Yesterday, I met a group of moms for a lunch and play date at a nearby park. This group was a bit different in make-up in that the organizers of the lunch were not homeschoolers. Our kids have been fairly active in a local church ministry where the youth minister meets with a different group of elementary school-aged kids each month. This month, the “group of choice” was the homeschoolers!! I thought it was all too funny and cool at the same time that we were recognized enough to warrant our own lunch.
Though the group was different, the conversation eventually became the same: “What curriculum do you use?” Okay, here’s where I begin to sound “snarky,” as my friend Keri says. I wrote an article several months ago for Heart of the Matter (that I can no longer find–geesh!) talking about a homeschooler’s fascination with curriculum. I certainly open my ears to learn just as I suppose others do in order to learn of what’s new and/or unfamiliar, but as I expressed in the article, I also think curriculum takes on an identity all its own. It moves beyond being a tool for education and almost becomes a source bragging rights. Of course, maybe I say that because my response to the question isn’t that easy. I sometimes envy those who answer the curriculum question with a simple, “Oh, we use _____.” Although the curriculum publisher can become a means of categorizing people as well (as in, “oh, her kids are on the computer all the time,” or ooooh, “they use waaaayyy too many books with that approach), at least the end is near. I answer the question by saying, “We use a lot of Charlotte Mason’s approach, but we also use a few textbooks. For example, we use…” Ugh. I grow weary of hearing myself talk!
I can remember our first homeschooling conference, in which one of the speakers suggested that all curriculum is good curriculum. However, there is curriculum, he continued, that may or may not be a good fit for your family. Though in my homeschool immaturity at that moment, I did not understand his comment, I have now found it to be a true pearl of wisdom that I carry with me even almost 10 years later. I would even add to his wisdom that the best curriculum you might have might not even be true curriculum. I say this as a curriculum developer myself: curriculum is not as much packaging and publishers, but purpose. Whatever tool you use effectively to teach your children becomes a part of your curriculum.
If we broaden the common homeschooling-related definition of curriculum in this way, is there a favorite tool that you have? Is there a tool, book or otherwise, that your homeschool absolutely must have?
In our home, that book would be Dinah Zike’s Big Book of Books. And funny enough, the kids have never opened it on their own, but when I pull it out, they know what’s coming: foldables.
By way of explanation, I am decidedly not a kinesthetic learner. I LOVE the idea of crafts and other bits of functional handiwork that help make a moment teachable, and I like to scrapbook and create fun projects based upon what we’re learning; I just don’t think naturally about these methods of learning as I’m putting lesson plans together. It doesn’t help that the older two at times grumble and groan when we’ve used lapbooking manipulatives to help them with science lessons. Though there are many curriculum publishers who specialize in kinesthetic learning, along with great blogs like Dawn’s or Jamin’s, I need more of a general “this concept works with anything” type of resource. This time, the reminder was our son’s science text that is published by McGraw-Hill and, I assume, used in a number of public schools. Each chapter contains a foldable exercise–just what I needed to get my creative juices flowing. My son, however, wasn’t so enthusiastic, so when he completed this pocket book documenting his research on various extinct animals (shown above), I thought it was worth a picture and a few words.
Likewise, I think my renewed interest in adding artwork (such as I am capable) into my notebooks has sparked something in him as well. This was his logic notebook. No color on this one, but I’ll keep hope alive.
I suspect that the youngest might be more of natural doodler in her notebooks as she completes the day’s work. However, I’ve learned something else about kids, too, over time: if I don’t make too big a deal of their spontaneous efforts, I see more unplanned, and more spectacular results. So, I’ll bide my time–and keep my camara ready.
What’s YOUR favorite tool of your educational trade?