Saturday, October 08, 2005

Homeschooling Curriculum - Different Children, Different Learning Styles, Different Seasons!

One of our goals in homeschooling was to get away from rigid systems and constraining schedules. But all the same, most homeschoolers find that some organization - a curriculum and a daily schedule for following it - is necessary for effective homeschooling. This doesn't mean that the homeschool curriculum or schedule gets followed to the minute or religiously.

In fact, the selection of a curriculum and a schedule might be the epitome of a rule that is being made to be broken. But having a curriculum and schedule are the right starting points. The challenge is that most parents find that picking curriculum is not a one-time event, it's an ongoing process....

The Challenges of Selecting a Homeschool Curriculum

The first challenge in selecting the curriculum for a starting point is finding one that meets the needs of each child. Many families find that what fits one child, may not fit another.

The second challenge you will encounter is that each child has different needs: many children have different needs in different subjects. A child might find one curriculum works great for them in language arts but doesn't serve them at all well in math.

And it gets worse still as you will probably also find that what worked well one semester, may feel stale and stop working the next.

What most families discover is that their children's educational needs cannot be met by a single program or medium. In addition to the basic language arts and math skills, young children need (just to name a few) writing and drawing to develop fine motor skills, playtime with manipulatives, art activities with arts and craft, and speech development. While some parents manage this need for a broad approach well, other parents seem less adept at understanding and responding to their children's diverse needs and cycles as they move pass elementary and middle school.

Children have different learning styles. And while this is well understood, its more subtle for parents to recognize that the same child's needs might be different in language arts than in math. One curriculum might be great for them in one subject but be ineffective in another.

Guidelines in Picking a Homeschool Schedule or Curriculum

Most homeschool families start by structuring their days around a predictable schedule of diverse activities. By shifting from computer-based lessons to discussion, or from paper and pencil exercises to art projects, children stay engaged and benefit from different teaching methods. Variety helps keep children motivated and attentive throughout the day. Homeschool families greatly differ on whether the schedule should be primarily driven by their children's individual natures (arguably, more of an unschooling approach), whether the schedule should be followed strictly, or whether the schedule is the proverbial set of "rules that were made to be broken". has witnessed this trend and these variations through its homeschooling members. We find the following to be useful rules for success.

1. Build diversity into the daily and weekly schedule. As one mom put, "My kids love me and like listening to me....for limited amounts of time. They do NOT want to listen to my voice for hours and hours each day". This same is true for worksheets, textbooks, group exercises, and computer time. Children like to switch from one activity to another. Plan for each day to involve a broad range of types of exercises.

2. Expect each approach to learning to go through a life-cycle. Each new approach should feel exciting and challenging. After a few months, it feels comfortable and eventually, it will feel old and stale. While this does not mean that you should necessarily change and churn constantly, it does mean that you can get a lift by integrating new programs. You can also put away an approach for a few months and then bring it out again later when it'll feel new again. Planning these changes in advance often helps children get the most out of a program. For instance. Time4Learning has families that use us only in the fall and spring but not in the winter or summer. Remember, as much your kids might like playing soccer in the fall, at the end of the season they happily hang up their cleats and shift to basketball with new enthusiasm.

3. Avoid Expensive Comprehensive Inflexible Curriculum - It seems that alot of homeschool parents pull their children from school and then sign up for an expensive system for homeschooling. Over the first month (the trial period), its an exciting time as the parents and children experience their new-found freedom. Then, around month three, the curriculum's shortcomings or inappropriateness or just over-use becomes apparent and the curriculum falls into disuse. There are used curriculums to start with and vendors should offer low cost cancel-at any time solutions. For instance, Time4Learning at $19.95/month, cancel anytime, allows parents to use it for a semester. Stop for a semester. Then start again.

4. Follow a well thought-out curriculum. Teaching most skills has a sequence. For instance, without the prereading skills in place, children will not succeed at phonics. Specifically, if a child does not understand that words are made out of sounds which are like interchangable parts so that changing the "C" sound in "CAT" to an "H" sound makes "HAT", the teaching of phonics will make no sense to them. The Reading Skills Pyramid is a good illustration to parents of how skills should be sequenced. A common mistake with parents in teaching math is taking too narrow an approach. Parents frequently think of a math education being just arithmetic as in learning the numbers and operations (addition, subtraction etc). A solid math education needs to cover all the math areas from the earliest age. Spatial reasoning is vital so children need geometry from an early age. Pre-algebra skills were at the heart of the New Math revolution of the 60s for good reasons. Children need to be able to reason by thinking in terms of sets and variables. This is the rationale behind the pattern games (red fish, blue fish, red fish, now what?) and the sets ("Which of these objects does not belong?"). Estimation, measurement, and data analysis. pitch that we cover all strands in a fun way.

Example of a Homeschool Schedule

There is no single, best homeschool curriculum. Parents should focus both on selecting a curriculum and on creating a diversity of activities. Children need a mix and match of activities to hold their attention, especially at the younger ages. Each learning style and method should be applied to exercises, making sure that a child isn't forced to sit through a particular activity for more than an hour. For instance, a morning schedule (for an eight year old) might include:

8-8:30 Opening & Plan for Day (Group Discussion)
8:30-9:00 Online Math Lessons & Learning Games (Self/Computer Work)
9:15-9:45 Writing Worksheets (Self Writing Exercises)
10-10:30 Reading & Comprehension (Self Reading/Group Discussion) Break
11:00-11:45 Online Language Arts (Self/Computer Work)

This homeschool schedule offers a diversity of activities shifting from group to computer, from paper and pencil to reading, from discussion to computer. Any one homeschool activity will not hold a child's attention that long, but through diversity, the child's day is planned to keep them engaged in the homeschool curricula that's being presented

The Time4Learning language
arts, math, science, and social studies program can serve as the core or supplementary curriculum for children, Preschool to eighth grade.. Learn more about how Time4Learning's online program can help
your children's education. Time4Learning is built around adopting the award-winning CompassLearning Odyssey for home use.

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