May 30, 2020

Should I Homeschool with a Complete Curriculum or Subject Specific Curriculum?

If you are asking this question there is no question that you should consider using a subject specific curriculum. A complete curriculum is by far the easiest way to begin homeschooling as I wrote about in a recent post. In addition complete curriculum sometimes coordinate learning between subjects, but complete curriculum is not always the best option. Often parents who select a complete curriculum soon find that large portions of it just don't work for their family.

Kids may be grade levels ahead in one subject while behind in another. To learn effectively a child must be challenged at his/her level. It is pointless to work through pages of addition problems when the child has a math brain and has been working problems in his head for years. Why not move onto the next level? Likewise, if a child is a struggling 16 year old reader it makes no sense for that child to be given grade level reading books. How could that child be expected to read and understand a history text book when the reading skills are grade levels behind? That child would benefit so much more by working on his/her reading skills, watching a World War II documentary and sewing a colonial style dress. Purchasing subject specific curriculum allows parents to fulfill these individual needs by tailoring a curriculum specific to each child.


Complete curriculum may work well for some subjects while others may be less suited for your children. For example, you may select a complete Charlotte Mason style curriculum only to find that your child thrives when listening to the stories, but can't stand the way the curriculum uses copywork to teach grammar and spelling. Expanding on this idea, if a curriculum is textbook based, the child would learn about plants by reading a biology textbook. Some children would find this method boring and prefer to learn about plants by watching a nature documentary, sprouting seeds, visiting a nature center, observing nature and researching what they observe in books or on the internet, drawing artistic pictures of the plants and trees they see, or by making a leaf collection. The child may be extremely interested in plants and want to do everything listed above, or they might be interested in one activity much more than another. Choosing a subject specific curriculum that is geared towards your child's interests and learning style can greatly enhance their education.


Does it really matter if children study astronomy or geology in seventh grade? It does if the child has been filling his/her pockets with rock since PreK and hasn't yet stopped. That child may really like researching those rocks on the internet and be so inspired to learn that you don't even need the curriculum. Geology would be a much better subject specific choice for that child. Selecting subject specific curriculum takes more research time for the parent who is responsible for the education, but can really pay off. The better the curriculum works for the child the less effort required by the parent who is teaching the topic. Subject specific curriculum greatly increases education options by offering both grade level and interest options.

Finally, companies who specialize in one subject tend to be successful because they have developed a unique style of teaching that subject which appeals to many homeschooling families. By teaching with subject specific curriculum you can take advantage of these innovations and learn with the best quality materials that appeal to your child.

May 29, 2020

How to Select a Homeschooling Curriculum

When putting together a homeschooling curriculum for your children there are many options. You can purchase a complete curriculum, a subject specific curriculum or assemble a curriculum comprised of books, videos and other resources on your own. Depending on which philosophy of homeschooling you decide to follow, a curriculum might not even be required. Today there are complete curriculum packages written for each and every homeschooling philosophy as well as philosophy blends. Some correspond with a specific grade level, where as others are meant to be used for a range of ages. Some are free or nearly free where as others can cost over $1000. As you can probably imagine each has its pros and cons.

By far the quickest and easiest way to begin homeschooling is to find a complete curriculum. Instead of selecting different resources for each subject, parents eliminate extensive research and decision making by selecting one complete package. Some complete curriculum packages even come with a teacher which eliminates a lot effort for the busy parent. These are commonly referred to as school-at-home programs as opposed to homeschooling. The main difference is that the person responsible for the education is the state and not the parent. While this type of curriculum makes the transition easier for the parent, it is not always the best decision for the child. Teachers who are located remotely don't tend to develop close relationships with students. In addition, the parent is largely cut-out of the loop and therefore may miss a cue when something is off. For parents who opt for a complete curriculum where they end up being the teacher, often a few weeks into the transition to homeschooling, parents realize that portions of the complete packaged curriculum just aren't a good fit. They then drop them and race to find a replacement.

One of the most popular complete curriculum options, especially for parents transitioning to homeschooling from the public school is the K-12 curriculum. Many school districts offer similar programs which are a slightly altered version of this curriculum. These are grade-level specific, on-line school-at-home programs that come with a teacher. Since the material in the curriculum closely aligns with face-to-face public school material both parents and students have a good idea of what to expect. These programs are advertised as tuition-free implying that they are free to the homeschooling families who use them. While this is true, schools love them because they receive district funding for each registered child and can educate many more students with far fewer resources and teachers.

