Using Free Material 101

It’s always nice to find a great free curriculum that is laid out in either daily lessons or in an easily managed sequence of study. But not all free resources are that easy to use.

There are a lot of websites out there from well-respected institutions and groups that generously offer lesson plans and amazing related resources on all sorts of topics at all grade levels. But, some homeschoolers can find this type of resource difficult to use.

The biggest problem homeschoolers may have with this type of resource and others like it is that there is no clearly laid out recommended sequence of study to follow along with or no easily implemented plan of daily lessons.

Homeschool parents don’t always know in what order topics in a given subject are generally taught at the various grade levels, and often don’t feel all that confident relying on their own judgment.

What I recommend, when you have a great resource and no “roadmap” of how to use it, is to borrow a roadmap from another resource.


An example of “borrowing” a roadmap from another resource can be using something as simple as the table of contents in a popular science textbook. You can find the table of contents from just about any science textbook on the publisher’s website. Popular curriculum companies like K12 publish lists of the topics their curriculum covers in each subject at each grade level. You can also usually read the table of contents of just about any published textbook sold by Amazon with the “look inside” feature. Curriculum companies, including homeschool curriculum companies, usually permit access to their course of study documents or their “scope and sequence” documents so potential buyers can determine if the topics they want to be taught are included in the product they are considering.

Well, we can “reverse engineer” this to use these documents to plan our own curriculum using these websites that are primarily just uncategorized groups of lessons on different topics.

I have a page here on this website that talks about scope and sequence and course of study documents in a little more detail and offers links to some popular scope and sequence documents from curriculum you may already be familiar with. If you are like a particular curriculum and wish to use a sequence of study based on that curriculum, it’s pretty easy to find either a scope and sequence for that curriculum or even just a look at the table of contents and use that as a guide to plan your own sequence of study.

Heck, some homeschool parents have gotten so good at it that they have turned their work into a business and created companies that sell their own homemade plans to other homeschoolers. Maybe someday you’ll find that your plan is being sought after by other homeschool families.

Let me walk you through an example from my own homeschool.
Let’s say that I want to plan a science curriculum for my son, who is in fourth grade next year. There are several categories of science topics typically taught in elementary school, including life science, physical science, and earth and space science.  I know that public schools typically teach a couple topics from each category over the course of the year. I know I can choose to do that, or I can follow one topic for the whole year, or one topic for half the year and a different topic for the other half of the year.

I know that a school year for public school is usually 180 days, which is 36 weeks. I know I can do school all year round if I want to, but that if I do I’ll be using different numbers, but for the purposes of this example we’ll stick with a 36 week school year.

A half a year is 18 weeks.

A quarter of a year is 9 weeks.

Next I think about how many times a week I want to do science. In my house we usually do a couple hours of science twice a week. You may decide to do it differently, but bear with me.

So, if I do science twice a week for 36 weeks that means I need 72 science lessons. That seems a bit overwhelming at the moment.

A half a year’s worth of science lessons is 36 lessons.

A quarter of a year’s worth of science lessons is 18 lessons.

I decide I’m going to plan my son’s science curriculum by the quarter, so I need to come up with 18 science lessons.

Now, I COULD get a regular old lesson planner and pencil in 18 science lessons in the correct day and correct week, but as you may have noticed if you have a traditional lesson planner, you really don’t have much room to write.

What I do is I have a special lesson planning form expressly for pulling together information from websites and other places and putting it into lesson format. Then, all I have to write in my nice lesson planner on the day of the week that I want to schedule science is “Do lesson one”.

What is this “special lesson planning form” you ask?

Basically, my special lesson planning form is just a document that I made in Microsoft Word with a table laid out the way I like it. I saved the document as a pdf file. It’s nothing special. You can see what I’m talking about here at this link and please feel free to download it if you think it would be useful to you. Sunshine Homeschool My Lesson Plans

There are six lessons on this page, so to plan lessons for one quarter of the school year I will need three of these sheets.

Not that you care at this point, but I usually keep one quarter’s worth of planning for all of the subjects I plan to teach in a file folder. so I have everything I need for that quarter in one place rather than trying to file it by subject.

