I know a lot of you are thinking about next year’s curricula for your homeschool and some of you may be thinking about homeschooling for the first time. I’ve received numerous emails asking what we are currently using. I haven’t posted our plans in awhile because we’ve been trying something, and I wanted to give myself time to make a good assessment of it before sharing it with you. But…this may amaze some of you who’ve been here for awhile…I bought a whole curriculum rather than piecing something together myself! I’ve never done this because I’ve never found something that checked so many of my “boxes.” As a former classical Christian school teacher, currently finishing my PhD in Christian education, and committed to conservative, biblical education principles, I’m very, very picky about what I use. But I’m thrilled that I finally found something that I love, and it has really simplified our lives in so many ways.
So, I’m here to give you my honest opinion. I’m going to tell you what I love, what parts I don’t use, and how we implement it in our home. I also want to be totally upfront that I’m linking to this curriculum using affiliate links. This means that I get a small commission if you buy this curriculum through my links, which helps me to buy other homeschool products that I can review for you here. However, this company did not seek me out and ask me to use and review their products. I chose it for our family because, after many hours (months!) of research, I thought it looked like a great curriculum, and after using it for a year, I asked to be an affiliate because I like it so much and wanted to be able to share the products with you and offer discount codes for you, etc. As I said, I’m extremely picky, and my opinions will always be honest and according to my convictions about Christlike Christian education.
The curriculum I bought is A Gentle Feast. It’s beautiful. It’s biblical. It’s well-paced.
Here are some of the specific things I love about it:
- The History Component
You know that I’m a history junky. I’ve reviewed many history curricula here. This is the best layout for history that I’ve seen. It’s just what I wanted. Here are some of the things I love about this history:
- 4-year rotation (which I personally prefer over a 3-year or 6-year rotation)
- Covers 3 streams of history at once (like Charlotte Mason did in her PNEU schools); I think this is a brilliant way to do chronological history study. This approach offers variety and context each week, rather than, for instance, spending an entire year on Ancient Egypt alone. Let me explain. Each week, your child studies
- American history (2 days) chronologically over the four cycles (alternate Canadian history plans also available)
- British or world history concurrent with the American history time period (1 day). This stream is added in grade 4. (Grades 1-3 focus on the history of your own country.)
- An ancient civilization (1 day)–the same civilization for the whole year. The four cycles rotate through Early Civilizations, Greeks, Romans, and Middle Ages. This stream is added in grade 5.
- Living books approach to history–A Gentle Feast uses a living, captivating “spine” (narrative overview) and fascinating biographies and other gripping historical books to teach history (More on living books below)
- Family approach–All of the children, no matter what age/grade, are working on the same time period in history (with age-appropriate books). I love that!
- The High School Science Component
- Before I found this curriculum, this is exactly the science I had in mind to use for high school (a mix of two products from other companies), but I would’ve had to coordinate it myself. So I noticed right away when this curriculum had chosen these same two products and done all the coordinating for me. A Gentle Feast also schedules in wonderful living books and biographies. The elementary science is nicely put together too using living books and simple home experiments, and as a bonus, grades 4-8 are combined for family science topics and experiments with age appropriate living books. (Grades 1-3 do not have “science” scheduled, but they do have natural history, using books like Among the Forest People and the Thornton Burgess books.)
- The Living Books Approach
- I’ve defined living books in a previous blog post as follows: A living book is a whole narrative beautifully written by an authority with contagious delight in his or her subject, which engages both the mind and the heart, capturing the imagination and inspiring interest in the subject, igniting a sense of virtue worthy of imitation, and compellingly inviting the reader, both young and old, to read on and read again.
- A Gentle Feast uses a living books approach rather than books containing bite-sized, categorical, bare facts. Quality literature is chosen to feed the mind and the heart on knowledge and virtue by engaging the student in a well-written story (whether it be fiction or non-fiction). This is true not just for the subject of “literature” but for all word-based subjects–history, science, citizenship, etc.
- One other thing to mention about the living books in A Gentle Feast. I find them to be assigned in a very age appropriate way to maximize both the child’s abilities and interest. However, with A Gentle Feast, one of the beauties is how easy it is to customize if you want to level up or down for your child. Suggestions are right at your fingertips for an easier or harder book covering the same content since all ages are studying the same time periods.
- The Forms
- The more I study philosophy of education, the more I’m convinced that grades (1st grade, 2nd grade, etc.) are an unhelpful and often inappropriate construct. They did not exist in history until the late 1800’s, and for good reason–because children are individual human persons, not data machines on a conveyor belt. A Gentle Feast instead uses Forms. This allows you to group your children together for grades 1-3 (Form I), 4-6 (Form II), 7-9 (Form III), and 10-12 (Form IV), while leveling the work up or down according to their ability. It’s all there for you, and it’s a very simple process. This 3 minute video explains more about Forms in A Gentle Feast. Your children will never repeat the same work because the next year, while they may be in the same Form, the whole family will be in a different Cycle, with a different history time period and different work in the other subject areas as well.
- The Daily Schedules and Short Lessons
- A Gentle Feast includes daily schedules for either a 5-day week or a 4-day week. The lessons are short to encourage the habit of full attention. The feast is scheduled and rotated so that all lessons are completed in the morning! A Gentle Feast also offers daily suggestions for afternoon occupations, should you want them, such as handicrafts, read-alouds, nature walks, etc.
- The Christian Worldview
- On the Gentle Feast home page, the curriculum is described as “deeply rooted in the living ideas found in books, beauty, and Biblical truth.” I so appreciate that, while not every piece of literature or every biography was written by a Christian author, the books have all been chosen from a Christian viewpoint as consistent with biblical truth, goodness, and beauty. There is no pretense of trying to “neutralize” the curriculum. It is unapologetically Christian. The curriculum carefully notes if a certain book contains any aspect that you may want to pre-read or discuss with your child (including if a book contains a mention of evolution).
