Our Homeschool History and Literature this Year

This is an ongoing series where I share how we have been doing different subjects in our homeschool this year. This is how we are doing history and literature this year!

The short answer: We use BookShark (or Sonlight).

The slightly longer answer: I love both programs because I am a dedicated box checker and I love having everything neatly laid out for me each day. In my instructor guide I have book summaries, questions to ask the kids (plus the answers!), vocabulary words, and suggestions for timeline and mapping work. There are also lots and lots of notes. I love the notes in the early years because they add a little extra layer of understanding or clarification. Starting at about Core 100, the notes get very long and are often overly opinionated for us. So we tend to mostly ignore the notes starting at that level. We don’t use the language arts portion of either program, but we do use pretty much all of the history/literature as it is written. We started using Sonlight about 9 years ago and have used it pretty much ever since, with a short break when we tried Oak Meadow. When BookShark started selling secular versions of the Sonlight cores, we switched to primarily ordering from that company, except when Sonlight has a product we need and BookShark doesn’t (case in point, Core 300).

Here’s what we’re doing:

11th grade: My 11th grader is using Sonlight Core 300, which is 20th Century World History. The history spine for this Core is the The History of the Modern World. I would rather have seen a more engaging spine, like my younger kids have this year, but it serves it’s purpose. It is a very comprehensive encyclopedia and I do like how it is divided up by year. Basically, she just has assigned pages to read each day and we discuss them once or twice a week. I started out the year trying to read ahead of her so that I could more properly discuss, but have found it difficult to keep up with. To go along with the spine, there are several biographies and historical fiction novels. This level also has included mapwork and timeline work, but we mostly keep it simple and just focus on reading and discussing. Here’s a little peek at some of the books used:

She also uses the Core 300 literature. I try to read some of these before she does in order to better discuss them, but I don’t always succeed! There are some great titles here, though there were a couple she didn’t enjoy overmuch ( like Kon-tiki) and one she ended up skipping because she just couldn’t get through it (Cry, the Beloved Country). She’s going through this program a bit more slowly than previously planned because she’s also juggling a couple of dual enrollment classes right now, but she should still finish by year’s end. This will be her last Sonlight core, which I cannot believe! She plans to take history and English at the college next year.

Here is a sample of the literature books for this level:


9th grade: My 9th grader is using BookShark 100, American History, along with the literature. In general, I am a fan of this level. I love the spine, Joy Hakim’s History of Us. I love many of the literature selections. I love that this is the first year when he has his own guide so he can see what’s on the schedule and what we will be discussing. We don’t stick strictly to the schedule though; he just has “work on your BookShark reading” on his daily list and he gets to what he can. This is the first level that has no scheduled read-alouds, but his dad and I have read several of the titles aloud with him anyway. He isn’t a big fan of fiction and he seems to process it much better when read-aloud. It’s fun doing it this way too! We tend to read with him in the evenings, and we each have a book from this level we are reading with him. I also read-aloud from his assigned poem book with him, because I just think poetry is better read aloud.

I haven’t had to skip much from this level, though I did skip the book World War II because it is very opinionated and I just didn’t feel it was appropriate as a “history” book.   Like I mentioned above, we also skip most of the notes in the instructor/student guide. The instructor guide has daily suggestions for dates to add to the timeline book. We pick and choose from among these and add them in. His timeline book is getting quite full! You can see my review of the Timeline Book here.  I still love it! This level also has separate mapwork, where the kids are supposed to plot various locations on black and white maps.  We found this too time-consuming, so we gave it up pretty quickly. Instead, I have him look up the locations on a globe or map. Here’s a selection of history books used in this level:

And a peek at the literature titles:



7th grade: My 7th grader is using BookShark 6, World History 1.  This is my second time through this level, so I am getting to read books again, which I always enjoy. The main history spine is The Story of the World, which I at first thought was a bit too easy, but I find it actually works really well when read at this age. The simplified information is easy to digest and he tends to retain it pretty well. Volumes 1 & 2 are used at this level; volumes 3 & 4 are read at the next level. The Kingfisher History Encyclopedia is also used at this level, along with plenty of historical fiction. The poetry book for this level is Favorite Poems Old and New, my favorite poem book of all time ~ it’s huge! I love all of the read-alouds for this level; the readers have been a bit more hit and miss with my guy.   He could not get into Mara, Daughter of the Nile or Black Horses for the King, so I ended up letting him skip those. He is not usually a fan of fiction however, so this isn’t necessarily a reflection on the books themselves. The instructor guide for this level includes locations to find on the included map (it’s hole-punched and fits right in the instructor guide, which is great). This level also includes timeline figures to add to his Timeline Book. Here’s a peek at some of the history and read-aloud titles for this level:


And a preview of some of the readers:


