Monday, April 2, 2012

Curriculum for the early years

Because I’ve now been around the homeschool environment for many years and have one graduated I often have people ask me about curriculum choices.  Recently a friend asked me about options for the elementary years and since it’s not the first time I’ve been asked I thought I’d take the opportunity to turn this into a blog article.

First of all let me say that I firmly believe that each child and family is unique.  Let me also say that I am in favor of a family learning environment rather than a classroom.  One more thing I will add is that I also realize while many Mom’s might want to spend hours on end schooling most of them realistically can’t.  So taking those things into consideration here are some options with my thoughts on them.  These thoughts are not exhaustive and are certainly biased, I can’t help but base this on “My” experience but those who are asking me usually want “My” advice so here you go!

First let me start with what I used when my kids were younger and why.

1.      For Language Arts and Math we used mostly Spectrum Workbooks.  They were inexpensive and got the job done.  I really felt literature was important and added in weekly trips to the library where we picked out the easy reader books for where they were at as well as classic favorites that I read to them and/or they read as well.    I didn’t really care for the “reader” type stories in other curriculums and though they read the stories in the Spectrum workbooks which again were “okay” but I wanted more for them at low/no cost.  The books we used from Spectrum were Language Arts (punctuation/grammar stuff), Writing (some cross over, but sequencing, beginning/middle/end etc…), Reading (Comprehension, main idea etc…), and Math.

2.       For Science and History we did mostly what I now would call unit studies focused around our library books and we rotated each year which subject we did.  Because the beginning elementary years are so focused on learning language skills and setting a math foundation we spent most of our time there.  In fact I found that it was difficult to manage my little ones, get school done and finish both history and science so what worked well for us was to add science one year, history the next.  I know, gasp, but we are homeschoolers so we do what works for us.  Before any of mine were 5th grade we picked what they were interested in and that’s what we’d do.  For instance we did bugs with the boys.  We got books from the library on bugs.  We read and read and read.  They each chose a bug to do a report or lapbook on.  We had an ant farm.  We did a one foot square study where they each used string to mark out a one foot square in our yard and each day observed and recorded what they saw or didn’t see.  For history when they were young they were interested in Egypt and Rome so we again went to the library, read, read, read (sometimes up in on their platform fort, can’t believe I climbed up there but I did!)  and did some projects and reports.  Often many of the library books have project ideas in them so you don’t have to come up with them on your own.  Maybe that will be another blog….

3.       For electives we did Art, Music, and Physical Education, whatever we were excited about that year but usually what went with the books we were doing.  Like for instance we might do a paper mache earth while we studied the earth and call it art or we made coffee filter paint stained butterflies when we did life cycle of the butterfly.  You get the idea.

Now, here’s what we would have done knowing what I know now.

1.       We still would focus on Language Arts and math in the early years and yes probably do one year on science and one year on history till the oldest was about 5th grade.  I would have started this right from the get go instead of figuring it out once my oldest was about 3rd grade.  I would still do Spectrum for math but I would probably do Five in a Row until 3rd grade with AllAbout Spelling (phonics and spelling program) then do Total Language Plus from 3rd on with All About Spelling if still needed.  Three of my four kids would have only needed the All About Spelling 1 and 2 but I have one that struggles a bit with phonics so I would (and did) continue All about Spelling along with Total Language plus for 3rd and 4th grade.   Five in a Row is a great multi-age Literature program for the elementary years and Total Language Plus is a total Language Arts curriculum which uses great literature to integrate all your Language Arts skills.  

2.        I would still focus on what we were interested in a base our history and science that way.  After about 5th or 6th grade I would use curriculums like Mystery of History and All American to make sure the “gaps” are filled from 5th-8th including younger siblings in the studies as much as possible.  For science we liked the Christian Kids Study series for 5th-8th from Bright Idea press.  There are actually several companies that have science series out now for 5th-8th that look pretty good.

 If I couldn’t even make the time to go to the library and chose based on my children’s interest I’d have to say I would go with the pre-packaged either Sonlight or My Fathers World.  With this option I would realize that I wouldn’t probably use all of it and I would have to modify to fit our needs.
What I would not do is go with a pre-packaged made for school use curriculum like Abeka, Bob Jones and others.  The problem here is that they were not made for homeschooling.  They tend to burn out both children and Moms.  It’s way too much busy work for homeschool and either you feel guilty for not doing it all, feel like you’re wasting money for not using it all, or complete it all but burn out in the process.  Plus with most of these curriculums you miss the “fun” of homeschooling.  It’s much more than a lot of work to be completed!  I still really favor if at all possible choosing your own rather than allowing someone else to make your choices.

So there you have it,my thoughts.  I know many will agree and there will be some who will disagree but remember my comments in the 2nd paragraph of this article.  I believe each student is unique,  family style learning is best and moms want to work with their kids as much as possible but have other things they need to do in there day and can’t spend ALL day doing school.

Hope these thoughts give some of you with elementary children some things to ponder as you consider the many options available to you!

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