How We Build Our Year’s Program

Learning how to flax weave with ‘Aunty’ Angela.

Getting Started

If you are new to homeschooling, you might like to think about what the purpose of education is for your family, and what the outcome is you are wanting at the end of your homeschooling journey.  That will influence what curriculum and programs you prefer over others, as there are many available now.

For us, at the heart of it, it’s simple: to create an environment where their hearts can be engaged in love and devotion to our Lord, and to equip them to live in the world with a sense of compassion, justice as well as rich knowledge and capabilities to thrive where they choose to function.  You can read the rest of our reasons here.

Next up, what are your children’s learning styles?  Can you customise your chosen program to suit how they learn?  For example, if you’re choosing a literature-based approach to learning as we have, how will your kinaesthetic child get on with this?  Will you need to add hands-on activities such as colouring to do for twitchy hands while you read aloud?  Could you make use of audio books for your auditory learner?

Building our Program

We really appreciate the Sonlight program, mainly for their well-thought out book list, so we start with the Sonlight Core when piecing together our curriculum for the year.  The Core consists of history and geography books, and Read-alouds that sometimes fit the theme for the year (eg. world history or world cultures).  Each year Sonlight have a main history spine, although for this year and next year, we have chosen not to use their recommendation.

The reason why history is important to our family, is that it forms foundational understanding and provides a generational perspective that will affect how they life their lives as adults.  I will post on this another time. But in brief, at this young age history needs to be interesting and fun, with lots of really great books, and not consist of memorising facts, sitting tests, or have too much writing.  This is why we use lapbooks a lot – because it’s a tool we’ve found that brings history alive.

We’re about to start our fifth year using Sonlight books, but are not using the Instructor Guides at present – I find the schedules and study notes too bitsy and time-consuming to use.  It took me a couple of years of hardly using them to realise that I was trying to give myself a sense of security by simply having it there on the bookshelf.  So we’ll save ourselves the dollars, as well as the accompanying sense of waste that comes from unused curriculum, and will just go with the flow of learning this year.  But they might be the right fit for your family, particularly if you don’t have younger children and unpredictability in your day.  I encourage you to look at the samples on their website so you can make a decision that suits your family’s needs.

Once I’ve created a draft book list, I read reviews on Amazon and Sonlight, (although eventually we purchase mostly from Book Depository) and usually drop a couple of books that aren’t going to suit us.  Sometimes I replace them with an alternative that has a similar theme; other times I’ve chosen something completely different to add to our list.

I think about what we’d like to focus on for that year. For example, we wanted to have more of a look at the bible in 2012 so we looked why we have the bible, where it came from, and so forth.  This year, we’re going to outline the Old Testament and New Testament more, and what each of the books is about.

I aim to have a core list of books of approximately 10 history and geography books, and 15 Read-alouds, including New Zealand books in both of these.

If, like us, you’re not using the Sonlight schedules and study notes, you might like to think of some ways to manage your reading and study times to keep both you and your child focused and on track.  Here are some things we’re going to do:

  • Passport to the World – where we record the countries we visit in our reading travels (we’re thinking we’ll use this fantastic template from FIAR);
  • Large wall maps – of New Zealand and of the world;
  • Readers passport – with some basic comprehension questions from each reader (we are already learning this skill with our ‘Writing With Ease’ program so if this gets too much to manage, then we’ll drop it and just do questions at the time of our reading);
  • Timeline Book with figures from Homeschool in the Woods;
  • Lapbooks and Notebooks for our History and Read-alouds;
  • Read-aloud checklist (ie. a list the things you want to always cover for each book) – see ‘Read-aloud Checklist’ under free Printables (you may like to print this and add to your Homeschool Planner folder).

English/Language Arts

The components of our English/LA are:

  • Copywork
  • Narration
  • Comprehension
  • Spelling and phonics
  • Poetry
  • Oral/verbal expression

We’ve found for now that ‘All About Spelling’, and ‘Writing with Ease’ are a good fit for covering most of the above.  The poetry component we cover simply by reading and enjoying.  The oral expression we cover by asking Rosie (7 ½) to talk about what she’s just read and give her answers in sentences.  We also have her give lapbook presentations to us.


This is one of those subjects that it’s just best to go with a systematic program.  We’ve chosen the Math-U-See program.


We love the immersion approach of Apologia, so have opted to use their resources for the course of our elementary (primary) years.  The very talented Jeannie Fullbright has created these wonderful textbooks, with accompanying notebooks, of which we will continue to use.  Take a look at her website.


This is the fun part of homeschooling (not that the rest isn’t – just that this is where we depart from the 3 R’s and get to experiment with the other parts of learning!).

One of the best things about teaching your children is getting to watch out for their natural gifts, abilities and interests, and foster and encourage them where you can.  And this is where you can get to know your child, and draw out the gifts within them.  It’s also where you can continue to cultivate a love of learning, and of the world around them, and what their multi-layered purpose in that world might be.

This is where we put school trips, ballet and dance, music, art, other language, geography, missions, and so forth.  To some degree, science is also an elective, but we’ve chosen to make it more of an integral part of our program.

So with all that said, I’ll put up our 2013 Program in the next week or so, once I’ve finished making those final tweaks.  🙂

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