Posts Tagged ‘homeschool for free’

Living Books on Meteorology

Dear Reader,

I let my high school senior pick his science this year and he chose meteorology. I structured his course around two video series from The Great Courses, An Introduction to the Wonders of Weather and The Science of Extreme Weather. The edginess of the latter balnaces out the more dry factualness of the former. He also read a number of living books. If you are looking for books for younger kids, we also did a year on geology and weather when my kids were in elementary and middle school; you can find that booklist here. You can find all my lists of living books here.

Living Books on Meteorology

What if the Moon Didn’t Exist by Neil F. Comins — All the ways our world wouldn’t exist if conditions weren’t just right.

Why the Sky is Blue by Gotz Hoeppe — Did you know that it’s not blue for the same reason during the day and at the end of the day?

Storm by George R. Stewart — The story of a violent storm which sweeps in from California. Originally published 1941.

Tornado Alley by Howard Bluestein — A professor and storm-chaser tells what he has learned about tornados.

The Children’s Blizzzard by David Laskin — True story of a blizzard in 1888. The kids that tried to get home, those that hid at school.

Divine Wind by Kerry Emanuel –The subtitle says it all: “The History and Science of Hurricanes.”

Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson — It came up  a lot in the news this year too: the Galveston hurricane of 1900.

Visualizing Weather and Climate by Anderson and Strahler — A more textbook-y book to make sure we covered all the bases.

Weather Analysis and Forecasting Handbook by Tim Vasquez — Again, a bit more textbook-y and also seemed rather math-oriented so maybe not for all kids.

Happy forecasting!




Living Books on the Ancient Near East

Dear Reader,

We did a mini term between Thanksgiving and Christmas on Mesopotamia and Canaan. As a once and future Hebrew scholar, it kills me to give the short shrift to the Ancient Near East but there is only so much one can fit into a school year. You can find all my booklists here.

Living Books on the Ancient Near East

In our time all together, we concentrated on art and myths. I used Hillyer’s book for the art. Though it can be understood by elementary level, I think it still provides a good introduction for older children as well. Note that Hillyer has a few volumes, on painting, sculpture and architecture. I have the three in one volume, A Child’s History of Art, and we covered all the areas.

The Ancient Near East includes a number of cultures. While they all have similarities, there is also some variation. We tried to include both Mesopotamian and Canaanite myths. I used Padraic Colum’s Myths of the World which I got on Kindle. It is nice because it gives some introduction to what we find in each of the cultures as well. For Mesopotamia, we also got a few of the storybooks by Zeman by tell the epic of Gilgamesh. There are three I believe that they each tell part of the story so you want to read them in order. Though these are picture books, they do a great job. For Canaan, I used Coogan’s Stories from Ancient Canaan. These are tales from Ugarit, a Canaanite town which was destroyed by fire. The destruction meant that the clay tablets on which the stories were written were baked hard and survived. It is interesting to see the similarities and differences here with one of Israel’s close neighbors. What we have is somewhat fragmentary. Coogan gives good introductions to each. I recommend prereading so you can give context and read selections. I blogged on these myths when we studied them previously. You can see one of those posts here.

We also talked about writing together using the book Sign, Symbol, Script. This is one I had leftover from my grad school days. It is actually a catalog from an exhibition but gives lots of info on the history of writing and the alphabet, a topic I couldn’t pass by. I have no idea how easy this is to find. We didn’t use Ancient Israleites and Their Neighbors. I find it a bit cumbersome. It has lots of extras like recipes if you are into that sort of thing.

I’m not thrilled with the historical fiction in this period. I don’t find it very well-written. My high school daughter read Adara by Gormley. My middle schooler read  Hittie Warrior by Williamson. The latter in particular seemed to through in every biblical motif it could (not in a good way). My senior read Silverberg’s Gilgamesh the King. I chose this book partly because he has been studying science fiction for his literature this year and Silverberg is a sci-fi writer. I thought the book would stray farther from the myth but it actually seemed to do better than I expected.

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My 8th grader read Science in Ancient Mesopotamia. I am not thrilled with this series but it is decent and provides info that one might not get elsewhere. He also read a book I loved for him — Ancient and Medieval Siege Weapons by Nosov. I only had him read the portions relevant to what we are studying. I seemed to be a very readable book. My 7th grader read Ancient Egyptian, Assyrian and Persian Costumes and Decorations by Houston. There are a lot of picture sin this book. She choose to do drawing of the costumes for most narrations and seemed to really get into it.

Lastly, we get to the actual history books.

