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