Tuesday, March 20, 2012

To Curriculum or Not to Curriculum (is not really my question)

Less than a year ago, I made The Big Announcement.  And I called it that because it was a Big Decision for all of us.  Some people know they're going to homeschool before they even have children to school.  I'm not one of those people.  Nothing in my life has ever been that way- that I know what I'm going to do and it actually works out that way.  Pffffft!  No.  I spend 79% of my life thanking God for unanswered prayers, that's what I do.

So now we're starting the third trimester.  And I'll be starting the my third trimester.  And I'm getting nervous about next year.  I mean, really?  Homeschooling a 6th grader, a 5th grader, and a kindergartner while corralling a 2 year old with a newborn strapped to my chest?  Isn't that the name of some new Fear Factor-esque reality show?

I'll be honest.  So far I've been basically winging it.  Both my older girls were advanced for their grade levels, so I decided that even if they didn't learn much this first year, we'd be okay.  A worksheet here, some computer games there, and an impromptu discussion about Kim Jong Il followed by a random science experiment to round it all out.  The end.

witness: random science experiment
And THAT, my friends, is (obviously) why I'm starting to panic.  They can only learn so much via osmosis, ya know?  And next year's osmosis is going to be mostly about breastfeeding and ab exercises.  Which even I know is not super traditional in terms of curriculum.

There's the word I've been trying to get at: curriculum.

Despite my claims to the contrary thus far, the idea of a pre-planned curriculum is starting to look mighty tasty right about now (yes, everything makes me thinK of food.  From delicious curriculum to delectable vacuuming....).  And if we actually have the cash to make it happen, all the better!

So here's where I ask for some tips and advice from my fellow homeschooling mamas (and papas):  What curriculum do you use and what do you love about it?  Bonus points for links!

I love Charlotte Mason, unit studies and a bit of classical curriculum all mixed together.  I do not love the idea of having to send in work or tests to be reviewed or corrected or approved by the curriculum gods in the sky.  I love the idea of a traditional school year and a four day work week.  I do not love peanut butter.

So what do you think?  Lay it on me, folks!

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48 comments :

  1. I've really loved the book The Well-Educated Mind and plan on using it as a framework for my kids (who are only 4 and almost-two now, I'm planning ahead!), focusing more heavily on the areas they are interested in and spending less time on the ones they don't love as much. The book gives you a framework and directs you to all sorts of great resources.

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  2. I've looked at a lot of different options, but have mostly used Mother of Divine Grace as a spine with some substitutions like Seton Language Arts and Math U See. I'm starting to sub so much that I may end up ditching the syllabus next year, but I think I'll want to follow one once we get to middle school. As for those that offer lesson plans and are Catholic, I think the choices are Seton, Catholic Heritage Curriculum, MODG or Kolbe. I prefer the last 2 since they are a more classical in nature.

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    1. I've heard MODG and Kolbe from other likeminded friends. Doesn't Seton require that you send back records for them to check? That I definitely don't want to do as I want the flexibility to pitch things that are too easy or don't fit in with our overall schedule.

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    2. You don't have to. We use a lot of Seton, and I never enroll. Deadlines? Records? Me?

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    3. Okay, sweet. I didn't know there was an option to not enroll and just use the materials. Excellent information!

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  3. Ok, what? You do NOT love peanut butter? I...I don't UNDERSTAND.
    Here's what we've done. Witness the sorry state of my children in discerning how much you want to listen:
    Kindergarten is done in 20 minutes. Seriously. We always use Catholic Heritage Curricula for lower grades. I've taught 2.3 children to read using their program (the .3 is counting the progress made with G. and J., who are not officially in kindergarten- yet). They're totally Catholic, they're gentle, they are NOT overwhelming with worksheets and "school at home".
    Plus, it's 20 minutes/day, 4x a week. Cinch.

    By 3rd grade, we start switching to Seton. Why? Because Seton, though a far more "school at home" mentality than CHC, is so thorough in its workbooks that if I'm overwhelmed with nursing, chasing various little ones, keeping the house from imitating a landfill, AND feeding people (regularly), I feel comfortable taking a week of just "do the next page in the workbook. Come to me if there's questions."

