Monday, September 20, 2010

How to Simplify your Homeschool Curriculum

When you begin to homeschool, you are keen to go to curriculum fairs and search out the perfect homeschool curriculum for your family. When you have been homeschooling for a few years, you may discover that your first choices did not work out that well, and you are on the hunt again. Five or so years later, you may be bored and keen to re-think
the homeschool curriculum and cater for your highschool students. Ten years later, you throw out so much of what you have bought and never used and keenly look to simplify your homeschool curriculum.

I am not sure if you subscribe to numerous homeschooling e-newsletters or ezines (perhaps you subscribe to mine!). I subscribe to a few to find out what homeschool curriculum is around and the see what other homeschoolers may be using. At times, I like to read reviews. However, as my email box is continually bombarded with new homeschool products and resources, I wonder if all the new products have helped our desire or vision for homeschooling. Are we more focussed on the task of homeschooling now with the
plethora of curriculum that is put before us or did those early veteran homeschoolers with limited resources capture the essence of homeschooling in a better way? Have we lost the vision?

Am I against homeschool curriculum? Absolutely not! I am very thankful to numerous publishers who have put time and thought into a product and are selling it to the homeschool market. Thankyou! It has made my task so much easier! However, I am concerned that some publishers are just viewing homeschooling as another market and we are steered into thinking that each child needs to have a textbook for each subject each year! Four children, eight subjects each year means literally 128 textbooks for every year of homeschooling. Most of these will be pricey and consumable.

"What are you doing for Language Arts?"
"DS has a Year 3 book for Spelling, Year 4 for grammar, Year 3 book for Literature Studies, Year 3 text for writing and Year 4 Book for Reading Comprehension. Yes, I am so glad that we can cater for his individual abilities!"

Is this the only way? Are you ready to simplify your homeschool curriculum and not fall into the marketing traps? How can that be done?

If you have spent any time on my website, you would know that I always refer to your educational and family goals. That is the first thing that you need to do now if you want to simplify your homeschool curriculum.

  • Decide on the big picture goals

Why are you homeschooling? For what purpose and to what end are you preparing and educating your children?
Let these answers drive the currictlum you choose to implement in your homeschool.

  • Decide why you want to teach a certain subject

Here you should pose questions to yourself which will help you formulate why you want to teach a certain subject.

This step can be quite simple. The most obvious answer as to why we want to teach reading, is, so that our children will read widely and understand what they read. True? How do we do that? Firstly, we set up an atmosphere that encourages reading. We read widely to them; We give them the tools so that they can read for themselves (phonics instruction when ready); We offer a range of quality reading resources - both fiction and non-fiction living books. We include reading in all subject areas and do not treat it as a separate subject, but instead, a skill to be developed in each subject.

The most obvious answer as to why we want to teach writing, is, so that our children can write appropriately for different audiences and in different situations. This includes writing notes, letters, essays, descriptive writing, fiction, non-fiction, responses, critical essays, essays of persuasion and more. (More writing skills can be found listed here:

So, how would we do that? Does it mean we need a consumable textbook for each grade level? Probably not! If we want to teach our children to write, they need to write! - all types of forms of writing, across the curriculum. Begin by teaching them correct letter formation, writing words, copying sentences, narrations, copying their own oral narrations, essay writing. I would encourage you to get a book which explains different writing forms. I like the Write Source books and have chosen a few age-appropriate teaching texts. These are non-consumable and are written directly to the child.

If you would like to work on writing skills, you could choose an excerpt of literature, discuss the grammar, spelling, sentence structure, word usage and use it as a basis for copywork, and modeling.

Spelling can flow directly from their own writing and an individual spelling list can be created from their incorrect spelling. Spelling in context is far more effective. However, if you would like a Spelling Program, choose one which spans across the ages and years.

If your goal for history teaching is that they memorize dates, you would look for a program that just focusses on memorization of facts, but if your goal is that they gain an understanding of the time period and understand it in the context of a Biblical Worldview, you would look for a curriculum that helps you to do that.

The answer you give for each subject area, will help you choose appropriate homeschool curriculum which has the same purpose in mind.

  • Combine subjects and Skill Teaching

To simplify the curriculum, you need to look for ways to combine subjects. If you teach history in an integrated approach, you can teach history, geography, literature, art history, science history, music history and worldview (depending on the curriculum you choose to help you teach). As you integrate these subjects, you use and develop age-appropriate reading and writing skills. Writing can be done in the context of any subject area!

During a study on Ancient Egypt, you can read aloud an historical fiction novel such as "Mara, daughter of the Nile", create a salt map of Egypt; Read about the culture; Put the time period into the Biblical timeline; Copy the way the Ancient Egyptians decorated their tombs; Dress like an Egyptian, Hold a feast; Write a story/narration/summary/book report/essay from what was learned.

  • Combine ages

To simplify your homeschooling life, combine ages where you can. History can be taught successfully to the whole family at once, but the writing and reading assignments which are set will be different for the different ages. I expect more from my fifteen year old, than from my ten year old.

Some families like to begin their day with their 'together' work - such as Bible, Memorization, History/Science Readings, Art, and whatever they combine, and then continue the day in independent studies. Other families like to begin independently, and then finish working on projects together.

  • Make memorable learning experiences and products

Textbooks may have a place as educational tools, but the consumable workbooks that some children work in year after year, will not be treasured years after. However, a book which they have created, a scrapbook, a personal diary, an art collection, a poster, a photo journal, a project, notebook or portfolio will have an important place in the lives of your children for years. These will be kept as wonderful memories and as the pages which they have spent energy, heart and soul creating, are turned, the experiences and memories of that year of homeschooling will come back too! My children love looking back at what they have created, but have not had any attachment at all to a consumable workbook, which subsequently has been tossed in the bin.

  • All of Life is Education

To simplify your homeschooling, do not confine education to books. All of life is education even chore training, kitchen duties, house cleaning. Do not be anxious if you can not get to the books as much as you would like. Talk to your children, converse with them about all of life, as you sit down, as you get up and as you walk along the road. Remember there are phases of learning and different ages have different things you need to focus on. When a child is ready, they can work quite independently, structure their own days and learn things quickly. How much more effective would it be if we taught our children a difficult concept when they were truly ready, rather than to our timetable or the timetable of our text?

Remember that excursions, holidays, visiting the sick, providing a meal are opportunities for training and education.

Also, one needs to be reminded that you can not do it all. Be realistic in your own expectations.

  • Do not compare

Above all, do not compare yourself with others.

Use the homeschooling resources which conform with the goals you have for your children. If it is working for you and your
family, there is no need to change.

As you step out to simplify your homeschool curriculum, keep your own goals in mind and be driven by them, not by the
hype and advertising of numerous publishers.

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