Our 5th Grade Homeschool Curriculum

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Since my youngest son is an avid birder, I’ll share some bird photos I took on a trip to Franklin, North Carolina. This is a song sparrow.

Every year I have written a blog post about the curricula I’ve used for my boys in elementary school. (Once we get to middle school, I’ll share all the nitty gritty details in my PDF resources.) This post will cover what I used for 5th grade for my youngest son last year.

You might notice that it’s not an exact replica of what his older brother was doing when he was in the 5th grade. Younger brother is a completely different kid, and he’s going at a different pace. This is as it should be. However, it’s also partly because I had all these resources and didn’t have to search for them like I did when I was doing 5th grade with my eldest. All these factors make a big difference.

Feel free to ask me any questions in the comments. I write detailed email responses, if I get good questions. Also, if I’ve written a review of these resources, I’ll link to it.

Tree swallow

Language Arts

He finished Fix It! Book 1 (IEW) and Michael Clay Thompson’s Grammar Town and Practice Island. 

I created Type 1 and Type 2 writing prompts for him as explained in Twelve Writing Assignments Every Middle School Student Should Complete.

He worked off and on in Language Smarts Level E from the Critical Thinking Co. It’s extra practice.

He began the Michael Clay Thompson vocabulary program with Caesar’s English I. 

This kid is an avid reader, and it’s a challenge to keep enough books on hand for him. (Getting him a Kindle really helped.) He’s flown through series such as The Secret Zoo, The Familiars, Wrinkle in Time, Seekers, Guardians of the Ga’Hoole, Harry Potter, and The Land of Stories as well as single books that aren’t in a series. Right now he’s waiting for another Redwall book from the library.

Mourning dove


He finished four Life of Fred math books last year, including all of the intermediate series. After trying to go further in that series, however, it didn’t seem like a good fit for him anymore (my eldest son did stick with Life of Fred for a while longer but eventually switched as well), so he switched to Khan Academy for the remainder of the year. For 6th grade, we’ve got a new curriculum, which I’ll share in another post someday.


I took a real shift in science this year. Learning about science had always been part of our natural, weekly routine when my eldest son was younger, but due to a lot of factors — shifting interests, the pandemic, and how my younger son learns differently — I decided to begin outsourcing science. By this I mean online classes, and for my youngest son, Outschool.com has been an incredible resource. He enjoys the live Zoom classes. I’m also grateful for these classes because he continues to be very interested in studying birds, and if this keeps up, he may go into the sciences for a career. I want to make sure he has a good foundation in science.

So, in the 5th grade, he took the following classes on Outschool:

      • Zoology Semester Course (10 weeks) by Marc Cuda*
      • Wild Animal Wonders: Introduction to Bird Biology, Ornithology Just for Kids! (8 weeks) by Teacher Carmen
      • Wacky World of Science Summer Camp for Middle School Learners (6 weeks) by Patch Kulp
      • Extraordinary Birds Part 2 by Marc Cuda (He had already taken Part 1)

Aside from this, we also read How to Think Like a Scientist by Stephen P. Kramer, and we continued to watch science and nature documentaries on an almost daily basis, which we’ve done since our kids were babies. (So they enjoy them!)

* If you want a review of the teachers on Outschool, send me an email. You can also read teacher reviews on the site.

Carolina wren


History lessons were informal. My husband is a history professor, so both my boys benefit from his insights from time to time. In the 5th grade, my 5th grader read a bunch of books:

He read Story of the World, Vol. 1: Ancient World by Susan Wise Bauer by himself. He liked this book more than my older son did.

Together we read Everything You Need to Ace American History In One Big Fat Notebook, and we both liked it. As we went along, I also read history related storybooks and middle grade books that I had picked up at library book sales. We continue to do this in the 6th grade.

Foreign Language

He continued to take weekly Mandarin Chinese lessons with a tutor online last year. Hiring a tutor was the best thing I could have done to make sure we stuck with a foreign language study. We still don’t keep up with it as well as we should, but we make progress because of the weekly lessons, and my youngest son is pretty good at reviewing the vocabulary a few times each week.

