The good, the bad, the Internet (2012 curriculum fair)

Written by contributor Amida of Journey into Unschooling.
Ages of my children: 13, 10, 5, 1
Educational philosophies I pull from: eclectic, unschooling

We’ve gone through a lot of curriculum in our house.

There are a few favorites that I’ve offered for all my children (the Good) and then there are the duds that I wouldn’t dream of putting another child through (the Bad).

These days though, our go to source for all subjects is the Internet. 

The Good:

Draw Write Now (language arts)

Description: instruction book plus workbook (optional)

I started all my children on these. There is a whole series but we only have the first two and that is sufficient. These are simply drawing books with a few sentences written underneath them and provide nice copy work exercise. You can use the workbook (blank), or any other paper, but I do love having all their first works together in the workbook. It’s great fun going back and looking through them.

Hands-On Equations (math)

Description: paper scale plus pawns and dice, list of problems for each level

If you think algebra isn’t all fun and games, you haven’t tried Hands-On Equations. Using a scale and manipulatives, your children will master linear equations without any effort at all. My son caught on to the concepts right away when he was seven. This is one of those programs that I wish we used more of. It makes algebra a lot more understandable as you move pawns around the scale and actually see why you end up with the answers you do. (I’ve written more on this product here.)

The Bad:

Saxon Math (math)

Description: textbook plus student workbook, no graphics, no color

Just about every homeschooler I know has either used or heard of Saxon (and either love it or hate it). This is the only full on math curriculum that I have used for any extended amount of time — my oldest learned basic arithmetic through them for three years. After that, he totally burned out and even to this day, has a slight aversion to math. Of course, being the experimental child, he suffered through all my newbie mistakes — he worked on every single problem until I realized that not only was that unnecessary, it was just too much to put any poor seven-year-old through. The work was repetitive — the start of his last new level spent 20 lessons reviewing the previous level. If you’re looking for never ending drill work, this is the curriculum for you.

The Internet:

One major determining factor for me as far as Internet resources go is that it must be free and somewhat contained — once I’m at the site, I want to stay there. Following are a few of our favorite bookmarks.

Eureka (science)

These were a recent discovery but my kids love them. They are short cartoons demonstrating the properties of physics. They are a great alternative to School House Rock (no singing involved).

Starfall (phonics)

Excellent site for beginning phonics. There is an animated short story for each sound ending, with additional games to reinforce the lesson. This site came around just as my oldest was starting school and I’ve used it for for every child since. In addition to the online exercises, you can download printed work for pencil and paper practice.

Khan Academy (math, science, history)

Their byline is “learn almost anything for free”, which just about sold me right there. With video lectures in math, science, history, and more, this is a great resource for the upper grade school and beyond crowd. My 5th grader logs in weekly to do his math. You can create a “coach” account and monitor your child’s progress or create custom goals — a set of lessons for him to work on and earn a badge.

Instructables (art, science)

My boys love Instructables. From duct tape wallets to pencil crossbows,  their ultimate how-to guide is right here.

Well, there you have it, a glimpse into some of the sources I turn to for my children’s education. It isn’t a complete list by far and it shouldn’t be.

If there is one thing I’ve learned in all my years of homeschooling, it’s that you don’t have to do every problem or lesson in any of these products. Even if you absolutely love a curriculum, if you get stuck on a concept, look somewhere else for enlightenment.

You are a free agent. Learn freely.

What curriculum is on your go to list year after year?

About Amida

Amida is the mom to three darn kids. She used to stress about state standards and test scores but has since come to her senses and enjoys blogging about her family's journey into unschooling.


  1. Thanks for this. I was homeschooled but in a very school at home way. I would like to homeschool our daughter with a more eclectic, unschooling feel so I love reading more specifics on how others do this.
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  2. I had to laugh about what you say about Saxon. True enough — you either love it or hate it. I happen to love it, but only because I’m on my 4th child using the curriculum and skim, skim, skim. Thank goodness I recognized early on that all the repetition is unnecessary. I still like the “scope and sequence” and some of the ways information is presented (I love the way they teach long division!) so I use that as a guide and fly by the seat of my pants for the rest. Works for us!
    I can’t wait to look up your Internet referrals. We find ourselves using the Internet more and more for our school as well.
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    • We love Saxon, and only because we refuse to do every problem in the lesson. My kids tried Teaching Textbooks last year and hated it, despite it being a ‘fun’ curriuculum. They were begging to do Saxon again! But everyone has a different need.

  3. Well said! We didn’t like Saxon either but loved Math U See. They still have review but not to the point of frustration like Saxon.
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  4. Just the thought of a pencil crossbow makes me queasy. A hit, for sure, for kids everywhere!
    Caroline Starr Rose’s latest post: Verse Novel Lists and Links

  5. Our go to curriculum is Tapestry of Grace and Apologia Science. I love how I can teach the same subject to all the kids at once, yet address their different learning levels.
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  6. We used Draw Right Now early on in my DD’s writing lessons. We have used lots of different resources thru the years. Our favorites are Drive Thru History, Teaching Textbooks, Time4Learning, and VocabularySpellingCity.

    We lean toward unschooling, but add whatever my DD is interested in learning about along the way…sometimes that includes what some might not label as unschooling, but it works for us!

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  7. They still have review but not to the point of frustration like Saxon. Thanks for the great thoughts.
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  8. As for Saxon, almost every homeschooer I’ve ever known will start the math discussion with: Well, we USED to use Saxon…

    Enough said.
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  9. We use and love Saxon. All three of my kids are good at math and enjoy using it in everyday life; we have never needed bells and whistles (color/pictures) to help them learn concepts. We quickly learned that if you don’t need the review, you just jump in about 20 lessons at the start of each year and even then just do the tests until your child’s mark falls below a certain level then begin working through lessons (but then only ONE side of each page for k-3 or alternate odd/even numbers for higher grades). Likewise, the final 20 lessons begin teaching concepts that will be further introduced in the next level and these can be skipped too. In my opinion, Saxon is a very strong program.

    I, too, really like Draw Write Now and used it with my first two children. My third isn’t very interested in this year but maybe next year.

  10. We use Horizons Math and really enjoy it. It is in color and has a good amount of graphics. It also has a lot of review, but you can easily select which problems to complete. My son is five now, but I can’t wait to try Hands-On Equations when he is a little older. I had never heard of it before. Likewise, Eureka and Instructables are new to me as well. Thank you for sharing these!
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  11. Saxon Math happens to be one of our favorites. It has brought my son (who was in public school until 5th grade) from being unable to subtract and divide, to being able to do all of the operations fluently. The constant review can be overwhelming to many students, but for my son it is what keeps it fresh in his head. I have looked and scrutinized other curricula for math and found nothing that would give him the drill without the distraction. But then again he is autistic and has to have things done in a particular way. Saxon is the only curriculum I buy. All other subjects I get the materials and teach him what he needs to know through other resources. But then again, I am also a certified teacher, so finding the scope, sequence, and processes that my son needs is an easy thing for me. I have found that the more structured the curriculum the better it works for easily distracted kids!

  12. I enjoyed your article , I have some questions to ask you. What is the main difference between a regular and a pistol crossbow?

    I’m waiting for your answer.
    thank you
    ~ Leo
    Leo’s latest post: 8 Crossbow Do’s and 3 Don’ts

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