We are switching up our homeschool curriculum this year for our first grader and kindergartener! Last year we used The Good And The Beautiful for level k math and their handwriting books, but I just kept feeling a pull to try out Masterbooks.
If you’re brand new to homeschooling, be sure to read my post on how to start homeschooling for the total beginner where I talk about homeschool styles, curriculum, schedules, and keeping it legal. Also check out Pros And Cons Of Homeschooling to really dig into your “why” for those tough days.
We won’t do every school subject every day
One of the quickest ways to burn out when homeschooling is to try to replicate school at home…especially when dealing with different ages. There’s only so much of me to go around and their attention spans are short at this age! So we won’t be doing every subject every day.
I’ll explain more on that, but basically we will be doing a few core subjects daily (reading, writing, and math), and rotating through the rest on a loop schedule.
How long is a school day with a first grader and kindergartener?
Last year when my oldest was in kindergarten, we spent about 45 minutes total per day on reading, copywork, and math.
With a first grader and kindergartener that both still need my help, I’m expecting to spend about that much time on each kid.
I’ll also read books to them on the couch, and we will loop through learning other topics as a family. But I hope for those things to feel more like a lifestyle of learning and not like “sit down” time for school.
You can check out our relaxed kindergarten schedule from last year here.
My goal is to make school a part of life, remove unnecessary busy work, combine the kids learning in any way I can, and help them to enjoy school and be proud of what they’ve done!
I ordered curriculum, and then changed my mind
Ok, I bought all of my curriculum for this year…TWICE.
I switched from using The Good And The Beautiful to Masterbooks.
Last year I really liked our kindergarten math and writing curriculum from The Good And The Beautiful, so I just went ahead and bought their stuff for 1st grade math, writing, and language arts this year.
But then I started to become intrigued by another curriculum I kept seeing…Masterbooks.
My worry with The Good And The Beautiful was that the math and language arts is VERY parent involved with younger kids, and has lots of busy work in the form of learning new games and activities each day. There are a lot of checklists to cover.
It’s a thorough program, but what seemed perfect with one kid sounded overwhelming with two.
I kept chopping out anything that seemed a tiny bit redundant to us to shorten it.
Yes the amount it covers makes ME feel good (ie: picture study, poem study, grammar drills, multiple ways to explain the same thing in math, games, gorgeous layout).
But I don’t think it’s the best fit for us (especially the language arts 1st grade) because there’s just too much in there for me having kids that still need me 1 on 1 to finish.
Our homeschool curriculum list for 1st grade
This year, we will cover:
- Language Arts (Language Lessons For A Living Education Level 1 by Masterbooks)
- Math (Math Lessons For A Living Education by Masterbooks…we are using level 2 which is 1st grade material)
- Nature Study (Exploring Nature With Children)
- Science (Adventures in Creation Level 1 by Masterbooks)
- History & Geography (no official curriculum) We will focus on reading “living” books on Early American History by (Beautiful Feet Books book list). I will also be searching for geography games too.
- Art and Poetry (this will be just reading poetry out loud and spontaneous art projects or water color days).
It looks like a lot, but we will only do a few each day. Language arts (including writing) and math will be daily, as well as one to two of the other subjects. We will rotate through nature study, science topics, history, and geography.
90% of my kids’ day will be play still, which is a HUGE reason we homeschool.
How I’m organizing our homeschool curriculum into a weekly binder
Updated October 2020:
This binder system has been awesome! I have a tab for each subject and put one week’s worth of work in each tab. You can also do it Monday-Friday instead. It’s so simple to do and my son can grab his binder full of all his workbook pages for that week.
Why I chose Masterbooks for language arts, math, and science
I have been eyeballing a Christian focused homeschool company called Masterbooks for months now.
It’s not truly “Charlotte Mason” (dismiss if you don’t care at all), but the lessons are short, there’s picture study involved, recitation, and living stories.
They have pretty much every subject for every grade, although you can just use one subject if you like.
Masterbooks is bible based
This company includes bible passages in a lot of their lessons, explains things biblically, and doesn’t water down things to fit “all beliefs” by leaving out teachings of who Jesus is and what he did.
