Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum

Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum, written by the woman who edited The Harp and Laurel Wreath: Poetry and Dictation for the Classical Curriculum, is not an apologetics manual for homeschooling or classical education, but rather a practical suggestion for what to cover in each grade and how.  I find it helpful to read about what other families have done and found successful, so I can tweak what might work for us.

Although the book is classical in focus, the author does draw heavily from Charlotte Mason, emphasizing short lessons, memory work, living books, nature study, narration, artist and composer study, and habit training.  Beginning in the 4th grade section this book includes lists of living books by topic that would be tremendously helpful if you have a child reading at that level.

I found that I somewhat disagreed with the authors approach to history study, and since this is a book about Catholic home education, the religion sections were obviously Catholic in focus.  Of course you could substitute your own religious studies materials, and I think it was good that the author emphasized making that an everyday study.

Another strength of the book that you might expect if you’ve read The Harp and Laurel Wreath is the author’s helpful suggestions of poems and Shakespeare passages to memorize in each grade.  Since my own education was woefully deficient in this area I am always looking for ways to make sure my kids memorize beautiful things that are helpful to them and will make them more educated (I often wonder what things “an educated person” should know by heart – it seems that in the past people knew lots of things they could quote at opportune moments).

If you are homeschooling, or are looking for helpful reading suggestions for elementary kids and older, Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum may be helpful to you and I’d recommend it.


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

10 thoughts on “Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum

    1. Sheila, the history was really focused on US history for most of the early grades, and only brought in world history later on. I prefer for my kids to have a global focus. It’s important for us to know the history of our own country, certainly, but it’s even more important to be able to put that history into context. So I think it’s good to have a cyclical approach to history, with a three or four year cycle of ancient, middle, and modern history that takes into account what was going on in other countries. Susan Wise Bauer’s Story of the World volumes does a great job of that, so my kids listen to those on audio books over and over again and for our closer reading of history we are doing ancient history this year (mostly Greek and Roman) and in Classical Conversations we’re also doing US history and a comprehensive timeline. Our way is a little scattered, but that’s because of where we’re coming on board in CC’s cycle. If you’re interested, Ambleside Online has great resources for living books about history in a chronological organization.

      1. Thanks – I’ve just started looking at specifics of homeschooling in more depth as I think and pray about how we’ll do it. I do really like the idea of the cyclical approach to history, because I definitely don’t want a US-centric focus. What I’m most drawn to at the moment is Sonlight, but we’ll see what we end up with.

        1. I followed the Sonlight booklists primarily for the two years we did preschool. I made a list of the books, then found nearly all of them at the Half Price Book Store (check their children’s clearance section too) over the course of one summer, and the library has many of them too. If you’d like, I’d be happy to pass along our teacher guides for the P 3/4 and P 4/5 curriculum. A friend loaned them to me, so as long as I could get them back from you eventually to get back to my friend she said she was fine with that. At least that way you could get a feel for what goes into it. I found I didn’t really follow the suggested guides because we read way more than that, but it was helpful for me to have the lists and to know that I was covering basics.

          This year we’ve moved into Ambleside Online Year 1, which we are doing along with Classical Conversations. AO preserves the reading out loud, habit study, narration, etc that is important to me. They have a “Year 0” list that we also read through, which might be helpful to you, as well as a lot of really helpful articles about reading to children in general and the Charlotte Mason approach.

          Let me know if you want the Sonlight guides!

          1. Yes please – that would be fantastic as a way to see how I like Sonlight. I love their booklists so much that in many ways I’m really hoping I love the program itself as much and that it works for our family.

            I’ve looked at Ambleside Online but found it somewhat overwhelming in a please-tell-me-what-to-do-exactly sort of way. Probably just the I’m-new-to-this jitters since I felt the same way as a new mom, wondering what on earth I was supposed to do all day with this small person.

            I appreciate the offer & please thank your friend for me as well!

          2. I felt the same way about Ambleside until this year. Now that I’ve been at this for a few years, it makes much more sense. But I think Sonlight is a really good intro if you want to do a literature based study for small kids. Let me know how you want to pick up the Sonlight guides – what is your schedule like? If you want to email me directly that would be great too.

  1. Hi Catherine,
    Would you please share more onhow you combine AO and CC together. I especially wouldmlike to know how do arrange the daiy schedule. Thank you


    1. Hi Liliek,
      As we went through the year last year I found myself using CC only as a supplement. So the kids listen to the memory work on the CD and we might go over it once or twice during the week, but primarily we do other things for actual school. Last year we read through the AO Year 1 list and began Year 2, but at the younger level the lists are not chronological and we weren’t as excited about Year 2. This year we are using Tapestry of Grace and really loving it. You can read more about that in my post about what we’re doing this year: We will still be in a CC group, but really only viewing it as fellowship and a supplement. And I think we will continue using some of the Ambleside reading suggestions if they mesh well with our focus on the ancient world. I’m told that in later grades Ambleside gets into chronology, so I can certainly see moving back to those lists at that point to add to Tapestry of Grace. I hope that helps!

  2. Hi Catherine,

    thank so much for your insight on the use of CC and AO. I started with AO and have used it for 3 years prior to hearing about CC. We will be entering year 4 in the fall. I was a bit concerned on how to merge the both. I really like how you said you use it as a supplement. as of recently have you found yourself still using AO? What AO year are your children in currently? Are you still in CC.Has the idea continued to work for you?

    1. Hi Justina,
      Our homeschooling has definitely changed over time since this post! When I posted about AO and CC, my oldest was in Kindergarten (by age). Now she’s going into 3rd grade, and I have two other children in active school mode. Because my three oldest are close in age but not in the same grade in all subjects, AO years don’t work as well. I also started to have some qualms about how AO was not strictly chronological or integrated between subjects. We switched to Tapestry of Grace two years ago because it’s still very literature based but we can all be studying the same time period at the same time (just reading about it on different levels), and history/geography/art/music/literature/government etc are all integrated and studied as they impacted each other in time. I still really like the AO lists as suggestions for additional reading, and draw on the resources from time to time. We also stopped doing CC after two years because I began to realize that the philosophy of that group does not jive very well with my take on classical education. CC is expensive for what it is (I was using it as a supplement because it’s not a robust enough curriculum for my educational goals) and it’s not comprehensive or chronological in its take on history. Last year we did use some of the CC history songs as they came in to what we were studying in depth, but we didn’t use it in any regular way. That said, different things work for different families at different times. I’d encourage you to take a careful look at whatever curriculum or group you use in light of your goals and your kids’ needs and don’t be afraid to tweak the group to work best for your family–that’s the beauty of homeschooling! I know families who use and enjoy AO and CC and are giving their kids a great education, but this upcoming year we will be focusing on Tapestry of Grace again as our main curriculum.

      Here is a post I did last year on how I was trying to use CC as a supplement with Tapestry:

      Let me know if you have any other questions and good luck!

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