Tree swallow

Music Education

My 5th grader completed four years of cello lessons in August 2021! I can’t believe how time flies. 

Last year was really weird because we were stuck at home due to the pandemic, and we continue to be mostly at home now, although that’s slowly changing. There were outside activities I had hoped to get my 5th grader involved in, but it hasn’t been possible. It’s extremely frustrating, and I don’t know how this will affect him in the long-run, but I’ll always be grateful that we were already homeschooling when the pandemic started, we have each other, and we started using Outschool!  What a lifesaver that has been! 

Quick Review: Michael Clay Thompson’s Language Arts Program, Level 1 and Part of Level 2

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I was lucky enough to receive Michael Clay Thompson’s Language Arts Program, Level 1, a.k.a. The Island Level for free when I wrote a comprehensive article on grammar programs for home/school/life magazine. Being able to see a full curriculum before buying it is a luxury most homeschoolers don’t have, and for that reason, I was so grateful. This is not a cheap curriculum, and I never would have bought it without seeing it first.

Over that year, I read all the books to my boys, but I didn’t have them work through the Practice Books, which are essentially the worksheets that reinforce the teaching. Also at that time, I picked IEW’s Fix it! The Nose Tree as my eldest son’s grammar program because it just worked better for him then. While I didn’t feel he needed to work through the MCT workbook at the same time, I did think that reading Grammar Island and Sentence Island helped him understand what he was doing in The Nose Tree better.

Also, I fell in love with these books. I am not exaggerating when I say they are beautiful. These books incorporate beautiful artwork and large, easy-on-the-eyes fonts. I think using a beautiful textbook makes a world of difference when trying to teach youngsters, and it made a world of difference to my adult eyes, which can get quite weary trying to read small text in the cluttered books of other curriculum.

This year I bought part of Level 2 because I have ditched the Fix It! series, and I’m going to continue on with MCT. However, I can’t afford to buy it all at once. I have bought only Grammar Town (teacher’s manual) and Paragraph Town (teacher’s manual). As much as I would like to buy the student books, I have to save money. So I use the teacher’s manuals, and I type and print the exercises on my computer for him to work through. Grammar Town worked really well for my son, and I’m very pleased with it. We’ll be working in Paragraph Town this coming year.

As for my younger son, we are going back and re-reading the Island Level this year, and he will be using the practice workbooks with this program – so they will not go to waste! (And I should mention that he loved the Mud trilogy, which he read this past year.)

I would love to buy Caesar’s English I (teacher and student books) and the next book on poetry, Building Poems (teacher’s manual), but it’s just not in the budget right now. My priority will be getting through the grammar and writing textbooks of this wonderful curriculum, and I’ll buy those as I we need them.

I should mention the one flaw with this program is that is doesn’t teach much punctuation! Kind of strange, don’t you think? However, this is easily remedied. I purchased a punctuation workbook on Amazon that I’ll have my son work through this year, and I’m pretty good at punctuation, so I can help him with that as he continues to work on his writing skills.

Nearing the End of 5th Grade Homeschool

Spent a few days on the gulf coast this spring.

Officially, our “homeschool year” isn’t over until August, and I will continue to give my boys lessons through the summer. However, when the weather turns warm, we start making time to get outdoors, and I begin to prioritize our lessons in this way:

  1. What can we finish before June?
  2. What do I want to stop and carry over until September?
  3. What will we do for summer lessons?

I have been concentrating on those things I want to finish and putting other things aside so that we can enjoy the good weather, and I’m making flexible plans for the summer, which I’ll write about later.

There are a few subjects I plan to write more detailed posts about, but I wanted to briefly go over what we accomplished and didn’t accomplish as I look back on the plans I made for 5th grade at the beginning of this year. This is for my eleven-year-old.

Language Arts


I’ve already written a detailed curriculum review — and our experience of — IEW’s Student Writing Intensive on the home/school/life blog. Be sure to check that out, if you’re looking for a writing curriculum. We haven’t finished it yet, and to be honest, I may try something else over the summer, and if we like it better, we may not go back to it. However, I think IEW’s curriculum has worked well as far as getting my son started with formal writing.


