Tag Archives: Curriculum

Homeschool Music Appreciation

homeschool music appreciation

It was 9 AM on a grey, winter’s morning. The wind howled and the rain poured relentlessly. But inside our cosy car we were lost in the world of Papageno and the Queen of the Night. The rain didn’t stand a chance against the magnificent operatic strains of The Magic Flute.

We’ve listened to Mozart’s Magic Fantasy many times now, but I’ll always associate it with that first, glorious car journey.  We arrived at our destination filled with excitement for the day ahead – in blessed contrast to the other families, with their yawns and grumbles about the weather!

Isn’t it wonderful, the way that music can transform everyday experiences into sublime adventures?

For me, one of the many joys of homeschooling is learning to enjoy classical music alongside my children.

Classical Kids

Our favourite resource is the Classical Kids CD series. We began in medieval Venice with Vivaldi’s Ring of Mystery, which tells the story of young orphan Katarina’s adventures during the festival for the dead. The exciting tale is beautifully interweaved with the enchanting music of Katarina’s violin teacher, Antonio Vivaldi.

Next, we learned about Johann Sebastian Bach’s life and music in  Mr Bach Comes to Call. And Ludwig van Beethoven and his works were brought to life in the entertaining Beethoven Lives Upstairs.

homeschool music appreciation

Which composers?

The rest of our music “curriculum” I pull together from the internet. I search lists of noted composers (like this New York Times one or this one) and their most famous works. Then I source the music on YouTube.

I love it when I turn up gems like this “rant” about Pachelbel’s Canon in D. The comedian’s demonstration of how classical music permeates our culture is hilarious. My kids watch it over and over.

Historical and geographical context

I like to see where composers fit into history, so I’ve created a composers’ timeline on our Timeline Builder app. The kids haven’t paid much attention to the timeline so far, but they might do when we progress beyond the fourteenth century in history.

homeschool music appreciation
Composers timeline

We naturally learn about the places and eras occupied by the composers we listen to, and sometimes vice versa.

Eighteenth century Venice was brought to life for us by Vivaldi’s Ring of Mystery, and it was interesting to learn a little about the music of Edvard Grieg before we visited Norway.

Homeschool music appreciation 2013-14

This year we have the Classical Kids CD’s Tchaikovsky Discovers America and Hallelujah Handel to look forward to, and I might look on YouTube for pieces by Schubert, Verdi and Brahms.

If either of my children expresses an interest in going deeper, I’ll be delighted to support their explorations. Until then,  we’ll be happy learning about classical music together in this easygoing, meandering manner.


I’m linking with these great link-ups:

Highhill Homeschool’s music lesson planning link-up.

iHomeschool Network Not-back-to-school Blog Hop – Curriculum Hop

It’s a Wrap – Weird Unsocialised Homeschoolers

Share it Saturday – Teach Beside Me

Hip Homeschool Hop – 08/27/13

History Curriculum 2013-14

homeschool history curriculum
Hands-on history projects

Why do we teach our children history?

Is it to help them become culturally literate? To give them a sense of perspective on where the human race stands now?  To give them greater tolerance of societies different from their own? Because we want them to learn from the mistakes of the past?

Perhaps. But most of all, history is a rich source of exciting stories from around the world. Stories I love sharing with my children. Stories that spark fun projects and inspire all kinds of learning.

The Story of the World

Over the last two years we’ve used The Story of the World (volumes 1 and 2) as our guidebooks through ancient and medieval history.

* We wrote hieroglyphic messages for each other when we learned about Ancient Egypt.

* We learned about blowing and colouring glass with the Phoenicians.  “You stink like a man from Tyre!” is still one of J(8)’s favourite insults.

* We built our own Stonehenge and Celtic Roundhouse.

* We painted Chinese characters and learned about the Great Wall, the Terracotta Army and the story of the Chinese calendar when we visited China.

* When we learned about Japan, we discovered how to distinguish between Chinese, Japanese and Korean writing. And thanks to Japan’s location on the Ring of Fire we were inspired to investigate plate tectonics.

