Saturday, April 22, 2017

There is No "Best" Curriculum

As a member of quite a few homeschooling groups on Facebook, I cannot tell you how many times a day I see moms posting in these groups asking pretty much the same question:

What is the best curriculum for x grade? or We are going to start homeschooling this year. Where do we start and what is the best curriculum for us to use?


Now don't get me wrong, I fully understand that these moms are mostly looking for helpful suggestions. And it is wonderful for moms in these groups to share ideas.

But there is really no way to give a satisfactory answer to these kinds of questions.

Because, quite frankly, there is no "best" curriculum.



I say this for several reasons.

Every Family is Different

Every family has a different dynamic, different convictions, and different needs.

Some families might be interested in a curriculum that will allow them to combine a wide age range of students for several subjects.

Some moms might have plenty of time and energy to devote to a more elaborate, teacher-led learning experience while others really need their children to be mostly independent in their school work.

Different families run on different schedules due to work or other outside responsibilities. Some homeschool curricula are better suited for one family's schedule than another's.

It is also important that you choose curriculum that aligns as closely as possible with your family's values, convictions, and doctrinal beliefs.

These are all things that can vary widely from one family to the next, and all will play a major role in choosing homeschool curriculum.

Every Child is Different

Even within the same family, what works for one child may not work at all for their siblings.

My brother and I were a good example of this. I was the type of learner who said "Just give me the book and let me read it, answer the questions, write the long reports, and take the tests." My brother on the other hand was the learner who said "Let me choose all my own books and projects, reenact what I am learning in play, make my own costumes, and do all my own stunts."

Obviously when you have such stark differences in learning styles, there is not going to be a "one size fits all" curriculum solution.

Every Subject is Different

Your child might be like me. Growing up, I dearly loved my ABeka Science and History textbooks, but ABeka's math was a disaster for me. Or as another example, while my son has enjoyed using Rod & Staff's math for the past 3 years, we are not the least bit interested in using Rod & Staff for History.

Very few homeschoolers I know use one curriculum across the board for their entire learning experience. It is totally OK, and often quite beneficial, to mix and match according to individual needs.

Every School Year is Different

That program or method that worked wonders for your homeschool this year might very well have you pulling your hair out the next. Why is that?

Because all the time you, your family, and your students are growing and changing.

Schedules change and routines need to be tweaked. New babies come along or grow up to be new students. Activities and interests come and go. The needs of each child change as they grow and mature. Homeschooling is a life thing, and life is always changing. I am thankful God says His mercies are new every morning, because every day definitely brings new needs and changes in our lives as a homeschool family!

I know this may not necessarily satisfy the new mom who is totally overwhelmed by all the multitudes of curriculum options, methods, schedules, and philosophies out there in the wide world of homeschooling. But the best answer I can give is to say:

1. Do lots of research
2. Jump in and try new things
3. Keep what works/Dump what doesn't
4. Repeat #1-3 as often as needed!

Just remember, almost any curriculum out there can be the "best" for you. The key is to keep your end goal in mind and view whatever curriculum or methods you choose as tools rather than masters.

Always focus on teaching the child rather than teaching the curriculum.

So what are your thoughts? Is there one "best" curriculum for everyone? Are you in the process of seeking out the "best" curriculum for your family? I would love to hear from you!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Why We Will Be Switching Curriculum Next Year



Let me just say, this has been a great school year for us thus far. Making the decisions to wait another year for Big Brother to jump into "official" 4th grade, to change to a more relaxed year-round schedule, and to use a fun, history-based unit study curriculum have all worked out well this year. I would not change anything about this 2016-2017 school year.

But changes are coming next year!

I think most of us by about mid-March (if not sooner) start taking an honest look at where we are and pondering on our plans for the next school year. And one of the wonderful things about homeschooling is that you can customize your children's education and make necessary changes as you go. I love having the freedom to do that!

We are still somewhat in the pondering stage at the moment, but I think I have a pretty decent idea of where we are headed.

And to be honest, I never thought we would go this route!

Next year we will be switching several subjects to...

Drumroll please...

Accelerated Christian Education (ACE)

I used a lot of ACE growing up, my husband graduated from an ACE Christian school, and I used to work as a part-time monitor in an ACE school when Big Brother was in Pre-K/Kindergarten. He even went through all the 1st level Science and Social Studies PACEs for extra reading practice that year in the school's K-1st Learning Center while I was working.

I still never really imagined us using ACE in our own homeschool.

But in about an hour, Big Brother is going to be taking the ACE Diagnostic Test to find out exactly where he should start in their curriculum.

Right now, I am thinking we will be switching him to ACE for at least Math, English, and Literature/Writing; and we may also plan on using their Science and Social Studies in addition to reading ABeka's textbooks and adding in some unit study fun

So what brings about this switch? Several things really.

Independence

Big Brother will very soon be 9 years old. Like it or not, he's becoming a "big kid" now. (OK, if you know him, you know he's already a "big kid!" He's about the size of an average 12 year old and he is so strong, too!)

