Resources for interest-led learning

Written by Jamie Martin, editor of Simple Homeschool and Steady Mom

A note from Jamie: Though I chose not to do a full curriculum fair this year, there are plenty of curriculum posts in the archives for those interested in scrolling through them as you make plans for the upcoming year. You can find them here–enjoy!

Educational Philosophies I pull from: Leadership Education, Waldorf, Unschooling

The first time I looked at the instructor’s guide of a popular curriculum, it made my head spin.

You mean we have to do all this? And in this order? And what if we need to miss a day or if the kids want to read more than the required number of pages? What if those comprehension questions are just downright boring?

Thankfully, I’ve come a long way since then. Now I understand that I can use resources in a way that fits our family, without feeling like a resource is using me.

Here are a few of the main resources we use often in our home and how I make them work for us.

Oak Meadow

Description: Oak Meadow carries creative, child-centered curriculum packages for grades PreK-12. This secular curriculum focuses on a holistic approach to education, one that supports a child’s natural development and adapts to a variety of learning styles. Each package has a syllabus that covers materials for the year in 36 weekly lessons.

We have used the Kindergarten, 1st grade, and plan to continue with 2nd grade in the fall.

What I like about Oak Meadow: I love the holistic approach to Oak Meadow, and the fact that they introduce academics slowly in the early years, emphasizing that head learning is only one part of a child’s development.

My favorite part of the curriculum, that we rarely miss or skip, are the stories included–a variety of fairy tales and nature stories for the elementary grades. I also love that all subjects, from reading to math, are covered in the one syllabus. That simplifies my life right there.

How I use this resource:

As some who values interest-led learning, I use Oak Meadow in a loose way. I flip through each week’s lesson plan to get an overview. I keep a lookout for natural opportunities to inspire my children with the material OM provides.

In math this trimester, one of the goals is counting to 100. In social studies, it’s becoming acquainted with maps. So I make a mental note to look for opportunities to count with the kids. I print off blank maps and ask the kids if they’d like to make maps.

Oak Meadow brings a lot of creativity to their lessons – the first grade includes knitting, watercolor painting, and recorder playing. My goal is to allow the kids exposure to these activities, but without necessarily “teaching” them myself. I had the perfect chance to do so by enrolling the kids in a Waldorf homeschooling arts class one day a week.

Life of Fred

Description: Life of Fred is a unique math curriculum that covers elementary math through calculus. (We have only used the first two books, so I can’t comment on the higher levels.) They deliver math through stories about a boy named Fred and how he learns to use math in his everyday life.

What I like about Life of Fred: Life of Fred really appealed to me because of the story concept, which I thought my kids would enjoy. I like the way the math is naturally integrated into Fred’s life, showing the importance of it in day-to-day living.

I’m not a huge fan of math workbooks and worksheets, so this really appealed to me. These hardcover books are sturdy and well-made. It’s easy to use them with multiple children.

an excerpt from book 3 of Fred, Cats

How I use this resource:

I had heard such wonderful things about Life of Fred for high schoolers that I was thrilled when I heard the author had completed a series for elementary-aged kids. I bought the first two books, and I read them together with my children.

The chapters are laugh-out-loud funny and I often get asked to read “just one more.” Each section ends with a series of questions about the chapter, followed by the answers.

The author strongly recommends that the student answers these questions in writing. But you can probably guess what we do…or don’t do, in this case. Instead, I ask each child if they would like to answer a question. If they say yes, I read it aloud and let them answer or ask for help as they need it.

Stanley Schmidt, the author of Life of Fred, states that it can be used as a complete, stand-alone math curriculum. We’re not using it that way in our home at the moment, but I see it as wonderful exposure and a fun introductory math resource. I plan to add more to our collection when we’ve finished these.

Other Resources We Enjoy

Our 24 Family Ways: A Family Devotional Guide

This Christian resource, by Sally and Clay Clarkson, contains 24 biblical traits for families to learn in areas like generosity, service, faith, work, attitudes, and so on.

In our home we learn one new family way every two weeks, repeating it together in the mornings. My kids have especially enjoyed the coloring pages that accompany each principle.

Book Lists

Each year I comb through a variety of popular book lists to decide which titles I want to invest in that year for our home. For next year I’m using the lists from Sonlight Core C, Ambleside Online Year 2, and Simply Charlotte Mason Grade 2.

Books for Mama’s Inspiration

These are the permanent titles on my shelf I go back to for encouragement again and again.

Is there a resource you’ve found that works well for your homeschool, even though you may adapt it to suit your own learning philosophy? Do you have experience with any of the resources I’ve mentioned here?

This post originally published on April 23, 2012.

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.


  1. I love reading how you guys do things, Jamie—if anything, because you guys do things so differently from us! 🙂 Which is so fun.

    I’ve heard great things about Fred, so I think we’re going to do some of that next year, too. And I love Educating the Whole Hearted Child as well. I’ll have to check out their Family Ways book—I honestly hadn’t heard of it!

