Choosing a curriculum or a method that works for your child isn’t always an easy task. I’ve been homeschooling for over 10 years and only just managed to find a program that has worked for one of my children. In this post, I will review Oak Meadow Sixth Grade that we used this year to show you how it worked for our family.
The Story Behind Us Using Oak Meadow
Before I start the review of Oak Meadow 6, I should explain how we came to choose it for this year. Our family has always homeschooled with a method that I would call an eclectic mish-mash of learning: unit studies, websites, curriculum pulled in from all over the place, and lots of self-learning sprinkled in. Originally, we did much of our school day together – teaming up all the kids to do things like science, history, and other subjects. However, as the kids aged and we added a couple of little ones to the mix, we found it a challenge to maintain focus and school became quite stressful. I stubbornly tried to stick with what had worked in the past and it ended up with me nearly quitting homeschooling when I spent most of my day yelling at kids. I needed a new plan.
After much research and debate, I finally decided to separate each kid into their own learning plan. And, for one of the kids, I did something that I haven’t done since my very first year of homeschooling over 10 years ago: I used a pre-made, complete curriculum.
Kid #2 has ADHD – “a textbook case,” I believe our doctor called it. He’s an active, busy, constantly moving kid. He loves doing things when he’s learning – building, creating, planning. He’s the one who suddenly jumps up and vanishes to the kitchen right in the middle of a lesson when doing group lessons. Or, on the other side of the coin, would be SO intensely focused on doing his work the best that he possibly could that he wouldn’t get very far into a project and get exhausted. He found transitioning between subjects incredibly hard and daily lists of multiple subjects would throw him for a loop, causing him to stress and act out. He can read, but he tends to skip words in his haste to finish a sentence. He is a wicked smart kid, and I’ve seen huge leaps in his development through the last year or so, but he’s always been a little “behind” in his learning.
Knowing these facts about my son, I went searching. (And searching. And searching.) I sifted through thousands of blog posts, videos, and reviews in desperation. I wanted to find something that was fun and engaging, easy to use, and would include a diverse set of activities – especially hands-on. I kept coming back to Oak Meadow. After much reading of reviews, discussions with others who used it, and scouring through the samples on the website, I decided to go for it.
About Oak Meadow
Oak Meadow has been around since 1975. It is one of the few full-curriculum options that are completely secular (as opposed to faith-based) and, although it is not an official Waldorf program, has been influenced by many elements of that particular teaching method. (Want to know how they diverge from Waldorf?) The gentle, nature-centric approach to learning is definitely more evident in the early years with Oak Meadow’s curriculum, before developing into a more rigorous and academic program as it moves into the higher grades.
Our educational philosophy is built on strong academic standards with an understanding of the needs of the developing individual. We focus on both developing a strong intellect, and on engaging students artistically and experientially. We ask them to reason and write, to paint, sing, build, act, and draw. Our lessons are designed to harness the imagination and challenge the mind. Oak Meadow understands that students learn in many different ways, some by doing, others by listening, still others by seeing or reading. Because our curriculum is designed to effectively address a variety of learning styles, children are able to engage fully with the materials, learn successfully, and enjoy the learning process. Our goal is not simply to provide factual information, but also to inspire your child to learn and thrive. – OakMeadow.com
They offer complete curriculum materials for Pre-K through Grade 12, as well as support materials for parents to understand more about how to use their learning approach and guide a child with a heart of learning. They offer two options: enrollment in their distance education program or independent learning. For high school, they offer a wide variety of courses, and a suggested guideline of credits to take within your 4 years.
What We Used & About The Books
Technically, my son should be at a Grade 7 level, but after looking through the scope and sequences for each year on the website, I opted to review Grade 6 level of Oak Meadow this year for Science, English, and History. (We decided to go with a separate Math program.)
