Have your eyes glazed over yet looking for the best complete secular homeschool curriculum? Every year there are more options out there and it is easy to have the “oh look there’s something shiny” syndrome. Let me help you narrow down your choices with this Build Your Library Curriculum Review. Build Your Library has been my family’s choice for several years now – so I’ll give you the homeschooling vision vs. reality and how to make it work for you.
Build Your Library Curriculum Review
I have tried a few other literature based curricula but always come back to Build Your Library. It isn’t perfect, but it has worked out great for my family. This Build Your Library curriculum review will be pretty in-depth, so please take what resonates with you and leave the rest. Every family will be different depending on your lifestyle, your temperament, and your kids’ personalities and ages. If you have questions I didn’t answer, please leave them in the comments and I’ll give you my opinion. 🙂
What is Build Your Library Curriculum?
Build Your Library is a literature-based homeschool curriculum. Emily Cook, the author, describes the curriculum as “A Charlotte Mason inspired homeschool curriculum, but with a 21st-century twist…“
Emily created the curriculum for use with her own kids and there are now 12 complete levels! Many homeschool curriculum stop at middle school or 8th grade, so having a curriculum that takes your kids from 0 to graduation is an incredible accomplishment!
Each level has a focus area and incorporates great literature and Charlotte Mason methodology. In this Build Your Library Curriculum Review I won’t go through each individual level. Instead I’ll work you through the basic scheduling and topic areas.
Is Build Your Library Secular?
Build Your Library is secular. When Emily first wrote the curriculum she used the series Story of the World as the history portion for the elementary levels. Story of the World is not considered secular as it has sections that emphasize Christian beliefs as actual history.
Recently, the author has taken on the mammoth task of updating every level. There are now better resources for history available that are truly secular and Emily has incorporated these into the elementary levels instead of Story of the World. (p.s. I’m not a purist about anything in life – I used the Story of the World books and skipped the blatant Christianity chapters and it worked fine for us)
Is BYL a Complete Secular Homeschool Curriculum?
Build Your Library (or BYL for short) covers language arts, history/social studies, and science. You will need to find your own math program as it is not included. (I use Mammoth Math).
If you are not familiar with Charlotte Mason language arts you will need to do some research to understand the process of copy work, narration and dictation. You will be tempted to add in other language arts pieces such as structured spelling and grammar. I understand the Charlotte Mason philosophy and am still tempted to supplement at times, so you are in good company. Emily Cook actually has a book that will really help you understand the process.
When all is said and done, trust yourself and your knowledge about your kids. You know them best and if you feel they need specific language arts instruction then don’t be afraid to try it. I will be writing a secular language arts roundup in the near future.
Is Build Your Library Engaging?
Build Your Library curriculum is engaging if you love great books and discussion. There is not a lot of busywork or arts and crafts – which is great for me. If you are more of a crafty person or want hands-on projects for your kids, it is very easy to add this in. For my family, we added in some extra projects when I had time, energy, and supplies, and loved it.
Each level does have an art program that is based on art appreciation and then a hands-on project. I, personally, am not a great artist so I ended up outsourcing most art to YouTube (there’s no shame in my game, mamas, and there shouldn’t be in yours either).
How do You Use Build Your Library Curriculum?
Each level is split into 36 weeks with a 5 day schedule. I know a lot of homeschoolers (myself included) prefer 4-day school weeks. In the elementary to middle school levels there seems to be a pattern of heavy and light days. We combined one heavy/light day each week to get a 4-day schedule.
Each week has a grid to give you a bird’s eye view of everything you need to do that week. Then each day is separated out with more detail such as timeline figures, narration days, copy work selections, etc.
You can choose in which order you complete the subjects and readings. Generally speaking, the literature and reader selections are related to the topics in history. Charlotte Mason method indicates we should switch up the areas of our brains/bodies we are using. For example, if you start with literature, switch to math and then do the reader after that. Get up and move around even if it’s from the kitchen table to the couch in between subjects to give your kids’ brains a bit of a break.
There is not a wrong way to use Build Your Library. I heard someone describe it as a skeleton and each family will add in their own layers of muscle and skin. Maybe that’s a gross visual, but it is pretty accurate. Take the structure of Build Your Library and make it work for you.
How Long does Build Your Library Take?
In general, Build Your Library is an efficient curriculum. As mentioned above there’s a whole lot of bones and not much fluff. In level 0, if you follow BYL without adding in other supplements I would expect your day to take you an hour to an hour and a half. Each level increases in time requirements. My oldest is now in level 7 and is quite independent. Left to his own devices he is usually finished with school in 2-3 hours.
Those times, however, are just rough guides. It completely depends on your kids and their abilities, your own style of teaching, and any other distractions you might have around your house. I have 4 kids and up until this year they were all in their own levels. We started school at 8:30/9-ish and would be finished by noon because I was done at noon. 🙂 I arranged the subjects so the things they needed me for the most would be done first. Other items like copy work or art could be done in the afternoon independently if they weren’t finished in the morning.
Keep in mind your romantic, idyllic vision of what homeschool should look like is not often matched with reality. There are always interruptions and distractions which are not covered in this Build Your Library Curriculum Review . Somedays you just aren’t feeling it and you stay in your pajamas and play all day. That’s okay, too.
What Level of Build Your Library Should I start With?
Emily has a great post on the website about choosing your starting level. Each level is written for a variety of ages. If your kids are elementary aged, I would start with an elementary level, though. I do not recommend starting with level 12 when they are in 5th grade just because you will find yourself rewriting the curriculum to meet appropriate reading levels and topics.
