This is the next post in my Considering Homeschooling? Answering Your Questions series. If you missed Part I, or Part II Intro, you might want to go back and read those before proceeding.
The question I get asked most often by those considering homeschooling is "What curriculum do you recommend?"
This is a question that I find difficult to answer because I am not loyal to any one homeschooling philosophy or curriculum. As mentioned in Part II Intro, I like to build our instructional program by picking and choosing from a variety of resources to allow us room to "do our own thing" should the spirit hit me/us.
Because I have never pitched my philosophical tent firmly in any pedagogical camp or found a curriculum that fits us to a tee, I have a hard time giving advice in this area. I want to say "Curriculum X is great. I highly recommend it. I would start it in K and stay with it through graduation."
However, that has not been my experience and so I cannot make that type of recommendation. What I can do is tell you about the myriad of programs we have tried and what I liked and didn't like about them. For that reason, I really think the best way for me to recommend a curriculum is to tell our homeschooling story and share what has worked and what has not.
Let's start at the very beginning. It is a very good place to start.
I started schooling the boys at age three. I am a believer in early learning but not the rigid, drilling of flash cards, worksheets galore, check-list-of-skills-to-master type of early learning. Until Orville reached 1st grade, we did very relaxed unit studies based on the learning kits we received monthly from Bright Ideas. Don't confuse this with Bright Ideas Press, the publisher of grade school curriculum like The Mystery of History.
Bright Ideas used to offer a membership which, at the time, was very reasonably priced. Each month there was a different theme, like The Farm, and they sent us a quality trade book that fit the topic. The package also included a workbook, an audio cassette, stickers, and a toy/puppet/etc., all of which were theme-based as well. I have searched the world wide web over, however, and cannot find them anywhere. If you know what happened to this fabulous business, please let me know.
I coupled this with two great resources, The Christian Mother Goose and Teaching Language Arts through Nursery Rhymes.
I used the trade book from Bright Ideas as the spine of our thematic unit. One of my favorite units was one based on the book, Am I Big or Little?.
The story is about a little girl who asks her mom if she is big or little. The mom begins to explain that she is big enough to do certain things, like make her bed, but little enough to do others, like snuggle with Mom. Keeping to the concept of Big/Little, I chose Hickory, Dickory Dock as the nursery rhyme.
We made a grandfather clock from boxes covered with wood-print contact paper and read the rhyme (the version from The Christian Mother Goose- this book contains much less morbid and God-honoring versions than the originals). As we said the rhyme, the boys would move a finger puppet mouse along the clock.
I used the workbook from Bright Ideas to make an interactive bulletin board on the back of a small book shelf. I laminated pictures from the work book and attached them to the board, made word labels, and attached them with Velcro. The boys could match words to pictures, or initial consonants to pictures, etc. I made the activities in the workbook hands-on by putting them on the board. I am so sorry that I do not have pictures!
I used the Teaching Language Arts book for other language ideas that matched the rhyme. It also contained some hands-on science and other fun theme-based lessons and snack ideas.
To introduce phonics, I chose an initial consonant that worked with the unit. For the Big/Little unit I chose B for big. I also selected five words that begin with that letter, each one having a different vowel as the second letter. For instance, for B I chose bag, bed, big, body, and bug. These served as the sight words for the week as well as a basis for phonetic instruction.
On Mondays, the boys colored picture representations of each word and learned to read the sight words. I also taught them the initial consonant sound. On Tuesdays, they matched the printed words to the pictures and we chanted the intial consonant and vowel blend- ba, be, bi, bo, bu. On Wednesdays, they continued to match the words and pictures and found more words with the same consonant-vowel blends. On Thursdays, they would read the words in isolation as well as in printed texts. They would also form the words with letter tiles. On Fridays, I assessed them through word play.
For math, sometimes the Bright Ideas workbook included math work that I would incorporate. Mostly, they counted objects that matched the theme. Then I taught them how to add using manipulatives, stressing the concept over the memorized skill. I tried to pick a math skill or two that matched the theme for the month, like telling time and measuring for Hickory Dickory Dock/Am I Big or Little. I considered these supplemental skills and taught them through real world experience and did not stress mastery, merely exposure.
For Bible lessons, we simply read through our children's Bible. I spent 3-4 days on each "story", reading to them on the first day and discussing, allowing them to act out the story on the 2nd day (usually with plush toys as the characters), doing something hands-on the 3rd day (making a poster, model, etc.), and "quizzing" on the 4th day. My quiz was very simple and basically just a discussion of what was learned.
I also read, read, read, and read some more. I let them "read" as much as they wanted and kept books available throughout the house. Making our house print-rich was a priority at that stage of the game. I even used index cards to label household items. I wanted them reading anything and everything possible.
Bright Ideas and Teaching Language Arts through Nursery Rhymes fit us like a glove. My boys were early readers and continue to be strong readers. We had tons of fun, and they gained a LOVE for learning, something I consider of utmost importance for littles. Though not a traditional homeschool curricula, I highly recommend both... if you can find Bright Ideas!
Return soon for the scoop on Singapore Math.
Happy Curriculum Hunting!