Monday, October 18, 2010

Last words on my curriculum adventures...maybe

I know I keep talking about this, but it was a major major accomplishment. I realize almost nobody will really understand that because, really, who writes their own curriculum for their kids--ever? Nobody. My mom will probably understand and appreciate it all because she's an instructional designer--she's done this before for multiple companies.  Mostly everyone else I talk to says, "Oh, I just buy my curriculum."  Yeah--that's easier, for sure. But I had two problems with that--I can't afford a curriculum, and I found that most of them were not really academically challenging and interesting to my kids (because they don't make stuff on the 8th grade level with a 2nd grade sense of humor). I figured, given my rather unique children, I could do better than I could buy, and free.

(My basic philosophy, which I call "freeschooling" is that there is BETTER stuff online, for free, than you can get for any price through any traditional curriculum that you buy or that the schools provide--if you know where to find it. I've been "finding it" for Learning Lynx for over a year now, but this time I set out to organize what I found into cohesive, academically sound lessons for my own kids).

So here's what I did:  I dug through the internet, searching for age- and intellect-appropriate lessons that were student-ready. There are thousands (and probably millions) of free lesson plans posted online, but I couldn't use those because the setup around here is that the kids turn on the computer and log in to school, and they each do a set amount of online lessons per day that have to be ready for them when they click the link. So no lesson plans, which I would have to prepare in advance and then sit down and formally teach and manage activities and stuff--I can't do that because I'm not organized enough and because I'm schooling FIVE kids each day in five different grades. It takes too much time. So the lessons have to be online links, student-ready, and only take a short amount of time to complete (2-3 minutes each for Nathanael, less than 20 minutes each--and preferably 5 minutes or less each--for the biggest kids because we still have to deal with the ADD issues) with tutoring and coaching from me, but nothing extensive or lengthy, but still be solidly educational and (here was the kicker) superior to what they would get on the same subject in a public school, most private schools, AND most homeschool curriculums that you might purchase.  Oh, and they had to be free. 100% free and also accessible as individual links without logging in and using their system to access it (so, for example, SAS curriculum was off-limits because I couldn't share the link for that and have anyone on earth access it, and most of the sample lessons from Time4Learning were out because all the links take you to the same menu page, not the individual lessons; Head of the Class only was allowed because if you do log in, even as a guest, you can then access individual lessons from a regular browser window--you don't have to use their interface if you don't want to). Oh, and they had to be on the right academic level for my gifted kids, but also interesting to their social/emotional/ developmental stage.

So the rules were rather strict, and that sometimes made it hard to find materials. Sometimes, though, there were too many (like on electrical circuits, of all things!), and I was left sorting through them to pick the ones that were highest quality and most applicable to the child learning the lesson.

What I ended up with was 5 complete years of schooling. I gathered, collected, arranged, etc. 7861 individual, student-ready, free online lessons covering 8 subjects.

A summary:

Playschool ( toward my gifted 1-year-old, 800+ lessons on reading, music, spelling, art, math, science, social studies, and "fun" (a catchall category for miscellaneous stuff). Math covers shapes, numbers and counting, Reading covers the ABCs and nursery rhymes; writing consists of coloring pages; Spelling covers the ABCs and the letter-sound correlations as well as introduction to the concept of words; science consists of body parts, computer use, animals;  Social studies covers family; music covers children's and primary songs; art covers drawing, colors, and shapes, and includes art instructional videos, "fun" covers opposites and more about animals. This is pretty heavy on the videos and light on the interactives because when I started it, my 1 year old didn't know how to use a computer mouse (he does now). It covers a lot of the same materials as the preschool lessons do.

Preschool ( toward my gifted 3-year-old, 900+ lessons on reading, spelling, writing, math, art, science, social studies, and "fun". Math consists of numbers and counting, shapes, sorting, and other kindergarten math skills; reading covers ABCs, letter-sound correlation, sounding out words, nursery rhymes and folktales, Mercer Mayer stories, Maurice Sendak stories, and miscellaneous fun tales; Writing consists of learning to write the uppercase and lowercase letters; science consists of animals and nature; social studies covers family and a little bit the community; Music covers nursery rhymes and other traditional children's songs; and Art covers drawing, shapes, colors, and how-to art videos. Fun is, as above, a catchall category for more animals movies, etc. This is really really similar to the Kindergarten curricula I've found, so if your child is in K and not learning reading already, you'd want to use this first before you started the actual K curriculum I wrote.

Kindergarten ( toward my gifted 5-year-old, 1400+ lessons on reading, spelling, writing, math, art, science, social studies, and "fun."  Math consists of numbers and counting, odd and even, addition, subtraction, sorting, and a LOT of practice on math facts; Reading consists of learning to read using phonics, and literature lessons covering nursery rhymes, stories, and an extensive unit on Dr. Seuss stories; writing consists of learning to write letters and words, handwriting practice, playing make-believe games, and verbally telling stories; Spelling covers the phonics spelling lists from Spelling City; Science covers temperature, weather, animals, plants, bugs, cooking, materials science, machines, and building; Social Studies covers communities, jobs, places, and life necessities around the world (food, clothing, and houses); music covers the musical instruments and instrument families; art includes how-to art videos, art projects, and drawing lessons. "Fun lessons" cover more of the above and focus a lot on cooking lessons. This is really more akin to most of the first grade curricula I see around, so I'm sure it could easily be adapted to use in 1st or even 2nd grade, depending on the kid.

