Secular Homeschool Curriculum: 2020-2021 School Year

Alright guys, here it is - my 2020-2021 curriculum post! I have spent months pouring over curriculum blog posts, reading curriculum reviews, and watching curriculum flip throughs on Youtube.  After all that, I still spent weeks going back and forth trying to choose between all the different options.  This is our first year homeschooling so I'm sure this isn't perfect and will almost certainly be subject to change; but, this is what we're starting with.

For those that haven't read my "About" page, I have three kids ages 8 (going into third grade), 5 (going into first grade), and 3.5.  George, my son, is going to be in first grade and Eleanor, my oldest daughter, is going into third grade.

Math: Horizons (Level 1 and Level 3)

I went back and forth between Horizons and Saxon but ultimately chose Horizons because it seemed more fun and exciting to me, which means it will almost certainly be seen as more fun and exciting by my kids.

Language Arts

By way of personal background - in college, I majored in English, I'm an avid and daily reader, and I write for a living.  This means that finding an amazing Language Arts curriculum was beyond important to me.  I initially thought I would be able to find one program that would work well and cover everything I wanted them to learn; however, after searching I'm not sure that's really possible.

 Like I said, reading is very important to me (and much loved by Eleanor) so Lightning Literature makes so much sense for our family.  I was initially torn on whether to use this same program with George and I ultimately decided not to.  We've read most of the Level 1 books before and I'm just not sure he would benefit from this program yet.  For Eleanor, I've decided to use Level 4 because she's read almost all of the Level 3 books and only one of the Level 4 books (The Borrowers).

Because he's at the early stages of reading, I really wanted to find a good phonics program for George.  After looking through a lot of them, I settled on Explode the Code.  I like how it's pretty open and go, which will be nice since there is a lot we're doing that will require a lot more attention and instruction from me.  I'm also a big believer in teaching emerging readers phonics as opposed to just having them memorize sight words so this program speaks to me.  We did a placement test online and I'll be getting him Books 3 and 4.

I've also decided to use a separate grammar program for George, in addition to Explode the Code.  I think this will help fill the gaps and teach him more about sentence structure and general language rules.  Like I said above, this is our first year homeschooling so this might be overkill.  I just don't know and would rather have this to start with than not have it.  For grammar specifically I've chosen First Language Lessons Level 1.  I really like how this program is set up.  Some reviews have labeled it as "dry" but I think paired with Explode the Code and a lot of reading together it will be just fine.

I've also decided to to incorporate a separate vocabulary program for Eleanor.  I love the idea of her learning why words are structured the way they are so I'm excited to try Vocabulary From Classical Roots 4 with her.  We're also going to be doing unit studies on Ancient Rome and Ancient Greece and I think this will tie in nicely with that.

For spelling, we'll be using Spelling You See.  Like I said above, I really like the idea of teaching my kids phonics rules so that they'll be able to figure out how to spell complicated words.  I will say that I've had a really hard time figuring out which levels to get for the kids.  After looking over the placement information on the Spelling You See website, I've decided on Level B for George and Level D for Eleanor.

For handwriting we'll be using Handwriting Without Tears.  I have a whole blog post reviewing this program if you're interested.  I really love Handwriting Without Tears and am very excited to be using it again.  It's an awesome program that works so well and takes so little time.

So, in sum:

Reading Comprehension/Composition: (Eleanor Only) Lightning Literature (Level 4)

Grammar: (George Only) First Language Lessons (Level 1)

Vocabulary: (Eleanor Only) Vocabulary From Classical Roots (4)

Phonics: (George Only) Explode the Code (Books 3 and 4)

Spelling: Spelling You See (Level B and Level D)

Handwriting: Handwriting Without Tears (Printing and Cursive)

I had a really, really hard time picking a science curriculum.  I knew that I didn't want to take a traditional grade-level textbook approach to science.  I also knew that I wanted a science curriculum that we could all do and enjoy together.  Whatever I picked also had to be secular (or, if not completely secular, not creationist).  I think this curriculum fits the bill.

I'm going to start with Focus On Biology because this is the subject everyone wants to do first.  Once we finish biology, I'm leaning towards moving onto Focus On Geology but I'm not going to make that decision yet.  From what I recall, each program takes about 10 weeks so I think we'll probably only get through two during the 2020-2021 school year.

