Curricula bliss: 12 products we couldn’t live (or learn) without

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Curricula bliss 12 products we couldn't live (or learn) without
Jamie Martin, editor of Simple Homeschool, also blogs about motherhood at Steady Mom

Our family spent the first part of September on vacation–something we’ve made a tradition of the past few years. When most people head back to the grind of school and work routines, I love that we can celebrate our homeschooling freedom on an empty beach together!

Now that we’ve settled in back at home, the leaves are changing color around their fringes. Something about autumn calls us to new beginnings, to crack open dusty books, clear off shelves, and get to work once more.

Instead of sharing with you a curriculum plan for our year, I thought I’d share our curricula bliss. In all honesty, I don’t do much traditional homeschool planning–I refuse to map out a game plan for a whole year because I always reserve the right to change my mind along the way.

But I have come up with some overarching guidelines and goals–and right now these twelve products/programs have us pointed in the right direction.

We inspire, not require when it comes to academics–so the resources below are not essential elements in my kids’ education, but ones available for them to choose from.

I’ve marked the resources that we do together as a group with an (*) symbol. Those without an asterisk the kids can choose (or not)–many of these I gathered as a result of their homeschool compasses.

I call them curricula bliss because, well, for the most part, they make us happy!

Board Games

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Not all my kids care for games, but my son Jonathan does. Here are some highlights from our math game collection throughout the years:

I’d like to add a few more games to our collection this year — any recommendations?

Discovery Education Streaming *

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I have actually instituted a “documentary day” this homeschool year because I keep finding so many incredible clips and shows through our Discovery Education membership. We bought ours over a year ago through Homeschool Buyers Co-op at a substantial discount and it has been so worth it!

Almost any time the kids have an interest in something I do a search and find a video clip to watch about it. Some of our favorite shows have been Hero Animated Classics, Liberty’s Kids, and Reading Rainbow–plus they offer live virtual field trips throughout the year for members.

Draw 3D

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Trishna is our resident artist and one of her compass goals is to become a better illustrator. So when I saw Draw3D I had her try out a few of the free lessons. It was a hit! We purchased a year’s subscription.

Not only are these cartoony-lessons right up her alley, I love that she can do them completely independently online.

Handwriting Inspiration

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Trishna and I are busy filling out this sweet Mother/Daughter journal from Gadanke together–we try to complete about one entry a week, in cursive, so it gives Trishna an incentive to practice her writing.

(FYI: Katie has created a mother/son one as well.)

Junior Ranger Program *

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The National Park Service in the US offers Junior Ranger programs at many historic sites and museums throughout the country. Children complete certain activities and then receive a special badge or certificate. Find the whole range of locations listed here.

Many of the programs require you to tour the physical site, but some are strictly online. We just completed the online junior ranger program for Fort Raleigh in North Carolina–the site of the Lost Colony.

US History Posters *

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My kids have been inspired by US History recently (I think it all stems from Liberty’s Kids!), and I’m planning to capitalize on this interest as much as possible.

I’m using this set of 100 US History posters to aid our exploration. Each morning we read through one–adding them to a binder and making them into a timeline, too.

Learning Ally

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A resource for those with dyslexia or visual impairment, Learning Ally is an extraordinary collection of audiobooks for kids through adults available via an annual subscription.

You need an official diagnosis to qualify–Trishna has a visual impairment, making audio books so crucial for her reading journey. But my boys love it too!

Little Passports *

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This visit-one-country a month subscription has become a favorite that the kids look forward to. They love when it arrives in the mail each month! It gently serves as a reminder to make geography a priority in our homeschool.

The children enjoy the activities, souvenirs, and online games. I like the simple format that doesn’t require a ton of time.

Pizza Hut Book It Program *

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We’ve never done any kind of reading incentive or reward system in our homeschool (I explain why in this post), but I decided to try out Pizza Hut’s Book It this year and see how it goes.

The official deadline has passed, but the website says homeschoolers can still apply as long as supplies are available. Set a monthly reading goal for each child and when they meet it Pizza Hut celebrates by giving them a free personal pan pizza.

