30 May 2009

Smiffy's Herbal: Mullein

This is Mullein.

It's a pretty intent friend of ours -- it's all over our yard, and is even visiting us up by the main door in spite of brickwork and sparse soil.

Mullein also goes by the names Aaron's rod, blanket leaf, candlewick, flannel flower, feltwort, mullein dock, old man's flannel, shepherd's club, velvet dock, hags tapers, clot, doffle, graveyard dust, Jupiter's staff, torches, or velvet plant. Since "dock" refers to any really broad leaf, and this is clearly a velvety plant, I like the velvet dock name best!

It's a biennial, which means it takes two years to complete its life-cycle from seed to seed. It will take a while to spread, I guess.

Generally, mullein likes fields, pastures, and clearings where it can get plenty of sun without too much competition. It grows pretty tall -- as much as three feet tall in our yard. It flowers from June to September.
Mullein, or velvet dock, is ruled by Saturn and its element is fire. It is dedicated to Jupiter. You can use both the flowers and the leaves medicinally.

One friend calls this "outdoor band-aids" because you can crush the leaves and hold them over insect bites, scratches, scrapes, and other minor injuries, and they'll stop bleeding and feel better pretty quickly.

A tea made from the flowers reduces pain and makes it easier to sleep. A tea or infusion from the leaves can help with coughs, hoarseness, and tummy upsets. If you boil the flowers and inhale the steam, it can relieve respiratory complaints. Steep the leaves in hot vinegar to make a wash for skin problems and wounds.

Put a few leaves of mullein in your shoe when you need to avoid catching a cold, and wear it on your clothes when you hike in untamed wilderness to keep from coming to the attention of wild animals. Make a "dream pillow" containing the leaves to ward off nightmares, and hang mullein plants it in doors and windows and carry it for protection from ill-will.

Yeah, mullein is a pretty good friend. I'm glad there's a lot of it here.

27 May 2009

Astronaut Jack

by Isaac Jack Smith
Astronaut Jack? That's a funny name! But funny's not the point. The point is fun! I would like to be an astronaut someday because i would love to visit the Moon and Mars and Jupiter and all those other ones!

21 May 2009

Jack plays Beethoven's Ode to Joy

This is Ode to Joy. Maybe I'll give you a little advice how I did it.

I put a piece of music in front of me and, of course, it had letters on it, and my Dad told me what was C, and from that I figured out that that's G, so that must be F and that must be D and so on. Then I soon got to play it!


video

Enjoy!

Gardening research ...

Ok, so, I did some research on gardening. This is far from the first time - research is how I get myself motivated to work as hard as gardening requires. But this time I have more information under my belt and so my resrarch can be more focused.

A couple of years ago, I thought maybe the style I had adopted was biodynamic. It sounds similar in its broad outlines and emphasis is on creating healthy soil to maximize the nutrition in the plants, but further research revealed some semi-religious overtones that don't really apply to what I'm doing. So, while it's not entirely wrong and I could use that description, it would be somewhat misleading. It's good -- but it's not really what I'm doing.

Next I looked into permaculture, which also sounds similar to what I do. It's close too, but digging deeper, I found a lot of semi-political environmental stuff that is implied with permaculture. The goals and techniques are similar, and it's good -- but again there is a lot involved in true permaculture that isn't really right to describe what I do, either.

Next I looked into high Brix gardening. That seems even closer to what I do ... but I can't afford a refractometer and the science and chemistry are pretty overwhelming looking. If I had the money for a consultant and a refractometer, I think I might go this way. But this isn't it, either.

One thing I have decided. It seems like no one just raises vegetables -- gardening is a very socio-political and spiritual act out on the net. And I guess maybe it is for me, too -- but these system, good as they are, aren't *my* systems. There are things I like a lot about all of them, and then there are things that look too overwhelming and complicated for me.

So, I have decided to call my system "high-nutrition gardening". It's not as spiritual as some and it's not as scientific as others. There is little about it that is political or ecologically motivated. I just want yummy vegetables that will give my family the best nutrition they can get. I'd like to get more scientific ... but my brain isn't up to it and my budget won't cover a paid consultant, so there you go. ;)

I did find this article extremely interesting and very surprising. We are told that "compost is all you need" ... and while I figured that it probably wasn't entirely true, I didn't realize that is was as complex as it is.

The heart of the article is:
Misconception: It is virtually impossible to over apply compost because compost is not high analysis or burning.

Truth: Compost is a very potent supplier of potassium and can very quickly imbalance a soils’ calcium to potassium ratio, resulting in a decline of nutrient density.

