Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Great Curriculum Adventure continues...

or the last (wait, how long have we been homeschooling?).....uh, twelve years, I have spent countless hours every year driving myself insane with curriculum catalogs and trying to fit what works and doesn't work with the children into what I'm comfortable teaching (not to mention what two rather opinionated teenagers were or were not willing to do).  My brain tends toward structured curriculum, with daily lesson plans telling me every step to take so I don't leave anything [important] out.  My heart, however, (as well as that of at least half of my children) is a wanderer--plagued with ADD and wanting to flit hummingbird-style from one activity to the next with no mapped-out course and who feels as if schedules and lesson plans are the choke chain of creative juice and intellectual hunger.  Does that make me a schizophrenic homeschooler?  Or does it define me as "eclectic"?

This past school year I spoke at one of our homeschool umbrella group's meetings on curriculum recommendations...and to the shock and humor of everyone there, my opening statement was along the lines of "I've learned over the last ten-plus years that curriculum is a tool...a tool that can change year-to-year to serve whatever concrete goals you have for your children both globally and temporarily, and that what works for one child one year may not work for another the same or any other year.  So....you take recommendations with a grain of salt, but the best planning in the curriculum adventure is knowing what your students need and how you, as their teacher, can provide the best tools to accomplish that goal."  Vague?  Well of COURSE it is!

Navigating the deep and ever-growing sea of educational materials can not only be intimidating, it can be completely overwhelming.  Even for a twelve-year veteran mom who has graduated two high school students!  Unfortunately, homeschool moms have a habit of being dreamers who want to do everything, and all those shiny books can be really tempting!  I, personally, loved Sonlight.  Everything about it....the books, the books, the BOOKS!  However, the prospect of doing two or three Cores (and that still meant combining at least two "sets" of girls) every year was more than my brain could comprehend.  That's a LOT of read-alouds every day.

As I've mentioned before, my educational philosophies have changed over the years.  I used to try to recreate the classroom experience, but that really doesn't much work for two students.  Twenty-five, yes.  But not two.  Or three.  Or even five.  Soooo....I had to re-evaluate what I was trying to DO; was it to merely pass on knowledge (no...the fact that my two oldest children are "smarter" than me math-wise makes it obvious that I want them to have knowledge beyond my own), or to train in the art of self-education?  Yep, that's it.  I want to teach them how to learn.  The more I read, the more I realized that I really do love the model of classical education as outlined both by Dorothy Sayers in her essay "The Lost Tools of Learning" and by Susan Wise Bauer in her book The Well-Trained Mind

HOWEVER....for the beginning of this school year, I'm dealing with two girls who are in dire need of focused, concentrated phonics instruction and handwriting practice.  I want them reading and writing well, and I want them to have a firm grounding in basic mathematics computation skills.  So yes, most of my focus at least for the first part of the year is going to be dedicated to the three R's, with not TOO much of an emphasis on science and history...although the books I've got for history and science are pretty intnse in and of themselves, so I'm sure just by reading and discussing what's in those books, they'll be absorbing a great deal of information!  I'm just not going to put a lot of emphasis on notebooking and recording much of their learned information yet until they're comfortable reading and writing.

For phonics, I'm combining several "good stuff" resources.  I used Adventures in Phonics (we are starting out with book A, which is technically for kindergarten, but they'll zoom through that and we'll get the more advanced book as soon as they're finished with the first one), from Christian Liberty Press years ago with Kelsey and was quite pleased with the results, but I didn't do it "heavily" enough.  I let her slip by with half-hearted efforts, thinking wrongly that she'd grow out of the laxidaisical nature and buckle down as soon as she could read well and enjoyed the material she was reading.  WRONG.  This is a child who, like Morgan now, was completely content to do the absolute minimum and in my lack of self-confidence as a teacher, I thought that it was okay.  It's NOT okay, and I know that now.  There is NO WAY I'm going to allow Morgan to skip through her education as she would a game of hopscotch.  Mean Mom is taking over, and this child is going to learn to read well, she's going to learn phonics well, and she's going to learn to comprehend the written word.  THIS YEAR.  I'm also adding The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading to my arsenal against illiteracy, and I've got a few things lined up in reserve if those two resources don't do the job.  We have sight word magnets, alphabet magnets for word-building, flash cards, you name it.  We're also backing up the phonics instruction with Christian Liberty's Building Spelling Skills, which I've used in the past and didn't really have a problem with, but I'm not really all that thrilled about it, so if in my perusing I find something I like better, we may switch next year if this doesn't work (or it bores them like it did with Jon and Kelsey). 

For math, we got nowhere last year with Horizons.  Neither Morgan or Jamie could focus with all the color that was on those pages.  I had to find something that wasn't as "pretty" while still being repetitious enough to cement them well in basic math facts.  I have long been a fan of Saxon for math, but their primary math programs are SOOOO expensive...and yes, cost is a factor for a family with six children at home.  So this year and probably until they can test into Saxon 5/4, it's Rod & Staff Math 1.  Uncluttered, unfluffy, but still meaty enough to give the girls the practice they need.  Funny thing is that they'll be flying through the first several weeks, because both of them know basically how to add single-digit numbers from last year--and I never even used a structured math program for them in kindergarten!  We just used everyday life to learn the fundamentals!

The other two subjects we'll be covering, only with a lighter focus, science and history, will be using some rather intense programs.  I'm doing this in the hopes that using interesting, user-friendly, and meaty materials will "stick" a good amount of the subject matter without us having to delve deeply while we spend most of our time and effort on the basics.  Susan Wise Bauer's Story of the World series will be the backbone of our elementary history study, until the girls can "grow into" the Mystery of History series...and then I'd LOOOOOOOVE to jump headlong into Tapestry of Grace when Morgan and Jamie are ready for rhetoric-level studies.  For science, the plan is to use Apologia's Exploring Creation elementary science series twice--first as read-alouds and to just basically discuss and cover the meat on a basic level and then a second time more intensely as the girls are old enough to really learn from the Notebooks that go along with the text.    This year, we're studying the Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day!  The girls are just so excited to learn about birds and all those flying critters we see so much of outside!  By the end of the week, we'll be covering Bernoulli's Principle and the basics of flight!  I have to say I never expected to be teaching anything this intense to a 1st grader, but if yesterday's discussion of archaeology and historians was any indicator, the gals can handle it!

You should see how little Danica (who won't be 4 for another two months) is tagging along with everything.  I got her some of Rod & Staff's preschool workbooks to "do school" while the big girls are working, and WOW does she get bent out of shape if anyone messes up HER BOOKS!!!!  Shelby had the NERVE to "help" Dani color a turtle today and you would have thought she'd stuck the book in a shredder!

Well...that's the scoop on the books that are on our shelf and table this year.  I hope you had as much fun as I did picking out your curriculum!

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