Melanie sent me an email with some fantastic questions to discuss.
See, I’m brand new to this homeschooling thing and we started the year trying to adhere to the whole Well-Trained Mind thing. It was so nice following the WTM suggestions. They are so neat and tidy. Now, however, I’m finding that may not be totally where we should be for all of our curriculum. I’m slowly realizing that this is quite the dynamic venture and that I need to have the flexibility to evolve.
I’ve noticed that your curriculum has evolved and I was wondering if you could write a little about your journey. My difficulty in changing is most probably based in my lack of confidence. Well, that…and the difficulty I have in mixing things up. I mean if I’m doing the WTM approach, shouldn’t I adhere to all of the suggestions? Obviously not, but how to mix and match so as to complement? I am guessing that is part of the evolution.
How did you go about choosing the curriculum you are using? What was your thought process when it came time to shift gears?
So I’ll start off with my answers, and my readers are welcome to add to the dialogue. That way it will be more fun for me and more helpful for Melanie.
Well, Melanie, I think you’re on the right track to realize that certain parts of a system (WTM, in your case) are not the best fit for you and your daughter. There are very few purists out there. Most all of us adhere only loosely to a philosophy or system.
It is awfully nice to buy a pre-scheduled, fully thought-out plan that you can just open and go. It’s easy and it feels good that someone else whom you trust is making the big decisions. I did that at first. We used Sonlight, the full kit and kaboodle for three years (K-2). It was good. It worked. But then I started to see other things that I wanted to implement that Sonlight didn’t have, namely hands-on. So I made a switch to Winter Promise (for 3-5). And that worked. It was good.
And now I’m seeing new things that need to change. So we’re moving to Beautiful Feet for sixth grade ancient history. Part of that change is because the WP themes (or SL cores) are really expensive and time consuming. We need to begin investing more time and money into the 3R’s. So I’m going for a simpler history base that I can build on as desired.
Interestingly I don’t consider myself a curriculum hopper. First, I’ve used each publisher for more than one complete year. I’ve always finished a cycle of curriculum. And, probably most importantly, each of these curricula providers have similar educational philosophies, namely using living books as a foundation. It’s not like I’ve jumped from textbook to classical to Charlotte Mason to unschooling. I’ve always known who I am as a homeschooling mom and who my child is.
But, here’s the rub– children change. No, their basic personality doesn’t change. But they grow and develop and need different things at different stages. And let’s be honest. Life’s circumstances change. You may have more or less money available for curriculum. You may have more or less time to invest in planning. All of those things factor into curriculum decisions.
Although I was a teacher by trade, I had no idea how to teach a young child. So I relied heavily on my Sonlight guides those first years. But once I internalized the structure of the schedule and read more about homeschooling, I felt more confident to wing it. I see that the methods I’m using are working, and I trust them more than before. Now I’m looking forward to an almost completely self-devised curriculum, pulled from various sources.
Sixth grade is going to be a true hodge podge, and I am so excited about it! I have no fears about leaving things out or not doing a good job.
First I believe that consistent progress forward is the key. So as long as we’re learning, I’m content.
Secondly any education has gaps. And who says what a 6th grader should know, anyway? Ask five different homeschool moms or five different state education departments and you’ll get ten different answers. Use their answers as guides, sure. And then strive for that consistent, forward motion.
Two of my main goals for my daughter’s education are that she love learning and that she become an effective independent learner. We can achieve those goals with many different types of curriculum.
And lastly, I trust God. That may sound trite, but it’s honestly the truth. When things go awry — a curriculum choice isn’t the best — or a day of homeschooling is lost because of another pressing need, then I give it up to Him. He knows; He sees. And His grace covers it. The sovereignty of God extends into homeschooling as well.
So back to my thought processes in curriculum planning. What I’ve been doing is a lot of reverse engineering. I look at my final goal — what do I want Emma to know or be able to do? Or what topic do we need to cover? Then I go hunting for the material that will best accomplish that. Of course, I’m looking for materials that match my educational philosophy (which leans towards Charlotte Mason). Actually, being CM makes it easy since all you need are living books.
During this process, I also get feedback from Emma. She’s close to 11 years old, and I think she needs to have some decision making powers in her education. When we discussed curriculum for sixth grade, she said she wanted to learn about the human body and about ancient history. So there we go, the main directions of history and science are laid out for me.
Math and language arts are much more foundational, so I spend a lot of time working on those choices. I did spend some time looking over scope and sequence charts for language arts to get a feel of what we might include. Then I make my own list and go looking for resources to teach those topics. I had a list like this —
- books to read
- elements of fiction and figurative/poetic speech
- vocabulary (including roots, prefixes, suffixes, analogies)
My math list was like this —
- games and hands-on resource books
- manipulatives and games
- living math books
- math history books
- reference books and textbooks/workbooks
Then I go through catalogs and search online to see what I like. I read at Yahoo groups, forums, and curriculum review sites. Slowly I research and narrow my choices until I have a large collection of resources to draw from. Then I narrow my choices into a manageable (read affordable) set.