Misconception: Compost should be applied regularly.

Truth: Compost should be applied when the soil needs it.

Misconception: Compost is really all an organic gardener needs.

Truth: Soil needs what it needs—not just what compost supplies.

Misconception: Compost is far superior to all other fertilizers and soil amendments.

Truth: Compost is a specific tool for a specific job. Other tools are also required to bring a soil to full remineralization.
But I really recommend that if you use a lot of compost, you go read it.

I may not be using biodynamic, permaculture, or high brix methods but I have learned a lot from all of them.

20 May 2009

One of my favorite things...

Lately, Jack and I have been taking walks together whenever we have time during the day. We walk mostly down to Coleman's Farm Market because, like me, Jack seems to prefer to have a destination. By the time we've walked the whole thing, it's just about two miles, which is the perfect walking distance. Jack gets a little tired right at the end, but we buy a little fruit at the market, and that keeps him going.

Of course, given the neighborhood, our walks are "nature walks". We observe plants, animals, insects and birds. Last time we were out, Jack found a robins egg, discarded on the ground. We hunted and hunted in the nearby trees, but we never did find the nest it fell from. We discuss anything and everything, too. Six is a good age for that -- Jack has a lot on his mind and usually has the words, eventually, to help me understand.

We also pick up trash. That was Jack's idea -- he is horrified that what "people are doing the world we share! It belongs to all of us and they shouldn't mess it up!". Not sure where he's getting the propaganda, but it's working. On our last trip, we got two bags of trash -- he's not wrong. People who drive these streets really are making a mess!

On the trip home, we carry fruits, vegetables, and plants. On one trip, Jack was begging me to find plants or seeds for cow peas and garbanzos because "I love cow peas and garbanzos!". I found seeds for cow peas, and we agreed, that given their preference for relative dry, we'd plan to grow garbanzos once we move to Victoria.

It warms a mothers heart!


19 May 2009

Opening tonight

Opening tonight
by Isaac Jack
This is a photo taken at 9:24pm.And there's something that's distracting about this photo. In cartoon. Maybe because it's kind of fierce.



It's past our bedtime, so, hmmm.

Good night!

Zzzzzzzz Zzzzzzzzzzzzz

Smiffey's Super Shiraz Stew

by Rod
This is the stew I have been trying to make for the past couple of months, I finally got it right, so I'm sharing...

Start with a large, solid saucepan (I used my cast iron dutch oven).

Drop a good dollop (3 or 4 tablespoons)of coconut oil in the pan on low heat (can use beef dripping or lard here.)

If you're like me and didn't think about this until 5 pm, grab a pound of diced stewing steak from the freezer and drop it into the hot oil. If you have fresh steak (or thawed) all the better. It just won't take as long to brown. DO NOT TURN THE HEAT UP!!. It will cook on low heat just fine.

Once your meat is mostly thawed and in various stages of being cooked, slice a medium sized onion and throw it in.

Give it a thorough stir and then leave it alone.

Find a few cloves of garlic (4 or 6..or more if you really like garlic) and mince them directly into the pot. Leave the heat alone, it will cook just fine.

If you have bone broth in your freezer, plop a 1 cup puck on top of the meat and onions. and yes, leave the heat alone, it will melt all by itself.

If you lack bone broth you can use stock cubes, but please make up the stock in a cup of liquid and pour the liquid stock into the pot. (dropping plain water into the pot will wash the flavor out of your meat, this is a huge no-no).

Add a good long splash of soy sauce, I'm gonna say its at least a tablespoon, but its probably more like two.

Throw in a tablespoon or so of red pepper flakes.

Add a good shake of nutmeg, a teaspoon or two I guess.

(a bay leaf or two wouldn't go astray here, I just forgot with this particular stew.)

Pop the top on a passable quality bottle of red, I used 3-buck-chuck Shiraz(gotta love Trader Joe's... if your in Australia, Seven Hill make a good quality, low price Shiraz). Pour a cup or so into the pot.

Give it a thorough stir, drop a loose fitting lid on it , and leave it alone for about 45 minutes.

Put several cups of water (or vegetable water from your last steamed vegetable meal) in the bottom of a steamer, drop a couple of good sized chopped potatoes in there. In your steamer basket, place some squash and rutabaga and maybe some sweet potato or anything else that's chunky and wholesome. Make sure you have at least 3 pounds of vegetables in total, 4 is better. Steam until tender.

Check the meat, it should be getting tender.

