Great Books Homeschool is a secular program for gifted children in kindergarten through twelfth grade. It combines an online structure, calendar, and customized assignments with external resources (textbooks, literature, online courses, videos, etc.) that you purchase or obtain. Kindergarten is free, then the cost is $39 a month for your entire family—lower than some other programs because families supply their own resources.
The curriculum provides an organizing structure for using a combination of textbooks, real books (e.g., novels, historical biographies, and topical science books), and hands-on activities. However, it does not include specific teaching plans, discussion questions, and other guidance. Tests are included only if they are already within one of the resources or programs. So parents have to figure out how to help students when needed, verify learning, and check or evaluate their work.
When you enroll, you set up students and select their grade levels. You can use the default curriculum selections, choose from several course options, or add a resource to a student's schedule that is not among their recommendations. Overall, the curriculum is geared toward average to advanced students, although parents can choose lower-level resources when needed. The courses available for each grade often include some that are far beyond that grade level, which might be appropriate for gifted students. If your child works on grade level, then you might sometimes want to select a course below grade level.
Each course often requires more than one resource, and they sometimes list other optional resources. The use of multiple resources adds variety to courses and makes them more interesting. There are lots of books to read, particularly in the literature courses, and that makes Great Books Homeschool a good choice for parents and students who love to read.
Since the curriculum is secular, science courses include resources based on evolutionary assumptions.
Courses for Grades K through 8
Kindergarten focuses on reading instruction using The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading, Bob Books, and several picture books. You will need to add your own resources to the schedule for math and any other subjects you want.
Language arts focuses primarily on literature and composition skills. Handwriting is introduced in first grade, and handwriting resources are included for some subsequent grade levels but not all. Writing courses use either one of the Writing with Ease or Writing with Skill books. Some writing courses require no other resources, while others do. For instance, a writing course usable for either fifth or sixth grade uses Writing with Skill: Level 1, 500 Writing Prompts for Kids, and Cliffhanger Writing Prompts. I saw no recommended resources for grammar, spelling, or vocabulary. Some literary analysis skills are taught through the Writing with Skill series.
Science courses use textbooks from R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey, but you can choose from a number of options for most levels. For instance, for second-grade science, you might choose one of four courses: Introduction to Life Science, Chemistry: Level 1, Earth & Environment: Level 1, or Biology: Level 1.
Math courses for the elementary grades use textbooks from The Art of Problem Solving--their Beast Academy books through fifth grade and The Art of Problem Solving courses (e.g. Introduction to Geometry) beyond that. These courses are great for gifted students, while average students might work at a lower level.
Other courses, such as Spanish, Nature Study, Art, and Typing can be added.
Once you’ve selected courses, each student’s “Curriculum Materials” tab shows an overview for the month so you can quickly see what you need. You can also view a Daily Checklist (that includes check-off boxes) or a Weekly Schedule. These two schedules provide more specific directions for each resource, such as read for a specified number of minutes in a book, complete two pages per day, read an entire chapter or book, watch an online class, or complete an activity. They don’t specify page numbers or other details. The schedules can include optional resources and activities such as reading Ranger Rick Magazine, raising butterflies (an ongoing project), and playing math games. You can also add your own courses to the schedule.
High School Courses
Great Books Homeschool has a growing slate of high school courses covering core subjects plus interesting electives, such as Entrepreneurship, Religious Studies, Future Studies, Full Stack Computer Programming, Android App Development, Spanish (1, 2, and 3), Mandarin Chinese (1, 2, and 3), Art History, and Philosophy. High schoolers can also complete a capstone project or a self-designed elective (using the Create Course page on the website).
Math courses use some textbooks from The Art of Problem Solving and some from Life of Fred math.
Science courses are still limited, with Biology and Chemistry the only lab courses. Physics, Astronomy, and Psychology courses combine several resources, including books plus online material from CK-12, The Great Courses, and/or Khan Academy. There are no labs for Physics, Astronomy, and Psychology, aside from astronomical observations and notetaking for Astronomy.
Literature & Writing courses have students read several titles from the Great Books list each year while using other resources for writing. Note that students are not asked to discuss the books, answer questions, or write about them. These courses are listed as “honors,” and the amount of reading is commensurate with that. However, if the workload is too heavy, some alternative suggestions are provided. And parents can also scale back the requirements.
History courses thus far are Honors World History, Honors American History, and Remarkable Biographies. The Honors World History course uses some left-leaning books, such as Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari and A History of the World by Andrew Marr, alongside The Big History of Civilizations online course from The Great Courses. Honors American History uses an online course, primary source documents, an interesting assortment of literature, and the video "All the President's Men." Remarkable Biographies seems more like a general humanities course than history. It has students read 21 books, some of which are only marginally biographical, such as In the Shadow of Man by Jane Goodall and Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. No god but God by Reza Aslan is a history of Islam up to the present, and this and several other books are clearly religious with the titles Buddha by Karen Armstrong, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan, and Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda.
A one-semester government course is available, but there’s not yet an economics course. The Great Books’ course, Understanding the U.S. Government, provides core lessons while students read an annotated guide to the Constitution. Students are also supposed to read What You Should Know About Politics (a book with very dated material) and Skewed: A Critical Thinker’s Guide to Media Bias. Skewed is left learning, and those leaning toward the right might prefer to use Slanted: How the News Media Taught Us to Love Censorship and Hate Journalism.
While this is supposed to be a secular program, religious content is included in some of the elective courses as well as in the Remarkable Biographies course. The goal is to expose students to many religious views, including many that conflict with one another. The Religious Studies course (an optional elective) includes books such as The Bible (KJV), The Qur’an translated by Abdullah Yusuf Ali, Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, The Bhagavad Gita, and Why Buddhism is True by Robert Wright. It’s worth noting that among the books are two by Reza Aslan that present unorthodox views about Christianity and Jesus Christ: God: A Human History and Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. Skills for Life uses The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People along with several other books, among which are Eating Clean for Dummies by Jonathan Wright, The Power of Less by Leo Babauta, Why Meditate? by Matthieu Ricard on Buddhist forms of meditation, and The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer, also based on eastern and New Age forms of religion.
Parents can adapt all these courses as they wish. Each suggested and optional resource shows the approximate number of hours it requires, so parents can readily judge how subtracting or adding an element to a course will change the total hours required.
Parents enter only final grades for each course, so it might be necessary to maintain a record of grades earned on individual assignments during courses. The online program will produce a transcript covering all courses that have been entered into a student’s record.
Great Books Homeschool for the elementary grades is a good starting place for families who want a secular curriculum preselected for them and organized into lesson plans. It should be especially helpful to those with gifted children, and it should work best for parents who have some confidence in guiding students without detailed lesson plans.