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Elementary Homeschool Curriculum Series

{Just a reminder that on Saturday, August 25th I’m doing a group homeschool coaching session. There is space for a couple more participants. Visit this post to read more and register.}

Two years ago I started a “series” on our elementary homeschool curriculum. I started by talking about math. From there I moved onto the other “academic” subjects - history, science, language arts, etc. The ones people want to know about.

I decided to limit that series to the typical academic subjects since those are the ones people are most interested in.

No ever asks - “how’s it going with your children’s compassion education, outdoor education, etc?” Which is ironic because those non-academic activities and studies are what lay the foundation for interest-driven academics and scholarly study as children grow. Oh well, I understand people want to know how relaxed homeschoolers teach their kids the a, b, c's and x, y, z's.

Once I got started with that series I lost my enthusiasm for finishing it. I had a couple good reasons for this. I was expending my homeschool writing “energies” at Simple Homeschool and our family life took an adventurous turn so other thoughts pressed themselves for publication. We’re still homeschooling, with a lot of figuring it out as we go. I just haven’t written about it much lately.

That’s about to change.

It’s time to wrap-up this series because (here’s the scary thing) our family is on the tale end of the elementary years! Brienne (9) and Laurent (11) are in their mid to late elementary years. Céline (13) is approaching high school age, gulp.

Our Goals:

Before I talk about our curriculum I need to talk about our goals. You build a curriculum around your family values and educational goals - not the other way around.

We value growing in our faith, being together, experiencing nature and adventure, healthy living, and freedom in education and livelihood. We appreciate beauty and creativity, building relationships and community, and living simply.

These values are motivating factors in how we educate our kids. Our specific educational goals are woven throughout my writing, but most explicitly expressed in this post. I revisit these goals each school year, expanding and refining as necessary.

From the very start we have been committed to homeschooling our kids from beginning to end. Birth to whenever they say, “I’ll take it from here Mom and Dad”. And even then, we want to support and assist their endeavors.

Unlike a lot of families who have a “take one year at a time" approach or “we’ll do this as long as it works for us”, homeschooling is the only option we’ve ever considered for our children’s education.

Making the decision to homeschool long term vs. one year at a time means we don't think about keeping pace with the school system in order for possible entry. This brings huge freedom to our homeschooling. I wouldn’t trade this freedom for anything.

The goal for us is far beyond what a conveyer belt education offers - where children are taught a standard curriculum and kept with their age group regardless of interest, experience, or skill.

Our goal is to raise inspired, interest-driven, creative, and independent thinkers who are firmly grounded in familial love and Biblical values. And so, what the public or private school system teaches and expects of students at grade 3 or 5 or 10 is of little concern to me. What a homeschool curriculum company teaches and expects of students at grade 3 or 5 or 10 is of little concern to me.

All that to say, we don’t use the typical grade level metrics as our standard. This post from Sarah Small on Stepping Outside the Grade-Level Box explains beautifully how I feel about grade levels. They don’t matter, not to us at least.

What about High School?

People always ask this when they find out you aren’t keeping in step with “the system”. Even if we’re just talking about elementary school, they want to know about high school and then college. I'm not discussing college in this post, but I'll briefly address high school.

We plan to homeschool through high school years. If our children want to go to a public high school and can present a compelling case as to how it helps them reach their goals then we will consider that option.

However, our children LOVE having freedom in their days. And they know, in part, how blessed they are to determine they own destiny. If they decide someday to go to school they’ll be doing so from a place of emotional, spiritual, and intellectual security.

But how will they re-enter the system (if they want to) if we haven’t kept pace with it? I have two main thoughts about that:

  1. Where there’s a will there’s a way. I absolutely believe this, as our family has lived out so many of our dreams through creative problem solving and hard work. If my kids need to learn x or z to start grade 11 at the local school (for example) we’ll figure out how to make it happen, when and if the time comes.
  2. We’re raising learners and we trust in the inherent, hardwired learning process, especially since we haven’t snuffed out their natural curiosity in their elementary years. A homeschooling environment allows for many different ways to learn and acquire knowledge. My kids may not have have been taught elementary science in textbooks and worksheets, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t learned the fundamentals of science that are needed for junior high and high school level study.

Curriculum ~ A Definition:

Our elementary curriculum is designed to meet our children's unique and specific needs and work towards our family’s goals in the context of everyday living.

