This weeks post is all about curriculum – what we use, what are our plans for the year and how we go about it.
For those of you who may have read the negative news articles floating around about homeschooling at the moment – one of the issues raised about parents not registering to homeschool (we do register FYI) was the fact that they then could use any curriculum…the article specifically mentioned using American curriculum. Most homeschoolers that I know use at least one US curriculum and the main reason for this is that Americans have more people homeschooling, have been doing it openly for longer and have more available than within Australia.That’s it. Very few of us are using curriculum that are heavily American…as in it is stuff that can and would be used universally – an Ancient History curriculum that was written in America is not all that different than than one written here.
Another point worth mentioning is we take our children out of school for a reason. One of those reasons, for many families, is they aren’t happy with what their children are being taught and how they are being taught. There are also numerous ways of teaching the same thing…which when we get to our maths curriculum you will see why sticking with what the schools teach isn’t the only way.
For the most part I teach the twins together and the big girls together. The twins are more or less capable or roughly the same things. Our eldest is a little behind for her age, while Miss 10 is quite advanced for her age…so I also teach them together, however I do find that while they work at the same level for most things I need to work with my eldest at a more remedial level, that is lots of hand holding and repetition, where as sour 10yo needs extending in a lot of areas.
So here we go….
Language Arts (English)
- First Language Lessons for the Well Trained Mind Level 1 & 2 (an oral grammar program that uses repetition, narration (telling back) and memorisation for the twins. First langage Lessons 4 & Advanced Language Lessons 1
- All About Spelling – a mastery (mastery means mastering each step before moving on to the next one) phonics based program that has a mult-isensory approach
- Reading – just filling their little brains with as much literature as they can handle including the childrens version of classics like Beautiful Stories From Shakespeare and The Iliad as well as fables and fairy tales for the twins. The big girls will delve more into the classics with Miss 11 preferring more girly titles like Pride & Prejudice and Little Women with Miss 10 preferring adventure stories so things like Treasure Island. Miss 11 will continue with her love of Shakespeare (she has already read the full versions of Romeo & Juliet, A Midsummer Nights Dream and Julius Cesear) by moving on to some harder ones and Miss 10 will read the 3 her big sister has read using Shakespeare Made Easy (which has original text on one side of the page and modern on the other side). We will also be reading lots of poetry this year and the big girls will also be reading some of the great speeches. They have 30 minutes quiet reading before bed and are expected to read at least 1 additional hour per day. Some of their own choosing as well as some chosen by us.
- Writing – at this stage for the twins we aren’t using a formal writing program, instead they write lists, emails and letters to penpals. They also write in their homeschool journal and diaries. For the big girls we are finishing up with Writing With Ease 4/Writing with Skill 1(we didn’t have much luck with it) and moving onto The Institute for Excellence In Writing. It gets great reviews and again I have had the chance to see it working first hand.
- Math-U-See – MUS is a mastery program. This is probably where we differ most from what they learnt in school. In school they use a more spiral approach for maths meaning you learn a little addition, subtraction and multiplication and then build on it each year. MUS instead makes sure you completely understand all addition problems before you move on to the next level. You start at basic 1+1 and move all the way up to adding multiple numbers of numerous lengths. We LOVE LOVE LOVE this program. It comes with a teachers manual (filled with tips and ideas), a DVD which covers each lesson with Steve teaching a homeschool class (meaning you can watch it and learn how to teach, let your kids watch it to learn or watch it together), a student book (with each lesson having 3 worksheets on that lesson and 3 systematic review sheets – everything up until that lesson) and a test book. They also include plenty of work problems and the other bits generally taught in maths – time, measurement, area ect. I should also mention this is a US program, but we use the Australian (metric) edition.
- Singapore Maths 70 Must Know Word Problems – we supplement our MUS with these word problem books as we are big believers in being able to apply the maths to everyday situations and feel word problems are one of the best ways to teach this (beyond using maths in actual everyday situations)
- Math Drills – each morning our girls do timed math drills. Currently the twins are doing single digit addition and subtraction (100 of each) and they have 5 minutes to complete them. We have found this is best way for our girls to increase their mental arithmetic. Each day they look forward to beating the number they completed, their times and their accuracy.
We work mainly to the “classical method” of homeschooling meaning we have a heavy focus on english, maths, science and history. It also means we go in roughly 4 year cycles. For science this means we cover biology one year, then chemistry, physics and astronomy. For History we break it down into Ancients (6000BC – 500AD), Middle Ages (500-1600), Early Modern (1600-1850) and Modern (1850 – present). We have yet to find a history program that starts earlier than that – so we will fill in the gaps with studies into creation myths (culture/religious studies), Big bang theory (science) and unit studies on dinosaurs ect. Each year brings a different study and when the last one is finished we build upon it (spiral) by starting all over again, but in more depth than last time. A really interesting read on the classical method is The Well Trained Mind. But we don’t follow it to the letter – we adapt it to suit our family and our ideas on what we want the girls to learn.
