price
One of the perks of shopping homeschool curriculum online is the ability to compare prices and get the best deal. If I’m looking for used curriculum, I’ll shop ebay or search for a homeschool curriculum group on Facebook that sells those items. If I need to find the best price on new curriculum, I have four places I shop online.
- the official curriculum website (This gives me a baseline for what an item may cost. Sometimes it’s the best price, particularly if the website is running a sale.)
- Amazon.com (About half of the time, Amazon is pretty competitively priced. But not on everything! Watch those prices carefully.)
- RainbowResource.com (I buy 90% of my curriculum from this website. They usually offer the best price, and they carry nearly every curriculum available.)
- Homeschoolbuyersco-op.org [affiliate link*] (This is like a homeschool bargain store. There are great bargains offered through this site, but you have to make regular visits to catch them. Sign up for their updates so that you don’t miss any of their specials.)
In many ways, shopping homeschool curriculum online is a lot of fun. The pressure is off: no one is trying to talk you into a sale, and you can shop in the comfort of your own home—in your jammies with a cup of coffee! Once you’ve got an idea of what you want, chat with friends! You may discover that someone has your newly found treasure sitting on their shelf at home.
* This post contains affiliate links. That means when you click on a link and make a purchase, I receive a small compensation. It costs you nothing and helps me offset website expenses. Thanks for your support!
We were a few years into nature study before I started keeping my own nature journal along with the kids. I’ve stumbled along and tried a few different methods of sketching and journaling, but I’ve finally found a groove that’s working for me. If you are stumped about what to include in your nature journal, here are a few ideas to get you started.
What to include in your nature journal
Start with a heading. Include the date and place of your hike, maybe the time of day, the weather, and anything else that seems pertinent.
Make a list of things you spotted on your hike. For me, this is the best way to get past the “writer’s block” of nature journaling. Instead of staring at a beautiful blank page hoping I don’t ruin my nature journal with my lack of artistic talent, I start with listing all of the plants and creatures we identified on our walk, even if it’s just a few common birds and flowers, turtles on a log, frogs in a pond, dragonflies, etc.
Sketch and caption of a few of your favorite moments. As I’m making my list, I usually always have a few favorite memories from our hike. I sketch two or three of these favorites into my nature journal, and then journal a sentence or two about what we saw and what happened. I’m far from an artist, so these are much more about remembering than anything else, just a rough sketch. I’ve tried a few different tools, but I’ve found I love using watercolor pencils and a watercolor marker most of all for my sketching, and a Sharpie pen or Micron pen for the journaling itself.
Include a few new discoveries. Our routine is to take a few pictures of “mystery” plants or creatures and then to use Google Images to identify them. After we’ve figured out our new discoveries, we sketch these on a page in our journals, practicing observation skills as we sketch the details. I’m not super talented, but I don’t feel I have to be. We’re learning plenty with our rough sketches and fun memories.
So often in education, we make the process of learning and discovery much harder than it has to be. Nature journaling and nature study do not have to be complicated or intimidating. It’s really about discovery and wonder and shared memories.
If you’d like a little gentle direction for your nature study, check out these NaturExplorer studies (affiliate link). Each study gives you fun books to read, tons of nature walk ideas and activities, as well as printable pages to add to your nature journal.
(This post contains affiliate links. That simply means that if you click on the link and make a purchase, I receive a small compensation. It costs you nothing and helps me offset website expenses. Thanks for your support!)
We’ve used Tapestry of Grace as our core curriculum for going on 6 years. I love it, primarily because it is designed to be customizable. Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, Tapestry presents a buffet of choices and ideas for reading, crafts and art, literature study, history discussion, and more. It’s perfect for customizing a learning plan that fits our unique ADHD/dyslexia struggles. But for the first time this year (as a solution to the enormous loose-paper crisis we experienced), I’m also customizing our own Tapestry of Grace student notebooks.
While the option is available to purchase these in printed bundles, ready to assemble, I prefer to print my own, allowing my kids to be in-between levels. Also, I wanted to separate the projects into separate notebooks—history and literature—rather than combine these, since we tend to work on them at separate times during our homeschool week. I’m loving the result and am looking forward to a lot less mess this next year.
Creating Tapestry of Grace Student Notebooks for History
Lower Grammar/Upper Grammar Notebook
My daughter will be officially fourth grade this year. While she faces some stiff learning challenges from her dyslexia, she’s made tremendous progress. Technically, she should probably be entirely Upper Grammar this year, but I’m still allowing her to be in-between. Especially for history, where information is more technical and less story-driven, she needs the lower grammar level. Her notebook includes the following items.
Weekly Overview. This page includes major theme and project ideas, famous people we will be covering, and the vocabulary words that she will be encountering in her reading. Each week, she looks over this sheet with me and looks up any words that she isn’t familiar with in the provided glossary. Because of her dyslexia, I do not make her write or copy any of this information, she just reads over it.
