Saturday, January 07, 2006

How to Put Together Your Own Curriculum

A newbie, Sarah, posted a question asking how to put together your own curriculum. So here's my meandering answer. [Anyone else feel free to jump in with your two cents worth.]

It happens naturally. You buy something, it doesn't work, so you try something else. I went through three spelling programs before I found one I liked. About three years after I started looking around and trying different programs, I have a curriculum I am happy with. At that point, I tried very hard not to look at other curriculum options, because if it's not broken, don't fix it. If there is something better out there, I really don't want to know about at this point. ;)

Buy it on EBay (used) and if it doesn't work, sell it. Each child and family are different. What works well for one, doesn't work for another. If it isn't working for you, don't feel obligated to use it just because you spent money on it. I have found that the more money I spent, the less likely it was going to work for my family.

Attend a homeschool park day. I started attending 2 different homeschool park day groups a couple years before my kids were old enough to go to school. They would have curriculum fairs. For example, on a selected day, each family would bring what ever they were using for math. It was easy to look and see if there was a program I liked before actually buying it. Also, sometimes people at park day would sell or give away books when there kids were no longer using them.

Leave yourself open to inspiration. If you are a praying person, then pray about it. While it is often helpful to get input from other people, it helps to talk with the Someone who loves your child more than you do and knows him better. Also, other people are not in a position to receive inspiration for your family.

Keep in mind what is really important. Ask your self if what you are doing is helping this particular child reach his potential. It is easy to get sucked along with the crowd, doing what is trendy or what looks flashy instead of what matters in the long run.

A good book to read is Susan Wise Bauer's
The Well Trained Mind. Here's a recent post on the topic.

Because your child is still a baby, wait a few years, there is always something new and free coming out on the internet.


Andrea said...

Also, listen to what your kids are saying about the curriculum.

Do all that for a good five years or so, then toss in the curriculum towel altogether, let the kids follow whatever they are interested in whenever they want, and just wing it. :D

Sarah said...

Thank you, Janine and Andrea! Maybe what I'm looking for then is not a "curriculum". Maybe I just need to look at what children learn at each grade level and then figure out a way to go about teaching him those things. I don't know if we could ever afford a curriculum anyway. Someone at my university was selling a used Sonlight US History 1 curriculum (without the workbooks!) for $250. I was simply blown away! Is this a good price??? I would rather work from Paul Johnson's A History of the American People, which I already own.

Janine Cate said...

It is always a good a idea to keep it simple. I like Sonlight by the way. However, I didn't buy the whole program. I just borrowed the reading list. Almost all the books for their K class, I just checked out at the library for free. Since they were all books I was supposed to read to the child, I got books on tape when ever possible.

The complete curriculums work best for super structured types and nervous newbies. I agree with Andrea, once you get going, winging it works best (especially when they are little). And by all means, use what you've already got.

DavidofOz said...

In addition to Cate's great reply, you must remember that there is no such thing as the perfect curriculum and in fact what is close to perfect today may be otherwise tomorrow. Children grow and their needs and abilities change. One of the benefits of homeschooling is flexibility, allowing the tailoring you require to help the child learn.
Sometimes you are lucky and something works as a base. Having a common base is great. We stick to a core of Saxon Math and McGuffey's Readers with other components which may change. Having a steady core helps you know what should be done.

Janine Cate said...

I will second that. Saxon Math and McGuffy Readers are great.

For the lower grades we used a modified Saxon Math. We started Saxon 3rd grade at the beginning of 1st grade and used it for 3 1/2 years. For the second half of 4th grade we used the Saxon 54 book. The child took the tests at the end of the chapter. If she got it right, we would skip to the next chapter. We did that until we were about half way through the book. Then we stopped and actually did the chapters. For 5th grade we started Saxon 76 and used that for two years. Saxon does a great job of repeating/retesting skills continually. You just need to be careful not do too much repetition after the kid gets it or it turns into busy work.

Saxon Math is now owned by a different publisher. I heard that they have made changes to the program. Some claim they have dumbed it down. Getting older version (used) might be the way to go.

Andrea said...

Sarah, you can look at ten different lists from ten diferent places on what to teach when and they will all say different thing. And? They don't know your kid. :)

I don't use Saxon - my kids hate math books like that, and we really like math. Work with what you have if that makes sense to you and when you've exhausted that and the local library (and more importantly LISTENED to your child and what they want to learn) then you can exhaust the curriculum lists. :)

You really don't need any kind of curriculum in the early years anyway.

I bet you're wondering "how am I going to cover everything?" You can't - no one can. Learning is life-long. :)

A quick exercise is to write down a list of everything you have learned that you could talk for 15 minutes about, or write an introductory how-to.

Now how much of that did you learn in school?

Also (I know I'm writing a book here) feel free to follow your own instincts and what you really feel is right for your kids.

Anne said...

Check to see if your public library has some of the books you're curious about. I've previewed several things that way, and it has saved me money!

You can also use the public library for many of Sonlight's readers.

Janine Cate said...

The things that I did that were the most successful were the ones I just stumbled over accidentally. For example,
My Homer's Odyssey incident.