I’ve written in the past that homeschooling for us is a rhythm and a lifestyle, rather than a prescription. We’re highly interest-led, and follow passions more than curricula.
I’ve neglected, however, to emphasize how essential a good homeschool library has been to that lifestyle. Diving into topics that arise out of life and spark the kids’ enthusiasm is much more natural and facile when we already have relevant books on-hand.
The following series have featured in our homeschooling again and again, and serve as go-to resources when the kids dream up new questions.
Please keep in mind that I accrued these over the course of three years, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend amassing them at a faster pace (or you’ll break your budget!). I also took advantage of used copies whenever I could. I’ve acquired a mix of additional resources over time, some decent, some disappointing; the series listed here are those that have proved most high-yield, and best worth the investment.
(Side Note: Please don’t be alarmed by the troll (?!) in the background of some pictures. I used my husband’s game table topper for some of the pictures! Yes, we. Are. Nerds.)
Let’s Read and Find Out Science
A friend tipped me off about the Let’s Read and Find Out Science series early in our homeschooling journey, and I remain forever grateful to her (I’m looking at you, Jenny!). These books are fantastic. They target topics kids are naturally curious about, and deliver the content with engaging pictures, but the material they cover is detail-oriented and in-depth, not watered down. They’re also only $5 each on average, less if you buy used. Some of them are a bit out of date, so you may need to supplement, but on the whole a fantastic series.
These Take-Along-Guides have been fantastic for making the most of nature excursions, and for connecting animal and plant biology with the world surrounding us. They’re nicely illustrated, and informative yet concise. We’ve perused the seashell book before trips to the beach, and have read the bird book several times while observing new visitors to our window feeder.
ORDINARY PEOPLE CHANGE THE WORLD BIOGRAPHIES
I should start with a disclaimer: some books in this series contain political and social topics that you’ll want to review ahead of time before you introduce them to your kids, to ensure they’re ready to handle them (and that you agree with their presentation). Having said that, the Ordinary People Change the World biographies are a fun, engaging, and memorable way to introduce your kids to prominent figures in history. The biographies on Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King Jr. triggered great discussions on racism. The biographies of Sacagawea and Helen Keller helped open dialogue about tolerance and diversity. Overall, a vibrant series that sparks great conversations.
STEP INTO READING (UPPER LEVELS)
The upper levels of the Step into Reading series offer many great titles on historical topics, including a selection of biographies, all story-based with memorable presentations. I would stick with levels 4 and 5, as those below aren’t detailed enough.
THE STORY OF THE WORLD
The Story of the World series has earned a reputation as a homeschooling staple, and with good reason. These books are so well written and engaging, with a series of stories that give kids a real understanding of how the events in history all tie together. My kids didn’t have the patience for them until this year (my oldest is nearly 7, youngest is 4), but now we read an entry daily. I wish I’d had these books as a kid!
PROFESSOR NOGGINS’ TRIVIA QUESTIONS
These trivia cards are another feature of our mornings. They’re meant as a game, but we just read through the questions and supplement with other books as indicated. The variety in this series is huge, and they’re a fun way to test concepts we’ve learned over time, as well as to introduce new material.
GETTING TO KNOW THE WORLD’S GREATEST . . .
Getting to Know the World’s Greatest artists, composers, and scientists are super fun biographies, often featuring comical illustrations interspersed with actual photographs or paintings. The title on Michelangelo inspired my kids to tape paper beneath our kitchen table and pretend they were painting the Sistine Chapel. A great series for music and art enrichment (and even a bit of science, too).
ANHOLT’S ARTISTS BOOKS
We LOVE — and I mean, REALLY LOVE — Anholt’s Artists Books for Children. Each book tells a biographical story, and introduces kids to some of the artist’s most famous pieces. When my daughter spied a replica of Degas’ Little Dancer at a museum, her recall of the Degas book from his series elicited a shout of delight. They’ve also been able to pick out works by Monet, Van Gogh, and Cezanne at galleries thanks to these memorable stories.
USBORNE ILLUSTRATED ANTHOLOGIES
This is another favorite series. My husband recently had to doctor the spine of one of these volumes with duct tape, it’s been so frequently used. Usborne offers illustrated, abridged anthologies of some of the world’s most classic literature — Shakespeare, Dickens, King Arthur, Greek Myths, Indian Myths, Chinese Tales — it’s a bibliophiles’ dream! I would review some of the content ahead of time to ensure it’s age appropriate, as some of the stories can be violent. If suitable for your family, however, these anthologies offer a fantastic way to delve into some of the greatest stories with your kids.
POETRY FOR YOUNG PEOPLE
These poetry anthologies are beautifully illustrated, and give kids a sense for poetry beyond the confines of sing-songy rhyme. My son has taken to memorizing poems from the Robert Frost offering. The poems are short enough for us to cover in just a few minutes, yet rich enough to prompt discussions of theme, imagery, personification, mood, and so much more.
We’ve dipped into several math curricula over the years, many of them effective and fun, but Beast Academy deserves special mention. Why? To give a hint: this summer, during one of our vacations into the mountains, my eldest brought this entire series with him to read. Let me say that again: he brought these math books with him on summer vacation. After a long day of hiking, he would disappear, and we’d find him on his bed in our rental cabin, one of these volumes open on his lap. Beast Academy’s textbooks are styled after comic strips, with an engaging cast of characters even adults will love, but they cover concepts at an accelerated pace. Their workbooks also emphasize problem solving — some of it pretty advanced — rather than rote memorization. They’re a great option for kids who are advanced in math concepts, but are easily distracted and bored by standard math approaches.
SIR CUMFERENCE MATH STORYBOOKS
More math fun! The Sir Cumference storybooks introduce math concepts through the imaginative and colorful adventures of medieval characters. These books won’t offer practice in math problems, but provide a fun, memorable, story-based introduction to key concepts.