The Science in Grade 6 is focused on Life Sciences: plants, animals, and the human body. The History and English programs are intertwined, so what you learn in a week of English, you do through your learning in history. The topic of the year is Ancient Civilizations – starting with prehistory and going through to the years of the early explorers. Books that you read are related to the topics you cover, such as Ancient Chinese stories, Greek mythology, Robin Hood, Tales of the Arabian nights, etc.
These books are thick and heavy, but really resilient and, in my opinion, top quality. The covers are made with thick, colourful, glossy cardstock material, helping them to last longer. The books themselves are plastic coil-bound, making them super easy to fold back the pages to look at one page at a time. (That’s been one of my favourite features!)
Inside you find full-colour pages, with lessons clearly marked with a large number on the opening page with the subject that you will cover, a summary in a right-hand column so you know what exactly you will need to do that week and a material list of everything you will need – great to reference at the end of the lesson before.
The lessons themselves typically involve:
- A section of text to read, which highlights important vocabulary words in blue text. You can find the definition of that word in one of the margins, along with plenty of lined space along the edges for notes and comments. The text itself is easily readable and age appropriate, without simplifying things too much. There are illustrations scattered throughout the book which really help break up the text.
- Assignments – things that are intended to be completed for that week’s lesson
- Additional Activities – choices and ideas of ways to expand the learning that you’ve done on the topic of the week. These are often very art-centric and crafty or hands-on activities.
- A learning assessment, where you can evaluate your student’s work for the week, if you want to.
Each subject comes with a teacher’s guide that outlines what your child is learning and offers advice and tips on how to do the lessons, along with suggested answers to the quizzes and problems in the student books.
You can optionally choose to enroll your child in Oak Meadow’s accredited distance learning school, meaning that your child sends in their completed work to be graded by a teacher. Each chapter includes information on what exactly needs to be turned in for that lesson, if you have picked this option.
How We Used Oak Meadow 6
When the books arrived, I was super excited. Tearing open that box, I dove into all the materials, eager to figure out how to use it best with our family. However, when my son saw the materials, he panicked. The books looked so huge and like they would take forever to do.
I will admit that I was completely overwhelmed at first, too. Oak Meadow is different from other curricula I’ve used. Instead of being very “do this, then do this,” Oak Meadow is about options, personalization, and flexibility. It’s not a daily lesson plan. You decide how your day, your week, your year goes.
I wasn’t really sure how to structure our learning plan for my son. I was worried that I’d gotten myself in a little over my head, but I took some time and read through the materials to get a better feel of exactly what we needed to do.
There are 36 lessons for each subject, each one representing the work for a week. It encourages kids to be proactive with their learning, see what needs to be done and to plan out their week accordingly. There are weekly planning sheets that your child can use for that.
Although the goal for students in this grade is to help them move towards independence and learning how to better manage their time, ultimately, I realized that my son needs a lot of guided and one-on-one learning in order to be successful. I needed to come up with a way to best help him do one thing at a time. We decided to start the year off by breaking up the subjects into days, using this format:
- Monday: English
- Tuesday&Wednesday: History
- Thursday&Friday: Science
I figured that doing English for the week first would ensure that whatever we learned would be fresh and understood before we jumped into the history lesson that often required the skill of the week, like writing essays or researching a report, for example.
Our typical week looked like this:
- Monday: Read the English requirement of the day. This generally was either information on an aspect of language in the manual – like grammar (nouns / verbs) or “how to write an essay” etc. or chapters of one of the assigned reading books. Alphabetize and define the vocabulary words for the week by using a dictionary, and then use them in sentences or complete the related to topic sentence activity.
- I should add in here that the program actually has recommendations on how to use these words, and a few other words you choose that you want to practice, as spelling words for the week – and different ways to memorize how to spell them, such as writing them in the air with your finger, spelling aloud forwards and backwards, jumping rope, making them out of materials, etc. For now, with this son, we decided that understanding the words was more important right now than learning how to spell them, so we skipped this part.
