Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Choosing Curriculum, Part 1

Something I love about homeschooling is choosing curriculum.  A friend asked me this question back in January:

"How do you go about picking a curriculum, and how do you sense God's leading and providing in your homeschooling (specifically in curriculums)?"

My answer was very long.  It starts with my story of how I started homeschooling and then goes on with how I choose curriculum now. Today I'll post the first part--how I started homeschooling...

Sharing my story is the best way I think I can answer this question.  God has often used other people to get the ball rolling for me.  I remember a friend of mine, Becky, telling me about The Well Trained Mind (WTM) and Slow And Steady Get Me Ready (which I thought was strange when I first read it) when we lived in Georgia 5 years ago.  When Autumn was 2, I checked them both out of the library and read them.  Chris and I loved the WTM and went "Wow!  This is awesome!"  That was before we had 3 kids ;) all 2 years apart.  But, it was a start. 

But, based on WTM's recommendation, I started with Slow and Steady Get Me Ready again.  After Autumn turned 3, I realized that it really covered everything that PK was supposed to cover  and that the main point of all of the exercises is to help children learn to follow directions. I actually checked it against a scope and sequence for preschool which I found online and realized every skill was covered.  A few of my friends in Georgia with children a few years older than Autumn loved Teach your child to read in 100 Easy Lessons and I saw it at a garage sale so I picked it up for $3 thinking I might use it some day.  When I was in my M.A. Ed. program it was drilled into us that we needed to gather resources, so I started when Autumn was 2 while I was garage saling.  I bought a cuisinaire manipulative set (at that same garage sale where I got 100 EL) that has had more treasures in it over the past few years than I ever expected--it was just what I needed in order to do HSP math, which is what I switched to last year.

So for PK3, I used Slow and Steady and we read a lot, basically.  Then for PK4, I realized Autumn needed to learn her letters and I was stumped because early childhood education was my weakness as a teacher, but I found the LeapFrog videos and both Sami, then 22 months old, and Autumn, almost 4, learned their letters in a week or two.  I'm not a video person and we watch very little, so that was odd for us, but it was what worked at the time.  I went by WTM's recommendations again and bought the The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Reading (OPG), but it didn't work for Autumn at all.  I had looked at 100 Easy Lessons first, but it looked weird and didn't make sense to me.  After trying out OPG, it made tons of sense to me--the comprehension questions, the big letters, the short lessons...I knew it was right for Autumn.  I realize now that some of the way I taught her with 100 Easy Lessons was because of being a teacher.  We did 5-10 lessons at a time (1 lesson per day) and then repeated them until she got them could read the words, sounds, and stories easily.  I didn't do the same one over and over because that would have resulted in her regurgitating it, not learning it.

In the middle of PK4, we had a crisis.  My husband, Chris, had serious doubts about my ability to homeschool.  That was the beginning of December and by Christmas, his concerns were even stronger and my resolve was even stronger to do it.  So, I put together a set of forms and evaluations to show him what Autumn knew (which I'll add as a page on my blog), what she had learned, and what she needed to learn in order to be ready for kindergarten.  I was able to show him that she was learning and that she was on track.  The tricky part is that because of her age, my oldest daughter, Autumn, is actually a year ahead.  But, we fell into that trap of feeling of pressing ahead rather than being okay in the waiting for our kids to grow up, like so many parents do.  That's why I understand when preschool parents push their kids, but it's also why I now try to encourage them to take it slow, wait, and give their children time.  There's plenty of time.  Kindergarten will come soon enough.   In the Homeschool Manual there is an the essay about when to start your kids which God used to steer me and help me calm Chris' fears about Autumn's schooling.  I was able to give him a solid defense for what I was doing.  I came across that book at a book sale and randomly, or really not so randomly, purchased it.

So, that was PK and how I ended up with my curriculum then.  More than anything, I realized that God brought books across my path that helped give me insight into Autumn.  I need to tell you that I am really wired to be an older child teacher, not a younger one.  In teaching, I learned teachers generally are PK-2 teachers or 3-6 teachers.  I was definitely a 3-6 teacher.  I didn't have the patience for the younger ones or the natural insight.  I am a learned teacher.  My husband is a natural teacher, but he taught adults so I have to remember that his perspective is based on his experience teaching adults and from watching his mom homeschool, who I gather was very disciplined about her schooling.  I did also have to take a math course to keep up my teaching certification and the book from that course was what helped me grasp what Autumn needed to learn about numbers in PK4, Book 1 of Kathy Richardson's Developing Number Concepts series.  It gave me the confidence to help Autumn learn her numbers and develop her number sense.  The book was simple and straight forward.  Though it was for a classroom it was perfect for using at home as well. 

I've discovered that most of my friends don't do a formal preschool program for homeschooling.  I think it's a great way of trying out homeschooling if you're thinking about it before you are required to send your children to school.  Will it fit for you and your family?  Homeschooling through preschool is much less work than for kindergarten and grades beyond, but it's like a little taste of what is to come, I think.  

Since preschool, it's been different.  I went to our library which has a great homeschooling section.  At the end of preschool, I still didn't have any one to really talk to about what I was doing.  I'd bounce some things off my mother in law and she gave me a couple of ideas that helped me plan for kindergarten.  Little ideas here and there are really what I find sticks in my mind.  I read Help for the Harried Homeschooler by Christine Fields and it was very encouraging to me.  I also found Cathy Duffy's Top 100 picks for curriculum on the shelf and it helped me articulate my homeschooling philosophy, though I didn't use any of the curriculums she recommends.

I'm realizing that my story is quite a long one, so I'll continue on from here tomorrow in part 2...

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