- NOEO Biology Level 1 – The best part about this science curriculum is the fact that in one box comes the instructors manual, reproducible pages for a science notebook, all experiments and every resource book you need for it. The downside is the $75+ in postage you pay to get it from the states to your door.
- Story of Science – a series of books that starts with the big bang/creation myths that is in story format. We read aloud about a chapter or two a week.
- Excursions to CERES for land & energy, Scienceworks, the zoo and the Shark & Ray centre
- The big girls also got places in Monash Universities science club – Lab Rats. They will attend one Saturday a month for the first half of the year and if it goes well will finish up the year.
- History Odyssey – Ancients Level 1 for the twins and Ancients Level 2 for the big girls (a literature based history program). This is also another new program – we were using “Story of the World” and the accompanying work books. While we loved the book, the workbook was a bit juvenile. Our girls all love history so they demanded a better, more in depth program.
- Junior historical fiction , Magic Treehouse books, My Story books and horrible histories and Fair Dinkum Histories (An Australian Spin off of the Horrible Histories written by Jackie French) as well as watching documentaries and the Horrible Histories TV Series.
- We will also be exploring world war II a bit as we have excursions to both the RAAF museum and HMAS Castlemaine in the first quarter of the year. For the twins it will mostly be just talking about WWII and some picture books and junior historical fiction as well as the talks that will be put on by vetrans at the excursions.
- We have also covered a little bit of Australian history around Australia Day
- Trail Guide to World Geography Beginner level for the twins and Intermediate for the big girls – this is a new program for us that I am still gathering resources for. It is generally separated into continents and we go through each country in a little bit of depth and then the kids have map work to do and they have to use their atlases and almanacs to answer a few questions on each country. Each year going into more depth than the year before.
- Artistic Pursuits K-3 Book 1 for all the girls, with the big girls also working independently from Artistic Pursuits 4-6 Book 1 – also a new program, but a few of the homeschool families I know use them and I am quite impressed by the program.
- Visits to the Art Gallery
- After school art class – Miss 10 only. She loves art and she asked to do this class as well as soccer this year. She actually wants to attend their adult portrait and landscaping classes, but the teacher won’t let her until she proves she can do the junior class.
- f free time using craft, paints ect.
- We are also trying to source a Piano as all the girls are interested in learning (not sure where we would fit Piano lessons into our already crammed week….). I do dream of transporting my Nans piano from Sydney and having it refurbished (my nan taught my dad, aunts & uncles to play on it, followed by my brother, cousin & I learning on it) as it’s currently sitting in the garage rotting away.
- We will probably look to explore classical music in line with history so most of it will be in a few years when we get to modern history.
- If you have read my sports & recreations post you will know that we have sport covered with all the girls participating in at least one team sport as well as all 4 doing swimming and taekwondo. The girls are also quite active and ride their bikes/scooters/skateboards, go to the park, play outside and we don’t drive so we walk everywhere.
- We are also quite open with our kids so sex talks, taking care of your body, getting boobs (which my eldest two are currently experiencing) ect. are all talked about when the situation arrives. In our house sex is first talked about in a clinical “where do babies come from” way. We have also now explained the basics of birth control to our two oldest…which will eventually lead to the question – why have sex if you aren’t making babies…which will lead into a sex for pleasure topic along with how to prevent STD’s. Everything is at an age appropriate level and answered either in line with questions being asked or things that are happening to them. We also plan on making sure they get a well rounded education on drugs and alcohol as well as anything else that crops up.
- The big girls have expressed an interest in Latin so we are currently looking at Latin curriculums to be added toward the middle of the year. In the meantime they have both downloaded latin apps for their iPods and are learning a fair bit on their own.
- Our eldest daughter also wants to study French and has asked to attend the Victorian School of Languages but they hold classes on Saturdays and she doesn’t want to give up netball. They also have a distance ed program (that also includes free additional one on one tuition where needed) so we may look into that for the second semester or next year. It is me that is pushing this to be done later as she struggles with writing/reading/spelling and I think a full on distance ed program will be too hard and I don’t want her anxiety to start rearing its ugly head again.
We are secular so religious studies are covered more in line with history and geography as cultural studies.
- We are currently learning about different creation stories from around the world using books like “In The Beginning” as well as individual books from the library (bible for kids ect.) and a wonderful friend who is from the states and was a teacher there, but now homeschools her kids in Australia has lent us some amazing native American books with different native stories and creation stories.
- We would love to spend the next few years with the girls visiting various churches, mosques and temples and let them sit down with various religious leaders and let them ask their questions. Of course this is a fantasy as I am not sure how many would welcome the girls given that they see creation myths in the same line as fairy stories and I would hate to offend someone.
- We also plan to visit some of the different cultural museums around where possible in line with what we are learning about.
