Reading, writing, & ‘rithmetic for 6 kids (2012 curriculum fair)

Written by contributor Jessica Fisher of Life as Mom

Ages of my children: 14, 11, 9, 7, 5, and 3
Educational Philosophies I Pull From: ClassicalCharlotte MasonLiterature-Based

Back in January, I realized that we were in the doldrums as far as school was concerned. I really wanted to put some wind back in our sails, so I spent some extended time researching different options and analyzing how our days were spent. I rediscovered a love for how we used to do things “back in the good old days.”

That is to say, I ditched what wasn’t working and started a reread of The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise. This was the foundational book for me over a dozen years ago when my firstborn was just a toddler. I read it from cover to cover several times, and my original edition is literally falling apart at the seams. Since then it’s been revised a few times, so I picked up a new copy and allowed it to realign my vision for our school.

Since I have SIX kids, it’s a lot of curriculum to plan for. Rather than tell you about every single resource we’re using, here’s a peek at our reading, writing and arithmetic:

Reading: Literature and History

Grades K-6, 9th grade

We started out the year using Tapestry of Grace, Year 1, a survey of the ancients. We’d covered this program four years ago when my kids were all grammar level students. I enjoyed it then. However, with kids in high school, middle school, and elementary levels, I had a chance this year to explore more of the suggested resources. While I loved the dialectic selections, this literature major found the high school resources to be BORING and inaccessible. No way was I going to make him read what I didn’t want to read myself.

I’m a book lover, after all.

This situation played a compelling role in our homeschool makeover. After rereading the update of The Well-Trained Mind, we’ve taken to choosing and reading ancient texts on our own, using The Well-Educated Mind, a companion text, as a guide for high school reading. My younger kids and I are working through the first volume of The Story of the World and its activity guide as well as the lower level recommendations from Tapestry of Grace.

Next year: We’ll follow this same pattern, using volume 2 of The Story of the World for my lower level kids and the recommendations from The Well-Trained Mind for my 7th and 10th graders.

Writing (aka Language Arts)

Writing is a vast and varied subject. I am a writer. I taught writing professionally before I had kids. At the same time, teaching my own children to communicate well on paper is a whole ‘nuther ball game.

I am not a workbook/boxed curriculum kind of girl. I believe in reading good books and enjoying the written word as the most effective means of learning to write well.

But there are some books and stuff that we use for language arts:


Work through Phonic Pathways, learn the 70 phonograms, practice basic penmanship, and read lots of good books.

2nd grade:

Work through First Language Lessons and Spelling Workout B, practice basic penmanship, and read lots of good books.

4th grade:

Work through First Language Lessons and Spelling Workout D, practice cursive writing, begin the Institute for Excellence in Writing DVD program, and read lots of good books.

6th grade:

Work through Advanced Winston Grammar and Spelling Workout G, continue with IEW through Ancient-History Based Writing Lessons, and read lots of good books.

9th grade:

Work through Advanced Winston Grammar and Vocabulary from Classical Roots, continue with IEW through Ancient-History Based Writing Lessons, and read lots of good books.


Grades K, 2, 4, and 6: Saxon K, 2, 54, and 65

I started all my kids off in Saxon Math but along the way, we experimented with Teaching Textbooks, a computer-based curriculum.  I loved that I no longer had to grade papers! We used that curriculum for several years before realizing that it had some gaps in its coverage.

It was a challenge to transition back to Saxon due to these gaps. We found the most successful thing to be using the Saxon tests as pretests. Since each test problem shows which chapter it covered, we could review those chapters if a child missed a problem. Then once we reviewed those lessons, we could retest or move on if there was no need for review.

Next year: We’ll be continuing on with Saxon for the time being.

 High School: Chalkdust Algebra

My 9th grader delved into Chalkdust Algebra which had come highly recommended. Chalkdust is supported by DVD lessons that the student is to watch twice with activities to complete with the math book.

This has proved to be a very challenging course. We’ve been working toward mastery instead of whipping through the book so it is taking longer to get through.

Next year: Neither one of us truly loves the program, so I’ll be looking for alternatives in the coming months.

These are some of our core subjects that we explore on a regular basis. We also include a regular science program as well as Latin or French for the older kids, and swimming lessons and/or hockey for all. The days are just packed!

But, I am so thankful to have great resources to draw from and the freedom to change our course if something doesn’t work.

Have you got a favorite resource for reading, writing or arithmetic?

About Jessica

Once a public high school teacher, Jessica now homeschools five of her six children, covering 2nd through 10th grades. Her oldest is in college, so the experiment appears to have worked! Grab a copy of Jessica’s new cookbook Good Cheap Eats Dinner in 30 Minutes or Less and the accompanying monthly meal plan to help you save money, eat well, and enjoy some freer time.