- Tuesday: Read the History text together. We read it together, and more often than not, it ended up with us having more in-depth discussions about cultures and what we know, or explaining in more details what we were reading about. Sometimes these were quite long and all that we could successfully complete with his attention span for the day. Usually, we would then take a look at all the options of assignments and pick out the ones that appealed to him the most. If he was inspired or we need to prep something, we would get started right away. If not, it would happen the next day. Occasionally, we would watch videos or check out various websites related to our topic.
- Wednesday: This was our hands-on day for History. These completely varied in activity: trying to make a stone tool by hand like a prehistoric man, writing a multi-paragraph research essay about the Egyptian pyramids, making a meal, painting a scene from a Greek Myth, building a ziggurat out of LEGO, figuring out how to wrap a toga, etc. Sometimes, especially when the project involved research and writing, we took longer than the assigned time to complete them. For example, the essay about pyramids was a lot of work and we took a couple weeks to finish it.
- One of the highlights for my son was sending emails to his grandma with summaries of what he’d done. He would type his writing sections into Google Docs and send her the link. This was my way to keep him encouraged and review what he’d learned for each week.
- Thursday: Read the Science text of the week. Again, we read these together. That way I could make sure that he understood exactly what was being taught. We had awesome deep discussions about various topics and often he would wander off after this reading time to research more on his own with youtube or such. From there, we would pick which activities we were going to do.
- Friday: Science Activity Day. Again, the activities that we got to do were very varied – drawing diagrams of cells, planting seeds and measuring them as they grew (ok, that took longer than 1 Friday! and we had a cat who kept thinking our sprouts were a snack….), dissecting flowers, hunting for various habitats, doing photography, drawing our family tree, etc. I sometimes found outside resources to play games or review activities. Since each lesson ends with review questions, I’d do them orally with him.
- Just a note – this particular life sciences program covers sexual reproduction in plants, bacteria, and animals. Although it’s not explicit sex education for humans, I thought it was worth mentioning. My son is 13 while we have been doing this book and so it has lead to some really detailed conversations with him about human development (aka puberty) and sexual health.
An average day took us about an hour of focused work each day, depending on the activity/activities that we chose.
It actually worked pretty well, although, by about 2/3rds of the way through the year – we decided to just focus on science for a while to get it out of the way before we moved to focusing intentionally on the history and English program.
The most important thing I’ve come to realize is that you don’t have to do it all. You pick the things that work for you and drop the rest. (In fact, this is wisdom no matter what program you use!) That means that if there are projects or extras that aren’t going to work for your child – that you skip them or alter them in a way that will work best for them. I realized quickly that I didn’t actually need the teacher guide. It could be that it’s because I’m an experienced homeschooler and this isn’t new to me, or it could be because I was doing the work right alongside him every day so I knew what we were learning.
My Thoughts About Oak Meadow as a Canadian
Unfortunately, as much as we enjoyed Oak Meadow this year, this curriculum does fall prey to the usual issues we have as Canadians – the cost with the exchange rate from USD to CAD, shipping costs, and the focus on American content. These really don’t have any impact on the quality of the program, but can influence Canadians against picking this as an option. So let’s talk about how Canadians who want to use Oak Meadow can handle these issues:
The Price & Shipping Costs.
As with most boxed curriculum, there is a big cost involved. This is true of Oak Meadow. It does cost a lot to get a complete year’s curriculum, especially when you consider the exchange rate and the ridiculous costs of shipping across the border. Here are some suggestions on how to save money:
- Skip the pieces that you don’t need. For example, I have decided not to buy the teacher’s guides if they are sold separately. Not everyone might feel comfortable with that, but for me, that saved me money since I don’t think I will use it anyways. Also, I didn’t order any of the reading books, unless I couldn’t find them anywhere else. I found that it was cheaper to order them from Amazon, borrow them from the library, or find them used somewhere. Oak Meadow does also offer kits with all the art and activity supplies that you will use, which is highly convenient but will probably be cheaper to put together yourself closer to home. Less things ordered means less costs for shipping, too!
