Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Home Education: What do I teach?

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Inquiring minds want to know, and that's okay when it comes to homeschooling.  People often ask me questions about all aspects of home education.  I don't always have adequate time to answer well, especially when the questions are asked via messages or e-mail.  Thus, I've decided to write a "series" on homeschooling, answering a question at a time.  Some of the areas I plan to cover are the reasons, curriculum choices, scheduling, record-keeping and "socialization" (I'm not capable of placing that word outside of quotation marks, just so you know ahead of time). :)  I'll wrap it up by answering some common concerns.  These posts probably won't answer every wondering of every person, but it's a place to start!

Part 2:  What Do I Teach?
An extremely common question for home educators is, "What curriculum do you use?"  Usually, when fellow homeschoolers ask me that question, they are asking which particular companies I utilize.  When non-homeschoolers ask, I'm never sure at first if they're asking the same thing or something more along the lines of, "Is your son getting a well-rounded, complete education at home?"

I don't mind people asking.  In fact I appreciate that they take the time to find out, rather than maintaining uninformed opinions.  The answer to the second question is, yes, my son (along with the majority of other educated-at-home kids out there) is receiving an excellent education.  This is due, in large part, to the abundance of top-notch curriculum available to homeschooling families.

There are so many choices, in fact, that our first visit to a large homeschool convention felt really overwhelming.  We walked around in a daze, looking at one vendor's booth after another.  Before returning the next day, we poured over catalogs and narrowed down our choices.  The second day wasn't nearly as daunting.  We made our choices and bought our materials, keeping in mind that mistakes can be made and it won't be the end of the world.

If you are considering homeschooling and can get to a convention in one of the bigger cities, I highly recommend it.  Not only can you purchase your curriculum without paying shipping (plus further discounts sometimes), but you also have a chance to actually look through the books and talk to the companies' representatives.  They are so helpful and will answer all your questions.  It's a time-saver, though, to do your research ahead of time--online or through homeschooling friends/acquaintances--and narrow down the number of companies you spend time on during the convention.

Now, for my personal choices past and present:

Reading:  By the time we went to our first convention, before Little Mister began Kindergarten, he already knew how to read.  When he asked to learn, I had heard good things about the Learning to Read program from Christian Light Education.  We used it, loved it, and I have used their reading curriculum ever since.  Well, until this year, but I'll get to that in a moment.  Christian Light is a conservative Mennonite company, so the pictures are a bit scarce and not exactly colorful, and all the people in the pictures are dressed in conservative Mennonite garb.  This has never bothered Little Mister, though.  He's loved most of the stories and I feel like he was actually able to learn to read faster because of the lack of picture distractions.  I've taught other children to read before, using colorful books, and though I can't say they are bad or lower in quality by any means, those bright pictures really are distracting.  The children's eyes are always darting to the pictures and then back to the words.  It takes at least twice as long to read a page with a picture as it does a page without.  Just my observation. ;)

This year, though, I've decided to just forget the curriculum for a year and do "regular" literature/novels, with activities in vocab, comprehension and so on that I come up with on my own (lots of online resources, too, with printables and other ideas).  We're starting with the awesome "Little House in the Big Woods."  He loves it already, and I'm enjoying reading it for the millionth time. :)  Next year we may pick up with CLE Reading again--he was a year ahead, so we can skip this year without getting behind if I decide to go back to it.  Or, we may go with Abeka or something else!

Language Arts:  Christian Light Education all the way!  It's a wonderfully complete curriculum, except that I don't like their spelling lessons for Little Mister in particular.  I'll go into more of that in a minute.  Anyway, as a writer/editor, I'm a stickler for my son learning proper grammar, punctuation, learning the correct usage for there/their/they're, etc.  This curriculum teaches all the important things in small doses.  At the beginning of each lesson, the child learns a new concept.  The remainder of the lesson includes review of previously-learned concepts, penmanship and spelling.  It's the "spiral" approach, where there is review every day.  This is how my son best learns.  Creative writing and research papers are a big part of the curriculum as well.  One fun thing about most CLE curriculum is that each subject of each year is divided into 5-10 "Light Units," or workbooks.  The student feels a sense of accomplishment finishing one Light Unit and beginning a new one. :)

Spelling:  We started out doing the spelling in the Christian Light curriculum, but it just wasn't working for Little Mister.  Spelling is the one subject in which he does not excel.  It just does not come naturally to the poor guy, and the random words on each week's CLE spelling list were just a source of frustration to him.  I tried everything to help him, but nothing worked.  I did some research, asked around, and found Sequential Spelling.  Wow!  What a difference!  It's an approach I hadn't heard of before, but I can't argue with the results!  He doesn't dread spelling or feel "dumb" in spelling anymore.  He's getting it!  I don't know that he'll ever completely excel at it, but the improvement is remarkable!

