choosing curriculum

Choosing Curriculum

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I have to confess I love to buy curriculum. I have about as much resistance as people do at an extraordinary food bar.  I’ll have one of each please.  Over the years I did find that some basic principles applied to choosing the best of what was available.  Knowing that many of you are still mulling over choices for the upcoming year, I thought I’d share some thoughts.

 

Choosing Math

   Choose a spiral approach.  That means there is constant review of previous skills woven into the daily work.   Chapter approaches look appealing, but children forget math skills easily and require continual practice to cement them.  It is definitely less painful if the necessary review of previously learned skills is already built into the program.  Children are seldom thrilled with extra practice sheets on top of their daily math work.  Since the goal is to have them love learning (even math) don’t shoot yourself in the foot right from the start.   A chapter approach generally means a constant need to reteach previously  covered concepts, breeding frustration for both of you and perpetuating a serious distaste for math.

Look for a program with some room to work problems on the page.  Unfortunately, I’ve never seen one that I thought really addressed this adequately, but I mention it here in the hopes that curriculum producers will take heed and produce a page with space for kids to work the answer.  I personally loved Abeka’s elementary math, but felt they could improve on the space given.  (I also did not require them to do every problem on every page… Abeka has a multitude of problems to work each day so that you can pick and choose what your child needs.)

Remember:  curriculum is your servant; you are not it’s slave.

Whatever you choose, do math daily.  Kids need math for so many higher level subjects, that just like reading it’s fundamental.  Let them whine, but do it everyday.

 

Choosing Science

I prefer a standalone science rather than a more integrated unit study approach.  This is probably because my kids loved science to such an extent that they couldn’t get enough of it. I’d have had to write so much of the unit study in order to get enough new information in it for my older kids that it just wasn’t practical to use a unit approach.  Go for colorful material rich in content.  The more the better, and do every experiment that you can fit in your busy life.  Your kids will remember them all.

In elementary school, explore nature voraciously.  Kids love everything about nature from bugs to clouds.  Let them have bug zoos, spider pets, weather charts and gardens.  Teach them about winds, seas, rocks and creatures.

 

Choosing Reading

There are so many approaches to teaching reading that I think it’s better to cover that as a specialty blog post.  However, once your child can read fluently, make sure they read daily.  For most homeschool kids this isn’t an issue, but it bears saying if you have a reluctant reader.

 Read aloud to your kids.  All through their school years, read aloud to them daily.   In high school you can read books together, alternating paragraphs or chapters, but don’t stop reading aloud.   It makes wonderful memories through shared experience.  Good literature provides opportunities for open discussion about almost every imaginable topic, and when you read it together the values you want to share are naturally and easily communicated.

If you can’t think what to read here are a few suggestions to get you started  (any of these also make great read alone material for your kids)

Elementary:

Owls in the Family, Hank the Cowdog series, The Derwood Series (BJU press), Chronicles of Narnia,  Little House Series,  Boxcar Children,  Grandmother’s Attic Series,  Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Caddie Woodlawn,  Number the Stars, The Sign of the Beaver, A Bear Called Paddington,

Cat of Bubastes ( and other novels by  GA Henty),  The Red Knight,  Men of Iron,  The Little Princess, Across Five Aprils,  Midshipman Quinn, The Lost Baron,

David Copperfield, Olver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities, Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing, and on and on  and on.

Since we are talking about reading aloud, let me also put in a plug here for Five In a Row (http://www.fiveinarow.com ).  This is my all-time favorite curriculum for Kindergarten or First Grade.   Five in a Row is a unit study program based on a different read aloud each week.  It is rich both in content and fun.  If you aren’t familiar with it, check it out; you and your kids will love it.

 

Choosing Unit Studies

Many people like the flexibility of unit studies.  They provide a way that the whole family can be learning about the same subject at the same time, just each at their own level.  The weakness here is for the oldest children.  There is a real danger to guard against in not moving the material to a difficult enough level for them.  Make sure you choose to teach to the highest grade in the unit study and let the information trickle down to the younger students rather than trying to take a basic elementary study and enrich it for high school.

Unit studies can be labor intensive for mom.  Probably one of the best I’ve seen and used is Tapestry of Grace.  The author took the time to actually put the information in the teacher’s manual so that mom didn’t have to go out and search for it.  This was especially helpful for me, since history is not my strongest area, nor my strongest interest.

