Build Your Own Literature-Based Curriculum

We believe that stories shape families and families change the world.

There may be no better way to immerse your family in stories than by using a literature-rich curriculum in your homeschool.

Charlotte Mason spoke about the importance of living books.

She explained, “One more thing is of vital importance; children must have books, living books. The best is not too good for them; anything less than the best is not good enough.”

Whenever possible, I use living books instead of dry textbooks, and often choose stories and literature over books of facts, no matter how well-written. The power of stories to shape a family culture is so very powerful, and I want to take every opportunity I can to help my students connect to their learning through stories.

Many literature-based curriculum guides exist, including many that are free (see Resources at the bottom of this post), but if you’re like me, you find yourself wanting to endlessly customize any curriculum until it just fits your family! This is one way to build your own literature-based curriculum.

Choose Your Subjects

When I begin planning for a year, the first thing I do is consider what subjects I plan to teach.  The typical subjects covered in school are English (reading, writing, speaking and listening), History/Social Studies, Science, and Math.  In our homeschool, I like to break these down into more specific topics.

We follow a three-year history rotation and include various history streams each year. The graphics below show what we do each year for history based on age.

We also prioritize Bible and what I consider a “Beauty Loop”–hymns, folksongs, picture study etc.

You might choose to prioritize completely different things and follow a different approach to history. Maybe you like unit studies, or you have a history textbook you love and don’t want to include. I still recommend writing down the subjects and your top resource choices to prevent later overwhelm, but at least some of the work is done for you.

As I decide on which topics I want to include in my annual plan, I list the specific subjects across the top of a page. My personal preference is to do this in a Google Spreadsheet, but it can be done in any teacher planner or even just blank paper. If you’d like access to my Google Sheet, click over here and request an email! (LINK)

Decide What You Will Do Together and What You Will Assign Individually

On the top left of the page, I list “Altogether” and then list my students, from youngest to oldest down the page, leaving a fair amount of writing room under each student’s name. In my sample Google sheet, I’ve renamed my students by form (and included the rest of the Forms, too, so you can apply this no matter the age of your students!).

I begin writing down which subjects I plan to include with each student. For example, across from Altogether and under Bible, I list New Testament, Old Testament, Psalms, Proverbs and Devotional. Once I have a specific checklist (from a curriculum or one I’ve created myself) for each topic, I will link it here (it works really well to created checklists as separate sheets in the same Google workbook!).

Note: If your family doesn’t read Scripture or if you read from a different religious text, you can choose to replace this with something important to your family culture. Don’t get hung up on my specifics as you plan for your family!

My Form 1 students don’t do separate Bible, and this year I want to add a Partnership Bible Study with my Form 2, to help him learn to read the Bible on his own, so I add those to the list.

Similarly, we will do some Natural History and Drawing altogether; my Form 2 student will have some additional independent reading around General Science.

Once I have spelled out what I want to cover as far as detailed subjects by student, I copy my worksheet so I have 3 total copies, one for each 12 week chunk of the year. Note: I plan for 36 weeks, but I don’t buy for the final 12 until later in the year–the reality is I usually over plan, and holding off on purchasing allows me to save the expense of unnecessary purchases, but planning up front when I’m doing the heavy mental lifting saves my in February when I’m at my decision-fatigue limit!

Cull Your Resources

Start with what you have.

Do you have books in your home library that address certain areas? Maybe you have Johnny Tremain for your Form 2 or 3 student studying the Revolutionary War, for example. Gather these together and begin replacing the specific subject title with the resource you plan to you.

Look at other lists.

Once you’ve exhausted your personal library, begin looking at booklists online. Ambleside Online (link) is an excellent, full curriculum, and the AO experts would tell you that you shouldn’t just use it as a booklist–but nevertheless, it’s what I do. I also check out Wildwood Curriculum (link).

These free curriculum guides are so rich that you shouldn’t have many holes left to fill after look through them.

A practical note: as I add titles to my Google Sheet, I either add the book to my cart (term 1) or provide a link. If I choose to use a Kindle or Audio version, I add a note in my sheet. My Google Sheet works as an all-encompassing resource guide, so that as the year progresses, when I don’t know what’s next–my sheet tells me.

Consider Including Additional Perspectives

Many Charlotte Mason booklists lean heavily on British history and the perspective of Americans of European descent. Charlotte Mason’s own approach to history began with the home country (England) and then moved outward to a neighboring country (France).

America itself is so large and so diverse, that while we study American History on a 3 year cycle, we attempt to include multiple perspectives on our history, from the eyes of those heard from less often. Our family likes to do one family study each year on our specific region, and we also like to cycle through British, Canadian and Mexican history from middle elementary up through early high school, hitting each country twice.

We believe that old books offer a perspective that it’s impossible to get with modern-only books–but also, sometimes, a truly wonderful modern book can resonate in a special way. While we preview new books for content and quality, we do like to include a mix of new and old literature in our family’s curriculum.

Occasionally, the free resources aren’t enough for me to round out our plans, especially in these areas that are more unique to our homeschool.

I search for books using terms like “living books” and the specific era I am looking for. I ask on Facebook groups and bring my requests to our local librarian for help.

It does feel like a lot of work to gather and name resources before the school year has even started, but the up front work is so worth it! Preparing your lists NOW, and sourcing your books in advance, allows you to just “do the next thing” once the school year starts.

Taking the time and effort to develop a personalized literature-based book list as your main curriculum will allow you to provide a rich and engaging experience for your children–one that you feel good about!

Stories can transform your homeschool into a journey of discovery, exploration and a lifelong love of learning.

Resources to Get Started

Free Booklists

Curriculum (paid)