Saturday, April 01, 2006

More about curriculum

Dear Spunky,

I was just curious what curriculum you have liked the best for teaching your children to read. I have two 7 year olds and they just don't seem to be catching on to "100 Easy Lessons", do you have any suggestions?

Also, if I may ask, what curriculums have you liked the best for your elementary aged children? ~ Becky

As far as reading programs, we used Alpha Phonics with all of our children. I wrote more about teaching children to read in my post, The First R - Reading.

I wrote another post called "What Curriculum Do You Use?" that will give you some idea of my worldview and how I approach curriclum and homeschooling.

But since I get asked frequently what we are or have used, I'll take the plunge and share a little of what we have done. Keep in mind that our "experiment" in homeschooling our children is not complete yet. Since the "fruit" isn't totally ripe, I am not sharing as an expert but as someone who is still learning to do this "radical" thing called homeschooling. So take these suggestions and pray about what God would have you do. He's faithful to guide our steps.

As far as approaches to homeschooling, I favor a Charlotte Mason literature approach to learning. But we have adapted that to fit our families needs and where different children are at.

My personal favorite for elementary has been Five in a Row. I have always enjoyed a good picture book and this curriclum provided many to select from. This curriclum also provided a way to teach many children at different levels in an easy to use format. This along with a good phonics and math program has worked out well for us. In the early years, I felt that my job was to teach children how to learn not just blindy memorizing facts. The joy of learning together was important to me. Five in a Row provided that for us.

Another favorite that is similar to Five in a Row was Lessons from History. It uses the same approach as Five in a Row but instead of a picture book it chronologically goes through history. Each week you learn about an event or person and move further through the timeline. We began in the 1400's and made our way to modern times. I enjoyed that appraoch very much. It gave history a context. The people and events were not just political but also artists, inventors, and musicians. It was a way to cover many subjects using one curriclum. And again many levels could be taught simultaenously. My children enjoyed learning that Michelangelo was painting the Sistine Chapel about the same time that Columbus was sailing the ocean blue. We put paper under a table in the basement, layed on our backs, and painted the ceiling. Memorable but messy.

We then moved into Sonlight for a few years. I liked certain aspects of Sonlight but missed the family approach. Because each year is separated by level, it became difficult to teach US History to one level while trying to teach Church History to another. We continued to use it as best we were able but I was scouting for a possible replacement. With this curriclum it seemed like our family learning was fragmented but I enjoyed the literature selections very much.

I thought I wouldn't find a curriclum similar to Sonlight's literature approach but still teach multiple grades the same time period. Then I found Tapestry of Grace. It has been wonderful for our family. It is literature based with a slant toward the classical approach. The curriculum is designed to teach multiple levels simultaneously. It encompasses reading, literature, history, government, writing, and worldview.

The author, Marcia Somerville is a homeschooling mother of 6. Her last child is about to graduate. So I knew she understood the desire for a challenging curriculum that didn't cause her to lose her mind trying to teach multiple levels. We also shared a similar desire to read quality literature and learn history chronologically. The curriculum provides material to challenge a high schooler. It also provides activities and literature for early learners. My house has both so it works very well. But even if you don't have a high schooler yet beginning with a grammar student and moving forward would still work out nicely.

There are four volumes to Tapestry of Grace divided by historical time periods. Each volume is meant to stand alone. It is best to begin at the beginning. However, we began in Volume 4 -The Twentieth Century. Our oldest daughter felt she weakest in modern history so that's why we started here. It has worked out better than I expected. I have seen the older children read the younger children's books and vice versa. The material at the high school level is challenging and we have adapted it to suit our needs. I have also enjoyed that we can all have a discussion on a topic or person and all of them can contribute what they have learned. Most of the books we have found at our library. That has saved on costs.

The curriclum is designed to repeat all four volumes three times over the course of their 12 years of academic training. First at the grammar level, then the dialectic, then the rhetoric. The literature and discussion gets more in depth at each level building on previous learning. There is also information for use in a coop setting. We didn't particapate in one this year but are seriously considering it next year. The Tapestry of Grace website has been a goldmine of information and an excellent supplement to our learning.

I went into the Tapestry of Grace a little more in depth because Melanie has asked about it as well. In general, I have learned to use any curriculum as a guide not as a task master. We fit academics around our life not our life around academics. The curriclum selections we have used over the years have allowed us to adapt and be flexible as our life circumstances change.

If anyone would like to share their suggestions, I'd love to hear them. I still have one child who's just beginning so any ideas about what's new and what your doing would be appreciated by me and I'm sure others. Let us know what you've found useful.

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