Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Some Lesser Known Homeschool Resources

Recently I've been doing a lot of purging in preparation for the forthcoming repairs to our house which require us (and all our possessions) to vacate the premises for a month. As I've sorted through the homeschooling material - physical curriculum and work produced by my kids as well as digital material (hey, if you have to purge you might as well be thorough!) - I've come across some lesser known gems. These are things we've enjoyed and benefited from but don't seem to be widely known or commonly mentioned in homeschooling circles, at least not those I've frequented.

Here are a few of our favourites.

1. Journey North Mystery Class - A fabulous (and free)  online project that has students track changes in photoperiod (hours of daylight) to narrow down the latitude and longitude of ten mystery locations. You then receive four additional clues for each place - reference to a famous person who born there or a picture of a native animal for instance. After you've made your guesses and the mystery locations are revealed, one final post gives you a fuller introduction to the location and  the people (frequently a class of school children but sometimes homeschooling families or scientists) who live there. The next Mystery Class project begins on 27 January 2017. If you want to get more of a feel for how it works check out this old post of mine. This one includes a bit of detail about he times we were one of the Mystery Classes.

2. Once Upon a Masterpiece series by Anna Harwell Celenza - These are wonderful living books that provide a fictionalized account (based on known facts) about the creation of particular pieces of music Learn about Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, The Farewell Symphony by Haydn, or Duke Ellington's take on The Nutcracker Suite.  Great for kids, but also a fun, useful introduction for older people (like parents) too. Some editions include a CD of the music which is handy if you don't already have a copy but other editions don't.

3. Young Math series - A series mostly from the 1970s that does a fabulous job of introducing mathematical concepts, often seemingly advanced, to young children. Great fun to read aloud, pausing to try out activities as you go. Sadly these are long out of print but I found some second hand and was able to borrow more from our library. Worth keeping your eye out for any of these books.

4. Friendly Chemistry - Our then ten year old was science mad. His particular bent was chemistry and he was clearly ready for some advanced content. Thick, heavy duty high school or college texts with their small print and expectations of a heavy workload, especially with lots of writing, were not going to work. Luckily I stumbled across Friendly Chemistry. A review I read suggested it was great for the chemistry-phobic high schooler but I suspected the manipulatives, games and other hands-on elements would make it suitable for keen and interested younger students, like my son. And it was. It's many years since I bought it (that ten year old is now a 24 year old with a PhD in Chemistry) and the product has been redesigned significantly so I'm not sure how much resemblance what's sold now bears to what we loved. But if you are looking to introduce high school chemistry concepts to a younger child Friendly Chemistry is at least worth a look.

5. Trivium Mastery - I know many homeschoolers who like the idea of a Classical Education but find they and their kids get burnt out on The Well-Trained Mind approach. Diane Lockman's Trivium Mastery offers a very different approach, focusing on skills rather than subjects in the pre-high school years.  It encourages a more individualized approach which can appear to mean more work for the homeschooling parent  (develop lessons for each child individually rather than just open the recommended book and go). But since you will only be teaching the skills your child needs to learn rather than covering every subject, every year this isn't necessarily true.  I've got some reservations about recommending this one  but if you are happy to take what resonates while ignoring that which doesn't then it could be a welcome alternative to the near monopoly The Well-Trained Mind enjoys in the Classical homeschooling arena.

6. George vs George - Great picture book covering both sides of the American Revolution. Despite being a picture book it is more suited to older elementary and above. This books does a great job of highlighting the British as well as the American side of the conflict, avoiding the "goodies"  vs "baddies" oversimplification.

7. Garlic Press's Discovering Literature Series: Challenging Level - Literature study guides seem to be out-of-favour at the moment what with the abundance of free online resources and the move towards less formal discussions. However if you are after something more formalized that includes vocabulary, comprehension questions, essay and other writing assignments, strategy pages that deliberately teach various literary elements and techniques, background information on the author, a thorough summary of each chapter - perfect for when Mum can't keep pace with the reading and, perhaps most usefully, answers to the questions, then take a look at this series. These are the most comprehensive literature guides I've seen. In fact I advise picking and choosing  what you use from them, since trying to do it all will be too much,  likely to kill any love your child might have felt towards the relevant novel.


  1. I love these! Some of these are new to me and I'll look to see if I can get my hands on them. I have a couple of things from Garlic Press but not the literature one. What's inside? Does it include the reading or is the reading separate?

  2. You need to get the book separately.If you click on the link above to their page you'll see a tab for free stuff at the top of the page. A few sample pages there. And if you click on an individual title you'll see the table of contents for it.