(if you are going to add frozen vegetables, now (as the meat becomes tender) is the time to do it, add these to the meat pot)

In a smallish skillet, warm a good chunk of beef dripping on low heat, (probably 3 tablespoons), once its melted and getting warm, add a quarter cup of flour (I use whole wheat, freshly ground) and a tablespoon or two of soy sauce. Stir the flour until it is coated with oil and starting to brown. Time to get busy….

Put the steamed vegies in with the meat. Stir it up.

Add a cup or so of liquid from the steamer into the gravy skillet.

Mix the gravy until it is thick and gooey.

Add the thick gooey gravy to the pot. Pour on the remaining steamer liquid and the potatoes (if they haven't already gone into the pot) Stir it in thoroughly so that they gravy is uniform, and turn the heat off.

Go and set the table, dinner will be ready in 5 minutes. Give the pot a stir every minute or so until you serve.

The advantage to this preparation is that the meat has only ever been in contact with highly flavorful liquid, right up until the last few minutes.

The effect is that every morsel of meat is a parcel of wonderful flavor that makes them the most highly prized morsels in the meal. The rich meat sauce lends a healthy hearty flavor to the gravy, and the other vegetables retain their own flavors.

The low heat cooking means that the onions and garlic lend all of their sugars to the sauce, which are enhanced by the soy sauce and wine.

Try, experiment, enjoy!!

Take Care

Rod

Ingredients list
Coconut oil and/or beef dripping or lard (you'll use a quarter pound or less all up )
1 pound of diced stewing steak
1 medium onion
1 half head of Garlic
1 cup bone broth (or one cup strong flavored stock)
Nutmeg
Red pepper flakes
Red wine (about a cup)
Soy Sauce
(try a bay leaf or two... any other herb that you fancy, all optional)
Water (or vegetable water saved from previous cooking, or vegetable broth)
2 pounds potatoes,
1 pound rutabaga
1 pound squash
(can substitute any chunky vegetable here)
1/4 cup flour for the gravy

18 May 2009

Almost time....

Next weekend, we'll be putting the plants in the ground... ... or, well, these that are big enough to survive the elements, anyway.

There are also the little ones (mostly sunflowers and tomatoes) that have not quite made the commitment yet. I am hoping that tenting them so they'll be warmer will encourage them to make the commitment to thrive.

But now, it's past bedtime.

Yum! Cookies!

I encountered this recipe for Gluten-free Almond & Coconut Cookies cookies and I just had to try it! Of course, being me, I had to "adapt it" a little.

I replaced the rice flour with half coconut flour and half almond flour in an effort to make them even lower GI. (I have been trying to get away from grains as much as I can, because it makes it easier to lower the effect of a meal on my blood sugar.)

These cookies are fantastic! Just the right texture and just sweet enough -- as much a snack as a dessert, just like I like them. The recipe makes about a dozen cookies, so from now on, I'll be tripling it.

So, here they are:

Mamma's (new) famous low GI cookies:

3/4 cup butter or coconut oil
3/4 cup sugar
pinch salt
3 eggs
4 cups almond flour
2 cups coconut flour

Cream the warm butter and sugar together.
Add the eggs and salt and continue to cream together.
Add the almond flour and the coconut flours.
Roll into balls and bake on ungreased cookie sheet at 350 C for 15 minutes or until they're golden brown on the bottom.

15 May 2009

Writing a curriculum for a truly personalized homeschool education

Originally published at Life at Chez Smiffy

©2010 Misti Anslin Delaney-Smith

misti (at) delaney-smith (dot) net

I started this essay a year and a half ago, not sure that anyone would ever read it, but wanting to get my thoughts down in coherent form.
Over the last year and a half, I have had regular hits on it, even though sections two and four fell into a bit bucket, making section three very hard to find.
Now that I know that some folks really are looking for this information, I thought I’d sit down and try to recreate the missing information and update the essay with my new insights, having been at this a while longer.

