Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Thoughts on Curriculums

This is from an email loop in which I participate.  A mother had mentioned about starting to homeschool in the fall and requested some information about curriculum.  I thought this answer was very well written and informative and wanted to share it.
Before deciding on a type of curriculum, you need to decide what your goals are in home schooling. Is your goal in home schooling to build character, relationships, and teach them to learn and think independently? Just a few things you need to consider. How much do you want to be involved? Do you want something all planned out or do you want to plan some your self? Do you want a curriculum with workbooks/text, teacher manuals/answer keys for each subject individually or do you want something that is more cohesive?

There are basic philosophies that guide the development of curriculum. Traditional textbooks/workbooks aim at feeding facts and testing facts. Unit studies aim at teaching the big picture by integrating everything toward one idea/person/ subject, rather than reading facts and testing facts. These are just a few examples.

Traditional (like public school) education has a book for each subject, with tests, quizzes and such. Some examples are Abeka, BJU, Christian Liberty Press, and Calvert. This same approach only in workbook format are Alpha Omega, Switched on Schoolhouse (computer style), Accelerated Christian Education (from School of Tommorrow), and Christian Light Education - they have excellent workbook style math (Mennonite based).

Unit studies approach education from a topic and draw all other subjects into it. Some examples of unit studies are:

My Father's World- unit study combining Classical and Charlotte Mason style education. Integrates Bible, History, Reading, Science, Music, Art, Vocabulary, Geography, and Writing and has lesson plans in the TM done for a week-at-a-glance format with space to write in Math, Spelling and English. Combines reading, read alouds and hands-on in a good balance. You can look at samples of the lesson plans and see the packages at this link. There are also yahoo groups for this curriculum that are a wonderful support and asset. http://www.mfwbooks.com/

Pros- 2-8 th grade all work together on the same subjects reading the same spine books and only do language, literature and math at their own level. It usually only take about 2 hours to do all the group assignments and most days assignments are completed by lunch or shortly after allowing time to pursue other interest. Produces Biblical Worldview independent thinkers.

Cons- Some families or individuals like having a lot of busy work- worksheets for every subject and such which is not in this program. There are sheets to make for notebooks, but not sheets in every subject every day.

Sonlight- Literature based study. Integrates Bible, History, Reading, if you choose Language and Science also, lesson plans are for each subject and are in a-week-at-a- glance format. It is heavy in reading and read alouds with minimal hands on activities. You can see samples of their curriculum at this site http://www.sonlight.com/ I do not know if they have a yahoo group, but there is a Sonlighter's group that you can participate in similar to the yahoo groups where you can get great support. There is a link to the group from the web site.

Pros- integrates some subjects, encourages reading, some cross-over in grade levels.

Cons- takes 4+ hours per day for the core (Bible, History, Read alouds, and reading), then all other subjects have to be done. Doing all subjects for the average child takes about 7 hours (at least in my experience, I never had really fast workers, mine were smart but not fast), very little hands-on activities.

Tapestry of Grace- Unit study of history chronologically. Integrates Bible, World View, History, Geography, Art, Literature and a little science. They have lesson plans done broken down by the week, not the day and broken down by levels. With TOG all levels K-12 are on the same time period just working at their own level. Many ideas and activities are listed each week, not all can be done, you must choose some. It is like a buffet, you look at everything then choose what you want. They also have yahoo groups for support. They are very active groups where you can glean a lot of helpful information. You can see samples of their curriculum and read about the curriculum at http://www.tapestryofgrace.com/ . There are also virtual coops for each year you can join. The information for them is available in the yahoo group for the specific year.

Pros- all grade on the same time period, many subjects integrated, in upper levels discussion questions about topics for week available with answers.

Cons- Time consuming breaking down each week into amount to do each day, takes a while to pull together and understand how to use the curriculum best for your family.

Konos- unit study built around character traits. Basic lesson outlines and book lists done, individual must choose what books and activities to do and plan them out. Very hands-on.They have virtual classroom you can join that helps direct and keep you on tract. You can see samples and read about the curriculum at http://www.konos.com/ .

Pros- good for active children who do not sit well, is not structured so can be adjusted to needs of family

Cons- planning and pulling all together is time consuming.

There are other forms of schooling like Classical, Charlotte Mason, Unschooling, and such. I have used traditional (both textbook and workbook), Literature based unit studies and regular unit studies. In my 18 years of experience unit studies produce the best end product. Like I said, you need to figure out what your goal in educating is. Our is to ground our children in a good Biblical worldview and equip them with reading, writing, math and independent thinking skills so that they are able to stand firm as adults.

Now, what do I use? I have used all of this plus others at some point in the previous 18 years. For the last couple of years, I have been using Tapestry of Grace, but for at least the next two years I am going back to My Father's World. I do not have time to plan out the Tapestry of Grace. My Father's World is a well rounded unit study that is all planned out and I will integrate the literature books I have from TOG into MFW for the reading portion. I may end up finishing out with MFW, depending on my available time. I will stick with either MFW or TOG for the 8 years I have left to home school. I love both of these curriculums. It is amazing how much more children learn and retain when the subjects are integrate rather than individual facts from a text. We have graduated 4 kids and have 2 more at home. All of them have learned and retained more the years we did unit studies than when we used traditional methods.

I am sure you will get all kinds of advice, each family has favorites and what works best for them. You have to look at the different methods and decide what will work for you and your family. You may try one and decide it does not work and try another. I have done that several times throughout the years. Or you may look through the types of curriculum and pick one and stick with it. One wonderful aspect of home education, is we can do what works for us.

I do not remember where you said you live, but there is a home school conference in St. Louis next month. It is organized by CHEF. You can get the information from the web. You might do some research on the different curriculums and then go to that if you can.

Wishing you well in your decision journey,
Cynthia in MO

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