4th grade: My fourth grader is using BookShark 3: American History 1. This is one of my favorite levels, and it’s my third time through it since my older two did the Sonlight equivalent, Core D. I love re-reading these books with her and she is my bookworm child so she is really soaking it all up. We have a few different history spines with this level, which is nice. We read from The Landmark History of the American People, Beginner’s American History, and The Children’s Encyclopedia of American History. We are usually assigned one to read from each day. Like the other kids, she has a lot of historical fiction, a good poetry book, and a set of readers. There are two choices of readers for this level: regular and advanced. We went with the advanced because she loves to read and goes through books quickly. She also does map work most days with the map included in my instructor guide and keeps a timeline book. Because she loves reading more than anything else, she often asks me to read more than what is scheduled and reads ahead in her readers. She makes me feel accomplished because we are usually right “on schedule” or ahead!

Here’s a peek at the history and read-aloud titles:

And a few of the reader titles:


And that’s how we’re doing history and literature in our homeschool this year!

Book Pile ~ Spooky Reading

Lately we have had trouble getting to the library on a regular basis. I miss the days when a weekly library trip was part of the regular routine! We still go when we can, but we’re lucky to make it once every month or two. I am hoping we will be able to make library trips a priority in the near future, but for now I am planning to pick up a few new books each month to have on hand. I don’t normally buy many books outside of “school” books, but I had so much fun picking these out that I am determined to make it a tradition, every few weeks or so. It’s amazing how much fun a stack of shiny new books is!
Here are my picks for October….all spooky books!
  • Demon Dentist – This one has been on my list ever since I heard the author compared to Roald Dahl. James has volunteered to preview it and let me know if it’s too scary for his younger sister.
  • The Witch Family – This one is for Rose (9) – she has already read it and told me it was “awesome”.
  • Through the Woods – A very spooky graphic novel… James (12) read it in one day and said it’s pretty scary. I would definitely not recommend this title to anyone under 12, having read one of the stories myself!
  • It – This one is for me.  I remember reading it as a young teen (my parents weren’t too big on policing our reading!) and I have always wanted to re-read it. Usually around this time of year I read The Haunting of Hill House, which is my all-time favorite ghost story, but this year I decided to switch things up.

So that’s our “fun” book pile for October!

Math with Picture Books

For several years now I have been determined to gather a collection of math picture books and use them to add interest to our math studies. I have failed to accomplish this each year, but this year I actually did it! I’m going to share our reading list in a minute, but first I’ll tell you how we’re using math picture books in our homeschool.

 We read a picture book each week.

 That’s it. Everyone reads a math picture book each week, from the 14 year old down to my 9 year old (my 16 year old is trying to finish up Algebra 2 while doing Geometry, so she’s excused).   Some will be overly simple for my older kids, or go over the head of my younger one.  Others may give a little food for thought, or explain a concept in a way that finally makes something click.

Our Math Picture Book List

1. Perimeter, Area, and Volume: A Monster Book

2. Shape Up! Fun with Triangles and Other Polygons

3. Multiplying Menace

4. Multiplying Menace Divides

5. Full House: An Invitation to Fractions

6. What’s Your Angle, Pythagoras?

7. Actual Size

 8. The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Early Mathematics

9. Mummy Math

10. Apple Fractions

11. The Adventures of Penrose the Mathematical Cat

12. Blockhead: The Life of Fibonacci

13. A Remainder of One

14. On Beyond a Million

15. Math Potatoes

16. Spaghetti and Meatballs for All

17. Mystery Math: A First Book of Algebra

18. Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi

19. Math Curse

20. One Grain of Rice

21. Sir Cumference and the Sword in the Cone

22. Cut Down to Size at High Noon

23. If You Made a Million

24. The King’s Chessboard

25. How Big is a Foot?

So far, this is a great success! I have my youngest choose a book for me to  read aloud to her each week. That way I get to experience them all too. Math with picture books is one of my very favorite things about our new homeschool year.

Till next time!

Homeschool Summer Reading List

Row of Books in Shelf

It’s summer! I am excited to actually have time built into our schedule to make it to the library. During this past school year, library trips just didn’t happen often enough. But this summer we have some convenient gaps in our schedule between picking up one kiddo and dropping off another….so I am planning a weekly library day! That means a library list is in order.

My own summer reading list includes some just for fun books. I read Wolf Hall during our recent vacation and was pretty excited to learn there was a sequel. And I loved the first Grantchester book so I definitely want to read the next two of those.  Middlemarch is one I have had sitting on my nightstand for months.

I also have some books I am reading in order to be able to discuss them with Grace next fall. She will be continuing to read through Sonlight’s Core 300 (secular-friendly books only). She will be starting off on week 12 with that Core next fall. I have found that reading the same books makes all the difference in being able to discuss. I can’t read all of the kids books, obviously, so I am focusing on high school literature. Christopher is officially a high schooler next fall too, but thankfully I have already read most of what he will read.

