Kicking Curriculum to the Curb with Living Learning Lists

Note: You can now download a printable version of these lists by clicking here: Living Learning List Printables. Enjoy!

I have long been a fan of the Bravewriter Lifestyle List. I love the ideas in it and how an entire language arts experience can be built on a few rich, real-life routines. And then one day it struck me. Wouldn’t it be cool to have a list like that for all the subjects?

What if instead of following a curriculum there was a way to help worried moms facilitate learning in the home without freaking out that things were not being “covered.” And so an idea was born.

I kicked it around in my brain for a while, sure that I was perfectly unqualified to make such lists (and am probably right there). Then the opportunity came up to throw out the idea over at The Well-Trained Mind forums, which has its own little not-so-secret group of relaxed homeschoolers who were receptive to such an idea. So the Living Learning Lists were born.

These lists are the brainchild of a group of women at WTM who shared their ideas. I am posting them here to compile them in one easy-to-snag location and to share with you.


  • Read living science books
  • Nature study
  • Conduct an inquiry experiment with a discovery box
  • Discuss and add questions to the science board for further exploration
  • Science field trip (science museum, zoo, animal habitat)
  • Watch a science documentary or edutainment show (think Magic School Bus)
  • Subscribe to, view, and discuss a science video- or photo-of-the-day
  • Subscribe to and discuss science magazines of interest
  • Look for and discuss science current events
  • Explore a science-themed app or website
  • Read biographies of scientists.
  • Strew experiment books and let kids choose experiments that interest them.


  • Read living history books
  • Read and discuss a This Day in History book or website each day
  • Visit a historical reenactment or museum
  • Attend a history lecture or class
  • Play a history/geography board game, app, or computer game
  • Put together a map puzzle
  • Add people and events studied from week to timeline (anything we study or discuss in any subject — music, art, science, literature)
  • Ask kids about people or events they want to learn about and add the topic to a “History interest” list
  • When reading a historical topic, mark a map to indicate the relevant countries, cities and major landmarks
  • Collect articles from newspapers and magazines on current events and add to a scrapbook
  • Use sticky notes/arrows to track the time setting of books on a timeline
  • Historical movies and documentaries with discussion
  • Study the history of your child’s interest or passions (i.e. history of juggling, coins)
  • Map things interesting to your family
  • Make timeline cards, the scramble them and put them back together. Or use the $1 decks of Presidents, Ancient Wonders, etc. and put them in order (history) or place them on a map (geography)


  • Cook a recipe
  • Read a living math book
  • Play a math game
  • Play a card or board game
  • Play a math app or computer game
  • Watch a math documentary or show and discuss
  • Chart interesting data — the weather, plant or puppy growth, conduct surveys among family and friends. Graph and discuss the data
  • Add things up at the grocery store, weigh produce/bulk foods, learn to check price per unit
  • Use math with a hobby or project. Design something (bird house? quilt?) Plan materials needed, including amounts. Go to store or check online for prices. Figure out totals based on prices and amount needed. Make it!
  • Play store or start a store or business. Decide what to sell and then buy the products. Then figure out how to market, display, and what the mark up should be. Once items are sold figure out if enough money is made and decide what items to continue to sell.
  • Jump on trampoline, or in the house or with jump rope, doing times tables. Toss bean bags and you need to say the next number when it is thrown to you. You can do this with skip counting too.
  • Practice practical estimation and measuring. Measure a large piece of furniture (couch, table) and then figure out how to get it out of the house. Estimate an object’s size first, and then measure it afterwards, to see how accurate the estimate is. Estimate paint needed for a project or dirt needed to fill a flower bed or pots.
  • Compare objects – at first easier ones, then harder ones (such as containers with different shapes)

I am not quite sure yet how I am going to use these exactly. The thought right now is to put them in checklist form, print them, and put them in my learning notebook. If I leave it out on the counter and check things off with a dry-erase marker, I can keep track at a glance of things we are doing on a regular basis and get ideas for other things we can do. That is a start anyway.

So, my questions for you — do you have any ideas to add to the lists? How would you use them in your home?

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  • jenmack says:

    This is a wonderful list!! Since I’m not on the WTM forums I’m really grateful you posted and shared! I’m going to print this and add to my home ed notebook! Thanks so much again for sharing!

  • Elizabeth says:

    Hello Pam1 I’m very intrigued with this idea but I’m not sure what were supposed to do with the lists? Do you do 1 thing each day all things everyday?

    • Pam Barnhill says:

      Elizabeth, as I said above this is new and I am not quite sure how it will play out. Certainly not all things everyday (though my kids would love to go to a science museum each day ;-D). Some will be everyday — reading living books of some kind or another. Some may be best scheduled into the week — current affairs notebook time or a set time each week to add things to the timeline or nature study. And for other things the list will just serve as a reminder — “Hmmmm, it’s been a while, we need to plan a trip to the zoo.”