My7th grader read The Ancient Near Eastern World by Podany. I’m not sure it’s 100% living but it seemed well-written. She liked that it included a lot of different things, like history and myths and how people lived. My 12th grader read A Short History of the Near East by Hitti. He seems to have really enjoyed it and says that it did a good job of being both broad and specific if that makes sense. My 11th grader read Fairservis’ Mesopotamia. She says it was pretty good. Since Fairservis only covers Mesopotamia, I also had her read The Phoenicians by Pamela Odijk. My 8th grader read the relevant portions of Dorothy Mills’ Book of the Ancient World. I am not thrilled with the book though I see it recommended a lot. It seems overly brief and simple (though her book on Greece is longer and I am planning to use that one). I was supposed to read Maspero’s Life in Ancient Egypt and Assyria but life got away from me and I never started it 😦

Next up: Ancient Greece


Cool Websites for Geography

Dear Reader,

Last year I was trying to merge geography and current events. That worked okay for a while but I had a hard time getting the prep work done that I needed too. This year we are taking a slightly more laid back approach. I am simply using interesting maps. We look at one or more at a time, once a week (ideally), and discuss it. (My younger two also still do map drills; I have dropped this for my high schoolers.)

Here are some of the sites we have found with maps that teach about the world:

16 Maps that will change your understanding of the world forever

Mother Tongues

32 Maps that will teach you something new about the world

40 Maps that will help you make sense of the world

40 More Maps that Explain the World

And lastly, GeoCurrents — This website is a bit different from the others; you might have to dig around a little more but it has some interesting maps and a lot of resources. Consider, for instance, this map on milk and meat consumption in India. They are not currently adding new material.




The Cost of a Charlotte Mason Education

Dear Reader,

I see a lot of questions from new CMers along the lines of “Do I really need all these books?? This is getting expensive. I am not sure I can afford to do CM.” Well, a Charlotte Mason education need not be expensive. In fact, it could be virtually free. Personally, I choose to save time by spending a little more money on some things. Below is my analysis of what it costs to do a CM education and some resources for how you can do it most inexpensively. If you are new to CM, check out my easy and quick start guide here.

The cost of a Charlotte Mason education

Language arts – This is one area where many of us are tempted to do more. You may choose to buy and use other materials, but, at least for most of your child’s education, all you really need here is copywork or dictation. For this you need passages. You can find these yourself, perhaps from your child’s other reading; this is more labor-intensive for you. If you choose to use somebody else’s resources, here are some of the options and their costs:

Queen Homeschool – Queen Homeschool has many copywork books available for $9.95. These contain enough for a full year’s work and, if you copy the pages or have your children do their copywork in a separate book (the youngest children might not be able to do so initially), could be used for multiple children.

Spelling Wisdom (Simply Charlotte Mason) – The most expensive options, all five volumes in the printed version, is $87.95. But keep in mind that this is all that you would need for copywork and dictation for all your children for their whole school career. If you get e-books, the cost for all five volumes goes down to $49.95. Of course, you can also buy one volume at a time as you need them.

The Arrow (BraveWriter) – Brave Writer offers a monthly subscription to the Arrow. You can pay $9.95 per month or $79 for a year’s subscription. But keep in mind that you can also save these and reuse them for future children. You may also be able to find old issues at a discount.

Spelling You See – Many CMers use this spelling curriculum from the people behind Math-U-See. It relies heavily on copywork. I don’t know how much of it is reusable, but a set (a year’s curriculum, I believe) will run you $51.

With a little googling, you may find free samples and cheap downloads online as well (BraveWriter tends to have a few issues available as free downloads).  There are also sites which will take passages you provide and turn them into copywork pages.

Because I know many of you will want to do some grammar, one of my favorite grammar curricula – KISS Grammar—is actually free online (it takes a little figuring out but then it is quite workable). For writing I love this free book.

Math – There is one free, living math curriculum I know of – Mathematics Enhancement Programme (MEP). There are practice books one can order, but you need not do so. Personally, I looked at this program at one point and found it way too teacher-intensive for me. (That is usually the trade off – cheaper = more work.)

Our favorite, also living, math curriculum is Life of Fred. It is not cheap, but, since you don’t write in the books, each volume can be reused so if you have multiple kids, you will only need to buy each level once. The complete elementary series is almost $160; the intermediate series is $48; the pre-algebra set (which includes Fractions and Decimals and Percents as well as their three volumes of Pre-algebra) is $125; and the two high school sets are $136 and $78. Altogether that is $547, but if you use LOF all the way through and for multiple kids, that’s all you ever pay for math.

