Our 6th Grade Curriculum (The Thinking Tree) – and what we think so far

More than a month of intentional heart-growing, mind-stretching learning – and I can’t help but smile and breathe it all in.

It’s been amazing to wake up to this – the crazy beautiful that comes from teaching my half a dozen kids at home. A few short months ago I agonized over the amount of time and energy and different personalities and learning styles that would encompass our days now that all of my children are school age. This past month has been such a sweet surprise.

Yeah, we’ve had the kitchen that looks like an explosion went off from all the baking experiments. And there’s been the banging on the piano while sisters try to simplify fractions. Frustrations and weariness have crept in at times, and we’ve had to look hard to find the joy in the emotionally charged moments. But overall it’s truly been lovely.

6th grade curriculum

Things look quite a bit differently this year – especially for these sixth graders of mine.

These two have been taking a break from the curriculum that they’ve used and loved since they were preschoolers, and instead are following more of a delight-directed approach.

Towards the end of last year, I started to notice the lack of passion in their learning. These two beauties are incredible learners. They are self-motivated, they work diligently, and they’re very bright. But – I’ve often felt that they lack any spark or excitement in their studies, except for the thrill of checking off the box when they’re done.

And the more time I’ve spent teaching these used-to-be-tiny humans, the more I’ve seen the incredible growth in learning that occurs when kids are truly interested in something. When they want to learn – whether it be because they see the value of it in their own lives, or if it’s because they simply enjoy it – they remember so much more easily. Their interests bubble up and out of them. They talk, dream, research, and discover without even being prompted. And learning happens naturally.

It’s the same for you and me.

Ah, I could write pages about all that’s stirring in my heart in regards to kids and learning and how God so amazingly designed us…

But – for now, I’ll just let you know that it’s what got me thinking and praying long and hard about how we “do school” around here.

And it’s eventually what led me to The Thinking Tree.

Christian Delight Directed Journal

thinking tree journals

Do it Yourself Homeschool Journal

As I researched, I found that the thought process behind the The Thinking Tree journals matched up with many of the new learning philosophies floating around in my head.

Mostly I liked that, when using these journals, kids would have the opportunity to pick what they study. They could get their books from the library or off the shelf at home, or all new books could be purchased. But no matter where they would get their books, they’d be encouraged to choose books they’d enjoy. I also liked that, besides for making sure we’d get to the library on a regular basis, there would be very little preparation on my part.

So I talked with my girls, and together we decided that we would try out these journals until the new year. One of them was very eager and excited for something new. The other seemed to like the looks of the journals but was quite hesitant. Both of them struggled to come up with anything they actually wanted to learn about.

It was actually a bit painful to watch them flounder for ideas, despite little reminders that they could study ANYTHING!!! Photography, music, arts and crafts, sewing, cooking, orphans, Africa

It wasn’t until they held the beautiful journals in their hands and went to the library to find books that they started showing more enthusiasm.

And now it’s been over a month.

And I think we’re all really pleased.

fun schooling books

It’s different than I thought and not exactly what I was hoping for. But I’m loving that my girls seem to linger longer with their school work, instead of racing to get it done.

It’s been fascinating to see what they’re truly interested in. Alyssa has shown a passion for cooking and baking, and Elliana for piano. Interestingly, neither of them has chosen any books about music or the culinary arts to pour over during their school time. Instead they’ve chosen almost all history and science topics, a number of which are books they’ve already read and enjoyed in previous years with Heart of Dakota. But even though they haven’t chosen to study the things they seem most passionate about, I think the way we’re doing school this year has given them freedom to explore and appreciate those things at other times. They seem to ask more questions, to be more curious, and to seek more answers – all good things!

I really appreciate how they are able to read their books, copy some favorite parts in their journals, and hours later be able to tell me all about what they’ve read. In the past, if they didn’t narrate to me right away, the information was completely lost. I am confident that this is mostly due to the fact that they’re now choosing books they’re interested in. And – if they’re not enjoying the book, they can simply move on to another one.

I also really love that there has not been one tear shed over these journals!

books - 6th grade

There have been some things I don’t love about the journals. One is that there’s not a lot of variety. I like that there’s reading and writing every day – but for the most part, the same pages repeat over and over. That could get old quickly. (Although Sarah Janisse Brown, the creator of The Thinking Tree, is always coming up with new and creative ideas – like this new pocket-sized journal and the All About Animals Journal. My girls are debating between these and this Horse Journal to use next.)

There is also A LOT of coloring, drawing, and writing. It can seem a bit like busy-work (even though I wouldn’t necessarily label it that way). These two  girls handle it all really well, but I could see at least one of my other children intensely disliking that aspect of it.

My greatest disappointment, however, is that the particular journals they’re using don’t encourage them to DO anything with what they’re learning. This may be partly because there isn’t really a theme to their learning. Even if they choose books all on the same topic, they only use their books for one page of their journals each day, so it’s all a bit disjointed. I would love to see them try something – an experiment, a project, a new skill… anything that would stem from their learning. But, for the most part, that hasn’t happened yet.

Even though the journals have fallen short of what I would have liked for these sweet girls, I am confident that this was the right choice for us for now. The journals have given me time to work longer with my younger children. They’ve brought about a joy in learning. And they’ve helped in providing us all with a more peace-filled day.

