Our 6th Grade Homeschool Curriculum

If you look closely, you can see the Great Blue Heron on the other side of the lake.

This is bittersweet for me because this will be the last post I write about our curriculum on my Mama of Letters blog, though I will keep writing here in other ways. For middle and high school, you can find my curriculum resources here. As the boys get older, I want to protect their privacy a little more and give myself new ways to connect with parents who value my work.

My younger son has completed 6th grade. In some subjects he’s a little ahead where his brother was because after developing these plans for his brother, I had them on hand, so I used them earlier with him. He’s also a different kid. He isn’t practicing an instrument several hours a day like his brother, so he has more time for other things. He loves to read, and I gave up trying to keep track of the books he’s reading. I think he was averaging a new book every 2~3 days at one point. 

Here’s a run down of his course of study and the resources I used:

Language Arts

Besides all the books he reads on his own (and I have to thank my husband for making many trips to the library to keep him supplied with books), I assigned him some books for a literature unit. The theme was survival. After reading the books, we talked about them, and I prepared a series of worksheets for him to fill out. The worksheets included information about the author, vocabulary, discussion questions, short answer, short essay, and a review of literary terms. I cobbled these together from stuff I found on the Internet, so I can’t share it here, but the last few books, I kept it simple. We discussed them, and I asked him to write about how survival was a theme in each book. This is what I assigned:

  • Island of the Blue Dophins by Scott O’Dell
  • Woodsong by Gary Paulsen
  • Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
  • The Cay by Theodore Taylor
  • A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
  • A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck
  • Short Story: Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Anderson
  • Short Story: A Worn Path by Eudora Welty

In addition to this literature unit, he worked through Michael Clay Thompson’s Paragraph Town with me, and he did all the paragraph labs, four-level sentence analysis and punctuation lessons and worksheets.

If that’s not enough, on a whim I decided he could join his brother and me as we read the play Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare. Some of what I did to explore this play was listen to a professional reading of the original text followed by reading the modern text out loud together (from No Fear Shakespeare). We discussed the play, and we watched a BBC movie version of the play too. I’m really excited to start exploring Shakespeare with both my boys!

Math

For math I finally switched curriculums for the middle school level, and I have to tell you that if I had to start homeschooling over again, I would use this curriculum from the get-go. (But who knows? It might not have been a good fit when they were six-years-old.) Anyway, he’s working in Math Mammoth now, and if you use this curriculum, you should know that it’s more advanced than most math curriculums. For example, Math Mammoth “Grade 7” is pre-algebra. Most kids take pre-algebra in 8th grade, so if you use Math Mammoth, your kid will be slightly ahead of their public school peers. My son is on track to do pre-algebra in the 8th grade.

Science

This year I outsourced science because this kid is still into birds. If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you’ll know this is the one and only project he has stuck with over the course of his short life, and he even has a YouTube channel that’s all about birds. If he continues to find this a major interest, there’s a good possibility he may go into one of the sciences. That’s still to be determined, but just in case, I didn’t feel like I could make science very exciting by teaching it myself. For this reason, I’m very grateful for Outschool.com. He’s taken many classes on this site, including some excellent classes specifically about birds and zoology, and he’s also been part of an ongoing, weekly ornithology club and more. But to meet a more typical course of study for 6th grade, I enrolled him in a year-long middle school Life Science class.

To be honest, I wasn’t crazy about how this Life Science class was taught even though it ticked the boxes for what I needed, and my son liked it. I’m not going to promote this particular class, and instead I will tell you that if you are looking for classes on Outschool, I find the best teachers are usually those who were not public school teachers. Of course, this isn’t always the case, but if you can find someone who has a degree in the subject, they will be excited about it, and they’ll have interesting ways of teaching it and a depth of knowledge that can’t be matched. Again, not always the case, but that’s been my experience so far. If anyone else has other experiences with finding good classes on Outschool, I welcome your comments. I do highly recommend Outschool. It’s been a game changer for us, and I appreciate how affordable most of the classes are.

artwork by the 6th grader

History

I had such ambitious goals for learning history and recording it on this blog, but Life taught me to keep it simple. I began reading Everything You Need to Ace American History In One Big Fat Notebook out loud to my youngest son last year, and we continued it this past year. We stopped reading sometimes so that we could read history-related middle grade books that I had picked up at library book sales. One of those that I would like to highlight is Frederick Douglass for Kids: His Life and Times with 21 Activities by Nancy I. Sanders. We loved this book, so we read it slowly over a long period. I highly recommend it.

