Saturday, 2 June 2012

Tips on building a home education or homeschool curriculum

 When we first decided to teach our son at home I was very worried about purchasing the correct curriculum. I desperately wished I had the financial resources to purchase a ready made curriculum, but the prices were far beyond our budget - and looking through I couldn't find any that I did not feel I would have to add quite a bit to as well. I spoke to a local headmaster, teachers and the local school board, and asked every parent I knew about what subjects their child was studying in school. I spent hours studying the Northern Ireland curriculum and trying to work out how I could best match what was being taught in schools. Looking back now, I recognise a lot of this was based simply on worries that I would fail to deliver an adequate education to my son. If nothing else, getting a realistic picture of what children were actually learning eased my mind quite a bit. I quickly realised that no matter what we did - I would be able to provide my son a superior education to the local primary schools. But even this really was not enough. Like most parents I want better for my children, but I ended up turning a very simple process into something very complicated.

 Designing a curriculum is easy -  so much easier than I could have imagined at first. But while getting an idea what local schools are working on,and studying the National Curriculum, wherever you might live are useful - a home school curriculum at it's best is not really founded on either of these. They are valid considerations yes, but a National Curriculum is designed ( hopefully) to best suit a theoretical average child, and to be delivered in mass by a limited number of adults to a large number of students. As a more confident home educator - I know longer have any desire to duplicate the mass produced education of National Curriculum. Just as I would hope a meal I prepare just for my own children is superior to mass produced school lunch - a curriculum I prepare for my own children will be more individualised and suited to their individual tastes and needs. And just as I do not always serve both children the exact same foods - there will be times when educational content will vary for the two boys as well.

 We started out by carefully assessing what we expected my son to learn. Compulsory Education in Northern Ireland begins at age 4, but even at a very young age a child can offer some input into what they would like to learn. At age 4 my son chose for his first project to turn a child's book into a home made video. He later chose projects like space, airplanes and dinosaurs. At age 7, he is back to the movie making and has asked to start making stop motion videos. The older the child, the more say they can have in what to learn, and with a teen, they very likely have clear ideas of which career path they hope to follow, so that would be my main consideration.

 But I don't believe I can leave a child's education completely to children's whims, so I also had core topics that were very important to me. The obvious were that he would learn to read, write,  and do maths at an age appropriate level or above. Science was important, but I am more concerned that he learn how to look at aproblem from a scientific perspective and find an answer than memorise a few facts. Science is a very hands on subject in our house. I also feel knowledge of the bible is essential for a well wounded education, as well as certain classic stories and myths. We live in Northern Ireland. This means our country shares two different and unique traditions. I decided at the beginning my sons would learn about both, as well as a view of history designed to encourage both patriotism and compassion and respect for others. Once we knew what we wanted to learn, it was simply matter of clicking onto Amazon and finding the books, as well choosing a few pieces of software, and a subscription to Jumpstart / Mathblaster online.

 Each family will have different goals, but the first step to creating a curriculum is to clearly define those goals. Think about what your child needs to learn for each age level and what they want to learn.  It can be tempting to go overboard and buy everything at once. I do buy a great deal in advance , but only if I can get a great deal on it. If you find a book, science kit or other educational material at a real bargain price, such as at a boot sale, or clearance sale, by all means pick it up. Some items you know will come in useful, but if I can pick up any decent book at 10 - 20 p I'll buy it in the hope it becomes useful later. But if paying full price, limit yourself to the basic core curriculum items you must have - and those items you will use in the next term. Too often I found I bought material, only to find another method that better suited my son by the time he was ready to use it. I also find children read so much better when they are reading books they really like. So choosing too many in advance can be a problem as their tastes and intersts change as they grow. Last year, I would nevr have expected my son to develop an interest in James Bond or Superheroes, but at the moment his favourite reading materials are graphic novels with spies and superheroes. Who knows what next year will bring?

 If you feel you need a bit more structure in planning a  curriculum, I would recommend this book:

 It is very American, and some resources will not be available in the UK or Ireland, but it will give you a very good idea of what subjects will provide a well rounded education for each age, and many books and resources to help achieve it. The biggest drawback will be that all the history resources will be American, but Britain no longer really has history as a subject for young children, and it is easy enough to choose your material in this area.

If you need to just relax and see what can be done with very little prepared materials, try this book:

 Don't forget to consider all the resources you already own as well. You won't be reading this unless you have a computer. You most likely have all sorts of mixing and measuring devices in your kitchen. Hopefully you have a collection of books already as well.  Most families keep art supplies, and most home educating families keep science supplies. I would strongly suggest plastic boxes to save thing that might be useful later. We keep a couple of art boxes with various art supplies, a science box, a chemistry box, a magnets box, a music box and so on. If I have a few left over bits after using a science kit - extra vials, funnels or magnifying glasses - into the box they go. A number of things intended for other purposes have found their way into the boxes. KFC gravy cups for paint pots - Chinese take away containers for all sorts of things, an old medicine dropper,  a magnet from a car engine, even a broken tablet pc to look at circuit boards.

 My next post will be the items I consider essential for home education followed by resources for each subject area, and in later posts I will be blogging about specific products we couldn't live without - and a few we wish we had done without! I'll also be agthering together the very best of the free resources we have found online.

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