The first year we based our history curriculum around The Story of the World, I bought into the whole classical education schedule and felt we had to finish ancient history within the year.

Visiting Rome  homeschool history curriculum jpt
Visiting Rome

Then I had the epiphany (duh!) that we didn’t have to finish SOTW Volume 2 in a year. So we’ve had plenty of time to dig deep into other cultures.

When history overlaps with other subjects

Geography – Learning about the rise and fall of great empires paints a vivid picture of where each country is in relation to its neighbours and the rest of the world.

Maths –  When we studied the Maori last year we used isometric graph paper to make geometric Taniko designs.

We might do something similar for Turkish rugs when we look at the Ottoman Empire next year.

Art – One of our favourite projects last year was Aboriginal dot-painting. We also enjoyed Japanese ink-wash painting.

When we study Russia in September, we might create art inspired by colourful Russian architecture.

History curriculum next year

Some topics I’m particularly looking forward to next year are:

* The first Russians (did you know that the word Tsar/Czar comes from “Caesar” because Ivan the Terrible wanted to show he was as powerful as the Roman emperors had been?)

* African Kingdoms

* Columbus and Magellan (lots of geography)

* The Mayans and Incas

* Copernicus and Gallileo (lots of science overlap here)

This list shows my personal bias for learning about other cultures and filling gaps in my own knowledge.

But I’m also excited about sharing with C(9) and J(8) the great stories of Joan of Arc, Martin Luther, Henry VIII, Shakespeare, Elizabeth I, the Spanish Armada and Sir Walter Raleigh.

Almost-unschooling history

Next year I’m taking another step towards unschooling and giving the children much more freedom to decide what they want to learn.

So if they don’t want to listen to me read from The Story of the World or do any activities I suggest, that’s okay. I suspect that mostly they will join me. If not, I’ll do them myself!

The Kane Chronicles  The Red Pyramid

An almost-unschooling style will also make space for the children’s interests.

J(8) was listening to The Kane Chronicles: The Red Pyramid in the bathroom yesterday when I heard a shout,

“Mummy, can we go to New York to see the Egyptian artefacts?”

“Definitely… one day. Did you know there are lots of Egyptian artefacts in the British Museum in London, too?”

“Cool! Has it got the Rosetta Stone?”

He nearly jumped out of the bath when I said yes. Sounds like we may be revisiting Ancient Egypt!

Why do you teach your children history?


I’m joining Highhill Homeschool’s history lesson-planning link-up.

homeschool history curriculum

homeschool history curriculum


Navigating By Joy homeschool blog

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Our Homeschool Curriculum – English (Language Arts) Grade 2

C (aged 8) began homeschooling a year ago.  Words are a strong suit for her  – she is very articulate, has great cursive handwriting, and reads quickly and fluently. She also has strong opinions about what she does and doesn’t want to do, and one of my challenges is to find a careful balance between boring her and demanding too much!

In this area, my aims for C are:

  • to develop her skills in the mechanics of writing without subjecting her to excessive drilling,
  • to provide an environment which stimulates her creativity and enriches her vocabulary,
  • to provide access to a steady stream of resources to help satisfy her appetite for words.

I mentioned in my post about our Grade 1 English that I am quite “unschool-y” about language arts; I want these skills to be learned as much as possible in a real-world context, and there are plenty of opportunities for that to happen.

General Approach

It’s important for all writers to keep the mechanics of writing from getting in the way of creativity, and this is especially true for children, for whom the gap between the two skill-sets is larger than for adults.  By “mechanics” I mean not just the physical process of handwriting but also the niceties of grammar, spelling, punctuation etc.  I’m not under-estimating the importance of getting those things right – as a former lawyer I’m all too aware of how a misplaced comma can change the whole meaning of a sentence –  but I also know that sometimes it’s best just to get the words down on paper and then tidy them up later.  I love that the very first exercise in the Nanowrimo Young Writer’s Program  (which C and I dabbled with and will return to later this year) is to draw a picture of your inner editor and then lock him/her/it somewhere out of reach where they can’t intrude on the creative process!

