I’m going to stay with my 4 P’s: to pray, to ponder, peruse and plan. I tend to do that same thing each year- so why does the appearance of what we do always change? Because learning at home adventure is not static- because one size does not fit all, because each of my children are unique in their needs and interests, passions and gifts.
The 4 P’s
When planning the curriculum for each child, I have learned that the best way for me is [what I call] the 4 P’s: to pray, to ponder, peruse and plan. I tend to do that same thing each year- so why does the appearance of what we do always change? Because learning at home adventure is not static- because one size does not fit all, because each of my children are unique in their needs and interests, passions and gifts.
A few years ago, I loosely planned out the years for each of the children until they are 16years old. It was a very loose plan with lots of room for delights, interests and purposes. I then broke that down into the various years. Oh, this took a real weight off my shoulders! It is only a rough plan. It is very loose and fluid and can be modified and manipulated as needs either change or become apparent. We still use Real Life as much of our curriculum as we can. It is a great teacher and facilitator!
The 4P’s in More Detail
We need to prayerfully consider what we need to teach our children and what we need to put before them. I know that I have had to let go of many of my plans, my ideals in order to truly see the needs of each child. I have to let go and ask myself what I want my child to know and why I want them to learn it. (And for WHOSE glory or purpose?) Then after that, if I still have the go-ahead, I can look at the when, where and how to go about it.
Commit your homeschool plans to God. He cares! He has a plan and a purpose for you and for each of your children. So it makes sense to consult Him and find out what He wants.
If you have time and inclination, now is a good time to undertake your own little bit of study and research the history of education. This will help you to see the why, where and how of education, thus allowing you to develop your own scope and sequence for each child. Do you know that each child has their own built-in scope and sequence? Yes, as much as ‘reformed schoolies‘ (people like me who were educated in the school system) have brought their children home to escape the cookie-cutter mentality, we can sometimes skip back into it by blindly accepting other people’s advice and knowledge. Do you follow a book or methodology for your scope and sequence? If so , why? Have you ever really looked at why you do what you do? If not, now is a good time to do so…all the while having a mind of ceaseless prayer. (I’m not saying it is wrong to follow another scope and sequence only that you should know why you do what you do).
Recognise and accept that there will never be a perfect curriculum, a perfect schedule or a perfect routine. Thus, there will probably never be a perfect homeschool year! Observe your child.
There are many things to consider when pondering the curriculum needs of your child. Here are a few that might help you:
- Is the child able to be self governed?
- How are their organisation skills?
- Life skills?
- Relationship skills?
- Character maturity?
- Academic skills and ability?
- Spiritual, emotional, mental and physical development?
- What are their primary learning styles? (Auditory, Tactile/Kinesthetic Learners, Visual Learners)
- What is your primary teaching style? (workbooks, discussion, hands-on, minimal or maximum involvement?)
- How do they prefer to express themselves within the learning process?
Peruse and Purchase
Now it’s time to ask questions, read reviews, look at websites and as much curricula as you feel necessary, according to your answers above. You may want to consider curriculum and resources that fit in with the answers above (this will be an individual process for each child.) Here are some questions you might like to consider while looking at each resource:
- Grade level designed for:
- Approximate price:
- Copyright information
- Consider resale value
- Teaching Approach and Learning Style
- Do I really need a curriculum to teach this subject?
- Is the course content and worldview presented that which fits our goals?
- Religious, secular, or multi-use, amount of religion in each subject.
- Is the approach (mastery, spiral, unit study, hands on) appropriate?
- Is it consumable, workbook, software, hardcover, softcover, spiral?
- Teacher’s guide/key necessary or not? Tests available? Necessary?
- Is it teacher led or done independently by the student?
- How much teacher preparation is involved?
- How complicated is it to use?
- What attracts me to this curriculum? Content? Usability? Packaging?
- Have I read various reviews on it? Positive and not-so-positive reports?
- Does the nature of it appeal to my child?
Remember that the curriculum is just a tool. You are the best teacher for your child- not a curriculum package. It is a tool, a device, a helper to assist you in the teaching of your child.
After praying, pondering and now perusing, you will probably have made your purchases. The next step is planning. Schedules on paper can look good but often aren’t flexible or reasonable enough to work for many homeschooling families. They may look good in that “Teacher Planning Binder” but ask yourself if that is what your goal is…or is it something more?
I am good at planning and making schedules. I am not good at seeing them through! After years of making elaborate plans and beautiful schedules (on paper) I slowly started to see that I was expecting too much ‘busy-work’ from the children…that I was either copying other people’s family ways or trying to emulate what I knew (in school). Neither was working for us! I was also expecting way too much from them! It wasn’t until I recognised, accepted and embraced the notion of *seasons* that homeschooling became less tedious and more joyous. I now had time and energy to do the things that I wanted to do – real life learning-at-home, movies and discussions, Bible study, etc as I wasn’t covering the same old ground year after year.
Nowadays, my plans are very loose and flexible, which allows for real life. It also allows for us to be spontaneous and take advantage of every learning opportunity that arises.
One year, a Monet Exhibition was touring Australia and they were at the Art Gallery in our city. I was able to plan a mini unit on Claude Monet so that the children were familiar with his works when we went to the gallery to see the real life works. I’ve also incorporated mini units (which often means nothing more than reading a good book, watching a movie or documentary and discussing it) on Australian Studies, Current Events, World History, Geography, Science topics and births, deaths, funerals, and other real life topics.