If the above option doesn't sound like a good fit for you read-on. There are many more alternatives.
Hopefully you have had a chance to take the Homeschooling Philosophy Quiz I referred to in my previous post. Most curriculum tends to align with a philosophy of education. Therefore, knowing your preferred philosophies will help to narrow the options. A further way to hone in on the best curriculum for your family is religious identification. Families who chose homeschooling during the 70's, 80's and 90's did so for two primary reasons; religion or issues with the public school. Because of these origins, identifying whether you want a religious-based or secular curriculum continues to be a major discerning factor when sifting through options today.

As for me personally, we followed a complete curriculum for one year of our homeschooling adventure. My children were very young when we began homeschooling so we primarily did educational activities the first few years. When my oldest was in 3rd grade I began looking for a little more structure. The curriculum I chose was Ambleside Online. I selected it because I took a homeschooling philosophy quiz and scored high with Charlotte Mason, it was a mostly complete curriculum, looked good, and it was low cost. Although I selected a complete curriculum, I had trouble following it before we even started. Ambleside Online is a curriculum based in religion and I wanted a secular curriculum. As it turns out, my kids hated copywork and I really hated it when they made some for me during play time. Nature study was okay, but never a great hit. My oldest child loved the stories, but I found my middle child learned better through hands-on activities. I have no regrets from the time we spent following the Ambleside Online curriculum and still refer to it today when seeking resources. I just wish I had someone to help guide me through the options that were available at the time.


There is a list of complete curriculum options below. Most of the options listed have received good reviews from homeschooling families I know that have actually used them. The list is by no means comprehensive as new curriculum seems to be developed every day.

Traditional Approach

In this textbook/workbook approach to education, kids have well defined lessons, assignments, quizzes, tests and grades. This method looks very much like the public school. Many companies offer complete curriculum which can be implemented at home.
  • Houghton Mifflin Harcourt - Secular, PreK-12, textbook based
  • Moving Beyond the Page - Secular, PreK- 9
  • Khan Academy - Secular, on-line, free, PreK-12, complete subjects for upper levels
  • A Beka - Textbook based, Christian Curriculum, PreK-12
  • BJU Press - Full Biblical Worldview Curriculum with on-call consultants books, on-line, DVD or Computer Disks
  • Calvert Curriculum -  combo textbook/on-line secular curriculum, K-8 (High School in Development Phase)
  • Horizons - Workbook based, Christian Curriculum, Pre-K-12

Independent Learning

The older students are the more easily they can follow an independent learning curriculum. Although they can align with any method, many follow the traditional approach.
  • Robinson Curriculum - Textbook/Workbook based Christian curriculum designed for independent study, grades 1-12
  • Ron Paul Curriculum - Curriculum built on foundations of liberty, mostly self-directed, free for K-5, 6-12 involves fees for video based courses

Computer Based Learning (Traditional Approach)

With the popularity of computer-based learning and the internet providing information at the fingertips, many independent learning curriculum are implemented via computers.

 

Charlotte Mason

The Charlotte Mason method involves reading "Living Books". Living books teach through story rather than through fact as in historical fiction. Lessons are under 30 minutes in length and incorporate nature study, copywork, narration, music appreciation, and art appreciation. Children explore the outdoors and create their own nature notebooks based on observations. Music is studied by listening to works of great classical composers and folk tunes. Passages are selected for literary content and copied into notebooks to learn spelling, grammar, punctuation as well as techniques of great writing.


Classical

Classical education is broken into three segments of study. PreK-5 is filled with memorization of facts such as the 50 states and the periodic table. Facts are frequently memorized with song. In grades 6-8th the kids learn the arts of logic and rhetoric. The upper grades emphasize independent thought and expression through written and spoken language. (think lawyer/politician) 

 

Montessori

This method of education puts the child in charge of his/her time by placing him/her in a prepared environment. An emphasis is placed on life skills such as learning to pour from a pitcher, and polishing silver. The Montessori classroom contains age appropriate activities, constructed from natural materials, such as geography puzzles, sewing cards, books, counting manipulatives, and seashells and is primarily used for younger children.

 

Waldorf

This method centers around a daily rhythm and educates the child's head, heart and hands. A Waldorf education may involve circle time and movement activities, fairy tales, beautiful works of art, learning mathematics through art, and learning to knit. A Waldorf student might make a drawing of a cat with a curved tail in the shape of the letter C to learn about that letter. They may create geometric works of art as well as three dimensional and wire frame drawings to learn about geometry.

