Friday, March 7, 2014

"No-Planning" Homeschool (Simplifying the Curriculum)

A friend of mine recently posed this question to a homeschool online support group:

 Do you go through those phases of being totally crazed with the desire to plan and plan and plan and then buy and buy and buy - all things SCHOOL?

My answer? 

NOPE. No. Absolutely Not. Never. (For the record, I used to... but that stressed me out too much).

And this week,  Sarah, at Amongst Lovely Things, posted her fifth part to her awesome "Teaching from a State of Rest" series.  It was titled, "How to Simplify the Curriculum."

So, in lieu of leaving inappropriately long comments in either of these places...

I DO have a few examples and some testimony I want to share--as someone who has successfully (so far) homeschooled from birth through college graduation, children of varying personalities and interests.

If you love and live for planning and shopping for your homeschool, and new curriculum just makes you giddy, and gets you inspired, and makes you happy instead of mires you down and overwhelms you... then my testimony is not for you.

If you long to have a school that is simple, and effective, and gets done, and the thought of getting it done without planning or headache sounds like a dream to you... then maybe my story might help you a little bit.

Simplicity has become one area of expertise in my life. I'm addicted to simplicity.  In all areas.  So when it comes to our homeschool, I have learned how to simplify. We do always get it all done--even with my years of chronic illness and hospitalizations interspersed by newborns. We're always "ahead" (by general guidelines).  And, when tested for our required state assessments,  my children ALWAYS test above grade level--above the 90th percentile.  They're not geniuses. I know. I live with the little knuckleheads. Sometimes they can't sit with their behind on a chair for more than ten consecutive seconds--we deal with that, too.  But our curriculum is effective, and doable--it simply gets done.

I have found, that for me, it was worth the time to search for the "best" in curriculum, as in "best" for you and your family. And then STOP LOOKING.  For example, I knew there was a problem with our math when we never got around to it because we never felt like it, and it was tedious enough to cause tears and ruin our day (Saxon).  So, I went to a big convention with the sole purpose of looking at all the math curricula I could find, to see if there was one that suited us better.  That paid off.  That was seven years ago. I found a math that I knew was a wiser choice for us:  more conceptual, more simply written, less tedious repetition. I just knew. A lightbulb went on when looking at it and talking to the author.  I switched. The tears stopped. It instantly quit being a trial or taking a heroic effort to get it done. It has worked for ALL my children regardless of learning style or personality. The math haters have been converted. The math lovers are inspired and flourish. It is GOOD, well-written curriculum, and very easy to work through, one page at a time. I will never have to worry about our math again.  It was worth the time and effort to go find it.  Now the only effort I have to put into planning the subject is simply ordering the next level book when the time comes for each child. (In case you're wondering, it's Making Math Meaningful for grades K-6, then VideoText Interactive for Jr. High/High School).

I have since evaluated every subject, one subject at a time, and I have found and decided on a set curriculum in each subject for every age, Preschool through College.  Things that work for all the kids, match my preferences (flexible, well-written, simple, effective), and cover all the basics for what I feel is wise and gets the job done of preparing my children for success in life. I don't shop any more. I shopped at one point to choose the best for each subject--that took several years to work out, one subject at a time. But now, what we have, I know it works and will continue to work.  It has been worth the time to find it for each subject.  I don't have shelves or cupboards full of unused curriculum, unfinished curriculum, curriculum I thought looked amazing but haven't gotten around to it yet, extra books, kits, resources. That means if I went to clean out our homeschool bookshelves, there would be nothing excessive. Nothing I could get rid of  (This is true. I checked--because I'm nesting. I am looking for things to clean out). Everything is something we use, or is sitting there waiting for the child that will use it when they reach the right level. And I know it works.

And, that doesn't mean I'm not open to change or variations.  My HS daughter--her interests are different than her older brother. She is old enough to add specific classes or activities because we KNOW her "bent." And she is old enough to do them on her own.  And, as I have grown in my faith, and since faith learning is the CORE of our school, those resources and methods have changed, too.

