Middle School Resources and Materials (2011 Curriculum Fair)

Written by contributor Heather Bruggeman of Beauty That Moves

My Child’s Age: 13
Educational Philosophy Influences: Montessori, Classical, Relaxed

Our family is in its first full year of homeschooling. My girl is an academic who enjoys lessons, grades, and TESTS. As for me? I would call myself a relaxed homeschooler. Somewhere in the middle is where we meet and spend our days.

In the interest of this month’s Curriculum Fair, I’ll focus this post on what we have used this year for our formal curriculum. This includes pre-packaged curriculum as well as various resources that are of high quality and see regular use in our homeschool.

A brief background: My daughter spent her elementary years attending a private Montessori school where learning was celebrated and the idea of school was very positive. Each child felt successful and confident as a contributing member of the classroom community. We did not decide to homeschool because school didn’t work out. We chose it because after graduating from that special school, nothing else could possibly compare.

So, we decided to homeschool.

Funny thing though, Maria Montessori thought children aged 12-15 were better suited for farm work than high intellectual calling. Really!

“The Montessori program for the young adult from age twelve to fifteen is very different from that of traditional school. Dr. Montessori felt that because of the rapid growth, the increased need for sleep, and hormonal changes, it is useless to try to force the adolescent to concentrate on intellectual work. She recommended an Erdkinder, or Earth school, where children would live close to nature, eat fresh farm products, and carry on practical work related to the economics of supplying food, shelter, transportation, and so forth. Intellectual work is still done, following the child’s interests, but without pressure.”

~ The Michael Olaf Montessori

It’s something to think about, isn’t it? This age is so distinct, unlike any other in the human experience – and yet too often, we lump the challenges of adolescence into “being a teenager.” But really, at thirteen you know everything and nothing at the same time.

It’s my job to make sure my daughter has certain academic goals met, but also to provide space and encouragement for her to be her age. There will be days where she needs to sleep a little extra, stare at the wall, explore photography, play basketball for two hours in the middle of the day, or type out another 1,000 words on her novel. Even though none of those things are officially part of “school.”

Homeschooling affords us the opportunity to achieve a desired balance of those goals.


Math Mammoth

This is a practical program and I don’t see it mentioned often so I’ll explain it briefly. Math Mammoth is affordable and downloadable to your computer, so you can print as needed. It is written by a math teacher turned homeschool mom. It is a fine program in many ways, but math is not my strong suit so my husband handles these lessons. We’ve found his schedule to be too unpredictable for consistency, so we are switching to Teaching Textbooks next year.


Quite a mix! Oak Meadow grade 8 (included in this are Strunk & White and Writing For 100 Days). I like the literature selections, the use of 100 Days, and something they call Writer’s Rant. Grade 8 focuses pretty heavily on writing so would work best for those with that interest in mind.

Wordly Wise

This is a language arts program designed to develop language fluency in reading, writing and speaking. (It works!)

Rip the Page!

A fun book of creative writing prompts and exercises. We each have our own copy and do this together. We picked up special journals for this hip and cool book; it’s the sort of thing we can take down to the cafe to mix up the day a little.

World History

Like many of Oak Meadow’s offerings, this is an integrated curriculum combining history with literature and fine arts.


I am so glad we decided to double up and do two Social Studies courses. Civics wound up being our everyday lesson–we do World History a couple times a week. My plan is to use the World History for two years instead of rushing through it. Civics is such an important topic, and middle school is not too young to get acquainted with the subject.


We started out using Oak Meadow grade 8 Physical Science but switched mid-year to Apologia General Science. Very good move for us–science has been a favorite subject ever since.

Foreign Language

We recently attended a homeschool convention (met up with Jamie for a quick hello!), and came home with Rosetta Stone, Spanish I. I was a little nervous about this as the critical reviews I’ve read express not enough grammar and mechanical understanding of the language.

We’ve been using it for a few weeks and it’s amazing how quickly my daughter is picking up on the language. And when we all spoke our first sentences as blossoming toddlers, did we know what a preposition was?

Additional Resources and Activities

Aside from these very measurable areas of study, we are busy with other things as well. Some are child initiated, some are highly encouraged by the parents. But all are in the name of making the most of the wide open opportunity we have each day.