Before I go further I need to define the problematic word curriculum. In the homeschooling context, when most people ask, "what curriculum are you using?", what they are usually asking is, "what packaged materials and ready made guidelines are you following to teach your children at home?" This is perspective I came from when I wrote the post Relaxed Elementary Education.

I was not comfortable using that narrow definition and I’ve since decided to no longer mis-represent and perpetuate the definition of curriculum as “a package or product”. It’s not.

As a trained educator, having studied a bit of curriculum design in my degree program, and a homeschool parent with years of experience, this is how I define curriculum:

A curriculum is a course of study.

By this definition, curriculum is not limited to a package of materials or a computer learning program. Curriculum is a complete course of study which may include ready made materials and resources (and usually does) but is not limited to those resources.

So when people ask me, as they often do, “Do you use a curriculum to homeschool your children?” I don’t know how to answer because what they usually mean is, “Do you use a packaged program or follow the state/provincial guidelines?” The answer is no.

But of course I follow a curriculum - our own. And no, it’s not a scope and sequence I designed before we started or a detailed plan I write out in September and then lesson plans I prepare each Sunday for the following week.

Our homeschool curriculum is a living thing, just like our days. It’s everything we do and study. It’s crafts, books, cooking, math practice, hiking, playing, writing e-mails, drawing, sewing, lots of discussions, journal entries, internet research, documentaries, bored afternoons, exploring the woods, etc.

Do you see what I’m getting at here? I don’t want to hammer this point too much but these definitions matter to me.

We have a curriculum, a course of study, it’s called life. And we live it, study it, take it apart and put it back together, every day.

To break it down further we have an elementary homeschool curriculum that includes studying many subjects, some woven into our everyday activities, some practiced on their own to build skill and lay a foundation for further learning.

To break it down further we have an elementary homeschool writing curriculum which includes many activities. Some from packaged resources and some not. As the facilitator/teacher, I read materials to become a better coach and mentor, so I can inspire writing in our home. We have times where we practice together and many more times where children do their own writing, or not. I pull together, rather informally, a whole bunch of ideas and activities to build our elementary writing curriculum or course of study.

Building your own course of study this way is not as hard as it sounds. I’m not writing lesson plans. Mostly I’m setting an example in my daily writing practice, making time to write together, making tools available (ie: letting kids use my computer and nice handwriting tools), teaching basic skills, and then recording what happens naturally in an interest-driven learning environment. I prefer to keep record of what actually happens instead of making unrealistic plans that we can't follow through on.

I apologize if all these definitions just don't matter to you, when all you really want to know is, “How exactly does she teach her kids to write?!” I’m getting there - in a future post. But before I get there, we need to be speaking the same language. And I want it to be clear to you what I mean when I say, "our elementary homeschool curriculum".

Our Curriculum:

Having said all that (my curriculum rant if you will) I am limiting the discussion of our elementary homeschool curriculum to the following subjects:

In the above list I've linked to those subjects I have already posted about. The ones not highlighted are posts that are coming. You’ll notice Reading and Writing have a couple components. That’s because these have been the trickiest pieces in our relaxed homeschool environment. It's taken me years, and lots of trial and error, to figure out our approach to teaching these subjects.

These subjects are not the sum total of our elementary homeschool course of study. Hardly!


woodshed musical theatre

We also study - through reading, discussions, travel, outdoor adventures, relationships, play, experiments, community involvement and everyday living - the following:

  • Bible Study & Character Formation
  • Physical Education & Outdoor Adventuring
  • Art, Dance & Music Appreciation
  • Fine Art & Handicrafts
  • Homemaking & Entrepreneurship

(Just to name a few.)

I will not be discussing these subjects in this series due to time restrictions and general reader interest. For example, I’m not going to spend time writing about how we teach our children sewing when a) it’s written all over this blog and b) each child and family has unique interests. Sewing and handicrafts might have little importance in your family's homeschool curriculum.

In our home however, these are important subjects and are part of our children's core competencies. Which is why Céline can produce such fine works of art, and in the process learn math, science, writing, history, and geography; in addition to entrepreneurship, character formation and fine art. The freedom and beauty of homeschooling.

So, are you ready for my elementary homeschool curriculum series? Good. Because I’m ready to rock this thing and then lay it to rest. I’ve got a nearly high school aged learner whose studies I need to wrap my brain around. And no, I won’t be posting about that for some time. But I will say, this is the most exciting part of the journey yet!