 

Unit Studies

In this method all subjects are covered with one topic. Often times topics are based on periods of history, but single books, science based topics such as animals, or the human body also can be selected as focus topics. If the topic was candy the child may read books about candy, write about candy, count M&M's, try making their own chocolate bars, or do a survey of friends to find out their favorite types of candy.

 

Interest-Based

In this method of education children are encouraged to follow their interests (aka Unschooling). Parents provide a rich educational environment by continually introducing new materials and ideas. Parents may give their children books, introduce them to knitting, or buy them an electronics kit. Usually the child sets the educational path while the parents are role models, cheerleaders, and become specialists at finding resources. Sometimes referred to as Unschooling, there is no set curriculum and learning is an extension of life. Throughout the educational years, parents expose children to a variety of activities and encourage them to continue with activities the kids find interesting.

May 28, 2020

How to Start Homeschooling

In the wake of the covid pandemic more families are considering homeschooling than ever before. Experts estimate that the number of homeschooled students could double or even triple in the upcoming year. The good news is that there has never been a better time to start homeschooling. There are an abundance of resources and support systems already in place. Not to mention homeschooling is now readily accepted. The bad news is that there are an abundance of resources. It can be difficult and time consuming to filter through all of the choices to find a curriculum that works for you.

Although the task may feel daunting, I encourage you to stick with it. Over the next few weeks I will guide you through the process of selecting curriculum and getting started. The more effort you put into creating a unique family curriculum or a unique curriculum for each child in your family the more the children will thrive.

By clicking on the links within this blog you can find descriptions of many of the resources that have worked for us. As I walk you through the process I will be doing a major update and reorganization of this blog to make finding resources even easier, but keep in mind that your learning philosophy, the way your children learn, your children's ages and their learning style may be different from mine. That's okay, because there is no right or wrong way to homeschool. I will describe resources that have worked well for us, but also note resources that come highly recommended by other homeschooling families. As a future reference, the best place to go for reviews and description of various homeschool curriculum is Cathy Duffy Reviews.



What is a curriculum? Curriculum refers to resources used to teach your children. That could be anything from random chapter books, a math work book, a deck of cards used for playing Black Jack 21 to teach addition, a biology textbook, a program for teaching phonics to young children or a complete package of grade-based resources for teaching all subjects. Curriculum can be on-line, video based, or rooted in books. It can cover a single subject or an entire grade level. It can be written to the student in a step-by-step manner so that a child can work independently or it can be written for a teacher. It can be religious or secular. Curriculum can be college-prep, life-skills based or focused on a special interest. It can be free, cheap, or quite costly. It may be written for specific age groups or grade levels or meant to satisfy a range of ages. Finally, it can be created by someone else and purchased, or it can be a variety of resources you assemble.


Before purchasing curriculum, the two most important things to consider are your learning philosophy and the learning style of your child. Learning philosophy refers to the structure of your curriculum. For example, a Montessori philosophy involves a prepared environment filled with educational manipulatives that the child can access based on interest. A unit study philosophy covers all subjects in the context of one topic such as the human body. Descriptions of more educational philosophies can be found here. By taking this short Homeschool Style Quiz you can gain insight into your favored philosophies. Many commercial homeschooling supplies align with a particular philosophy of teaching. Therefore, knowing which philosophies of education you are interested in can greatly help focus the search for educational materials.

The other important factor to consider when selecting curriculum is how your child learns. While most of us are able to learn through a variety of different inputs, there is often a method which stands out. The main modes for learning are visual, auditory and physical. This Learning Style Quiz will help determine the learning style of your children. Some philosophies of education and curriculum work well with some learning styles and some with others. For example, since a Montessori philosophy is hands-on and led by the child it works well for physical, logical and solitary learners. More information on learning style can be found here.




Jul 23, 2019

Johnny's Jelly Bean Tacos

With sales down at his taco restaurant, Johnny Van Socken invents a new delicacy that becomes an instant success: jelly bean tacos! Unfortunately for Johnny, his success poses a threat to some of the local business owners. When the other business owners convince the local government to pass rules to control the sale of jelly bean tacos, Johnny stands up to protect his rights as a businessman, as well as the rights of his customers.



Here's an excerpt from the text.

"The competition was frazzled. What should they do?
Mixing tacos and jelly beans just made them say "Ew!"
That people would eat this hardly makes sense.
This affront to good cooking is a terrible offense!"




