What “curriculum” means

Perhaps the biggest mistake homeschooling moms make as a whole is overcomplicating things. After all, curriculum is not something you buy. It is far too robust to be purchased online or checked off on a set of lesson plans. It is a set of encounters that form the soul and shape the intellect.

— from Teaching from Rest by Sarah Mackenzie (2015), pg 25

I could say I don’t have one curriculum this year because I am mixing and matching things rather than using Ambleside Online. However, according to Mrs. Mackenzie, my curriculum is not the collection of teacher’s guides, math workbooks, and online lessons. It is the “form and content of our children’s learning experiences” (22). It includes the library picture book about Olivia the pig going to Venice, Italy. It includes the enthusiasm for the animal world they pick up from the Kratt brothers on Wild Kratts. It is also the experience of riding home from the evening church service with the window open, noticing the smells of bonfires, marshes, humidity, night air, manure. And, of course, it is the habit of listening to Mom as she reads on and on, enjoying the rhythm of Song of Hiawatha, even though it is probably at a higher grade level than is appropriate for them.

My note to self: don’t overcomplicate things. They are learning, even when I think we’re not getting in the school hours I promise the government I’m going to keep.

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Homeschooling Right and Wrong List

This year’s math workbooks are officially recycled (it’s becoming quite a happy tradition in our house), and I have this need to list some things about this homeschool year that I might have done right and things I still need to work on.

Right: I switched from Ambleside Online to Five in a Row for my youngest daughter, and changed her attitude from “I hate school” to “let’s do school!”

I decided to read from Exodus and Luke for Bible class, having the kids tell the passage back to me. No curriculum, no fuss, just the Bible and us.

I did not force my oldest two to continue Spelling-You-See when we finished their workbooks mid-year. I like the curriculum, but they were burned out. So we did some free Bible spelling sheets from Garden of Praise. That went well.

I gave my son a geography workbook. Common core approved (and I’m anti-common core). It’s basically what I would call busy work. He loved it and does it on his own time. He has plans to finish it this summer.

We did plenty of art projects, some inspired by our own ideas and some following the directions of our lovely art instruction video series, Home Art Studio.

I persevered with out-loud readings (at least three a week). My middle daughter has improved her reading big-time since the beginning of the year. My youngest has also improved and is at a more advanced stage than her sister was last year at this time.

We read tons of books this year, and we enjoyed them. I read the entire Little House series out loud for the second time (upon request) and now we are in the middle of the Anne of Green Gables series. I read Robin Hood for the second time. I read Where the Red Fern Grows. And more. Lots more. We love stories.

Wow, this is really encouraging. But now I’m going to start the Wrong list, not to discourage, but to clarify what I need to do better next year.

Wrong: I frequently got too frustrated with my middle daughter’s inability to subtract. It’s not that she can’t subtract; she simply gets overwhelmed by all those numbers on the page. Patience, patience. If I stand next to her and guide her through the problems, she can handle it.

I’d like to have a more exact start time for school. Flexibility is a beauty of homeschooling, but my mornings seemed so up-in-the-air, and the children flung themselves into playing so I wouldn’t make them start school yet.

I need to combine history (so all three kids study the same thing) and forget about English history for a few years (or forever). Why on earth did I ever think Island Story was a good idea? I never learned that stuff and I was perfectly fine. In fact, I am still unlearned, and I have a hard time discussing it with my son because I don’t know what I’m talking about. Seems like a waste, although my son liked it better than I did.

I trusted Ambleside Online too much, and I got discouraged by the AO leaders who insisted things must be done such-and-such a way. We crammed in too many readings and I tried too hard to force them to narrate every reading. As a result, we didn’t enjoy some things and learned to hate narration. I think I won’t even say the word narration anymore. The N word.

Science. Well, I don’t know if this is wrong or not, but I was pretty lackadaisical toward science. We did it when the Spirit moved me. I should probably be more conscientious about that.

Nature study. We didn’t even try to keep a journal this year, and my youngest daughter missed that. I should be more conscientious about this, too.

That’s all for now. If you have read to the bottom of this post, then I hope it was helpful or interesting. Mostly, it was helpful and interesting for me. Sometimes I have to write stuff out to understand what I’m thinking.

Praise for Five in a Row

This is the time of year to evaluate our little homeschools. The best thing I’ve done this year: use Five in a Row for my six-year-old daughter. I decided to use Volume 2 since Volume 1 included many picture books we were already familiar with, and Volume 2 only included three or four that we were familiar with. For twenty weeks my daughter and I have delved deep into twenty lovely picture books. I liked them all, she liked them all, and we are both happy to say that we are doing it again next fall! With Volume 3, probably.

Did we learn anything? Sure! Five in a Row acquaints us with history, geography, relationship issues, science topics, art (lots of different things about art, such as cross-hatching and perspective), even math. Plus, we learn a bit about authors and illustrators, how books are made, ideas behind stories, truth and fantasy, research, and writing techniques. That sounds like a lot for a six-year-old, but because it is all done through the medium of a picture book, and because I got to pick and choose the subjects that we discuss each day, and because I get to make it as laid-back and cozy as we like it, then the learning comes naturally. We have loved the little Friday habit we have of standing on a kitchen chair and sticking the story-disk of the week on our world map. Interesting how the stories stack up on the US east coast and the European west coast. I plan on doing a little ceremony next week of taking the story-disks off the map and pasting them on a chart I made of the books (I copied and pasted the book cover images off Amazon).

Is this a costly curriculum? Not at all! I bought the teacher’s manual used. As for the picture books, I already owned three of them, and the rest we checked out of the library. If it wasn’t in the library’s system, I requested an Interlibrary Loan, which the librarians were happy to assist me with. In one case, the librarian even bought the book for the library so I could check it out! She says I have good taste in children’s literature.

I’ve enjoyed having a special curriculum for my youngest daughter, and my other daughter has enjoyed listening to it as well:) Sometimes my nine-year-old son would listen, and definitely he read the library books by himself, but his learning type is very different from my girls, so it goes to show that different people need different curriculum approaches. I am so glad I decided to try out Five in a Row.

Beginning Five In A Row

After fifteen weeks of school, my first-grader went from “I love school” to “School is boring. I’m bad at it.” So I decided Ambleside Online is not really working for her. It wasn’t too hard to decide what to do instead. When all my kids were preschool I used a booklist from the curriculum called Five In A Row. That excellent booklist had been on my mind. I did a little research on Five In A Row, discovered it was a literature-based unit study approach to homeschool, read a very positive review by Diana Waring (who writes homeschool articles I read almost every week), and ordered a fairly inexpensive copy of the Volume 2 teacher manual. It is very flexible. You can choose the order you do things.

I chose to read a book we already owned first. It is Mirette on the High Wire by Emily Arnold McCully. I was a little apprehensive about the repeated readings (read the same book five days in a row) because that is very much NOT something Charlotte Mason would approve of. This style of schooling does feel very different from Ambleside Online. Whereas AO gives a feast of many great things, FIAR feels more like a cozy, intimate family meal. Conversational. Familiar.

It’s too soon to tell is FIAR is going to improve my daughter’s attitude toward learning, but I’m enjoying it even though it’s a little more daily work on my part. After all, this had been my third year of AO Year 1, and I was struggling to keep up the enthusiasm, too. I’m still using AO for my third and second-grader, who respond well to it. I think my second-grader does well to be right in the middle and nosy about everyone else’s business. She benefits from that wide range of learning. I hope we all benefit from adding a new curriculum into the school day.