Read-alouds *

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We are finishing up our year-long study of Little House on the Prairie and still have The First Four Years and Farmer Boy to get through (which I hope to follow up with a visit to Almanzo’s homestead!)

On top of those, these are also on the agenda for this year’s reading:

Reading Eggs

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My youngest, Elijah (9), is still progressing on his journey to reading fluency. In trying to find something to help him, I signed up for a free trial of Reading Eggs.

It connected with both of us, and now we do these lessons four or more times each week. Reading Eggs teaches phonics and sight words through online games, and the placement test allows your child to start at the level that suits them best.

Sparkle Stories

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Sparkle Stories’ audio subscriptions deliver weekly seasonal stories and have saved my sanity more than once over the years. Elijah still requests them at least once a day.

When one child is listening I have time to work independently with another. I’ve also found we use these more in winter when we can’t get out as much.

And there you have it! I’m all about bringing in the bliss, changing up what’s not working, and not holding myself to a curriculum plan if it stops serving us.

I’m thankful for these products that not only help us learn, but also escort joy into our home.

What about you? Tell me about your current curricula bliss!

About Jamie Martin

Jamie is a mama to three cute kids born on three different continents. She is the co-founder and editor of Simple Homeschool, where she writes about mindful parenting, intentional education, and the joy found in a pile of books. Jamie is also the author of a handful of titles, including her newest release, Give Your Child the World.

Comments

  1. Our two staples are read-alouds and sparkle stories. We all love both!
    Steph’s latest post: A Weekly Fall Rhythm

  2. My kids love the game “Scrambled States of America.” We read the book, that is fun and a bit zany, and I think the love of the book translated to the game. Regardless, though, the game is fun for all ages (mom too) and teaches more than geography and is adaptable for different ages. We also love SpotIt…it works for multiple ages as well.

  3. You sweetheart. Thank you. Also, how was the Lost Colony Junior Ranger experience?
    Caroline Starr Rose’s latest post: Why We Read

  4. Jamie, thank you so much for these refreshing words today. Just what I needed as we continue to settle into our homeschooling rhythm this month. Inspire, not require. Yes!

  5. My daughter loves the Junior Ranger program! I din’t know you could do it on-line too. Do you still get the pin and can you order the badges that most sites have available to buy?

    Thanks for the great ideas! I’ll be checking out several of them!

  6. I recommend No Stress Chess, my son who is five wanted to learn how to play. I have never played but also want to learn. It is perfect you can play right out of the box due to a deck of cards that tells you which move to make and how the pieces move. Slowly you move through making more of your own decisions until you are playing Chess.

  7. Thank you for this post! I enjoy the freedom of knowing in general the curricula path for my son but never felt inspired trying to plan out in detail each week. I semi-schedule a week at a time, but enjoy being able to say yes to impromptu field trips or play dates.

  8. My eight year old received Ticket to Ride for Christmas last year, and it quickly became our family’s favorite. I’m trying to decide whether we should get an expansion pack this year or the Europe edition.

  9. We enjoy Dr. Jay Wile’s Science in the beginning. Each short lesson includes an easy meaningful activity, a reading portion, and journalling assignment. There are different journalling assignments to correspond with your child’s age. I bought the experiment kit from Natures Workshop for convenience. My ten-year-old can do the lessons with very little help from me.
    We also enjoy snuggling on the couch and reading The Landmark History of the American People.

  10. We loved the Super Why board game. It was and still is a fun way to learn phonics, reading, rhyming, and sentences. And my 6 yr old loves yahtzee because it lets him work on multiplication and adding more than one number. Also, my step father found a Shrek board game called Flipped Out Fairytales. Both my boys love it and so does our neighbors daughter. You race around the board collecting Characters, Things, and Places. When you have all the items you run to the finish spot flip your story card and read the flipped out story substituting the cards you picked up into the story. If you remember doing Adlib stories as a kid that is what it is like. Our house rule is the youngest has to read all the cards to help with his reading skills. But that is slowly changing since his reading is quite advanced.

  11. We homeschooled and one our favorite treats was getting to play a game instead of doing our workbooks like Scrabble/Boggle instead of spelling.