  • Weekly Home Ec class with friends.
  • Monthly Knitting Group in our home.
  • A volunteer job for my daughter.
  • Various team sports, type of sport depends on the season.
  • New York Times Learning Network – lesson plans and activities tied to current events.
  • Shmoop – Resource for literature selections, study guides, writing labs. So much here!
  • The Library – a homeschooler’s most affordable best friend.
  • Netflix – Many PBS, BBC, and National Geographic movies can be instantly streamed by members.
  • Weekly hikes as a family in the woods. Thank you Renee for the inspiration!

On paper it seems rather ambitious, but this is the nature of our daughter, and it has felt really good for us to provide the kind of learning that she enjoys.

We have a deal… if I keep the lessons and quizzes coming, she’ll heed my reminders to slow down, be a kid, and pretend to farm once in awhile. I think Maria Montessori would be pleased.

Do you find as your children get older you are more inclined to add formal curricula to their days? What feels like the right balance for you?

About Heather

Heather follows the mantra “a life that is led simply and deliberately is a life fulfilled.” She is a dedicated yoga teacher, artist, holistic health coach, mother and wife. Heather’s blog Beauty That Moves is enjoyed by readers for its kind honesty, shared beauty, and simple guidance.


  1. I’m not in the market for curriculum but your home ec and knitting afternoons sound like something my daughter would love – thanks for the ideas!
    Melissa’s latest post: A Day in The Life – Year 8

  2. Great post! I love the Montessori quote. My kids attended a weekly program for homeschoolers at our local Montessori middle school. Integral to this school was its huge garden, which the kids were expected to tend, and a forest, where the kids wandered for hours. If I didn’t love homeschooling so much, I would have sent them there full time!
    Sarah at SmallWorld’s latest post: Weekly Wrap-Up

  3. With the emphasis on writing and that copy of Elements of Style, sounds like your daughter’s novel works beautifully as real-life learning!
    caroline starr rose’s latest post: One Sentence Debut Reviews- May

    • yes – her novel has become an integral part of her days lately… 17,951 words and counting. 😉
      i love how it all blends together so beautifully. life, learning, fun.
      heather’s latest post: middle school resources and materials – curriculum fair!

      • I’d be so interested in hearing Emily’s thoughts on how the writing curriculum serves her novel-writing. Do the lessons help her when it comes to writing on her own? It seems to me that some writing curriculum speaks to real *writers*, with an understanding of the process writers use. And other curriculum tries to teach “writing” as an academic subject, and can be pretty unrelated to what writers actually do.

        So glad she’s balancing Strunk and White (what writers ought to do) with Rip the Page (how writers need to play)! A book which combines the two, in a way, is Spunk and Bite, by Arthur Plotnik, which is all about how writers break rules to keep writing fresh. It’s a book for adults, but Emily might enjoy parts of it.
        patricia’s latest post: one fine morning

        • Oh, and one more possible recommendation (I haven’t seen this yet, but have it on hold from the library. It looks promising!) Spilling Ink: A Young Writer’s Handbook, by Ellen Potter and Anne Mazer.

          P.S. I love how you consider Emily’s true nature, but you try to encourage some balance as well. I think that lovely give and take is such an important part of homeschooling.
          patricia’s latest post: one fine morning

        • hmm… i’ll have to ask her. but i would say that parts of what we use teach to the idea of writing as academic, and parts teach to the creative, true writer within. both have their place as they open her mind in new and different ways – which is what a writer needs to do. the two balance each other nicely, and if i have a sense an upcoming lesson is not meaningful, i’ll modify or move past it. this has only happened two or three times this year.

          emily is funny in that writing has always been a place of strength for her… but she doesn’t think of herself as a creative person. she thinks of her writing as a “skill” and she must produce, produce, produce. i’m sure as she gets older she will acknowledge her creativity more.

          i always love the insight you share, patricia. thanks for the book suggestions! 🙂

  4. My oldest is just entering “middle school” and wanted a very definite distinction between her elementary curriculum and her new. We’ve decided to do much more independent study as often as we can. While I will still have to sit one-on-one with her younger brother, she will be expected to take her lessons off to complete and then return them to me only for review (unless a problem arises, of course). These are her suggestions and I really enjoyed being able to discuss her education plan with her. Thank you for covering this topic.
    Jennifer’s latest post: Outsourcing