The thinking Tree journals

The Thinking tree pages

the thinking tree journal

thinking tree pages

thinking tree journal pages

thinking tree journal

The Thinking Tree journals have these subjects incorporated into them:
*Science (nature study + any Science books used with the journals + an occasional animal quiz)
*History/Geography (World News pages + any History resources chosen)
*Bible (some have Bible pages and prayer request sections)
*Language Arts (creative writing and copywork)
*Reading (whatever books the child chooses)
*Math (really just a page to practice what they’re learning in math)
*Art (Drawing, tracing, coloring pages)
*Media (not really a subject, but students are encouraged to listen to classical music, audio books, and/or watch documentaries and other educational shows)

6th grade curriculum 2016

Other curriculum choices for my sixth graders:

CTC Math – This is an online math curriculum that in many ways is saving my relationship with my daughters. We’re all loving the independence of it, and I think they appreciate learning math from someone (anyone) other than me. I feel like we’ve researched and tried so many different math curricula (although mostly sticking with Singapore Primary Mathematics), and this is another one that I like in some ways and don’t in others. But the positives are outweighing the negatives right now. So I’ll take it.

Pet Store Math (Your Business Math) by Simply Charlotte Mason – This is SO fun!!! We’re loving it! They basically get to do math by running their own pretend pet store. (There is also an option for a sport or book store.) Love!

We’re also trying to do a lot of “real life” math – cooking, shopping, etc.

Pet Store Math

This year we’re blending together reading, writing, and grammar (vocabulary & spelling too); and it’s gone really well and been a lot of fun. Here’s a list of the main resources we’re using: (Most of these are not used every day, but more like once or twice a week.)

language arts

Winston Grammar – We’re really liking this. It’s a simple, easy, hands-on way to learn grammar. We’ve done Rod and Staff in the past, and everyone hated it (to this day, they groan if they see the books). This is much better.

The Sentence Family by James Hughes – This sweet book introduces grammar through art and story. All of my kids (K-6th grades) sit in on this and love it. There is a different character and story for each type of sentence and for each of the parts of speech. This is a really fun way to learn grammar.

Heart of Dakota’s dictation – Dictation lists are in the back of most of HOD’s guides. This is a simple, extremely effective way to learn spelling and grammar.

Brave Writer – I haven’t actually purchased anything from Brave Writer yet, but the website, blog, and samples are chalk full of ideas that we’ve been incorporating into our days. Julie Bogart, the creator of Brave Writer, has such beautiful insight into homeschooling. I am loving her philosophy of teaching writing. And using some of her methods has already transformed our days.

Write On! – The Kid Friendly, Mother Pleasing, Gentle Way to Write, by Karen K Newell – So far, this book has really lived up to its name. It has just the right mixture of structure and fun.

Read Aloud Books – My other children have storytime books that go with the Heart of Dakota guides that they’re using, but I still think it’s important to read to these young ladies. So, for now we’re choosing a few of the titles from The Brave Writer website. (This way if we want to use them to study some grammar or if we want to use them as a springboard for a writing project, the work has already been done for me.) Right now we’re reading James and the Giant Peach. I’m not loving some of the language in it, but since it’s a read aloud, I can skip those words, and my kids get to enjoy the fantastical story without the obscenity. Next, we’re on to The Penderwicks. This is one of my girls’ favorite books, but I haven’t read it yet. I’m really looking forward to sharing this book with them. I’m not sure what we’ll choose after that. We’re just trying to steer clear of any Heart of Dakota books, since we’ll most likely be returning to HOD in the new year.

Level 5/6 Girls Interest Book Pack from Heart of Dakota – We are not using Drawn Into the Heart of Reading (DITHOR) this year. We’ve tried it for the last four years and have always ended up with a modified version of it. This year, my girls are simply using the suggested books and reading them. They often do some literary analysis orally or they’ll answer a question about the characters, setting, plot, etc. in their daily notebooks. Then they’ll do a book project. This has been working really well. Here are the books Alyssa and Elliana will be reading for their sixth grade year:
Caddie Woodlawn’s Family, by Carol Ryrie Brink (biography)
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, by Joan Aiken (adventure)
The Secret of the Old Clock, by Carolyn Keene (mystery)
The Middle Moffat, by Eleanor Estes (humor)

reading books - Level 5-6

As a church, we are going through The BELIEVE series. The girls are in their final year of AWANA. And as a family, we’re working through Old Story New: Ten Minute Devotions to Draw Your Family to God (probably my favorite family-time devotional!).

Elliana is really enjoying the free online piano lessons at Hoffman Academy. She’s learning a lot and is always eager to do the next lesson.

6th grade girls

Oh, I love these girls! I’m so grateful for a beautiful start to our school year.

*Coming Soon: Curriculum choices for fifth grade, third grade, first grade, and kindergarten.

*Want to see what curricula we’ve used in the past? Check out our curriculum page.


  1. Wow! Big changes for these two beauties. I can see how that would make it much easier to spend more time with the other littler students. We’ve changed it up this year too as we’ve joined a Classical Conversations community. I have a blogging friend that LOVES the Thinking Tree curriculum. I’ve contemplated it for some of mine before too. Miss you guys! If you ever plan to come to the cities, give me a call.

    • Oh, Jennifer! It’s so good to hear from you. I’ve been thinking of you. Yes, I think they’ll head back to HOD in the new year, but enjoying these journals has been such a sweet surprise. – I’d love to hear how you are liking Classical Conversations. Blessings to you!!

  2. Jessica,
    Hi sweet friends! Been ages since I have dropped by! Hope you are well! Thank you for sharing! I’ve missed keeping up with you all!

    Your friend,

    I was in England now in Japan!

    • Nicole, it is always a treat to hear from you. I love how you seem to be in a new place every time we chat. :) Blessings to you!