Thursday, May 2, 2013

Simple Question (Ha!): What curriculum did you use?

Though I would never consider myself a homeschooling expert, eighteen years of experience has taught me a thing or two. I am passionate about HS and love encouraging people who feel led to walk (sometimes crawl) this road less traveled. 

One of the first questions I am asked is, “What curriculum did you use?”  It is a simple question with a not so simple answer. I have used MANY different things in my efforts to teach my three children in ways that fit their learning styles.  (Sometimes I was more successful than others. :-))  So here you go:

I began my HS journey with Abeka simply because their unsolicited catalog mysteriously appeared in my mailbox the exact day I wanted to pull my First-grader out of school. I used it for several years mainly because I doubted myself and HS resources were minimal.  Abeka is designed for those who like the structure of public school curriculum but want a Christian perspective.  You can get teachers’ guides and handbooks - all the bells and whistles a traditional schoolteacher would have.  (For a price.)  A child who completes twelve years of Abeka is more than ready for a college experience. I will say that I REALLY like the beginning Abeka reading program and their emphasis on phonics.  (I kept the flash cards for my grandchildren or for tutoring because I liked them so well.) I also enjoyed their history for the early grades.  However, I began feeling overwhelmed by the amount of material to cover and the expense of the curriculum so I explored other possibilities.

Math:  Eventually I changed to Saxon Math and used it for my two oldest throughout their homeschooling experiences.  (Kyle through 8th grade and Cassie through 12th.) Saxon Math moves very quickly from one concept to another, but some students, like my youngest, need more reinforcement and practice than it offers. When Candace was in junior high I used the “Keys to…” collection of booklets. (Keys to Algebra, Keys to Geometry, Keys to Fractions, and Keys to decimals.) This is excellent material for a child struggling in these areas. When Candace was ready to move on to actual Algebra and Geometry I found the Video Text series. ( I LOVED IT!  This is pricey, but VERY worth it in my opinion.  You watch an instructor on a video then do the work.  Everything is broken down into very simple steps and there are a lot of practice problems.  This is great for the student who can self-learn and also for the teacher who needs a refresher. I wish I had found this sooner.  (It isn’t a high-tech video, but simple and more than adequate.)

Language Arts:  I used Learning Language Arts Through Literature for several years until I felt my children needed a bit more grammar instruction. I picked up Easy Grammar Plus by Wanda Phillips.  It is simple to use and gives a lot of opportunity for practice.  I also picked up Spelling Power and used it for a while.  It is basically a spelling program for all grade levels.  My only “problem” with it is that it doesn’t have all the fun spelling activities a lot of curriculums have.  That is easily overcome with Internet sources that allow you to create your own worksheets and provide other creative ideas.  I liked Spelling Power because it has comprehensive lists for every grade.  A fantastic method for teaching language arts is note-booking and copy-work.  I want to address those in a separate paragraph.

History: I’ve used Abeka, unit studies, Life Pacs and living books for this.  My favorite (one I wish had been written sooner in my HS career) is Mystery of History.  This could definitely be started in Jr. High.  It is very straightforward and interesting.  They use a note booking approach to learning.  Much different from the Lifepacs, so it all depends on your child’s learning style.

Science:  I’ve used Abeka, my own material, note-booking and Apologia (   I really like that last one.  They have material from upper elementary through high school. Like Mystery of History they use a note-booking approach.  The material is easy to read and interesting. Great supplements to any science curriculum are the Lyrical Science CDs and books.  (Cassie, my middle child, really took to the songs.  During her 1.5 year stint in public high school she aced several quizzes because she remembered the information set to music. :-) )

Note-booking and copy-work:  It is incredibly wonderful for any teacher when her students learn the way she (or he) does.  For example:  I am a very visual learner and I need to see the information on the page.  I like charts and diagrams and pictures. I teach the way I learn. However, some people are auditory learners and others, like my Candace, learn by moving (kinesthetically).  What worked with my other two didn’t work with her.  Fourth grade found us both frustrated and struggling.   We seemed to hit an educational brick wall.  I cried out to God for help, and He answered by directing me to Cindy Rushton and note-booking/copy-work.  (For much more information Google “Charlotte Mason”, “Note-booking”, and “Copy-work”.) 
The whole idea seemed too good to be true, but I was desperate.  I grabbed a three-ring binder and a box of protector sheets.  I let Candace choose a topic that interested her and took it from there.  I think our first topic was cats.  I did a little research on cats ranging from lions, tigers, cheetahs, lepers, etc., down to the house cat.  I printed out simple paragraphs and info on each cat and had her read it and copy it word for word with correct punctuation.  We’d then find and print a picture of that particular feline, glue it to her copied page, and put it in a protective sheet in the notebook.  We’d include poems we found or wrote and any other pertinent material.  Compiling this notebook (along with a little math and reading aloud) was our entire curriculum for a year.  Spelling improved.  Reading improved.  Composition improved.  Grammar Improved.  Punctuation improved.  I became a believer in this process!  This is a great tool especially in the early years.  Just make sure that the material to copy is age appropriate in length and language and is well written.  Amazing!  This process could be used for any subject.

Reading:  Read. Let your children see you reading. Read aloud.  Have your child read aloud.  Their age doesn’t matter.  Cassie was reading aloud to me when she was a senior just because we loved it so much!  Do an Internet search for living books, those are the best kind!  Honestly, Cassie was such an avid reader we hardly had to do history.  Historical fiction was one of her favorite genres and she learned much more than she did from stuffy history books! 

Several people have asked me about pre-school:
For pre-school and even K-2 I would spend a lot of time reading aloud and doing lots of hands-on activities. Take lots of pictures of what you do and have your child narrate back to you what happened while you write it down. Add pictures to the narration and make lots of notebooks.  Putting your child’s work in protective sheets and notebooks lets him or her know the work is important.  No one likes to work hard at something only to have it thrown away.  Begin copy-work as soon as they can form letters.  Forming letters can be the copy-work!  But I wouldn’t push too hard in these early years.  Make learning so much fun that they don’t realize they are learning.  Make an alphabet book with pictures and drawings and items.  (For example:  The “C” page could have cotton balls glued on it.)

You are fortunate to be homeschooling now. There are a ton of free resources available for you online. We didn't have Internet when we started, and when we finally joined the World Wide Web it was nothing like we have now.

If I were starting over knowing what I know now, I would have taken a much more relaxed approach than I did. And I would have explored Charlotte Mason's ideas about education.

Recommended Resources: This group is led by Ruthie Shepherd the leader of the Florence-Richland Homeschool group. She posts TONS of free and cheap resources/links/etc. You should also follow her on Pinterest. ALMOST makes me wish I had a young one to homeschool again. LOL! Jimmie uses the Charlotte Mason approach and shares a lot of good information and ideas.

My previous HS posts: - They have a lot of worksheet and activities!  You can use some of the resources for free.  Membership is $20 for a year.  (At least the last time I looked.)  I actually joined the site twice and found it well worth my money.

I’ve said recently that if I were starting over again in 2013 knowing what I know now, I’d buy an Ipad if possible and utilize all the incredible educational apps they have.  (I bought Candace a Kindle Paperwhite during her senior year.  You can get hundreds of classics free for it without having to bother with the library.  It also gives you word definitions and Wikipedia entries.)

There is so much information out there it can be overwhelming.  YOU CAN’T DO IT ALL!  So don’t try! Just like you go to the grocery store, browse the shelves, and buy only what your family needs, check out all the resources and see what works for your family.  Every family is unique and so is every homeschool.  That is the beauty of this mode of learning/teaching.  Customize and ENJOY!

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