If you don’t agree that the bible is true, or are part of a religion that adds to what the bible says, then it would be hard for you to use this curriculum.
Update 2023: Sometimes Masterbooks can also just feel like there’s SO much bible mentioned, especially if you’re using their stuff for every subject. It was too much for me, as sometimes I feel math could just be math. That may not be the case for you. However, it was nice to know nothing was going to pop up that was against our beliefs.
Masterbooks lessons are short
Math and language arts lessons take like 15 minutes per subject, so it’s easy to do 2 or even 3 in a day if you choose. I think this is especially helpful if you have multiple children that are not yet independent.
But this is the #1 worry people have is that it’s may be too short to learn enough.
You could count your blessings that you have time to add in extra if you choose, buy their “extra math practice” workbook based on the level, or choose another company.
I’ll have to make my assessment on this after we actually use it. I feel like my kids absorb about 15 minutes of new information really well, but not after that at age 5.5 and newly 7.
Update 2023: I actually loved the short lessons. It’s something we still aim for in a Charlotte Mason homeschool even though we no longer use Masterbooks with my kids now in grades 1, 3, and 4.
Is level 1 the same as 1st grade?
Levels are not grades with these!
So be sure to look at a YouTube flip through of the inside pages, and take their placement test.
If you do pick too easy of a level, just fly through it until you get to harder pages or a new level.
Update October 2020: At first, even level 2 math was too easy for my 1st grade boy (even after the few weeks of review at the beginning of the book). But we did a few days at a time, and now he’s around half way through the book and one lesson a day (sometimes two) is actually perfect for him! I think we got to a spot where he’s learning new material, like double digit addition and perimeter, and his brain gets tired.
Our 1st Grade Homeschool Math Curriculum
I actually purchased level 1 & 2 of Math Lessons For A Living Education just in case (they are cheap, no teacher’s manual needed, and like $35 I think?).
Level 1 was actually spot on what we learned last year for kindergarten with The Good And The Beautiful. The scope and sequence is practically the same and my son knew all of it.
Math level 2 is what I consider to be 1st grade, and it’s what’s inside of level 1 of The Good And The Beautiful.
No math manipulatives or teacher’s book
You don’t buy math manipulatives with Masterbooks. You can use what you have around the house, popsicle sticks for place value, etc. I’ll update how that goes.
We did opt to buy their “right brain flashcards” for like $15 because I don’t want to make those and it saves me time to buy them.
Update November 2020: We didn’t end up using or liking these right brain flashcards. They come with the answer on them and my 1st grader wasn’t learning his addition facts at all.
Is Math Lessons For A Living Education enough?
My fear with the math is that it’s considered “gentle” amongst other curriculums. Looking at the pages, that’s 100% true. Less problems per page. Kids finish in 10-15 minutes.
Plus a full “living story” in the front of each lesson that sometimes has a math concept in it, sometimes not. You CAN skip the story, but often there’s a short intro at the end of each story leading into what will be covered that day.
On the flip side, some families find there are TOO many problems in other curriculums to cover without tears, or added busywork.
What math curriculum we switched to after Masterbooks
I felt like he was learning A LOT, and they hit it out of the park teaching things like place value and the addition algorithm. But I needed more help as a teacher to teach.
And the stories were dragging on! If you’re not in love with these characters or story line…you’re stuck with a page to read.
I ended up switching math curriculum at the beginning of 2nd grade in part because he wasn’t getting the facts down and I didn’t know how to teach him. I worried without some kind of teaching help (the stories are supposed to teach the child the math), then I might not be able to assist much with higher levels?
You can read about our switch to Singapore Math here. It’s nothing like Masterbooks, and much harder to teach. I almost gave up actually, until we paused and I found Addition Facts That Stick. If you stick with Masterbooks (or any curriculum) and need help teaching addition facts run and get this! In 6 weeks you’ll be SO glad you did.
Here’s my review on how Addition Facts That Stick worked for my son. In fact, I liked the way Kate Snow taught so much, and it was so effective and fun, that I bought her brand new math curriculum for my next kiddo, and eventually the next. Three years later and I’m still a huge fan!
Here’s my YouTube video comparing Math With Confidence to Singapore Math Primary 2022 after using both for a few years.