Writing a curriculum for a truly personalized homeschool education

Before you consider writing your own curriculum

Writing a curriculum, takes time. Lots of time. And a lot of effort, too.
If you have a two year old, you have lots of time to pull together a curriculum.
If you are a newly minted ‘unintentional homeschooler’ at mid-year, this is going to take more time than you can expect to have in the short term. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing -- unless you plan to re-enroll next school year. (In which case, grab a copy of the Core Knowledge curriculum. You’ll be fine.)
If you’re thinking this is for the long haul, writing your own curriculum may well be worth your while. It will take time to do the research, but the payoff can be great.
Meanwhile, you’ll want to spend some time "deschooling" researching your options, and learning more about how your child learns best before you start any serious planning. Focus on making trips to the library, museums, and into the community the basis of your child’s education for the time being and explore different education methods as you come across them. Your child won’t fall any further behind than you can catch up.
Once you have a plan in place, there will be plenty of time to catch up. Remember that even the high school valedictorian, even a Ph.D., doesn’t graduate knowing everything there is to learn. The important thing for now is to make learning interesting and learn how you learn best together. If your scholar learns to learn and learns to love learning, there is no "gap" he or she can’t close. If that love of learning doesn’t happen, it doesn’t matter what you teach because there will be little learning happening.
On average, families finish in two hours what it takes the schools to cover in six. There really will be plenty of time!
The first question you have to ask yourself is...
"Do I really have to create my own curriculum? Why?"
There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of curricula out there. Some are free and some for sale. Of those for sale, some are very inexpensive and some are very, very expensive indeed. Some curricula cover all the subjects required for an entire school year and some are subject by subject, so that you can adapt them for the pace your child actually needs. (A star reader who has real trouble with numbers may be in first grade for math and sixth for reading! A third grade package based on age just won’t work.) Some curricula even come with an advisory teacher as a part of the package and many of them contain all the books and materials you'll need.
If you think you may want to stick with a prepackaged curriculum after all, you will still find the first part of this essay helpful in selecting one, and you can use section 5 for some guidance in finding the right curriculum.
A lot of this information is useful in planning your homeschooling experience, whatever method or curriculum you choose, so feel free to read about the parts that apply to you and skip the parts that don’t.
Were you hoping that you'd be starting right out with writing your curriculum? I don't recommend that you jump to that right away. Instead, it’s a good idea to get some idea of where you and your scholar are and where you want to go.

Step 1: What’s it all about? The purpose of education

OK, so you’ve decided that you’re in this for the long haul, and you really want and need to make a serious curriculum decision.
Before you get started, you'll want to take some time to think about what the purpose of education is. If you have gotten as far as homeschooling, and you are considering writing your own curriculum, you probably have a good idea what your thoughts are on this -- or at least a sense about why ‘the usual way’ doesn’t work for you or your child -- but it's very helpful to put it into words.
(I was sure this was a necessary step, but when I tried to get some ideas from other homeschooling families about what they though the purpose of education is, they looked at me funny and didn't really understand the question. Obviously, you can do a great job at homeschooling with no idea what education means to you. Still, I think it will be easier to write a curriculum if you know what your goal is. )
Rod feels that the purpose of education is to:

- lay before the child a banquet of information that represents a full measure of his or her culture’s endeavor from the beginning of time to the present day, and to show the child how to feast on that banquet.

- equip the child, in as many ways as possible, for the many roles he or she will play in the greater world.

- equip the child with the requisite social understanding, so that he or she can engage intelligently in the greater conversations of our times, among the educated and uneducated alike.

- equip the child with the tools of curiosity and reason, so that he or she will be able to learn any subject of interest.

- immerse the child in the spirit of endeavor and adventure that allows him or her to first understand those things that have preceded his or her life’s work, and then to improve on those things.

In my view, education's purpose is
to absorb enough knowledge of one's culture to be able to take a seat at the table and join in the Great Cultural Conversation. I don't mean that in the sense of being able to hold your own at a cocktail party (TV and the latest issue of Newsweek is probably sufficient for that, these days) but the ability to think clearly, using the insights of the great thinkers who have come before to help to shape our own thoughts so that we can develop our opinions based on reason and stand on the shoulders of giants, rather than reinventing the intellectual wheel at every turn -- or worse, being easily sidetracked by very common logical fallacies. It is also to help us to understand the place and the responsibilities of humans in the world.
Some of our family's homeschooling friends may share some of our views, but many of them have far different views and no two families approach home education in quite the same way.
I think you have to decide the reason behind your educational endeavor before you can choose the most appropriate style of curriculum. Keep in mind that if you don't feel that what you're doing has purpose, then it will seem pointless. If you feel it's pointless, so will your child.