Here is what I do not use from A Gentle Feast:
- The Morning Time Packet
- You know that I love Morning Time. First of all, let me be clear that the books and poems and picture study links and all the things included in the Gentle Feast morning time plans are included in the main curriculum plans, should you want to incorporate them. The digital Morning Time packet is music playlists and coloring pages and printables of the paintings and the hymns and the poems, etc. The print packet is printed and bound typeset hymns and poems and paintings.
- I did purchase the Morning Time packet the first year we used A Gentle Feast, and it’s really nice to have everything laid out and printed out so beautifully, but in the end I switched out so many hymns and poems that it made the packet basically obsolete for my purposes. The packet is really helpful if you want to use the Morning Time plans as is.
- This is a good place to note that one of the wonderful things about A Gentle Feast is how customizable it is for your family.
- A Gentle Feast Morning Time includes a Scripture passage for memorization, daily Scripture reading plans, and a “beauty loop” in which you do one “beauty” subject each day (artist study/composer study on alternate weeks, poetry recitation, poet study, fables/hero tales, and hymn study).
- Because this is Religious Affections and we have a hymnal, I’ll make a note about the hymns. The hymns included in A Gentle Feast Morning Time are a pretty even mix of traditional hymns and gospel songs (though the YouTube and Spotify links often take you to a more contemporary musical style–but nobody is making you click those links if you don’t want that). If you don’t know about this yet, during covid we have been slowly recording both piano and organ traditional accompaniments for the hymns in our hymnal in both mp3 and YouTube formats, so that may be a resource you could use with the Morning Time hymns.
- The Language Arts Component
- I have used the Gentle Feast Language Arts for Form II, and, as a former high school English teacher, I found things I liked and things I didn’t like. However, for the upcoming school year, the Language Arts has been updated. I’m looking forward to getting my hands on it and assessing the updates!
- One thing I do really like is that the language arts copywork/dictation, spelling words, etc. are coordinated with the history and literature readings from the main curriculum.
- The Language Arts encompasses grammar, composition, spelling, dictation, narration, handwriting/copywork, and illustration and free writing prompts.
- A few of the books
- I’m always going to tweak, so I did sub out a few of the books–some because we’d already read them and some just because I owned what I thought was a better choice. (I own a lot of out of print books, and A Gentle Feast uses books in print whenever possible. The curriculum occasionally recommends you hunt for an out of print book because it far surpasses anything else in its excellence, but there is always an alternate choice in those cases.) If you’re considering buying this curriculum, I’d encourage you to spend the $5 on the book list, which forms the core of the curriculum. The vast majority of her choices, however, are excellent—so, so excellent!
What I have not tried from A Gentle Feast (simply because I’m not in a place of needing them):
- The 100 Gentle Lessons in Sight and Sound reading program
- This is a combination of phonics and sight words, true to Charlotte Mason’s methods, to get your child reading living books, rather than monosyllabic twaddle, as soon as possible.
- The 100 Gentle Lessons in Handwriting program (available for print and cursive)
Clarifications regarding the curriculum and what you get when you purchase:
- The digital curriculum is included with any print purchase, or you can buy just the digital. One more time: If you purchase the print curriculum, you automatically get the digital as well. The print curriculum is absolutely gorgeous, but, of course, if you make any changes, you will have to mark it up. The digital curriculum is editable in Google Sheets.
- You get lifetime access to all the digital curriculum content for the cycles you purchase, including updates, teacher training, and all digital extras (there are a lot of extras). This is called “membership,” and it is included with your curriculum purchase. You will not need to repurchase/resubscribe every year. You can use it for all your children for as long as you need it. It’s yours.
- The Language Arts is a separate component and requires you adding it to your cart separately. The same goes for the “100 Gentle Lessons” reading and handwriting programs and the Morning Time packets. You are given the option to bundle these with the curriculum, but they are not included.
- The Book List is included with the curriculum, but it is also available to purchase for $5. It’s not free because it is such an integral part of the curriculum. However, generous samples are available on the website. If you’re on the fence, I’d encourage you to buy the book list for the cycle you’re considering. However, if you buy the curriculum, it does come with the book list for that cycle (in several formats).
- If you’ve been doing a classical or Charlotte Mason history rotation, you do not need to start in Cycle 1. Simply choose the cycle that picks up where you left off. If you’re new to homeschooling or to chronological history cycles (if, for instance, you’re coming from more traditional textbooks) or if you’ve been doing only ancient times or middle ages history, starting with Cycle 1 makes the most sense.
How We Use A Gentle Feast in Our Home:
- I currently have a Form II student and a Form III student. I save a copy of the digital curriculum plan to my Google Sheets, make any changes I want to make, and then print the spreadsheet off in 6-week increments for my kids. They then take the daily checklists I have made them and fill in their work for the week every Monday morning, based on the Gentle Feast spreadsheet, and do it! (I work with them on several subjects and stay available to answer questions and hear narrations.) It’s really that simple! If I had a Form I student (which I will again soon), I would of course need to be more involved with both the planning and execution of daily work.
- I will do a walk through of what I just explained about the spreadsheets and checklists as well as a flip through of the curriculum on my Instagram stories. (I’ll save all this to my Instagram highlights.) Feel free to follow me on Instagram @beckyaniol to see those videos and other homeschooling recommendations.
I love that A Gentle Feast has taken so much of the burden off of my shoulders. I can feel confident that everything is there that needs to be there. I’m easily able to make substitutions for my children according to their needs, but I could also use it as-is because it’s so well thought out and laid out. I’ve been very happy with this curriculum, and I’d encourage you to check it out and see if it might be a good fit for your family too.