I’ve had a few requests for making a video comparing Math With Confidence to Masterbooks. I hope to have that in the future!
What’s different about Math Lessons For A Living Education
This is almost opposite of what you might see at school, or programs like Abeka or Horizons, which has a worksheets full of practice problems!
You’ll instead find a colorful one page math story in every lesson following two kids named Charley and Charlotte, hence the name “Living math”. This story involves some sort of real life math concept kids can relate to.
Then, there’s SHORT worksheet for kids to practice what they learn that day. They’ll fly through this, but be happy to do math rather than overwhelmed!
So your kids may love this or be bored with this!
There’s also a LOT of number writing in our Level 1 and even level 2 math! One week, the whole level 2 math lessons were writing out 900-925, 926-950 the next day, 951-975 the next day, and 976-1000 the 4th day.
Too boring, and I felt like he wasn’t learning math. We did 1 page, and skipped the rest. Remember you have the freedom to veer from ANY curriculum if you need.
Math can be learned through games
Also, last year we discovered that learning math through games is like a magic trick for parents. No pulling teeth and it’s so fun!
Update 2023: We got a little obsessive using math games for a while…I’m a big fan! We’d often choose one day of the week to do this, like Fridays, instead of other math!
Click here to check out my Amazon Storefront with SO many math games for elementary aged kids!
What is Life of Fred math?
Ok, if you haven’t heard about this one, it’s “living” story based math.
I bought a supplemental FUN math book called “Life of Fred”. I’m planning to read the 1st grade version labeled “Apples” out loud as part of our read aloud time.
People rave about it and I just had to see it.
I’m not interested or confident in using it as a math curriculum as some do, but rather want it as a fun way to bring math alive through Fred’s adventures. I feel zero pressure here to schedule this, as we will read a little here a little there.
Update October 2020: We are HUGE fans of Life of Fred now. My son laughed his way through the whole thing as I read a chapter out loud here and there. He learned math concepts! Run and try it. I already bought the next one.
Our 1st grade language arts curriculum
We chose level 1 of Language Lessons For A Living Education! It is spot on where my 1st grader is (who will be 7 starting school).
He’s not a strong writer yet so it’s just right for us, but is already reading chapter books so those parts are way too easy. Spelling lists are in the back of the book, and the kids work on creating a dictionary of their own by adding a few words each week.
So far, I’m super relieved we chose this and love it!
Our 1st grade science curriculum
If you are brand new to homeschooling, or need to simplify your day, I recommend choosing JUST Exploring Nature With Children. I printed and bound ours through the Homeschool Printing Company for about half price of Office Depot.
I am using both books because I feel more comfortable this year, and see how little time they take. Plus, both are focused on nature so they compliment really well!
Adventures in Creation example topics:
- Light is made of colors
- Leaves & Photosynthesis
- Condensation and Evaporation
- Water Cycle
- Flowers and Pollination
- Sun & Moon
- Five Senses
Extra workbooks we’ll be dabbling in to practice handwriting
Language lessons For A Living Education does practice handwriting, and it is enough for my 7 year old.
I have a few other workbooks I want to loop through, 10-15 minutes on one of these each time, or till interest runs dry. They are:
Word ladders by Scholastic These were recommended to me by a teacher friend, and it’s a perfect little game to do with kids learning to write out a sound they hear.
Trace with me sight words We loved this tracing book for kindergarten too but didn’t finish it all.
We don’t study sight words since my son just reads them all. But he does need to learn to write words in general and these are common ones.
Writing journal with space for drawing This is where a kid draws a picture and writes a sentence about the picture.
I got this for kindergarten but realized he couldn’t write a sentence on his own yet. So I ended up writing down what he wanted to say on a separate piece of paper, and he would copy it into his notebook.
I love having ALL his stories with pictures in one notebook…it’s a keepsake if you ask me.
My son LOVED their doodle tracing book and level k tracing book last year! They were fun, had games and mazes and coloring and tracing…
I’m not impressed with level 1 as much because it’s mainly letter tracing again. Also, the sentences they choose are odd to me.
A few copywork examples I find cheesy:
- “Seek good things.”
- “Serve with a smile.”
- “God bless our home.”
- “God gave us dogs.”