Personally, I wasn’t comfortable using just LOF in the early years. We use Math-U-See for a number of years. The teacher’s materials and manipulatives are reusable. You will likely want to buy new workbooks for each child. The cost for the first year’s curriculum (called Alpha) with everything in it is $153. For future kids, you’d only need a student pack for $40. For teacher and student materials in future years if you already have the manipulatives, you are looking at about $85.  By my calculations, your first child’s math curriculum for 12 years of schooling will run you  a little over $1,000, but your subsequent children will only be $40 per year or $480 each.

My older daughter is currently using Teaching Textbooks, a CD-Rom based curriculum. We got ours used from another homeschooler. New, TT will run you $120-$185 for the whole set for a year, depending on what level you are using.

Many CM homeschoolers like Right Start Math. This is a manipulative-based curriculum. Their manipulative bundle will cost you a little over $200. Each year’s curriculum is a little less than $90.

Saxon is another popular curriculum. There are a number of sellers you can get it from. I did a quick check and saw prices for a year’s bundle from $65-115. Of course, as with most of these, with subsequent children, there will be less to buy.

Lastly, with Singapore Math you can get a year’s curriculum bundle from $45.

History – History is the backbone of our homeschool. Our approach is simple: read and narrate, read and narrate. The first step, then, is to figure out what books you’ll need.  Simply Charlotte Mason (SCM) and Ambleside Online (AO) both provide free curriculum guides online. If you choose to use one of their approaches, then you have to obtain books, but there is no inherent cost (SCM will sell you things like their planner, but you can use their curriculum guide without buying anything from them).

If you don’t like their book choices or need more guidance, Truthquest has some of the most thorough bibliographies you will ever see. Their print volumes go for $25-35 and PDF versions for $20-28. For the few extra dollars you spend, I recommend getting the print versions. Each book gives thousands of books suggestions in the period it covers (eg. Ancient Rome, the Age of Revolution). Tip: the older student volumes still contain the booklists for younger kids so if you plan to stick with them you can go ahead and get the older kids’ versions and save some money in the long run.

While not as thorough as Truthquest, Christine Miller’s All Through the Ages is a one volume bibliography with lots of resources listed.  I have seen it in print for $30 or as an e-book for $20.

Once you know what you want to read, how much should you expect to spend on books? With a little (digital) footwork, you need not spend a lot. Personally, I get all my library system has to offer first and then get anything else I need used on Amazon. If you are willing to use older books (and many are better anyway; AO in particular uses a lot of older books), many can be found free or very cheaply online. Some good sources for digital versions of older books are Project Gutenberg, Forgotten Books (they charge for books but also have a free book of the day, many of which are useful for homeschooling), the Baldwin Project, Yesterday’s Classics (e-books from $1.99), and Heritage History. Heritage History sells CD-Roms with curriculum guides and all the (older) books you need for a range of ages for $19-24. If you are on Facebook, check out the group Public Domain Homeschool for lots of links to free resources.

After exhausting the free resources, how much can you expect to spend on books a year? I looked back at Amazon, which I use for 99% of my book purchases, and estimated that I spent a little under $200 on books for homeschool in 2015. So far in 2016, which is 5/6 done as I write this, I have spent about $260. Even if I make it to $300 this year, that is $75 per child for books. This includes all subjects, not just history. Actually, history is the minority; most of the books I have bought this year are for my 11th grader’s political science and physics. Many of these books will be used again by subsequent children.

Science – I am anti-science curriculum. I don’t think you need anything formal until high school and even then I like to keep living books as the core of our curriculum. If you are doing nature journaling (and you should), you will want to get each child a decent journal and some colored pencils. I looked at a homeschool company – Miller Pads and Paper – and saw journals for $6-18. A good set of colored pencils starts at $5.

You’ll also need some living books to read with your children. One of my favorites, The Storybook of Science, will last you most of a year. It is currently going for $15 on Amazon. It will likely take you all year to read. You can also find many great living science books as e-books or at your library (see above on e-book resources).

As I mentioned above, I have bought a lot of books this year for my high schooler’s physics course. I didn’t look at exact numbers but even if half of what I have spent this year was on his physics, that is $150 for a science course. I like to add labs. Though he is not using Landry Labs for physics this year, their 2-day lab courses will run you $280 (look for deals though; we got a great deal after he did his first lab with them which made future labs only $99).

Geography – CM geography has two main parts: living books (again!) and map drill. As always, there are resources and guides that will tell you how to go about things but you need not spend a lot, or anything. We use the apps Stack the States and Stack the Countries (there are free versions but I think to go anything length you need to pay) and the website Sheppard Software (free!) for map drill. We have then just read books about different places or about travel. You should be able to find a number of these at your library or free/cheap online if you are discerning. One of our favorites, and it may last you a couple of years, is Richard Halliburton’s Book of Marvels. Sadly, it is $60 on Amazon so you might want to check your library though I think the price is well worth it. For younger kids, I like Hillyer’s Child’s Geography of the World. Used copies are expensive but the Kindle book is quite affordable (about $5).