I’ve also learned that it is easier to keep records of what we have done, rather than what we plan to do. Although it sounds obvious it did take me awhile to really figure it out though. Yes, it is far easier to simply and quickly record the day’s learning opportunities into a lined exercise book than look back over a years worth of plans to remember what we did and didn’t do.
Over planning also contributed to making me feel like a failure. Term after term, year after year I failed to achieve my plan. I would be motivated and inspired in the new year, compose a new plan and off I’d go- until the next real life out-of-my-control circumstance hit me and then I’d go down in a heap again. I like to aim high, but the goal must also be achievable, and reasonable and flexible.
Start with the End in Mind
What do I want to have covered with my children by the time they are 18? Pencil in the basic skills and possible resources and work backwards from there.
I now do not expect each child to do World History studies in 4 year rotational cycles. Oh it might look good (in that Teacher Binder) at the end of their formal education at home but is it necessary? Why study history? To learn about the story of God’s people and see His plan and purpose throughout mankind. So then, how should I study? When should this be studied? And what resources should we use? I have found that providing regular access to very good books and movies and doing some informal thematic studies throughout the year do as much toward teaching my younger children the scope of world history than following a full 4 year course! (See our scope and sequence for studying history in our home) The same can be said for teaching grammar. Why teach it? Does it need to be taught in a spiral manner (touching on a little bit every year) or can it be grasped by copywork/dictation, exposure to fine literature, and a solid focus time when the children are a little older? I have found that to be true! So, I don’t teach much grammar in the early-middle years!
We don’t learn about some topics all year round. It just doesn’t flow for us! For instance, I have difficulty trying to do Australian and world history at the concurrently. So why should I? I can take time off from studying world history to spend on Australian studies. That’s fine. So why can’t I do the same with other subject areas? Well, we do! My science-loving son doesn’t study science all year round. I will give him focussed times of learning about science, and when he has completed that course of study, we put science on the back-burner and focus on other topics. Of course, we still continue to learn about science all the time, but not in a formal way- in ways that incorporated into our life.
Not every page in every book needs to be read or covered- if using traditional workbooks then much of it is repetitive. Look over it and see what your child needs to cover- don’t just hand them the book and tell them to do it.
I try to put a smorgasbord of worthwhile, beautiful and noble things before my children, especially in the younger-upper elementary years. I want to give them a taste of a wide variety of things. By the time they are a little older, I have, hopefully, been able to discern their interests, gifts and passions so I won’t require their focussed attention on an area that is not in line with their interest. This doesn’t mean that I put it away all together though! For instance, my eldest daughter, never really like art or picture study. She liked going to the Art Gallery but that was because she thought we might go to Macca’s afterward! She is also not accomplished at playing an instrument, but that never stopped me from exposing her to fine music and art. I continued to do so but in a gentle, discreet way. I did not require her to do these subjects as part of her homeschool study. However. that little girl has grown to be a 17yo young lady who likes modern opera, classical music, various styles of art and a range of other fine arts. I would never have thought so! But being an accomplished musician or artist is not the same as being able to respect and appreciate the finer, beautiful things in life.
So, while the children are young expose them to a wide variety of good and noble topics. Let them linger over them for awhile, soaking in the beauty, all the while studying it, although unbeknownst to them. As they mature if they show an interest or an aptitude for that area then by all means go back over the ‘pray, ponder and peruse‘ stages to facilitate their further learning. If they don’t show an interest in it, don’t stress. Not everyone can be a musician or a sculptor. But continue to expose them to these fine arts, in a gentle way. The best way is to do these things as a family. Don’t force them to listen to music- take them to a production or a musical!
Enjoy life with your children!
There are many ways to plan- break the book into term sections, then by month and then by weeks then by days. Voila! You can split the year into semesters, or terms…even then in a 10 week term you can do a focussed course for 5 weeks and then another course for the remaining 5 weeks of a term. Many homeshcoolers don’t follow a 4 term, 10 week on/2 week off pattern. It just doesn’t fit with a full time homeschooling family in many instances. Look at your own life,:see the patterns and rhythms to your family year. What do you think will work for you? Experiment with it. Try 4-5 weeks on and 1 week off or 5 weeks. Maybe go for 10 weeks but aim for 4 days of formal academics! (we aim to do formal lessons 4 days per week)
This is your family, this is your life, and this is your schedule. Use your schedule as your tool and always be on the watch so that you don’t skip into the bad habit of becoming a slave to the schedule. That is one sure way to kill of a spark of curiosity and dampen a love of learning. It’s more important that you spend time with your children than making plans that may or may not eventuate.
On the hard days, the bad days, go back to your goal and focus on that. Be prepared to just throw the books in for the day and concentrate on the most important thing. It is worth it! If your goal is to instil a love of learning in your child, then making him do every page in every book, every day of the week is probably not going to help you attain your goal. Learn to look outside the box and see real life as learning. Look for ways to turn everyday activities into learning opportunities.
Focus on your priority goals and be surprised at results. Every lesson that you learn along the way should be shared with your children. They will learn along with you, and these life lessons are the most important. This allows for births, deaths, marriages and all those other real life circumstances that will interfere with your lovely homeschool plans! But, they are most important- for they are real. Know your goals. Know your limitations. Know that God is in control.
God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,Courage to change the things I can, and the Wisdom to know the difference.< /br>
By Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)