2013-2014 Curricula

Here we go again, another year of plans are coming together.  We have completed 3 full semesters of homeschooling, and we feel more equipped to step away from the purchased curriculum for every subject.  This year we are also embracing an almost entirely Classical style of learning.

Amber's 6th Grade Curricula:

Saxon Algebra 1/2 -  We are still absolutely pleased with the Saxon Math curriculum.  I know it's not for everyone, but it definitely is for Amber.  I also realize that Amber is blessed with a mathematical mind, but we truly feel that when Saxon is implemented as intended that it can be a great learning tool.

Language Arts:

Grammar - BJU English 6
After some consideration, part being the cost, we decided to proceed with the BJU English 6 curriculum for the grammar portions only.  Yes, I'm paying a small fortune to use only half of the curriculum.  However, the grammar lessons are sound, Amber responded well to this curriculum, the teacher's guide is thorough, and Amber's language mechanics scores were through the roof in standardized testing after using BJU English 5.  We decided it would be in Amber's best interest to not switch to yet another grammar curriculum after having gone through several in her parochial schools.  Perhaps next year we will move on for 7th grade, but this year consistency won out over cost.

Writing - Writing With Skill, Level 1 (and Level 2)
This curriculum is from Peace Hill Press and written by Susan Wise Bauer.  Amber started Level 1
midway through 5th grade, but only made it about 1/3 of the way through the curriculum due to her illness during second semester of 5th grade.  We plan to finish Level 1, and move on to Level 2 when ready.
Amber's writing skills definitely improved with usage of the curriculum.  Her notetaking, outlining, and narration skills all received a huge boost.  This is not the easiest curriculum, but it is what Amber needed.

Literature - 
After leaving behind the standard reading curriculum mid-year in 5th grade, we saw a dramatic improvement in Amber's already advanced reading & comprehension ability.  So, why mess with a good thing?  We are continuing with purposeful literature studies.  Some of the selected books were chosen to correlate with our history studies.  We are also going to use various methods to facilitate our discussions.

Planned Literature Book List:

Poetry- The Art of Poetry
Originally, I planned to make poetry a unit in Literature.  However, I realized that by using the BJU English 6 for grammar, we did not actually have a full year (36 weeks of grammar) because of the alternating writing lessons contained in that curriculum.  Instead, we will incorporate one week of poetry from The Art of Poetry after every grammar unit.  I do intend for the poetry curriculum to span more than one school year, so we will simply take this book at a comfortable speed.

Creative Writing - The Creative Writer, Level 1
Back to Peace Hill Press for the creative writing curriculum.  Last year, Amber participated in the
NaNoWriMO Young Writers program, and had a blast writing her novel.  It was a great experience for her, but we wanted something different for this year.  The Creative Writer is geared for Middle School students, and after looking over the curriculum samples we have decided to give it a try.  It contains both Poetry and Fiction writing sections that can be done in one school year.  We can also choose to complete only one of the sections.  As of right now, we plan to work on creative writing once a week, formally, and attempt the entire curriculum.  If we don't finish, then it will continue in 7th grade.

UPDATE 12/2013 - We only used this for 4 weeks, and they weren't even consecutive weeks.  Amber entirely enjoyed using the The Creative Writer, we just ran out of time.  With Amber's illness and low energy, we had to prioritize our time and creative writing was dropped for a time.  Hopefully, we can pick it back up every few weeks second semester.


For our first 3 semesters of homeschooling we did not follow the 4 year history cycle as so often recommended in Classical education.  Amber's many years in parochial school left her with a very good basis in colonial times & early American history, but not much else.  We have followed through the rest of American history during our homeschool time so far.

Now, for 6th grade we are beginning with Ancient times and moving forward.  This year we intend to move from Creation through the Fall of the Roman Empire, emphasizing on Egypt, Greece & Rome.

After months of researching and sample reading, I decided on The Mystery of History Volume I for our spine. Originally, I thought to use the Kingfisher History Encyclopedia as our spine, but after purchasing it I decided to use it as a reference book instead.  We have acquired quite a few additional books to provide more in depth study of the emphasis time periods.  I've compiled a spreadsheet of how each resource will fit in with our spine.  Some of these books will be used for background, or additional reading only.  Others will be part of the regular reading each lesson. 

Amber will be expected to take brief notes from her main reading assignments, enter important dates into her timeline (we use Timeline Builder on the iPad), keep a map of locations discussed, and write a weekly narration (no more than a few paragraphs) on a particular topic of interest from the week's reading assignments.  (We have a lifetime membership to NotebookingPages.com, and Amber enjoys writing her narratives on sheets printed from there.  It allows her to be more creative than simply using lined paper. )

History Resources: (Our MOH Vol. I Schedule)

First Semester:
Elemental Science Biology for the Logic Stage
(Read my review)

After a good deal of research, including using several of Elemental Science's unit studies, we decided to try Biology.  The curriculum uses a couple of resource / spine books for reading, along with experiments, note taking, narration and sketches as the basis for the lessons.