Many people start with the topic that interests their kids. For example, level 0 takes you on a tour around the world (It’s so fun!), level 1 is Ancient World, level 2 is Knights and Middle Ages, etc. Personally I’m very linear and I don’t want to miss anything. There’s no way I could have started in level 3 and then gone back to level 0. But this is my own issue so don’t let it stop you!
Can I Combine Multiple Kids with Build Your Library?
Yes you can! I have 4 kids and kept them all on their own levels up until this past year. I wish I had combined them earlier for the history and science portions. At the beginning of each Instruction guide there is an additional book list which gives you book suggestions. These suggestions are often for different levels of maturity and reading ability.
I am having each kid choose a different reader off that list so they each have one thing of their own to report back on to the rest of us.
What is Included in the Build Your Library Lesson Plans?
The Instructor Guide includes a brief synopsis of the Charlotte Mason Method. There is a brief introduction on how to utilize copy work, narration and dictation. Each level generally adds in a new skill and it will also be explained. The updated guides also contain a yearly topic list so you can see at a glance the scope for the year. It also contains additional book and supplementary video recommendations.
The lesson plans are split into 36 weeks and each week contains the weekly grid and day-by-day instructions. The author does not go into a lot of detail with instructions (which I appreciate). The vocabulary words, reading comprehension questions and copy work are included the in day-by-day instructions.
At the end of the guide you will find activity sheets, timeline figures, and blank lesson grids. NOTE: On the website, Emily has a separate section to buy timeline figures. YOU do NOT need this. The figures for each level are included in the guides.
When you purchase a BYL level you will be emailed a link to download the PDF. You will not receive a printed copy. I like to have a hard copy so I always print it at home, but that’s not necessary. Each level is currently $30-40ish dollars for the PDF.
Do We Have to Read All the Books?
Build Your Library is a literature based homeschool curriculum. There are a LOT of books! Emily has excellent taste in literature and with every level update she has made the book list better and better.
Although the PDF for the instructor guide is very affordable, buying all the books might stretch your budget. I highly recommend printing a booklist or keeping a list on your phone so when you are at garage sales or thrift stores you can look for what you need. Your local library should also have the majority of them or will be able to get them for you through Interlibrary Loan.
Strategies to Get All that Reading In
If your kids have a hard time listening to long sections of reading, break it up. I usually read a few sections to my kids while they are eating breakfast and lunch. If your kids likes to read at night, let them have one of the readers for bedtime. One of my kids also has a difficult time sitting still. She is generally sitting upside down and twisted like a pretzel in her chair or coloring or doing cartwheels up and down the hallway. Yet, somehow, she remembers everything.
If your kids just don’t like a book, it is okay to put it down for a while or even skip it all together. There are thousands of incredible books in the world and life is too short to trudge through one you hate. If your kid is very resistant to a book you can replace it with another. The author of Build Your Library encourages this as well. Find a book similar in topic and reading level and go for it!
What if you simply don’t have time for all that reading? Look, as a mom, I want my kids to read alllll the books. But sometimes we get sick. We’ve moved several times. We’ve had severe injuries. I try to use audiobooks in the car. I read at random times throughout the day. And sometimes we just literally skip a book. My kids are getting such a rich education that I don’t fret if they miss a thing or two.
What I Would Change about Build Your Library Curriculum
There are a few things I would change. No one asked me 🙂 but I’m the one writing this Build Your Library Curriculum Review so here are my two cents anyway.
I wish the weekly grid had a bit more detail or perhaps a color coding to know what the art project is or which subjects required narration or what days we needed the timeline. In order to make a list for yourself for what supplies are needed you will need to read through the whole week day by day.
In the beginning, I made small checklists for my kids of the things they needed to do. I wish I could have just made a copy of the weekly grid and handed that to them, but it does not contain all the assignments.
One other area that could be improved is the directions for the Poetry selections. In the schedule it will say “read Poetry Book p. 13-17”. I wish it indicated the names of the poems. Some of the poetry collections are difficult to find or come in several different editions. Having the names of the specific poems would help you know what to read in case you have an old edition of the poetry collection. This is a very minor and petty complaint, I realize! 🙂
Because Build Your Library uses Charlotte Mason language arts with narration, copy work and dictation, there is not a lot of instruction for teaching HOW to write. I do believe in the process for learning spelling and grammar concepts but there is no direction for brainstorming an essay or writing in different styles, for example. If I could go back and do things over again I would add in a simple writing workbook for my kids that taught more of the writing process.
Final Recommendation for Build Your Library Curriculum: Yay or Nay?
This is my homeschool curriculum of choice so obviously I’m a YAY here. 🙂 I settled on Build Your Library originally because I loved having a little bit of structure without feeling micromanaged. I love the theory of Charlotte Mason style but had a very hard time living up to the purists of programs like Ambleside Online.
Emily, the author, has great taste in books and over the last few years has worked really hard to update the book lists, choose books told from a variety of perspectives and replace older materials with secular options.
The curriculum is secular, easy to use and flexible. If you are in the process of choosing a secular homeschool curriculum for your own family and like the idea of a Charlotte Mason literature-based option – definitely give Build Your Library a look. There are also several Facebook groups for each BYL level with lots of support and other ideas from other families.
Again, if you have more specific questions about Build Your Library just ask me below and I’ll give you my honest feedback.