Mid-year homeschool tweaks

midstream homeschool tweaks

Midyear homeschool tweaks

We’re past halfway in the homeschool year, but I don’t have the energy to think over serious changes at actual halftime: I’m just relieved we made it to Christmas break.

January is the real time for reflection, when we get back to work after our holiday hiatus and I have fresh eyes to assess what’s working, and what’s not.

After some reflection, these are the tweaks we’re making to our homeschool for the second half of the year.

midstream homeschool tweaks


The biggest switch: we ditched our whole Rod and Staff math curriculum in favor of Life of Fred.

Here’s what happened: Rod and Staff has been working just fine for us, but I’ve been open to changing–especially because math is our subject Most Likely to Cause Vexation. Many of you have raved about Life of Fred in comments here–especially when I’ve mentioned that I’m always looking for ways to trim my hands-on homeschooling time. (Life of Fred is designed for kids to work through independently.)

After seeing those comments, a friend lent me a Fred book (Honey) for the Christmas holiday. We flipped through it over the break for review and reinforcement. Jack loved it–and so did I. It’s funny and engaging: things I’d never say about our previous curriculum.

We both voted to switch. We’re following the publisher’s recommendation and starting over at the beginning of the series, with Apples. It’s easy–which I think is good for Math Morale.

When Jack’s books arrived, Sarah announced that she wanted to stick with her Rod and Staff–but changed her mind 5 minutes into his first math lesson. (She said it sounded like we were having a lot more fun with math than she was.)

Not every kid loves Life of Fred, but Jack and Sarah love it so far–and I am liking math so much more than I was a month ago.


This year we’ve finally gotten into the Latin groove, and (surprise!) my kids love it. We just finished Prima Latina and are ready to start Latina Christiana.


I’ve been reading How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare and it has me all fired up to actually, well, teach my children some Shakespeare. (The book is literally devoted to the hows and whys of teaching famous Shakespearean passages to kids.)

The problem is that many of the passages he recommends teaching to kids–young kids–hardly seem appropriate for youngsters. Shakespeare is brilliant, no doubt, but he’s also bawdy, and there’s no way I’m explaining syphilis jokes to my kids.

Maybe we’ll try memorizing a few passages that I pick out. (Any ideas for which ones?)

Foreign language

We’re still plugging away with our Rosetta Stone German. I recently found out about Duolingo (thanks Tsh and Mandi!) and are thinking about switching when we finish what we’re doing now. (We’re doing okay with Rosetta Stone, but you can’t beat free.)

We’re also thinking about adding French or Spanish. I’m leaving this up to the kids, and if they say yes, we’ll use Duolingo.

Midyear homeschooling tweaks

World geography

Our latest Kiwi Crate included a world geography game, and Sarah was smitten. I’m thinking about capitalizing on her new fascination.

Homeschool group

We’ve actually found a great little homeschool group that we’re doing art and science with once a week. It’s been a good fit for the kids, and I’ve enjoyed the camaraderie with other homeschooling moms.

What’s still working for us:

The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading, for Lucy
Writing With Ease
Story of the World
Spelling Power

PS . Why we ditched private school, and unused creativity.

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  1. Love this. We just finished the Apples book with Stefan and he loves it. Haven’t yet stated the next one but will very soon. At this point I’m thinking of doing a formal math curriculum at some point, but I’m just not sure when. For now, Fred is meeting our needs. It’s fun, creative, and we’ve gotten some basic math in our mix. Whenever we do decide to do a curriculum I think he’ll be the better for it because it will be easy and he will already have a positive attitude about it.

    I also have the DuoLingo app but haven’t really used it much yet. A little beyond my kids yet as it requires reading but I have it at the ready for when the time is right. (We’re doing French for obvious reasons…)

    I’m also using Ordinary Parents Guide for reading.

    So far that’s it for us. Stefan is also in K5 Scottish Public school a few days a week so he is getting his cultural training… they’ve even taught them how to dance the dances for a Ceilidh (think pride and prejudice type dancing). 😉

  2. Corrie Anne says:

    I love Duolingo, and it seems like it keeps getting better! I use it (mostly the app) to keep up with my Spanish, and I’ve actually learned a lot of grammar that I never picked up when I learned conversational Spanish living in the DR for a few years. It’s also fun trying to keep up a streak! I always found math the most vexing when I was home schooled (Saxon) so that sounds like a great change!

  3. carrie says:

    We love LoF math here too and just started the new language arts curriculum too. So far they say it’s too easy but I know that it will get more challenging.

    I like DuoLingo too for my French learning but ended up supplementing with Pimsleur CDs. I got mine on eBay so I don’t get sucked into the autoship thing. I wasn’t making enough progress fast enough with DuoLingo and felt frustrated. But since Pimsleur doesn’t teach you spelling, I don’t rely on it exclusively.

  4. Polly says:

    But how do you keep your kids from fighting with each other all day? I’ve thought about homeschooling but honestly when my two are together all day they fight like banshees and it takes all my energy just to keep them from mauling each other.