One of my planning tips is to use Rainbow Resource’s wishlist feature. I add things like crazy and then weed them out. I can print that list too, and use it to scour the used book listings at Vegsource and Homeschool Classifieds. As I buy something used, I mark it off the wishlist. For things that aren’t at Rainbow, I have an Amazon wishlist. Among those three online places, I can keep track of my curriculum choices as I’m planning.
That’s what I do, and I’m sure my brilliant readers have other tips and methods. Please share them here. Let’s give Melanie lots of ideas.
This is a fantastic post. I am also finding myself drawn to Beautiful Feet. We’re working on Geography right now.
.-= Shannon´s last blog ..The Old Schoolhouse Expo – Workshop With Malia Russell =-.
I agree with what you advise, Jimmie. We are Grade 3-4 and we loosely follow WTM, LCC and now Michael Clay Thompson. I think that makes me a curriculum-hybrid 🙂 Every year I am less nervous with home education. If I compare what my daughter learns at her young age (8) with what I did at school (what did I learn anyway?), I am confident all will turn out well. I can remember a few Golden Books from my youth, my daughter has hundreds more! This fantastic and steady grow of the children book market and all the educational materials that are now available (DVD, Internet etc.) are a big advantage. Now that our home school is on track, I tend to get more worried about related topics like the effect of bad role models on young students and declining moral and educational standards. Overall I think that we (home educators) can create very optimal home school conditions, but, like Jimmie mentioned with other words, we also need to focus on character building, spirituality, and wisdom to help our children to live a good life.
Thank you, Jimmie, for posting this! I’ve often wondered what you did with Sprite in the early years. I’m sort of floundering here in my decision-making process for 1st grade.
.-= Amy @ Hope Is the Word´s last blog ..Mystery on the Isle of Skye by Phyllis A. Whitney =-.
Excellent post! So true about children changing—and sometimes even circumstances changing that make reworking curriculum necessary. For this upcoming year I’m doing a total over-haul for all the kids. I’m in the middle of trying to plan it all out. We’ve done Sonlight for several years, but now I need to change a few things (we still might do part of Sonlight—haven’t decided) but like you I need to focus more on the 3R’s. We’ll see! I always find your posts, lists and lenses helpful. 🙂
I don’t think I have a lot to add except that everthing is a trade-off. While we would all like to give our kids the *best* possible curriculum/plan for every subject, every year, the truth is that if we’re doing the best in one or two subjects, that will probably take time away from other subjects which will have to be covered in a more basic way. We may have years heavy on science but light on grammar or heavy on the 3r’s and lighter on history. Some years have more field trips and some years have more time to stay home and learn cooking. As long as we focus on what our kids need at the time, it all evens out in the end. I’m convinced there is no such thing as a ‘balanced’ school year or even a balanced week, but we can make sure things even out from year to year so that, in the end, our children did recieve a balanced education, despite the inevitable gaps. I’m doing that this year with my youngest two, as I see you’re also doing with Sprite. Excellent, excellent post, Jimmie. A valuable contribution to the discussion of ‘curriculum hopping’ .
.-= Sandy´s last blog ..Do The Next Thing =-.
Melissa Telling says
I’m copying my response to this that I posted on my blog:
I was in my second year of college when I was struck with the fact that knowledge is not divided into neat little topics, but that it is overlapping and interconnected. I was thrilled to be able to use the facts learned in my economics class to add to the discussion that took place in my politics class and to be able to talk about that discussion in my contemporary social problems class. It thrilled me to see how all these individual facts could be put together and used in real life.
I have tried to give my children that same type of experience in their education. I want them to come face to face with the overlapping of subject areas on a regular basis and to practice applying their knowledge as they aquire it. I want them to use their writing skills to record what they learn in science, to use research skills to learn the geography of the places they study in history, to use cooking skills as they prepare a traditional meal from a country we have talked about. I don’t want them to see their lives as something to be spent in gathering education, but to see education as a tool to enrich their lives. I don’t want them to see learning as something they have to get done every day. I want them to enjoy it and see a purpose in it. That’s why I believe it is so important to be flexible with our curriculum, rather than forcing my children to engage in pointless busy work.