We finished reading Blood on the River: James Town, 1607, and we’ve been reading The Porcupine Year by Louise Erdrich, which I hope to finish soon. I continue to read the Redwall series to my eleven-year-old in the evenings. We’re reading them in publication order, and now we’re on book five, Salamandastron.

Yes, we read slow! I wrote all about that on the home/school/life blog too. But we’ve also been reading some long books for our history curriculum this year, including Geraldine McCaughrean’s The Odyssey. (We used the version from our library that was illustrated by Victor G. Ambrus.) We also read D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek MythsI consider these books part of our “literature” and “history” exploration.

My son also likes reading silently to himself, and my husband will pick up a tall stack of graphic novels for him from the library every month.


I still love Fix it! Grammarand we’ll be finishing The Nose Tree very soon.


This year he completed Beginning Traditional Cursive. Not sure how I’ll continue with cursive practice yet.


The Life of Fred series continues to be a winner in our house, and we’ve finished up to the book titled Liver. I will probably save Mineshaft for next year. We’ve started using Kahn Academy, which my son likes. (I tried it a year or two ago, and it wasn’t a good fit then.) We also used a Spectrum Workbook, but less so, since we began Kahn Academy. We have found the videos on Mathantics to be extremely helpful.


I keep detailed records of what we do for history on this blog, although I have not yet published what we’ve done for Ancient Greece (coming soon).

I’m very proud of how much world history we’ve done this past year and a half. We’ve covered these topics: prehistory, Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt, the Hebrews, Ancient India, Ancient China, and Ancient Greece. Our huge history timeline is filling up with interesting points of history!


When you spend a lot of time doing one thing, something else has to give. This year I feel like we haven’t done enough science, but then again, we did so much science in the past, we were kind of ahead, so maybe that’s okay. We did watch plenty of science and nature documentaries, raised monarch butterflies, expanded our garden, and continued to learn about birds.

Foreign Language

My heading at the beginning of the year was “Spanish,” but now I’ve changed it to “Foreign Language.” This is because….yes, I may be crazy!…we’ve begun learning two foreign languages: Spanish and Chinese.

Learning languages has been fun, but we’ve taken it slow (like we do with everything), and I feel like this year has been more about figuring out how to teach the languages than actually learning much of it. It hasn’t been easy, but I’m going to keep trying. I will write more detailed posts when I feel like I have more to say about it.

You can read about my search to find the perfect Spanish curriculum in the Winter 2018 issue of home/school/life magazine. We have been using Risas y Sonrisas, and I love it. We’re trying out Better Chinese for Chinese.


Like I said at the beginning of the year, our art explorations ebb and flow. I thought this wouldn’t be the year for art like it was in the past, but we’ve actually had some great art lessons.

In November, we went to Chicago to visit relatives, and we took the boys to the Art Institute of Chicago. Leading up to this trip, I spent a few weeks teaching the boys about the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artists as well as a few other artists whose works were featured in that museum. We did some related art projects too. It was so much fun, and my eleven-year-old especially enjoyed it. He likes art history, especially when he learns about an artist who lived at the same time as one of the famous music composers. In fact, I gave him an assignment to find two artists who lived during the time of two composers, and then we searched for their artwork at the museum.

Besides this, we had a couple of other art history/art project days that we did when we needed a break from our regular routine, and during our Biloxi trip, we visited the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art and the Mobile Museum of Art, which I’m going to write about soon on this blog.

For our art history lessons, I have found the artist bios on ducksters.com to be a great starting off point as well as Art With Mati and Dada, other YouTube videos, and, of course, library books. I ordered several Chicago Institute of Art books from our state-wide inter-library loan system.


If you read my blog regularly, you know that music is what our days are all about, so I won’t repeat that information here. I’ve already written about my 5th grader’s third year of piano lessons, and you can view his YouTube channel here. It shouldn’t be too long before we post more videos there. 🙂

That’s our 5th grade curriculum in a nutshell. It’s been a full, good year, and I’m very pleased with what my son has achieved. I’ll eventually follow up with a review of my 2nd grader’s year too.

