I’m just now getting around to that last question on my “Get to know me” post. You can read my responses to the other questions of “How do I know 5 kids is enough and how do I give them enough?” as well as the first round of random Q & A.
Jules ~ ”How do you know what to get them for each year to fill what the requirements are? Like obviously they need the usual, BUT how do you know which ones to get? I’m always stumped over buying curriculum and finding that it really doesn’t work for our kids..it always feels so wastefull to me on some level:( I guess maybe if our kids had less problems with writing it would be easier.”
First of all, I should tell you we are an eclectic homeschooling family. Eclectic means (roughly) picking and choosing different curriculum and resources that seems best at the time for each child and each subject.
We chose this method because, quite frankly, we started homeschooling rather abruptly and with no money in a “homeschooling budget”. We had a few hand-me-downs, but no money for the actual workbooks. I had seen what the kids were “learning” in public school Kindergarten and thought “Good grief, it takes 8 hours to watch Snow White and color in a circle? I can do that.” Combine that with putting our child in school too early (see Arkansas’ Kindergarten Waiver, if you have doubts about your fall birthday child). Add a little bit of reluctant learning issues to a first time homeschooling Mama that had no idea what I was doing and you have a very mosaic learning environment!
I tried the set curriculum my sister-in-law so sweetly gave to us, but it was too much for my too-young boy. Physically, he was not able to write as much as the curriculum called for. His fine motor skills were not where they needed to be. I didn’t know that. So, I pushed really hard. Can you imagine pushing a child not ready to potty train? Not ready to ride a bike? Not ready to crawl? You’re asking for failure. It’s a developmental milestone. You can’t start with filling out numerous pages if you can’t actually physically write well. Eventually I learned to quit trying to force him through the tears and reevaluated that I wanted him to learn the information and separately strengthen his fine motor skills. After much debate, discussion, and frustrations on the part of Matt and me, we took a long hard look at what we actually wanted him to learn. Consequently, I moved to a more oral approach. Same free materials, just asking him the questions and covering the information without the extensive writing required. Simulataneously I incorporated more playdough playing, more lego building, more lincoln log stacking, finger painting, and requiring a very reduced amount of handwriting. I had pushed so hard he had shut down wanting to learn anything. He’s a smart child, but he had reached his limit and decided he hated learning. I took the pressure off. And ventured into the scary “Unschooling Movement”. Stopped all our reading curricula, math worksheets, handwriting assignments. I moved to lapbooks, unit studies, and read alouds. We watched a lot of the Discovery Channel together, performing experiments and exploring the world around us, answering questions all along the way (Google became our best friend). I fell in love with Homeschool Share’s lapbooking resources.
He discovered history through our Little House on the Prairie read alouds. It came alive. Learning was real. We talked math all the time. How do you divide X amount of treats between X amount of people in our house? Our van has an adjustable odometer where the kids can see it so we started making guessing games (estimation) of how many miles it would take to get home from different locations. I made this chart to explain fractions and decimals. It became visual.
How has all that worked out in the real world? I worry. Are they completely clear on what nouns, verbs, adverbs are? Not as much as I would like. Can they spout off their math facts in a few seconds. Not so much. They can work out the problems, but not as much as I want them too.
So what do I do? How do I know what they should know? Each summer I go to our the Arkansas Department of Education’s website and look at their “Refrigerator Curriculum”. Sketchy, at best, and even they admit not comprehensive by any means just a light overview of what you can expect your child to cover for the upcoming school year. I print it out and reassure myself throughout the year that if that’s what they’re learning in school, then I’m probably okay. A couple of summers ago Matt ordered Home Learning Year by Year: How to Design a Homeschool Curriculum from Preschool Through High School. Each year I start with the oldest child’s upcoming grade and read that section, making notes of what I’ve covered, what needs review, what will be new. Then I go back starting with the beginning of the book and review myself on what each upcoming child needs to learn for their year. A refresher course for me. Additionally, I have a few of the Core Knowledge Series books. Let me say up front, I’m not a fan of all of their “must-learns”. I’m just not. But I use their books for some of our read aloud times. Right now we’re reading through the First Grade book, learning everything from different religions to music theory. It’s not our curriculum, it’s a supplement to all that we do. Right now my oldest son is enthralled with the Civil War and the American Revolution. He loves reading about them, watching shows about them, creating pictures about them. And we find ourselves covering American History that easily.
We do not stick with the unschooling method, nor are complete advocates of it. We feel about it like we feel about most things, we’re middle of the roaders. There’s a balance to strike. We do alot of lapbooking, Usborne unit studying, hands-on fun for awhile and then we move back into worksheets, workbooks, set curriculum for awhile. That has worked for us so far. With the fourth grade on the horizon for my oldest, second grade for the middlest boy, the ability to write much more, and a daughter who writes and reads before she turned five, and fresh from the state mandated test a couple of months back, I’m thinking hard about purchasing workbooks for all that set curriculum from my sister-in-law for the fall.
Which also answers the “When does our school year begin and end?” question. We’re year rounders. Again, I don’t know that we’ll always stay that way, it’s a year by year assessment. But with our rocky start, having babies fairly frequently, a very sickly last pregnancy, and our propensity for Parker adventures I would say that there’s a good chance it will stay that way. We work hard, we take breaks. We take field trips, we socialize. We get out in the good weather, we hunker down in the bad. It’s an ebb and flow. We do ”officially” start our new year on our local school schedule (which allows an easy transition with their church classes and gives me a set starting place each year)and we well exceed the “required” amount of school days within the year.
Will we stay with the workbooks, boring, dry, comprehensive all year long? I don’t know. We’ll start out with it, then we’ll probably transition in our “down time” (times that I sense that I’m losing the kids’ attention) to more unit study, lapbooking fun, and then cycle back to the workbooks.
Would I recommend what we do? I don’t know. You do what works for you. If our first child had been our over-achieving reading and writing girl I’m quite certain we would never have started down this eclectic path. If we didn’t have so many children so close in age I’m sure we would buy fancy sets and read like fiends to them. But that’s not our life. And ours, is not your life. We do what works until it doesn’t work anymore. And I’m positive we worry too much along the way!