We actually started the curriculum in late April of 5th grade, since Amber had already completed 5th grade general science, and we have continued through the summer.  Our hope is to complete Biology by Christmas break of 6th grade and move on to Earth Science / Astronomy for the Logic Stage in January.

Amber and I, neither one, enjoy biological sciences, however we do realize that it is necessary to have some understanding of life science.  Amber also had quite a bit of life science during her parochial school days.  In fact, her parochial science education was quite lopsided in favor of life science.  In light of this, we are completing Biology as quickly as possible to move on to a more interesting topic for us both.

Second Semester:
Elemental Science Earth Science & Astronomy for the Logic Stage

Amber did, in fact, complete Biology prior to Thanksgiving of 6th grade, so we moved on to Earth
Science and Astronomy for second semester.  It works much the same way as the other Logic Stage curriculum from Elemental Science.  Spine / resource books are needed for reading.  There are weekly experiments, sketches, vocabulary, timeline dates and recommended narration / outlining activities.  There is also time for a science fair project included in the curriculum.  I'm not sure if we will be working on the science fair project, but at least with this topic there is a chance. 

We plan (hope) to complete this topic by the end of summer 2014 or early into the 2014 / 2015 school year.   Amber absolutely enjoys both Astronomy and Earth Science, so we may end up taking a little long on this curriculum than Biology.

Foreign Language - Latin
Latin for Children, Primer B - I've already written a review of Primer A, and now we will continue with Primer B for 6th grade.  Since we do not schedule Latin 5 days a week, it generally takes us slightly longer than one school year to complete a level.  Our goal is to finish the series, through Primer C, by the end of 8th grade.  I must say, that we are very impressed with this curriculum and Amber looks forward to the reader translation assignments.


Building Thinking Skills Level 3 Figural from the Critical Thinking Company -  This was a second semester 5th grade start, and it is about half way completed.  We schedule formal logic lessons only 2-3 times per week, but I still hope Amber will finish this by Christmas break. Then the plan is to move on to Critical Thinking, Book One also from The Critical Thinking Company.
UPDATE 12/2013 - Amber did complete this prior to Christmas break and we are moving on to Critical Thinking, Book One.

KidCoder: Windows Programming from Homeschool Programming - I debated over and over about this curriculum.  Amber was slightly interested in learning computer programming.  The curriculum is relatively expensive for something to "just try".  I also felt a little guilty about buying curriculum for programming, as I have a BS in Computer Science and spent many years as a high level software developer (I still do "volunteer" software development).  Then, I won a copy of the curriculum in a blog give-away.  It was perfect.  Amber is excited to try now that she has seen the book.  I'm happy I don't have to plan out the course.  I've already seen a couple of instances where I would do things differently, but currently laziness is winning out over my picky developer tendencies.

We committed to programming lessons once per week.  Amber will go as far as she wants, or is able, in each weekly session.  We will just see how it goes.

UPDATE 12/2013 - We dropped this entirely.  Amber was initially excited to try it, but that fascination soon wore off. She never coded a single item.  A lot has to do with her illness and energy level.  We removed the majority of her "extras" so that the core portion of school could receive more attention and energy.  We will try again when the time feels right. 

BJU Spelling 6 - We again decided to go with an actual spelling curriculum.  Amber liked using BJU Spelling 5 last year, and we didn't have any complaints with the curriculum.  I did look at several other spelling curricula, especially those recommended by other classical homeschoolers.  In the end, I decided the need to keep some consistency in Amber's curriculum was more important than a slightly different approach to spelling.  The BJU curriculum is more than just words to learn, but also word etymology (which Amber LOVES), and Greek and Latin roots (again, Amber loves this).  Next year in 7th grade we will move on to vocabulary from spelling, and may switch curriculum.  Until then, why change something that worked well.

Christ Light from Northwestern Publishing House -
Last year we had the great search for an appropriate Lutheran religion curriculum.  Even though we are LCMS (Missouri Synod Lutheran), I chose a curriculum from the WELS (Wisconsin Synod Lutheran) publishing house.   It was, essentially, a pre-confirmation curriculum.  This worked out fine for a while, but what we really missed was Bible stories.  Amber will get enough discussion of the Office of the Keys in confirmation classes, so this year it's back to more Bible story type lessons.

We briefly used a Bible story based curriculum, also from the WELS publishing house, during Lent last school year that we very much enjoyed.  For 6th grade, we are going to go exclusively with that Bible story curriculum, Christ Light.  We previously used one of the New Testament sets, but this year we are going to start with Old Testament set 2 (since Amber studied creation EVERY year in parochial school).  I'll see how far through the sets we get this year.

I'm also strongly considering the Old Testament Hands-On History Activity Pak from Homeschool in the Woods. I've only heard good things about the products from Homeschool in the Woods, and I think a few fun Bible activities might be beneficial for our religion classes. 

