When I look at some of the books used in schools a century ago, such as McGuffey’s Eclectic Readers, and compare them with the books today, it seems to me that schoolbooks, at least at the elementary level, have grown appreciably in size but not in content. The books used today are filled with lots of colored pages and are very pretty, but they almost seem to be dumbed down compared to some of the books used at the turn of the twentieth century. I’m sure this works out well for the publishing companies because they can charge more for larger volumes, but it makes life a lot harder for kids who have to carry those books to and from school.
At home we’re using a wide variety of materials, including McGuffey’s Eclectic Readers and McGuffey’s Eclectic Spelling Book. We’re also using some modern books that are even larger than the books my girls had to carry for school; however, those books are not dumbed down, and my daughters don’t have to carry them around.
We’re using some books published by DK Publishing. Their Eyewitness Books series deals with a wide variety of subjects and is written especially for kids. We’re also using some of DK’s other titles as well.
Time-Life has many excellent sets of books. We have a couple of them that I expect to refer to at a later time, and hopefully we will be able to obtain some more over the next few years.
We’re using documentaries from various sources, including the History Channel, Nova, and the BBC.
The Teaching Company has college level lectures which are available to order from their website at http://thegreatcourses.com. My eleven year-old is able to understand some of them, and I expect that my younger one will be able to learn from them as well by the time she turns eleven.
We make liberal use of flashcards, particularly for math.
The only software we’re using at the moment is Typing Instructor for Kids, which is an excellent program, and is available for both Windows and Macintosh computers. In time I expect to utilize other software as well, but I don’t know yet specifically which ones.
The internet has proven to be a valuable resource. Many times when reading about a subject we go to YouTube and watch brief videos related to the topic. Dictionary.com has also been frequently helpful, with both definitions and pronunciation. From the internet I’ve also gotten blank maps to use for geography, and word search and crossword puzzles for vocabulary building.
There is also a local store called TAPS, which stands for Teachers and Parents Store. They have a lot of good materials, and a website at http://www.tapsonline.com.
In regard to reading materials, my older daughter is currently reading Gone With the Wind, and my younger daughter has read a couple of Goosebumps books, as well as The Enormous Egg; and she will soon be reading Call of the Wild. I consider ourselves to be very fortunate that the world of literature presents such a wide variety of books from which to use, and we will certainly be using a widely divergent subset of them.