  1. Glad you’re kicking off this series, Jessica! And with our 7-year-old, we used pretty much the same stuff this year—First Language Lessons, Spelling Workout, etc. Pretty much what SWB says in Well-Trained Mind.

    But does this surprise you? 😉

    • Hehe. I always wonder who my kids will marry — and how the internet and homeschooling will craft their common (or not) experiences. I think I can find a boy to match Tate up with. 😉

  2. We haven’t started homeschooling yet since my daughter is still young but I love learning how different people combine curriculums and philosophies. I’m looking forward to the rest of the series.
    Steph’s latest post: Letting Our Kids Disagree

  3. Thanks for sharing so much! It was a wonderful post. 🙂 When I was homeschooled as a child, we used “Making Math Meaningful” throughout the elementary years, and I have used the 1st grade text with my own children as an introduction to “official” math (it’s amazing how much math can be learned organically throughout the earliest years without a curriculum). Highly recommend this! It introduces an algebraic and truthful version of math from the earliest years, and teaches children to understand why things work instead of just learning tricks. For my oldest son, who is highly geared towards math, we are now relishing the Professor B curriculum. I love how the kids are adding in the trillions from the get-go, instead of thinking of those big numbers as “scary.” Once you know how to add 1+2, you can also add 11111+22222! I must say, though, that I love the Chalkdust curriculum! I used it for Trigonometry in my own highschool years, and my brother used it for pre-calc. We loved that “uncle buck” would accept our phone calls and help us out if we got stuck somewhere in the program. And for those advanced maths, it was easier to understand watching the video than just reading the texts on our own. But that is probably a learning style issue.

  4. Can you share what gaps you found in Teaching Textbooks?
    I feel like I can’t find any math curricula that works for us!
    Kristin’s latest post: Retreat

    • I was going to ask the same thing. I was planning to start Teaching Textbooks in the fall with my 3rd grader, but now you’ve got me wondering!
      Mary Beth’s latest post: my life for his

      • Kathleen K says:

        Same here! We switched from Saxon to TT after two very frustrating years at the 7/6 and 8/7 levels. My husband and I are very math oriented and some of the lesson’s explanations left us scratching our heads in confusion. And it wasn’t for just one child! I made notes in our 7/6 text to “Ignore this, talk to Mom” for child #2. He read the lesson then came to me when it made no sense.

        If there are gaps, I’d like to know because we don’t like to switch back and forth each year.

    • Well, I had three kids doing it — and the two that had done it for a larger % of their math career tested very low on standardized tests. That doesn’t always “matter”, but eventually it does in the higher grades. Friends, both homeschool and public school teachers, all commented on the gaps as well, so I figured we weren’t the only ones.

    • Feeling like I’m eating crow. But, Teaching Textbooks is back on the table.

  5. It’s always fun to look over another moms shoulder and see what she is using. I love The Well Trained Mind too. First Language Lessons is good for K-2. We used Math U See instead of Saxon. I also recommend All About Spelling and Teach Your Child To Read in 100 Easy Lessons.
    Heidi’s latest post: Homeschool Unit Study Curriculum

  6. I also recommend Susan Wise Bauer’s new History of the Ancient World and History of the Medieval World. Written at an adult level but in the same interesting way the Story of the World series is written, my teenagers have really enjoyed using her books for their high school curriculum. Unfortunately, she hasn’t finished the History of the Whole World yet — we’re wondering what to do for modern history.
    Jen @ anothergranolamom’s latest post: Family Hike: San Rafael Knob

    • Modern History, by Paul Johnson, is a great resource!

    • Yes! We are using the Ancients right now for 9th grade. Thankfully, she’s still a little ahead of us, so hopefully, they will all be ready when we are. 🙂

  7. Thanks for sharing–I’ll be looking at a few of those. Next year I’ll have a 9th and a 6th grader. We use Math-U-See, Advanced Winston Grammar, & Wordly Wise. We use TRISMS incorporated with IEW (love it) for history, geography, literature, writing and humanities (classical, chronological, researched-based).

  8. I’m a Well-Trained Mind fan and use a lot of the same stuff, but that doesn’t come as a surprise, either, does it? 🙂

    We are using Teaching Textbooks, but I’m supplementing with other math curricula as well. We do (short-ish) math lessons daily and year-round, so this works very well for us. We use Life of Fred, Khan Academy, and Critical Thinking Co. math workbooks. Next year we are going to try out Beast Academy (a new elementary math series from the Art of Problem Solving people) for my 3rd grader.

