Homeschool Advice: Best Laid Plans

Being a planner by nature, I decided to come up with a curriculum plan for the first year of homeschooling my children. I started by writing objectives for my daughter’s second grade year. As a starting point, I used the book; What Your Second Grader Needs to Know by E.D. Hirsh. This is a very popular book within both the home schooled and schooled communities and is a great gauge to help you know if your child’s knowledge in is line with their peers.

I also integrated the Kingfisher Illustrated History Encyclopedia (an illustrated history book for children that follows history from pre-historic times to middle Ages) as the basis for our historical knowledge from which unit studies will be taken. Unit studies include, spelling, reading, vocabulary, grammar, geography, religion- drawing parallels form the bible as we study ancient history, fine arts, and science, which would entail discovering science through the ages. Our Children’s Bible, KJV Bible, the Library and the Internet were also to be used as resources. For math, I searched for a good interactive online, or CD run program because math had to be visual for Jordan

My son (entering “grade 4”) also followed the same unit studies but at a more in depth level. I used the fourth grade Hirsh book to write his curriculum as well. He also wanted a computer program for math. We planned to find a Latin computer program as well. For phys Ed, they already take Tae Kwon Do and we have dogs we need to walk and run. In addition, we were looking into at least one more outside activity each.

For music, they both take piano, and the Hirsh books, have sections on music appreciation we will use. My son also plans to add Flute to his daily music practice.

Once I figured out these plans, I made checklists for each item we planed to cover, and allowed extra line items for impromptu additions so my year-end reports would pretty much do themselves. Now, we were ready to start homeschooling!

It is nice to have a plan, isn’t it? My plans however, were apparently adaptable. Some of the ideas stuck, some have not. I purchased the entire Hirsch series of books from Kindergarten to 6th grade. My kids loved them, but we did not use them as intended. I began to find these “curriculum” books in strange places throughout the house. I found them under the kid’s beds, in bathrooms, and even in the basement. It seems they like to read them to check what they know, but in no particular order at all. My second grader could be caught curled up at anytime, anywhere, deeply involved in the 5th grade book, and my fourth grader may just decide to read a fable from the Kindergarten book. Since they are reading, I do my best to not tell them what they are reading is wrong.

Whether we ended up using these books according to my original intention or not, did not really matter, as these books are necessary in any homeschooling house. The author/ Editor of What Your Kindergarten-Sixth Grader Needs To Know, E.D. Hirsh Jr. has compiled every well-known fact in American culture such as literature, slogans, sayings, history, math and all other subjects that a child of a particular age or grade should know. There are seven volumes in all.

The premise of these books were to create a national standard so that children in the same grade are learning the same things at the same time be it from classroom to classroom, or from state to state. In the introduction of these books, Hirsh explains how a parent of twins were concerned that they were learning completely different things and thus were both getting different and abbreviated educations with many gaps. He saw this as a sign of trouble that teachers in the same school did not know what children in other classrooms where learning on the same grade level. They also had no idea what other teachers had covered in previous grades, and what future teachers would cover.
I can identify with Hirsh’s concerns as a parent who has moved from state to state across the US. My son was in three schools in three years and as far as I could tell, repeated Kindergarten three times with few exceptions. When he finally got to a school that was up to par with the first school he attended, he was lost. Therefore, having a unifying curriculum across the United States is very helpful. Having been widely acclaimed and used in public and private schools across the country, I believe it will be very useful to my children and me as we embark upon our homeschooling endeavor.

As far as the plan for unit studies using the Kingfisher book, well, that fell by the wayside as well. My children have a hard time seeing me as their teacher, which in an integral part of doing unit studies. They prefer to use me as a math tutor, and a walking encyclopedia. We do still use the Kingfisher history book, because it is a major resource for history facts in our home. As for bible studies, we decided that they get enough of that in Sunday school.

Looking back at what is actually left of my original plans, you would think that our homeschooling endeavor has fallen apart. That could not be further from the truth. Instead, what we have done is adapted. The online interactive programs I had researched ended up covering every subject completely. The children loved it because they could work independently of me and of each other. Since they had each been using computer games as learning tools since 18 months of age, it was a natural thing for them to do all of their subjects online. The music and phys-ed classes have gone exactly as planned and we have recently added swimming lessons at the local YMCA, which they take with other homeschooling children.

Although many of my wells laid out plans have been set aside, this was not done haphazardly. I worked with and observed the children over time, and as long as I knew that they where meeting or above their grade level in the work they where doing, I let them learn in a way that was natural and fun for them. I had to decide what was better, my ruined plans, or the children having an enjoyable learning experience. I chose the latter.

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