I’m a minimalist in a lot of ways, truly. I don’t have a coffee pot or Keurig because I drink cold brew from a jar. I don’t have a toaster (or at least I didn’t prior to my remodel) because I use an oven for that function, and I ditched my crock pot in favor of the Instant Pot that does a zillion things. I don’t even have more than one towel for each person in my house, because I do laundry frequently enough for each person’s towel to get cleaned every time it’s used.
But…when it comes to home education, I’m an absolute materialist. I admit it and I own it, friends. I don’t believe in keeping things I won’t use, so as soon as a material doesn’t work for us it hits FB marketplace. But the things that do work for us work wonders for us. At this point you know I for sure don’t use curriculum, and I definitely don’t use kits for teaching (even science experiment kits are lost on me bc I’m obnoxious enough to want to reinvent those too), but I have a handful of tools and an absolute horde of books that are totally vital to my homeschool. Here are my favorites.
Materials I use every day for morning time:
- Tomie dePaola’s Book of Poems this is a beautiful anthology of many great children’s poems by famous poets that is illustrated by TdP
- The Random House Book of Poetry for Children with illustrations by Arnold Lobel, so beautiful.
- A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson
- Our Shel Silverstein collection
- The Poetry for Young People collection (we have Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, and the Animal Poetry volumes, but we check out several others from our library)
To curate our menus, I use Happy Hymnody for hymn printables, Rainy Day Poems- poetry for children to recite for beautiful poems that my kids can memorize and recite easily, and scripture taken from our weekly Torah portion that will be easy to memorize and also serve as a great foundation. I follow a system of a hymn, scripture and a prayer (in english and latin), poetry, musical/art period facts, and an excerpt from a classic work of literature from that art period to read and enjoy.
I display art from the period we’re studying at our resource shelf using plexiglass frames. The art cards I use are art cards and posters from Memoria Press, and they are truly beautiful reproductions that are easy to incorporate into any study. We can choose to look up information in our Art Encyclopedia or information about the movement in our book 13 Art Movements Children Should Know.
I also love to have Alexa (I know I know…spyware. But I figure if she’s spying on me she might as well be helping me streamline my day, you know?) play music by one of the composers on our list for the month. Each child gets a turn to choose the composer one day of the week, and mom gets to choose the last day. We love this little ritual and it gives us a nice background to our studies for each day.
Now… onto the subject matter resources.
For Beginning Readers:
My favorite books for teaching new readers are:
- BOB books (I love the price of the collections at Costco)
- Any Dick and Jane readers (I’ve bought these on eBay and from thrift stores and these are by far the best option for early readers- so much repetition of sounds and blends and sight words without overcomplicating anything.)
- Teach Your Child To Read in 100 Easy Lessons. Tip: Buy the used version of this book. I absolutely love it, but in my opinion once you get the hang of it, all 100 lessons are just not necessary. We use their tips and then built the words with our letters and letter tiles.
I use the suggested reading lists outlined by grade level in Susan Wise Bauer’s The Well Trained Mind, but in true unschooler fashion, I also keep a running bucket list of literature for us to read together. I’m constantly amazed at my children’s (even my 4 and 5 year olds’) ability to remain interested in unabridged classic stories. The Laura Ingalls Wilder collection was a smash hit at our house, but we’ve also enjoyed Peter Pan, all the Paddington books, The Railway Children, The Wind in the Willows, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and have just started The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. We also have thoroughly Charles and Mary Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare, and the Usborne Classic Illustrated version of The Canterbury Tales. I highly suggest making a bucket list of beloved children’s books for your kiddos if you haven’t done so already, and see how well they like the unabridged versions when you can make it work.
- These math cubes are a godsend. No matter what we facts we want to use, this works like a charm. *just be prepared for these to also be light sabers, guns, swords, cell phones, bows and arrows, and any other type of object of creative play*
- I also use these fraction cubes and a game I found at a thrift shop called “Fractions are Easy as Pie.”
- And never underestimate the value of math operations dice and a deck of cards to practice math facts, and greater than, less than, and equal to facts. (Just draw two cards and roll the dice, and each right answer gets to keep the cards till all the cards are gone.)
Textbook and Workbooks:
I use Saxon Math, although I tailor it to our needs and don’t go exactly by the scripts enclosed. I love Saxon for its spiral approach, and as a person with a strong mathematical background myself, I feel comfortable with this model equipping my children with a strong foundation that will allow them to go into math-heavy fields later on, should they choose to do so.
I’ve also used the Rod and Staff Preschool books for early number formation, and I can’t say enough good things about the simplicity of these books. These books have helped my son who loves math but hates writing and tracing find a niche in connecting math concepts to handwriting.
