1st Grade Homeschool Curriculum Picks!
(Note: To skip my homeschool approach and how I plan to schedule the subjects, scroll down to Daily Subjects.)
It has been a dream of mine for many years to homeschool my children. I was homeschooled myself, and never had a formal classroom experience until my first college course. I honestly loved being homeschooled, and continuing the tradition has always been the plan, but that plan really solidified when we decided to move to Thailand. Our options were either homeschool, public school taught in the Thai language, or extremely pricey English speaking private schools.
So here we are! This year, my son misses the kindergarten cut-off by less than a month, so I won’t have to send the state of Virginia a letter of intent to homeschool this Fall. Honestly, even if we weren’t moving, I love the Charlotte Mason approach, and don’t believe that children need formal schooling before 1st grade, but the timing makes things a little less complicated. That’s not to say that my kids aren’t constantly learning in other ways! Charlotte Mason emphasized natural learning in the early years through play, time in nature, helping Mom and Dad around the house, and having good books read aloud to them often. (Learn more about the Charlotte Mason approach here.)
So why plan now?
If you did the math, you’re probably wondering why I’m then choosing 1st grade curriculum so early, and there are a few reasons:
Even though my oldest likely won’t start 1st grade until next Fall at the earliest, we want to bring the books with us when we move, because international shipping is very costly.
The months following our move will be very busy, so this is something I can alleviate from my own load in advance.
I’m a huge nerd, and this kind of thing gets my blood pumping! At first I looked into curriculum sets that were already put together to save time, but being the Enneagram 5 that I am, I had to look into all the choices, research them thoroughly, and put it together myself, and I honestly loved doing it!
Where to begin…
As I was researching, there were a few things that were really important to me that helped narrow the search:
Simple to understand and implement (since I will be focusing on ministry outside the home as well, I need curriculum that is simple to teach, so I can train a tutor to sub in for me)
Digital options (we are trying to pack as light as possible, so we can’t bring a lot of heavy books with us)
The last one is the hardest for me, but maybe it’s a good thing, because every time I step foot into a bookstore, I want to buy ALL the books…
Before I get into the list, I want to clarify that I won’t be doing every single one of these subjects every day. We will have a few daily subjects, and the rest will be on “loops”, which just means that each day we do school, I simply need to look at the last subject we learned, and start on the next. Not only does this remove the feeling of falling behind if we miss a day of school, but it ensures that we are still covering the material throughout the year in the ratio I want (for example, one Geography lesson to every two History and Science). Here are my two loops:
Another benefit of looping, is that it takes advantage of the scheduling flexibility unique to homeschooling, like choosing to do school 4 days a week instead of 5, waking up and going on impromptu field trips, vacations during off seasons, etc. Some days we can skip a loop if we need to, other days we can work through multiple subjects within the loop, all because Momma doesn’t have to worry about missing something or reworking the schedule. Simply open the loop, and go! And don’t worry, this doesn’t mean that we will just play hooky all the time and not do enough school days in a year; I have a way of keeping track of attendance, in the least exciting Excel sheet homeschool planner you’ve ever seen, because…nerd.
Learn more about looping here.
Done by lunch??
Charlotte Mason believed that focused attention for a short time is a much more beneficial learning environment for children. They have limited attention spans, and too much time spent on one thing can frustrate them or lose their interest, taking the fun out of learning. Shorter learning times also helps keep the focus on continuous growth, rather than just mastering a skill or finishing a lesson. I want my kids to fall in love with learning itself, not just achievement! It also doesn’t hurt that we can choose to finish every day by lunch, and have the afternoon free for naps (hallelujah), art, handicrafts, exploring, and more reading!
Note: One of my favorite homeschool ideas I learned along this journey, is the family “morning basket” time, where all children, regardless of grade level, come together to learn. Starting the day all together in Scripture, literature, and enriching elective subjects is great for bonding and learning from one another, and it saves Momma a lot of unnecessary time trying to teach the same subject to each student, when different grade level questions and assignments can be given to each student on the same content. Learn more about Morning Basket Time here.