Strewing  reading material works very well with C.  If I leave a book on the table she will be read over a meal, near the sofa and I will come down early in the morning and find her engrossed, or on the upstairs landing and it will disappear into her room. With the recent loss of our guinea pigs (RIP Oscar and Ollie) and the consequent freeing-up of floor space, I’ve installed a new bookshelf in our living area with slanted shelves for displaying books relating to our studies. (Ikea magazine rails  work great for this.)



Evan-Moor Daily Paragraph Editing (Grade 2)

Daily Paragraph Editing  provides near-real-world grammar practice.  Each unit is made up of four related paragraphs containing various spelling and grammatical errors.  Different genres of writing are covered, such as non-fiction, biography, realistic fiction, historical fiction.

I print out the relevant paragraphs from  the e-Book, and C puts on her editor’s hat and hunts for all the mistakes the “copywriter” has made, keeping to hand the book’s list of standard proofreading marks and checklist of proofreading errors while she works.

I look ahead  to see what’s coming up, and discuss anything new with C in advance.  I stay close by while C works so she can raise any queries with me as she goes along.  If I notice that she’s unsure about a new concept (for example, plural possessive apostrophes recently)  I plan a bit more practice on it over the next few weeks.

Mad Libs

Both C and J love mad libs. They’re such great practice for both creativity and knowing the parts of speech, yet it doesn’t feel like “school” at all – win win! We’ve been using Best Of Mad Libs .


I wasn’t sure whether to use a specific spelling program with C at all as she is such a naturally good speller.  But there are words that she misspells and although these might naturally be picked up over time, I followed Jimmie’s  tip and invested in Spelling Power, on the basis that it will last right through school and I can use it with J as well.  Spelling Power has placement tests so the student begins the program at exactly the right level, and C seems to be really enjoying it so far.  Her biggest complaint is that she gets so few words wrong on the pre-tests, she doesn’t get to do many of the fun exercises like spelling out words with her finger in a tray of salt!

Creative Writing

I’d love for C to write more stories.  She wrote some great ones back when she was at school (though often with much whining, at least when they were set for homework).  A few times I’ve suggested some writing, but so far C hasn’t been keen.  She’s enjoyed a couple of exercises from The Writer’s Jungle, but I’m encouraged by Writer’s Jungle author Julie Bogart’s advice that most children start writing in earnest when they’re about 9 or 10 years old.  In the meantime one of her favourite pastimes is to invent characters in picture form, giving them names and qualities; I’m hoping this is good practice for character-development in future story-writing!  (Incidentally the Homeschool Buyers’ Co-op is currently offering a 50% discount on Brave Writer products.)

We’ve also been reading aloud Spilling Ink, a light-hearted look at the creative-writing process by two female novelists,  which is a fun and nicely aligned with my motto of feeling good around “school subjects”.


C reads a lot on her own – mostly library books and books on her new Kindle. She also listens to library audiobooks and we listen to Audible  purchases together – we recently finished Anne Of Green Gables and we’re onto Anne Of Avonlea.  I always read aloud a chapter book to C and J together as a bedtime story.

This term I plan to do more reading aloud of good quality literature and great stories – stories from Shakespeare, Homer and other classics – as part of our school day.

Extra Resources I’m Planning To use

I’ve just subscribed to the Evan-Moor subscription service Teacher-Filebox  which gives unlimited access to all Evan-Moor’s eBooks.  (30% off  via the Homeschool Buyers Co-op.)  I’m looking forward to exploring Filebox.  For language arts we already use Daily Paragraph Editing (C) and Building Spelling Skills (J), and it looks like there are some good grammar resources there, like Language Fundamentals.  More about this when we’ve had a chance to play with it some more!

I’d love to hear of any extra resources people use that we might enjoy.

End of Term Homeschool Curriculum Review – English (Language Arts) Grade 1

Yesterday I wrote about the curriculum we used last term for maths, and the tweaks I’m planning this term.  Today I’m going to do the same for the English (language arts) I do with J (age 6).