    Writing is absolutely the most difficult subject for me to teach.
    Heidi @ Mt Hope’s latest post: Memory Master

  9. I have been homeschooling my 7 and 9 year old since Kindergarten and I still feel like I don’t know what I’m doing as far as curriculum goes. I did a lot of research on different homeschooling philosophies and felt really great about Charlotte Mason (although a lot of work) and the Moores’ approach. The Classical Conversation boom has hit in the past few years where I live and after reading about it – I don’t feel peace about it. I realize every family and even every child within the family is different and I need to stick with my convictions. My question: Is The Well-Trained Mind the basis for the Classical Conversation “movement?”

    • I am not familiar with Classical Conversations, so I can’t speak to that. But, about 12 years ago, there was a revival of sorts to bring back classical education to homeschooling. It’s centuries old, so it’s not a “new” thing, though CC’s interpretation of it might be.

      The two books upon which I base my understanding of classical education are Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning by Douglas Wilson and The Well Trained Mind.

  10. I <3 <3 <3 Math-U-See.
    And, we are really enjoying the PACEs in English & Word Building from ACE (
    Peach’s latest post: No More Dreaded Mondays

  11. Thanks for the post. It is really great to see what others are doing. I just downloaded the Well Trained Mind and so far find it resonating with my thoughts and experiences with my 7 year old. I have been tossing around the idea of using the Institute for Excellence in Writing program which you are using. And I just now see that the Well Trained Mind also has a writing program (along with a thousand other resources). Just wondering if you have done a comparison of the two programs – and what you thought of the Well Trained Mind writing program? And what you like about the Excellence in Writing Program particularly? It is quite an investment so trying to pick anyone’s brain on this (I live in Cambodia so resources here are limited and I need to research all this before the summer when we can order some items for relatives to bring over).
    Thanks Much!

    • I am not familiar with the Peace Hill Press writing stuff, other than the grammar books. But, they are on my list to investigate. When I first started with WTM, their rec for writing was Writing Strands, but my oldest hated it. Then we did Tapestry for a few years and they have their own writing program. I hated that. So far, IEW (with video) is humorous and simple to follow. The kids don’t want to like it, but they do.

      • Thanks. Good to hear the IEW is enjoyable and easy. My daughter is a great reader but just doesn’t like to write and pushing her all the time is just a chore. What I read in the WTM seems correct in that they need to have things to write first – half the time she says “I just don’t know what to write”! So I am hearing in the WTM to focus on getting information in first at this young age. Later on when they are ready, then they have all the reference material there already. And we haven’t forced them and turned learning into something “not fun.”

  12. We pretty much do the same for our K & 2nd graders this year. I often feel (by others’ standards) it’s not enough, but it feels comfortable for our family at this stage of the game. We’re thinking about IEW for next year (or the next), but I don’t see pushing writing on my boys too early. I’d love to hear more about the program from someone who is using it.

    • I tried starting one of my guys on it in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd — and he really wasn’t ready for it. At 4th grade now, it’s been perfect.

      As far as what you’re doing, enjoy it! I never believed older moms when they told me that. But, now, 10 years in, I can say, it’s true. If you’re working on skills and a love of reading in grades K-6, you don’t have to cover it all. At junior high and high school you may want to change gears, but in the younger years, I think it’s teaching the love of learning.

  13. We have a 23, 20, and 12 yr old that we have homeschooled from day one. 23 yr old scored very high on the ACT, graduated from University with 4.0, and is now a politicical/business reporter for our area newspaper and has already earned recognition in our area for quality writing/unbias/knowledge of topic reporting. 20 yr old scored high on ACT (despite dyscalculia), is currently attending University and doing quite well. My basic philosophy was to teach my children how (not what) to think and how to learn. I also tried to create an air of awe and excitement about studying each subject. After all God who spoke this world into existence, who hung the moon, scattered the stars and traced the paths of the rivers to the sea, also set down the principles of reading, writing and arithmetic. How lofty is that? It also makes each subject attainable because God has order and if you can study to understand that order you can master any subject. Here was/is my favorite curriculum:
    Higher math – LOVE Video Text. Child #1 was able to test out of all Algebra at University. Child #2 (with dyscalculia) was able to make A’s and B’s in Univesity algebra because it had already been so thoroughly covered and mastered in this curriculum.
    History/Literature – Sonlight. This also now incorporates History of the World. Very heavily literature based with lots of reading aloud by parents. When done each child has an impressive reading list and is not afraid to tackle even weightier material in higher learning. Children also read aloud and speak beautifully because of hearing reading done correctly. I do require memorization of dates and geographical locations.
    Writing – IEW through 8th/9th grade for mastery then writing (research reports, essays etc)as part of whatever we are studying.
    What absolutely did not work for us:
    Math-u-see – used for two years on two oldest in elementary and saw math scores plummet on standardized testing both years. Although a good phylosophy, I found there was not an effective connection between the “hands-on” and analytical portions of this curriculum and not enough review (Which I think has been corrected in later editions).