Glossary. Last year, I kept one copy of the Year 1 Glossary in my Teacher Notebook, and the kids shared it. However, sharing the notebook didn’t always work out well. To streamline things, I went ahead and printed off a glossary for each child and included it in their own notebook. While this exercise builds my daughter’s vocabulary and prepares her for any difficult words she may encounter in her reading, it also gives me the opportunity to work with her on dictionary skills without an overwhelming amount of information for her to navigate.
Binder Pockets. We’ve used these binder pockets for years to organize different resources in our Case-it Binders. This year, I’ve included one in her history notebook to help my daughter organize lapbooking projects that she is working on. Once these are completed, I will oversee that they make it to their final destination (the portfolio) without taking an indefinite detour to her bedroom floor.
Upper Grammar/Dialectic Notebook
At the end of last year, we tip-toed into the Dialectic stage. This year, we’ll be delving more deeply into this level of thinking with history discussions and accountability questions. Because there is more involved at this level, there is also more included in my son’s history notebook.
History Topic Summary. Each week, there is a brief overview provided for the student to read that provides the basic summary of what we will be covering and a Biblical point of view on that topic. While the content is a little technical and difficult for my daughter to understand, my son will be ready for it this year, and it will provide the groundwork for our discussions each week.
Accountability and Thinking Questions. As part of the Tapestry of Grace curriculum for the dialectic level (grades 6-8), each week there are accountability questions that come from the reading and thinking questions that provoke the student to form some opinions and comparisons about what he is learning. (Yes, the answers are provided in the teacher material, so I’m not on my own on this.) This will be our first time to use this consistently, and I’m expecting to do quite a bit of hand-holding as my son gets used to thinking critically in this way. I have provided these questions in his notebook so that he can read over them and know what we will be discussing as he does his reading. This is not pop-quiz. It’s just a step to help him understand how to read for information.
Weekly Overview. This is the same sheet that my daughter has in her notebook, but my son will be using the upper grammar vocabulary while she uses lower grammar. It is the same exercise, looking up the words in the glossary; however, my son is required to write the definitions of words he doesn’t know. The Weekly Overview also includes dates for my son to enter into his timeline. Typically, we do not include all the dates. At this stage, I require a few but allow my son to choose those dates that are significant to him because of his reading and the connections that he is making.
Glossary. This is the exact same glossary in my daughter’s notebook, and will be used for both dictionary skills practice and vocabulary.
Creating Tapestry of Grace Student Notebooks for Literature
Our literature ties in directly to our history studies. These selections are either historical fiction novels that demonstrate the history and culture we are studying, or they are classical selections that were written during this time-period. Our curriculum includes literature study activities for these selections. Activities for sequencing, cause and effect, character analysis, plot study, narration and summary writing, and more are included in their Tapestry of Grace student notebooks for literature.
My daughter has a good blend of lower grammar and upper grammar activities depending on the skill involved. Because of her dyslexia, she will be doing many of these activities orally while I scribe or write down her answers. Though she is capable of making the connections, she needs some coaching with communicating her thoughts.
For my son, there are a few skills he still needs to work on that are covered more thoroughly in the upper grammar materials (cause and effect, character analysis, etc.) The other three-fourths of his notebook include the dialectic level worksheets, with more in-depth studies of plot, characters, and genres.
I love the fact that I can create these custom Tapestry of Grace student notebooks for my kids that meet their specific needs and still challenge them appropriately. And hopefully, we will not have quite as much paper on the floor throughout the house this year.
When we first began our nature study hikes, I felt very intimidated by all of the questions my kids would ask that I didn’t have an answer for. But I’ve learned through the years of parenting them, that learning beside them is even more valuable than having all the answers. Now, when we hike the fields and forests, we take pictures of the plants and creatures we want to identify later, enjoy spotting those creatures we’ve identified before, and observe all we can. While field guides are helpful, most that I’ve used are limited, and I don’t always find what I’m looking for when we are out on our nature study hikes. Instead, I’ve found one of the most valuable tools for identifying nature is Google Images.
Identifying Nature with Google Images
Take a good picture, or several. Try to get it from a couple of different angles. Take a picture up close and farther away, top and bottom, or both sides. Of course, some nature moves away more quickly than others, so you may only get one good shot.
Observe and take good mental notes. Just in case you can’t get that picture, take a minute to observe closely. Especially with birds that are difficult to photograph, take some quick mental notes: body shape, beak shape, coloring, etc. The more you do this, the better you will get at taking that mental photo for later on.
Do a search of Google Images. Once your hike is over and you’ve returned to civilization, do a Google search. I love identifying nature with Google Images. You may need to try a few different search terms, but even the process of finding what a plant or creature is NOT will teach you tons about nature. Include your state in any search to narrow the possibilities, and include a brief description: “[our state] purple wildflower,” “[our state] forest snail,” etc. Give it your best guess. Google what you think you saw; if that’s not it, try again. If you think it might be one of two things, google “differences between ____ and ____.” When we first moved to our house, I wasn’t sure if the trees in our neighborhood were birch or aspen. We did a nature study, beginning with google, about the differences between the two trees and then went for a walk to look at them more closely for ourselves.