Step 2: Establishing your child’s learning style

If you really want your child to connect with the topics you think are a part of a good education, then you need to represent the topics in the way the child can best appreciate them. That means having an idea how your child learns – often called the "learning style" or "learning assets" in home education circles.
My Jack is a reader. He will sit for hours reading a book or listening to stories, but he has never been much of one to explore with paints, crayons, or drawing. A literature based curriculum works well for him, but when I have experimented with art based methods, he gets frustrated very quickly. As he gets older he gets more flexible, and now we can add a colouring sheet while he listens to a story, but I doubt that will ever be his favorite method. I tried using project based ideas a few times, too, and while he was tolerant for a little while, it was pretty clear that he just didn’t get why I would want to make a costume and eat a meal or create a piece of jewelry based in the period we were studying. For him, if it’s in a book, it makes sense. He needs words to really be able to grasp an idea. His secondary preference would be to learn through games. Jack will do almost anything if it’s a game! He loves chess and battleship, he adore Great Composers, He learned numbers using dominoes and playing cards. He learned to read using Starfall.com, and he loves his art matching game. Given how much he loves games, we plan to approach spelling and vocabulary using Scrabble.
Your child, too, has a very specific approach to learning. It may be broader than Jack’s. It may be narrower. It is almost certainly different.
Take the time to observe how your scholar approaches a subject he or she really wants to know about. Does he ask to go to the library or the book store? Does she prefer to ask an expert to tell her how it works? Does he want to pull it apart and put or back together? Or maybe draw endless pictures of the subject in question or want to go and see it in a museum or the community? Those are clues.
If your child has spent time in a group classroom, you may find that experience has coloured (for better or worse) what it means to him or her to "learn". If you suspect that this may be the case, you might simply observe her learning for a while, and then experiment with a learning style you haven’t seen a clear indication of and see which styles actually speak to her. Over time, you and your child will come to understand what works best for you as a team.
Keep in mind, too, that as your child develops, his or her preferred method for learning may change and he or she will be more able to learn how to learn in new ways. Someone who can be comfortable learning in a number of ways will find it easier to absorb material, so start with what works best, but consider helping your child branch out into other learning styles once you have a track record of success together.

Step 3: Figuring out where to start - assessments

If you’re starting homeschooling at the very beginning, this is going to be easier. You simply start at the beginning, with the alphabet and phonics and counting and recognizing numbers.
If you are going to homeschooling after a group school experience, you will want to know where to start – especially with reading and math. Don’t count of the grade level completed having any bearing on where your child is. Math and reading especially build on what has come before, and if your child is missing some basics, it will cause trouble down the road. If your child is ahead of the curve, there is absolutely no point in boring them by spending a lot of time with material they already know.
For reading, there are several approaches. If you have a reader, you can check the levels of their favorite books on a leveled book list.
Alternatively, you could use the leveled book list and the library for a fun little experiment. Get a couple of appealing books from each level and increment. Stack them in order of difficulty, and then have your child read to you until he or she makes three or more mistakes in one book. (If you’ve been at it for a while, come back to that book and make sure it wasn’t wandering attention.) The point at which your child falters is where you start with reading.
The curriculum company Singapore Math provides math level assessment tests to help parents decide what level to start their children on. They are geared to the math taught in their system, so they might be a good place to start, but they may not help you catch everything your child might be behind on if you plan to use another method.
Alternatively, you could use math printables (one sheet for every level) or assessments – and do a little a day until you find the place where it stops being easy. (Again, three or more mistakes suggests that this is the level at which your child should be working.)
Other subjects can be assessed in the same way, if you feel it’s necessary, but most other topics don’t build on each other in quite the same way as math and reading so it’s easier to jump in anywhere interesting and go from there.
Now, here’s is perhaps the most important thing to remember. Try not to attach judgement to what your assessments turn up – those numbers are a guide about where to begin, they are not a sentence for life nor do they define your child. You are a homeschooler now. Now there is no "ahead" or "behind" here. There is only "where we are" and "where we are going". Wherever you start, once you know where your child is and you know how he or she learns best, you will make steady progress.
If you find that your child is progressing well on a subject, you may well want to ‘give them their head’ to explore that subject on their own and put more emphasis on other more challenging subjects as a team. If you find that your child is missing some of what might be expected, start where they are and experiment with ways to make the information easier to absorb. Progress is far less important than understanding. Once understanding is achieved, progress will take care of itself.

Step 4: A method to the madness – selecting a method (or three)

OK, now that you have an idea what education means to you, how your child learns best, and where you need to start on the big stuff, it’s time to have a closer look at what methods appeal most to you and are most likely to meet your scholar’s needs. You might find a page like this helpful.
It's a good idea to get some background in education theory, even if you think you know what you want to do because it’s working so well for your best friend’s child. You don't have to devote years to it, but having this background will help you to adapt more quickly as you learn more about your child's learning style.
Read at least three or four books by different experts, because each expert is talking about one kind of learning style, but they're all quite sure that theirs is the only answer for all children.
If you only research one method, you will probably choose the one that would have worked best for you. The odds are pretty good that it will also work for your child...but what if it doesn't?
If you have several different ideas about learning in your arsenal, you will be able to move more quickly in finding a new way to approach materials if what you're doing isn't working.
Also, if you have many tools in your kit, and boredom strikes, you can switch up the presentation for a while to make everything fresh again.

