Preschool Through Grade 8

102 Top Pick for homeschool curriculumIndicates that the item is a Top Pick. The full review is available in 102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum.

A Beka Book offers materials for pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade including supplementary materials. A Beka also offers enrollment in their own A Beka Academy using internet-streamed video instruction in conjunction with their own textbooks. DVDs of the classes are also available for those who need them.

A Beka's philosophy is conservative, Christian (Protestant), and patriotic. Their approach to education is traditional with an emphasis on mastery through drill, repetition, and memorization. Children are develop conceptual understanding later. Learning takes place through direct instruction, workbook activities, drills, and oral responses. Older homeschooling students can use many A Beka courses for independent study. Hands-on activities are limited to some science experiments, construction of social studies reports, and arts and crafts.

All material is written from a Christian perspective. Although this is very evident in the science and history books, it is much less obviously so in most of the math and language arts books. Conservatism and patriotism are most evident in reading/literature and history.

A Beka books are colorful and appealing to children except for the amount of work involved in some of the worktexts. Many are paperback, making them both less expensive and less durable than hardbound books. Worktexts, used in many subjects, are definitely not reusable. A Beka also offers digital versions of many of their non-consumable textbooks on 12-month license agreement. Digital texts are enhanced with extra features such as links to animated videos and the ability to highlight and write notes.

A Beka sells teacher curriculum books, teacher editions, and answer keys, although they usually do not have all three resources for a single text. Teacher editions have the entire student text plus lesson plans and selected answers. Answer keys might be small, inexpensive booklets with only the answers or they might be copies of student worktexts with overprinted answers. There are often separate answer keys for textbooks and for Test/Quiz booklets. You will almost certainly want answer keys past first grade level simply to save time checking student work.

Homeschool Curriculum books are written for subject areas by grade level, sometimes encompassing a number of courses such as the Homeschool Phonics/Reading/Spelling 1 Curriculum that covers all three subjects listed in the title. More often, the books are narrower such as the Homeschool Arithmetic 4 Curriculum. Homeschool Curriculum books lay out lesson plans and scheduling suggestions, and they include record keeping helps and teaching suggestions. The organization of teacher material is not the same for all courses, which creates some confusion. In some instances, you will want both the teacher edition and Homeschool Curriculum book. But, with only a few exceptions, Homeschool Curriculum books are not essential for home educators. A Beka’s catalog and website list the teaching/parent resources for each course so you can see what is available.

The math and language worktexts include instruction on new concepts within student books, but you will sometimes need the Homeschool Curriculum for additional instruction. However, the arithmetic program for the early years requires the Homeschool Curriculum books. The colorful arithmetic programs for grades one through three include demonstrations with manipulatives and application (word) problems, but they also require some one-on-one teaching. Arithmetic texts for the elementary grades constantly review concepts already learned. High school math courses should be "taught" rather than used for independent study, but you might use video instruction through A Beka Academy.

A Beka’s Language courses are among my Top Picks. You can read the review here.

The reading program is based upon phonics and does a good job. However, in my opinion, the complete age-graded reading program covered by the Homeschool Curriculum for each grade level might be too much work for some home educators. A Beka does teach reading at a very early age, so you will have to judge which level is appropriate for each child. A Beka uses a number of readers at each level through the elementary grades rather than a single series. For junior and senior high levels, students read an anthology. These anthologies, especially at high school level, include a good percentage of classic literature.

History books for first and second grades are not very "meaty" but are good as starting points to do further research and kindle an interest. Those for middle and upper elementary grades have solid content. History books are fairly good at junior/senior high levels, although A Beka's history books are quite subjective compared to most others. The perspective throughout the books is Protestant, conservative, and patriotic. One of A Beka's weaknesses, evident particularly in the history texts, is a lopsided emphasis on detail recall. It is easy enough to challenge students with only the appropriate questions, so this does not present a major problem.

Science books continually reinforce Biblical truths and an understanding of God as Creator. However, like most science texts for the early grades, the first and second grade books lack substance. Science books for grades four through six teach health topics in separate health texts. Science books for junior and senior high are excellent. The high school Biology text is especially well-written, and it might be practical for home educators who are confident working through lab and field activities on their own. Chemistry and Physics are much more difficult to use.

Some homeschoolers complain that A Beka materials include too many quizzes, drills, and tests, and that the courses tend to focus on detailed, rote learning rather than concepts. However, parents can decide how much of the assessment resources to use, and they might even decide that a child can skip worktext exercises that are redundant. In the end, A Beka resources do a thorough job of covering each subject, and they often require little lesson preparation or presentation time.