- “I can pray to God.”
This is totally a preference thing for me, but they’re just odd phrases to make my kids write out. I’d rather they just copy something non religious or a straight up bible verse.
Update October 2020: We haven’t used any of the above extra writing workbooks yet. I thought we would, but my son is getting decent writing practice through our L.A. book.
If a day doesn’t have a lot, I ask him to do 1-2 sentences of copywork from a bible verse. He writes this in a wide ruled notebook. It’s been working so well and his handwriting is SO much better this year than last!
Update 2023: We no longer use Masterbooks after this initial year trying it out, but still use copywork and also really enjoyed the writing program Jot It Down with my 1st and 2nd grader. For grammar, I switched my kids to use Brave Writer Darts. It’s not open and go like Masterbooks, but we LOVE how gentle it is.
Our homeschool curriculum for kindergarten
I’m keeping things pretty similar to our kindergarten year last year. The main difference is my middle is a little younger starting out (5.5) and can’t read yet. So she’ll do reading, writing, and math this year.
We do a casual nature study as a family
We do a low key nature study called Exploring Nature With Children , and this year I’m going to continue with that. It includes weekly info to tell your kids, encourages a nature walk, has a poem, and an awesome book list.
We just repeat it yearly and learn more as we go. And we totally skip weeks too.
I’ve gathered a lot of printable nature study resources, and I needed a way to keep them organized. Below is an easy hanging file system we use! Each tab is a theme we cover and this way I don’t have to find and reprint anything year after year!
Kindergarten reading: Teach Your Child To Read in 100 Easy Lessons.
Update 2023: I’ve used this now with 3 kids and it’s just tried and true. We spend about 1 year to get through all 100 lessons.
Kindergarten writing: a mix
Basically I want her to do a little bit of writing each day, but the key word is LITTLE. 10 minutes of practice of something and done. This can be at the same time as her brother and without my help.
She can already write all the letters (pretty much self taught there/she did The Good And The Beautiful level k handwriting last year).
So this year we will be copying some sentences into her own writing journal like her brother.
Kindergarten Math: Math Lessons For A Living Education Level 1
I’m going to see how my daughter responds to the stories. I’ll see if she’s grasping addition and subtraction enough.
Update 2023: We really, really didn’t like level 1 (kindergarten material) of Masterbooks Math. I mostly liked level 2, as it had a lot of math concepts covered with short lessons. But man, level 1 was just a number tracing notebook in my opinion. I would never recommend.
And we have a 3 year old…
Thought I’d mention that so you know we have lots of interruptions and rarely ever follow “the routine”.
He’s not starting preschool yet, and pretty sure my kids don’t even think of preschool as “school” because their job is to play.
BUT! I do plan on using our Playing Preschool curriculum by Busy Toddler probably starting at age 4. We’ve used it with my middle child (not strictly and not every day) but she adores it. I’ll continue some of the fun books and activities in Year 2 even into kindergarten.
Other learning tools for homeschooling kindergarten and first grade
One of my favorite parts of a homeschool lifestyle is that we have time for things we enjoy. I’m really looking for learning tools that don’t feel forced to have around the house. Things like puzzles and games and art and building toys. Here are a few we like.
- Card game War
- Card game Golf (awesome for practicing adding and subtracting small numbers!)
- Bird Bingo (Also want the bug bingo too!)
- Happy Hats Reading Game by Bob Books
- Thick paper or watercolor paper
- Tape and glue
- Coloring books
- Glitter pens (below is my favorite!)
Also, for some serious homeschool support, try joining 1-2 Facebook groups in my Big List of Homeschool Facebook Groups. Surprise, I’m in most. But my favorite one right now is called Homeschooling First Graders.
Also feel free to check out my Homeschool Resource Page for more help.
Keep your first grade homeschool curriculum simple
My best advice is to start with just a little and add on. We like to start with one subject the first week, and add another on the second week. Add a little bit until it feels like you have a rhythm of some kind.
Scrap what’s not working, add more of what you enjoy.
Also, at this age I find it really helpful to have some kind of visual to remind me and the kids what we are *attempting* to do that day. I made a chore chart below you can purchase to print and write on, laminate, or whatever.
You got this!