    • Anne says:

      We definitely went through a stage when my younger two seemed intent on mauling each other. Thankfully, that doesn’t describe how things are at home these days. We’ve also used books, movies, special homeschooling-time toys, and flat-out bribery to get them to settle down for 20 minutes so we could get through a little school work.

  5. I’m off to put the Shakespeare book on hold at the library – I need motivation:) We have been working on the St Crispin’s Day speech (beginning at “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers….”) from Henry V. My boys are enjoying it!
    We only have a few weeks left for this year (we go year round with some big breaks) so I’m already thinking about next year. Life of Fred is one of our favorites, but we use it as a compliment to Rod and Staff. I may consider swapping that around next year and letting R&S be the compliment:)
    It’s time to get serious about a foreign language over here, too. Thanks for the recommendations!

  6. Gillian says:

    Hi! I’m a homeschooled high school junior, and I think it’s funny how much of the same curriculum we used! I used Spelling Power for awhile, before switching to Rod and Staff spelling. We also used Rod and Staff math from grades 3-8, and loved it. Rod and Staff definitely isn’t for everybody, but we enjoyed the structure and traditional technique.

    For awhile, a local homeschool theater guild would put on a Shakespeare play in the spring. While my brother and I were too young to be in it, Mum would always make sure we went and read up beforehand. We’d read from Sparknotes to learn the plot, characters, etc., and then would read excerpts to become familiar with favorite lines. We loved it! Even though my brother was little when we started (6 or so), he ALWAYS understood what was happening in the plays.

  7. SoCalLynn says:

    I LOVED How to Teach your Children Shakespeare, and I am trying to figure out a way to tweak it to do a short (6 weeks?) Shakespeare class with our home school friends. Have you seen the Shakespeare Can Be Fun series for kids? I started reading them with my daughter when she was in about 3rd or 4th grade, I think. Maybe you’d like them. http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=shakespeare%20can%20be%20fun&sprefix=shakespeare+can%2Caps&rh=i%3Aaps%2Ck%3Ashakespeare%20can%20be%20fun

  8. Katherine says:

    I have felt completely overwhelmed by all I am NOT teaching my 5 year old these days… telling time, tying her shoes, days of the week/months of the year- to name a few. I feel very stuck. She can read simple sentences (yay!) but it’s pretty hard to keep up the motivation to push to the next level. I think the very loud 1.5 year old underfoot has a lot to do with it- it’s just hard.


    I think I’ve hit a wall with homeschooling.

    • Laura says:

      Katherine, take a deep breath. Relax. You have many years ahead of you! Enjoy these years. Read lots of books. Go for nature walks. Play games. She will learn! A great big hug to you from a mama whose children have somehow grown up to be 16 1/2, almost 14, 12 and 10. Turn around and yours will be, too!

    • Shannon says:

      Katharine – Little bites! You have lots of time, just start taking little bites even if you don’t have time to really teach a whole lesson. Talk about the days of the weeks or telling time as you go about your day. Those little bites will add up before you know it!

    • Laura says:

      One more thought… my children learned so much at that age from CDs. We had one with pleasant music and a lady singing the days of the week, months of the year and other such things. Just pop it in when they are playing or you are driving somewhere. They are learning and don’t even know it! I agree with Shannon. When you are bathing them or whatever, you can be talking about various things. It’s not a race. She won’t be 18 and not know the days of the week.

      • Katherine says:

        These are good words for me to read. I am too focused on our complete and utter lack of focused, seated teaching time. It is nonexistent right now.

        You’re (both) right- big picture, long view, take short snippets here and there, and enjoy the basics. I can handle that. 🙂 Thank you!

  9. Leslie says:

    I always loved tweaking mid year. Helped me. Helped the boys. Here are some ideas for you.

    I loved the Lamb’s Book of Shakespeare-http://www.amazon.com/Tales-Shakespeare-Wordsworth-Childrens-Classics/dp/1853261408. This book has the stories and some quotes in them so your kids hear Shakespeare and can come back to it more knowledgeable in the future.
    I also used a great math game called Math Wrap Ups with my kids. Saw it over here http://thesimplepen.com/fun-math-fact-practice/
    They loved using these to practice their math facts- good for car time or downtime.
    For next year, I suggest you look at the Stack the Deck program for writing. An excellent program with really good, easy instruction. My boys are all excellent writers and I credit this program! You can start young and it goes all the way up through high school which I think simplifies life.

  10. Julie says:

    My 8 year old really enjoys Shakespeare but we started with young reader versions which I wish had been around when I was a kid, I might have understood what was happening a little better and might have grown to be more fond of his work. We started with “The Young Reader’s Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night’s Dream” a re-telling by Adam McKeown. It is very true to the storyline but is written in a story format and the comedy portions are very funny, (the Puck portions in particular). It also has very pleasing illustrations for my visual kids. He has done others in this series but our library only had this one so I haven’t had a chance to try the others yet. Reading just this one book was enjoyable enough to make her want to read more of his works and also get involved in a Shakespearean theater class which is exposing her to more of his actual writings.

