My friend asked advice on what curriculum to use with her 8th grader who has been in school until now, but will be homeschooling this coming year. Everyone shared their favorite programs, which is super helpful, because when you haven’t homeschooled for a while, or never, it’s great to get a list of all the things people like. I’ll mention at the bottom a few things I’ve liked for 8th grade over the years.
But to start, here’s my general list of recommendations for 8th graders:
The Two Big Skills
Make sure your child learns how to write a 5 paragraph essay. It doesn’t matter what you personally think of the genre. This skill is your child’s ticket through high school. If you could only teach one thing, teach this.
Make sure your kid has mastered arithmetic and pre-algebra. It’s not a race on doing Algebra 1 in junior high. Don’t sweat that. Get your kid as fluent as possible in the foundations, and then algebra and geometry will go much more smoothly when the time comes.
Science & Social Studies
A good physical science class can be very helpful as preparation for high school science if you haven’t done one lately and it isn’t scheduled for 9th grade. Alternately: Any science class your kid is super excited about.
If you’ve never done an overview of world history and world geography, now’s a good time to do that, unless it’s going to be your 9th grade. Alternately: Any social studies topic your kid is super excited about.
I prefer physical science and world history as 9th grade classes, but many schools have dropped them from 9th grade and go straight to what used to be saved until 10th grade. Find out what your local school system does, what your state graduation requirements are (for example: 9th grade physical science doesn’t usually meet the college admission and high school graduation lab science requirements), and what the most likely course sequence is for your kid’s expected high school program.
The Important Parts
Do at least one thing your child enjoys. If your kid hasn’t lately studied something just for the pure pleasure of it, do that. High school is gonna be long and will probably require a lot of intellectual self-denial, unless the kid really lucks out.
Your faith matters. If you are coming from a den of atheism and returning to a den of atheism, take advantage of the time out to choose curriculum things that reinforce the faith. What that is will depend on your kid. My most recent 7th grader and I spent a semester volunteering at a clothing closet and a homeless-people-shower-and-laundry facility. It’s not always textbooks that are the thing.
But do note that the Bible, church history, Christian authors, and the like can be legitimate ways to study literature and social studies, so you can really do some shoring up intellectually on the faith without overloading yourself. If you have a kid who wants to read Tolkien, let the kid read Tolkien, this is the moment.
Teach your kid to think. If it won’t be happening in high school (see: “den of atheism”), consider doing a book like The Fallacy Detective that teaches you how to think clearly. I prefer to wait until high school, but junior high is better than never.
The Most Important Part
But mostly: Stay sane and don’t hate each other. Build your child’s confidence. Whatever it takes, that’s what you want.
And now for a few things that I’ve liked, having gotten 2.5 children through homeschooled 8th grade. (#3 transitioned to school mid-year.) I’ve taught high school and middle school classes with a homeschool cooperative, so my sample size is a little larger than just my own kids. For the coming year I’ll be teaching 6th and 7th grade humanities at a local private school, so I’m drawing on a little of what I’ve learned in prepping for that as well, though I’m not commenting on texts I’ve never used myself.
These are just things I’ve used and liked. There are other good choices out there.
For 8th grade math Saxon 8/7 has done us well. I like Math-U-See in general, but for getting a kid ready for algebra and geometry, 8/7 has proven itself. I’d stay away from Saxon if your 8th grader has a super hard time with learning new concepts and needs lot of intensive time building the foundations. But for kids who do okay, the dizzying spiral of Saxon works well in 8/7 as an unrelentingly thorough prep of every dang thing you need to know before getting to Algebra 1 and geometry. You can start 8/7 after doing some other program your entire life, and you can transition to yet another program afterwards. It’s a good 8th grade year solid choice for the average kid.
I’ve never regretted time spent on IEW. As writing programs go, it’s intense. Not everyone loves it. But for mastering those 5-paragraph skills, it does the trick. For the longterm, IEW is like calisthenics or martial-arts forms practice. You aren’t going to grow up to write like you learned in junior high, but IEW does teach you how to take total control of your words, sentences, paragraphs, and the organization of your document. That’s a necessary skill. My youngest’s parish school teachers taught the kids that skill using something that wasn’t IEW, but that was also very effective. So there are other ways.
If you’re looking for parent-friendly language arts, I like what Catholic Heritage Curricula has on offer in their Language of God series. I like the Sadlier-Oxford vocabulary workshop books. If you are that kind of person, both the old Voyages in English — now called Lepanto – and the new VIE currently being put out by Loyola Press are solid. But you have to be that kind of person, because they are for-serious.
If you have a child who needs customized spelling help, Spelling Power works great, but it is teacher-intensive. For certain learning disabilities you’ll want Sequential Spelling instead.
For Catholic religion textbooks, you want Faith and Life from Ignatius Press. There are reasons your parish might need a different program, so don’t be down on your DRE about it . . . but you want F&L. No really. It’s the best.
UPDATED to throw in a comment on Literature: I’ve had one 8th grader do the Secret Code of Poetry, a workbook text I loved but she did not. She wanted to read rescue thrillers. Your mileage may vary. The boy read a selection of choices off of Kolbe Academy’s reading list and used their study guides to go with; some of that he enjoyed and others he didn’t. L. spent her fall semester of 8th grade on a drama unit and then The Hobbit studied from a novelist’s point of view, and that was good. (My friend and I wrote the curricula on those, sooo, sorry, nothing to hand you off-the-shelf.) She enjoyed Animal Farm in the spring at school, but in contrast the boy hated that one in middle school because the pigs made him so stinking furious. 8th grade is a good year for heroism. The Hiding Place comes to mind as an example of a book that isn’t so very “literary” but can be a good selection, depending on your child.
I’d suggest you mine the reading lists of all the reputable Christian homeschool curriculum providers, and pick based on what interests your child.
The various history books from The Catholic Textbook Project absolutely rock. I’m not just saying that because Mrs. Darwin is writing one (though hers is gonna be superb. Whoa! Yay!!!). For geography, I still love the Map Skills series from Continental Press. I like the history timeline flash cards from Classically Catholic Memory. I also very much like picking a topic and going to the library and checking out bunches of books and learning about it that way.
I don’t have a favorite science program. The books I’ve used that are recommended by various Catholic homeschool curriculum providers are all fine, sift through them based on your needs. The library method combined with hands-on activities is my preferred science method, but it may or may not work for your 8th grade situation.
That’s all I can think of for now. I’ve done reviews on this blog before, and written a little bit at CatholicMom.com way back when, if you want to search around. There’s all kinds of good stuff out there. Look for things that you like that match the personalities and constraints specific to you. 8th grade should not be miserable. It’s not for that.
Artwork courtesy of Wikimedia, Public Domain