Artists Hands-On History Activity Pak -
Art is a difficult topic around here. Every art appreciation curriculum we tried last year ended up falling by the way side.  The first one was too boring to last two weeks.  The second one lasted a bit longer, but it still was not what interested Amber at that point, despite being wonderful.  I'm hoping to squeeze some art history / appreciation in our history lessons this year. Still, I also would like to be purposeful in exposing Amber to art.   That brings me to another Homeschool in the Woods product, Artists Hands-On History Activity Pak.  My hope is that the activity portion of this will appeal more to Amber, so we can at least manage a little art learning this year.

Amber also has an aversion to art projects that stems from her many years in parochial school. She feels less capable than others, and thus is scared to try.  Amber is slowly learning that she doesn't have to be the best, or even good, at art to enjoy it.  Amber willingly took a 6-week art class at the local pottery / art store last winter.  And while Amber enjoyed the classes, it isn't something she wants to do regularly.  Mostly, she enjoys the occasional art or craft project at home and, as another person with relatively poor skills in standard art projects, I can see the benefit in simply doing the art that interests you.  So, that is where we stand on art projects this year.

Update 12/2013 - We used a couple of the activities in this, but ran out of time again. We've decided to move art and music appreciate to the summer as fun activities instead of during the current school year.  Perhaps once we have a better handle on how to deal with Amber's digestive illness we will have more time during the school year. 

Again this year I do not plan to add any specific music learning to Amber's already full schedule.  I've looked at many wonderful music appreciation plans and they are all so tempting.  Yet, Amber currently has several musical items scheduled:
  • Piano lessons (starting year 6 of lessons)
  • Handbell choir at church (after 2 years on the chimes choir) 
  • Flute lessons (new this year)
In 5th grade, Amber also took private voice lessons for a semester, and participated in a musical theater class for a semester.  I'm not sure if she will continue either one this year, but they are certainly an option. (Update: We decided to stick with just the three music activities)

If we have time and want a music appreciation curriculum / guide, I will probably try another Homeschool in the Woods product, Composers.   Looking over the composers pak, some of it appears to be below Amber's age level and musical experience.  However, it has information on 42 composers and various periods of music.  It also includes MP3 files for listening to some of the music highlighted in the lessons.  That makes a lazy momma happy.  

Physical Education
We don't have any time during our regular school day that we specifically set aside for physical education.  Amber has been a dancer since she was three and spends many hours a week at the dance studio. She also has daily stretches at home, along with some occasional dance practice.  She is currently working hard to prepare for pointe, while enjoying other styles of dance.

We do try stay active at home, when Amber isn't at dance, playing outdoor family games, basketball, or just walking around our subdivision.  In the winter, however, dance is Amber's main form of exercise.

Update 12/2013 - Amber has greatly reduced her dance classes because of low energy levels and illness.  Even though we now know (hopefully) what is causing her illness, Amber is still unable to expend energy like before.  She actually may be removed from all physical activity by her GI doctor if we can't get the girl to gain some weight soon.


  1. I love your choices - looks like it will be a great year!

  2. I love your literature and poetry plans. The year looks like it is going t be great. Little Red Ridinghood is interested in pointe someday. I think it is a year or two away for her.
    Blessings, Dawn

  3. Wow! It's amazing to see all the different choices that a 6th grade homeschooler has! We are also starting 6th grade and even though we have very different plans our children will still enjoy this journey of learning!
    Have a blessed year!

  4. Your teaching style is very similar to what mine has fallen into. I mix and match, but I've noticed a pattern of leaning towards Classical Education. Did you guys use BJU last year? We did First Language Lessons (split the last level between 4th and 5th), so I'm struggling with what to do this year. Did you guys do Writing With Ease first, or did you just jump into Writing With Skill? (my oldest is also going to 6th this year) :o)
    (by the way, the WP log in option under "comment as" didn't work, I have no idea what my google log in is linked to lol)

    1. Heh.. Blogger controls the login options, so unfortunately I can't do anything about the WP login not working.

    2. We used pieces of BJU last year, but not all. I really just needed something that had a lot of plans done, was rigorous enough, and gave me time to figure out what style we liked.

      We never used Writing With Ease, but started at Writing With Skill. Our daughter went halfway through 4th grade in parochial schools, with seemingly random writing instruction. After much consideration, we moved into WWS halfway through 5th grade, and it was a good choice. She would not have gained as much from starting in WWE so late in elementary school.

  5. What a wonderful list! Looks like you're ready for a great year!

    (dropping by from the iHomeschool Network blog hop)


  6. I like the sound of the "The Creative Writer" book. I think Philip would enjoy it as well.

  7. Hi, I am homeschooling my 12 year old son starting our second year. With the Mystery of History, did you just purchase the Vol 1 book or additional supplements? I have looked at the site and am overwhelmed by all the add ons! Just wondering what is necessary to teach this without spending a fortune! Thanks!

    1. I purchased Mystery of History Vol. I, without all the add ons. However, I did not feel it was sufficient for 6th grade history alone. So, we have all the other books listed above in the history section. We use those to flesh out the information about each era. In my opinion, Mystery of History is only good for upper grads as a spine book to provide a starting point for history lessons.

      The Mystery of History does include a lot of activity ideas after each lesson, and the book has many recommended resources to use with it if you'd like additional books to read.