If it had not been for the pandemic, I probably would have ordered more history books from the library, but we’ve really enjoyed this simple approached and the few books we had on our shelf. It won’t be long before he does U.S. History with his father (a history professor) in high school, so I think he’s getting a good introduction.

Foreign Language

Both my boys have been taking weekly Mandarin Chinese lessons with an online tutor for almost three years now. As time went on, I felt that they needed more practice speaking Chinese, but I couldn’t figure out how to do this without spending more money. Suddenly this year we got what feels like a huge gift dropped on us. They are going to start getting twice weekly lessons with a new, fantastic tutor for free! I am over the moon excited. I wish I could share this resource with everyone, but unfortunately, it’s not mine to share. But I would urge anyone to just keep looking for opportunities in your community because you never know what you might find.

Physical Education

I always include physical education on my end-of-year progress reports, though I’m not sure how much I’ve written about it on my blog. We’re not an athletic family, but we are active in that we take many walks and hikes. This year I made more effort to take this kid out for more walks, and I succeeded.

Music 

And now we just passed my son’s 5th anniversary for taking cello lessons! I say this every year, but I can’t believe how fast the time is going. He enjoys playing the cello and considers it a hobby, so he spends about 45~60 minutes on daily practice, six days a week. His cello teacher is awesome, and he started back to in-person lessons this past winter.

I hope this is helpful for you. If you’d like to chat with me on Zoom about homeschooling, you can sign up here.

September

This year one of our favorite subjects is a priority again – science. Yay!

September brings with it the relief of a new school year. A fresh start. It brings cool mornings, though, unfortunately, not cool afternoons. In fact, it’s some of the hottest weather we’ve had all summer, and I’m pining for cooler temperatures, but I know I should be careful what I wish for.

I love sitting on my front porch looking out at my yard, which is very lush and green, though the flowerbeds are dry and brittle this time of year. We’ve had very little rain lately. (But it rained while I was working on this post! Whoop!) This was not the summer of gardening, and if you’ve been reading my blog for a long time, you’ll know that we like to dabble in our garden. I usually plant a few vegetables in spring, but I didn’t do that this year. And whereas last year I had some stunning flowers that were attracting loads of butterflies, this year I have very few flowers and few butterflies. That makes me sad, but it couldn’t be helped. This summer had a mind of its own, and it wasn’t a time when I could give much attention to our garden. That’s okay.

I’m thrilled that we have officially started 7th and 4th grade. It’s only been a couple of weeks, but I’m enjoying the structure and new schedule.

I may or may not write a more detailed blog post about this, but I created a new system this year for my 7th grader to help us figure out what he needs to work on each day. It’s impossible to do every subject everyday, and I know we probably won’t finish everything I would like for him to do, so….

As I do every year, I made my yearly list of priorities, which I mentioned in my last post, which are science, literature, writing, and math in that order. I’ve also got other subjects, which I listed in my last post too. I made him a chart, listing these subjects and how many times he needs to sit down and work on them each week or so. The higher priority subjects get higher numbers. For example, one workbook he needs to work on one time, another two times, science four times, and math three times, etc. Basically, he checks off every time he works on an item, and once he’s put the allotted number of check marks beside each, I’ll print out a fresh chart, and he’ll start all over again.

