Monday, July 2, 2012

A House of Order, Part 1: Mapping out your curriculum

By Melanie Skelton
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I start feeling like chaos rules in my home. Between the laundry, dinner and home schooling, we carry a heavy load as home educators. The process of learning to put it all in order, so that both home and school run more efficiently, is ongoing. This article is part one, of a four part series, where I will focus on different aspects of how we can help home and school become less chaotic and frustrating.

Consider the plans you make when preparing for a vacation. Do you map out the places you intend to visit or just jump in the car and hope it all turns out?

When you are on vacation you'll get more out of it, if you have a basic plan. It is most helpful to know where you are, where you are going, where you intend to eat and sleep along the way, and any sites you want to be sure to see. It is possible that you will find out about something along the way that will sidetrack you...and this is alright. Flexibility will allow you to enjoy your trip and get the most you can out of it. But if you travel with no plan at all there is no guarantee you will end up anywhere that matters. Although the cornfields in Iowa are something to experience, you may want to see more on you journey.

The same applies to your home school journey. Although you may want to keep your curriculum flexible so you have time for side trips when the desire strikes, having a basic plan will help your children benefit more from the journey.
The following steps will help you to plan out this journey more effectively.

Understand where you are. How does your child learn best? Are they an auditory learner, a visual learner or a learner who needs to touch it and do it to learn it best? Understanding this can make all the difference in how you approach learning with your child. Learn to understand the factors that influence learning in your home. Understanding your own personality and those of your children can also be helpful in defining how you will approach learning. It is also critical that you understand the level at which your child is learning. If you assign work to an eight year old that requires them to analyze they may struggle. However, at this age they are very capable of absorbing information. Don’t be frustrated if you cannot figure this out all in one shot. Find books that teach these things, and study how your children learn. This will be an ongoing process that will help you adjust your curriculum as you see the need.
Understand where you want to be going. Consider why you have chosen to teach your children at home and what you want to accomplish overall. Write this down and go back to it when you feel like throwing in the towel.
Define the subjects you plan to study in the upcoming year. Do you want to focus on life sciences or learn about the earth? Will you study ancient history or the Renaissance? Once you have made some general decisions in each subject it will be easier to narrow it down into specifics. For instance, we will be studying life sciences this year. I’ve divided that into three segments: the study of animals, human body and plants. It makes the most sense that we study plants in the spring when we naturally start working out in the garden and go on nature walks. We will do much of this learning outside. We will study animals the first part of the year and have purchased a zoo pass so that we can incorporate several trips to the zoo into this study. I will outline what I think we should learn about animals and then allow for some exploration in our study. We will use the library extensively in finding material for this study. We will learn about taxonomy and pull out field guides that will help us learn how to categorize the animals we see and learn about.

Understand the interests of your children. Sit down and have a brainstorming session with them. This doesn’t mean you will cover every idea they throw out. If your children are like mine, they will throw some ideas out that are very general and others that are so off-the-wall that there is no way I’m really going to spend energy on doing much with it. But you may tune into some things they would like to learn about. If you incorporate topics that interest your children into your plan they will be excited with you.
Schedule a Planning Session. Once you have an idea of where you are and what your destination is, set aside a time to put it all down on paper somehow. This can be as detailed or general as is comfortable for you. Map out the year with a plan of what you will be covering each month. Remember that December will get busy and in the spring you will probably want to go outside. You can choose to make notes of the resources you will use or know that when you get to that subject you will pile the kids in the car and head to the library. I’ve done it both ways.

Some subjects will require less planning than others. In the past I’ve mapped out what math assignments each child will do each week, and I don’t recommend it. We use Math-U-See and I expect them to do an assignment every day. However, if a particular child is struggling with a concept I want them to have the time to slow down long enough to understand what they are learning. On the other hand if they are ready to move on to another lesson, we will skip ahead.

Remember that life is part of school. If you are canning, get your children involved. If you are building new shelves, your children can learn great things from helping. If you are going somewhere, there are always museums and other learning opportunities along the way. Let a child be in charge of meal planning and preparation once a week. If they are younger, they will need more help. There is much to learn in the kitchen. Remember to incorporate the things that are part of life into your school plan.
Plan for side trips. Keeping your plan a bit flexible will make it possible for you to pause and learn about a current event or the strange bird that chooses to make your carport home for the winter.

Enjoy the journey. Planning a curriculum that meets your needs will make your year more enjoyable. When you need to simplify, do it. When you or your children are excited about something, pursue it. If you want to experiment with lapbooks or unit studies, you can. Remember to enjoy this time with your children and make the journey all you want it to be.

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