Oh, man. This is a can of worms if there ever was one. Curriculum. The possibilities are endless and overwhelming. There are full secular curriculum, there are Catholic Curriculum, and there are as many Protestant choices as there are denominations. You can fully enroll, partially enroll, or piece your own curriculum together book-by-book. If you attend a book fair, your head will spin and you can spend a small fortune for the education of one child for one year. But, don’t run away. You can do this. First, know that the wheel has already been invented.
Find a local support group and attend one of the gatherings. Talk with the other parents and find one or two that you connect with and ask them what they use. Overall, homeschoolers love to share their experiences with what works and what doesn’t. Tap into this knowledge and use it to your full advantage. Our homeschool support group, CATH (Catholics Teaching at Home), has an information night each year for this purpose. We also have our own library that allows parents to check out resources and save money on books, both for information and for curricula use. I know several families that have opened their homes for shadowing as well. Prospective parents spend the day with a homeschooling family to see how that family does it. I have opened my home for parents to peruse my books and ask questions about various curruiculum or subjects. Our support group also has a private yahoo group where parents can toss questions out to an individual or the group to get feedback. Be prepared before doing this though because you may end up with more questions than when you started. Finally, the Catholic Homeschool Conventions tend to be smaller and much less overwhelming. The Immaculate Heart of Mary Conference is a national conference. Look here for a location near you.
Personally, I have used several methods and tried a variety of books and products. I have never done it the same way two years in a row. Each year I take into consideration the life events for our family, the individual children’s needs and ages, and my own ability to handle the aforementioned. I have come to learn that the elementary years are not so critical for forming the kids academically as they are for forming character and foundation. These years should be focused on fun and bonding and character building and less on book-work achievement. It has taken me fourteen years to learn this, so please take it to heart and enjoy this precious, short-lived time with your youngsters. Don’t be a workbook Nazi. Ha ha. This is a reference to a speaker at one of the first homeschool conventions that I attended. My friend, Karen and I slipped into his talk and saw so much of ourselves in what he had to say that we were rolling with laughter and grabbing our sides from the pain. He talked about being a “workbook Nazi” standing guard over the students to make sure they completed every assignment, making threats of withholding lunch, or play, or whatever would entice the child to finish his work. It was not fun for the parent, not fun for the child, and very questionable as to how much learning was really being accomplished. I want my children to love learning as much as I do and it is very easy getting sucked into the role of guard, instead of guide.
I devoured books about Charlotte Mason, Maria Montessori, and by Mary Kay Clark and Laura Berquist. I tend towards the Classical Method of education because I feel that it addresses the whole child in the best possible way. But, when push comes to shove and you have three students, three toddlers and a baby due, Classical isn’t always possible or feasible. So, for the years where I was stretched thin, I have found traditional education with mostly independent studies the best fit for the fam. This is spelled SETON. You cannot beat it for giving your child a beautiful, Catholic education for the best value and quality. It is a great fit for large families, but does come with its own drawbacks. It is very easy to become the Workbook Nazi that I mentioned before. It is also more of a challenge for me to be flexible. Their books and lesson plans are so well laid out that straying from the plan leaves me feeling that my kids will be missing something important if we skip a lesson or omit an assignment. This may just be a personal OCD thing on my behalf, but it is there. Also, I have a daughter with mild dyslexia. I felt that when she was using Seton, she just memorized to pass the test and spit back the information, and wasn’t truly learning and internalizing the material. Lastly, Seton charges by the student and all books are included in the fees, as well as counseling and record keeping. I believe they give discounts for large families, but you would need to double check me on that.
We enrolled in Mother of Divine Grace (MODG) two years ago when my second daughter reached high school age. I started out writing my own lesson plans and doing my own record keeping, but by the mid-semester break I felt like my daughter was drifting away. I couldn’t keep up with grading, I wasn’t sure about what she was actually learning and didn’t feel like I had a good grip on her education. I prayed for direction and sought my husband’s counsel. We decided to enroll her with MODG beginning in January following the break. Because they have their own standards, many of the credits that Allison had earned in that first semester didn’t transfer and we had to begin from square one. Allison was a real champ about it and never complained once that she had to start her freshman year all over. MODG assigns consultants to each family and charges a flat fee per family for enrollment. The advantage here is that we continue to work with the same person and form a relationship between consultant and family. My consultant learned of our unique circumstance and went to bat for us to get it all worked out. She made adjustments to Allison’s lesson plans to help ease the transition and to work through it at a faster rate. We were not able to sign up for Learning Services, which are the on-line live classes offered through MODG; but we were able to get Teaching Assistance, which included private telephone consultation with a teacher and grading for those subjects. This really took the pressure off of me and gave me back the confidence that Allison was not missing out on critical learning in her high school career.