Unit Studies tend to be very strong in history and some language arts areas.  I’ve never seen one that covered science to the level needed, and suggest again that you use a standalone science program.

 

Choosing Spelling

Everyone in my family is now laughing uproariously.   I think spelling must be genetic.  In fact, I’ve decided it just has to be.   I’ve tried almost every spelling curriculum available and the reality is some of my kids can spell like champions, and others need to wear the t-shirt that displays the slogan

 “Bad Spellers of the World”

“UNTIE”

  I won’t even begin to give advice on spelling curriculum.  I just included it so that you’d know I knew that the subject existed, and as a disclaimer if some of my kids ever write you a letter without spell check.

 

Choosing Writing

Most of the language arts curriculums available address writing adequately in the elementary grades.  Choose one with a good balance between grammar and writing.  I did find though that I loved the Institute for Excellence in Writing (http://www.iew.com ) for middle through high school.  It’s a little bit pricey, but the DVD’s are wonderfully engaging and the writing portions are solid instruction for college prep.

 

If you just feel like browsing curriculum, check out  https://www.christianbook.com  or http://rainbowresource.com

 

Happy hunting. As always if I can be of any help to you, just let me know.

Homeschooling: Hunting Season

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Hurrah!  It’s hunting season.  I frankly love this time of year.  It’s finally time to get out your catalogs, sign up for state convention and purchase next year’s curriculum.

When I began homeschooling in the ’80’s very little was available to us. It made the hunt easier in some ways, and frustrating in others. If you wanted anatomy for your high schooler, it simply wasn’t available. However, it also wasn’t necessary to sift through mountains of material to find a reading program.  It can be pretty overwhelming to search through everything currently available to find those special books that are going to help you captivate your student.

With that thought, here are some hopefully helpful principles from a long time curriculum hunter, as I sit out the hunt for the first time in….27 years.

 

Curriculum is your servant, you are not its slave.
It’s hard to wrap your mind around this truth. Educating your child at home is a sobering responsibility, and we all feel inadequate to the task. It becomes very easy  to enslave yourself to your curriculum. Remember your purpose is education and mastery. It is not the completion of the book, the video or the worksheet. It is not doing every problem, or project. Choose freedom, use curriculum to accomplish the goal.  Do not allow your curriculum to become a dictator that you serve.  Remember it is just a tool that you choose to use to help you and your child accomplish educational goals.

 

Don’t limit your children by your choices.
Avoid curriculum decisions that will limit your children’s future opportunities. Do not assume that you or your child  know what they will need or use in the future. The future is a big place. Give them everything that you can; so that they have the tools they need to do whatever God calls them to do. You cannot tell at 14 what they will want or need at 24. Don’t decide to limit their math or science because you don’t think they’re inclined that way.  Ignore the whine as best you can and insist.  At the finish line, you will both be grateful for every subject studied and every experience embraced.

 

Feed the spark.
Look for every opportunity to enrich and encourage those things that fascinate your child.   Let them love to learn.  It is a wonderful benefit of homeschooling that it takes so much less time to teach one student a skill, than it does to teach a whole classroom the same skill.   Consequently, your student will have extra hours in their day.  Fill some of that time with with what Greg Harris calls “delight directed study”.  All that means is that you encourage extra learning in those areas that pique your child’s interest.  Use the library, the internet, purchase extra books, take field trips and do some fun projects.

 

 

Don’t forget the fun.

It’s easy to get so caught up in the academics that you forget the experiences that make learning in a family fun.  Include games, crafts, read alouds, field trips, and nature exploration.  Plan for those things, that way they are more likely to happen.  In this area especially it’s so easy to have good intentions; but when school actually starts, your schedule overruns you, and the fun disappears.  If you plan fun into your curriculum it’s easier to make it happen.

 

Remember the goal.

While it is of course essential that you educate your child, make sure in doing so that you win their heart.  You want them to love God and embrace the values that your family holds.  To do that you must win them.  Don’t get lost in endless worksheets and projects.  Have spontaneous picnics.  Read aloud under a favorite tree.  Talk to them about everything.  Share your heart, and most importantly let them share theirs.  Point them to Jesus.

 

Praying you have a fruitful and blessed hunting season.

 

 

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