      With the Bravewriter list she has an email group you can join (a la Fly Lady without the deluge of emails). The group will send you reminders to have tea time once a week, look at art, go on a nature walk. Some of the reminders come twice a week, some only come once a month. You could certainly recreated that kind of thing by entering the list items into your calendar and have it set up to alarm for the events. That way you could choose which you want to do and how often.

      I think it is important too, to realize that all items on the lists might not be right for your family at this time or any time — pick and choose what works for you. Hope some of this helps.

    • Mandy says:

      I was going to ask similar to Elizabeth…how this plays out in the day to day…still struggling w/ that question. But I LOVE THIS List thing 🙂 I”m all about the lists. lol And the ideas too.

  • jenmack says:

    I’m not Pam, so I hope she thinks it ok if I add my thoughts about the ideas listed and how they might play out on a given day.

    It’s really very natural. The items listed are in lieu of a prepackaged curriculum….hence the title of the post, “Kicking Curriculum to the Curb.” Like Pam, we read living books every day in our home, and this is key. Children who read rich and worthy literature on a subject are engaged in the topic, and their desire to know is aroused. They WANT to go deeper. This is where the other items on the list can come in.

    In our home, these other listed items play out ALONGSIDE living books; they flesh out learning in rich and meaningful ways. With the exception of a few items on these great lists that Pam posted, it is my child that self-motivates in pursuing the activity. I am not a coordinator – I provide the feast. The child chooses what to feast on next!

    I like to post simple little post-it lists of activities for the children that they might enjoy after/while reading about a topic (and the ideas on Pam’s list would reflect some of those activities I might list). The list is posted as an invitation. The children enjoy what they read about, are excited, want to know more, and pursue the items on the list on their own.

    Math would possibly be the exception in our home as we do follow a math curriculum. I do add in a good amount of living math, and there are always days on my lesson plans that invite a math board game, or logic game, or something else. Mathematical/logical/hands-on projects are pursued in abundance around here.

    If the home is open to learning, the items on these lists tend to play out in the everyday, without much other force being necessary to push them into play.

    That’s how a list like this plays out in our home. 🙂

    • Erin says:

      Where can I find lists of living books?

      • Lauri says:

        Look up tead sloud revival podcast notes for many ideas on that… a story formed world is a book too… honey for s childs heart is a book too

  • Pam Barnhill says:

    Jen, this is brilliant! Thank you so much for showing us how you use this in your home. I love the idea of making a list of suggested activities to go with the books they read. And you are so right about them wanting more when the books are good. After floundering with our (boring) history curriculum we are now simply reading some good books. Olivia has been asking for extra chapters of Toliver’s Secret and after reading If You Lived in Colonial Days she really wanted to use some natural dyes. We are getting the materials to do that this weekend. I didn’t even have to suggest that one — she came up with it on her own. I agree, it all stems from the living books.

    And you can share your wisdom here ANY time. Thank you.

  • Jimmie says:

    This is good. You need to make this into a pretty printable for moms to add to their homeschool notebooks. Hint.

  • Pam Barnhill says:

    Great idea Jimmie! Hint taken and will try to have it up in the next day or two.

  • the Mommy says:

    How awesome! I created something similar, but not quite as diverse in activities a year ago. Time to redo it and I’ll have to come back to see your ideas again!

  • Fantastic! I think I’ll use apply these lists when planning out next years curriculum.

  • K.C. says:

    I’ve been doing this as an experiment with my 1st grader for a couple of months. The biggest difference is that since we’re in a state that requires me to count hours, and sets minimums for core subjects and a yearly total, I’ve assigned point values (based on time estimates) to each activity, and I require my daughter to earn a certain number of points each day. Keeps us on track with those state requirements and gives her a wide range of latitude in choosing her activities. So far she loves it!

  • Stephanie says:

    Hi. I found you in the ( Weekend Links… I came to visit because your post sounds remarkably similar to mine! 🙂 (Unschooling Tools : Math Play).

    This made me smile. At our blog, I get lots of questions and inquiries into unschooling, so I had the idea to start putting thematic lists together…
    The things in our list are things we do, or play with every day. 🙂 Things that are just naturally a part of living life.
    Anyway, I wanted to say hi, because this made me smile that we were thinking along the same lines!

  • Heidi says:

    This sounds like a great idea. I love lists. I would encourage people to assign or focus on one item on the list each day in each area. That way you can see what mood everyone is in and plan your activities accordingly. I do this with menu planning. I make a list of 20 meals I can fix, buy the ingredients and then just decide each morning what we want to eat that day.
    I’m not sure these lists would convince someone to give up their curriculum though. Moms who are tied to a curriculum have a hard time letting go and these lists still seem a little ambiguous. But if you plan too much, then it starts to feel too much like a curriculum again.

    • Pam says:

      Heidi, I think you bring up some good points. Yes, the intention was not to convince anyone to give up curriculum. I think in order to utilize these lists a person would need to be moving in that direction already. They might plant a spark, though, but I don’t imagine they would be persuasive in and of themselves.

      And yes, they are purposefully ambiguous for the very reason you stated. If they get too detailed then Type-A list checkers like me get tied back into MUST do’s and mucking things up again.