What we’ve been using

Like many homeschoolers, we don’t use a complete curriculum for English but rather different methods and books for different skills.  It is probably the subject I am most “unschooly” about.  This might be because we are a small, talkative family and I tend to think that, an elementary level at the very least, being surrounded by words, books and good quality conversation counts for a lot.


J has been using Handwriting Without Tears for the last two terms.  He moved from My Printing Book to Printing Power at the start of this term after a never-before-seen two-week spurt of enthusiasm for handwriting (seriously.  We would find him in bed at night, fast asleep still clutching “My Printing Book”, mid-pencil stroke.)  I think maybe he thought if he finished the book he would be done with writing; alas for him Printing Power arrived, and on handwriting went.

Despite the self-imposed handwriting-boot camp, writing continues to be a chore for J, but I’m reassured to know that this is very common for boys and that things usually fall into place by the age of eight or nine once the requisite neurological and motor skills have been acquired.  So for now we shall continue with a page or two of HWOT every day, while in other subjects I often let J dictate his work. One big plus of homeschooling is that a dislike of handwriting need not slow down progress in any other subject.


J is a natural right-brained whole-word reader which is why I think it’s important to continue teaching him phonics until his reading is completely fluent. As it is, he can read pretty much anything he wants (mostly comics, his favourite websites, and comics and books about his favourite websites) and he has read several chapter books, but I intend to continue with dedicated reading instruction until I see J regularly reading chapter books.  (I know he loves stories from our read-alouds and the number of audiobooks he gets through!)

We use Schofield & Sims Sound Phonics workbooks (currently Phase 5 Book 2) which we’re both very happy with.  J  does a page a day for the four days we do formal school (the other day the children do music lessons and we attend a home education centre). The Sound Phonics series continues for several more workbooks so at the moment my plan is to continue with them.


At J’s level I see spelling more as additional handwriting and phonics practice than as actually building spelling skills for their own sake.  (Or does that give away my utter lack of teaching expertise in this area?)  I am a naturally good speller, as is C (8), so J’s seemingly random approach to constructing words leaves me baffled (how can anyone spell “come” correctly and immediately afterwards spell “came” as “kame”?!)  We’ve been using the word lists and some of the exercises in Evan-Moor’s Building Spelling Skills Grade 1  and J scores well on his weekly spelling tests.  But next term I’m thinking of switching to a Spelling Power approach,  which I’ve just started using with C.  Although J is too young to use the full Spelling Power system, there is a section in the massive tome book on working with younger children which I’ll hopefully get round to reading soon!


All J’s creative writing is ad hoc and informal.  He enjoys composing poems and stories (would probably choose do it all day if only I could keep up with his dictation!). Occasionally I can persuade him to write his own work, which he’ll agree to if it’s something short like an acrostic poem. And I’m thinking at some point he might benefit from learning about beginnings, middles and ends – but there’s plenty of time for that. 🙂


We’ve always got a read-aloud fiction chapter book on the go ( it feels like it’s been one Harry Potter or other for as long as I can remember!), and J listens to lots of audiobooks from the library.  Poetry Tea is a regular event in our house. We like seeing movie or theatrical adaptations of books we’ve read (yes, Harry Potter, but we also enjoyed the film version of E. Nesbitt’s Five Children And It, and were lucky enough to see an excellent adaptation of The Phoenix And The Carpet at the theatre recently.  During the months between our reading of the book and seeing the play, I enjoyed hearing J’s wonderings about things like “I wonder how they’re going to do the bit where the children go to the theatre, in a theatre?!”)

Sometimes I read aloud Greek myths (which ties in with this year’s ancient history) or from Geraldine McCaughrean’s Stories from Shakespeare  or we listen to children’s versions of Homer’s works.  One of the things I took from the classical education handbook The Well Trained Mind is the idea of exposing children to great works of literature when they are young, so that by the time they are old enough to study them in their original form they’re already familiar with the stories.

