Thursday, July 9, 2015

When Boxed Curriculum Just Doesn't Cut It

When I first started homeschooling, I used an all-inclusive curriculum. Everything I needed came in one box from one company. That was definitely a blessing. However, as I grew more comfortable homeschooling my children, I figured out that I could develop my own curriculum. This often includes using bits and pieces of resources that already exist . . . why re-create the wheel? I make sure, though, that I am not a slave to that resource and try to use it loosely enough that I can feel free to move on to something else. As I put together courses for my children, they end up being quite interactive and hands on. I find a multitude of resources to include in the lessons—videos, food, music, crafts—whatever it takes to make the lessons more exciting.

My first experience with creating my own curriculum was at the beginning of our homeschooling journey. My oldest's spelling lessons did not come from a spelling book full of worksheets. I read through the dictionary and found words I felt he would be able to spell, based on words he might encounter in the types of books he was reading. I knew his ability, and I never felt it was wrong to challenge my children beyond what they thought they could do. If we don't challenge them, how will they know how far they can go?

For his spelling lessons, I would create a spelling list of 10-20 words, have him define them, find the part of speech, etc. He would then either have to write a story using all of the words correctly or write a sentence for each and draw a picture or find a picture to go with it. Here is an example from second grade:

Some of the other classes I created as my kids got older and I began teaching at our co-op include introduction to architecture, early 20th century American music, food science, modern art (not the usual artists one learns about), geography, World Wars I and II (with a friend), Civil War, and anatomy. 

Geography is always fun. There are so many different things you can do with this course. Most recently, I used a book called Eat Your Way Around the World. This would be a case when I used an outside resource, but I added much more to the class to make it fun and educational. This book has recipes from a number of countries and some cultural facts. Each week at our co-op, we would learn about a different country found in the book. The first thing we did was look at the official name of the country, type of government, population, land area, official language, official religion, etc. We then briefly discussed the history of each country (how it came into being and gained independence). The next thing—and favorite thing—was the food. The students tried foods I'm sure they wouldn't have tried in any other situation, like Groundnut Stew. Stew made with peanut butter. Who knew it could be so good? The kids colored a flag of each country as they learned about the meaning behind the flags. Each week was a little bit different. Sometimes we listened to music. Sometimes we watched tourism videos about the countries. When we discussed Jamaica, we learned about the Jamaican bobsled team that competed in the Olympics.

My Introduction to Architecture course (that is currently on came about because I have always been fascinated by architecture and the ability of architects and engineers to create beautiful yet functional structures we live in, work in, drive on, etc. I figured out how many weeks I had to teach, made a long list of possible structures to study, and pared down that list based on the weeks I had. I decided which bridges, skyscrapers, homes, places of worship I wanted to learn more about and began to research each of them.

Food Science was a lot of fun! There was no text available for this. A great deal of research went into this course, though. We talked about the role of sugars, fats, proteins, etc., in foods. We did a lot of cooking as we learned about the science behind the foods we make and eat.

I had a friend who began homeschooling last year. She wasn't sure what to do. We looked at science first. She said she had purchased a pass to the zoo and that she was planning on going with her kids in the next week or two. I suggested she make a list while at the zoo of the 10 or 12 animals her children liked best. She could then make a monthly unit study of each animal. Let's say she picked an elephant. She could study the science of elephants, the different types of elephants, what makes them different, where they are found, what they eat, and so on. She could go the library and find children's books about elephants—Babar, Horton Hears a Who, Dumbo, just to name a few. Famous elephants in history could be studied—Surus, Hanno, Jumbo. How elephants have been used throughout history could be researched. For writing, her kids could write fun stories about elephants or write a short essay about real elephants. We are only limited by our imagination (I don't know who said that first, but it's spot on.)

When parents make the decision to homeschool, the next step usually seems to be the overwhelming feeling of too many choices. There really is no reason for this. Decide first what you want to teach or ask your kids what they want to learn. Figure out if you can or want to spend the time putting together your own curriculum. If you feel like it's too hard, find smaller resources you can combine to have a full year's worth of learning. Don't ever feel like you have to buy a textbook for every subject. The best learning typically comes when students' heads aren't stuck in a book.

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