I’ve never been very concerned about following a scope and sequence and I’ve only given an occasional fleeting thought to the idea that I might be leaving “gaps” in their education. Each year I make a plan, and every day we follow the plan, but there is flexability within the plan. What is important to me is that they enjoy learning and that they have the tools they need in order to be able to aquire any future knowledge they may need in life. Our yearly lesson plans cover math, science, language arts, history or geography, and art, with other subjects being added as they strike our fancy. But how those subjects are taught and what part of those subjects we focus on is adaptable.
When it comes to planning our school year, I take into account four factors:
1. interests (Usually this is based on my interest. I try to do divisions by “gade” as seldom as possible, and with several kids in each “class”, it works better for me to chose what we study. But there are exceptions to this rule.)
2. ability level (this mostly affects subjects like language arts and math)
3. available resources (what can I use that I already have on hand or what opportunities are available right now)
4. chronlogy (mostly for history, but this also affects subjects like science where some concepts build on others)
Like Jimmie, I also use the wish list feature on several websites to “collect” items that look interesting or that I read about on various groups or web pages, until I narrow down my selections. I also go through book recomendations from various catalogs and use my library’s online search engine to locate complementary books. I don’t often plan literature books into our studies, but I do bring piles of books home from the library about the subjects we are studying and allow my children to read them for enjoyment. Because we rarely watch television (only use it for watching movies) and they don’t have video games or spend time on the computer, they love having new books to read.
My curriculum choices are based on ease of use, the author’s worldview, and enjoyment level. I have a couple of curriculum favorites that I like to stick to- Mystery of History and Apologia Science- but I often supplement even those subjects. Sometimes we add fun projects, lapbooks, or notebooking to our studies. Sometimes we mix in a second complimentary curriculum. And sometimes all we do is read and do oral narrations.
Although I do have that general plan for what we want to cover each year, I never make it through without some serious adjustments to the plan. Sometimes these adjustments come about because we are presented with a one time educational opportunity that is too good to pass up and I want to capatalize on it as fully as possible. Other times, the plan just isn’t working for one or more of my children. Sometime this involves a change in what is being taught, and sometimes it only means a change in how it is taught. Sometimes I just get bored with a topic. (It’s hard to keep the children excited about a subject that makes you yawn.) Occasionally, we decide to learn about a current interest one of the children has developed. Sometimes our studies go slower than planned . . . or faster. I rarely give tests because I don’t believe it is about how many facts they retain, but about the process of learning- and I can tell if they know what they need to anyway, without giving tests.
However, as my children are getting older and beginning high school, I am having to make a few changes. In order to get into college, they are required to take certain classes. And these classes need to be documented. Grades must be given. (The whole process goes against my natural inclination to let learning happen without the artificial constraints of the schooling process. But discipline is also a part of life, and part of discipline is doing things that need to be done even if you don’t feel like it. Even tests and schedules can teach useful lessons.) So I have come up with a standard curriculum for highschool based on our states graduation requirements. But even this is adaptable to some degree, based on the course of study that each individual child plans to pursue.
Flexibility is an absolute must if you want your children to remain excited about learning. The secret is to take one day at a time while still keeping an eye on the future. Know where you want to end up and take the steps you need to take to get there, but make necessary adjustments to the details. Trust that God knew what He was doing when He placed your children in your home and have the confidence to do what you believe is best for them.
.-= Melissa Telling´s last blog ..Should A Homeschool Curriculum Be Flexible? =-.
I am definitely an eclectic homeschooler. I have even used different curriculum with different children because what worked wonderfully with one bombed with another. I put together my own history and science unit studies using lots of living books. One great money-saving tip is to use the WISH LIST feature on PaperBackSwap. (I doubt this will help you, Jimmie, being out of the United States and all). We are studying ancient history next year and I’ve been adding lots of books to my Wish List on PBS (you can put up to 200). If I am a little patient, I can often get lots of the books that I want, particularly novels. Actually, novels are often instantly available. I have also picked up lots of fun Scholastic teaching books from PBS as well. PBS has helped me to save money on curriculum costs.
I just love your blog Jimmie! Yours is one of two that I check daily (the other blog is my cousin’s). I look forward to each of your new posts! I’ve been reading your blog for a couple of years, but have never responded before.
Your homeschooling journey seems very similar to mine! I started out with Sonlight, switched to Winterpromise, switched back to Sonlight and am now using Beautiful Feet (with a touch of Truthquest history for some extra readers)! I found that I have became comfortable with scheduling according to the needs of my two children (ages 14 and 12) and trusting God’s leading in education. The common thread in all the programs we’ve used has been literature-based learning also. One reason that we switched from Sonlight is cost and needing more time for other (3R) subjects.
May God bless you and your family! Thanks for blogging and blessing others with your experiences!