  11. Shannon says:

    Every school year needs a mid-year tweak! I hear you about Shakespeare, for sure! Most of the innuendo is over my head, thankfully, until I read the footnotes and think, ‘Whoa, okay then… this is not exactly “Leave it to Beaver.” One year my oldest daughter was crazy about the stories from Lamb’s retelling, especially ‘Othello’ and I remember wondering how much of it she understood. All of our goat babies got Shakespeare names that year. I wanted to read a play a year together, but that’s only happened a few times in the last 10 years. Off to find the book.

  12. Sarah says:

    We tend to mix things up in February too. Maybe it is all the cold and gray days we see…it is nice that curriculum is something we can change. As for the Shakespeare, you can do the adaptations and things, but honestly, I would wait until your kids are older and/or eager to read the plays or poems. None of them are wholly child-friendly, though you can find sections that would be appropriate. The richness of Shakespeare lies not so much in the stories (none of them were original…all were liberally borrowed from a number of sources), but in his incredibly complex characters, his language, and the ways in which he engaged with so much of the world. I could support “planting seeds” that will blossom later (to borrow one of Maria Montessori’s phrases), but I would suggest instead building scaffolding by reading more accessible poetry while your kids are younger and starting with Shakespeare when the language won’t be such a barrier and they can have some appreciation for the scope of his works because they simply have more experience of the world. As a Shakespeare professor with a Ph.D. in Renaissance lit, I encounter so many kids who hate Shakespeare, think he is overrated, had bad experiences reading his works in the past, and generally have no desire to put in the time and effort required to appreciate the works. If you really want your kids to love Shakespeare, I would go lightly and see what happens.

  13. Rébecca says:

    Thanks for this post ! I had read recently on simplehomeschool that you ditched your math curriculum, and I was dying to know what you replaced it with, as I’m seriously thinking about changes in our homeschooling of math.
    We tried Life of Fred a couple of years ago, and I loved it, but I have to translate everything as my children do not speak English well enough (which is OK when it’s only the story part, but for everything that relates to measurements, money, language, geography… it gets tricky !).

  14. Jean says:

    I’m teaching Shakespeare to a group of homeschooled high schoolers right now, so I’ve been reviewing the materials of late. One fun resource is Jim Weiss’ Tales from Shakespeare on CD; great retellings of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Taming of the Shrew. It’s great for all ages. I also love the Lambs’ Tales from Shakespeare book. I agree with you about the How to Teach…book. You might want to check out the Folger Shakespeare Library for lesson plans for different ages; quite helpful. http://www.folger.edu

    We’ve also love LOF. Thanks for sharing your midyear tweaks!

    • Anne says:

      We’ve really enjoyed the 4 or 5 Jim Weiss cds we’ve listened to, but I forgot he had a Shakespeare one. Thanks so much for mentioning it! And the lesson plans–much appreciated.

  15. Amy says:

    Do you know if the geography game is available for purchase separately? My 8 y.o. Would love that. As an English lit major, I have a great affinity for Shakespeare. I’m planning to start with Shakespeare Can Be Fun series by Lois Burdett when we hit that part of history. Lambs Tales from Shakespeare is also on my amazon wish list.

    • Anne says:

      Amy, I can’t find that it is, and the original crate isn’t available for individual sale. (It was called My Map Game, and it was in the Around the World crate.) The game definitely wasn’t made to be sturdy–I wouldn’t pay the big bucks to find a copy on ebay or anything!

      It looks similar to this game that I found on Amazon, but instead of naming the continents and capitals the players traveled to different landmarks on the continents (Taj Majal, Machu Picchu) in the Kiwi Crate version.

  16. Farha says:

    After reading your post I’m interested in Life of Fred. But I’m not able to find out which grade does it start from? Amazon just says elementary.

    • Jean says:

      If you go to lifeoffredmath.com, they give grade range recommendations for each book. I’m super excited to see that they have a new book for high schoolers called “Financial Choices.” It’s a great series.

      • Anne says:

        (Thanks, Jean!)

        We went back and started with Apples even though I have 5th and 3rd graders, because it was clear from the 8th book in the series–the one we actually first started with–that we were missing a lot of background info. But I have younger students, so it made the purchase feel less wasteful, and I thought my oldest could use the review a quick trip through the basics could provide.

  17. brooke says:

    Phew! Thanks! I think I will be picking up the Shakespeare book to work with over the summer. I have just retweaked our lessons and need to start getting my summer plan going.

  18. Christy says:

    Hi Anne~
    I just stumbled upon your blog. We are homeschoolers as well and I love hearing about your experiences. I would love to more about the geography game you received from Kiwi Crate. What is the name of it? We are really into geography right now and having an interesting game would be really helpful. Thanks!

    • Anne says:

      It was called My Map Game, and it was in the Around the World crate. It was made just for the crate (and as a result, wasn’t very sturdy). It looks similar to this game that I found on Amazon, but instead of naming the continents and capitals the players traveled to different landmarks on the continents (Taj Majal, Machu Picchu) in the Kiwi Crate version.

  19. Linda Beaulieu says:

    A good Shakespeare passage for young children might be in Romeo and Juliet “What’s in a name …. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” it is non-sexual (rare for Shakespeare) and can bring about some fun conversations about why things are named what they are.

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