Due to the fact that enrollment with MODG includes the whole family, I decided to enroll all of my students for this current year. I ended up changing out many of the curriculum with book choices that I already owned or preferred , resulting in the re-writing of most of the lesson plans. Since I have a firm foundation and years of experience, I did not feel like I benefitted from enrolling my younger students and will just do my own lesson plans again for next year. I will use my time with the MODG consultant to focus on Allison. I don’t give the cost of Learning Services and Teaching Assistance a second thought. Allison is a visual learner and the on-line live courses have helped her to master the material much more easily and have the added bonus of keeping her on schedule; in addition to no grading for me (whoo hoo!).
I really enjoy writing my own lesson plans, which I intend to discuss in detail with you in a future post. But, since we are discussing curriculum, here are some of my favorite picks for books for my younger students by grade and subject:
Math: Horizon’s workbooks through grade 4; Abeka Mathmatics for gifted mathematicians; Saxon Math grades 5 through highschool. I especially encourage using a live on-line class like Homeschool Connections for upper math courses, or at a minimum purchase the D.I.V.E. cd’s for added instruction.
Spelling: AVKO’s Sequential Spelling DVD’s especially if your child is not a strong speller. This teaches spelling patterns and helps the brain to recognize the patterns. This is suitable for all grades, but each student should begin with the first book and work through in order from there.
Teaching your Child to Read: Hands down I recommend “Teaching Reading and Writitng from Square One” by Don McCabe founder of AVKO. It is a free ebook when you become an AVKO member. It just makes sense to me and was simple to teach and use. You can begin to use this whenever you sense that your child is ready to read. I had a four year old learn to read when I used it to teach his older siblings and I intend to use it next year with my four and six year old. I will not be surprised if my spry three year old picks up on it just by being in the room with us.
Phonics: Explode the Code series are our favorite. The kids devour the workbooks and finish them way ahead of schedule. You begin with books A,B and C at the preschool or kinder level and go up from there. There are two books for each level : books 1 and 1 ½; 2 and 2 ½ etc.
Language Arts: I enjoy using the Total Language Plus program for one of the years in each child’s elementary career. The workbooks are pricey, but can be reproduced for use within the same family; or you can have your child write his/her answers in a spiral notebook in order to reuse for the next child. They do a good job of assigning grade levels beginning from grade 3.
Art: Artistic Pursuits. It is pricey, but it truly teaches art appreciation along with hands-on projects to compliment each piece of art. I have the full set now, but you could purchase one book from each level and it would stretch out over several school seasons. Unless, you are that amazing mom that fits art in on a weekly basis and doesn’t mind the overhead. I would enjoy meeting you—if you really exist 😉
Religion: I adore MODG elementary lesson plans with a combination of Catechism memorization; Bible history and retelling and learning about various saints. I also like the Seton Religion workbooks, attending daily Mass as often as possible, and adding in devotions like the Divine Mercy Chaplet or the Rosary depending on the day and liturgical calendar. Living your faith out loud is the best teacher.
My final advice is to pick something and just go with it. Don’t get stuck in the decision making process. If it doesn’t work for one child, set it aside for another, or sell it or pass it along. Each child is different and will probably need the lesson plan tweaked to fit his/her needs. Look for used books to borrow or buy at a discount and don’t get sucked into the curriculum with lots of bells and whistles. It is easy to add activities as you go and often much less expensive. The internet is an incredible source for free or inexpensive material as well. Check out CatholicIcing.com for amazing and unlimited ideas for teaching the faith. My lists are nowhere near complete or all inclusive. I just found some items that worked for me, so I stuck with them and didn’t look back. I’m afraid of getting sucked into that land of overwhelming choices again. I’ve been there, spent too much money and have the books to prove it.