    • I’ve never heard of that math program, but you have me interested! How exciting to see how well your children have fared. Good job, Mom.

  14. Jessica, I always love to see what you are doing in your schooling since my children are similar ages–14, 9, 7, 5, 3, and 6 months. I’ve always used Saxon Math, but my 14 year old (9th grade) has never been a math whiz, but has been having lots of trouble with it in the last couple of years. We switched to TT Algebra 1. I debated and debated because of the criticisms that it was behind, but went ahead and switched. It is a night and day difference–my son is finally getting it! And he’s enjoying it for the first time ever! I found this article where Greg Sabouri addresses the criticisms. I thought it might be helpful to you and other readers. My plan at this point is to use Saxon until my kids are in high school, and then maybe start them in TT Algebra 1 in 8th grade. I would love to hear more of your thoughts about the gaps of TT so I can watch out for them; you realize you’re one of my heroes, don’t you?! 🙂 Here’s a link to the article:

  15. All of you kindergarteners/first graders, don’t worry! My son is 9 and we are in our 4th year of home schooling. All you need to do is read read read and play math games for K and you’ll be fine. I was stressing about him in 2nd grade (not challenged enough hubby thought-PhD in Physics) so I emailed a mom whose son got a perfect score on the SAT. “What did you do in 2nd grade I asked?” She wrote back: “Zoo trips, games, read to him, he read some, mud pies….” Basically, let them be kids.

    We start our day with a devotional- kid’s Pilgrims Progress or a Bob Schultz book about becoming a godly man. Now for our curriculum, we sort of follow Charlotte Mason’s approach with the classical Well Trained Mind approach. That means: Spelling Workout, Math U See and Singapore math, Story of the World (and Child’s History of the World)- both are ‘story-based’, he has a journal that I make him write in, Spectrum workbooks for sentence structure/paragraphs, and cello practice.

    Next year we are going to meet up with a Classical Conversations group that meets once a week because I never did have him to the memorization work I meant to, nor the Latin curriculum I bought! I never did the art projects/curriculum I bought (even though I was an art major for a while at university). I also didn’t stress writing enough (what boy loves to write?) and Classical Conversations emphasizes all that. (We are just starting Prima Latina and it’s a little slow for a 9 year old and her southern accent for Latin is kind of funny, but she teaches it well).

    On bad days I back up and think, “Really, all we have to do is math, reading and writing” and let the rest slide. Although he’s in 3rd grade age-wise, he’s testing at 6-7th grade math and same level with reading. I also try and think, “What skills does he need to function in life?” That translates into map reading, cooking, wood working etc.

  16. I’m curious about the ages you’re using Volume 1 Story of the World with – is it your 7, 5 and 3 year olds? How is that working?

    This was my first year homeschooling and I followed The Well Trained Mind for the most part for my 7 year old 1st grader (Ordinary Parents Guide to Teaching Reading, Spelling Workout A, First Language Lessons, Level 1 Writing with Ease, Zaner Bloser Handwriting, Singapore Math). My 5 year old will be K level in the fall and 3 year old will be turning 4 over the summer and Pre-K level in the fall. Looking ahead, I just don’t see how I can keep up this curriculum on 3 different levels! There’s no way I could fit in all the history reading and I’m really feeling the need to combine as much curriculum over grade levels as I can. I’ve been browsing through Sonlight thinking I could choose a single core for history but am also wondering if I just do Volume 1 Story of the World again for all 3 in the fall we could kind of stay together in that. We’re actually not even halfway through the first volume of SOTW because my 7 year old was so interested in Egypt that we spent the first half of the year on that, so much of it would be new. I definitely wouldn’t be following the volumes by grade level though and then my oldest would be behind the track and my younger two ahead of it. Thoughts? Advice? I’d love either. I’m thinking of trying All About Spelling instead of Spelling Workout next year as well since my son just about breaks into tears every time I get it out.

    Does anyone use a formal science curriculum at the elementary level? I’ve just done this and that based on kid interest and Weekly Reader topics.

    • Last year I shared how I use similar curriculum for many levels. You can read that post here: It addresses exactly what you’re talking about, and specifically for science and history.

