2020-2021 Curriculum Choices

Today I’m sharing the first grade curricula we’re using for the upcoming school year. There are so many homeschooling philosophies out there and I can’t even pretend to understand them all. I’m drawn to two: Charlotte Mason and Classical Education.

Charlotte Mason was a Victorian-era advocate for homeschooling. I’m most interested in her ideas around teaching our children about nature and the world around us. She’s also big on setting up good habits. Her Home Education series is full of tips and tricks on raising kind and thoughtful kids who can name all of the trees and wildflowers around them. The Charlotte Mason philosophy tends to be on the super religious side, which can sometimes be a turn off, but her philosophy is easily adapted for secular families.

Classical Education is a more academically rigorous approach. It focuses on the trivium, or the three stages of learning: the grammar stage, in which the child learns as much about the world as they can take in; the logic stage, in which the middle aged child learns to think more critically; and the rhetoric stage, in which the high school aged child takes all of the knowledge from the first two stages and is able to write about and discuss topics in a well-developed and thoughtful way. Classical education emphasizes learning the history of the world in chronological order. The student cycles through the historical eras three times and with each pass, the child’s understanding and ability to discuss historical events strengthens.

Even though I’ve narrowed down my favorite philosophies to just two, everything is still super overwhelming. But I have three major books that I find myself returning to that help sort everything out:

  • A Literary Education: Adapting Charlotte Mason for Modern Secular Homeschooling: describes my fantasy learning environment for my children. It describes what homeschooling life is like when families use living books to guide their learning and interests. It also provides a ton of practical advice for working more reading into everyday life – whether you’re homeschooling or not.
  • The Well-Trained Mind: was the very first homeschooling book I bought back when my oldest was about 2 years old. It describes classical education in amazing detail. It explains how the trivium works and breaks down suggested areas of concentration for each level. It provides suggested daily schedules and tons of suggested readings. I’ve picked this up several times a year since buying it to help guide our informal learning. (And there’s an adult version if you’re interested in embarking on a classical education for yourself: The Well -Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had.)
  • The Brave Learner: Finding Everyday Magic in Homeschool, Learning, and Life: this is probably the best parenting book I’ve read, regardless of whether a family homeschools or not. It is full of down to earth advice on getting buy-in from your children on anything and everything. It’s also a reminder that children are people, with their own personalities and foibles just like us. The author, Julie Bogart, is a homeschooling veteran and totally gets it: all of the fears, all of the doubts, all of the frustrations. And she’s got about a million and three ideas to overcome every single one of them. And again – a family doesn’t need to homeschool to get value out of this book. It’s for everyone!!

I follow a lot of homeschooling families on Instagram and many (most) of them are deeply religious. #motherculture is a big thing in the homeschooling community and it has deep roots in religion. I have a lot of thoughts on mother culture, which I’m in love with, that I want to share another day. But I want to make it clear that we are a secular family and I’ve worked hard to find secular curriculum choices, which is what I’m sharing here today.

If you read our origin story, then you know that I have been wanting to homeschool my children since they were born. As a result, I have been collecting resources and researching curriculum for years. Most of the books in the pictures below have been bought second hand, either by finding used copies online or getting lucky at Goodwill. And please know that none of these things are even necessary, especially when you have a library card and a friendly librarian in town. Julie Bogart says it best:

“Everything can be taught through anything.”

Julie Bogart, The Brave Learner

That’s the philosophy that I fall back on. Whatever the child finds interesting can be used to teach a skill. So finally, here we go!

Language Arts

Language Arts is a complex subject. When lesson planning this summer, I’ve grouped together reading, writing, spelling, and grammar into this category. We are slowly making our way through The Wand, which I bought when it was still owned by The Brave Writer (Julie Bogart’s company). The Wand was created by Rita Cevasco, who has since started her own business, Rooted in Language. The Wand focuses on all of those early language arts skills: it includes lessons on phonics, copywork, writing, spelling, and grammar. Plus, it uses living books for each lesson that are easy to find at the library or that you probably already have at home, so the additional cost is minimal. We’re going to continue to work our way through The Wand and supplement it with the materials in this picture and listed below.

In this picture:
BOB Books Sight Word Collection
Learning Sight Words Dry Erase Book
Zaner-Blaser Handwriting
Scholastic Grammar
The Wand
Primary Level Composition Books


We decided on Saxon Math for this year. We’ve been working our way through the lessons this summer and so far it’s pretty straightforward. I’m finding that I don’t really like the scripted teacher’s manual despite thinking that I would need it to be able to teach math. Maybe once we get further into the year and the lessons become more complex, then it will feel more necessary.