So with all of this (plus looping) in mind, here is an example of what our daily schedule could look like!
Alright, let’s get into it. Without any further ado, here are my picks!
Instead of choosing a Bible curriculum or book study, I plan to read directly from the Bible, aided by this wonderful selection of Bible passages from Ambleside Online, and a study Bible that includes helpful discussion questions, such as the NIV Action Study Bible.
Why I chose it:
I was so tempted to buy a fancy curriculum or a children’s storybook Bible for this, but in the end, I felt convicted that as all Scripture is God-breathed and useful for instruction (2 Timothy 3:16), the very Word of God is appropriate for all ages! Plus, one study Bible is much more affordable and light for travelling.
We believe that hiding God’s word in our hearts is a critical part of the Christian walk, and we love this daily system by Simply Charlotte Mason!
Why I chose it:
Beyond the benefits of learning and memorizing Scripture, this system emphasizes how the whole family learns the verses together. Whether or not you homeschool, I highly recommend doing this in your own family!
By far, the most difficult curriculum choice to make a decision on! There are SO MANY different options, all with vastly different ways of teaching and learning. I got a bit overwhelmed, but I watched comprehensive Youtube reviews, read blog comparisons, went through all the options with my husband, and finally decided to go with Singapore Math.
Why I chose it:
The results speak for themselves, with Singapore students consistently scoring well.
Materials are beautifully designed, affordable, and have less of a dry textbook feel, and more mental math and practical application.
Charlotte Mason was a huge proponent of reading aloud to children, and it’s something I already try to practice daily. Literature in the early elementary years will simply consist of daily reading aloud the favorite picture, story, chapter, and/or poetry books we own or find at the library. Here are some (among many) favorites:
Many of the books above are also available online or as a Kindle book! Obviously, I prefer printed books, but to save space in our luggage, I’ll be limiting physical books to our can’t-live-without favorites, and building our home library over time, as people come to visit us.
Formal language arts programs that teach grammar aren’t recommended at such a young age, but I am “gently” (slowly over time, and as he’s interested) teaching my son to read with this Delightful Reading kit, and he practices writing for fun, through activity books such as this one.
We are getting lucky here, by living in a foreign country! We plan to hopefully attend a bilingual church, and immerse our kids in the language naturally on a daily basis. I already speak Thai, so I have started teaching them some vocabulary before we move.
As pictured earlier, this loop includes History, Science, and Geography, and my picks move away from worksheets, textbooks, and testing as much as possible, with the focus being on reading and interacting with the material, activities, and oral narration to test knowledge.
The Story of the World books are tried and true, and recommended by thousands of homeschool parents. I’ll be starting with Volume 1: Ancient Times, and I will also be alternating every once in a while with a story from the free Fifty Famous Stories Retold.
Why I chose it:
A unique narrative history book that teaches children through the power of story. This book easily fits into read aloud time, and can replace the normal literature read alouds if we’re having a busy or “off” day.
I was able to find the Kindle book, plus the activity book in digital format! The activity book also includes PDF maps and coloring pages to accompany the lessons.
My goal is to instill a sense of wonder for God’s creation, and in 1st grade, there are so many introductory choices! Next to Math, this was the hardest to choose, but I eventually narrowed in on God’s Design for Life for Beginners, and Nature Anatomy.
Why I chose them:
I love how God’s Design for Life for Beginner’s covers a wide range of focus throughout the school year, from plants, to human anatomy, to animals. It will make things really fresh and interesting, and I should be able to gauge my son’s interests by the end, so I know what we can do a deeper dive into as he gets older. I plan to alternate lessons with the Nature Anatomy book, which features beautiful illustrations and can be included in our Literature read aloud time—plus nature walks and journaling outside whenever we can!
Paddle to the Sea follows a young Native American boy and his carved canoe and figurine, and their travels through the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean. I will also cover geographical concepts such as North, East, South, and West, and how the world is round (someone tell Kyrie Irving). These scrunch maps will transport easily and last a long time!