Some books I recommend:
· Teach Your Own: The John Holt Book of Homeschooling by John Holt
· The Absorbent Mind or The Montessori Method by Maria Montessori
· A Thomas Jefferson Education by Oliver Van DeMille
· Charlotte Mason's Home Education (Free online)
· Cultural Literacy by E. D. Hirsch Jr.
· What Is Waldorf Education?: Three Lectures by Rudolf Steiner
· The Well-Trained Mind: by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise
· Better Late Than Early by Raymond S. Moore and Dorothy N. Moore
· The Marva Collins Way by Marva Collins
Pick three or four to read -- ideally one or two by the originator of the methods you're considering, and one or two by someone with very different ideas. Keep in mind that although some of the ideas are going to resonate with you far more than others, these books are largely based on experience, and there will be elements of truth that you can use in all of them. You'll be amazed at what keys you may find amongst the dross of a "completely unsuitable" method!
Because homeschooling is so much more a lifestyle than simply a choice for educating children, I think that it makes sense for everyone to read a book or two about unschooling and delight-led education. Unschooling isn't our first choice of education methods, but it has none-the-less deeply influenced the way we think about putting together our days, because it is very much geared to observing the way children actually work and learn.
Given our family’s views of the purpose of education, a Classical Education based on literature seems like a good fit for us. We're combining a classical literary approach with a lot of delight-led concepts in our own home school, since nurturing Jack's curiosity is equally important to both of us.
Now, think about your child or children. Regardless of what *you* think about education, the reality is that your child is the one being educated and no one can teach anything to an unwilling scholar. There is no goal that is unsuitable to a specific type of child, but some will be easier than others and in many cases, the character of the child in question will be the primary influence in the methods you choose to reach your goal.
If you have child who can sit and listen to stories for hours, a literature based method (Charlotte Mason, Trivium/Well trained Mind, Robinson, Thomas Jefferson, and Marva Collins) may work well for you. If, on the other hand, your scholar is always on the move - building something, disassembling something, or creating something, you may want to consider something far more kinetic. (Like Waldorf, Montessori, unit studies, or a project based curricula). If your scholar is pleased with rules and lists and steps, a traditional "school at home" education might be just the ticket.

Step 5: Getting a look at how a curriculum is organized

OK, you've been reading and plotting and planning. You have, piles of notes about things you'd like to accomplish, and you have ideas for how you'd like to cover them. You have theories about how (your) children learn best and what methods will work best in your family.
Are you overwhelmed yet?
I think that this is where a lot of people get lost and give up and just buy something. But really, you’re almost there. You have most of the information you’ll need to create a thorough education for your scholar.
Let’s go on, shall we?
The next step is to get an idea how other curricula are laid out. To do that, we are going to visit three web 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 will be to make sure that your child encounters lots and lots of interesting ideas. 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 open your state’s department of education website in your web browser. (Generally you can find it by searching on department of education) This is my state's page. Some states have clearer curricula than others, but it never hurts to know what the neighbor kids are learning.
Now, go to the page with the content for the grade you're planning for.
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 to a card in your stack, 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. 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 know about science.
Now take a look at what you have decided you want to cover. Think about whether you can group any of it similarly to this. Or can you split some of your topics into subtopics in this way?
OK, the public schools were one source of food for thought. Once you’ve had a look at what your state is doing, we’ll have a look at a very different style of curriculum.
Next open the Core Knowledge Foundation Curriculum Sequence in a new tab. Open the page for your child's age.
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 possibilities in 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: with one or two (or six) children at home, not every topic is going to require hours of study. 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. You may need days of discussion...or you may need only 15 minutes and you’re done.
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!
OK, one last look at another idea.
Open the World Book Typical Course of Study in a new browser 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 of these professionally designed curriculum are.
Feel better? Your curriculum is going to be just fine.

