Have you ever wondered if your homeschool curriculum is a good fit? How do you know if it's working for your kids? Over the last 14+ years, I've learned some tell-tale signs that it is time to make changes.
Let me set the stage by telling you a little bit about how I homeschool. I am pretty eclectic in my homeschooling style with a definite leaning toward Charlotte Mason -- especially when it comes to what she calls "Living Books." Living Books are books that were written by authors who are passionate about their subject (as opposed to textbooks which are written by a team of authors, often about many topics). To meet the criterion, books must be well-written and must engage the student. They need to spark something in the reader. I am also big on hands-on experiences, and using multiple methods to solidify learning. I detest busy-work.
I tell you this, because if you are a staunch textbook/workbook teacher, nothing I am about so say will make you comfortable. You should probably stop reading now. You have been forewarned.
I should also say that my unorthodox methods have only been tested in my home with my students, so I can't guarantee that what I do will work for you. One thing will invariably work for you, though, and that is my vigilant watchfulness over my students. I have purposefully learned to "read" them as one would read a good book. They sometimes accuse me of knowing what they are thinking without them saying a word. That skill is hugely helpful in understanding how well they are interacting with a particular curriculum. But more on that in a minute.
Before you discount my eclectic homeschooling methods as too easy, because it's too fun, let me just say the following in my defense. My kids ace the standardized testing every year. I have never had a student score under 96 percentile. Usually they are at least 97. Often they are 99, which is the highest possible score. Even if you are a homeschool critic, you would have to admit that my kids are learning something in my crazy school. You should also know that some people would say at least 3 of my students have a learning disability (dyslexia and dysgraphia). I don't happen to agree with the learning disability label. My kids obviously don't have any problem learning. They have the scores to prove it. They do, however, have learning differences. Personally, I figure pretty much everybody has learning differences. Everyone learns slightly differently than the person beside them. My job as a homeschool teacher is to unlock my students -- to learn them, so that I can effectively teach them. One of the joys of homeschooling is having the freedom to tailor my teaching methods to each student.
So how do I know when something isn't working?
I don't know about your kids, but mine don't walk up and say, "Gee, Mom. I really don't think the visual method predominately used in XYZ curriculum is working for me. I find myself struggling to avoid distraction and I don't retain the information as well as I would like. Do you think we might find a more auditory method to present the same information? Oh, and it would be great if it was actually interesting. Thanks, Mom."
Nope. That isn't how kids tell you when something isn't working. For my kids, it goes a little more like this:
9:05am Mom: Get back to work, Jr.... Kid: K, Mom. 9:06am Mom: Stop throwing your pencil, Jr.... Kid: K, Mom. 9:07am Mom: Jr, Get back in your seat. 9:07:36am Mom: Stop talking and get back to work. 9:07:38am Mom: Stop tormenting your sister. 9:07:40 am Mom:What are you doing!?! Back to work, NOW! 9:09am Mom: Why on earth are you crying? Kid: This is so boring. It takes FOREVER. Yeah. A bundle of homeschool bliss. About this time, Mom is thinking, "Why am I doing this? I should have chased that yellow bus down the lane and made them take my kid!! I could be having a mocha with my friends right now. What do you mean, 'It isn't even 10:00 yet!?!'"
I've never understood it, but when faced with this situation, many moms/teacers treat it solely as a discipline problem. I see something deeper.
5 Signs It's Time to Change Curriculum Your child is: 1. Easily distracted. 2. Squirming. 3. Stalling. 4. Distracting others. 5. "Dialing it in." (Regularly not giving their best work.) So many times, these signs are viewed simply as rebellion or misbehavior. It could be. If your child fights you on absolutely everything, it probably is. But what if your child is generally obedient on most things, but resists schoolwork? The mom who believes it is solely a behavior issue will try every discipline method in the book, often to no avail. Or perhaps, even worse, the discipline does work. The kid sits dutifully at his work - and hates it. Often, this child will grow up resenting mom for putting him through it. He resists learning. He doesn't reach his full potential. Too much energy is wasted just forcing himself to stick to the task.
(To the mom that is worried her child won't learn to do hard things and to finish what he starts if she makes school fun, I say that there are lots and lots of opportunities to learn these things without killing a child's love of learning. Chores come to mind...)
If you are very brave, you can kick that dry curriculum to the curb and embark on an exciting journey full of twists and turns -- a journey where deep learning happens. What to do When the Curriculum Isn't Working 1. Kids have a natural love of learning. Unless you (or someone else) has killed that natural curiosity by pushing and forcing, you can rely on that desire to learn. When you see it evaporate, something is wrong. It could just be an off day, but if your child resists learning over a period of time, something needs to change. True story: One of my kids is a math whiz. He does math for fun in his spare time. He "gets" math. When he was in about the 3rd grade, I put him in the homeschool world's favorite math textbook. Within a few weeks, he was crying nearly every day in math class. I watched him go from a kid who loved math to a kid who hated it in just a matter of weeks. Obviously, something wasn't working. We ditched the textbook, even though every other homeschooler I knew was using it. I have never regretted that decision. His love of math reignited and we haven't looked back since.
Watch your child. What engages him? What makes his eyes sparkle with curiosity and excitement? When your child is engaged, he is learning on a very deep level. It is hard to deeply learn something when you aren't even interested. Once you know what engages your child, you are on the road to unlocking his pathways to learning.