- Use the digital version. The best way to save on shipping is not to have anything shipped to you. Oak Meadow has a digital version of their curriculum. It’s the same high-quality material, but it’s only available online. You can’t print, download, save or share it in any way, but you can access it online and read from your screen. The cost of each book is cheaper than the print edition, though, and you get access to it for four continuous years, meaning that if you are planning to use it with multiple kids within that time, you can use it more than once!
- Get a cross border mailbox. If you can ship the books within the US and make a trip over the border to pick them up, you can save yourself a lot of money in shipping costs.
- Wait for a sale. Oak Meadow does offer discounts on their curriculum occasionally throughout the year. If you know exactly what you will need to order, you can take advantage of these special offers when they pop up.
Given that most curriculum providers are American, it’s understandable that the content they create is designed for their audience. There are entire years that focus heavily on American history in this program. As Canadians, that means that choosing an American curriculum will involve some adaptations. Acceptance of spelling variations and references to different measurement scales is one thing, but what about the need for a Canadian perspective? What about Canadian history and geography?
- Learn it anyway. Some homeschoolers just decide to go with it and learn American content. It’s pretty interwoven with Canada anyways, so it’s not a completely invalid option.
- Substitute. One option is to choose something different for the sections that don’t match your plans. This means that you will either have to find or make something replace what is included in the books, although it might not require a huge adaptation with all new resources.
- For example, in the 4th grade social studies program, there is learning about “Native Americans.” It can be easy enough to look up Indigenous communities that are local to you and learn about them.
- In Grade 5, though, it’s centred on the Mayflower, the British colonization of America, the Revolution, and other similar context. This will probably require a significant change in materials in order to include Canadian history.
- Grade 8 includes the study of US government. You will probably want to find a resource to teach more about the branches of Canadian government.
Our Oak Meadow Review:
All in all, I have really enjoyed doing school this year with my son. This is not something I’ve been able to say in the past as we struggled through our school years. I’m giving Oak Meadow the credit for that.
For me, one of the best features was the flexibility and adaptability that it offered. I’ve always been so “go with the flow” for our education that Oak Meadow helped me maintain that kind of feel while still giving us the structure that I think my son needed more than I realized. It allowed my son to pick activities that interested him instead of me forcing him to do specific things that he doesn’t enjoy. For example, there are many art-based assignments or projects, but since my son isn’t very artsy, we were able to choose something else instead. Knowing what my son’s strengths and weaknesses are in his learning skills meant that I could look at Oak Meadow and see how to use it in a way that would best benefit him.
When we finally found a schedule that worked for us, I realized how easy it was to use. In fact, I didn’t even need to put a planner together for the year. It fit perfectly to the “just do the next thing” approach. Sticking a bookmark into the book to know where we left off was a simple step.
Another subtle thing that I really enjoyed was the fact that the books are written to the student, and not to the parent / teacher. I loved that – because it gave him ownership of the learning he was doing.
I saw my son learn and do new things this year that in the past I wasn’t sure he would. For example, he completed a 5 paragraph research essay. Admittedly, we did it together to keep him on task, but he did it! And he did a good one too.
We are still finishing up this curriculum through the summer (since we took time off during the year to move and recover from that adventure), but it’s so simple to add into the morning and still have lots of time to do other things during the day – allowing us to enjoy the sunshine when we have it.
We have actually enjoyed it so much, in fact, that I’ve decided to keep using Oak Meadow. We are going to skip the Grade 7 level materials and drop right into the Grade 8 ones for this son. I’ll be reusing this Grade 6 book with son #3, and we’ll start from the beginning in Grade 1 with my 6-year-old in the fall to see how it works in the early years.
Want to know more about Oak Meadow Curriculum? Visit their website: https://www.oakmeadow.com
Disclosure: We were given a set of the Grade 6 curriculum books to use this year to review and share our experiences. This in no way influenced our opinions. Everything in this post is our 100% honest thoughts about Oak Meadow’s curriculum and our decision to keep using it.