As J and C get older I’d like to be a bit more organised in the planning of our literature choices, and also – in keeping with my desire to become a bit more Charlotte Mason-like in our homeschool – getting J to narrate back to me in some way.  While I sometimes suspect that C (8) almost has the auditory equivalent of a photographic memory (anyone know the name for that?), most of the time I really have no idea how much J is taking in.  Often nothing much is forthcoming when I ask him to tell me something about what he’s heard, but then with J you never know if that’s because nothing went in, or because he just doesn’t feel like jumping through that particular hoop for you right now!  I know narration purists eschew prompting, but with J I’m thinking of using some who/when/where/what/how-type prompts following short read-aloud sections, to get him into the habit of active listening (and to reassure me that he’s listening at all!)

Overall I try to remind myself that J is only six, and that in many countries (with excellent education systems) he wouldn’t even have begun formal schooling yet.  Indeed Charlotte Mason herself believed six year olds should mostly be left to their own play.  So my priority will continue to be to provide J with an environment rich in great stories, poems and language, while staying quietly alert for signs he is ready to move onto a new level of using written words himself.  I’m thinking another large sign would be useful, reminding me of that on the “bad days”!

End Of Term Homeschool Curriculum Review – Math

What an exciting time of year this is.  Looking ahead to a new year, a new term, and spring! (Yes I know winter has officially only just started, but there’s something about the days beginning to get longer and the promise of imminent snowdrops that fills me with hope!) Last term, which marked the start of our first full academic year as a 100% homeschooling family, we’ve been more structured than before.  In this series of posts I’m going to look at what we’ve been using for curriculum and talk about any tweaks and changes I’m planning for the coming term, starting with maths. For maths, we’ve been using living books and the Math Mammothcurriculum.

What’s been working

  • I love Math Mammoth. The level is just right for my children, and as there isn’t a separate teacher’s book, it’s very easy to use. It is inexpensive and comes in electronic form to print at home – useful when you live outside the US.  There is also a separate UK money section, and I like that the sections on measuring cover both imperial and metric units.  UK schools have taught only metric since I was in school, but in the real world we use pounds, inches, miles, etc, so the children may as well know about them!
  • We’ve read a few living books, like Sir Cumference and the Great Knight of Angleland.  I love how these books introduce mathematical concepts and vocabulary in the context of fun stories.

Tweaks I’m planning

  • We do maths four days a week, but I’ve found that in order to cover all the material in Math Mammoth, we haven’t been spending as much time on living maths as we’d like.  To address this, I’m going to go through the Math Mammoth material ahead of time and pick out the essential bits, so that we can spend slightly less time on workbooks and more time really enjoying real maths.  Here’s a list of some of our living maths books  from my Library Thing catalogue.
  • I’m excited to have just found a UK supplier of Life of Fred,  which I’ve been considering investing in since they brought out their new elementary series recently.  (See Conquest Books.)   I’ve read great reviews of Life of Fred, and I have a feeling my children will love them.

Back when I was training to be a lawyer, we were taught to use precedents (pro forma legal documents) “as a tool, not a master”.  I need to keep reminding myself of the same when it comes to curricula.  Curricula are incredibly useful to the extent they serve your intentions and meet the needs of your family, but it’s easy to fall into the trap of using them as an excuse to beat yourself up for being “behind” or not covering every single thing. For example, last term’s Math Mammoth included a subtraction game with Euclid’s Square.  I played it with J for several days running, but then – looking at the amount of curriculum left to cover – I insisted we move on, despite J’s requests for more.  Going forward, I intend to be guided more by my child than by a one-size-fits-all curriculum. One of the reasons I home educate is to personalise the children’s education and to give them a chance to follow their own interests.  Even with a subject like maths, as long as we’re covering the basics, my priority is to foster my children’s love of learning.  If that means regularly jumping off-curriculum, or lingering longer on some things than others, then that’s ok.  I’m thinking perhaps a large mummy-reminder sign in our school area might be useful … 🙂

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