2. When a child's curiosity is engaged, you don't have to force him to stick with it. Even kids who have been diagnosed with ADHD have the ability to sit still and focus on something they are intensely interested in. Don't believe me? Just watch them sit with a video game or a movie. They can sit still for hours. When I see my kids struggle to keep their attention on their work, I know I need to find a more engaging way to present the information. Why should they be forced to read a dull, dry text when they could be reading a living book, watching documentaries, going to a history museum or doing an activity that helps them experience what they are learning?
3. Kids won't find every subject fascinating, but that doesn't mean there isn't a way to engage them. You will need to find new ways to present the same information -- ways that interest your child. Lets take grammar -- an almost universally detested subject. You can make your child recite the rules of grammar until he has it memorized or is brain-dead, or you can have him edit silly text for grammar mistakes. Grammar may not ever become his favorite subject, but the silly text will keep him engaged while he learns those pesky rules.
Remember those questions I asked about what engaged your child? Now it's time to analyze those things. Ask yourself some key questions about the things that engage your child. Are those things generally visual, auditory or tactile? (sight, sound or touch) Or are they all three? Generally, a child will choose his preferred learning method to engage the things in which he is interested. That means that if your child loves to read, has to have his chores written to remember them and needs a map drawn to get anywhere, he is likely a visual learner. If your child would rather listen to stories, easily remembers what he is told and can follow directions by hearing them, he is likely an auditory learner. If your child breaks everything he touches, seems to always be bouncing off the walls and just has to get his hands on every new thing, he is probably a tactile learner.
Use this information to your advantage. In my house, I have all three kinds of learners. I like to use all three methods to reinforce learning and to train my kids how to glean information from the world around them, but I focus each child's school work to fit each child. So, while I will assign reading and documentaries to my tactile child, I will also make sure he has lots of hands on projects and I will allow him to move around the room. My auditory learner still has visual and tactile assignments, but he also gets to listen to some of his material as audio books and we discuss things.
Also, can you use the things that engage your child to sneak in some learning? My kids find zany, crazy humor engaging. I use this liberally in our school -- from editing silly text, to weaving zany stories from their spelling words, to nutty writing prompts -- the possibilities are endless. My boys think weapons are cool, so we make sure to look at the weaponry for a given time period we are studying in history. If I can find a way to tie in something that interests my kids, I do it with fervor.
4. Textbooks and Workbooks are more for the teacher than the student. Please don't throw rocks at me. I've just never, ever met a kid who would rather read a textbook chapter on horses and fill out a workbook sheet on what he's learned if he could go see a real horse instead. If a real horse isn't available, he would rather watch a documentary about horses, or read a living book about horses. Most kids, if given a choice, will not choose a textbook/workbook. Those that do have probably never experienced the alternatives. Knowing this, I find it hard to believe that textbooks and workbooks are designed for the kids.
I do see, however, a great deal of security in textbooks/workbooks for the teacher. After all, when you finish the book, you know you've covered all the bases, right? It makes us feel safe. It is also easier to create a test from a textbook. In fact, it's probably already provided. Without that ready-made test on the obviously covered material, I am going to have to really listen and watch to see how much my kid knows. Without a textbook, you are in unchartered waters. It's a little scary.
But how much of that safe information is actually retained by the student? I can guarantee you that the child who learned about horses by going and experiencing horses will never forget. But what about the kid who learned it from a text book so that he could pass the test? To answer that question, let me ask another question: How much do you remember from the textbooks, workbooks and tests you had in school? I rest my case.
5. Stop teaching to the test. It doesn't matter how well a student does on a test if he doesn't remember anything afterward. I found that test grades made my kids stop focusing on learning and start focusing on getting an A. I couldn't care less about the A. I want my kids to love learning and learn well. So I don't give out grades (When you have recovered from your shock, I will go on). I teach for Mastery. If my kid doesn't master the subject, he doesn't move forward. We keep finding new ways to present the information until my kid gets it. Sometimes that means we will use multiple methods over a longer period of time. Sometimes it means we will put something on the shelf and retry it later. Sometimes it means we will move though a subject at a super fast pace and move on. Regardless of how we tackle the subject, they aren't done with it until they understand it. That means, I guess, that my kids are straight A students, since they don't move on until they master the subject. However, the focus isn't on the grade, it is on the learning.
6. What about the money? It always boils down to the money, doesn't it? I mean, you paid good money for this curriculum that isn't working, and you expect to get something out of it. Besides, not many people have the freedom to chuck one expensive curriculum and buy another.
I chucked my first expensive curriculum only four months into my first year of homeschooling. It was probably the most freeing decision I ever made in my homeschooling career. I walked away from the money investment in order to protect the investment I was making in my child's education. I had to decide which was more important to me. My daughter won.
She was in pre-school at the time, so creating my own curriculum wasn't very difficult. If my kids had been older I would still chuck the curriculum (I know, because I have done it multiple times). Sometimes it's just a particular class that needs to go. Sometimes everything needs to go. Admitting you made a purchasing mistake isn't easy, especially when the budget is tight. If you can't go back to the drawing board by purchasing a new curriculum, you can still alter the one you are using. You can use the faulty curriculum as a guide for what to teach and when. Then you can scour the library and internet for resources that are more engaging for your child. Find new and exciting ways to present the same information. You are free to alter and tweak the existing curriculum to better suit your child. Most of all, you can open up the conversation with your child. Ask him what he thinks. You would be surprised how resourceful your kids can be when they are allowed to be part of the solution.
What about you? Have you ever had to ditch a curriculum mid-stream?
Have a great day!
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