How We Homeschooled the Elementary Years: Math

21 Mar

            This is the second in a series of posts on how our family homeschooled during the elementary school years. As I mentioned earlier, there are as many ways to homeschool as there are homeschoolers, and just because something worked for our family, doesn’t mean that it will work for yours. These posts are just here to let you know what worked for one family.

For math, we used a combination of courses in the beginning.  I found the Math-U-See series helpful for teaching place value, but I also used the math workbook from the Calvert kindergarten curriculum mentioned in the earlier post, and various worksheets that I found on telling time and things like that.

Later, at about fourth grade, we switched solely to Saxon Math and haven’t looked back.  I do not teach my son math; he teaches himself.  I give him about half of a math assignment each day (15 problems, including all of the problems with the new concepts and every other problem pertaining to the old concepts until I reach 15 problems).  If he does well on that half assignment, then the next day he skips ahead to the next assignment. If he doesn’t do well, then he does the second half of the assignment the following day.  I do not teach him anything about the assignment.  The Saxon books are written so that from fourth grade on, students can read the material in the book and learn it themselves without a teacher. After each lesson, I correct the assignment and then give it back to my son to correct any mistakes himself. We have a rule that he is allowed to ask me for help three times for each assignment.  He can choose to do it either while he is doing the work or while he is correcting the assignment.  Once he got used to this way of doing things (and it did take a bit of getting used to), he ended up saving his “helps” for the corrections.  Nowadays, he almost never even asks for help.

If it appears to me that he is having particular trouble with a certain type of problem, I give him “extra math” for a few days, which consist of maybe three extra problems of the type that he is having difficulty with.  Also, at one point, it seemed like he was having difficulty with math in general, and so I cut back on the number of problems he did in a day.  Instead of giving him a half a lesson a day, I gave him a third of a lesson a day (about ten to eleven problems). We still skipped ahead if he did well on the portion of the lesson that he was given.

The first quarter of each Saxon book is pretty much a review of previous years, so whenever we start a new book, we skip the assignments at first, and instead I give him the first tests for that book to help determine where he needs to start in the book.  If he gets an “A” or “B” on the first test, we skip to the next test.  If he gets a “C,” we stop and he starts the book at the beginning (this has only happened once). The next day, I give him the second test. If he gets an “A,” we’ll skip ahead to the third test. If he gets a “C” on the second test, we stop, and he starts the book at the first lesson covered in the second test. If he gets a “B,” whether we skip ahead or stop depends on the grade of his previous test. If his previous test grade was an “A,” we skip ahead to the next test. If his previous grade was a “B,” we stop, and he starts the book at the first lesson covered in the second test.

Basically you can sum up what we do as follows:  If he gets an “A” on the test, we move to the next one.  If he gets a “C” on any test, we stop and start the book at the first lesson that is covered by the test that he got the “C” in.  If he gets two “Bs” in a row, we stop, and he starts the book at the lessons that are covered by the second test that he received a “B” in.  If he gets a “B,” then an “A,” then another “B,” we move on to the next test.  At some point he’ll either get a “C,” or two “Bs” in a row, and that marks where he starts the new book. Through the years he’s started his new math books anywhere from lesson 1 to about lesson 25. My son has been tested on standardized tests twice now, and both times his math scores have been in the upper 5% when compared to other students his age nationally, so skipping ahead doesn’t seem to have hurt him, and he’s learning math two grade levels ahead of his age.

However, one thing that I would like to point out is that my son does not love math like he loves reading.  So while this method has been very successful in teaching him math, I would have preferred that he also discovered an interest in it. However, from a testing standpoint, math is one of his best subjects, so he has a good foundation in math for whatever field he chooses to go into.