I am doing it this way because while it would be great for him to finish everything in a week, I knew it would take longer, and I don’t want him to worry about how long it’s taking (within reason). I prefer quality work over abundant work, though at the same time, we do have goals to reach. This system allows him to rotate through all the subjects on a regular basis while also giving him plenty of time for his piano practice and events (one that happened this week, in fact). We have learned from our first trial that it’s taking him about two weeks to complete a chart. Without that piano event, it would have been completed sooner, so that’s great. I was only going to worry if it took, say, a month to finish it. Two weeks is totally reasonable for the amount of work I’m giving him. It also gives him a little freedom in choosing what he wants to work on at any given time.

I promise I’ll also write more details about 4th grade with my younger son, but since I already have a lot of 4th grade blog posts, I tend to write about the new stuff more often. I find great joy in homeschooling my younger son who benefits from my prior experience but who also challenges me to find what works best for him at a time when our household is so much different than it was when the boys were smaller.

Anyway, here we are in September. It’s full of promise for the year ahead. There will be challenges for sure. We have a lot of changes this year, but they are good changes, and like the boys, our household is maturing, coming into itself. Finding its niche. We are all very excited for the future.

Planning Junior High Homeschool

My son has finally reached junior high school or 7th grade. I won’t dwell on how quickly this happened. 😮

{Note: Every state seems to have different terms for these middle years. In Georgia, they call 6th-8th grade “middle school,” but for simplicity’s sake, I consider 6th grade part of elementary school and 7th & 8th grade “junior high school.”}

I spent the better part of last year thinking about his junior high level work….That is, 7th and 8th grade. It’s my goal to prepare him for high school level work by the end of 8th grade. It’s a little bit easier, I think, to plan for the next two years instead of one. And, yet, it’s harder to plan for this level too. I fell somewhere between a “relaxed” and “structured” homeschooler for elementary school, starting off very relaxed but then increasing the “structure” a little bit each year, and now we are much more serious and structured because he is college bound. (At least, that’s what he’s telling us. 😉 )

So what are my goals for junior high? This is what I hope to achieve so that we’ll be on track for high school. (Find more details about the curricula we’re using here.)

Writing — A solid grasp of outlining, summarizing, and writing a formal essay.

Literature — The basics of literary analysis, literary terms, and a good dose of excellent, young adult literature. I’ve created my own literature unit (with some help from online teacher resources), and I’m very excited about it.

Vocabulary — We’re going to learn word roots and the history of the English language.

Math — Complete Pre-Algebra so that he’ll be ready for Algebra by the 9th grade.

Science — Complete Earth Science for Middle Schoolers curriculum and as much of a Physical Science curriculum as possible. Basically I want him ready for a high school biology course in 9th grade.

History — I don’t have a specific goal for history. We are surveying both World Civilizations and U.S. history, and we’ll just continue with this throughout junior high and high school. The older he gets, I’ll weave in more research and writing projects related to history. As we study World Civilizations, we will be learning more in depth information about the major world religions as well.

Foreign Language — Both the boys have convinced me that they want to study Chinese. (We tried both Chinese and Spanish.) We’ll continue on with this as time permits.

Critical Thinking — I have added some resources that will teach my son the basics of philosophy and critical thinking. There is no set goal here either. We’ll continue this throughout junior and high school as time permits.

Art — I want to continue with some basics of drawing and art history, but this won’t be a high priority. We’ll do it whenever we need a break from our other work. We’ve already learned a lot by taking this relaxed approach to art education.

Music — Last but certainly not least, classical music training is my eldest son’s top priority. This makes it imperative that I find the best resources for his academic work that will be efficient and engaging as well as less time consuming….

So, the academic priorities will be writing, literature, math and science for this next 7th grade year. Everything else will be subject to the time we have.

Note: I owe some credit to the following publications, which helped me the most in making this basic plan for junior high school:
Homeschool High School Requirements — The free printable that you can access on that page was very helpful in trying to figure out where my starting point needs to be for high school.
The Well-Trained Mind, 4th Edition — I don’t consider us classical homeschoolers, and I’m glad I didn’t have this book during my son’s elementary years. However, in planning junior high school, I found some helpful advice and inspiration. My final plans veer far away from this approach, but it continues to give me a compass whenever I need it.

What are your plans for this new school year?