Written by contributor Jessica Fisher of Life as Mom
I don’t know if it’s my academic background, my penchant for planning and dreaming, or my love of learning, but exploring curriculum choices makes me happy. Like a kid in a candy store, I eagerly look forward to this time of year when our current books and resources fade in excitement and freshness, and I start thinking toward next year and all the wonderful, new things we’ll be studying.
I admit it; I am a planning geek.
Back in the early days of our homeschool when I “just” had three kids, I mapped out the rest of their school lives, calculating what grade each of my sons would be and what curriculum we’d be using. I wanted to be able to build our school library over time, as finances were tight, and I was, of course, dreaming big dreams.
Does each child need to study something different?
Ten years ago when I thought I was Wonder Woman, I planned three distinctly different tracts for my kids’ education. Ah the ignorance of youth! Since then, through trial and much error, I’ve found that it is not necessary or desirable to have an entirely different curriculum for each child. With many children, this is a sure ticket to insanity.
This may come as Earth-shattering news, but I gotta say it:
Children of different grades can study similar topics and subjects.
In traditional schooling, every grade is mapped out specifically so that kids don’t get the same information every year as they move from teacher to teacher or school to school. Assigning certain subjects to certain grade levels is done for continuity and insuring a breadth of knowledge.
Since you are your children’s teacher, you can insure that there isn’t repetition. You can design your own course of study that plans for a breadth of knowledge. As their mom, you can do this in such a way that you don’t go crazy trying to teach completely different topics for every grade. And it is possible to do it all the while meeting the needs of children who are at different stages of development.
Common curricula saves time, money, and sanity.
An added bonus is that learning is more likely to invade all of family life by studying common subjects. If all your kids are studying World War II, then a family field trip to the USS Midway will be meaningful to everyone. A dinner table question about dictators, posed by your fifth grader, will have widespread interest and participation since even the youngest in your set knows what you’re talking about.
Two Birds, One Stone
Over the years, I’ve searched for curricula to help me teach my children well without causing me to overextend myself. Teaching common topics has worked for us, meeting the needs of a range of students.
For instance, currently we’re studying the aftermath of World War II. We have several common spine texts that we read from. If my younger kids have a hard time, I read aloud to them. My older students tackle it on their own. My eighth grader reads literature from the time that matches his level of maturity, while the younger set gets exposure to similarly themed books that are more geared for their ages.
They are engaging with the same general subject matter in age-appropriate ways. Yet, my mind is steady in one time period–instead of trying to teach Ancient Egypt, the American Revolution, and the Holocaust all at one time.
As a busy mom, you really can’t be in more than one place at a time.
The following are resources I’ve found helpful in teaching multiple grades:
This past year I discovered Apologia’s Young Explorer Series. It’s a K-6, creation-based science curriculum following the Charlotte Mason style. Topics cover Astronomy, Botany, Birds, Ocean Creatures, Land Animals, and Anatomy. I’ve found these “Exploring Creation” books and the accompanying notebook to be highly accessible to my range of students. I also purchased the experiment kit to save even more time and effort. My 3rd and 5th grade boys can easily do many of the experiments independently.
My 8th grader, however, has followed Apologia’s secondary program, working through Exploring Creation with Physical Science.
For the past few years I’ve used the Student Writing Intensive from Excellence in Writing, aka IEW. My boys have enjoyed Andrew Pudewa’s humor on the DVD and have all been able to follow the writing assignments at their own pace and level of writing skills.
History and Literature
Since The Well-Trained Mind was my basic primer for learning to be a homeschool teacher, I have always had the notion of combining literature and history, as well as teaching the same time period across all grades. The Story of the World volumes came out early in my homeschool career, so we’ve used those as well as the accompanying workbooks. Currently, we’re finishing Volume 4 in the Modern Age, completing two cycles of reading and learning through the study of world history. These books are ideal for grades 1 through 8.
Along the way, we discovered Tapestry of Grace, a similar approach to studying all the literature and history of the world. Tapestry provides a course of study for grades K – 12. We’ve bounced back and forth between the two programs over the last eight years. Next year we will delve back into Tapestry as I teach grades kindergarten through high school.
Obviously, math is not a subject to span a large number of grades. But, I have found one curriculum to be particularly helpful to my busy homeschool schedule. Teaching Textbooks is computer-based and self-correcting for the elementary grades.
While I loved Saxon Math for the first seven years we used it, I became quickly overwhelmed when I needed to teach four different math lessons a day. Teaching Textbooks was an answer to that dilemma. It is not a perfect program. I’ve heard some criticisms of it, but its easy-to-use format has been a boon to our homeschool.
One Size Doesn’t Fit All
There is no single curriculum that will answer all your homeschooling desires. Our children comprise different ages, abilities, interests, and developmental stages. That is as it should be.
However, there are ways of building our homeschool resources that can meet many needs at one time. Not only does choosing common curricula conserve time, money, and Mom’s brain cells, but it can contribute to a vibrant atmosphere of learning as children of varying ages and abilities interact and make learning overlap with life a little bit more.
How do you accommodate for a range of ages in your homeschool?