Literature, Shakespeare, Plutarch, Bible, Poetry, etc. – I am lumping a number of subjects together here. They could all fit under the broadly defined heading “literature.” The beauty of most of these subjects is that they deal with older materials. That means you can find them free, either at our library or online. On the other hand, many of these are books that I like to spread out over the year(s) so I like to have them on hand and not to have to renew them. Many of you, I suspect, are also like me in that there are some things for which you just want a hard copy. Here are some of the current prices (from Amazon) for some of the books I consider essential:

How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare $12.60

              Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare $4.99

Nesbit’s Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare $6.99 (but free for Kindle!)

A good poetry anthology such as 100 Best Loved Poems $3 or A Child’s Garden of Verses $9.95 (but cheaper used)

Plutarch’s Lives $11 each for 2 volumes (but again free for Kindle)

The Arts – Artist and music study can be done for free. All you really need to do is pick someone, find some of their work, and spend some time immersed in it. There are many articles and resources to help you figure out how to do this. Of course, there are also packets that have been put together which you can buy so there is less legwork for you. Harmony Fine Arts is a wonderful resource. Her e-books are about $17 but you can also find a few free downloads on the site. SCM has picture study portfolios for $12-17. One of my favorite resources for music is Classics for Kids, a radio show whose episodes you can listen to for free online or through the WGUC app. If you want to read about art, Hillyer’s books are wonderful. You can find them as a one volume set or individually (with titles like “The Child’s History of Art: Painting” or “… Architecture”). Though these are also not cheap, they are worth the investment.

Other possibilities: Foreign Language, Civics, Music lessons, PE, handicrafts – If you are getting started with a CM education, I recommend starting slowly and working subjects in one or two at a time. But eventually, you may want to cover each of these. Some, like physical education, need not involve any expense, though of course depending on your child’s interests, you may end up paying for lessons or teams of various sorts. FYI, if you are interested in how CM did PE, check out Brandy at Afterthoughts Blog; she has a series on “Swedish Drill.”

Music lessons are another outside expense that you may want to pay for at some point (unless you are capable of teaching them yourself).

Handicrafts will vary a lot. Some can be done for free or cheaply; others will require more supplies. It really depends where you end up going with them and how much you want to devote to them.

We do civics (government and economics mostly) in high school. Others spread it out  a little more. There are various resources and books available. I know one popular series is the Uncle Eric series (though actually I don’t like this series and don’t recommend it). The whole series will run you $162 but you don’t necessarily need all the books.   The two books we have used are The Everything American Government Book (recommended by AO) $13 new or about $3 used and Lessons for the Young Economist $25 or $3 for the Kindle edition.

CM is pro-foreign language, both Latin and a modern language. I will admit we have not done Latin (until high school when my oldest chose it as his language) so I don’t really know what resources there are for younger kids studying it. My son has used the Cambridge Latin Course. Their website is wonderful and complete and you can do the first unit (which I think is the whole first book) for free online.

When it comes to other languages, the CM-ish resource I hear about these days is Cherrydale Press which has French, Spanish, and German Curricula. I have not used these as they weren’t available when my kids were little.  It looks like they are $50 for a year’s curriculum that can be used with multiple children. Less CM but DuoLingo has free curricula. Check out your local library too; they often have language learning resources.

Miscellaneous Supplies — A lot of the costs are not curriculum per se but all the other things one needs: pens and pencils, paper and notebooks, toner and ink, library fines (!), etc. One bigger purchase to contemplate is a Kindle or other e-reader. Consider it a one-time investment that will allow you to save in the future by taking advantage of all those free and nearly free e-books. With four older kids, I actually have 2 Kindles now; one is quite old and the other I bought used.  You can also get the Kindle app for your Apple device or computer (I’m not sure of all the availability; I know we have Kindle on iphones and ipads and a Windows laptop).


What can we say then about the cost of a CM education? If you want to do it cheaply, you can. There is nothing you can’t do for free if you want to. The trade-off is usually more work and prep for you, the teacher, and having to rely more on older books (which might not be a negative).

You should also, when viewing your credit card bill, consider the long-term. Many purchases are good for multiple years and/or multiple kids. In other words, there are more start up costs but expenses should go down each year and with each subsequent child. Caveat: there may be more you want to buy when it comes to high school.

I am sure I have missed many great resources? What are your free or cheap CM resources? Tell me in the comments and I’ll add them to my list.


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