Now I get to plan the lessons. I have decided to study just life science this quarter. Of course I have looked over the suggested free science curriculum in this website. I like the look of the Rader’s Biology 4 Kids site, because it’s laid out in a logical progression so I don’t have to bother with finding a scope and sequence document to use as a guide. I’ll just follow the sequence that Rader’s already has planned out, but I might tweak it a bit here and there.

This might be what I plan for the first lesson.

Under “Lesson Plan” I write:

  1. Read the Introduction page to Rader’s Biology.

2. Click on the “next stop”. Read “Reasoning in Science”

Under “Activities/Labs” I write:

Questions to answer
-What is biology?
-Everything that is alive on Earth is made up of what?

-What is the scientific method?
-What is a hypothesis?

Draw a diagram of the scientific method in your notebook

Under “Reminders” I write:

Need a new notebook for science.

Find the colored pencils.

What I did was I went to the page for Rader’s Biology and I looked over the introduction and the beginning page, which happened to be about the scientific method. My usual practice is to have each kid keep a notebook for each subject. Generally I look over the reading and assign some simple questions, definitions, or drawings based on the reading. This is fourth-grade science so the answers are pretty obvious, but if I was doing this for my seventh grader you’d better believe I’d be making sure I was adding in the answers to those questions to make sure I had them handy when I was looking over her completed work.

The lesson above is a pretty straightforward example, but sometimes you end up with something like this one:

Lesson #1  “Lesson”

Rader’s Biology: Microbes
Read “The Littlest Organisms”

Read “Tiny Creatures and Inside Your Insides”. Discuss.

Read “A Guide to the Microbes that Call You Home”. Discuss.

Watch Youtube video “How to use a microscope”

Watch Youtube video “Real Life Microbes”

Do lab with yeast.

Complete assigned questions and write in science notebook

Complete microscope worksheet.


-What is a microbe?

-Name three examples of microbes

-Who is Anton von Leeuwenhoek

-Complete the parts of the microscope worksheet.

-Practice using the microscope

-Look at slides under the microscope

-Complete lab “Watch yeast blow up a balloon”


-Reserve the microscope for check out at the library

-Borrow microscope slides set from homeschool group.

-Reserve “Tiny Creatures:The World of Microbes” at library

-Order ” Inside Your Insides: A Guide to the Microbes That Call You Home” from Amazon

-Need balloons, yeast for lab.

In the above example, I took the basic lesson from Rader’s on microbes as a starting point. I scrounged around my local library’s website and found a book on microbes that looked interesting and made a note to check it out for that week. I also found out my library has a microscope for loan in the Children’s section, so I made a note to check it out that week also. The microscope only comes with a few slides, but I knew that my homeschool group had a box of slides to loan out. I found a book on Amazon that looked really interesting, so I just had to order it. I found some Youtube videos on microscopes and microbes that I threw in there, and a lab that uses yeast to give some hands-on stuff to do related to microbes.

I tend to over plan, so this lesson may be a bit much for one two-hour session, but my kids are pretty much used to getting caught up in this kind of thing so that’s no biggie. If we don’t get around to reading the library book or looking at all of the microscope slides, I can always turn this lesson into a double lesson by changing the lesson numbers. In fact, this um, may actually happen quite a lot in my homeschool…Another thing that happens a lot is my other homeschooled kids participating and adding in things like “Hey, remember that great documentary that had those really cool microbes? Can we watch that too? I think he’d really like that one!”.or “I have some blank microscope slides and covers from that project I did last year. Can we all go down to the pond and get some pond water and see if we can see anything in it?” Don’t forget to add this stuff into your lesson plan if you end up doing it, so that you have some kind of record of it and also so that if it turns out to be a really cool idea then you’ll have a way to remember it.

And so it goes. I write the date that lesson is completed under the lesson number, and sometimes I write two dates if the lesson ended up actually taking up two lesson times. Or three dates, or however many dates it took us. You can see why I keep my traditional planner, which I use as more of a scheduler, in pencil.

Anyway, that’s how I turn free online sites full of interesting information but no actual daily lesson plans into a planned out homeschool curriculum that works for us without making me crazy. It takes some trial and error to figure out how long a lesson with be in a given subject with a given child, so that’s where an eraser comes in handy. And let me add that some lessons may have a lot of things added in while other lessons, depending on interest or circumstances, may not. That’s okay. It all works out.


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