I also want to read some books about homeschooling or learning ~ for inspiration….

Next up I have a list of books to search out for the kids or suggest to them if they are stuck ~ some elementary/early middle grade for my youngers…

Some later middle grade/young-adult titles for my olders….

Rose just started reading the Story Thieves series and she absolutely adores it. She literally sighs as she reads and tells me it is “the best book ever!”. I know the kids won’t necessarily like all (or even most) of my suggestions, but I think we’re off to a good start. I’d love additional summer reading suggestions if you have any!

Thanks for stopping by!

Reading aloud

It was a snowy, blowy day here yesterday, a perfect day for reading aloud, which I spent much of my morning doing! So I thought I’d do a little round-up of each child’s current read-alouds.  The first book is their daytime read-aloud. Rose and James have their own, Christopher and Grace share one since they also share Bookshark World History. The second book is our bedtime read-aloud. And yes, I do still read aloud to all the kids at bedtime – even my fourteen year old!

With Rose (6)
I am reading Caddie Woodlawn with her because Bookshark has Little House in the Big Woods scheduled and we read that not too long ago. She wouldn’t mind re-reading it, but we can’t find it. We had Caddie excerpts one week for her Writing with Ease assignments and she really wanted to hear the whole story. It is a much longer and wordier book than Little House, but so far so good. We are both enjoying it. 
  I can’t believe that we are on the last of the Little House books! The First Four Years is much shorter than the other books in this series, so it will go quickly. I have to do some editing here and there, such as not reading parts about children freezing to death in snow storms. Everyone handles such things differently of course, but I just can’t handle reading such things to a sensitive six year old at bedtime. So I do skip a page here and there. And I have added this to my wishlist for when we finish this series.

With James (9)

I am surprised that The Secret of the Sealed Room has so few reviews on Amazon. We are reading this for Bookshark’s American History 1 and it is one of our favorite books in this level so far. We are really enjoying puzzling out the mystery.  

Edited: We actually finished this book today, doing a double reading because we wanted to know the answer!

James and I have been working our way slowly through the excellent Story of the World series at bedtime and we are now up to the final volume! I was really very interested to see how Susan Wise Bauer would handle some of the tough issues in recent history and so far I have been very pleased. She has done an excellent job in sharing just enough information to get the point across and help kids understand,  but not so much that reading about the Holocaust turns into a traumatic event.  If you are reading this series with a younger reader, I would probably pre-read potentially disturbing sections, but this has been right on target age-wise for James. 
With Christopher (12) and Grace (14)
My kids love reading Greek mythology so The Trojan War is right up their alley. They already know the whole story forwards and backwards but they are enjoying hearing it again. This has been one of our most popular read-alouds so far. My other two are always listening in as well. It is a pretty simple retelling and easy enough to follow. I wish it had a pronunciation guide, because I am always having to ask Grace how to say the names.

With Christopher

He and I were kind of stuck for what to read at bedtime one night, so I grabbed The Children of Green Knowe off the shelf. It is okay so far. It is kind of an odd book in that the writing style is targeted at a young age – probably 6/7, but  parts of the back story are a bit disturbing and seem better suited to older kids. It is definitely a bit young to read with Christopher, but we started it and are interested enough to keep reading.

With Grace

With Grace, I like to read classic books that I think she should experience but is reluctant to read on her own. She is very much into fantasy books, and it is hard to talk her into reading much else, except for her schoolwork. Lately we have been reading Watership Down, which I can’t remember ever having read myself. It just seemed like one of those books you really ought to read. She did balk a little about reading about rabbits, but I asked her to just give it a try for a couple of nights and now we are both enjoying it. I would not read this with a much younger child, as I think they would probably either be bored or disturbed (or both!) by some of the happenings. And yes, it is long! We’ll be reading this one for quite some time.

As far as my own books go, I started a page on the blog for my 52 books challenge where I am planning to list books as I finish them.

Happy reading!

New Library Books, New Math

We just went to the library for the first time in weeks. Last year the library was part of our regular weekly rotation, with a visit tucked in between a riding lesson and gymnastics. This year we don’t have such a convenient time slot and our longer school days and busier evenings mean that we often go two or three weeks between library trips. It’s okay though. Grace reads longer books and has been using her allowance money more and more to buy her own books. She also trades books with friends frequently. Christopher likes to take his time reading long fiction books and has been borrowing a lot of books from Grace. James really prefers nonfiction and has read most everything from there that he wants to. I keep meaning to teach him how to request inter-library loan books. And Rose always enjoys a good library trip, but we have so many books at home for her that she certainly isn’t lacking when we don’t go.