Record your finds in your nature journal. If you want to print off the picture and insert it into your journal, go for it. But I’ve found a really effective part of nature study is practicing drawing the item into my journal. I pay much more attention to the details when I’m drawing. How many petals did the flower have? Were all the petals turned the same direction? Where exactly was that yellow band of color on the bird? I’m forced to observe even more closely as I draw the final result of our study into my journal. And because nature study is largely taught through example, my kids learn to do the same.
If you are new to nature study, I can’t stress enough—don’t let your lack of knowledge stop you from getting out there. With the technology we have today, learning and discovering isn’t limited to the class room. Identifying nature with Google Images allows you to be a part of the learning process with your kids. Enjoy your hike, let your kids take plenty of pictures, and then come back home and keep the discovery going.
We are officially on summer break from our homeschool year, and on the very first day my kids were already wandering around aimlessly asking for screen time. Not even a full 24 hours in, and my kids were already bored! But not for long. I have a plan for battling summer boredom, Christmas break boredom, basically any kind of boredom. And it’s really simple.
Battling Summer Boredom with a Bucket List
The very first activity for every break includes creating bucket lists. While my little (rising Kindergartener) is a too young to have an official list, he has plenty of ideas to contribute. Both my older kids make out their own list. Essentially, their bucket list is their list of ideas for what makes a successful summer break. I ask questions like what would you be disappointed that you didn’t get to do by the end of the summer? What activities have you been really wanting to do but haven’t had the time because of school?
In other words, my kids’ strategy for battling summer boredom is setting goals and expectations for their summer. Whenever they act bored or a little lost, I refer them back to their list or, in true parenting style, offer to give them some work to do.
Place to Go
This is the easy part for my kids. They always have a long list of places they’d like me to take them. By having them write it down, I’ve shown that I’m aware of their desire to do that, and that I have all summer to follow through. They understand that not everything on their list is possible (i.e. a trip to LegoLand), but in the first week, I try to get to one or two of their top places to show my commitment to them. We are going to make the most of our break. Most places are simple: the beach, a swimming pool, the park, the movies, the science museum, camping, etc. Some times, I have them rank their places to go so that I know what to make a priority. For the most part, this is my only responsibility on the list, but it eliminates the nagging when they get bored if it’s already written down somewhere.
Things to Do
My kids are always full of big ideas; its one of the upsides to ADHD. From huge lego productions and i-stop motion creations, to puppet shows and other dramatic endeavors—my kids have ideas for tons of major enterprises that require time and pooling of resources. There are also ideas like riding their bicycles or scooters, playing baseball or football with friends, having a picnic, and of course, watching particular movies or playing Wii.
Skills to Work on
I coach my kids through this section to help them set some summer goals. What desserts do you want to learn how to make this summer? What meal do you want to learn how to cook? How many new chords or songs do you want to learn on your instrument? Do you want to sketch something or paint something? Including this in their plan for battling summer boredom gives them direction and helps me make a few summer plans myself.
Interests to Pursue
In some ways, this is similar to the “skills to work on” but a little broader. Basically, was their something from this year’s school that you wish you’d had time to learn more? Is there something you’ve been wanting to explore that you haven’t had the time to explore? Maybe it’s coding or survival skills, maybe it’s bracelet making or pottery, maybe it’s looking at more things under the microscope—whatever! This can be broad, and sometimes they have something to add while other times they don’t. I don’t force the issue, but I always ask, just in case it lights a fire.
Books to Read
Of course, we all want our kids reading during the summer. Maybe your child has a series of books they want to read or reread, or maybe it’s a goal of a certain number of books or pages they want to read. For my kiddos, I keep them very busy with assigned reading during the year, good books that often become favorites for them, but there’s a lot of them. And my kids often don’t have the time they would like to pursue personal reading—until break time. I’m okay with that, because I know it adds extra motivation for them to continue reading during break. One of the things my kids get most excited about is reading whatever they want. I don’t have rules about “twaddle” or how age-appropriate or anything else. As long as the book doesn’t compromise any of our core family values, my kids can have at it. That first library trip of the summer is their favorite. And because all the rules are off, even my dyslexic daughter gets excited about reading her favorites, including her old favorites she’s read many times over.
There are a couple of fun reading challenges for the summer, if you are looking for a little extra direction or motivation. Join the Reading the World Book Club and even turn it into a missional fundraiser. Or, create a Tower of Books challenge.
We are already busy checking off some of those summer bucket list ideas and making the most of our summer break. Battling summer boredom is so much easier with our lists, and by summer’s end, my kids can measure just how awesome their summer was by what got checked off the bucket list.