Why I chose it:
Again, this is a storybook over a textbook that can be incorporated into Literature read aloud time. Plus, a printed map of the Great Lakes can be charted throughout the year so we follow Paddle’s journey!
Hymns are rich with Biblical truth and inspiration, and encouragement, and conviction, and the list goes on! I’m one of those old-fashioned people that prefers an old hymn over a contemporary worship song 9 times out of 10, so it was a no-brainer incorporating hymn studies into our homeschool. There were many options for how to do it, including paying for a curriculum or making my own from scratch, but I absolutely love Happy Hymnody! The plan is to learn about the author, and then sing the hymn together whenever Hymn Time comes up in our loop during the week. My kids are proof that if you sing a hymn to a child enough times, they will begin to memorize multiple verses, hiding the biblical truth in their hearts in the process.
Why I chose it:
Happy Hymnody is a fantastic free resource and community, with a focused hymn of the month, author biographies, a video demonstration of the hymn, and even a free copywork printable with the hymn lyrics! Plus, the archive of past hymns are all included on the blog in case we want to choose a different song.
I want my children to have an appreciation for great art, and Simply Charlotte Mason has a great gentle approach in putting beautiful art in front of children for them to enjoy, and encourages focusing on one artist for several weeks, getting to know their particular style.
Why I chose it:
Again, I could (and debated on whether I should) put this subject all together myself, but Simply Charlotte Mason has artist portfolio packages at very affordable prices, plus PDF versions! I can get the included pictures of artwork printed locally instead of travelling with the materials. They recommend doing 3 artists a year, and at a glance, I think we’ll start with Claude Monet, Winslow Homer, and Jean Francois Millet.
I’ve learned so much recently about the benefits of poetry for children (and adults), and it amazes me every time I sit down to read poetry to my kids. They are currently 2 and 4, and the sing-song nature of poetry just captures them in a way that regular storybooks don’t. There are so many free options online to start, included in the Literature read aloud book list from earlier.
Similar to Picture Study, we will focus on one great composer at a time by learning about their life through free online resources, and a Spotify playlist I can put together myself easily! Beautiful music feeds Momma’s soul too, plus it gives a few-minute break from reading aloud during morning basket time!
Character development and habit training are those things that people wouldn’t necessarily think of right away within a school context, but this Laying Down the Rails curriculum is a wonderful resource I plan to use for the whole family!
Why I chose it:
Raising healthy, well-rounded persons is really important to me, but I’m not always the most disciplined person, so I’m hoping this resource will steer me in the right direction!
It is based on Charlotte Mason recommendations for habits such as Obedience, Courtesy, Respect, and Courage, and can be done with the whole family over the course of 10 years. Each habit includes a wealth of stories and poems to help solidify the concepts. Plus, a PDF version!
Art, Handicrafts, & Nature Journaling
It probably helps that I love making art myself, but my kids can’t get enough of creative activities, especially painting! Instead of making these activities a required school time subject, I will have resources always available for them to grab and get creative with! I may even incorporate art into our read aloud time, so their hands keep busy while I’m reading. Other options as they grow are handicrafts such as knitting and woodworking, and of course, it wouldn’t be a Charlotte Mason education without plenty of time out in nature! Sadly, it is so, dang, hot pretty much year round in Thailand, so it’s going to take plenty of initiative on my part to get us outside regularly.
Last Thoughts and Disclaimers
If you’ve made it this far, bravo! I’m not known for my brief explanations, that’s for sure… Before I sign off, I want to clarify that these choices are not set in stone, and I not only think, but expect that I will make changes as we go. For example, I plan to bring in supplemental books from the library for each of the subjects, to mix it up a bit during morning basket time. Also, please don’t think that I expect this idyllically calm homeschool environment where all kids get along, and recite poetry and prose all day long. I know school will be boring and exhausting sometimes, and I’ll be tempted to throw in the towel when it gets hard. But until then, I’m thankful for the opportunity to homeschool, and I’m excited to see how these picks work out!
Lastly, if you have any questions at all about homeschooling, or if you are interested in using any of my preferred picks and want the resources I found, please let me know! I am happy to share “my” 1st grade curriculum with you!
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