Saturday, May 7, 2011

Choosing Curriculum, Part 2

A few days ago, I began posting about choosing curriculum.  Here is part 2:

I'm just going to jump right in.  I left off talking about preschool and how things changed as we began kindergarten with our oldest daughter.  

For kindergarten, I used World Book's Scope and sequence and used Homeschool to help me pick out curriculum.  I made some choices for Autumn in K that I regret, but I've ironed those out.  I'm learning that this happens to everyone (or at least everyone I know)!  It's easy to dwell on the lost money (especially when things are tight), but I've learned to hold onto it or give it to someone else who can use it, but most of all to let it go.  Sometimes we need to try something that's wrong in order to learn what's right--or in this case what's best for our children and for us as their teachers.  In kindergarten, my mistake was what I chose for Health.  I chose Horizons Health without having seen it.  There wasn't a preview on CBD, but I couldn't find another health curriculum at the time.  So, I worked with it, but it was way too much work.  Health is a required subject here.  

But, how exactly did I pick out curriculum and how did I know what was right?
1.  I read the intro for Cathy Duffy's Top 100 Picks book and Help for the Harried Homeschooler by Christine Field, and The Well Trained Mind.
2.  I made a list of the subjects I need to cover for each student.  From the survey in Top 100 picks, I knew I wasn't a unit study kind of teacher, so that meant I would be a subject by subject teacher instead.
3.  I looked online at the materials as much as I could and thought about whether it looked easy to work with, whether it was the right level, would be challenge, had good explanations, was very visual (Autumn is huge about illustrations), was short, and whether it covered everything.
4.  When I found one subject by a publisher I really liked that connected with me and my children, I pursued other subjects by that publisher.
5.  Once my materials arrived, I cross checked them to the scope and sequence I had to make sure everything was covered.
6.  Then, I evaluate while I'm doing it.  Several times I've been able to tell that something isn't working right away, like the Ordinary Parent's Guide to Reading, but other things like Horizons Health I've pressed on with because it wasn't as essential.

I had a weakness when I was teaching in public school of switching midstream to a new curriculum, so I do try to stick with things as much as possible and see them through.  I know we all have different strengths and weaknesses and that is one of my weaknesses as a teacher. 

Kindergarten for me felt like a trial run.  Because Autumn had a late birthday, I didn't have to turn in any records during her kindergarten year.  This took some pressure off me.  If you don't have this option, I think it's a great idea to try some things out informally during preschool while you don't have any pressure if you're going to have to turn in records for kindergarten.

When Autumn was going into first grade, I realized that I wanted a curriculum I could follow through with for several years and be consistent with.  Curriculums build on each other and the publisher has developed its own scope and sequence so that their books give students continuity and cover the appropriate material for each grade.  I had picked up a few readers at used book sales, so I brought them out and picked the one I liked the best.  I had realized in Kindergarten that I don't use teacher's guides very often, and that I need everything in front of me.  That's how I ended up with Harcourt.  I liked the format of their books so well, I ordered the health book, then the social studies books and science books and workbooks to go along with them.  For first grade, several of the teacher's editions were inexpensive used so I did purchase them to see if I would use them.  I didn't, so I didn't buy any of them this year.  When I was stumped with math last year in the middle year and it was going so badly, I switched to HSP math because Harcourt's books had worked so well for Autumn and for me. 

I liked first language lessons so I ordered WTM's Writing with Ease.  Everyone I'd met liked Explode the Code, so I ordered the A,B,C books and Autumn loved them.  She struggled with the real books until she was able to write letters easily though.  But, that was an overall struggle.  I learned with her to relax a bit on how much I require until handwriting gets easier for her.  I permitted more copywork instead.  I wrote down her words and then she copied them.  But, I didn't overdo it.  We did more oral work.  First Language Lessons is nice for year 1 because the bulk of all of the lessons is oral.

My book reviewing has brought the bulk of our Bible books into our paths as well as Hooked on Phonics.  I compiled a list of the Bible Storybooks I've found which we love.

I also realized that a mastery curriculum for math is what makes most sense to me rather than a spiral approach like Saxon (which doesn't click at all for me as a teacher and is printed in black and white), so I started searching CBD and Amazon for something to help Autumn review.  That's how I ended up using Daily Math Review and because I liked it I added Daily Language Review midway last year.  Both of those books are basically what teachers put up on the board everyday for students to do, so it was a practice I was used to.  My writing supplement, the Just Write series, is published by EPS, which publishes Explode the Code and Beyond the Code which I love.

One of the tricks in looking for curriculum is forcing yourself to stop, though.  Only look when you need something and once you've found what meets your need stop.  There are so many wonderful resources out there you can keep looking forever.  I've done that a few times and the search beyond what I've found is really fruitless.  God cares about our curriculum and also our time, I believe.

That's my process of finding curriculum in a very big nutshell.  I followed the same process for second and third grade.  One new addition to my planning is to start a master plan.  I wrote out what I use for each subject so that I'll have a record of it for when my next child is in that grade. I also wrote a subject by subject plan for grades 1-8.  When I find something that I think I'll use for several years or I hear about something that sounds like it would fit for our family, I plug it in that plan.  I like to have a vision for where I'm heading academically.  Having these plans reminds me that every day's work is part of a year's work which is then part of the big picture of our children's education.  The curriculum plan also helps me remember ideas about curriculum and help keep me from jumbling information up in my head.   In the end, it all helps me feel less scattered and more purposeful in our education plans.

I have to admit that I love finding, choosing, and using curriculum because I am continually reminded of how God guides us in the process of finding the best and right materials to use with our children.  I still realize sometimes things won't work--but there are lessons for us to learn from those things and for our children to learn.  When Singapore's first grade math didn't work, I started looking for reasons why so that I could understand Autumn's strengths and weaknesses in math.   It was a blessing in disguise that we needed to switch our math curriculums.  

I hope that you enjoy choosing curriculum this spring and summer as you look forward to next year!  I pray that God will guide your search.

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