Second grade ( toward my gifted 7-year-old who loves Biology, 2100+ lessons on reading, spelling, writing, math, art, science, social studies, Spanish, and "Fun". Math consists mostly of addition, subtraction, and multiplication facts practice (because she's doing Saxon Math 54 for her "real" math lessons); Reading covers parody/fractured fairytales, Shel Silverstein, "The Wizard of Oz," "Alice in Wonderland," "The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe," "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," and a smattering of language things like homophones and similes; writing covers basic grammar and punctuation, cursive and print handwriting, and telling stories; Science consists of Biology; History covers how we learn about history, historical objects as evidence of the past, "history detectives," and family and personal history; music covers and introduction to the musical instruments, an introduction to reading music, and a basic introduction to musical concepts like pitch, timbre, tempo and also a few famous composers;  and art covers the elements of art, how to look at art, and introduction to design, and lots of playing with art. "Fun" covers animals, mostly, to complement the biology lessons. Oh, and she's learning Spanish and doing 2nd Grade Spelling lists from Spelling City. Actually, this could be used by anyone 3rd-8th grade.

Fourth Grade ( toward my gifted 9-year-old who loves history and all language arts, it includes 2400 lessons that cover the same subjects as second grade. Because we're using Saxon 54 as the primary math curriculum, the online stuff I collected is mostly facts practice (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division); Reading covers the history of the English language, word roots, "Stories from Shakespeare," "The Hobbit," "Around the World in 80 Days," and "A Christmas Carol"; Spelling covers word roots, spelling rules, 4th grade advances lists from Spelling City, and fun language things like puns, autoantonyms, palindromes, simile, metaphor, etc; Writing covers writing effective paragraphs, both print and cursive handwriting practice, various kinds of figurative language, an intro to editing, and an intro to descriptive writing; Science covers health and middle school level physical science (physics, mostly); History covers US history (extensively); music covers the elements of music, instruments, note-reading, etc; Art includes paper craft and origami, and brief intro to American Art, design, math in art, optical illusions, and MC Escher; "fun" covers introductions to MANY different sports. And he's learning Spanish.  Actually, as written, this curriculum could be easily used by anyone 3rd-8th grade, depending on the kid.

It took me 6 weeks, and in the process I also finished big swaths of first grade (which might be almost completely done; I haven't looked back at it yet), 3rd grade, 5th grade, 6th grade, and 7th grade, and started on 8th grade in addition to what I completely finished for my kids.

It was tedious copying bazillions of links (okay, only 7861 links), and even more tedious formatting them into google docs to make them accessible to anyone on earth who wants to take advantage of all the work I just did and do some completely free homeschooling.  But it was also fun, satisfying work. I feel like I managed to make something that is really sound educationally, really fun, and enjoyable for the kids. Nobody complains that they have to do school anymore--they all willingly sit down and do the lessons, which are challenging, fun, and interesting. And, unlike most free curricula out there, it covers a LOT of subjects thoroughly.  I'm especially pleased with the language arts and humanities stuff--those have always been my specialty, and those are what I taught for 6 years before having children, and they came out really good. WAY better than most of the stuff out there. The social studies curricula are pretty nice, too. Science I'm feeling my way through. I love to read science, but I've never taught it, so it's getting edited as we go (since it turns out that even a gifted 7 year old needs a little background in order to really "get" things like organic chemistry. She didn't even know what an atom was!)

Still, I feel like I accomplished something MAJOR--like a Master's Thesis in Curriculum Design with an emphasis in Free Online Homeschooling. Only nobody will ever give me a degree for what I just did.

But they should.

Now on to the apples (we picked 5 boxes of apples off our tree out front, and there are at least 5 more boxes' worth out there that we can't reach because we have no ladder), the laundry (we've been given so many new clothes in the past month--dozens of boxes and bags from at least 4 different families) that EVERYTHING has to be sorted and put away, and the baby's room (which needs serious work before a baby can sleep in there!). Oh, and I have novel to finish and start querying to agents. Can't forget that.


Anonymous said...

Bless your heart for posting this. I also have to write my own curricula. The first two years I used Oak Meadow- with tweaking. Next I tried Seton- with maximum tweaking! (My poor husband..."why a Catholic school? I mean, we ARE still Mormon, right?") Finally last year I decided that if I'm tweaking everything anyway, I might as well save enrollment fees. -D in NV

Becca Jones said...

If you have any great links, send them my way! I'm always looking for more and better!

Brooke said...

Holy Hannah. This is a ton of work -- and how generous of you to share it with everybody!