Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Designing your own free curriculum - resources

We pulled our children from their school after spring break when the boys were in second grade and kindergarten.  We wanted the nine remaining weeks of the school year to "try it out" in case homeschooling wasn't for us.  We had no curriculum, no experience, and no idea how things would turn out.

We did, however, have internet access.

And library cards.

And lots of people who found out we were homeschooling.

This became our trifecta of curriculum through which our early experiences of homeschool flowed.  If you are interested in designing any or all of your own homeschool studies, these can be your greatest aids.

The Internet

I can't imagine how much effort homeschooling was before the internet.  I could type in 'kindergarten science' or 'second grade math' and seven billion sites would pop up with unit study materials, other moms blogging about their great ideas, free printable worksheets or coloring pages, and lists of scope and sequence (which I would then google because I had no idea what scope and sequence even meant - it's okay if you don't know what that means either).

I ordered gently used copies of the "Core Knowledge" series of books and based most of what we did for an entire year off of those books; they were an essential resource for guiding our learning by grade level. Their website states:

"In one convenient volume per grade — from What Your Preschooler Needs to Know through What Your Sixth Grader Needs to Know — the eight-volume Core Knowledge Series provides parents, teachers, and children with an engaging, illustrated introduction to the important knowledge outlined in the Core Knowledge Sequence. Each book suggests related readings and resources. The kindergarten and first grade books also include sections on how children learn to read."

I also searched several variations of "homeschool for free" or "homeschool resources" and listed the books and read the blogs and fell into internet rabbit holes full of magical ideas and tips.  I wrote lists of books that looked helpful.

I knew what my children had been doing in school up to this point, so we tried to pick up from there.  We finished the math workbooks the school sent home with them.  My kindergartener had only the letter "Q" left in his phonics studies, so I printed off worksheets and coloring pages.

I asked my children what they wanted to learn about.  I wrote down those topics under the list of books I had made for myself and off we went to the next critical stop on our journey:

The Library

Our library contained a small but rich homeschooling section.  Among the books I read were "Homeschooling on a Shoestring"  by Melissa Morgan and Judith Allee, "The Ultimate Book Of Homeschooling Ideas" and "Homeschoolers Success Stories" both by Linda Dobson, "How to Write a No-Cost/Low Cost Curriculum for Your Homeschool Child" by Borg Hendrickson, and racks of homeschool magazines - full to the brim with lessons, activities and tips.

We spent a great deal of time in the non-fiction sections of our library.  We found books covering the topics the children were most interested in, as well as resources recommended by the Core Knowledge books and suggested by internet sources.    We discovered DK Eyewitness books; three years later they are still our favorites.  We chose fictional books to read out loud together, including the first Harry Potter book and several Newbery Medal winners.

We branched out into the Audio-Visual section of the library.  We checked out classical music CDs, books on tape or playaways, and instructional DVDs.  Our favorites were the "Signing Time" series, "Families of the World" series, and (surprise!) DK Eyewitness.

Then, I discovered an entire "Teacher's Resource" section.  Just a few steps away from the homeschooling area!  There were reams of pages for copying to create classroom-type crafts (we did a Halloween skeleton from one of these books the next October) as well as themed books for different subjects, different times of year, month-by-month, and even fully written curriculum for certain subjects.  It was a goldmine for free curriculum planning.  As far as directly impacting the work my children did each day, though, the teachers resource area remained a distant second to...

People Who Heard We Were Homeschooling

We tried to quietly fade into the nine weeks away from school, to privately decide whether or not we were going to continue with this crazy idea.  It didn't work out that way.  First of all, people want to know where on Earth  you have gone.  Secondly, people care about you and your kid(s) and want to show it. Third, everyone has tons of stuff sitting around their house taking up space and are all in a constant state of decluttering.

Paper bags started appearing on my doorstep pretty quickly.  A cousin's unfinished math book from the previous school year, a barely used stamping set, puzzles, educational games, an expensive math manipulative set, and flashcards became part of our curriculum.  My sweet mother unearthed a box of worksheets with wipe-off plastic covers and black, oily pencils that we used during the preschool years at my own childhood home.  We were given old textbooks, garage sale books, early reader books, coloring and activity books, matching sets, art kits, craft boxes, jewelry making packs, clay, sorting kits, beads, prizes, and more stickers than you can imagine.

And we used them.  We used them all.

I started meeting and talking to other homeschooling families.  I was also fortunate to already be friends with three homeschooling families and related to a fourth.  They showered me with curriculum samples, borrowed books, group introductions, and reassurances.  They let me use their curriculum books, look over their children's work, ask questions about what they used and other families used. The best things that came from these friendships included the book "Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum: A Guide to Catholic Home Education" by Laura M. Berquist and invitations to used curriculum sales, where I continue to gather information and materials - even as we enter our fourth year at home.

Was designing curriculum for my children easy?  Actually, yes.  It was pretty simple.  I'm not going to say it wasn't a lot of work or a great deal of time, but the information and resources are abundantly available.  What required the most work was the sorting, organizing, storing, copying and printing of the materials.  The researching and teaching parts were fun!  Do we still school in this way?  No, we purchase a planned curriculum now.  But if I weren't also contributing to running our family farm or we were in a tighter financial situation I would want to go back to this method of curriculum design.  I still exert a similar technique and level of control over some portions of our children's education.  And it was a great way for me to learn what sort of style and rhythm where best going to fit my family.

There is something else I took from my experience of homeschooling without a curriculum:  I loan my curriculum out.  I give away the manipulative sets, puzzles, craft kits and unfinished workbooks we don't need anymore.  I try not to bombard them, but I give entire boxes of borrow or keep items to new homeschooling families when they tell me they are going to give it a try.   I loan out science, language arts or reading packages and sets to anyone who is interested in what we have used.

And then I tell them all to get out their library card and start making friends with the most knowledgable librarian working in that wonderful place.

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