Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Homeschool Curriculum Shake-Up

This coming school year, our curriculum is going to undergo a very significant shake-up.
We've been battling for the last few months to define just what it is we hope to accomplish. There are certain things that are non-negotiable, that kids must learn. We call these the 4 R's: reading, writing, 'rithmetic, and religion.
The rest is important, but not on the absolutely-must level.
Thing #1 reading for an
The other main thing that is important to teach to kids, and which is all too often overlooked, is the ability to learn. Kids must learn HOW to learn in order to be successful. As technology, specialties, and sub-fields explode in the "Information Age," people have to know how to learn in order to not only excel, but to simply keep up.
We've found that standard curricula teach "to the test." That is, there is a pre-defined body of knowledge to which the student must adhere. Then, the student is tested on what he retains from said body of knowledge, and moves on to the next body of knowledge. Each subject is taught independently, leading to many tests and quizzes.
Oft referred to as the "Scholastic Approach," Wife and I have been calling this "school (at home)." It leads to an approach in which each subject can be imagined in its own silo. Sure, it's the same farm, but with separation of silos, it is hard to see how all of the ingredients come together.
We don't want school (at home).
We want homeschool.

The Seton homeschool curriculum has been very good to us these past two years. Unfortunately, it's just not fulfilling our vision of what homeschool should be. Seton, while terrific and accredited and all that, is the Scholastic, siloed, school (at home) approach.

Our shake-up has us abandoning the scholastic approach - for the most part.

What we really want is integration. The scholastic approach breaks things into these silos with a subject label. Math is unrelated to science, is unrelated to history, is unrelated to English, is unrelated to reading, and so on.  The retention with this approach, and the constant testing, feels to us like running in a hamster wheel. We go around and around with activity, but don't seem to get as far as we'd like based on how much we do.

So we're trying the unit studies approach.

Unit studies take a singular topic, and expand it to cover all areas of learning. For example, one might do a unit on Ancient Egypt. The art, the history, the geography, the science, the geometrical and astronomical discoveries, the development of hieroglyphics and writing, the comparative religions of the Hebrews vs. the Egyptians, the historical importance, novels on the time period, and so on and so forth are all covered, together. The main driver of learning is real, honest-to-goodness books. Every unit uses topical books (from the library or the bookstore), combined with reference materials, to read and assimilate. Rather than a workbook with blanks to fill out, and a quiz to memorize answers for (then forget), the kiddos have a stack of books and a project to do, demonstrating what they learn.
Build a diorama. Design a brochure using 10 new vocabulary words. Create a map that shows major travels of the Hebrew people. Write a fictional diary for an average Egyptian kid. Learn a song on the piano, and rewrite the lyrics.
Then, "grading" happens not only on the basic use of grammar and language, but also covers how well they learned new topics and showcased this learning in their creative work.

The unit projects replace the test, and incorporate ALL areas of learning.

This was initial vision of homeschool. Instead, we got caught in the school (at home) trap. So we've enlisted the help of a variety of sources to incorporate true homeschooling next year.
Our planned curriculum includes:

Wife and I have our work cut out for us on this, but we believe the results will be worth it. Rather than just flipping through a workbook and moving on to the next one, we'll get the kids truly engaged and immersed in their learning. We'll be teaching them how to think, learn, and critically apply that learning.

And really...isn't that the whole point of school?

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