Johnny's Jelly Bean Tacos is written in verse and perfect for kids ages 4-10. The story introduces kids to the concept of government protectionism without ever mentioning the phrase. Johnny's Jelly Bean Tacos is truly an entertaining book. Although kids will come away with an understanding of protectionism, this is not a lesson in disguise. It is a great story!

Jul 9, 2019

A New Way to Use Your Speed! Cards

The card game Speed! comes with eight decks of playing cards. Each deck is color coded and uniquely numbered to help kids memorize the multiplication tables. For example, the red Two-Speed deck contains the numbers 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18 and 20. The blue Seven-Speed deck contains the numbers 7, 14, 21, 28, 35, 42, 49, 56, 63 and 70. The game was designed as a two-person racing game where the winner is the first person to get rid of all of his/her cards. (see video)

However, since the game is comprised of decks of cards, many games that can be played with a standard deck of cards can also be played with Speed! cards. This adds a new twist to many card games. One simple game that works very will with Speed! cards is a game called "Garbage".  The video below shows the game playing played with a standard deck of cards.


The photo below shows the desired finished layout if the game was being played with the Three-Speed deck of cards.


What I like about the game Garbage is that it is a slower placed game that allows players more processing time. When playing this game and drawing a number 24 for example, players can say out loud "24 is 8 times 3", or "24 divided by 3 is 8". This helps kids to better link skip-counting to multiplication and division and provides a fun alternative game to play with the Speed! cards.

Jun 25, 2019

How to Slow Down the Game of Speed!

Speed! is a great game for learning to skip-count, which leads directly into learning multiplication and helps kids to develop an excellent mathematical foundation. But, what do you do if the child gets intimidated by the "speed" of the game?


While most kids love the game Speed! because if its intense pace, this can have the opposite effect on some children. (Click here to see a video of the game Speed! being played.) One thing that can be done is to institute turns into the standard Speed! game. This can be done in one of two ways. The simplest way is for each player to play one card and then let the other person have a turn to play one card passing only when the player does not have a playable card. The second way to institute turns into the game of Speed is to allow one player to play cards until he/she runs out of moves, and then let the other player play all cards until running out of moves. Taking turns will greatly slow the pace of the game allowing more processing time and calming the nerves of children who need it.

Jun 18, 2019

How to do well on the SAT

Did you know that doing well on the SAT is one way of saving lots of money on college?

Not only are good grades and high SAT/ACT scores required for acceptance into college, but they are used to determine the amount of money you will pay to be there. Usually called Merit Scholarships, many colleges and universities actually determine the tuition you will pay based on grades and SAT/ACT scores. The chart shown below from Michigan State University is only one of numerous examples found on university websites. In most cases the tuition reductions are automatically applied to your account without even having to apply. So the obvious question becomes "How can I do well on the SAT/ACT?"

Matrix depicting non-resident scholarship award levels. This information can also be found using our net price calculator.

While attending a homeschooling convention this spring I saw several booths selling SAT/ACT test preparation programs, but one stood out above all the others. College Prep Genius - After attending a lecture by the owner and looking over the program we purchased it. I have been working through the material at home with my kids and am very happy with this purchase. Let me tell you why.

What we purchased is a one-year, on-line subscription to a series of lectures designed to be covered over a 12 week period. In addition, there is an electronic textbook and supplementary material such as a workbook which is to be printed at home. What I really like about this program is that it explains how standardized tests are written and strategies for doing well. She explains how logic can be used to answer most questions even if the material has not been thoroughly covered. Answering all the questions in the limited amount of time is the biggest issue when it comes to taking standardized tests. Therefore, she discusses the optimal order for answering questions in order to save time and do better on the test.

I was really skeptical at first, but have been completely turned around. One of the biggest selling points for me was that by understanding the principles of standardized testing, people who have completed this course not only do better on the SAT/ACT, but a wide variety of standardized tests as well. Since my daughter wants to become an orthodontist, the dental exam test is in her near future. My husband is also working through the program as he has a standardized test for security in his computer programming job coming up.

With many sites on-line it is often difficult to determine who is making money from what and this bothers me. Therefore, I want to be perfectly clear and let you know that with this blog I don't make any money for recommending this product or most of the products I recommend. I do make an extremely small amount of money (about $10/month) if you click and place an order for something I recommend on amazon through this blog. The only exception is the card game Speed! that I developed and the book Johnny's Jelly Bean Tacos written by my husband. I hope you enjoy this recommendation and the others I have made as they have worked well for me and my family throughout our homeschooling adventure.
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