  5. Great post..I’ve never used a curriculum before, my daughter learns differently than my son did…and I’ve been trying to find the right one…(there are alot!) Thank you so much for the help!
    island girl’s latest post: Pineapple Chicken Wraps

  6. I’m using Math Mammoth right now for my son’s first grade year and I recently received the cd I ordered for 2nd grade. You can get MM either downloaded or by cd and I think by textbook. I could be wrong- but I think thats what I read and I’m not sure if every grade offers all 3 options or not. I’m just finishing up my first yr of homeschooling 😉
    Tracy @ Hall of Fame Moms’s latest post: Week 3- Our last Organizing Small Spaces Link-up

  7. Deborah says:

    We are using Math Mammoth as well, although I’ve not heard it mentioned much either. This year we did grade two. There is a minimum of explanation, and that works for us. I also like the mental math skills my son is developing.

  8. What an interesting quote! Thanks for that! My son is 13 and it is hard when I see how he is growing up, yet I struggle to get him to focus on school sometimes!
    Martha Artyomenko’s latest post: On the topic of vacation…

  9. I received an email from sonlight.com that they are offering over 35% off on Rosetta Stone products at the moment – in case anyone is interested. I don’t personally use it but see that Heather does.

    My son (15ys) is writing a novel too. It is amazing to see the difference in skill and writing style from the beginning of the novel to now. I don’t think there is a need to rush, exactly, into more academic work (except that each child is different) but certainly by 14 or 15 I think our youth need to be challenged with new ideas, concepts, and plain hard work. They rise to the occassion. It is hard to believe sometimes that one’s ‘baby’ is really capable of more than we see (am I alone here?) but often, I think, they are waiting to be believed in, pushed a little outside of their comfort zones… amazing what they can accomplish, particularly when they have their own goals and dreams and a loving parent willing to take the time to mentor them along.

  10. Wow, I never knew Maria Montessori and I had anything in common. I am a school librarian in a fabulous K-12 school, and I still think that kids from 12-16 would be well suited to manual labour rather than “school.” Teach them to read, write and think, and let them do what they wish after work hours. Higher order thinking doesn’t have to be academically focused. Later on, when the cortex is more developed, they’ll have more clue about life direction and quite possibly more motivation and perseverance. Thirteen and “knowing it all yet knowing nothing” is so true! (I’m also the mom of a 13 & 14 yo daughter and son). I wish homeschooling had been an option for us.

  11. Heather, I love how you adjust your learning desires and natural tendencies and perhaps preferences to your daughter’s desires and needs. It is her education after all. So inspirational, as usual.

    And thanks for the link love (smile). We cannot wait to get out for our weekly hike this weekend. We’ve missed 2 weekends because of moving – I suppose we’ve had a good excuse, but still…

  12. It’s nice to see Math Mammoth mentioned. I’m using it with my kiddos and really like it. I am considering Oak Meadow for our Language Arts and Science next year.
    Dee’s latest post: May 24

  13. Love this series! Nowhere else could I find such useful advice from mamas that are experienced in the homeschool “biz”. Keep ’em coming. 🙂

  14. hilarious endnote there, heather! i love how you explain the balance and philosophy behind it. it makes it seem like a lot and easy at the same time! i can tell you have put a TON of work into your daughter’s home education and appreciate your sharing!
    kendra’s latest post: the fox diaries

  15. Great post. We are a new public charter school the is middle/high school. We will be getting a 51′ geodesic dome greenhouse this summer that they students will be constructing the inside elements and using it as a 3rd classroom and micro-economy. Dr. Montessori was a brilliant woman, too bad it has taken some school districts this long to figure out that everything is interconnected, but what they haven’t grasped is that Adolescents need to have time to absorb the information and work with it, whether that be in school or rambling outside in the woods. If my daugher wasn’t in this school she would be unschooled for sure. Nice post.

  16. I am desperately looking for someone who can answer a few questions about Oak Meadow, especially the history. They are as follows:
    1. Did you need the Teachers Manual for History?
    2. Did you find the History comprehensive?
    3. We are looking at both gr 6 and gr 7 history, any additional information would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks so much!

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