Homeschooling Curriculum: My Plans

Thanks to all of you who are sharing your homeschooling plans in yesterday’s open thread. Keep ’em coming!

As for my plans, here they are. But I warn you: this post is going to be one giant oxymoron. First I’m going to tell you how we are pretty much unschooling this year, with the exception of Latin, and then I’m going to hit you with a big long list of curriculum and stuff. And then, just to confuse you even more, I’m going to link up to a bunch more Charlotte Mason posts. And you’re going to say, But Lissa, didn’t Charlotte Mason lay out a highly structured programme? You keep calling yourself an unschooler, and I’m going to say Isn’t it interesting how “programme” is so much classier a word than “program”?, and you’re going to say Sort of, but you haven’t answered the question.

So now that we all know our lines, I’ll begin. With Scott out in California already and the rest of us still here in Virginia waiting for the person who will walk into this house and say People have been so happy here! I want to live in this house and be happy too! I will buy it! Immediately! Here’s a check! Happy trails to you!, it is obvious that this fall is not likely to be a time of consistency and routine for us. Sometime in the next few months (we hope), I will be piling this horde of children into the minivan and we’ll embark on the most hands-on of geography unit studies, which shall be called “Wow, Mom, Kansas Really DOES Go on Forever.”

(Which reminds me. I’m assembling a list of books on tape we might listen to on the trip. By the Great Horn Spoon, On to Oregon, Little House on the Prairie (natch), I forget what else. Got any suggestions?)

Anyway, because of all this flux in our lives, I’m not really making Big Educational Plans for this fall. Before Scott’s job offer appeared, I was leaning toward a Latin-Centered Curriculum approach with (as always) a great deal of Charlotte Mason influence and our usual Real Learning flavor. In light of our big changes, I’m dialing back a bit but the elements are the same.

Latin will be our most disciplined, regular subject. The arguments put forth in Tracy Lee Simmons’s Climbing Parnassus and Drew Campbell’s The Latin-Centered Curriculum (excerpted here and supporting articles here) have sold me on Latin’s benefits. Rose is using Prima Latina because I like its simple format with manageable lesson size, and I love that it includes Latin prayers. We are using the book and CD only, not the DVD.

Jane completed Prima Latina a couple of years ago, and has resumed her studies with the highly engaging Latin for Children (ecclesiatical pronunciation—although the DVD seems to use only classical pronunciation—V is pronounced like W, for example—and when we watch the DVD we have to remind ourselves to adjust the pronunciation. The chant CD, which we use more than the DVD, offers both forms). All of us are enjoying the chant CD and I’ve written before about how delightful it is to hear five-year-old Beanie running around chanting declensions.

Jane especially likes the LfC activity book, which is heavy on puzzles, crosswords, and such. Puzzle = perfect, in Jane’s opinion. We also scored an ancient, battered copy of Using Latin: Book One for a few
bucks, and Jane is really enjoying it as a supplement to Latin for
Children. It has you diving right in to real paragraphs in translation, and for both of us beginners, that has been a thrill.

Another Latin program I’ve heard great things about (for starters, Becky uses it, and her taste is impeccable) is Minimus. Does anyone care to weigh in with a review? I have to say, it looks extremely fun. I mean:

Minimus: Starting out in Latin is a unique course for 7-10 year olds, providing a lively introduction to the Latin language and the culture of Roman Britain with a highly illustrated mix of comic strips, stories and myths….The course centres on a real family who lived at Vindolanda in 100AD: Flavius, the fort commander,
his wife Lepidina, their three children, assorted household slaves, their cat Vibrissa—and Minimus the mouse! It features many of the artefacts and writing tablets from the Vindolanda excavations.

Comic strips! A mouse! A fort commander! Wish I’d heard of it before I spent my whole Latin budget last spring.

Greek. Rose’s interest in this language continues unabated. She is really enjoying Hey Andrew, Teach Me Some Greek, but I make that recommendation with one caveat, and I truly hope this does not cause offense. I am extremely sympathetic toward people with speech impediments. Bear in mind that my own son has, at this point, only two consonants. But as a consumer I must make note of the fact that the woman who narrates the Hey Andrew pronunciation CD has a strong lisp, so that instead of “sigma” she says “thigma,” and so on. Since correct pronunciation is one of a student’s goals in studying a language, I do find this to be a fairly serious flaw in the Hey Andrew materials. Rose loves the workbooks, however, and I like the gentle and gradual progression. Since the whole ancient Greek thing was totally Rose’s idea, I’m just running with her interest and supplying her with the materials she enjoys.

Math. We do math in spurts of intensive activity, with long relaxed lulls in between. Plus, you know, lots of what I call “accidental math”—the kind that comes up all the time in the course of daily life. If there are sixty-four Skittles in a bag, how many do each of us get, bearing in mind that Mom gets twice as many as everyone else, that sort of thing. (Scott is reading this now and going WHAT??? I’m gone for three weeks and you’re feeding them SKITTLES??? Have you completely abandoned our principles? And haven’t you read about the dead bugs in those things? Don’t worry, honey. I was only kidding. I get THREE times as many as everyone else.)