A Beka materials can be ordered only directly from A Beka.

A Gentle Feast™ is a flexible, Charlotte-Mason based curriculum designed for Christian families that encourages you to work as a family as much as possible. Using a mixture of living books and educational resources plus online sources and the materials provided in the Gentle Feast packets, you will have a curriculum that can be used for everything except math and foreign language for grades one through twelve. A Gentle Feast provides complete lesson plans along with a significant amount of lesson material, but you will still need to purchase or borrow quite a few books.  A Gentle Feast materials are currently all sold only as downloadable PDF files.

A Gentle Feast is presented in Forms I, II, III, and IV. Form I covers grades one through three. Form II is best for grades four through six. Form III is for grades seven through nine, and Form IV will suit grades ten through twelve. Forms loosely differentiate groups of grade levels, but you should try to combine all of your children together for learning as much as possible. The more a parent is able to have his or her children working in the same Form, the more efficient it will be.

In addition, you select from a primary concentration in four historical eras

Green Year - American and British history from 1000 to 1650 plus early ancient civilizations and the Egyptians
White Year - American and British history from 1650 to 1803 plus Ancient Greece
Red Year - American and British history from 1804 to 1900 plus Ancient Rome
Blue Year - American and British history from 1900 to the present plus the early Middle Ages (not yet available)

It is expected that you will cycle through the four Years (historical periods), so students might be in Form I the first time through The White Year. When they recycle through the White Year four years later, they will be in a higher level Form. While the Morning Time Packet described below remains the same for all ages, their assigned books and other work will be quite different. (Eventually, there will be additional content for Morning Time Packets for those cycling through the Years a second time.)

As you can see this is not comprehensive coverage of world history since primary emphasis is upon American (U.S.) and British history. You might have noticed the addition of ancient history and the Middle Ages alongside the primary historical period for each Year. These strands are introduced beginning in Form II. Author Julie Ross decided upon this approach as most consistent with that of Charlotte Mason. In Mason’s case, the emphasis was primarily upon British history. In A Gentle Feast Ross expands this to include American history.

Charlotte Mason was not concerned with trying to cover all of history. She believed that children should first learn about their own country and do so through stories that make historical characters come alive to them. She also believed that using a story approach using living books would stimulate an interest in history, and that children would continue to read and learn other areas of history in later years.

For each Year there is a Morning Time Packet, a different Parent Packet for each form, and a different Student Packet for each form. Student Packets for the first two levels include both cursive and print versions.

The Morning Time Packet is used with the entire family, ideally first thing in the morning. This consists of Bible reading, Bible memory verses, and prayer time plus rotating activities from the “Beauty Loop” for hymn studies, poetry study, recitation, picture studies, composer and classical music studies, and read-alouds (fables, hero tales, and classic literature). Some subjects such as those within the Beauty Loop should actually loop. This means starting with the first one on the list and working through them sequentially. If you miss a day or run short on time, you just pick up from wherever you are in the loop. Poems, hymn lyrics, and recitation material are all included in your packet, and pictures and musical compositions are connected by hyperlinks. Many of the items in the Morning Packet are linked to the time period being studied in that Year’s program.

Along with your Morning Time Packets you will need additional resources: Then Sings My Soul: 150 of the World’s Greatest Hymn Stories by Robert Morgan is used for every Year. You will also choose one of four read-aloud books for each Year depending upon the age range(s) you are teaching. These four books change for each Year.

Parent Packets are the mainstay of the curriculum. They explain how the curriculum works and lay out lesson plans for three terms of 12 weeks each for a total of 36 weeks. Lesson plans are presented in weeks for the most part. You will be using many additional resources. These are mentioned in the sections describing each part of the Year’s course work, but you can find a succinct list of required resources generally about half way through each Parent Packet. For example, for Form II of the White Year, some of the additional required resources are Tales of Troy and Greece by Andrew Lang, Our Island Story by H.E. Marshall, The Story of the Greeks by H.A. Guerber, Famous Men of Greece by John Haaren, The Story of the 13 Colonies by Christine Miller, Simply Grammar by Karen Andreola, Grammar Land by M.L. Nesbitt, The New Way Things Work by David MacCaulay, a K'Nex Simple Machines  Kit, and Physics for Every Kid by Janice Van Cleave. The lists of resources as well as the geography lesson plans section of each Parent Packet include links to free resources as well as to others that you will need to purchase or borrow.