  2. I just checked out free range learning from the library, and am really excited to get into it. We bought the Sonlight Core A curriculum this year to start my oldest on Kindergarten. We love reading here, and I love the book lists. I don’t feel like we will end up being as strict to the instructor’s guide, but I do like having it available in case I need a little help. I recognize what my daughter really enjoys doing, and that is the most important part I think. I have heard great things about Oak Meadow as well.
    Heather’s latest post: Green Week – For the Homestead

  3. Thanks for this. I was homeschooled in a traditional school at home type way and would like to homeschool my daughter differently (when we get there) so I’m always curious how interest-led learning works. The Life of Fred looks great, especially since math is the one area many people think interest led learning can’t work.
    Steph’s latest post: The Problem with Comprehensive Plans

  4. I am LOVING this curriculum series. I’ve only home-schooled 2 years, and my children are very young so I love reading what works for different personalities and families. I also love the “for mom” section! Life of Fred looks really fun. My son loves anything math related so I’m going to look into it more.
    We actually tried OM but I found it was just too loose for us, though loved the story selection. We also love love love the Sonlight list of books, many which I’ve been lucky enough to find at the thrift store or library, and the one that I loved so much after checking it out from interlibrary-loan was the Berenstain Bears’ Big Book of Science & Nature. We have read that front to back at least 5 times!
    Our annual curriculum fair & home school conference here in Nebraska is this weekend and I am so looking forward to it. Thanks for the inspiration and links!
    Sarah M
    Sarah M’s latest post: {This Moment}

  5. Heather Brandt says:

    Is the math in Oak Meadow at a lower level than say Saxon or Singapore? I love Oak Meadow’s gentle approach but wasn’t sure if my son would be behind other math curriculum if we use Oak Meadow?

  6. I am so glad to see you mention Life of Fred! I searched for a Math curriculum that would make math fun and interesting for my kids and found Life of Fred. We have loved it. My son loves to read these chapters and usually wants to do more. I see him using what he has learned through the books throughout the day and hear him talking and telling others about the interesting facts that are mixed into each chapter. I also have only used the first two books and plan on using the next ones next fall. I am not sure if I plan to add another curriculum later but will observe if I need to or not next year. The other bonus to Life of Fred is that the books are so affordable! I think each book was about $10. I highly recommend them!

  7. This is the first time I’ve heard of Life of Fred and I’m so excited! We’re not ready for it yet, but I think I’ll start keeping an eye out for used copies or deals otherwise! Sounds like a terrific resource!
    Queen of Chaos’s latest post: Burnt around the edges

  8. Do you know if there is a place to see samples of Oak Meadow’s weekly schedule, for example, the way Sonlight lets you get an idea of how they are set up before buying?

    • hi, shannon– if you go to Oak Meadow’s website they have sample curriculum segments so you can see how each week is laid out. hope this helps!

  9. Jamie, I am enjoying this series. I have been thinking about what we are going to be doing for the upcoming year. We learn by the seasons so we are gearing up for major science and nature projects and being outside more. I want to keep up our math studies and I have been looking for something like Life of Fred as a supplement. Thanks for sharing that.
    I have also been reading Free Range Learning what a great book.

  10. My boys LOVE Life of Fred. We have the first 8 elementary books and they read them for fun all. the. time. I’m looking forward to getting the next elementary books for this upcoming year as well as Fractions and Decimals and Percents for my oldest.
    Heidi @ Mt Hope’s latest post: Easter

  11. For which books to read I like the New York Public Library 100 books lists.

  12. Thanks for your posts. We have also enjoyed Oak Meadow and Life of Fred. We are in our 10th year of homeschooling our 15 year old. Many blessings.

  13. We love Oak Meadow, too! I love that it’s very gentle and nature-based, and is loose enough that I can just use it as a general guide and easily supplement with whatever the kids are interested in at the moment. I am an interest-led learning proponent in most subject areas, but as a math educator by profession, I prefer an inquiry-based learning approach to math to ensure a solid foundation of concepts in the early years. I’ve heard such great things about Life of Fred that I think I’ll try it out as a supplement to inspire curiosity about math.
    Jacquelyn’s latest post: Surviving Pregnancy Exhaustion

  14. Thanks so much for your post. I have been looking at Oak Meadow a bit and I love the way in which you have chosen to utilize it. I’m heading straight for amazon to check out Life of Fred. Can’t wait. Thanks again – this series is always so helpful.
    Cari’s latest post: We’ll Call it Lent

  15. I know I am going to love this series – I can’t thank you enough for putting it together!!! Interesting read… I have never met The life of Fred before, off to explore!!!
    se7en’s latest post: Happy Birthday William Shakespeare… And a Visit to the Globe Theatre.