What we do use, when we’re using (heh heh, we’re math junkies, get it), is Math-U-See. And I have been singing the praises of this program so loud and for so many years that its creator, Steve Demme, really should be giving me a commission. Heck, we even named our son after him.* But he isn’t. He’s never heard of me. But his Virginia distributor has. That woman’s got to LOVE me. Big huge order every year since we moved here.

*I’m joking. Of course that isn’t true. We named him after Steve from Blue’s Clues.

Rose is still working on the Beta level, and Jane, my little math addict, is about ready for the Algebra 1 program. I find myself in the bizarre position of having to scold her about going through her Math-U-See materials too quickly. It’s like when she was a toddler (pre-chemo days, which totally changed her eating habits, as in eradicated them for a couple of years) and I used to have to say “No more broccoli until you’ve eaten something else.”

The reasons MUS works so well for us are:

1) The DVD lessons, which aren’t fancy but are funny and pleasant. Steve Demme’s corny sense of humor really suits our taste.

2) The explanation of concepts. He doesn’t just show you what to do, he tells you why it works. I always did fine in math class at school, but even so, I find that when I watch the lessons alongside my kids, light bulbs are going off right and left. OH, so THAT’S why you flip-and-multiply to divide a fraction! I knew HOW to do it, but I never got why it WORKS before. Demme’s explanations are clear and simple and fun.

3) The manipulatives. Hands-on learning works best for my kids.

4) No prep time required. Let’s face it, I’m a busy woman. (Aren’t we all?) Right Start Math and Miquon both required too much advance work on my part. I like to spend my time doing things WITH the children, not preparing things for them to do.

All right, moving on. After Latin and math, there’s the whole wide world. I’m not being glib. We’ll encounter big ideas and events in all the other topic areas—history, science, literature, geography, civics, and so forth—through books, books, books. Read-alouds and read-alones. Picture books (I’ve got a big post on that in the works) and historical fiction, biographies and science books. Also: maps, puzzles, games, food and the homeschoogler’s best friend. (See the unschooling links post for specifics.)

We’ll continue to steep ourselves in the arts through Charlotte Mason-style composer and artist studies, assisted by the generous volunteers at 4Real (art, music) and Ambleside (art, music)—not to mention Higher Up’s cool artist-study Flickr badges. Charlotte’s ideas on habit-training and character formation will aid us in purposeful and harmonious living, especially in the midst of upheaval.

Sherry Early’s Picture Book Preschool and Elizabeth Foss‘s awesome Booklist will lend inspiration for connecting with nature, the seasons, and what our pal Betsy Ray calls the Great World. When I talk about picture books, I’m thinking primarily of five-year-old Beanie, but illustrated books speak volumes (so to speak) to older kids as well, so as is our wont, everyone listens in.

This all sounds lovely, you’re saying (okay, I don’t know what you’re saying, but the voices in my head think it sounds lovely), but what about language arts? Well, in this area too we are informal and experiential. We have drawn many ideas for sparking fun writing experiences from Julie Bogart’s The Writer’s Jungle. If you’re a regular reader of Bonny Glen and The Lilting House, you know I am a staunch believer in the benefits of reading aloud and in narration a la Charlotte Mason. Jane does several written narrations a week—sometimes on paper, sometimes on a private blog she has set up for her friends. Rose has one, too, and she’s beginning to do more and more writing on that. I noticed this morning that she was correctly spelling a couple of words that she had to holler for help with last week. The more she writes, the more she improves. And of course our Latin studies teach us a lot about grammar.

I doubt we’ll do much in the way of art and handcrafts this fall. I can’t deal with all those little scraps of paper and ribbon, not while we’re showing the house. Everything’s being packed up, anyway. Time enough for creative messes when we get settled in our new place. In the meantime, we’ve got the whole country to explore.

*UPDATED! I forgot American Sign Language! Pursuits continue apace!

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14 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. Beth says:

    Lissa, have I mentioned recently what a wonderful writer you are and how much I enjoy reading your posts? So friendly, and humourous and informative. I feel as if I’m right there in your living room when I read them.

  2. Stephen says:

    If you’re doing homeschooling, then you can mix subjects, right? History requires reading and writing. Is the history the important part, or the english? Yes, of course. Science requires math, reading and writing. The public schools often stovepipe subjects. Sure, some of the time, you have to deal with english-specific topics. But how the mix is done is likely going to cause confusification.

    Let’s see. In a typical week, we spend 5 hours on astronomy, 5 hours on english, 5 hours on math, 5 hours on general science, 5 hours on history, 5 hours in music, 5 hours in vigorous excersize, 5 hours in latin, and then in the extra free time…

  3. Denise says:

    Steve! I’m going to marry Steve! After he finishes college. Not the Math Steve but the Blues Clues Steve.