If you are unfamiliar with Charlotte Mason’s narration technique, you can read about how to implement it in the first part of each Parent Packet. As you expect from a Charlotte Mason program, extensive booklists for other living books are included.

Student Packets coordinate with the Year (Green, White, Red, or Blue) covering a historical time period, and you also select by level from Forms I through IV. Student packets coordinate with the reading and study assignments for the course. Here is where students will complete much of their written work. Within these packets are Scripture memory verses, hymn lyrics, poems for recitation, copywork passages (from the read-aloud books for the entire family), space to write dictation passages, creative writing assignments, and drawing assignments (in Forms I and II). Student Packets do not stand alone but are entirely dependent upon the other packets as to how and when to use them.

The flow of activities happens in blocks following an analogy for a feast. Morning Time, the appetizer, begins every school day.  Language Arts is considered the soup and salad. During this period, students work on reading, phonics (for younger students), dictation, copywork, and creative writing, and grammar. (If you have children in the primary grades, you might want to check out Ross’ list of suggested student readers .) The Academic Block is considered the main course. During this time, students will work on natural history, geography, history, math, foreign language, singing, and either play or “Swedish Drill”—a form of physical education used by Charlotte Mason. Science is added in Forms II and above. Most of these subjects will rotate every other day.  Dessert for your educational feast consists of weekly add-ons from nature study, “poetry tea time,” handicrafts, drawing, and read-alouds with Forms II and above adding the study of Shakespeare and Plutarch. Ross suggests a weekly rotating through the dessert activities with read-alouds sometimes doubling up with drawing or handicrafts.

There are a number of different lesson plan charts in each Parent Packet. Most important are the charts showing weekly assignments for learning prescribed by A Gentle Feast. These charts do not include math or foreign language, and there might be other subjects you want to add. However, a sample schedule chart shows blocks of time set aside for math and foreign language to remind you that those are an important part of the curriculum. You should read through the Parent Packet carefully to really understand how the program works and make sure you are covering all that you need to.

While you’ll need to gather many resources, you get to choose what sorts of hands-on activities and outings you will do. This makes the program very flexible.

The entire program should leave plenty of free time in each day for both parent and children. In the Parent Packets, Ross quotes Charlotte Mason regarding scheduling. Mason encourages parents to keep lessons short, alternate types of lessons and activities to keep from losing students’ attention, and make sure that children have plenty of free time each day (preferably spent outdoors).

A Gentle Feast makes it easy to implement a Charlotte Mason program while maintaining a sense of order and progress in your curriculum. It does a fine job of helping you develop a manageable flow to your curriculum while ensuring that your schedule includes time for learning the Bible, learning to appreciate and love good literature, and developing an appreciation for beauty through the arts and nature.

Note that Ross will be launching a member site in the summer of 2017 so that purchasers of the curriculum will have access to additional online resources and links.

Alpha Omega publishes a few different lines of curriculum as well as their Switched-On Schoolhouse and Monarch computer based programs. Alpha Omega’s LIFEPAC curriculum was their core program from the beginning, with Switched-On Schoolhouse and Monarch developed from that platform. The educational approach is traditional in many ways although the format is unusual.

Alpha Omega LIFEPAC materials are unlike typical school textbooks in a number of ways. Children are placed at the appropriate starting point in each subject area in the program, and they work sequentially through a number of full-color workbooks, called LIFEPACS, as they master the material in each one. LIFEPACs are called a “mastery” program since students are not supposed to move on to the next LIFEPAC until they have mastered the previous one.

The LIFEPAC workbooks each contain instruction, information, questions (with blanks), and tests. Everything except answer keys is included within the LIFEPACs. Although Alpha Omega LIFEPACS are similar in format to School of Tomorrow PACEs, Alpha Omega includes a variety of questions to encourage deeper thinking rather than simple recall of factual information.

Children take tests as they complete each section of a workbook before proceeding to the next. Tests check on student mastery of current subject matter and also review previously mastered material. A second test is included within each LIFEPAC to be used as needed.