So as a boy coming up on his pre-teen years (did I really just admit that?!), we feel he is ready to start learning to be more independent and take more control of his learning. With its simple goal setting system, ACE is good for fostering some independence.

Another reason he needs to be a bit more independent is for me to have a little more time to do some other things during the day. Little Brother needs more interaction from me than what he is currently getting, and our house needs a bit more of my attention as well (ahem).

While I had hoped Little Brother would just join in with what we were doing in our unit studies this year, that just hasn't happened as much as I had envisioned. He will soon be turning 3 (where did my baby go?!), and he is ready for more learning time of his own.

Structure

As you may recall from other posts, Big Brother has some struggles with focus, attention, and auditory processing. We have never sought any formal diagnosis, but his struggles are pretty obvious.

In the past we have had great success using written instructions and a workbox system to help Big Brother get through his academic work each day. ACE is perfectly suited for this kind of system. He will know exactly what he needs to do each day, and he will even be involved in making those decisions.

And when we have those days (oh we have some days, folks!) when I am either not feeling well, or Little Brother is being himself, or I just really need to get other things done: his ACE PACEs will give him a predictable, familiar structure he can be reasonably expected to follow on his own.

Mastery

I know I have talked a lot about how much we love mastery-based learning. We have used Rod & Staff math for the past 3 years and loved it's mastery approach. Rod & Staff is a WONDERFUL curriculum, and I still highly recommend it; but ACE also teaches for mastery, so we will not be changing methods.

We are simply switching to ACE Math because it can be completed a bit more independently than the Rod & Staff we are currently using. Rod & Staff uses a textbook that problems must be copied from by hand. This has become rather difficult for a boy who struggles with the physical process of copying problems correctly from one book to another. So I have been writing out all his problems in a notebook for him each day. ACE will eliminate this time-consuming step so he can simply focus on working the math problems (which he is amazingly good at doing!).

The entire ACE system, not just their math, is based on teaching for mastery. Students work on one concept until it is mastered, and they do not progress to more complex concepts until the simpler ones have been grasped. This is a natural, and even Biblical, approach to learning.

My plan is to allow him to spend an hour each morning reading, practicing music, exercising, and enjoying hands-on learning together before he completes his independent work each day. Then if we still have time after his goals are completed, we will continue with more interest-led learning. He will NOT be sitting at a desk staring at a wall all day, as some have imagined the ACE system being used.

And I can hardly wait to share with you my plans for learning over the summer! Stay tuned for that post soon!

How many times have you switched curriculum or methods in your homeschool? Or have you always used the same? Talk to me in the comments!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Where Have We Been?



I apologize it has been a while since I have posted any updates. Little Brother recently developed metabolic acidosis and dehydration after contracting a virus, and that put him in the hospital for a few days. Thankfully, he is much better now, and things are starting to get back to some resemblance of "normal."

I have started doing some freelance writing from home, started up a home business, and begun taking violin lessons; so "busy" is understatement right now. But I really miss posting here, so I am hoping to get back to sharing on this blog at least weekly. I hope you will keep joining me here!

We finished up our Middle Ages & Botany unit study last week. Big Brother has really discovered an interest in herb gardening. In fact, he just recently won a champion ribbon for demonstrating how to plant an indoor herb garden for our county 4H demonstration competition.

Our local library offered to give us a special tour of an engineering exhibit they are currently hosting, so we took advantage of that. The boys had fun building everything from gliders to robots to catapults.

Big Brother is still very involved in the local 4H program here. He's recently done everything from taking first aid & CPR certification training to making clay masks as part of 4H. He is hoping to get to attend 4H Cloverbuds Camp this summer, too.

He is looking forward to attending Kentucky's One Day Teen Pact Leadership Class in April. (He had earned enough 4H Bucks to pay for his class tuition.) My younger brother and I participated in Teen Pact when we were young, and it was a great experience! Check out their website for details. Participants learn about state government in a very hands-on, Christ-centered way. I am so excited for Big Brother to have this opportunity!

Today we begin Unit 5 of A World of Adventure: Renaissance & Reformation/Astronomy! We kicked off the study this morning with the boys watching a short cartoon video about the life of Leonardo Da Vinci. I am hoping to take field trips to an art museum and the Creation Museum planetarium during this unit.

We are still enjoying working through A World of Adventure for Bible, Social Studies, Science, Literature, and Language Arts this year. We are continuing through Rod & Staff's 3rd grade math, and Big Brother is still going to my mother's home twice per week for spelling tutoring using the Barton Reading & Spelling System.

It is hard to believe March is already here, and we will be finishing this school year in just a couple more months! Time flies when you're having fun (actually it flies whether you have fun or not...but we might as well have fun along the way!)