    The printer and library are my two “can’t live without” resources. 🙂 I’m adding Grammarland to our reading list. Thanks!
    Anna @ Feminine Adventures’s latest post: My Perfect Kids (Ahem!)

  12. First off I love what you do!! So a huge thank you! You are a constant inspiration to me as a homeschooling mom! My oldest LOVES games!! So when we found a math curriculum that used games as a major part of their teaching I was sold. They have a free games packet that they give out so if you are interested you can go to their website and get it! It really has been a great resource for our family! Their website is http://mathinspirations.com

    Thanks for all you do to help us homeschooling Moms!!!

  13. We love Little Passports and Sparkle Stories here too. Also the board games we love are the cooperative games from Family Pastimes, http://www.familypastimes.com/. We love these and they are made from recycled materials!!

  14. We love board games at our house. Noble Knights of Knowledge is a great math curriculum/ board game. We are starting to use the Sir Cumference books with it. I live that we found them being read aloud on YouTube so I didn’t have to buy them.
    We just started a series called Explorers Wanted. Isaac chose In the Himalayas to start with. They have little quizzes and questions all though the book. I also love our Smart Globe and GeoSafari.

  15. We also use Triominos and darts for mental math.

  16. Is it really possible to have a blissful homeschool? Do you use any workbooks with Math, Spelling, Phonics, etc.? We are in our 2nd week of “complete” homeschooling, and I’m already finding that the kids aren’t excited (they just want to play), and I have not even started all the different subjects with them! I dread making them do seat-work because it’s like “pulling teeth”. I work well with a schedule so I can SEE what needs to be accomplished, but it all (or even close to all) rarely gets done. We just spent A LOT of $ on all new curriculum, and I’m already questioning it. I would LOVE to engage my children more with learning and am hoping that “school” becomes a word of the past.

    P.S. – One thing that makes “structure” harder for our family is our routine. We are very laid-back with bedtime/waking up time so the kids can spend more time in the evening with dad (he works all day) and as a family; this makes “school” harder.

    Any suggestions/insight?

    • Allow them time to detox from the old way of schooling. Curiosity will arise and that’s the ideal time for learning. They’re kids of course they want to play all day! Join in the game. It will end in everyone learning something new. Kids learn by playing 😉

    • Hi Jill. I don’t mean to suggest that each day is one long blissful moment after another–we do have plenty of challenges to deal with, but in general they don’t revolve around academics. We don’t do workbooks unless the kids choose them. I don’t know how old your kids are, but it might be helpful to read my post on Core Phase: http://simplehomeschool.net/core-phase/ and I’d also recommend you look into A Thomas Jefferson Education to get a vision for a different type of learning environment: http://www.tjed.org/about-tjed/ Hope that helps a little!

  17. I have been debating for the past year whether or not to do Little Passports, I’m going to finally jump in and do it! Thanks for the recommendations. It’s always interesting to see what others are do and their perspective.
    Megan’s latest post: Capture the Flag Birthday Party – Nerf Style

  18. Recently I discovered spirituality for kids. It’s nice, simple, useful and enlightened. Not attached to any particular religion.

  19. We love games too, have been playing chess with the kids lately. Also, my kids love the game app Monument. It has puzzles for them to figure out.
    Jenny’s latest post: Differences Between Men and Women in Their Relationship With Christ

  20. How about old fashioned Dominoes? It has a lot of math embedded in it. RightStart Math also offers a whole book/kit of math games for different concepts that go well with any curriculum. We also love Blokus.

  21. My Oldest loves games a math game to add to your collection is Bank It. They have to buy, save, and my fave give to charity!!.

  22. Woohoo! Grammarland! I love that book. 🙂 We love games over here, and one simple but really fun one is History Timelines. The game consists of small-sized cards with a historical event (name and picture) on one side and the same thing but including the year it happened on the other side. Players take turns placing their card into line with other cards that have been played, trying to place them correctly in chronological order. First one to place all their cards correctly wins. And one app we are still trying out but definitely loving right now is the Reading Rainbow app on my Kindle. I purchased a subscription so that both boys can fill their own backpacks on the app with books they want to “check out.” They can read the books on their own, have them read to them, or interact with the books. There is also an extensive video library of Reading Rainbow shorts, old and new.

