So after almost 7 years of homeschooling one child for 8th grade, 1 child from 3rd to 8th grade, and one child from Kindergarten to 5th grade (so far), here's what I figured out: the 5 main ingredients to successful homeschooling is reading, math, plenty of field trips, a positive home environment, and lots of freedom to pursue interests. That's essentially it. For all grades. And by "successful" I mean whatever it means to each of us, really. My definition of success is: the ability to achieve (or have it in them to go for) what they want academically, socially, & emotionally (and in all areas) throughout high school, college, and adulthood.
Reading. Anything and everything. Good literature is ideal, "twaddle" is ok, too. Narration is a good idea with most readings. It shows you what they retained and lays a foundation for some good writing skills.
Math. Any program is fine. Even no program is fine. Whatever works for your child and gets them to understand the key concepts is good. Utilize math in daily life (unit pricing, percentage discounts off, budgeting, banking, measuring, etc). Solidify the basics (addition, subtraction, multiplication, & division) before moving on and the higher math will be so much easier to grasp.
Field trips. Now I know many people don't live in a big city like we do, but making an effort to scour your area for cool places to go is important - even if you visit the same places over and over again. Find the museums, gardens, zoos, theater productions, ethnic restaurants, art galleries, state parks, factories, etc. Check out the fire houses, libraries, police stations, pizzerias, etc and see if you can go behind the scenes to see how they run.
Positive home environment. This should go without saying. Be a fun family. Be encouraging, do things together, have traditions, have good discussions, and really listen to each other.
Freedom to pursue interests. I believe a child can learn more in 1 hour of doing what he loves than from months of forced seatwork. My kids' interests can last for years or only a few days. It's all important, though. Nurture and facilitate those interests in every way you can. And know when to back off.
If you can focus on only these 5 things, I can almost guarantee homeschooling success. Comments?