Written by contributor Renee Tougas of FIMBY
Ages of my children: 12, 10, and 8
When Jamie first proposed this series I thought, “That will be easy to write. We don’t use much.”
Then I saw all the questions from the introductory post and realized I might actually have something useful to say.
- The repeated request to know what has worked and what hasn’t, and why.
- How to “make your own” curriculum.
- How to use readily available resources (like the library) and literature as materials for learning.
I can answer these because of our own eclectic and interest-led elementary homeschooling experience.
My Random House College Dictionary defines curriculum as:
- the aggregate of courses of study given in a school, college, etc.
- the regular or a particular course of study in a school, college, etc.
The simple definition of curriculum is a course of study.
Homeschoolers often refer to curriculum as learning materials that are packaged, prepared and prescribed in a certain order to teach a particular subject or subjects.
There is a difference.
I don’t mean to get hung up on semantics, but I want to make sure when I talk about curriculum we’re using the same definition. For the purpose of this post and to keep things clear, when I refer to curriculum I mean packaged, prepared and ready-to-use materials.
Photo by Renee Tougas
I believe the focus of the elementary years is to foster, grow and develop a child’s innate appetite for learning and life.
This is the love of learning phase.
As such, we don’t use a lot of pre-determined (learn certain things at certain times) curriculum because we want our children to explore their world from an internally motivated perspective. We want them to learn about things that fascinate, intrigue, puzzle, and interest them.
To this end we use a lot of literature. Both to explore our interests and to expose ourselves to new ideas. Most of these books we access for free from the library.
However, there are some academic skills we teach our children to help them as they explore and make sense of their world.
Reading, writing, and arithmetic are the academic basics that we purposefully and actively teach our children during their elementary years. To do this, I use curriculum.
I use this curriculum very loosely and on our own timeline, but it helps me provide structure and skill building practice.
Reading is foundational. It’s one of the most important pieces of building an education.
You learn to read. And then you read to learn.
It’s easy as homeschool parents to get panicky about our children learning to read. I’ve written a detailed post about our family’s experience. And let me tell you it hasn’t been an easy process – talk about what has worked and what hasn’t!
Here’s a quick summary:
- With all three of our children we used Teach Your Child To Read in 100 Easy Lessons. This curriculum worked the best with our oldest who was reading independently by the time she was six.
- With our other two it’s been a lot of trial and error and in the end I just let it go until they were really ready to try again.
- My ten-year-old just finished his first chapter book all on his own initiative. Reading has not come easy for him but he’s internally motivated to keep doing it. And that’s the real goal – to foster a child’s natural desire to learn.
Photo by Renee Tougas
There are two parts to writing – mechanics and composition. We’ve used two curricula to teach writing mechanics.
We use Getty Dubay to teach our children handwriting. We choose this program mostly for how easy it is to transition to cursive and for its aesthetic appeal.
When she was eleven our oldest daughter “graduated” to a typing program after learning cursive handwriting. For that we used Ten Thumbs.
We teach spelling, grammar, and vocabulary in the context of everyday life composition writing. This includes letters to penpals and grandparents, e-mail, secret codes (these are the kids’ absolute favorite), book reports, science reports, poetry, story writing and more.
In the past I tried both Spelling Wisdom and Natural Speller. Many people really like these programs and I liked them quite a lot also. My daughter was less enthusiastic though, so we’ve taken a life-learning approach for spelling.
Our family likes Math-U-See and it’s the only math curriculum we’ve tried.
One of my children struggles with math more than my other two and I am considering a different curriculum for him, perhaps I’ll try Teaching Textbooks.
You can find an extensive post on FIMBY about how we teach math.
What about the rest?
This is a list of the subjects we study through reading (together and individually), discussions, travel, outdoor adventures, relationships, play, experiments, community involvement and otherwise everyday living:
- World Study – history, geography, and cultures
- Science & Nature Study
- Art, Dance and Music Appreciation
- Handicrafts & Home Skills
- Physical & Outdoors Education
- Bible & Character Formation
You can visit Homeschool Help at FIMBY for more posts on building an interest-led elementary homeschool course of study.
What resources or curriculum do you use for elementary education?