  23. Family Debate!! When we play SumSwamp, can you exit the Endless Loop by rolling either a plus or minus (and head toward the lilypad), OR does the minus mean you exit the loop near the log and you’ll still have to go through the loop?

    My little guy and I adore this game!! Monopoly Jr is also age appropriate with a bit of math.

  24. Merrielle says:

    Sparkle stories! They are totally a ‘go-to’resource for us too! Almost everything else you listed was new to me. Thanks for posting gems.

  25. I second the recommendation for Ticket to Ride, especially for the ages of your kids. It really is a fantastic and engaging family game with plenty of strategy. Sushi Go is a great little card drafting game with a fun theme. Card drafting is an important skill, right? But it does require a fair bit of basic math to maximize your score, a lot of evaluation of the available cards, memory, etc. Plus it can lead you to more complicated card drafting games, like 7 Wonders or Fairy Tale.

  26. This list makes me happy!

    My kids are 6 and (nearly) 4. We love games here (adults and kids). We just get Carcaasone and it’s a great game! We can play with as few as 2 and it does great things for spatial relations! It’s 7+ but both my kids caught on fast (my husband and I even played alone!). We also have and love ticket to ride. We’ve been using it to review US geography at the same time!

    We also love sparkle stories (and audible, just finished all the Beverly Cleary books) and my mom is getting my girls a sub to little passports for Christmas! So excited to try it out!

  27. What a great list! Thank you! My kiddos also love to play Life Jr and Guess who. Also, Go Fish. We have played that so many times I might have hid the cards for a few weeks lol.

  28. We too love math games like Yahtzee! Dice are such a fun way to practice counting, addition and multiplication. I’m trying really hard to overhaul our homeschooling to follow the idea of “inspire, not require.” So I really appreciate these great suggestions!
    Katie Laws’s latest post: Homeschool Overhaul…schedule, curriculum and expectations

  29. I love this! There were a few recommendations that were new to me that look right up my kids allies! Thank you for the inspiration~

  30. I am doing my best to do mostly games for math (plus Teaching textbooks- for my 3rd grader)
    priest’s wife @byzcathwife’s latest post: happy birthday, Mary the Mother Of God!

  31. I just recently bought a whole bunch of Usborne non-fiction books – to fuel my always reading, thinking, and engineering boy’s brain – and this wasn’t supposed to be for his “scope and sequence” this year. Just because it’s what he enjoys. I love that being fully invested in this home educating life has allowed us to see interests and build upon them organically.
    Cara@TheHomeLearner’s latest post: In Search of a Twaddle Free Childhood

  32. Some kids and some adults in our family have gotten into Monopoly in an epic way!
    Also, Backgammon! And the corners game from Rightstart Math. it’s a part of our math curriculum, but we’ve played it with other families and kids during play dates!
    Also, Set and the next level up, Iota These and Corners are good to have for unexpected wait times since they are just little decks of cards.
    Libby Jane’s latest post: Satchel for Sketching in real life.

  33. Jamie, thank you for your post! 🙂 There’s a question I wanted to ask you about Discovery Education. We tried to register, but their website says, “Contact your school’s Discovery Education administrator to obtain your passcode.” We live in Ukraine, not in the States. Do you think we can still have access to Discovery Education resources if we are not a part of some American school district? And how? Thank you so much!

  34. This is similar to reading eggs but I like the program better! And this program is 100 percent free! My friend who has a dyslexic son she homeschools loves it! It is called “teach your monster to read”. https://www.teachyourmonstertoread.com

    🙂 thought you would like to know… 🙂

  35. Love this! We’re brand NEWBIES! So, week six with three under six and we can’t live without audio books, sightwords.com (for bingo and other fun learning printables), swings (every kind), hide ’em in your heart music, math linking cubes, and mine: Pinterest, late evening research sessions and good theoretical foundation sources. Keep the sharing flowing! I’m learning as fast as I possibly can!

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