Alpha Omega offers full curriculum for grades 1-12, including Bible and electives. (Non-denominational Christianity is integrated throughout the material, not just in their Bible courses.) Courses are available in complete sets for each subject for each grade level. For most courses, each boxed set includes ten LIFEPACS and a complete teacher's guide which includes all answer keys, tests, and teacher helps for the subject for that year in a perfect-bound volume. (Grade 1 teachers' guides are in two volumes because of their size.) Subject areas are Bible, Math, Language Arts (English), Science, and History and Geography for the elementary grades. (History and Geography combine within one LIFEPAC strand.) While you can buy complete grade level packages, you can also purchase subjects separately, selecting different grade levels if need be. Only a few of the LIFEPAC courses require the use of a supplementary book to complete the course. Alpha Omega offers elective courses for many subjects such as art, foreign language, government, literature, health, speech, business, and worldview.

Unlike School of Tomorrow, Alpha Omega emphasizes that their material should not be used by a child working totally independently but that parents need to be involved, supplementing with activities and other interaction from the teachers' manuals to ensure an effective program. Even though the LIFEPACS enable children to work independently, parental involvement is essential for providing the complete learning experience intended by the publisher. Unfortunately, there is a tendency among home educators to ignore the teacher's manuals and allow children to use the material completely on their own. Because this happens so frequently, I recommend that LIFEPACS be used with older learners (junior and senior high) who are independent, self-motivated, and who do not need much hands-on experience to learn well. However, if parents plan to use the material as designed by the publisher, then it can work with learners who need more parental interaction.

The LIFEPAC approach can be a real boon to parents with many children (especially when there are large gaps between oldest and youngest) or to parents who feel inadequate to help their children in particular subjects.

Alpha Omega offers a Parent Starter Kit which includes some basics for beginning homeschoolers, a scope and sequence for the curriculum, a sample LIFEPAC plus step-by-step instructions on how to use the LIFEPACS which covers organization, administration, and record keeping.

Free placement tests are available online for math and language arts. Inexpensive print placement tests for math and language arts as well as for Bible, history and geography, and science are available individually or as a set. Tests are not timed and they are parent-administered. Step-by-step instructions show how to administer the tests, grade them, analyze the results, and determine which Alpha Omega LIFEPACS to order. The placement tests might also be useful as a general diagnostic testing tool for others not using LIFEPACS.

As of the summer of 2015, grades six through ten have been reformatted with a crisp, easy-to-read appearance that looks more up to date. The content itself for some subject areas has been updated, but some LIFEPACs retain copyrights from the 1990s. Most significantly, the math courses have been heavily revised and updated for better alignment with the more rigorous coverage offered by other publishers.

A.C.E. (Accelerated Christian Education) materials are designed for children to work independently. No lesson preparation or presentation by the parent is necessary. Children work through individual worktexts, called PACEs (12 per course, per year, although the rate can be varied to suit each child).

A.C.E. diagnostic tests are important for determining placement of our child in the material. They will identify learning gaps, performance levels, and levels of mastery. The tests are also useful to those who are not using their material. These tests are shorter than thestandardized tests and are not timed. Diagnostic testing is also available on CD-ROM.

Once children have been placed at the proper performance level in each subject area, they work sequentially through the PACES as they master the material in each one. This methodology is called "Mastery Learning." Students might be working at different levels in different subjects according to their individual abilities and needs.

These small workbooks contain instruction, information, questions (with blanks), and tests. Some high school science courses include lab worksheets. Children take quizzes as they complete each section of a worktext before proceeding to the next. Especially at younger grade levels, tests generally cover only what has recently been studied, relying largely on short-term memory.

A.C.E. has materials for grades K-12, most of it printed in full color. Subjects are covered under general headings of Bible, Math, Language Arts (English), Word Building (spelling and vocabulary) for grades 1-9 only, Science, and Social Studies. Electives are also available in Bible, business, computer literacy, economics, typing, art, literature, music, speech, government, health, French, and Spanish. Because School of Tomorrow views acquiring Biblical wisdom as a major educational goal, they have added "wisdom lessons," Scripture memory, and Biblical values throughout the curriculum.

Bible Reading curriculum is available for four levels (approximately grades 1-4). The Bible Reading courses have children read Scripture, then fill in blanks with one-word answers taken verbatim from the text.

Word Building reinforces phonics, then works on vocabulary and etymology at upper levels. Word Building tests with digitized speech are now available on CD-ROM, which makes it much easier for students to complete the Word Building PACEs independently.

A.C.E. social studies is big on the "social" end (e.g., the first half of the seventh grade level is entirely devoted to careers) along with church and Bible history, but lacking in comprehensive coverage of world and United States history and geography until high school level. At eighth grade level, A.C.E. social studies shifts to stronger history coverage up through high school.

