We are definitely novices with the whole homeschooling thing, but we have to make our best educated guess on what will work for our family and begin the process of purchasing and planning curriculum. Our local homeschool resource organization recommends that if your children are withdrawing from public school that you purchase your curriculum before you send your letter of intent to homeschool to the principal. Although homeschooling is protected by our state constitution in Oklahoma, schools can send the county Department of Human Services out to check up on families if they have concerns. I don't see any reason why the school would have concerns about us--in fact, they are probably happy to see us on our merry little way. We have always been, ahem, strong advocates for our children. Nevertheless, I want to be prepared for any possibility, so we have already purchased all of our curriculum for next year.
I have done a LOT of reading over the past few years on home education. (We librarians tend do do that with a large dose of overkill.) I can see benefits and drawbacks to all methods including Waldorf, Classical, Traditional, Unschooling, Relaxed, Charlotte Mason, etc.; however, I feel most drawn to a laid-back classical approach. My children love to read and love anything with a narrative. Many of the classical resources are based upon stories so it seems natural to use them. My children are also very artsy and active (labeled by the school system as ADD) and often choose in their non-school hours to knit, build models, paint and work with their hands. Many of the resources I have chosen cater to their natural tendencies to engage in creative, kinesthetic activities.
Although classical education emphasizes "academic rigor", including in some cases sitting for long periods of time doing tasks such as diagramming sentences, I have chosen resources, especially those for language arts, that are what I call "efficient". What I mean by efficient is that they thoroughly cover important topics without a lot of needless length or repetition. Since my husband and I will both be working opposite schedules and sharing homeschooling responsibilities, I feel that efficient curricula is important for our family right now. We will emphasize mastery over completion so we will stretch any topics that need additional practice over multiple lessons, possibly extending our home educating beyond the traditional school year.
Every seasoned homeschooler I speak with has emphasized that not everything we plan on will work and the worst mistake that we can make is to continue to use a resource that is not a good fit for our children. I am well aware that we will have to adjust things along the way, but here is what we are starting with:
Classical Conversations is what I would describe as a coop. They describe themselves better than I could, so I have included a link to their website. My 9 year old (going into 4th grade) and my 12 year old (going into 7th grade) will be attending their Foundations class in the morning. Here, they will work on memorizing certain history facts, bible verses, math facts, Latin basics, and grammar rules. They will also have opportunities to speak in front of a group, learn to play the tin whistle, learn about geography, do science experiments, and create art projects. We will supplement our CC experience with curricula of our own choosing, but I like having a "skeleton" on which to build upon. I also like the social aspect of seeing the same families every week and interacting with them.
My daughter will be using Math-U-See's Delta curriculum and my son will be using their Beta curriculum. Math-U-See appealed to me because their techniques are largely based upon using manipulatives and real-world problems. I have noticed that not only do my children prefer to use objects such as counters to solve math problems, my husband and I both tend to teach them with visuals such as drawings or manipulatives. I'm hoping this method will help my daughter to get caught up in math, the one subject in which she is terribly behind. She has trouble thinking abstractly about math, so I'm hopeful that something more concrete will help. After she understands the concepts concretely, we can hopefully move her on to more abstract and complex problems. I also like that this curriculum comes with a DVD lesson that we can watch together with the children.
My children, unfortunately, haven't memorized all of their basic multiplication tables. They are usually so burned out after a full day of public school that it is difficult to work with them after school on skills they are needing additional reinforcement to master. They do understand the basic concept of multiplication, but can't recall solutions with automaticity. That makes completing math homework a very slow and tedious process. Over the summer, we will be using Classical Conversation's memory work CDs to work on multiplication facts. These are set to music, which always helps me with rote memorization, so hopefully this will have a similar effect on my kids.
I am in love with the Story of the World series and have listened to it on CD with my children (and a few times without) for pleasure. There are 4 books--one on ancient history, one on medieval history, one on early modern history, and one on the modern age. They are written in a narrative/story form rather than a textbook form and focus on the personalities of famous people throughout history. Some of it is written from the perspective of a hypothetical common, average person as well. Classical education is usually taught in 3 year cycles. The first year focuses on ancient history, the second on medieval history, and the third on modern and American history. Luckily, we joined CC on a year that will teach ancient history, so we will begin at the beginning. We will be keeping a history timeline as well.
Along with the basic Story of the World: Ancient Times volume, we have purchased the activity book and I am so excited with the activities in the book. My children love art, science experiments, and other hands-on experiences so this is the one curriculum source I am sure they will respond to. One of the first projects, when studying ancient Egypt, is to taxidermy a chicken--not a live chicken (although we have a few of those around), but a grocery store whole chicken. I hope I get to be the one involved with that one.
Apologia is a Christan-based science program, but it looks to be pretty scientific for the most part. I haven't seen the biology program yet, and I have some concerns that we might have to look for alternatives the year we do biology. We are not strict creationists or evolutionists; instead, we take a more "God as creative force acting through evolution" view. My husband probably leans more towards creationism whereas I see no conflict between scientific fact as we currently understand it and religion. We openly discuss our differences in opinion, so our children are exposed to debate (and a whole lot of hot air) fairly often.
Apologia incorporates a lot of drawing, model building, and experiments, which is great for active/ADD children like mine. It also has great graphic organizers and note-taking strategies incorporated into the student book, which will be great for any of our children who are college bound. We purchased both the text book and the student book. Both are necessary to really use this curriculum. We are studying botany this year.
My daughter will be using the Institute for Excellence in Writing materials for language arts as part of the Essentials program with Classical Conversations. I peeked at the book last week when it arrived and it looks to be very sequential and broken into small segments. Since my children (typical of ADD-type children) are often overwhelmed by a whole project such as writing a paper, I am curious to see how a more stair-stepped approach works for them. This was not one of my more well-researched purchases since it is part of the Classical Conversations resources, so we shall see how it works out. I plan to look through it more in-depth next week.
I was all set to purchase a different language arts curriculum for my son when I ran across Common Sense Press' Learning Language Arts Through Literature series at our local homeschool convention. I really liked what I saw, so I purchased their Orange Book for my 4th grader. The 4th grade Orange Book consists of 4 literature studies (The Boxcar Children, The Sign of the Beaver, and biographies of the Wright brothers and Benjamin Franklin), a research project, a journaling unit, a poetry unit, a newspaper writing unit, and a book-making unit. Like the resources from the Institute for Excellence in Writing, the units (especially the research project) are broken into small steps that culminate as part of a larger whole. This curriculum does not have specific spelling words to study, but does have suggested words. We will be taking his spelling words from misspelled words in his writing and using a computer-based program for spelling practice. In my opinion, the teacher's manual is not necessary (I purchased it at the convention) and the student book is an adequate stand-along resource.
So the above covers 2 of my 3 children. We are still undecided what to do with our 15 year old son. He is old enough to have a choice in the matter and is considering several options, but that is a story for another day . . .