      My 6th grader did SOTW this year along with the others (4th and 2nd) along with some outside reading on the topics we were covering. Next year I’ll probably have him use SOTW2 as his base text and make sure that he’s doing the extra reading regularly.

      If my K and 3yo wanted to listen, they did, but I didn’t make them. I want them just to play.

  17. I love posts like this, it’s affirming to realize that I am not the only homeschooling mom who sometimes needs to adjust and tweek our curricula. And more importantly, part of the beauty that is this lifestyle is the ability to change it up. Thanks for the affirming, beautiful and made me feel good post!

  18. We love Math-U-See. I have one child who struggles with math and one who excels at math. Math-U-See fits both kinds of kids. My oldest is in pre-Algebra and, as a former math tutor, I have been impressed. I wish more kids could learn math this way.

  19. Kazzsandra says:

    When I was young, I can say that I am good at Mathematics and I really love that subject.. Makes me feel excited always..
    Kazzsandra’s latest post: Gout Relief

  20. I so love IEW! This is my first year using it with my 6th grade class at our homeschool academy and it’s the first time in my life I’ve enjoyed teaching writing. My oldest is in 1st grade so she’s not quite ready for it yet, but I look forward to when she is. We use Horizons for math and like it. It spirals like Saxon but is much more kid friendly. My kids also love the Mathtacular DVD from sonlight. It’s super cheesy, but a big hit with the 7 and under crowd : )

  21. Write with the best is hands down the best writing curriculum I’ve used. I recommend purchasing or borrowing the classic works used in this program. Its also very budget friendly for those thirfty homeschooling Mom’s out there. It beats the most expensive courses by far. And is easy to adapt to any child in 3-12 grade. I’ve really enjoyed teaching my five children to love writing and reaching their creative potential.

  22. Hi.. Mathematics are definitely very hard subject for kids and even to us adults.. But if you know how to be hard working and have a determination, it can be a big help for you..
    Carol’s latest post: movers Danville

  23. Thank you for this post! This has been our first year homeschooling, and for this upcoming year I already have to plan for 9th grade!! I am COMPLETELY OVERWHELMED with planning high school. My son already knows which university he wants to attend and they’ve informed me we need some sort of diploma attesting he graduated high school Does this mean we are chained to an umbrella school?
    Also, any ideas about Science and History for high school?? I am feeling lost as to how to put together a comprehensive and challenging curriculum.
    thank you!

    • I would talk to HSLDA about that specific college and its requirements. They can help you. No, I don’t believe an umbrella school is the only way, but that may depend on your state and the specific school.

      We outsourced Science this year with a local teacher who teaches homeschooled kids with Apologia Biology. I did history according to The Well-Trained Mind and The History of the Ancient World, both by Susan Wise Bauer.

  24. I am planning on homeschooling my Kindergartener this fall. I am a little overwhelmed at this thought of this. Most of the people that I know that are homeschooling their children were teachers at one point. I am not a teacher. My husband and I are leaning heavily toward the Classical approach and I do find comfort in knowing the Susan Wise Bauer book talks mostly of just reading to your child in Kindergarten but then I see all of this other stuff about math and science, art and social studies and and I get a little confused. I am so afraid that I am going to ruin my child by forgetting to teach him something important! I do feel peace about homeschooling, at least for this year but it is so easy to feel overwhelmed by it all. I have three year old twins as well. Any encouraging words to a mama that is just starting this journey?

  25. Another first year homeschooler here. We switched to TT for math, and I am certainly nervous about those gaps I have read about, but like so many others, TT turned tears into quiet pleasant math time! We do work 1 year ahead in TT, as I did find that it was a year behind what she had learned in school. We are completing TT 7 and she is in 6th grade, on to pre-alg next year. I do hope we get some good tips on how to fill those later gaps!? We did History of the World in a co-op setting and she really liked it! Science in a co-op setting too, and used a very friendly science, Real Science for Kids:
    I did NOT like our lang arts this year, and am looking for something new and all inclusive. Have been thinking that we would try a Brave Writer program for next year. Any comments on this? Or stellar recommendations on 7th grade Lang Arts?
    Debbye’s latest post: Will Supplementing or Switching To Formula Help Your Breastfeeding Baby Sleep?

  26. Mimi Pollack says:

    Math curriculum that I love, all pdf downloadable textbooks and workbooks, and I got a great deal through Homeschoolbuyerscoop: Math Mammoth!

    Other math curriculum online that I just discovered for 6th grade and above: Thinkwell. I watched some demo videos (10 minutes each) and they are fabulous and very clear.

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