Math:  My son fidgets.  Yes, his hands are always fidgeting with something or other.  When I saw Math-U-See at my first convention, I just knew it was made for my Little Mister!  The curriculum is based on manipulatives that help a student "see" math and understand exactly what math problems mean.  It was great--until last year.  He was a year "ahead" in Math, too, or so I thought.  Actually, he was in many ways.  But he wasn't enjoying it anymore, and as I began to compare it to other Math programs, I saw that there were quite a few concepts that other students his age were learning that he was not.  Or some concepts were introduced, but not well reinforced later.  Therefore, these concepts were not staying in his mind.

I immediately took action and switched to the Christian Light Math.  Again, with their "spiral approach," the heavy review is getting those facts into his head and he is learning all kinds of fun things he missed out on before.  I actually had to go "back" a level, grade-wise, to get him caught up.  This was toward the end of the last school year.  We've been working through the summer on it as well, here and there (who wants to do math every day during summer vacay?).  He loves reading all the interesting facts, mostly about science and nature, included as side notes or word problems throughout the lessons.  He'll often call out a fact like, "Mom, did you know a lobster has 19 body parts?"  My mind is often dazed for a moment as I try to come up with an enthusiastic reply. ;)

I still think Math-U-See is great for the first two or three years, and I may revisit it when it comes to the somewhat-intimidating-to-me high school math.  Mr. Demme, who created Math-U-See, teaches the lessons on a DVD.  Little Mister loved listening to him while we used the program, and it might come in handy someday in the future!!

History:  In the past I have used Christian Liberty history (adequate) and Abeka history/geography (quite good).  This year, I am so excited to be trying something totally different, for us, called "The Mystery of History."  We're doing Volume I this year, which covers 4004 B.C. through 33 A.D.  Wow! This is our second week of school and we are having so much fun and learning such fascinating things about ancient history.  I can't praise this book enough.  Each week has 3 lessons, each with an activity to reinforce what was learned.  The remainder of the week you review, update your timeline (or a timeline notebook, which is what we are doing), make memory cards for each lesson, etc.  The book includes quizzes, tests, map work, suggestions for further reading, and all kinds of stuff.  We *love* history this year!

Science:  We have used Abeka science most years, and are again this year.  We both really enjoy it.  Little Mister will love any science curriculum that includes experiments.  He adores science experiments.  Any of you who know him are probably not surprised by that! lol  Anyway, Abeka has a good, solid science program.  Some years in the future, we may break away and use Apologia, or another one where you spend an entire year studying one discipline, such as astronomy, geology, etc.  We'll see how it goes.

Bible:  We've used all sorts of sources for Bible lessons.  The main thing, of course, is that the source uses the Bible as its basis!  Last year, his Awana book provided much of our Bible time activities.  This year, we will be using "Answers for Kids," from Answers in Genesis.  The book didn't arrive on time, so we haven't begun it yet.  It looks really great, though.  I'm excited to get started.

Now, the above ideas are just what I have done/am doing, but there are many, many more options.  Maybe none of what we use would work for you and your children, or maybe some would while others wouldn't.  For the most part, you want to use methods that coincide with how your child learns best.  I say, "for the most part," because you also want to be balanced and make sure to familiarize your child with other methods as well.

For instance, my son had the hardest time sitting still and still does sometimes!  I needed to do things with him that would engage him physically as well as mentally.  Even something like having him stand on a footstool and jump off for the words on my list that had the "short 'a' sound," while he was learning to recognize that sound was a way to burn off some of his energy.  At the same time, though, I was thinking ahead to his college years (and the possibility that he may not be educated at home through twelfth grade) and the fact that he *must* learn to sit at a desk and focus.  He can't get around needing to learn self-control.  So, I made him sit quietly at a desk for short periods of time, to work quietly on things he needed to write, slowly increasing the duration as he matured.  Now, at age 9, he needs reminders (some days more than others), but he's accustomed to sitting at a desk to complete his work.  We still take breaks and he still gets to go outside and run to the apple trees and back from time to time, or get up and do jumping jacks or whatever, but he is capable of doing that which does not come naturally because he's been trained to do it.

I hope this answers some of the curriculum questions.  If you have more questions, please feel free to ask!  Just leave a comment below . . .

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I love knowing what's on your heart and mind! Your thoughts, opinions, questions and ideas are welcome here anytime. Differences are respected as long as they are written respectfully! :)