  16. Life of Fred and me need a date. I’m so glad you mentioned this. I’ve been hearing about this but never looked into. I’ll be investigating it more this summer for when our current math modules are done.
    renee @ FIMBY’s latest post: More Spring Science

  17. Wow! Can’t wait to look into the the Life of Fred! We’re so/so happy wig our math books at the moment. Your philosophy/approach is very similar to ours (surprised? 😉 and it was really inspiring to hear what you guys are up to.
    Hillary’s latest post: Guest Appearence: Behind the Blog with Erin Goodman

  18. I personally hate math, so your info on the Life of Fred fascinates me! I have two kids, 7 & 10, and there are gaps in both of their math education due to switching curriculums and short stints in school. I just ordered the first three books to use as a gap filler… if they work well, I’ll get the whole set to use as our stand alone curriculum… but at the very least, it sounds like an awesome program to use to “cover all our bases” before we move on. 🙂 Thanks for the suggestion… As a mom whose eyes cross over and tummy gets queasy at the thought of teaching math, a fun way to get the job does sounds fabulous!!!

  19. Hi there! I have a 6 y.o. public school kindergartener and am about 99.9% positive that I am going to homeschool him, beginning with the new school year. I am perplexed about curricula – I’ve found 2 that I LOVE the idea of…Oak Meadow and Sonlight. One day, I think I’m going with OM, the next day, I’m absolutely sure SL is the way for our family to go. I’ll be honest, I’m overwhelmed and anxious about not being prepared enough, so SL really appeals to me…as does its huge emphasis on literature (my son LOVES to be read to, and I am a bookworm, myself). As a child development person, OM’s more loosely, developmentally appropriate structured approach to learning appeals to me.

    I read a review you had done a couple years ago, when you used Sonlight, and couldn’t see a change in your foreseeable future. Obviously, the foreseeable future expired and there have been changes. 🙂 So, having been in my position, new to to homeschooling (though maybe not as nervous as I am about the whole lesson planning/prep aspect of it), I’m wondering if you have any advice for me. I know that only I will know, for sure, the best fit for our family…but I’d love some other objective thoughts.


    Melissa B.’s latest post: Max Reads a Book

    • I think you could really go with either one, Melissa. (which may not help, I realize!) Either would be a good choice. If your son really likes being read to, he may not always want to stop when SL’s plan says to “stop reading” for the day. I realized, over time, that I wanted to be able to take read-alouds at our own pace, so for us, doing that alongside some of Oak Meadow has been a great fit.

      No matter which one you choose, your son will flourish! So do not fear!!
      Jamie ~ Simple Homeschool’s latest post: Learning alongside the Olympics

  20. Hello,
    I was wondering if you could get away with only purchasing the grade level curriculum from Oak Meadow you needed, or do you feel like you really need the K-3 teacher manual set too? I am going with Sonlight for this year but was inspired by your post about using a little of this and a little of that. I was down to SL vs OM and finally had to choose SL, but now I am wondering if we will be missing out on the creativity. Thinking maybe if I grabbed the OM syllabus too I could use what I wanted out of it.

  21. Tina Knowles says:

    I just came across this post in a google search for interest led learning. As I type my kids are writing a “left out chapter” from one of Sonlight’s read aloud books as just something they wanted to do and they are engrossed! I have always been interested in interest led learning but their dad is not convinced. I used Calvert previously and found it began to get stifling! We were always playing catch up because we wanted to do other things. This year we compromised and I bought Sonlight for my daughter – 10 – and use a mixture of sonlight and Calvert for our son – 12. I still use Calvert math for both. I tried teaching textbooks but found it way too easy. I will definitely be looking at Life of Fred as a fun add on and have been printing sheets from the internet too. My problem is doing everything the IG or lesson manual says to do and still fitting in what we WANT to do. It’s hard to give myself permission to be flexible and still feel like we are covering the bases. Any advice? My kids are older too, so I feel more pressure as we prep for high school, transcripts and college applications.

  22. Project-based Homeschooling is also a wonderful resource for interest-led learning. It is both a book, blog and forum where the author, Lori Pickert, is very involved in helping those who are interested.

  23. This is a great list! I am new to homeschooling so I didn’t see it last year. 🙂 We are definitely going to try Life of Fred and Oak Meadow looks like it could be a great fit for my 6 year old who loves nature. The Leadership Education model has really resonated with me too. Thanks for your work, Jamie! – Jennifer
    Jennifer B.’s latest post: Looking Presentable Is A Real Hassle

  24. we are an unschooling family with a 7 yo and a 4.5 yo.
    we pick and pull from many resources, but among those we return to again and again:
    alphabet glue series,
    action pack series (from the late Kathreen Ricketson),
    Fiona Danks and Jo Schofield “Wild” books series
    I’m sure there are more that will come to mind…but these top our list

  25. Thanks for sharing! This is pretty much exactly how we’ve used both Oak Meadows and Life of Fred this year. Made me smile to read it, and nod along. I’ll be checking out your other recommendations now, too! 🙂
    Kelly’s latest post: Always Rushing

  26. I just linked to this post from my latest post, and I’m so thankful for how your journey has mentored mind through Simple Homeschool.
    Cara Thompson’s latest post: Interest Led Learning: Educational Theories Defined Part 4

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