Our kids were born after youtube, google, msn and the iPod. They were born into technology. Not to mention their father and I are also immersed in technology. He is a web designer – self taught. Their uncle in Canberra is an IT person for the ATO coding all their programs. I use the computer for email, research (mainly on homeschooling) and have an intimate knowledge of Microsoft office and adobe suite….and still our kids crap all over us in this department. There isn’t a lot that we can “teach” them as it all seems almost something they were born with. I have seen them use spreadsheets to catalogue their toys and books, write stories in Microsoft word, use photoshop to design covers for said stories and even work hacks around free versions of apps on their iPods. They email and use the homeschool chat room for everything from the weekly tween chats (complete with webcams) to the online bookclub. They can buy stuff online (when we let them) and watched over my shoulder as I booked a hotel and flights for our Sydney trip. They have watched us upgrade our pc’s with extra ram and bigger hard drives. They know how to work the computer that is hooked up to our tv and how to find the movies or shows they want on the hard drives that are attached.
Eventually if they show more interest I will get their father to show them how to use basic HTML and if they are really interested we will follow their lead. For the most part though IT is learned indecently along the way.
Design & Technology/Home Ec.
- The girls can already use the sewing machine competently and follow basic toy patterns. Our eldest is currently starting out in embroidery and is enjoying that as well. Thanks to a lovely blog reader (now friend) we are also going to learn how to use clothing patterns starting with pj’s and eventually work out way up from there. They all can fix buttons, raise and lower hems and pop patches over holes. We have a large sewing box filled with materials they can experiment with as well.
- Miss 10 asked for tools for xmas so we obliged. She now has a box full of hand tools and some power tools as well. We also supplied her with some childrens wood working books and need to take her to bunnings to get supplies for her first project. The main problem we are having is she doesn’t want to build what is in the books…so it looks like she will also be learning tech drawing. I have yet to find a solid homeschool program in this area or even a local tafe course…so at the suggestion of another homeschooler (who studied tech drawing) we are probably going to purchase a text book that was put out in the 50’s that she recommended.
- The girls are all a big part of the running of the general house. Before my brother and his girlfriend moved out there was 8 of us in the house. To make a household this size run efficiently everyone has to pitch in. From a young age the girls have been able to tidy their rooms and make their beds. Now that they are older they also clean their bathroom once a week, take out the bins and recycling and empty the dishwasher in the morning. The big girls also recently decided to do their own laundry as they got frustrated waiting for it to be done.
- Cooking – everyone in the house loves to cook and the kids are allowed to help or make what they want most of the time. Our eldest is now confident enough to use the over and is fine to not only put stuff in, but take hot trays out safely. They are always around when we cook so again, no curriculum needed here, just lots of hands on trial and error.
On top of all of that the girls read everything they can get their hands on. We generally visit the library once a week and borrow around 60 books each time….all are read when they go back the following week. Their father also does trivia from today with them each morning. We also play games – chess (strategy), monopoly (money handling & strategy), scrabble (vocab) ect. We talk with them constantly. If they ask us a question we answer them, or help them find the answer. We visit museums and art galleries and go on tonnes of excursions with other homeschoolers.
I think the hardest thing to do is write down all we do…I would be here forever if I tried that. While we have a solid book work approach to the basics, we also learn so much incidentally. When a friend came back from overseas with money and a postcard from where she had been the globe came out. The atlas came out. We talked about language and culture. Food and dress. We learned right along with them.
Their father finished high school but went no further initially. Since then he got a diploma in hospitality and got accepted into a degree in graphic arts (but pulled out due to my illness) and is self taught in front end web development…competent enough that he was employed as a web developer by a company who designed websites. I never finished year 11 and yet by the time I was 23 I was running my own business, supporting my family and running a national charity that I started. All self taught. While I learnt photography I was also learning about business and taxes and websites and marketing. We are both life long learners. If we don’t know something we research and read until we figure it out. I say this because I don’t want people to think that you need to have a teaching degree to homeschool and also because I want to defence the position of neither of us having degrees…it hasn’t made us less capable, if anything it has shown us that while school and university are great places to learn, they aren’t the only place or the only way to learn.
With that in mind I still have dreams of going back to finish my degree in history/philosophy for fun. Maybe once I have all my brain back I will.
It’s also interesting to note how many things we do that overlap into different subjects. So much of what we learn falls into more than one category and yet we are suppose to learn them separately. I personally find that a bit bizarre.
But there you are, a very basic (and yet it is so long…you should see the word documents I make of the plans for our year!) over view of the curriculum we use and our rough plans for the year. It may seem like a lot – but the girls are pretty efficient workers and so we generally only do a few hours of formal study approximately 4 days a week. Some weeks we may do book work every day and then we may go a week or two without for a holiday, a break or just because things get busy.I should also note this is just our approach, ask 100 homeschoolers to explain their style/curriculum/plans and there will be 100 different answers. Probably because we all do what works for our families, our lifestyles and of course our childrens unique abilities.
Week 3 – Learning Spaces….see where we actually do this homeschool thing. Now I will spend the rest of the week cleaning so it looks half decent LOL.