Supplemental books are required or recommended with a number of courses, more so at the upper levels than in the early elementary grades, but these are increasingly being eliminated as PACEs are rewritten to stand alone, with the exception of their new Literature and Creative Writing course which includes a number of readers essential to the course.

New fourth editions are beginning to arrive for some subjects. Fourth editions have full color covers, updated information, lists of goals, more attractive page layout, new graphics, and some more challenging questions.

A.C.E. designed the material to move slowly at the primary levels with much attention given to drill. The difficulty curve rises quickly once you move past the elementary grades.

A.C.E. biggest weakness is that the material relies heavily upon simple recall rather than deeper thinking. Students can scan for the correct answer without having to really think about the material. There is little to encourage deeper thinking. From about fifth grade and up, more thinking and application skills are required, but the curriculum never operates at the same thinking-skill levels as curriculum from other major Christian publishers.

While no lesson preparation is required with A.C.E. PACEs, parents should use preparation time to develop activities that correlate with lessons to enhance the child's learning experience. Parents should also discuss PACE material with students to ensure that they are understanding rather than simply going through the motions of completing their worktexts.

A.C.E. also has preschool material (Preschool with Ace and Christi) which covers readiness topics. A separate course for beginning reading is entitled A B C's with Ace and Christi. It is presented in a more traditional format, requiring teacher presentation of lessons.

Some A.C.E. materials are also published in Spanish. Math, Language Arts, A B C's with Ace and Christi, Social Studies, and Science for grades 1 through 6 are almost all available.

A.C.E. sells a Quick Start Kit for $19.95 that includes a Diagnostic Test Kit (for one student), their Home Educator’s Manual, a record keeping set, and a scope and sequence book. This kit will help you figure out how to get started in the curriculum much more easily than if you try to do it on your own.

Angelicum Academy offers complete, classical, Catholic education programs for nursery through high school. Relying primarily on recommendations from Mortimer Adler and John Senior, this is "Great Books"-based education, that expands using other resources for covering the full range of academics. This is an advanced, very-challenging program. For example math is advanced a full year from the very beginning--second graders are using either Saxon Math 3 or Developmental Math levels 5 and 6. The program is broad as well as being advanced; it includes art, map skills, geography, history, language arts, literature (and Great Books), math, philosophy, logic, music, science, religion, foreign language, and Socratic discussion groups (beginning with third grade). However, parents may enroll their children in complete programs or any parts they might select.

They use an interesting mix of resources such as Sing, Spell, Read, and Write; A Beka handwriting books; Shurley Garmmar; Greenleaf Guides for history; Christ and the Americas; the Baltimore Catechism; National Geographic CD's; Latin's Not So Tough!; Power-glide; and Harcourt Brace science texts. These resources are in addition to 12-15 "real books". Books selected for the younger grade levels (K-6) include such titles as Winnie the Pooh, The Red Fairy Book, Wind in the Willows, The Secret Garden, Huckleberry Finn, Otto of the Silver Hand, The Last of the Mohicans, For the Temple, and Tanglewood Tales.

Enrollment entitles the student/parent to daily lesson plans, participation in Socratic discussion groups (grades 3-12), educational consultation, quarterly tests in each course, test grading service, semester report cards, comprehensive testing about every 2 years, transcript, and 10% discount on book purchases other than the Great Books reading material. Books need to be purchased separately. You can select materials from different grade levels when appropriate. Some resources are used for a number of levels (e.g., National Geographic CD's). While you can purchase "whole grade kits," you can also order all items individually. Cost will vary depending upon your choices.

This is an ambitious program, but it does seem to offer plenty of parent support and flexibility.

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Featured Preschool Through Grade 8 Resource

Time4Learning

Time4Learning is a website for homeschoolers for PreK through high school that covers math, language arts, social studies, and science. It is built around CompassLearning Odyssey®, an online, interactive educational system that has been in existence for many years and was acquired by Edgenuity in 2016. CompassLearning Odyssey/Edgenuity is used by many traditional schools, and it was previously available to homeschoolers through ChildU. While CompassLearning Odyssey/Edgenuity is used by schools through other interfaces, Time4Learning provides the interface that works for homeschoolers.

Read full review for Time4Learning

Note: Publishers, authors, and service providers never pay to be reviewed. They do provide free review copies or online access to programs for review purposes.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services that believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 "Guidelines Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."