    I think this all makes perfect sense and I think you can unschool and do this at the same time, it’s scheduling and being willing to scrap everything that makes unschooling, well, unschooling. It isn’t the lack of educational materials available. 😉

    I have lots ot think about with all of these links, I shall be back to talk some more.

  4. Sherry Early says:

    It sounds full and busy and lots of fun. We’re headed around the world this year, and I have a (loose) schedule and a weekly plan and booklists and all sorts of things. Yet, I still consider us to be unschooling in many ways.

    Thanks for mentioning PBP. I hope it’s helpful to you. this year.

  5. JoVE says:

    How do you stop your girls from doing crafty things? I’d have full scale mutiny on my hands if crafts were banned.

  6. Stephanie says:

    How do you pace your books? From AO schedules and PNEU articles some books are read only a chapter a week. Does your family try to follow that pattern or do you have another?

  7. Becky says:

    I’m thoroughly embarrassed and blushing furiously, not only at hearing that you think I have impeccable taste (oh dear), but also because I have to admit here (because I’ve been too busy to blog about it yet) that we are, um, how shall I say, erm, abandoning Minimus next month in favor of a word roots study with English from the Roots Up; we’re going to concentrate our languages on learning French instead. Sacre bleu!

  8. Angel says:

    In the many (many) hours we spend in the car, we’ve enjoyed listening to various Focus on the Family Radio Theatre productions. So far we’ve listened to all the Narnia books, Anne of Green Gables, and The Secret Garden, and they have all been awesome — and more importantly, they kept the kids busy for 3 hours at a time! On our latest cross-country trip (2000 miles round trip, so not quite as far as you will be driving), we also listened to Farmerboy and Little Town on the Prairie (more than once.) The Blackstone Audio version of Heidi was a hit with the kids as well, but none of us can really get into the Blackstone audio versions of books that require a male narrator because we just couldn’t get into the narrator’s voice.

    Thanks for all the info on your curriculum plans! I’ve been letting The Latin-Centered Curriculum digest a bit, to see how it will fit into our lifestyle as well.

  9. Julie Bogart says:

    Just wanted to alert you to the fact that the unschooling police are about to write you up for speeding on the educational highway. I think I’ve got them distracted and delayed by my cabinet of “school supplies” that I tried to disguise with a label that says “office materials” but they aren’t buying it.

    I’m going to offer them homemade brownies as a bribe and resume our daily routine of Murderous Maths, copywork, freewrites and reading aloud after they’re gone, despite their protests that these might not count as unschooling. My kids think they do… go figure.

    I told those same officers that you are following a “program-me” and they did get crosseyed when I spelled it out for them…

    Oh, and did I mention, we study Greek too? Or at least two of us do when one of us is not designing fashions for future runway models. 🙂

    Thing is, the runway model fashions ARE unschooling so those undercover cops are letting us off the hook after all. For your surprise visit, I recommend the prominent display of birding gear. It can throw them off the scent (and it doubles as nature study for CM). 🙂


  10. Margaret in Minnesota says:

    I highly recommend Prince Caspian on cd. It’s narrated by one of the Redgrave sisters (Lynn? Vanessa? VanessaLyn?) who does a gazillion different British & Scottish voices and keeps them straight THROUGHOUT. Brilliant.

  11. Karen E. says:

    I’m late, of course. 🙂 Here’s a post on our plans, with a huge hat tip to you, Lissa, for the “lilting” inspiration.

  12. Susan Tuttle says:

    Recommended audio books we have enjoyed on long trips, over the years:

    The Cricket in Times Square
    Rainbow Valley,Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea and others by L.M. Montgomery
    All the Ramona books from Beverly Cleary, read by Stockard Channing
    Johnny Tremain
    Great Stories Remembered, written & read by Joe Wheeler, Tyndale/Focus on the Family
    American Girl Stories: Felicity, Addy, Josephina- our library has these and they are well done
    My Side of the Mountain
    Any Winnie the Pooh sets performed by Peter Dennis
    Stories, Histories, etc… by Richard “Little Bear” Wheeler

    I’ve enjoyed your blog for a few months now. My babies are grown up- 17, 15, 11… all racing towards their next birthdays. We have always homeschooled. I recently enjoyed Little House by Boston Bay.

  13. Jennifer says:

    Looking at the homeschooling laws in California, I can see why you are keeping it pretty unstructured while still in VA. It looks like you’ll have to declare yourself as a private school, become certified to teach or join a public school or other org. as an independent study in order to HS in Cali. Do you know what you’re going to do? As an unschooler, are you planning to let the kids join in on the process so you can turn this into a business/law type course?

  14. Melissa Wiley says:

    I’m thoroughly embarrassed and blushing furiously, not only at hearing that you think I have impeccable taste (oh dear), but also because I have to admit here (because I’ve been too busy to blog about it yet) that we are, um, how shall I say, erm, abandoning Minimus next month in favor of a word roots study with English from the Roots Up; we’re going to concentrate our languages on learning French instead. Sacre bleu!

    OK, that is too funny! But what did you think of Minimus?