Wednesday, May 13, 2015

So you've bought the curriculum; what's next?

I am learning slowly that taking time to plan in advance not only what curriculum we will use but how we will use that curriculum is a valuable use of my time before the school year starts.

I have at least one child who is disturbed by any sort of change in routine midway through the school year. So there is pressure to get it right from the start.

I think other home schooling parents must have difficulty tailoring curriculum to their students because I see a lot of curriculum with one or two pages completed or in new condition for sale by other parents.

The other problem of course is that so much curriculum is bought sight unseen from online sources. Being specific in your search for material and critically reading reviews, especially the negative ones, is essential. And still you might end up with curriculum that doesn't quite meet the needs of your school/life or home school.  Being 5000 miles away from curriculum suppliers and libraries, we've had to "make do" with what I bought a few times.  It can be frustrating and painful for parent and child, but life's like that sometimes.

Whether you love the curriculum you bought or you're unhappy with it, here's some suggestions for getting the most out of what you bought:

1.  Find the instructions for the teacher.  Sometimes this is a big text separate from the book you child will use; sometimes this is a few introductory pages.  Read the instructions for the first few lessons.  This will tell you how the author thought you would use the content. This is your chance to be the teacher and decide how you will use the content. Reading the teacher's manual will also help you to know in advance what sort of help is available if you or the student struggles.

One of my children used Saxon math again this year.  "Mr. Saxon" thinks that every problem in every chapter should be completed.  I don't agree.  So my child will complete only a portion of each chapter's questions.  Now in case you think my child is a math whiz kid, let me set you straight.  Making math lessons as painful and as long as possible will not make my child a math whiz kid. There is already fear and loathing when it comes to math, Every question in every chapter will turn math into a battleground and there is no learning when you are under enemy fire. By carefully  choosing which math questions to do, my child has a chance at success. 

This is your chance to change things up and give life to the material.   I love workbooks, oh yes I do.  I love all those neatly completed pages one after the other; but that's me!  I'm not sure that workbooks always are the best way for students to learn information. I still order workbooks, in fact I ordered one from recently and downloaded it.  I used it as a teacher's guide for a set of lessons I did with fractions.  My students completed some of the pages and used the manipulatives included in the text, but they will never see the big fat complete book.  They will only interact with the material as I guide them through it. 

2.  Find the marking guide.  It took me most of three years with Math U See curriculum before I realized that the marking guide was in the back of the teacher's manual.  That's because I skipped step one.  The other reason to find the marking guide is so that your student doesn't succumb to the pressure and use the marking guide as a way  to shorten their study time.  I've had more than one of my blessings use the guide in the back of the book to "check their answers" before they wrote them down. 

If the marking guide is in the teacher's manual you didn't order because it was thick or expensive, now is a good time to change your mind.  The marking guide saves you time and frustration. I bought the teacher's manual for my daughter's grade 10 English course last year and it was an invaluable help not just to me but to her as well.  When she missed the mark with an assignment, I could show her from the teacher's manual the suggested answers.  This made grading simple and improved her comprehension of the material.  This was well worth the extra cost.

3. Now is a good time to choose pretests, midterms and post tests.  I like to use the same math facts quiz (one for addition, subtraction, multiplication and division) three times each year. So I make three copies of the quiz I plan to use at the beginning of the year. If they're in my planning binder, I am much more likely to use them.

4. Review the table of contents.  What will your child be learning and in what order? 

Last year when my son was struggling with his science curriculum, we reordered the units.  He got to do the ones he was looking forward to first!  That way, if for some reason we didn't complete the dreaded curriculum, at least he learned about topics he was interested in.

If there are subjects in the table of contents that you have already covered or want to leave out for some other reason, pick and choose the areas you wish to study.  Don't let the curriculum boss you around.

It's okay to order and use curriculum which does not suit the learning style of your particular student. Gasp!  You can read aloud the passages from a workbook and have your student answer orally.  You can turn science into a series of game show quizzes, complete with a bell to ring.  You can learn perimeter and area using bathroom tiles or a tape measure and area rugs in your house if there is too much workbook in your math program.  Make the curriculum work for you and your student.

Reviewing the table of contents also gives you an opportunity to order additional material from the public library, find a YouTube video or two to watch along the way or even find some internet/app games to play which will help the content be converted into understanding.  If you find and record the information now at the planning stage it can be in your house and ready to use when you need it - even if you have unexpected company, work commitments or the toilet overflows. 

Just a note about games, just because it's "educational" doesn't necessarily mean it's fun to play.  Never buy a game you haven't personally played and enjoyed. Yes, I know from personal experience.  If it is both educational and fun to play, don't assume that your children will understand why it is relevant.  My eldest played DragonBox  and really enjoyed it, but never really understood that it was teaching her how Algebra works.  The activities didn't cross over in her mind.  Don't assume they understand.  Tell them.

5. Now get out a pen and figure out what will be done when.  Get detailed. Write dates on the table of contents, make lists of additional curriculum.  Write assignment due dates on the calendar.  Look carefully now at when big assignments are due.  If the assignment is due the same week as the dance recital, you might want to change the due date now while it's easy.  Midterm exams aren't much fun if you have to do them during the family vacation.  Take your life, your commitments and your lifestyle into consideration when planning.

6. Chores. Now is the time to give thought to what daily, weekly, monthly chores each of your children will be doing.  Early  in my education as a home school parent, I heard a conference speaker say that children should be given work to do as soon as they are physically able to do the task safely.  That means that my children do their own laundry and have since they were about 8. The youngest, who is now 13, needed help last year because he wasn't tall enough to hang his clothes on the line to dry.  This year that isn't a problem, because he's taller than I am.  All our children began in the kitchen as table setters and have graduated to meal makers. The eldest one at home (16)  has been making meals independently for a couple of years.  This year she worked unsupervised in the kitchen and prepared two evening meals each week and worked with her younger brother one day each week.  This year, I worked with the 13 year old and he independently prepared his first complete meals for our family this year. Making the bed, keeping your room tidy (vacuumed and dusted) are all work that even the youngest school age child can accomplish. Get the routines established before you get back to the books.

If you've got questions, or some other ideas about planning for the year to come, please leave a comment. Happy Planning!

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