I'm planning on only buying one laboratory notebook and one student workbook and having George and Eleanor share.  If this doesn't end up working, I can always buy a second laboratory notebook down the line or photocopy pages as the need arises.

Social Studies

Just like with science, I knew that I didn't want to teach social studies from a textbook.  With my kids being so young I think they'll have a lot more fun (and probably learn more) if we do more of a unit study approach for social studies.

For history, I'm planning on reading Story of the World (Volume 1).  We started this book back in April but I think I'll probably just start from the beginning again in the fall so we can start fresh with everything.  In addition to Story of the World, we're going to do month-long unit studies of Ancient Egypt, Ancient Rome, Ancient Greece, Ancient China, and the Middle Ages (I think).  There are so many amazing resources online with such helpful information about unit studies on these particular periods of history that I'm not too worried about the specifics just yet.  As we get closer to the start of the school year I plan on mapping out a more specific plan for our first one (Ancient Egypt) but for now I'm just going with this general plan.  I also plan on using this book as the spine for our history studies.

For geography, we're going to be studying the United States.  My plan is for us to cover two states a week and during that week learn about the state capital, the state flag, and some interesting event that happened in the state.  I'm hoping that by the end of the year we'll have the state capitals memorized. We'll see.  I'm going to buy this 50 States book because it's fun and colorful and I think it will help get the kids interested in United States geography.

During the spring we also made little passports that we would fill out as we read books about different countries.  The kids would draw the country's flag in their passports and then we would read a little about the country.  I'm hoping to keep this up during the coming school year as well since it was fun and pretty well received by the kids.


David and I both really want the kids to learn a second language so this is an important one.  We've played around on Duolingo in the past and both kids really liked using it.  I think we'll try to use that a couple times a week in addition to using workbooks.  I have this one in my Amazon cart for Eleanor and this one for George.  I haven't pulled the trigger on them yet but they look pretty good.


I am not good in either of these areas so I will be outsourcing these subjects as much as possible.  We have a neighbor who teaches piano lessons so I'm hoping to get those set up for Eleanor and George.  I've also heard really good things about Hoffman Academy, which is free and online so I might try that for a few weeks first.

I plan on outsourcing art where possible as well because I am not artistic in the slightest.  Eleanor and George both love doing Youtube drawing tutorials so that's something we'll keep doing.  I would also love to find a local art class that they could attend but there's still not much open in our town due to coronavirus so I'm not sure how much luck I'll have right now.

Physical Education

This is a tough one because so much is still closed down where we live.  Eleanor was on a swim team before the pandemic but, unfortunately, her team hasn't yet started up again.  George is currently in taekwondo and they recently started practicing at a park by our house, which has been perfect.  Eleanor is also going to be doing a surf camp in August and if she likes it, that's something I would love to keep up with during the school year.

I'm also really hoping there will be opportunities for other sports during the year like soccer and tennis.  If we're able to, I'll sign the kids up for those as well.

So folks, that's all I have.  I have absolutely no idea if this is too much, too little, or just enough.  Only time will tell.  If you're an experienced homeschooler I would love to hear from you in the comments.


  1. Oh my goodness; this brings back so many memories... I'm pretty sure my boys were around the same ages when we began homeschooling. They are now 12, 14 & 16 and I have just loved these past 8/8+ years!! But... yeah our curriculum rarely lasted the whole year until my boys reached middle school.

    1. That's so encouraging to hear! I feel like there's so much pressure to pick the PERFECT curriculum right out of the gate, which I know is basically an impossible feat. It takes some of the weight off knowing that we can switch down the line and it won't be a big deal. Thanks for commenting!

  2. Not a homeschooler but...

    Explode the Code was used with my kiddo in his (self-contained autism spectrum) class, and it seemed to work well. They're also big users of Handwriting without Tears.

    My 8th grade accelerated teacher did a unit on Greek and Latin roots with us (25+ year ago), and I feel like I have a better take on the English language and also with things like biology and medical terminology because of it, so I'm totally cheering you on with the Vocabulary from Classical Roots book.

    1. That's so great to hear about your experience with Greek and Latin roots. I think having a strong foundation in language really does help in all areas of life and learning. Hopefully what Eleanor learns this year will stick with her and really help her understand language. I'll keep the blog updated with how it's going!


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