Resources: 

8 August 12

Comments

I think this is one of my

I think this is one of my favorite posts you've written, and puts into words the feeling in my heart and mind of how I envisioned our homeschool years. With a 13.5 year old (and 12 year old) we are in a similar place, anticipating the high school years. I do hope you don't wait too long to indulge us with your ideas for this phase of learning and growing. Having homeschooled from the beginning, looking forward to the young adult years are the most exciting, yet knee-shaking yet! I will look forward to hearing your thoughts on that...

Hi Renee, I love your blog

Hi Renee, I love your blog (recently bought your book!) and have just read through your series on reading, especially about your son. I just wanted to throw this out there for you to consider. My younger daughter had some similar struggles with reading, and like Laurent, gravitated towards graphic novels, comics -- things with pictures. We found out she has/had a visual tracking problem called convergence insufficiency. This is NOT a visual acuity problem -- she had 20/20 vision. And it's not a problem like lazy eye or strabismus/ So a standard vision exam will not find this issue, as kids with tracking problems can focus long enough to read things like the eye exam letters but cannot track lines of text. There is a particular exam given by doctors who are specialists in binocular vision. While we all hope our kids don't have struggles like this, one blessing of finding this problem is that it was VERY treatable through vision therapy, which is entirely non-invasive and totally med-free. The doctors re-train the tracking muscles of the eye via various exercises. My daughter went once a week for 10 weeks to vision therapy and did exercises at home. It completely changed her reading. She went from reading comics to (voluntarily) reading long books like the Hunger Games. We learned that many kids have vision tracking problems that are not caught or are misdiagnosed (as ADHD or dyslexia) because they are not evident via standard exams. And it is shame because it is such a treatable issue, and much of the treatment can be done at home. My daughter loved the therapy. We are lucky in that the major university near us (UC Berkeley) has a school of optometry and a specialized binocular vision clinic that is a leader in this therapy. Anyway, you may have already thought about this with Laurent, but if you haven't you might want to consider it. Here are some links (sorry I don't know of any Canadian ones).

http://www.convergenceinsufficiency.net/

The clinic we went to:

http://cal-eye-care.org/services/binocular-vision-exams

If you google you will probably find some links dismissing vision therapy -- however, it literally changed my daughter's life, and there are many pediatric optometrists (like those at UC Berkeley) who have gathered much clinical data supporting this therapy. And as I mentioned above, since it is non-invasive, med-free and fun for kids if done properly, I had no hesitation about trying it, and thankfully, it worked. Good luck!

Julie, We're on the vision

Julie,

We're on the vision therapy journey right now. Ours is 20 weeks with daily practice, and it is making a difference for our son. When he looks back on what he's able to do now that we're doing vision work, he's proud of himself. Every day, however, he does not like the exercises because most of them are challenging for him....until he gets them. Then, he's happy.
His reading has improved, and he often has his nose in a book now and is thrilled about it.:)

Thank you for this post! And

Thank you for this post! And the ones to follow! I have been reading all your homeschooling archives, and even wrote to you about what an inspiration you have been to my homeschooling life! :)

Funny thing is, I have been overwhelmed by homeschooling my little ones, but I was in fact homeschooled through middle and high school. My mom kept us on-par with Math, but was relaxed about everything else. We went hiking/backpacking on a weekly basis and when I began taking college classes at 16, I was 5 steps ahead in all the subjects. If you think about it, most high school curriculum gets repeated in college (atleast in the states) and you get credit for it. I am sure your children will be way ahead of the game thanks to your relaxed schooling and exposure to real life. :)

Renee, I have yet to have

Renee,
I have yet to have children and I am inspired!!! I can't wait to read you 'Elementary Years Homeschooling' Ebook!!! *hint hint, nudge nudge* ;) ;)

Renee, Your post really

Renee,

Your post really resonates with me. The way you approach homeschooling your children and your course of study is how I'd like to homeschool my children as we begin homeschooling for the first time this year. However my state requires that students take a standardized achievement examination and pass tests at grade level or else be subject to more testing. This has compelled me to implement more "packaged curriculum" than I feel comfortable with in order to make sure that we are at "grade level." Now that you've moved from Maine do you have such standards, laws, etc. that you must adhere to? Any thoughts related to this? Thanks.

As always you've given me

As always you've given me food for thought and when i'm less tired I will re-read this post.

Celine's doll is absolutely gorgeous, such talent and what a lot of patience in the entire process from research to the finished gift. There is an ETSY shop in the making for sure.