 I like to look for books for myself once a month or so. It takes me awhile to get through a fiction book, so I don’t get very many of those. I am still reading the massive Under the Dome, so I didn’t need a new novel. Instead, I picked up a stack of nonfiction books that looked interesting.

In my haul:

Quiet Mind 
The Nature Principle
Homegrown and Homemade
Real Simple’s 869 New Uses for Old Things
Christmas Crafting in No Time

There is just something calming about having a new stack of library books sitting on an end table, don’t you think? And for free! That always amazes me.

In homeschool news lately…. Rose has made the switch to Math Mammoth 1. She had been doing Rightstart Level B. I spend a good amount of time getting this program all set up over the summer so that it would be more open and go and user-friendly. At first she loved it, but the past few weeks it has been a struggle to get her to do it. Her main complaint?

It takes too long.

I think so, too. I was not entirely disappointed that this didn’t work out. I am not sure why I thought this program could work with a fourth child. It is very, very teacher intensive. Rose is also not such a big fan of all the bit and bobs… the place value cards and cut-outs and such. It all just gets in the way of what she really wants to be doing – practicing her bridge kickovers and handstands.

So we have switched to Math Mammoth, which is much easier on us both. I will not say she loves this program either, but it is quicker to do each day and there is the bribe of playing one of the recommended games at the end of the lesson. She does love that. I purchased the Grade 1 Complete Curriculum and each chapter includes links to online games. Lately,  she has been playing games to help her practice her addition facts up to 10.

 Around the yard, things were looking pretty sad. Each fall we have a huge mess of leaves to contend with. We have lots and lots of trees, and they are lovely. Until they drop their leaves en masse. We usually put off the major cleanup until November when most of the leaves are down and then do one afternoon of raking, mowing, and leaf-blowing to get the yard back to mostly presentable. That happened this weekend, so things are looking better out there, except for the pumpkins which look sadder each day. They look way worse than this since the dog discovered they were edible.

We have one tree still hanging onto  foliage –  the Japanese Maple is always the last to go. I am glad, because it looks so pretty out the back window. Once the leaves are down, I think it may be time to hang our bird feeder up again.

We will have a short week this week, we’ll be taking Veteran’s Day off to relax a little and maybe finish the yard cleanup, as if it ever can be done. I also really, really need to plant garlic, so I am thinking that may happen that day too. I also need to figure out a science plan for Christopher, he is finishing up Sonlight’s Core F with Core E Science. I am thinking we will go with Bookshark’s Grade 5 science because they should have the next level out by spring and we could do that next year, if it looks good.

Happy Monday!

a six-year-old’s book pile

Some of the books that Rose and I have been reading….some for Bookshark K and some just because…..
We just finished reading Johnny Appleseed, The Story of a Legend for Bookshark K. This is a wonderful book! I was sad to see that it is out of print,  because this book is definitely one of Rose’s favorites from this Core so far. We read it over three days and we both loved it. Great story, inspiring man, loads of adventure, and beautiful pictures. We will be re-reading this one for sure!
Also for Bookshark K, we have been reading through The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh. This has been so much fun to read again! Bookshark schedules half a chapter per day, but we always finish a story each day, just because we want to find out what happens. I am always struck by just how funny these stories are. I am sure many of the little jokes go right over Rose’s head, but I always appreciate a book that appeals to adults just as much as kids! A true classic.

Rose and I have been reading the Little House series for about a year or so, a chapter at bedtime each night. We are now up to Little Town on the Prairie . I had originally planned to stop reading this series before we hit The Long Winter, thinking the later books would be better read when she is a bit older. But she insisted on continuing, which is fine, I just have to do some on-the-fly editing here and there as I read. The Long Winter had some parts in it that I thought might bother her because she tends to be a bit sensitive, and some parts of Little Town have been a bit wordy and uninteresting to her so I condense it a bit,  but overall we are both really loving this series.

Finally, just for fun, we are squeezing in reading from Roverandom when we can. Did you even know Tolkien had written a book for younger kids? The librarian at our library was pretty surprised when we checked it out. I had to request it from interlibrary loan.  It’s a story about a pet dog who gets changed into a toy, and then changed into an almost- dog who has lots of adventures and then….well I’m not sure exactly what happens next, we are still reading it. It can be a bit wordy in places, so I usually read it for only 15 minutes or so at a time, but it is a great little adventure story.

That’s it for Rose’s bookpile, though I forgot to add that she has been reading Pinocchio with Dad, a very old illustrated copy we picked up…somewhere.  She asked to read it after we read some excerpts from it in Writing with Ease. I suspect we will be adding some Thanksgiving books to her pile soon. And next week maybe I will post someone else’s book pile, because this was fun!