Building your own curriculum under strict guidelines

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Written by Dave Pommier of Bloke School.

There are quite stringent guidelines about how to build a homeschool curriculum where I live.

In New South Wales, Australia, everyone needs to be registered and assessed through BOSTES (Board Of Studies, Training and Educational Standards). They provide the framework a curriculum has to fit within. They follow this up with an annual meeting by an assessor to check the work being done.

This is our second year of homeschooling. A large part of the reasons behind why we chose to homeschool was that it allowed for individualised teaching.

Even working within the guidelines, there is still a good deal more flexibility to work around the rules than it initially seems.

If you too are homeschooling or planning to homeschool within strict guidelines, perhaps this look inside how we make things work will help:

The state mandates that we have to spend 250 hours a year each on English and Math, 100 each on Science, History, Creative Arts and Health, with 100 more spread wherever we choose across those areas.

We also have to address certain competencies within each subject.

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For English, I rely fairly heavily on Reading Eggs.

Although my eldest boy cannot stand the worksheets that go with the program, both my boys get a lot from the on-screen version.

I aim to get a lot of incidental writing practice by taking notes in our other subjects.

We also read lots of stories. There is no set list. It is mostly whatever grabs our attention at the library or second-hand shop.

Graphic novels work very well, but it can be a struggle to find appropriate ones. We read quite a lot of Asterix the Gaul.

For maths, we did a lot of work with Cuisenaire rods last year using Miqon Maths.

That went well, but things really took off when we started using Mathseeds. I bought a year’s subscription, and continue to use that to fill our requirements.

Given the speed the boys move through these lessons, I expect they will finish them somewhere in the middle of the year.

Board games also play a large role in filling up our time requirements while also providing a real life application for the concepts we have studied.

Depending on which game is on the table, the maths is appropriately simple, but there is lots of it. Counting, addition, subtraction, patterning, probability and logic are all there. I have a firm belief in the mathematical learning behind board games.

Our science lessons are a bit cobbled together this year. We spent the bulk of February in Bali so, of course, there was rich potential for study before we even left. We had to begin the year by studying volcanic action, island ecology and the Wallace line.

On our return, we finished off the earth sciences section from Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding. We used that book a lot last year and everyone enjoyed it. I am a bit disappointed it has ended.

It was a nice lead-in, however, to then look at the solar system and astronomy. My oldest boy really wanted to study astronomy last year but we didn’t get around to it. He made me promise that this winter, when the nights are longer, we definitely would.

Although I always supplement with library books, we use the astronomy topic from howtosmile.org as a basis for our lessons.

We will finish the science year off with human anatomy. We enjoy it and the house is overloaded with resources. Anatomy books routinely break things down into body systems, so that is how we will do it.

All this is interspersed with nature walks. They just happen when we get the urge. There is always something interesting to see.

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History is also one of my favourite subjects. Our Monday history lesson really sets the theme for the week, and has plenty of potential for free play and interesting spin offs.

We use Story of the World as a guide. We adapt it to suit us, and supplement it fairly heavily with library books.

Although I quibble over the details, I do enjoy the broad structure of this set, and the way it approaches history as a continuous story.

Sometimes we wander off on a tangent. The start of the year, of course, was spent looking at Indonesian history and culture.

Social Sciences are sadly underrepresented at a primary school level in the state framework which I have to work within. History is the best place I can fit this. It’s not a great fit, but it is the best I can manage given what I have to work with.

Creative arts is a subject I kind of struggle with. We use The Artful Parent as inspiration, and also tend to do quite a lot of history-inspired art projects.

Music should also slot into this subject, and is something I would like to encourage more of. The boys certainly appreciate a wide variety of music, but are very resistant to actually studying it.

Health includes more than just physical exercises like the gymnastics and swimming which we do. The content I am supposed to cover in this subject is something of a dumping ground for various life skills. It includes things such as nutrition, personal safety, social skills and ethics.

I only ever count the hours for physical exercise classes, and I still end up with more than enough hours to fill my curriculum criteria. I just view the rest as decent parenting.

Building a curriculum is certainly a drawn out process. At every step it is worth asking “why am I doing this?”

By going back to the “why” in every decision, I can comply with the necessary guidelines in our area while still making our homeschool unique and meaningful for our family.

Are you dealing with strict homeschooling legislation where you live? How do you make it work for your family?

About Dave Pommier

Dave is a homeschooling dad with a wife and two boys. In his spare time, he works as a registered nurse, drinks too much coffee, and intermittently renovates the house. He likes to take notes to try and make sense of what is happening at Bloke School.

Comments

  1. Jenn R. says:

    Thank you for your perspective and recommendations. My oldest is going to love the graphic novels, and my youngest the Mathseeds app. Glad to see a positive post about making homeschooling work within boundaries 🙂

    • I have never found those boundaries to be a problem. In fact, I find it something of a comfort to be given a framework to build on.

  2. Great post! Lots of good information. Even though the restrictions can be a pain, it looks like you’re doing a great job of keeping things fun and interesting.

    • Thanks very much. It is certainly a job I have taken to devoting a great deal more attention to than the job I have which earns me a wage.

  3. We do the same sort of thing up in British Columbia. There are two ‘ways’ to homeschool up here, one: registering and getting very minimal funds ($150/year/kid) or enrolling with a school (you still homeschool, but you’re under the umbrella of their school), and getting $1000/year/kid. If you register, you can pretty much do whatever you want. If you enroll, you obviously have to follow their yearly guidelines & outcomes. I’ve now homeschooled in 2 states in the US, and one Canadian province, and I LOVE it here, even though there is a fairly regimented way of doing things with enrolling (including 3 term ‘portfolios’, hitting all teh guidelines per year, recording EVERYTHING you do and reporting it to your support teacher every 2 weeks) but we have just had a great experience. Our family loves the support teacher we have, we have tons of money to spend on kid classes (just this year my kids did gymnastics, circus lab (like cirque de soleil), pottery, cooking classes, swim lessons, ice skating lessons, and ballet–all fully covered by their funds) and all my curriculum/books//games/manipulative paid for as well. I still have $400 left over that I can’t possibly use before the May 15 cut off date. Yes, it’s strict and you have to be willing to be within the boundaries of the school, but coming from the two states, where you get next to nothing for homeschooling, it’s like walking into Disneyland!
    Sarah M
    Sarah M’s latest post: 29 Before 30…What Actually Happened

    • As an outsider, that seems an odd system at first glance. The more I think about it, though, the more I can see a bunch of advantages. A chunk of money to help pay for it sounds just great. Slightly tedious from a paperwork kind of view, but probably worth the effort. I love the rush to spend it all by the end of the year – a hallmark of government budgeting.

  4. I love how you play board games to reinforce math and other skills. We do the same. My son rocks as the banker in Monopoly. I’ve found games to be great for strategy skills, too.
    Camie’s latest post: Crafty Kid Fun

    • There is so much in board games. They are just such a practical and immediate use of mathematical skills. When strategy is added into them as well as chance, this is even more relevant. I have my eye on a number of games I am (slightly impatiently) waiting until the boys are old enough to play.

  5. Great guest post! I always love your thoughts and perspectives.

  6. No, I live in a state with virtually no HS laws. Thankfully. But, I still enjoyed this post by Bloke School (one of my faves)….thanks!

  7. For your astronomy interested son, try the android app “StarTracker” my kids love it 🙂

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