Our 5th Grade Homeschool Schedule and Curriculum

Here we are: the fifth grade! I guess you could say I “officially” started 5th grade on September 1st this year, but truthfully, I started some of this curriculum a little earlier, and some of this is just a continuation from last year. I only use grade levels as a sort of approximation or guide. I believe we achieve better results when we go at our children’s pace, while also challenging them at appropriate times too.

I came up with a game plan, and I’ve been tweaking it ever since Sept. 1st. It formed partly from necessity (i.e. to make progress, we need to do writing and math at least three days per week) and partly from my kids’ desires (i.e. they picked the times they want to practice their instruments and do their formal lessons). I have mostly tweaked the morning lessons as I’ve been able to see better how much time we have to complete things.

It’s also important to note that this schedule is not set in stone. We don’t follow it to the letter, and everyday is different, but it’s roughly how I schedule our days. It’s a guide to help me as I plan our daily lessons, which I try to do the night before or early in the morning before the boys wake up. 🙂

Click image to enlarge.

Note that I do the eight-year-old’s main lessons (2nd grade reading, math, handwriting, etc.) right after lunch time, but he also joins his eleven-year-old brother for a few lessons in the morning, such as Spanish, History, and Readalouds (a.k.a. literature).


I will be writing more detailed reviews of each of these curricula, and when I do, I’ll link them all to this page.

Writing — I’m using the Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) Student Writing Intensive Level A. We haven’t used it long enough for me to write a proper review, but so far, so good.

Literature — At the moment, we’re reading Blood on the River: James Town, 1607, which is a young adult novel about the first permanent English settlement in North America. Both my boys are enjoying it, and it’s a great history lesson. In the evenings, my eleven-year-old and I are reading the Redwall series together, and he also reads a ton of graphic novels to himself everyday.

Note: See my page Book Reviews to learn about some of the books we’re reading.

GrammarFix it! Grammar: The Nose Tree (Student Book 1) with the Teacher’s Manual. This is the same book we began about half way through last year. This past summer I also read Grammar Island to both the boys, and they enjoyed that book.

Cursive — Believe it or not, it took me awhile to find a workbook for cursive that I liked. I finally found Beginning Traditional CursiveIt’s super cheap and just what I wanted.

Math — We are still using Life of Fred, and we’re about to complete the elementary series and move into the intermediate series! Whoo-hoo! I also use Spectrum Workbooks for a little extra practice where he needs it. Also, the workbooks more closely resemble the standardized tests he’ll need to take, which I want him to get used to.

History — My husband is a history professor, so we’re having a lot of fun exploring history with his help. I’ve written about the history books we purchased in Diving into Human History, and you can follow along with our history lessons on this blog. (See the menu at the top of the page for our history lesson logs.) I’ve already written the first one.

Science — You might have noticed that science isn’t on the schedule, and that’s because I had not really decided on what to do for science when I made it. My son hated the curriculum I bought last year. I have had more luck “unschooling” science because my son is very interested in it. (See all our science posts.) He just taught himself how to use our old telescope, and we’re hoping to get a lot of use out of it this year. We’ve also decided to read The Usbourne Science Encyclopedia, which is a cool book because it has over 180 QR links that I can scan with my phone and then we can watch videos related to the material we’re reading. Perhaps we’ll figure out some experiments we can do along the way too.

Spanish — I have been on a grand search for a Spanish curriculum that would work for us, and I finally found it. I will be writing a review on this for home/school/life soon. We are using Risas y Sonrisas.

Art — Art is an important subject to me, but our exploration of art ebbs and flows. At the moment, I am not planning any formal lessons like I did in the past because we’re busy doing everything else. Both boys are also working on their music lessons in earnest. However, I have found that the best way of getting the boys to get a little creative has been to buy new art supplies once in a while. I also throw art history into our history lessons. I have found Cave Paintings to Picasso to be a helpful book. We also visit an art museum once or twice a year.

Music — Music is still my eleven-year-old’s “project.” He continues piano lessons, preparing for competitions, learning about music history, and attending as many classical music concerts as we can take him to. He’s very serious about it, and it has been an adventure for the whole family. 🙂

As I mentioned before, I will add my reviews of these curricula as I write them. I will also follow up with a post about my 2nd grader’s curriculum.

What are you working on this year?