03 July 2009

How to write your own homeschool curriculum, Part 3

OK, you've been reading and plotting and planning. You have an idea for a spine for your curriculum, piles of notes about things you'd like to accomplish, and you have ideas for how you'd like to cover them, and theories about how (your) children learn best.

Are you overwhelmed yet? I think that this is where a lot of people get lost and give up and just buy something.

Now, to get an idea what a curriculum looks like, we are going to visit three sites. (I would suggest that even if you decide to go with unschooling, this would be a valuable exercise. Children can only be interested in what they encounter, and part of your job as an unschooling parent is to make sure that your child encounters lots and lots of concepts. You might find it helpful to have some ideas of what more traditional curricula look like as a prompt to include exposure to ideas that might not have occurred to you.)

First, in another tab, open your state’s department of education website. This is mine. Some are better than others, but try to find the content for the grade you're planning for.

Now read over the material for your child's age group. If you see something that would be interesting to cover at home, feel free to add it, but the point here is to get a look at how your local schools arrange their expectations. This is what my state expects to be covered. (You'll need to click through to see the details, but they don't matter all that much.) It's explained in greater detail in the attending materials, and it's full of legalese, but this gives you a look at what little kids in Michigan are expected to be familiar with.
The main point in looking at this is to see how they relate subjects to one another (or don't) and how they build from one core understanding to the next (or don't). This bit of curriculum is for the science curriculum, and the professional educators of my state have decided on the main topics they want the children to know about, and then decided what subtopics they want to cover in this year.

Now take a look at what you have decided you want to cover. Can you group any of it this way? Or can you split some of your topics into subtopics in this way? If you think you might see some patterns in what you want to cover, try writing those things on index cards and grouping them, then placing them in an order that makes sense.

OK, the public schools was one source of food for thought.

Next open the Core Knowledge Foundation Curriculum Sequence in a new tab. Open the page for your child's age.

I don't know about your state's curriculum plan, but this is a whole lot easier for me to grasp. Again, if you see something you'd like to add to your own ideas, feel free to - but mainly, look at how information builds on itself over time with this approach. Can you see more possibilities with this nice clear example of a curriculum?

Go ahead and organize your cards a little more. As you organize them, you may find that there are "bridge" topics you'd like to add.

As you can see, there is no one way of approaching writing a curriculum, and no two sources agree about exactly what children should know when.

Something to keep in mind as your ideas grow is that with one or two (or six) children at home, is that not every topic is going to require hours of study. That means you can plan to cover more in a period of time in homeschool than would be required at school -- or that you will have lots more time for free exploring. Either is a good thing!

In the classroom, the topic has to be covered and covered and covered again until most of the children have gotten it. Once yours have it, you can move on. That may mean days of discussion...or it may mean 15 minutes. Be careful not to beat a dead horse - remember that the weeks a school class devotes to a topic is intended to reach the 'least able' child and the daydreamer. Because you are able to cover topics in the way that works best for your child and then stop, you're child will catch on to many things much more quickly than he or she would have in school. He or she will be learning in an engaging manner and not bored to death, so daydreaming and trying to understand something taught in a mysterious manner won't be a problem.

OK, one last look at another idea. Open the World Book Typical Course of Study in a new tab. This is quite a different take on what your child can be learning. It looks more like your list at the beginning, I'll bet. It sure looks like what I started with at the beginning of all this four years ago. Again, if you see anything you want to add, feel free to do so. But mainly, observe that there is no one right way for your curriculum to look. Note, too, how different the goals for each curriculum are.

Feel better? Your curriculum is going to be just fine.

OK, you have lists and stacks and grids and cards. Time to start organizing them to help clarify your thoughts.

First, write down each topic you want to cover on a separate card. Try to use all one colour for the main topics (science, math, etc.). Next, use another colour for the subtopics. Math (blue) -> counting by 2s (yellow). As you do this, note on each card any ideas you have for how to cover the topics. (Book, field trip, experiment, etc,)

Now, organize the subtopics into a logical flow. Use a paperclip to keep major topics and subtopics together and in order. Next, print another copy of your curriculum grid, and copy the topics onto that in order.

But wait! You're not done with the cards yet! Next collect all the topics that you know you want to cover, but don't yet have an idea how to cover it. Keep them sorted by topic.

It's getting to the time of day to do other things, and you have plenty to work on. Next time, we'll get to the part you probably came here for. ;)

Have fun!!

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