How We Homeschooled the Elementary Years: Reading

30 Jan

Now that my son is in the middle school years, I thought that it might be nice to look back on how we homeschooled during the elementary years to see if our experiences can help folks who are starting out on their homeschooling journey.  My intention was to put it all in one post, but there is so much to say that I’m going to break it down by subject into a series of posts.  As you read these posts, please remember that there are as many ways to homeschool as there are homeschoolers, and just because something worked for our family, doesn’t mean that it will work for yours. That’s one of the great things about homeschooling—if something isn’t working for your child, you can always change it. One thing that I highly recommend for any homeschooling family is to join a homeschooling group so that your children can meet other homeschoolers, and so that you can meet other homeschooling parents who might be able to give you ideas for methods or curriculums that you hadn’t even thought of.  In my homeschooling group we have pretty much the full spectrum of homeschoolers—from unschoolers, to kids taking an online curriculum, and everything in between.

In the beginning, as many new homeschoolers do, I purchased a curriculum, (Calvert) in this case a kindergarten one.  Then I proceeded to not use it.  Oh, I did use some of it, especially the reading books that it came with, but I didn’t follow the lesson plans. Instead, I taught my son to read using the book Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. (Which a fellow homeschooler had recommended to me.) This book made teaching reading very simple. However, I didn’t even follow this book exactly.  When I noticed that my son was getting bored and restless during the lessons, I realized that he didn’t need to complete each lesson. He was understanding the lessons so well that we could skip a portion of each lesson and go on to the next. After every lesson, I would have him read something to me from one of the easy reader books that I had collected. I found the Bob Books helpful for this.  I also started going to garage sales and purchasing as many easy reader books as I could find.  Later, we moved on to the Magic Tree House series.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I also made sure that our house was full of books for our son to read on his own. I read to him at bed time and during the day. I would give him reading assignments in books that I thought that he would enjoy, and often he would get involved in the books and continue reading them on his own.  My main goal wasn’t just to teach him to read, but to get him to love to read.  If you can do that for your child, then you have given him or her a gift for a lifetime.

A Fun and Easy To Make Christmas Wreath

13 Nov

Two Announcements!


I Now Have an eStore for Group or Bulk Orders!

     If you belong to a group and would like to place a bulk order of my books for the members of your group, go to the “Contact” page of this website to get in touch with me, and we can set you up for a group discount.  Teachers or schools can also use this store to purchase bulk orders of my books for the classroom at a discount.

 My New Kindle eBook, How to Teach About Electricity for Ages 8-13, Is Available for Purchase!

     If you liked Science Unit Studies for Homeschoolers and Teachers, you’ll like this new eBook. It is written in basically the same format as the science units in Science Unit Studies for Homeschoolers and Teachers, except that the electricity unit is longer than the ones in the unit studies book. It is now available on Kindle for $2.99 at the following link:  How to Teach About Electricity for Ages 8-13If you do not have a Kindle, Amazon has free apps available so that you can download Kindles to other devices, including your computer, at this link:  Free Amazon Apps.


A Fun and Easy To Make Christmas Wreath


            Okay, I know it’s a bit early to be thinking about Christmas (it’s not even Thanksgiving yet), but this will probably be my last blog before the holidays, so I thought that I should post this now. Last year while I was searching for some Christmas craft freebies (still posted on the Freebies page of this blog), I could not find any online instructions for making the type of wreath that has become a tradition in our family every Christmas. This year, we decided to make our wreath early, so that we could write up the instructions for the blog in time for Christmas.

            This wreath can be made with either fresh greenery, which is how we made our first wreath, or with artificial greenery, which is how we made the one below.  It is a simple enough project that even young children can make a beautiful wreath, but satisfying enough for older children too. You could also adapt it to make wreaths for other holidays.


