One of the things I’ve noticed in homeschooling is how much we all get boxed into a set of limited options sometimes. I mean, how many times have you looked on a forum for writing recommendations and heard the same five or six options? There’s a reason they’re popular, of course. And while I think that a few popular options are usually the best places to start when thinking about curriculum, there are so many hidden gems out there that get discussed and used a lot less often.
Below are some of the hidden gems I really like. It’s definitely not an exhaustive list of any kind. Because we’re currently using and loving a couple of much lesser known resources, I wanted to tout the whole idea of lesser known, less popular curriculum resources, because they’re often exactly the thing you’re looking for.
Exploring America from Prufrock Press
We’re currently using the volume of this program that focuses on the 1950’s and I think I actually adore it. I didn’t so much love gathering the resources for it, which involved a lot of out of date web links and a number of web addresses that were of the long string of nonsense category. However, now that we’re engaged in the actual learning part of this program, I’m very happy with it. It asks students to do a lot of reflecting on primary source documents, including speeches, songs, and short stories. It asks a lot of questions about the nature of American identity. The selections are really thoughtful and the questions are excellent. BalletBoy is about a third of the way through this program and I am leaning toward seeing if he’s willing to try some of the later volumes as well.
Twisting Arms: Learning to Write Persuasively
This is a tiny volume that prepares students to write their first thesis paper. While we’ve dabbled in thesis papers before, I decided to let Mushroom give this program a try and it’s beyond perfect. There are a lot of simple activities that lead up to the final paper and focus on all the ways that writing can be used persuasively, including in propaganda, art, and advertising, as well as how to express opinions and work them into a good thesis statement. It’s the perfect little middle school writing program.
Time Travel Math from Prufrock Press
I have written about this program in the past, but we really enjoyed it so I am happy to sing its praises again. This book had little stories about a brother and sister who time travel to meet artists and learn about math with them. Each of the three sections included activities and a final project. Even the story was reasonably good for a book like this. This was the perfect math project diversion for upper elementary or early middle school.
NCERT is the national textbook of India and because English is one of the official languages of India, most of the textbooks, including the math program, are available in English for free as pdf’s. We used several chapters from the middle school program a couple of years ago and I simply love the style of the books and the way the problem sets are laid out. Plus, you get a bonus of having a little extra culture with your math program. Honestly, I don’t know why more people aren’t using this program, especially in the middle school years. They’re wonderfully done.
GEMS Life Through Time
We’ve used several of the GEMS guides and I especially like most of their math offerings, which I simply don’t see mentioned that often anymore. Sometimes the activities in the GEMS guides need to be adapted for the homeschool environment because they invite students to share answers and collaborate, but most of them are very much able to be adapted. This particular GEMS guide, about evolution and the beginnings of life on earth, is a very creative, dynamic way to introduce the subject. We didn’t end up using it as our spine, but I stole a lot of ideas from it and it would have made an incredibly good spine if I wasn’t such an incessant tweaker of things. This is a science topic that often feels less hands on, but the GEMS guide finds way to make it feel more involved and focus more on thinking about evolution and less on just reading about it.
Don’t Forget to Write
This set of writing lessons from the 826 folks has a lot of fun, creative assignments all meant to be done in a relatively short block of time, but also ripe for spending longer on to revise. We used several of these (and my kids got to do some at our local 826). They could easily be a part of a yearlong writing program. If you do the Brave Writer lifestyle, these could easily become monthly writing projects, especially for months where you need a more condensed project. 826 also has another book called Stem to Story for upper elementary and middle school where you do short science and technology activities followed by writing lessons.
This is a little bit of a cheat since we didn’t get to use this wonderful, free art program. I discovered it a little too late! But I love the way it’s laid out and how simple the lessons are. It seems like art programs are either difficult to implement, focused on art history, or focused on technical precision that a lot of children aren’t really comfortable with. This program does none of those things and instead focuses on explorations with simple materials and methods that push kids, but without looking for an ideal of “good drawing” that turns many kids off art. Plus, did I mention it’s free? Seriously, I don’t know why this isn’t the most popular homeschool art program out there.
Tin Man Press’s Thinkables
I have sung Tin Man Press’s virtues previously but I’d do it again. This creative thinking press makes worksheets that are basically un-worksheets. They encourage kids to think in interesting ways about language, writing, and logic, plus they encourage paying close attention to directions. I’m sad that we’ve mostly outgrown their materials, but we used them constantly in mid-elementary and they were usually the perfect way to open up our school day in the morning.