Thanks for joining us on this journey, and please stay tuned for more adventure and inspiration... homeschool style!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Back to School - Day 1 of Our Middle Ages Unit

After a long Christmas break, today we were back to school and started A World of Adventure Unit 4: The Middle Ages!

We actually kicked off our study by watching a few different Robin Hood movies we had checked out from the library over the past few days. This really helped me introduce Big Brother to this interesting time period in a fun way.

It's been a while since I have done a "day in the life" post, so I am happy to share a glimpse into our day with you.

6:30 a.m. - I get up, get dressed, exercise, and spend some time with the Lord. I'm reading through the book of Romans right now.

7:45 a.m. - I hear the pitter-patter of Little Brother's feet coming down the hallway. We snuggle a bit, I direct him to the potty, and he gets dressed for the day.

8:00 a.m. - Big Brother's alarm clock goes off. He groggily makes his way down from his top bunk to turn it off and read the note I have left beside it telling him exactly what he needs to do before school time. I do this because #1 - He's not a morning person (which he gets from me) and needs some direction for how to get moving with his day and #2 - He struggles with auditory processing and responds best to written instructions. He heads to the shower to wake up while I start pulling a simple breakfast together.

8:15 a.m. - We eat breakfast then Big Brother practices piano for a bit. Then he vacuums the living room and sweeps the kitchen while Little Brother puts a load of laundry in the washer.

9:00 a.m. - Our school day officially starts with prayer time together. I set out a castle play set, and let the boys play with some knights as I read them our Bible lesson from Revelation 3:8. This verse will tie in with our literature selection later on in the morning.

After Bible time we recite the nursery rhyme "Baa, Baa Black Sheep" together and discuss what this rhyme meant to the farmers in the Middle Ages. Then we recite it again and clap the rhythm. Little Brother enjoys clapping along and making "baa" sounds.

Next we do a quick multiplication drill with flash cards followed by a note reading drill at the piano.

Since we are studying plants for science during this unit, next I read From Seed to Plant by Gail Gibbons. There is enough detail and information in this picture book to be useful to Big Brother, but it is also short enough to hold Little Brother's attention.

Then Little Brother heads back over to the castle playset and I read St. George and the Dragon aloud. I point out that this book won the Caldecott Award for its brilliant illustrations. This story is obviously quite exciting, so Big Brother loves it!

We checked out some CDs of medieval music from the library, so I turn one of them on now. As he listens for a while, Big Brother chooses a picture in his Life in a Medieval Castle and Village Coloring Book to begin coloring. I take the opportunity to work on a page I have been coloring in one of my adult coloring books. Little Brother does some scribblings with markers and practices naming the colors. It's rather peaceful.

Next we grab our current literature assignment, The Door in the Wall. This book is set in England the mid-1300's. We go over some new vocabulary, read the first section aloud, and I ask some comprehension questions afterward. During this time, Little Brother watches a few educational video clips on his PBS Kids Android Tablet.

10:30 a.m. - Big Brother is eager to actually "do something" now after doing so much listening and talking. So we decide to go ahead and start our unit science project: an herb garden. He is going to grow his own dill, thyme, oregano, mint, and chives to be used in some yummy recipes later in this unit. He fills little yogurt cups with soil and carefully plants the seeds. He makes labels for each cup and gives each a little water. Then we place them in the window in the boys' bedroom.



11:00 a.m. - We clean up our mess and pull out our atlas and globe. Big Brother finds England and we review some basic geography. He finds London, the River Thames (and complains about how it is spelled), Scotland, Ireland, the North Sea, and the Atlantic Ocean. I quiz him on directions (North, South, East, West). Then I give him a few minutes to read about England in his atlas while I take Little Brother to potty.

Once Little Brother is settled once again, we Google King Edward III who is king at the time of The Door in the Wall and check out what Wikipedia has to say about him.

11:30 a.m. - The boys are asking for food, so we go ahead and take lunch and a break. After we eat I go hang up some laundry and check my email and Facebook. Little Brother does some coloring and roaming around, and Big Brother plays Robin Hood with his LEGOs for a while.

12:30 p.m. - Little Brother declines a nap today, so I allow him to have some more tablet time. Big Brother and I read about monks and then he pretends to be a monk while doing his cursive copywork for the day.

Next we discuss some figurative language from our literature selection and learn a bit about the Cockney English accent.

In today's reading section from The Door in the Wall we had read a detailed description of the main character's bedroom. So for his writing assignment today, Big Brother composes a paragraph describing his own bedroom.

1:30 p.m. - We play a round of our "Worlds of Adventure" quiz game to review all the things we had learned about today. This is great for reviewing all the new vocabulary words and special terms we have encountered throughout the day.

1:45 p.m. - Big Brother independently completes his Rod & Staff math lesson for the day. He's reviewing his 5's multiplication facts today.

**2:00 p.m. - With his scheduled work all completed, Big Brother decides to turn on the medieval music CD again and do some silent reading in the library books we checked out about knights and castles.

And that was our school day!