  To make this wreath you will need a straw wreath form. We purchased ours from a craft store:

You will also need around 100-150 Greening Pins:

       Finally, you will need a piece of bailing wire and the greenery that you will be putting onto your wreath.  It’s always good to have a lot of greenery on hand, because the wreath will probably use more than you think that you will need! 
      To start your wreath, first tie a loop of wire around the top that you will hang your wreath from. The wire in the photo below is a bit large; you might want to make your loop smaller than this one. We chose to leave the plastic covering on our straw to help it keep its shape:

            Next, choose some greenery that you would like to use as filler.  This greenery is not the type that will show up the most on your wreath, it is there to hide the straw and to provide some accents. Attach pieces of it to the wreath using the greening pins. Push the pins directly into the straw to hold the greenery in place:

            Don’t forget to cover the sides of your wreath as you go. After a while it should look something like this:

            Now, start adding more of your greenery, again paying attention to both the top and sides of the wreath:

            Keep filling the wreath in until all of the straw is hidden. You can add fun touches like red berries, bows, flowers, pinecones or even small fake birds:

When you are finished, your wreath will be your own unique creation:

Here are two wreaths that we made in previous years:

Encouraging a Love of Reading

17 Jul

Hi Everyone!

I have an announcement to make! The second book in my Our America series, The King Philip’s War Adventure is now available! And, the first book in the series The Pilgrim Adventure is now available on Kindle!

The King Philip’s War Adventure takes Finn and Ginny back to colonial times again where they get caught up in one of the least-taught and most dreadful wars in our history. I enjoyed writing this book even more than the first one in the series, and I hope that you folks enjoy it too.

I thought that today I would write about something for those of you with younger children—how to encourage a love of reading in your children.  If you can hook your kids on books, then half of your job as a homeschooler is already done. Not only will teaching spelling and grammar be a lot easier if your kids love to read (in fact I never taught my son spelling; he just picked it up by himself because he read so much),  but they can also teach themselves things by reading that you may not even have thought of.

But how to do this?  Here are some things you can do to encourage your young children to love reading:

1)    Limit TV and electronics time in your home. In fact, it’s a good idea to not even allow very young children to watch TV at all–at least until after they have developed a love of reading.

2)    Have lots of books available for them to read all over the house. Not only library books, but books that you own. I haunted garage sales and library sales for years buying books for my son.

3)    Keep books in the car for your children to read while you are driving.

4)    Read yourself—if your children see that you read for pleasure, it shows them that reading is a fun thing to do.

5)    Read to your children as much as possible. Start as soon as they are born—even babies like to be read to. I used to sit on my back next to my son, holding a book over our heads and read to him while he was a baby.  He’d wiggle his feet and get excited when we came to parts he liked in the books. (He especially liked rhyming books at this age.)

6)    When your children first start to read, look for lots of easy books that they can read themselves to give them something to be proud of. The Bob Books are especially good for this, or you could do a search for “easy reader,” or “beginning reader” on Amazon to see what types of books are out there.

7)    Once your children can read, get them hooked onto a series. If you can find a children’s series that they like, then they will want to read more books in the series, and then they’re hooked.

These are the methods that I used to foster a love of reading in my son.  If any of you have any other suggestions, please feel free to mention them in the comments!


Homeschooling and Writing

10 May

I have a new book announcement for you all!  I’m starting a series of Kindle eBooks called “How to Teaching Guides.” The first one is How to Teach a Newspaper Class for Middle and High School Grades.  The idea for the book came from a class that I’ve been teaching this school year. The preface from the book explains how it all came about:

     It is rare to find a child who loves every subject and wants to do them all. My son is no exception. For years I tore my hair out trying to find creative ways to get him to write. We made books, we made journals, he wrote letters and reports, but I still felt that something just wasn’t clicking. As a homeschooling mom I felt that I needed to come up with a better solution. My son was hitting middle school and it was time to work on this problem.

     That was when I came up with the idea of teaching a newspaper class. Since my son is usually willing to try new things, I suggested the idea to him and he said, “Sure.” That was all the encouragement I needed. I did some research, signed up some kids for the class, and soon it was time for my son to write his first article. He’d been very excited about his ideas for the first issue, so he sat down at his computer, ready and eager to write, and….froze up. He had major writer’s block. He had no idea how to start his article. My heart sank. I’d committed myself to teaching this class for a year, and I was envisioning weekly arguments trying to get my son to write his articles.

