I get emails quite a bit from readers or friends who want to pick my brain about how I homeschool. I recently had a couple gals just starting out (one with little ones and one with kids coming back from public school) and I thought I'd make my replies a post here for others. Expanded even. Oh joy.
Basically, my approach to curriculum and teaching is
Less is more.
I enjoy doing school stuff with the boys, but I don't want to spend the entire day with our nose in school books. I start with the minimum I think it will take, and see how the kids respond to it. If I can't clarify or extend what a book is trying to teach (if it needs it), I look for a quick supplement. This doesn't happen very often. Most of the time it's simply a case of the student's brain not ready to grasp the concept. In other words, try again later. Months later.
There are so many great materials out there, but none of them will work if you don't have the time to teach them, kids who don't want to learn them, or are READY to learn them. It's sooooo hard not to want to buy everything out there that gets raves, but my mantra thru the years has been:
Don't let the good crowd out the best.
....and my best is the book that gets used. Even if it's a Walmart summer math workbook. (BTW, this mantra applies to all areas of my life). Some kids really dig workbooks or science encyclopedias or brain puzzlers....make sure they have time to explore what they're into. Our family uses the Classical model as a framework, but I'm telling you right now, we won't be spending an hour on grammar in 5th grade. And no Latin declensions. Now, if one of my sons got it into their head they wanted to learn said declensions, then boy howdy I'm all over it. I'm just not counting on it.
And I'm sure we all know this, but it bears repeating because we homeschool moms are thickheaded:
There is no such thing as 'the' perfect curriculum.
The best we can do is plan our goals for the kids (in pencil), watch for where they struggle, teach to their learning style, and be patient. Don't push....encourage. Try stuff and be willing to put it aside for awhile. Don't go buy something else. I know we all know these things, but it's hard to just trust our kids' brain development. I mean, I have an 11 year old doing WWE 2! He's JUST learning not to holler at me when I encourage him to copy 4 sentences. But he's creative and verbally articulate. I trust the tortoise will win in the end. :) So he plays LEGOs for hours a day while listening thru the Harry Potter audios for the 3rd time. Big fat hairy deal. We get in our 90 minutes of 'school', then the day is his within some set boundaries (30 minutes only on video games, for example).
Enjoy this journey. Let your kids show you how they learn, and find materials that fit that. For instance, WWE and MCT have been great, but with my olders, Rod and Staff, LLATL and Easy Grammar also worked. They all work.....you just find the ones that make sense to you and your kids and go for it. No one needs 4 writing or math or science curricula unless they WANT them. BTW, this isn't a popular view on some forums. I just know what has worked and what didn't work with my own.
There is certainly something to be said for structure, crossing t's and dotting i's.....just don't let someone else's timeline (be they an 'expert' or just a mouthy poster on a homeschool forum) supercede your mothering intuition. In classical circles, it's easy to feel like your kid will forever be scarred in life because they can't seem to tell the difference between a noun and verb before 3rd grade.....or that they haven't read Shakespeare by 6th grade. Pshaw. One of my complaints about our culture is that we assume kids need to experience everything before they're 18....and yes, it's fine to expose our kids to stuff like classical music or fine art or karate or soccer or Little Debbie Oatmeal Cakes....but to become proficients in all that stuff before 18 is well, dumb. Give them a taste, encourage maybe a second try, then let it lie.
Know thyself and thy limits.
And quick kicking yourself. You already win just for choosing to homeschool.
I must pause here to tell you I've been reading quite a bit on unschooling forums due to my Ben's right-brained learning style. I find there is much to be gleaned from such a learning environment. I'll be incorporating some ideas into our homeschool lifestyle...still within the framework of a classical model. Should be interesting....might need to stock up on some transfat.
Well, that was rambly. Let me know if I need to clarify something....after 12 years at this, I'm still finding my footing as each kid presents new challenges to my status quo.