I will say that it’s not very engaging and is super worksheet focused, so I’m not sure how the year is going to play out. I’m already bored with it! I have a strong suspicion that I’m going to be looking into more hands-on math soon. I’ll keep you updated!

(But those foam counting blocks that I got at the Dollar Tree are certainly a big hit!)

Social Studies and History

I discovered Torchlight Curriculum earlier this summer and fell in love. It’s secular, heavy on literature, and seems to follow the same timeline as advised in The Well Trained Mind. At the end of August we will start Level 1: Myths and Magic. This curriculum has been meticulously researched and includes a ton of books that I’ve never heard of, which means that not many of them are easily available at the library and I’ve had to make quite a few purchases. The curriculum includes plans for social studies and history, literature and poetry, art and music, and science. But it would be quite costly to buy everything that is recommended, so I’m only focusing on the history and social studies plans and supplementing the other areas with different curricula.

In this picture:
A Child Through Time
A City Through Time
When on Earth
World Myths and Legends
Smithsonian History: From the Dawn of Civilization

Science & Nature

We will be using Blossom and Root for our science curriculum and continue using Exploring Nature with Children for nature studies.

Blossom and Root provides a ton of resources for families interested in a secular approach to Charlotte Mason. The first grade science curriculum is called Wonders of the Earth and Sky and looks like just the thing my first grader loves. Another bonus is that it allows for multiple levels of participation – so you can learn the basic concepts in each lesson or you can go all out and do tons of activities and spend a lot of time with each lesson. And you can take it one week at a time and decide what makes the most sense for your family each week. I can’t wait to get started on it!

We’ve been dipping in and out of Exploring Nature with Children for about a year and it’s been a lot of fun. It’s meant to be used year after year and provide a deepening appreciation for nature as each lesson is reinforced throughout the child’s (and adult’s!) life.

I have the most fun finding supplemental materials for this category of learning. This is a small smattering of the nature and science books we have scattered about the house that help us along our journey.


Legends, fairy tales, classic stories, poetry, artist studies, music appreciation — my goal is to add as much beauty to the day as I can. I’m not following a curriculum with this. Each 6-week term I plan to introduce a new composer and artist and we’ll take out as many books from the library as we can about them. We’re working our way through Greek Myths and creating a notebook about what we’ve learned. Teatime is an opportunity for poetry and fairy tales while setting up a simple moment at the table with afternoon snacks (not even with tea, necessarily).


We experience extreme emotions in our home, so I try to bring in a bit of mindfulness each day for the benefit of all of us. We typically do one of these breathing exercises or read one of stories from the Kindness book very early in the morning, even before breakfast or anything else gets done.

In this picture:
Breathe Like a Bear
Kindness: A Treasury of Buddhist Wisdom for Children and Parents


We plan to start simply with Spanish as a foreign language, focusing primarily on vocabulary and simple sentences. No conjugating verbs yet, obviously! I haven’t picked out any books, but I know that our library has several Spanish Vocabulary books for kids, so I think that’s where we’ll start and grow our library from there.

Phew! I’m sure I left something out or got something wrong in this post, so please be patient with me. It was a lot of fun putting this post together, pulling books off the shelves, and reminding myself that we have everything we need to start the school year off successfully!

Do you have any experience with any of the curricula that I mentioned in this post? Any suggestions for me? Do you have a single book that you lean on to help you plan your year or keep you focused on your ultimate goal? Or do you remember any of these books from your own childhood? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!


4 thoughts on “2020-2021 Curriculum Choices

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  1. Wow – what a rich collection of material and ideas! I loved reading about your process and look forward to hearing how it all evolves. I remember being enthralled, in high school, with Bronson Alcott (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amos_Bronson_Alcott) and his ideas about children and education. Learned in later years that he was a bit of a dreamy deadbeat and it was his wife who actually kept the family afloat while he held forth about life and living. The latest movie version of Little Women gently captures just a wee bit of that reality.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for the link on Mr. Alcott! How interesting. I still haven’t seen the new Little Women – what is wrong with me?! I know I’ll love it.


    1. I agree – that’s why I’ve always been very careful to call it remote learning and not homeschooling. When we were participating in the spring, I felt like a proctor. It’s still VERY HARD for parents, but it’s not homeschooling.

      Thank you so much for the John Muir Laws link! He is the author of one of my nature journaling books but I didn’t realize his website was so expansive and that he had so many free resources!! I can’t wait to explore more!


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