Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

School Reading Lists and Plans: Grades 6-8

 It's the season for thinking about education in the Darwin household.  Today we drive our eldest out to college -- we'll see how that goes in the time of coronavirus -- but it's also the time for getting people's school assignments ready for the coming year.  By the time, I of course mean "totally last minute".  There are some good and worthy people out there who plan their homeschool curriculum six to twelve months ahead of time.  We're more the "it's a week and a half till we start school, we better know if we need to order books" kind of household.  

If you too are in the middle of last minute school planning (or perhaps getting ready to jump ship from a "distance education" logjam and do something that involves less Zoom meetings, perhaps this will be of some use.

We break down homeschool planning according to age.  MrsDarwin deals with K-5 and I deal with 6-12.  The rationale for this is that from middle school on up the kids can be trusted to sit down and read a book on their own or do a set of math problems on their own in a fairly organized fashion.  The younger ones need someone to sit next to them or look over the shoulder and make sure they are doing work.  Since I'm mostly tied up with work during the day, it makes sense to have me deal with the older kids.  

Math is the most straightforward subject.  For these middle grades we use the Saxon books.  They're basic and perhaps a little repetitive, but they come in clear one-day assignments and the lessons in the book for these grades are at a level where kids can pretty reliably read the explanations to themselves, grasp the concepts, and then go on to do the work.  No crazy techniques that parents can't follow here if they're asked to help out.  We've used Saxon 7/6 for sixth grade and Saxon 8/7 for eight grade.  From there one faces a choice, you could do Saxon Algebra 1/2 (one half) as your eighth grade book, or you can do what we did which was switch over to the series we've used for high school Art of Problem Solving.  Last year, I had our eighth grader use Art of Problem Solving Pre-Algebra for eighth grade.  I like the art of problem solving books because the explanations of mathematical concepts make sense to me and are much more in depth and example-driven than the Saxon lessons.  However, the kids reaction has been... mixed.  And the books do not break down into simple one-lesson-per-day structures.  You need to look at the chapters and their sub-chapters and figure out a pace for yourself which usually involves 3-4 sub-chapters a week.  Also, the Art of Problem Solving books are, honestly, designed for kids who are deep into math and may want to participate in math competitions.  None of our kids so far fit that description.  I tell them they can skip the starred problems which are designed to be extra-challenging mind-bending problems to help you prepare for competition.  And we have not had a kid decide to tackle Calculus, so I can't speak to that book.  When I was homeschooled myself, I used Saxon straight up through Calculus in senior year of highschool.  It was workman-like, but I felt that in the last two years there were concepts that I wasn't grasping fully.

Science at this level is a bit tricky.  I haven't run into any middle grade textbooks that I'm particularly impressed with.  Science you encounter in 6th to 8th is not going to be the most in-depth science you'll ever read, and often textbooks rely on simplifications that verge on falsifications.  But you are at this point laying the groundwork for a lifetime's understanding of science, and I think it can be worth doing more than "go to the library and pick up what looks interesting to you.

In sixth grade last year I had our 11-year-old read a book I'd stumbled across called Astronomy 101.  I'd actually had our next eldest read it the year before in seventh grade, but I had her read it faster and I then had her read Jane Goodall's In The Shadow of Man about her pioneering anthropology work with chimpanzees.  Last year I had our eighth grader read Microbe Hunters and The Selfish Gene.  Some might ask why I had our Catholic kid read a Richard Dawkins book.  Selfish Gene is not primarily about Dawkins atheism, but he does definitely digress into discussing his philosophical views at times.  However, after reading several other books tackling evolution at this reading level, The Selfish Gene honestly did seem like the best and mostly clearly written.  So I told our eighth grader to be aware of his viewpoint and went ahead and assigned it.  This is an age when it's appropriate to start making those interpretive decisions as a student.

For Reading/Literature I'll just list off what we've had people read in the last few years. 


The Winged Watchman
The Borrowed House
Farmer Boy
Swiss Family Robinson
Children's Homer
D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths
Edith Hamilton's Mythology (maybe a stretch for a lot of kids, but this one really got into mythology)


Katie John
Hobberdy Dick
Alice in Wonderland
Through the Looking Glass
A Little Princess
The Good Master
Swallows and Amazons
Between the Sword and the Wall
The Revolution is not a Dinner Party


One is One
Till We Have Face
The Great Divorce
The Great Gatsby
The Man Who Was Thursday
End of Track
The Last Days of Night

These lists are fairly personal.  I skipped books that the kids had already read, and tried to fit the books to their interests and to some extent to the periods they were covering in history.  I certainly wouldn't consider the lists normative, but they're all books worth reading if you are looking for ideas.

In history, choices are kind of tricky.  I had the sixth grader read the first half Gombrich's Little History of the World, and then supplemented that with individual books on Greece and Rome including the Oxford Children's History of the Ancient World.  In seventh grade, I want him to cover Medieval to Modern, and I'll use the second half of Grombrich, but I need to find something else as well.  Last time we did seventh grade, I used a number of stand alone books to cover industrial revolution to the present day:

Sally Wister's Journal
Patriot's Daughter (about Lafayette's daughter during the French Revolution)
Napoleon and the Napoloeonic Wars (by Albert Marrin)
Captains of Industry
Mill Girl
Inventive Wizard George Westinghouse
Garibaldi, Knight of Italy
The First World War by Hew Strachen (his concise volume, not the massive one)
World War Two: A Short History by Norman Stone

For eighth grade last year, I had out eighth grader read Land of Hope by Wilfred McClay

Our approach to grammar and composition has honestly been a weakness, probably because MrsDarwin and I write so much and thus the exercises in books mostly seem really tiresome.  We've used various books out of the Warriner's English Grammar & Composition series, which are solid, old school grammar, usage, and composition books.  

Religion is also a topic which is a bit scattered.  MrsDarwin does daily bible readings with all the kids as well as reading reflections on the readings, etc.  They're enrolled in the parish religious education program, which MrsDarwin teaches in.  And there's also usually a book, though I'm not as good as I should be about keeping up assignments.  

In eighth grade a year ago I assigned The How To Book of the Mass, St. Francis of Assisi by GK Chesterton, and Story of Soul by St. Therese.

A year before that I made use of an illustrated series on Church history and had her read The Church in Revolutionary Times, The Church and the Modern Nations, and The Church Today.  That series is quite good and evenhanded in its dealing with Catholicism and Protestantism, and it has a good world-wide viewpoint, but it's unfortunately long out of print.  With some searching, you can find decent copies used at reasonable prices, though.


Catholic Bibliophagist said...

As a retired homeschooler, it's always interesting to read through the book lists of those who are still in the trenches. It warms my heart to see some of your choices which were favorites of mine either from my own youth or from when we where schooling our own children. And the new-to-me stuff sounds good too. Wishing you a good school year.

Antoinette said...

Thank you for doing this. I have dear friends with two kids - 2nd and 4th grade. They found that online learning didn't work for their kids so they are going to homeschool. They know that it's a learning experience and an adventure.

Amanda said...

Are you familiar with Memoria Press's Nature's Beautiful Order for middle grade conceptual biology?

Kelly said...

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson is the first of a wonderful Revolutionary war trilogy set. I couldn't put them down.

Also, Refugee by Alan Gratz interweaves stories of refugees from four different time periods, but all would fall under the modern history heading.

Both of these are middle grades fiction which appeal to boys and generally picky readers.

Anonymous said...

The American Chemical Society has a Middle School chemistry online book. There are animations and simple experiments along with an online reader. I've only used parts of it but I thought it was really well done. Jane Meyerhofer