Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Homeschool Curriculum Journey...

When we first started homeschooling with real curriculum it was the year 2000. I was on the hunt for a Kindergarten curriculum. My brother-in-law's family was homeschooling at the time and they were using a curriculum package that was sold by a company affiliated with our denomination. Even though it was quite expensive for us at the time, we decided we would try that one. I was so excited to get that box in the mail, only to be quickly disappointed by what I found inside. Reading over the materials I could see that my son was ahead in some things and not ready for others. What I also realized was that all the company had done was piece together a graded curriculum by pulling subjects from various companies. Well, I could do that, right? So, we took a financial loss and returned the boxed set. Then I purchased some of the individual components at the appropriate learning level. It wasn't a big deal, I mean it's just Kindergarten. You finish by lunch and have the rest of the day to play!

By chance my husband ordered a book from Amazon that he thought looked interesting. You may have heard of it, The Well Trained Mind? I read this book from cover to cover (those were the days when I still had the concentration to read whole books). I was quickly convinced that this was they way to go, this was the education I wanted for my children! I was still young back then and had the occasional burst of physical and mental energy, so the monumental task of a classical education seemed do-able.

After the first year of cobbling together our classical education and making a pretty good go of the first grade year, we discovered Veritas Press. They have beautiful color catalogues with all the grades planned out and organized for you to give your children an excellent classical education. There was no way financially that we could do the whole shebang, so we picked and chose, hunted for used books, and still spent too much money. Something we learned in this phase: You DO NOT have to purchase every little book recommended by your favorite curriculum. I can't tell you how many books I ordered and afterwards wondered "why?"-- borrow books, utilize your library (many of the books recommended in curriculum packages will only be read once!), look at books ahead of time at bookstores and homeschool conventions.

It took us about four years of muddling through our attempt at a classical education to realize it just wasn't for us. It wasn't that I was being lazy, it just wasn't working. Every day was equal parts frustrated race to complete the parts that we were actually attempting to complete and feeling guilty for the parts we weren't even attempting (Latin). Preschool with MS was easy enough, but I was beginning to see that soon I would be doing two levels of classical education when we could barely get through one! By God's grace I was able to see that I was not a failure as a homeschooler because I couldn't make it work, I was just failing to consider the other possibilities.

About that time we were required by my husband's company to move, so we were already in a lot of upheaval. At that year's homeschool convention I discovered the Multi-age Unit Study approach. Our first unit study curriculum was Weaver Curriculum. This was a pricey all-inclusive package. It was a very thorough, well done, but teacher intensive curriculum. At first this labor of love was a welcome distraction from the sadness we were all feeling over our move, but before the year's end I was already modifying and looking for other unit studies. But we did love the unit study approach! Despite the fact that we were generally unhappy in our new place of residence, it was a most precious time of homeschooling. All of us sitting together, learning together (even with the five year gap between OS and MS), encouraging and helping one another.

The next unit study we discovered was KONOS. We used this for several years. This curriculum is excellent for multi-age homeschooling families, especially larger ones. This curriculum does require access to a library or the funds to buy books. However, the longer I used the curriculum the more I found myself taking the topics and just putting together my own studies. And there are even books out there on making your own unit studies, but you don't really need them.There are also tutorials all over the Internet on this subject. But I think the best way to understand unit studies is just to do a few. After doing one or two unit studies, you will see what it's all about and should be able to come up with your own. A good place to try one is Currclick (they even have some free stuff), which sells e-book curricula and has a lot of unit studies on every subject imaginable. Try a short one out over the summer, like a fun one about baseball or chocolate, and maybe you will try unit studies next school year.

While I thought KONOS and unit studies would take us through the rest of our homeschooling journey, when we approached high school for OS I couldn't see it working out the same. It was time to get serious about grades and transcripts and I wanted something structured for high school. He has always been an amazing self-learner, so I could picture having a lot more time with MS. The next year was also a whole new experience as we joined a homeschooling co-op. And then I was pregnant with a difficult and exhausting pregnancy and homeschool occurred mostly at Mom's bedside.

We have continued our homeschool journey with our separate curriculum paths and OS is graduating next year with MS not far down the road. We have discovered and used many curricula that we love and others that we wanted to burn (but we sold them instead). In my next post on this topic I will suggest some ways to look for and narrow down curriculum choices for your family. I rarely like to make a recommendation for curriculum because all families function differently and have children with different needs--kind of like cloth diapering! But I am always happy to share our experiences with the curricula we have used.

1 comment:

  1. Ahhhhh..... Sounds like my home-school journey :) Although I am still in the elementary years with my two, I to went down the same road. First when I began homeschooling my oldest 6 years ago I chose a expensive packaged curricula that I soon found was not for us, then we found Unit studies ~> Love them! Finn ally I knew I needed a bit more structure so Time4Learning was my savior ;) Still I know things will change from time to time, but always I will thankful that I get to homeschool my children <3
    I really enjoyed reading your story :)