San x

Tell me about the

Tell me about the caterpillars adorning your table. We've been feeding Monarch caterpillars (our setup looks similar) on our kitchen table for few weeks and then watching them in their pupal phase. This morning, another Monarch emerged.

Thanks for another "food for thought" post. I look forward to your elementary homeschool curriculum series.

You must have been reading my

You must have been reading my mind. Again. :) Just yesterday I was thinking about it, my daughter turning four soon. I was thinking that it is so tempting to get a curriculum and I can probably get one free to review on my blog - at the same time reminding myself that the elementary years are something I just want to have fun with and not worry about. I don't want concrete schedules and every day written out. I want to have the freedom you describe. I would have to say that being 'relaxed homeschoolers' is something that jives with us because we are 'relaxed lifers' :)) We don't like to rush. Now what do I tell the grandparents, they don't really get it. They have been through rigors of the school system abroad and they don't know anything outside of the rigid "You MUST learn" approach. I'm looking forward to reading this!

Hi Renee! Haven't commented

Hi Renee!
Haven't commented in awhile, but let me just start off by saying I completely support your method. I was actually quite jealous for some time that I didn't get to live that childhood. However, as I was reading this post, I realized that the curriculum (life) you describe is what I did outside of school on weekends and during breaks and at the dinner table. I also realized that I played a lot of team sports through school, which was a huge part of gaining confidence, self esteem and learning to truly get along (or not) with others outside my family on a regular basis. I think public school also helped me grow and learn that I'm not always going to like every little part of life. Sure, I can see the positive in most things, but I'm not sure that I would have developed the ability to do well in the things I don't like. And I'm not saying it's been all cake for you or your children, life can be hard in any package.

If I decide to have children, I would still love to homeschool. I guess I'm just questioning whether or not I could teach the skills to deal with the well, crap that often arises in social circles and even some of the most professional atmospheres.

Anyway, I hope this doesn't come off the wrong way.. Just my thoughts at the moment. Of course, I always look forward to your posts and am so inspired by your family's quest over these last few years. I am trying to live my dream too, which is never a small feat. Much light to you all.

You have no idea how I am

You have no idea how I am excited about this! My oldest is 4 1/2 and I am starting to think more seriously about exactly what I plan to do. I just picked up "How Children Learn" by Holt.

I was homeschooled all the way through, so that doesn't exactly scare me. But what does, is this letting go of boxed curriculum. I really believe that I can teach them more without it, but it still feels "safe."

I, also, have two degrees in education, am passionate about how children learn, but I still fear doing something outside the mold. I can't tell you enough, how much your blog and your family's story is inspiration.

A lovely post, Renee! While

A lovely post, Renee! While I don't homeschool, we still do a lot of home education in both academic and non-academic subjects. We believe in continuous learning, not just what is going on in the standard school day. I'm very interested to here about your compassion education, Bible study, and character formation. These are areas I struggle in, because I can't figure out the best way to approach them. (We shepherd our children, of course, but I would like to have a more cohesive plan in mind as to what I'm trying to achieve!) I am, unfortunately, not well versed in the Bible, so I have struggled with catching up myself and figuring out how to pass it on at the same time. Any light you can shed would be very helpful. Thanks!

Renee, as always my

Renee, as always my "Homeschool Mommy Mentor" I wait with baited breath for the rest of your post. I was wondering when you were going to get back to this series. I love your insight on defining what curriculum is. It makes so much sense. Now how do I explain to people that what I do isn't really "Homeschooling" but "life schooling"?

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[...] that we're making some progress with Laurent's dyslexia, the elementary curriculum for the younger two is easier on mama's brain. A little bit of math, reading lessons and [...]

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[...] posts won't be a series like the elementary homeschool curriculum series I'm (in theory) finishing up. These late elementary and pre-high school years posts I have [...]

I'm re-reading this again as

I'm re-reading this again as a link from your most recent post and I just wanted to thank you for settling my heart and my head again. Our son is coming out of school next week (he's 7) for all the reasons you give for wanting to home-educate your own children. And while I'm excited about the change, today I've been worrying about my ability to explain (as I fear I'll have to - more than once!) how we see it working in practice. You so beautifully express your own journey, you've given me back my confidence to talk about our own.

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[...] I procrastinate a little longer on finishing my elementary homeschool curriculum series, I thought I'd share one piece of our writing curriculum. Freewrite. In that case I guess [...]

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