      I see the lists almost as a bridge between school at home and unschooling. Some people may get to this point (using the lists) and stay there and be really happy there — just as some people are really happy with school at home. Others may use them to bridge an even more relaxed or unschoolish state. I am always asking myself what I can do to help spread the feast or facilitate learning beyond requiring it. For me, these lists are my reminders of good ideas for that.

      Thanks for stopping by.

      • Lauri says:

        I like the idea of structured unschooling for the moms who like me really get sidetravked with cleaning, messes, errands, phone calls, cooking etc and dont do learning things unless i intentionally have plans and structure. So these lists help.

  • Mary Beth says:

    Would love to know from any of you homeschooling mamas out there: are there sites/blogs with good lists of living books, broken down by category (or subcategory)? Would love to wean myself out of some of our curriculum and insert books instead. We’re relatively new to homeschooling and I’m still searching for helpful sites.

    Pam, thanks for your encouragement. I feel chained to my curriculum for fear that we’re not covering everything!

    • Pam says:

      Mary Beth — Try this one and this one The first has more history. The second has categories for high school and elementary school science. And don’t worry. No one can cover everything — even schools. Loving learning is more important than cramming their heads with things they’ll never remember. Thanks for stopping by!

  • Anonymous says:

    One way that you could use these lists is to put them in the lesson plans…I don’t know how many home school moms do lesson plans, but I have too much teacher in me not to know what I am kind of doing and schedule it out (otherwise my kids will just sit and read for fun all day and nothing will get done…still trying to find math stuff since we all hate it) But for the science, you can plan to do an experiment and let them pick what type from the books you have running around. My girls (8th grade) will watch a show like Myth Busters, and then make a table of failed to proven experiments. We have plans for a quilt when we get to geometry…and the sewing can work as a home ec assignment. The list give you a jumping off point that you can build around.
    Satinka Petersen

    • Pam says:

      Satinka – There are so many ways these can be used — that is the beauty of them. For math, give the reading lists at a try. You can probably get many of the books at the library. Since you guys love to read, the math there may be more palatable for you. Also, in the same vein as Mythbusters (but for math) try The Story of 1, which is a documentary available on DVD or Netflix streaming.

  • Cathy says:

    What do you mean about a living math, history or science book?

  • Halie says:


  • Heather Bertrand says:

    For science the magic school bus has a wonderful kit called magic school. Us science club that is mailed to u monthly with 12 science experiments and info. And there is a geography set with the similar idea called Little passports. They have 3 levels for different age groups.

  • Tiffany says:

    I feel a little silly but I have the same question as Cathy. What do you mean by “living books”? I’d love a new way to approach history because I don’t like what we’re doing now and don’t feel like my kids are getting much out of it.

  • Tiffany says:

    Sorry clicked post too soon. I did want to say thanks for the lists though. We are kind of in between unschooling and curriculum so this is great. 🙂

  • Teace says:

    Thanks for this piece. For geography I ordered some cheap world stamps off the internet and my kids have to decipher and identify which country they belong to and find it on the map. We keep them sorted in a binder by continent. It’s also a great jumping off point for history (why is Queen Elizabeth on Africans stamps?), foreign language, economics, etc. Our other favorite geography resource is watching episodes of Bizarre Foods. Afterwards we find the country on the map and explore its history and culture bit further.

  • Zoey Lee says:

    Make a science video and post it to your own youtube channel. learn a subject and teach it to other people through a website like youtube or versal.

    (this was my son’s idea that he got from an Albert Einstein quote that stated that you really don’t understand something unless you can explain it to someone else so that they can understand it)

    I think it could go for history, culture, social studies etc. Its just that he is Mr. Science guy and its what he wants to work on this year for science.

  • Jen says:

    I love this! I do something similar and will definitely add these! What I do is make a checklist each year from the book “Home Learning Year By Year” and my state’s typical course of study, then come up with similar activities to accomplish those goals! I usually go over the checklist once a month to see where we are. It works well for us 🙂

  • Alisha says:

    Pam, I just want to thank you for all that you do! All of the time you put into helping other Mama’s out there. I really appreciate it! Your website and podcasts have made a big impact on our homeschool. All of your resources are wonderful. Thank you, thank you, thank you! <3

    These lists are very inspiring to me! I've always had this picture in my mind of how I want our "school" to look, and I'd love for it to be very natural and organic, but struggle to make that the reality in the day to day. Having these lists around will be very helpful!

  • Karen says:

    Pam, We made our own living books taking pictures. Also made a family tree. Looked up their lives and dressed in their clothes tried to do their jobs or looked at what they did. We fed birds different foods in different areas of the yard to see what type of birds went where. Made gifts for neighbors on holidays or did their yard work.

  • Janice B says:

    Thank you. Thank you all so much fir asking the questions I wanted to and for providing answers that encourage and inspire. Pam THANK YOU SO MUCH (I am not really shouting, just really appreciative and excited :-)) for this list. God bless you all.

  • Krystina says:

    What I want to know is…. where is this relaxed Well Trained Mind forum? I need this. ASAP

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