I too started out with Sonlight for a couple of years and then WinterPromise for 2 years. I took what I liked from both programs and tweaked them to my liking and to my boys’ learning styles. This past year we really enjoyed the mix of curriculum but are going back to Sonlight for Core 5 just because I am really fascinated by the topic and the missions focus.
The following year, we will go back to Mystery of History and our mix of things we love. One thing I like about not having a complete box curriculum is that we have more time to add in things that I see the need for (i.e. money management, cooking, map skills, Latin, etc).
It takes time to gain confidence and just because you switch from one year to the next, it does not mean that that year was wasted. I think it’s important to take away the ideas and resources that work for our family at that time and then tweak to fit the current year. These changes and ideas don’t happen overnight but are learned from trial/error and experience.
.-= Marsha´s last blog ..Sweet Shot: birthday boy =-.
I have found that homeschoolers including myself tend to lean to either the content of education or the context of learning. Content being the thing that makes living books so wonderful. I could spend all day exploring history, God’s creation, and exotic places around the world. My nature is definately content based. I have come to realize though that in our homeschool we need to spend more time with our daughter on the context of learning – the 3r’s as you put it Jimmie. I feel we need a balance between content and context. Our daughter now needs more of the frameworks of language arts and mathematics to take her to new levels of learning and expression of her creativity, opinions and beliefs.
How are you planning on working on the 3r’s with your Sprite, especially in the area of language arts? I am trying to find resources that somehow honor both content and context and I am finding it a challenge. If you have any suggestions I would love to hear them.
God Bless, Natalie
I’m Palmy of Mens Sana, I traslated your squedoo lenses about lapbooking and nature study… do you remenber? Now I discover your blog and I linked on Mens Sana… see you soon!
Thank you so much for this post. We have been struggling with DD7’s language arts this year, and what we are using is just not working. It has taken me almost 3 months to realize it, and I was starting to feel like I was just doing everything wrong. DH assured me to just drop the books that were causing trouble and get something else.
So now my question, Jimmie, is when do you know something is NOT working? It may seem like it’s obvious to some, but I don’t want to hop around, sometimes DD is just being stubborn, sometimes I may not like it but she gets it, etc. You know what I mean?
This is great. Even though I like what we’re using (Winter Promise), I know I’ve got to mix things up for next year, and I want to get planning on that ASAP! So as we’re finishing up what we have for the next 8 or so weeks, I’ll be doing lots of planning. It’s always exciting. And I love Marsha’s point that switching doesn’t mean we’ve wasted a year! As you said, children change! It’s been extra challenging figuring out what works best for Lindsey because we’re still getting to know what makes her tick, what sorts of things actually engage her curiosity, etc. This year hasn’t gone exactly as I’d hoped but it’s been such a learning experience, and I’m very optimistic about next school year! 🙂
.-= Jamie´s last blog ..Spring is springing! =-.
I am a horrible planner….I admit it. Since beginning homeschooling 10yrs or so ago, I have flown by the seat of my pants most years. I have a general idea of what I want to teach, and just go for it, finding resources online or at the library. Rarely have I been able to afford curriculum.
I am starting, as this year draws to a close, finding that I have a great urge to PLAN next year for both my boys. One will be doing 6th/7th grade work, the other 8th/9th grade work.
I am using some free resources “on grade level”, and others are just mix and match. But this time I am working out a schedule of things I want to cover, how long I want to spend on each (especially history and science), and then I will compile all the resources ahead of time. Then there is no last minute scramble to find what I need for a particular unit.
You have to adjust in homeschooling. What your child needs to learn, what they want to learn, and where you feel there are gaps will always be an ongoing cycle. That is half the fun of homeschooling!
.-= Stephanie´s last blog ..Pantry …aka. trying to stock up =-.
Oh my goodness, thanks to your post and your readers’ comments…I am starting from scratch for next year. Well, at least re-examining all of my choices from a different perspective.
I think your comment about reverse engineering is quite wise. Part of my problem is that I can get severely distracted by interesting curriculum and subjects. Perhaps my first filter should be, “Does it help me accomplish my long term goals for my daughter’s education?”
Here I thought that I had next year figured out…but NO, not yet! Off I go to start over! Thank you all for helping me!!!
.-= Melanie´s last blog ..Step One: Biopsy =-.
Thank you for opening the window wide-open for a view of your home school and thank you for voicing it… “there will be gaps.” Did everyone breathe a huge sigh of relief/release onto their keyboard?
I could not do without prayer or prayerful goals – both so instrumental and sometimes surprising in the steering of our home school as well.
It’s always such a pleasure to “see” you and Sprite.
Thank you for this post. I have been planning for next year, while writing a series of posts on my blog about what works for us. Reading your post has been very helpful, along with reading your many squidoo pages. Thank you for all your help Jimmy!