Step 6: Examining existing curricula

Most of the available curricula are based on one method or another. Before you start writing your own, it’s a worthwhile exercise to make yourself aware of what's out there. Having a look at a web page like this might help.
Another advantage to checking out what has been done before is that writing your own personalized curriculum is an ongoing adventure. Seeing how other educators have handled things means that when something doesn’t work for you the way you originally envisioned it, you’ll have a lot of fresh ideas to try.
Make sure to check out at least two or three curricula that are based on each of the methods you are thinking of incorporating in your curriculum. As you look them over, try to articulate what else you would add or what you would do differently. When you come across a good idea, write it down on an index card. When you come upon a resource list, bookmark it, and add a note to an index card. You’ll be borrowing heavily once you get to the writing the curriculum down part of this exercise.

Some curricula you might explore:
Ambleside online Charlotte Mason Style (religious)
Well Trained Mind History-based classical style (most libraries have or can get the book, I think) (religious)
Oak Meadow – Waldorf style (religious)
Great Books – literature based
Core Knowledge – standards based
World Book - standards based
Tanglewood School – combination of classical and Charlotte Mason

A note on religious based curricula

If, like us, you are not Christian, you may initially be put off by the vast number of very highly religious resources out there.
I’d suggest that you take a closer look at them. If you’re buying a pre-packaged curriculum, you may end up buying books that you won’t use, of course. If you’re writing your own or if you are responsible for getting the books on your own, on the other hand, you might want to look into how easy or difficult it would be to substitute more suitable books for the ones that are recommended. There are a lot of high quality ideas out there, and until more recently, the folks doing most of the work were Christian, so their priorities are what we will find most of. We are, as I have said, using a Charlotte Mason based style – and yet we have never come across a secular (much less pagan) Charlotte Mason curriculum. We borrow ideas freely where we find them, leaving off the books that don’t suit us and adding others that approach subjects from a more suitable angle.

Step 7: Creating the curriculum map

Ok, now you've got a preliminary idea what your curriculum is trying to accomplish and an idea or two of the methods you like and think will work for your scholar. You've looked at what's out there, and none of it quite works for you, though you probably find that parts of what you see out there are close, but not quite right. In reading books about your favored methods, you've probably started to develop an idea of how one would go about using that method to explore the various academic areas.
You're still sure you want to write your own? Nothing out there (that you can afford) is quite right?
OK, then the next step is to decide *what* you need to or want to cover in your curriculum.
I have to be up front with you -- my method won't help you to figure out how long it will take to cover the material, so you won't have "Year One" finished at then end of this ... but you will have a complete place to start and a good idea of where to go next. One reason I can't help you to time this, is that I believe in mastery. I think you should stay on a topic as long as it takes your scholar to "get it". But I think you shouldn't stay much longer than that unless, having got it, your scholar is still fascinated, in which case, it's time to move deeper than you may have originally intended. Keeping that in mind, you’ll want to make notes of ideas and sequences, without worrying too much about how long it will take. Just plan to find books only as you need them so that you don’t have a stack of book much too advanced for the development of your child when it goes much faster than you expected – or a stack of books better suited to last year’s development!
Simply Charlotte Mason has an excellent planning guide that will work for designing just about any style of curriculum. Look over their guide and get to know how it works, then make your own study guide. Make a list of the subjects that your family wants to cover -- you probably have some that the SCM list doesn't and you may not find everything on their list suitable. That's OK, it's the exercise and not the details that matters most.
I have done that for our family here. Add and delete from your source list until the list seems just right.
Now you have a list for your overall plan. Make a copy and narrow it down to what you feel you can successfully cover right now. Remember, you don't have to cover everything all the time. This will be the plan for the very first lesson plan. Depending on your style, that may cover a week, a month, or a year.
Once you have that first lesson plan, it’s time to figure out exactly what you want to cover and in what order. For example, you want to be sure to cover math. First you will work on verbal counting, then on recognizing numerals, next on identifying "how many". Once you have that, you might move on to simple addition, then to addition of two digit number, then to simple subtraction. For literature, you might decide to spend the first year focusing on Great Animals in Literature and read Potter, Bond, Milne, Graham, Sewell, Lasky, Jacques, and Hunter. Next year, you might focus on children in literature, and then on great adventure stories.
Rather than trying to figure it out all at once, write your ideas for subtopics you want to be sure to cover in index cards. Then it’s easy to add another idea and reorder them until you’re happy with what you have. Then it’s easy to transfer your list in order on a single lesson plan sheet.