     But I’m also trying to teach my son not to be a quitter, so we persevered. I gave him some ideas for how to start his article, made him keep at it, and he wrote it. And he hasn’t looked back. Now, after taking the class for most of the year, he’s realized that writing, like anything, takes practice. He can see how much easier it is for him to write an article now compared to when he first started the class, and he’s not afraid of writer’s block anymore. This class may have been one of the best homeschooling ideas I’ve ever had.                            

I can’t recommend enough the idea of starting a newspaper to get kids interested in writing. That’s not to say that there aren’t other creative ways to do this. We’ve done a number of them through the years. One of our favorites was making books. There are a number of ways out there that your kids can make books that look like real published books. We purchased Creations by You kits and my son made limerick books, joke books, haiku books, and just plain story books.

Another thing we did was to make a scrapbook of events in his life. For each page of the scrapbook I would give him a short sheet of paper with lines on it that he would write about the event on.  Once he was done, we’d paste it to the scrapbook page and then decorate the rest of the page with photos and other items.

One thing that some of my friend’s children are doing is writing blogs, either on their own or as part of a larger family blog.

All of these projects, including the newspaper class, have one thing in common. They produce something that has a larger purpose than just writing a story on a piece of paper.  It seems like kids are more receptive to a writing project when they can see that it has a larger purpose, not just writing for the sake of writing.

Do any of you have any kids’ writing project ideas out there that you would like to share?

One last thing on an unrelated subject…if you’re interested in knowing why I love homeschooling so much, or would like to understand why some people homeschool, check out this article that I wrote for Canada’s Homeschool Guide:


Happy Homeschooling!





29 Feb

Hello Everyone!

Welcome to Funtastic Unit Studies! I started this site as a resource for homeschoolers and teachers, and plan on continually adding content as time goes on. I hope that you enjoy what I have posted so far and continue to check back to see what is new on the site. I try to add all of my new items all at once every couple of months or so, because I don’t want my subscribers to be constantly getting Emails about every little addition that I make to the site (I know how many Emails folks get these days and I hope that by doing it this way I am helping you all by not contributing to your Email pile-up!).

I have decided to add a Blog to this site. I am a very private person and am a bit hesitant about putting myself out into the internet world, but I know that folks enjoy reading Blogs, so I thought that I would give it a try.  From now on I will try to add a post about homeschooling, teaching, or other related subjects each time that I add content to the site, and I will activate the comments section on the Blog page so that you all can contribute your thoughts if you would like.

Let me introduce myself.  My name is Susan Kilbride and I am a homeschooling mom. Those words “Homeschooling Mom” define who I have become. I’ve done lots of other things in my life, but none of them have been as fun or as important as homeschooling my son, who is now middle-school age. I have a wonderful husband and parents who completely support me in my homeschooling endeavor, and I feel extremely lucky to have their support.

I initially hadn’t planned on homeschooling, but a few things happened when my son was very young that made me decide to give it a try. First, I had a friend whose son was getting bullied in kindergarten. Children should not have to deal with bullying at that young an age, and I did not want my son to go through that. Second, for reasons that I don’t want to post online, I was extremely concerned about the quality of education in our school district. Don’t get me wrong, I love teachers and really appreciate the hard work that they do teaching our kids.  I just felt like things weren’t working so well in the area that we live in. Third, I was becoming increasingly concerned about the socialization that kids get in schools now days.  I find it rather funny that people worry about socialization in homeschoolers.  I think they should be more concerned about the socialization that kids get in school.

So, I gave homeschooling a try, and we have never looked back.  It has been the most wonderful experience of my life.  That’s not to say that it hasn’t been hard and even frustrating at times, but when I look back on all of the precious moments that I have been able to share with my son, I know that it has all been worth it.

I would be really interested in hearing some of your stories of why you started homeschooling, so feel free to share them in the comments section.  I will be previewing the comments before they get posted, so don’t worry if your comment doesn’t show up right away.  It will get posted eventually!