Also, I am aware that times are a-changin', so I am always open to the possibility that I may need to make changes based on what is wise in order to prepare my kids for work, college or life (different core standards on entrance exams or technology changes).  Should I need to change or add, I will do the same thing--take the time to find the right stuff. Now... I have the advantage, I have homeschooled kids from birth through college graduation (with another 18 years to go!). Some mamas just haven't had to walk through all the years of learning yet.

Sarah's first point was to "Do Less." I would add, "Have Less." I am a big proponent of simplifying--not just curriculum. My entire home management:  toys, wardrobe, stuff of any kind,  kitchen (organization, shopping, groceries, menu), activities.  For school, this means I do NO lesson planning. Our english, math, science, and other subjects are simple, but well-written student books that we can work through one page at a time, with no teacher's manual.  We simply get up, and "do the next page."  Most days we get up with the intention to have breakfast then sit and do school.  Some days, that doesn't happen due to life. But with this method, we are always ahead, and with the simple curriculum, we are almost always done before noon with all of it (preschool, 1st, 2nd, and 4th grade--the 9th grader works independently and marches to her own beat--my job is to encourage her to plan and prioritize her own work).

Another example of how I "Do Less:" I don't teach US or World history before high school.  Just Bible history, because that is my opinion of what is wise and important.  The littles get all the OT and NT history (as their Bible lesson, 2 for 1).  We do geography ONCE starting in 4th grade (hard to understand history if you can't picture where in the world it happened), finishing after a 2-year study by completing the A Beka Grade 9 World Map Studies Workbook (and the Geography credit for HS transcript is done forever).  In Jr. High I have them plot a framework timeline of important people and events in world history. Then, I have my kids study history ONCE...

ONE TIME... high school, at the high school level, with a simple but effective curriculum, and study it well enough to get college credit, too (to avoid having to repeat it for Gen Ed credits in college).  Seems wise to me. Now... If I had a child who obviously LIVED and BREATHED history, that plan would change for that child--but it wouldn't take any effort on my part, really, now would it? 

Sarah's second excellent point was to "Integrate." I am the one who decides on a day-to-day basis, discerning based on time, interest level, and other reasonable factors (such as whether or not I'm throwing up because I'm pregnant),  if we are going to look up additional info on the internet, find an extra worksheet, use info from one subject for the grammar or writing assignment, find a documentary, go to the library, take a field trip, make a recipe, do an experiment, or decide to do an art project--based on what I read into the interest level of those involved. I am the one who decides if their writing in their Bible journal was good enough to count as their penmanship, or their reading in a different lesson was enough to count as "reading" for the day. I also have lots of "How-to-Draw" books, and we integrate drawing and sketching skills into our Bible, science, history, and other subjects as we can.

We have less "toy" toys, but lots of good books, puzzles, games, Legos, blocks, and art supplies. When the kids have an appetite for this type of play, then lots of the reading, logic, problem-solving, math concepts, and creativity takes care of itself, doesn't it?  I can check off "reading" every single day based not only on our read-aloud, but also because they have learned to just read as an activity. Yes, that meant getting the occasional joke book or Garfield comic book from the library to help build the appetite, but the book basket is full of good things for their learning, mind and soul.

Speaking of that... my littles are upstairs playing "Lego Battle"-- a game they invented on their own, working together (integration, right?)  But it's 10:00 a.m.  I'm now going to call them down to do their school... and we will be done before noon! Barring any unforeseen catastrophes, illness, or other unexpected surprises--we all know how many forms those can take!

Happy homeschooling to you all. I pray your efforts are blessed. Truly.

1 comment:

  1. Cam, as always, your straight-forward approach in life always inspires me!

    You've hit on something so true and valuable.....those that I know who have found that right curriculum and stuck with it, have had far less confusing days than me! Can I have a "do-over"?

    *The first time I commented, it disappeared, so hope this doesn't show up twice!*