One of the first challenges all homeschool families face is the choice of curriculums. The homeschool world has changed dramatically over the last few decades. 20 years ago homeschoolers had two basic choices; shop the same publishers as the public and private schools, or use a Christian based curriculum. Today, the options are endless, and the opinions are many. For a new homeschooling family, all of the choices can be overwhelming. A solution that many parents are opting for is developing their own curriculum around the child’s interests. If the task of finding the perfect curriculum has proved fruitless for you, below you will find 6 basic things to consider while developing your own curriculum.
1. Know your child. This means to go beyond knowing their favorite color, cartoon, and dinner. To really get to know who your child is, who they aspire to become, their strengths and weaknesses, their abilities and challenges; a parent MUST spend quality and quantity time with their child. Play with them, read with them, sing and dance with them, explore and discover with them. There are three main areas to have understanding in that are imperative to developing a curriculum around the child. These areas are: the child’s learning style, teaching methods that actually work for them, and of course their interests. Tests and assessments can be helpful to discover these bents of your children, but they are not necessary. You can discover as much, if not more, as the assessments will uncover by spending time with your child. Does she shut down when she sees a page full of numbers? Does she get excited when art supplies are brought out? Does a concept seem to stick when he can get messy with it?
Some parents seem to have photogenic memories when it comes to their children. However, most of us don’t, so a journal comes in handy. As your child grows, develops, and discovers himself; his needs, abilities, and interests will change. A journal can be your place to chart this growth and expansion, and will serve you well when it comes time to reorganize the curriculum. In it, keep notes of resources used and liked, ones that ended up being useless, and ones you would like to purchase if borrowed. Also, keep notes of areas your child struggled in and areas she excelled in.
2. Know yourself. It might not sound like a big deal, but knowing yourself will help you tremendously as you develop a curriculum around your child’s interests. If you tend to be more structured and schedule oriented, but your child is a more spontaneous, off-the-cuff kind of person, adjustments will need to be made on your part in order to serve your child well. If you are developing your own curriculum you will not have the notes, guidelines, and structures afforded in boxed curriculum.
3. Know your state’s educational standards. Even though you plan to structure the curriculum around your child’s interests, you will want to be sure that you are covering the areas their peers are covering in the schools. Most states provide their educational standards on their state’s website. Another source for this information is Education World. The standards are generally organized into subject category, and include benchmarks for each of the four core subjects. Some states include technology, employability, and life skills in their standards for grades as low as second and throughout high school.
4. Be flexible. It will be helpful to create a schedule of what days and times each subject or lesson will be worked on. However, some tasks will take longer than you expect, some will take less. If you don’t allow yourself some flexibility other areas will end up getting neglected, or you will start pushing your child through areas he needs more time with. There will also be the unexpected, those that come up for which you will need to cut into your child’s study time.
Another area of flexibility is within subjects. As you begin organizing the curriculum you will see connections from one subject to another and to life. When working around your child’s interests, sticking strictly to subject matter will hinder progress, and may cause excess tension that is not necessary. A Math assignment could carry over into a History assignment, or an Art project may flow into a Music lesson. To be truly flexible in this area you will have to let your child run off on wild tangents when the mood strikes him. This can be very difficult for a schedule driven parent, but it is not impossible and you will definitely see the rewards for allowing it. Through these tangents, your child will discover new interests and explore his interests in new depths. This makes your job of designing his curriculum much simpler.
5. Connect the dots. Alright, you’ve got a list of your child’s interests, you know what kinds of activities to prepare, you are sure about how you are most comfortable teaching or guiding, and you have a schedule outlined and ready to go. Then what? Visit your local library, and if your child doesn’t already have one get him his very own library card. Explain that you are homeschooling and your child would like to explore some specific topics. Your librarian will either give you a suggested reading list, or take you on a journey around the library to show your child where to find the resources he needs.
Say, for instance, your child loves the outdoors and really cares about animals. If he is reading on his own, or just getting started, you can take him to the fiction section and find a few stories about his favorite animals for reading. Then take him to the non-fiction section and find information on the animals’ habitats and life cycles for Science. For Geography, look for books on the areas the animals live; and maybe the history of the areas. You can even tie in Mathematical concepts with graphs and charts on populations and life expectancies. You may be able to find some craft projects or experiment ideas using the same animals. For a technological connection, have your child explore the animal online. If all of this still doesn’t satisfy your child’s hunger, your librarian maybe able to provide a list of resources you can find in teacher’s and book stores.
6. Remember to keep records of what your child does. Some states require homeschool families to report to the board of education each year. Keeping a list of the resources your child used, projects he worked on, time spent in each area, and field trips taken will help you to prepare these reports. Not all states require homeschoolers to report; however, keeping detailed records will help you prepare transcripts if your child ever needs to enter the school system, or upon graduation for admittance into college. When you’re keeping your records, some classes will blend in with others, make sure you log the information into all subjects explored.
There are many ways you can keep records. A simple three-ringed binder for each child, and tabs for each year. Every day your child works on a subject, enter the time and other information. This isn’t the most efficient way to keep records, but it works for families without other options. You can also find lesson plan books at teacher’s and book stores; I found one once at a dollar store. A lesson plan book doubles as your schedule and record book. There are also several software solutions to homeschool records. Two very popular ones are Homeschool Tracker and Homeschool Solutions.