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It’s starting to cool down as the sun sets, making room for perfect bonfire weather. Here in Michigan, that means fall is right around the corner. Back to School is upon us – and for many, has already started. I refused to immerse myself fully into a school schedule until after Labor Day, so if you’re still struggling with curriculum choices and scouring blogs and Instagram posts looking for resources without being entirely overwhelmed – this post may be for you!
My daughter Layla will be entering First Grade this school year, which brings with it new subjects to tackle. Kindergarten was a little less structure and more read alouds and free play. While my main emphasis is still on keeping that whimsical, learn-through-play, child-centered style, I have come to realize that my kiddo thrives on structure, workbooks, and schedules.
I had big dreams of Waldorf at home, but Layla is very much a “what’s next?” type of girl. She wants experiments, and writing, and directions, and HOMEWORK. Yes – she asks for homework. I tried to raise a wild little fairy child and accidentally raised myself. That’s okay, I can absolutely accommodate.
What We’re Using
Last year, we used Torchlight Level K as our main curriculum and we both loved it so much that choosing Level 1 this year was an absolute no brainer. Torchlight Curriculum, if you’re unfamiliar, is a literature-based, secular curriculum. Each level has a theme and the theme for Level 1 is ‘Myth & Magic.’ How fun is that?! It starts with prehistory and the Stone Age and finishes with the fall of ancient Greece. (Level 2 picks up where Level 1 left off.) I am so excited to dive into this!
While Torchlight can be a whole curriculum, many do find the need to supplement – especially in subjects like math and science. Last year we supplemented with Math U See Primer and were absolutely thrilled, so we decided to stick with it and move on to the Alpha level.
Math U See Disclaimer: Many will argue that Math U See is not secular. I, however, disagree. Math U See offers parents the opportunity to purchase skip counting CDs and books – one with Christian lyrics and one with lyrics taken from science and literature. The CD is entirely optional – in fact, I didn’t even purchase them, but should you choose, there is a secular choice.
My favorite part about Math U See is the DVD. The DVD provides a “lesson-by-lesson video instruction” that makes it a cinch to teach. In fact, it may not even require you at all! So if you’re like me and avoid math whenever possible – this DVD is epic! Plus, your learner has the opportunity to watch over and over again until mastery, which makes it invaluable.
Along with Math U See, I’ve added in a workbook from Kumon that focuses on telling time. Primer finished up with an introduction to analog clocks, so I’d like to continue with that. Another bonus I’ve thrown in is Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace, Jr. I know, I know – Dave Ramsey is FAR from secular (so we won’t bother linking) and I’m absolutely going to be pre-reading and taking out what I need to, but at the bare bones, his ideas for budgeting and financial planning are pretty genius. Layla has been showing interest in earning her own money via chores, so I thought this would be a great motivator and educator.
Science is always a difficult subject to find in our secular homeschool world. Without research, you may end up purchasing something that seems secular and then find out halfway through the school year that it’s actually neutral. Ask me how I know. It was me. I did that. For those that may not know, a neutral science curriculum purposely omits topics like evolution to leave room for different interpretations.
Torchlight has teamed up with an incredible company called Be Naturally Curious to provide secular science units for each of their levels. The bonus is that when you purchase any of the levels, Torchlight and Be Naturally Curious provide you with a discount code on the necessary units for your level. This year we’ll be learning about the carbon cycle, DNA, and Sharks – just to name a few. I also chose to supplement this with R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey’s Level One Life Science Curriculum. This level focuses on the human body, the animal kingdom, and the plant kingdom using short lesson stories, labs, and other really fun activities.
While Be Naturally Curious and RSO are the meat and potatoes of our science curriculum, we will be using Human Body Theater and My First Book of My Body very heavily throughout the year, too! This doesn’t include the many science experiment and coding kits that my daughter has come to love.
Reading and Writing
Torchlight provides you with all of your literature and poetry needs and introduces a Vocabulary Spell Book that’s included with Level 1. I mean, could it be any cuter? Reading and Writing, however, does need some supplementation. Last year we finished Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons and she’s been totally killing it with reading this summer, so I decided to focus more on reading comprehension and spelling. Spelling You See (from the same company as Math U See) offers readiness guidelines on their website and using that guided me to Level B – Jack and Jill. This level uses nursery rhymes (all secular) to introduce phonetic awareness. The bonus is that it’s also great for handwriting practice.
Handwriting is a big deal in this house, so finding something good was important. We tried Handwriting Without Tears – which was great but moved too slow for my kiddo. This year, I’m trying Zaner Bloser’s Handwriting Grade 1 workbook. I know many prefer a D’Nealian approach, but this public school kid is sticking with what she knows. However, you could totally change my mind! Which camp are you from – Zaner Bloser or D’Nealian? Pros and cons?
We used Explode the Code 1 & 2 last year, so we’re continuing on with phonics using 3 and 3 ½. Layla absolutely loves these – I think the drawings leave something to be desired, but these workbooks have helped her so much with reading and spelling that I had to use them this year.
Finally, for reading and writing, I added in a Daily Reading Comprehension Grade 1 workbook from Evan Moor. Each day provides a small story with a handful of questions to help with reading comprehension.
If we have time – Evan Moor also has a really incredible Grammar & Punctuation workbook for Grade 1 that I’d really love to try out. I want to see how she does with the phonics and spelling first, but this may be something we work in slowly just to get some practice in.
History and Social Studies
History is another curriculum I find challenging. Torchlight has recommended Curiosity Chronicles this year, and because the writer hasn’t steered us wrong yet, we’re giving it a try. Following along with Level 1’s theme, this curriculum begins with Ancient History. Depending on what package you purchase, you can be provided with a ton of printable student activities, including a timeline and items to add to it. The best feature? You can purchase the audiobook – since this is written as a dialogue between two characters. Because I’m already reading a ton of things out loud, my throat is forever thankful for this incredible bonus feature. True tears of joy.
I also chose to add in some Social Studies and Geography using simple workbooks with fun activities that I know my busy work loving kid will enjoy.
Art is typically found via Pinterest using projects that are topic-oriented, but we’re also going to be giving Art for Kids Hub on YouTube a try! It looks like a ton of fun!
A Sneak-Peek at My Planner
Now I know you’re probably thinking this is a lot, and you may be wondering how I even pull this all together into a day that isn’t completely overwhelming. I’ve provided a snapshot of my actual planner and our first week of school to show you exactly that – I promise it’s totally doable and doesn’t take a long time either! I have an incredibly mischievous 20-month-old so if it took too long, there’s no way I’d be able to do it. Most of our school day is set within the confines of his nap time so that I’m able to really focus on Layla. We start each day with Cosmic Kids Yoga and our Morning Basket and we typically finish our day after lunch, which leaves the rest of the day for lots of free play and outdoor time!
Renee is a licensed cosmetologist and cosmetology educator, now stretching her educating muscles as a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom. She lives in Romulus, Michigan with her husband Andrew and their two feral children. Between lesson and meal planning, she has cultivated a deep love for organizing and a niche for frugal living, family budgeting, and minimalism. You can find her at any given time with a venti iced coffee and a good book – likely planning the next holiday in excruciating detail. Follow along with her family on Instagram @themwildwoods.