Step 8: Putting it all together

OK, You now have a lot of ideas, you have lists and stacks and grids and cards but they may be starting to get hard to keep straight. Time to start organizing them to help clarify your thoughts.
Start by getting an index card box to hold your cards and several packages of coloured cards. (If you’re good with computers, this can be done electronically, too – but you’ll want to have a portable way of carrying notes.)
Assign each subject to a colour. Write down each general topic you want to cover on a separate card of the assigned colour. Math on blue, and science on green, for instance. Then make another card in the master colour for each subtopic. Counting to 20 on blue, and how plants grow from seeds on green, perhaps. As you do this, note on the back each card any ideas you have for how to cover the topics. (The name of a book, field trip idea, experiment, etc,)
When you have all the ideas written down, organize the subtopics into a logical flow. Use a paperclip to keep major topics and subtopics together and in order and store them in your card box.
Now when you come across a new idea, you’ll have a place to write it down where you can still find it when the time comes to use it. Because the ideas are all on cards, it’s easy to introduce a new subject between two others or move an idea forward or back.

On getting too attached

Until you’ve been at it a while, you won’t know how much *your* family can cover in a period of time, so you’ll have to be adaptable, either in how long to work on a subject or in how much you want to cover before you move on. 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, your 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 engaged manner and not bored to death, so daydreaming and trying to understand something taught in a mysterious manner won't be a problem. Plan for lots – but don’t be too attached to the details.
You’ll find that some ideas will be a bust. Drop them and approach the subject from a different angle later.
Some ideas will catch fire and your scholar will want to stay with it and learn for more than you had planned. When that happens, drop everything and dedicate your time to the topic that really grabs your child’s attention. This is, after all, the whole point to a personalized education!
Step 10: Selecting a Spine
Now you have a neatly organized stack of cards that cover your ideal course of instruction and a sheet of your first thoughts on what you want to cover. Pull out that list of the topics you want to cover and your stack of idea index cards. There's a lot there, isn't there? Compare the order of index bundles to the planning sheet. How do you decide what order to cover things? How do you make sure that you're making steady progress on everything you mean to cover?
One thing that many people find to help, is to find a "spine" for their curriculum. That is, figure out what will be your main focus, and then you can arrange the rest of the subjects around that in a way that draws relationships between subjects.
For me, the obvious spine was history -- we could start at the beginning of time, and study history in order, adding the art, music, and science, even the math, based on the knowledge of the time. That even meant that the other subjects (and the detail of what we know about the history) would get more complex as Jack grows. Rod finds that math and music are his obvious twin spines, and another homeschooling Mamma I know uses art as her spine. Anything can work, if it makes sense to you!
Trying putting the cards side by side, in an order that draws on relationships between topics. Once you’ve hit on something that works, print another copy of your curriculum grid, and copy the topics onto that in the order you’ve settled on for the first unit of work.
Even if you plan to use unit studies or unschooling, this can be a valuable exercise, since it's important that your child be exposed to many, many subjects and have a banquet of knowledge laid out before them from which to choose.

Step 9: Finding materials

And finally, we come to what you probably came here for in the first place. You have looked at the basics of home education, you have an idea what styles of education might work best for your family and you know what you want to cover, for now, anyway. Now, we'll need to get a good feel for how to find ideas for materials. The materials you'll need will be heavily based on the homeschooling style you’ve chosen; you’ll have some ideas on the back of your index cards.

I'm not an expert on any method of homeschool, and I don't have a clue about how some of the most popular methods work, so I will choose two or three methods to show how finding and choosing materials might work, and you can work from here to figure out how to do it your way.

My first suggestion is to visit the library with your list and see what books, videos, and other resources you may be able to find there. Next use a search engine to create searches for resources. A search on Amazon can give you a list of books and sometimes videos on a topic with reviews, so that you can search out specific books on your topic of choice.

Since we’re using a literary approach, I find free materials all over the web, at Project Gutenberg, for instance, and The Baldwin Project. I also use book lists from ForRealLearning, Ambleside, Tanglewood, and Mater Amablis.

If I were following the World Book Typical Course of Study for the second grade, and I want to find ways to teach Holidays and festivals, I can do a search on "Holidays and festivals homeschool" which brings me to this, this, and this. A book search on Amazon gives us these ideas

If I am following Core Knowledge for the fifth grade and I want to find ways to teach "Classifying Living Things", I can do a search on "Classifying Living Things homeschool science" and find this, this, this, and this. A book search on Amazon gives us these ideas.

One really, really major suggestion: find other parents who are using the methods you prefer and share ideas! Check Yahoo and Google groups as well as forums associated with your favorite methods and styles of education.

Some of my favorite resources are: The Secular Homeschool Forum, the Secular Homeschoolers Yahoo group, the Secular Charlotte Mason Forum, and the Secular Charlotte Mason Yahoo Group.

Originally published at Life at Chez Smiffy

©2010 Misti Anslin Delaney-Smith