- The Golden Children’s Bible So truthfully this is the one that features a culturally inaccurate, blonde-haired anglo saxon Jesus. But…it also uses actual Biblical language and quotations and shows where in the Bible the stories were taken from. Our family uses a completely sola scriptura approach to our faith- meaning we don’t do any theological commentary, we just use the Bible as our teacher, so it’s super important to me that we use the actual Bible where we can, and supplement with an illustrated children’s version where it’s helpful. I use this Bible as our starting point, and then read excerpts of each of the stories we read from my own translation.
- The Amazing Bible Timeline is a fantastic resource for our homeschool that tracks the Biblical history of the world alongside each of the events in human history throughout the ages. This is HUGELY helpful to our homeschool in keeping what we are learning about in our Bible time grounded in the context of world history.
For nature study:
- The Golden Guides to Field Identification are an absolute favorite. I love buying these used, and you can usually find them on Amazon for less than $5 in good condition. I was lucky enough to find them in a lot of four on eBay for $12.
- The Tree Book is absolutely lovely and perfect for nature study
- The Julia Rothman Collection is a homeschool must-have.
- And you can never go wrong with choosing a guided nature journal for your children. I’ve tried a variety and ultimately we just love plain, unlined notebooks from the dollar section at Target, but there are zillions out there to choose from.
- Story of the World is a beautiful read-aloud for history from creation to the present, and I find it to be the perfect starting point. We use this and suggested read alouds from the accompanying activity books (there’s an activity book to coordinate with each volume, but I prefer to just check that book out from the library and write down all the suggested readings for each chapter ahead of time), along with other books from our library that complement or delve deeper into the history that we’re reading each week.
- The Time Compass is a show on Amazon Prime Video that goes beautifully with Story of the World. The episodes are only 11 minutes long, but include great facts in a fun, animated setting, without a lot of extras added in. Totally worth it if you don’t mind the screen time.
- I also cannot live without my book Map Trek which is a historical book of maps that corresponds beautifully to Story of the World and gives children a glimpse of political maps at various points in history. The book comes with a CD full of PDF files for printouts, and includes great questions for quizzes or review.
- We use this microscope, which I love because it’s not super expensive, but still has everything we need to check out samples from our nature hikes. The slides are plastic and not glass, which is honestly a comfort to me since my crew cannot be gentle when it comes to scientific discovery.
- The Discovery Kids Science books at our library are always a joy for my crew to look at, and those are usually available in library used book sales for a good price.
- I love the Gail Gibbons collections and the Let’s Read and Talk About Science collection of books, and I’ve had great luck finding each of those in lots on eBay.
** I also reach out to local schools and teachers I know to ask if they’ll give my info to teachers who are retiring, because I’m interested in giving them a fair price for any collections of books or materials they’re looking to sell. That’s been a huge blessing to me, and most teachers are more than happy to sell their collections in one fell swoop.
The best way to source living books:
The Charlotte Mason concept of living books was a little confusing to me at first- I thought this meant I’d have to buy some publisher’s textbook series for every subject we encountered. But truthfully it’s much simpler than that. A living book is one that inspires learning and is captivating enough on its own to keep the reader engaged with learning its material. I’ve found that one of the best ways to source material is to buy vintage books- books that are written without oversimplifying or dumbing down material, but that have beautiful illustrations and lots of details to keep my children interested and inspired. Here’s where I look for great books at a good price:
- Local thrift stores and estate sales
- Library sales and yard sales
- Antique malls and flea markets
- Follow children’s booksellers on instagram (this is hands down my favorite way, since the majority of these dealers are moms like me trying to fund their homeschool through entrepreneurship)
Lastly, reference collections:
I recently eliminated my children’s screen time, and it has genuinely been the greatest decision in our family’s recent history. But…not using the computer or technology as a reference source can be problematic. Enter: a family encyclopedia collection. We were fortunate enough to buy my husband’s grandmother’s house recently, and when we bought the house, the family was kind enough to leave us all the books and toys she had. Seriously, jackpot. Among her collection was a set of beautiful encyclopedias of countries of the world (granted, from 1962, but still an incredible wealth of information). And then a good friend of mine was kind enough to send me her mom’s collections of children’s anthologies.
We are totally set when it comes to reference books and great collections of reading material, but if you’re looking for something similar, you can find these for a song at your local thrift stores or estate sales. (Or even better- just put it out there on FB that you’ll pay shipping if any of your friends are cleaning out their houses and wanting to get rid of these collections.) Facebook marketplace is another amazing source for inexpensive reference book collections. Even if the material is somewhat dated, there is a wonder to be taught in using actual reference books to source knowledge on a topic.
There you have it! Have I completely overwhelmed you? This is a lot, but it’s been hugely helpful for me in curating the perfect (or at least, best fitting) little homeschool for me and my crew. I hope some of it is helpful for you!