    Obviously, that's not how I choose to approach our education as a whole, but during those crisis times, I know that Seton's going to do right by me. (and we never, ever enroll. I buy the workbooks, that's it.)

    That way, when the weather's nice, and I'm able to lift my head above water, I can say, "Shoot, all this week we're studying Mongolia! To the library! Let's build a yert!" and know that the kids have not been treading water, aimlessly.

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  4. From a big-picture perspective, the really critical things are verbal and numeric literacy--whatever you do, makes sure they're learnign what they need to to not fall behind in Math or English, because those are the bedrock skills that all of their future learning will be built upon. In my personal experience, the kids learn reams about comprehension, structure, and vocabulary simply from exposure (i.e., *reading*, which will probably be a snap with K & require more of a push with L) BUT when it comes to grammar and punctuation, they've needed supplemental, structured direction. Spelling seems to be a crapshoot--some brains are just wired to osmotically absorb spelling, while others need specific repetition activities.

    In terms of Math, I've used Singapore, Aleks, Math-U-See, and the one with the gigantic (large-format) workbook whose name escapes me. My favorite by far is Aleks. Here, our school system will cover the cost, but if you can't get it covered, it might be cost-prohibitive. It's an interactive online math program, and it does an excellent job of assessing and targeting your child's math curriculum (i.e., it adjust to your kid's specific needs--it is not a lock-step curriculum).

    Then, in terms of science and social studies, it's really more about exposure--learning concepts. It doesn't matter as much (in terms of their long-term, ready-for-college education) if they've learned about Michigan history or world history or Catholic history or whatever. The key thing is that they are exposed to as many possible examples of how human behavior, at the individual and societal level, has impact--on other people, the physical environs, and the future. And, how the physical and cultural environment shapes individuals.

    Science, same thing. Some fundamental concepts are essential: photosynthesis, sexual and asexual reproduction, basics of weather, energy transfer/trophic levels (i.e., sun-->plants-->herbivores-->omnivores/carnivores-->death-->decomposition-->nutrient cycling), scientific method (observation-->hypothesis-->testing-->theory), but *how* they learn those things is a wide open field.

    :-)

    the right balance of structure and flexibility, as in the rest of life, can mean the difference between a crazy-making, harried experience and a fun, relaxed one.

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  5. particularly since this was a home-education comment, I should probably have been a little more careful about the typos. :-/

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  6. While I would very, very much like to homeschool, I can't right now because I have to work full time. So I haven't used anything yet as a mom. But I did use both Seton and Kolbe as a student, for what it's worth. I found Seton more challenging, while Kolbe was still challenging enough to push me but more fun to do. Of course, I was 11 at the time so my memories of it might be a bit fuzzy. I can understand the attraction of a pre-set curriculum - doing it all by yourself seems a bit daunting!

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  7. Some Maryland folks that you know (myself included) helped put this document together:

    http://www.stjeromes.org/documents_school/The_Educational_Plan_of_St._Jerome_Classical_School.pdf

    And it's meant to be distributed and used and added to and copied.

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  8. Charlotte Mason is a good fit with new babies. This year I had a 7th grader, a 5th grader, a 2nd grader, a preschooler and a toddler (1 year old). It's been mostly good. This fall we will add another to the crew right as the Term begins. I'm finding that it's a lot like spinning plates, you just have to give each one a little turn so that none fall down. My personal rules: School only in the morning. Appointments only on one afternoon a week. Shop very early every other week. Use a mothers helper one afternoon a week for adoration/silence for mom. Laugh lots and be outside as much as you can.

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    1. I love these tips! I do need to get better about scheduling myself. Right now the number of plates I have spinning...well, makes my head spin!

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    2. Also, a second car would be handy.... :)

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    3. Marcia sounds like a genius. Listen to her! :)

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  9. Right now we are using Angelicum Academy curriculum. I knew I needed the structure of some kind of curriculum but really wanted lots of flexibility. They give you the option of having them grade tests and papers or just sending in your own grades to be recorded. Also complete flexibility to choose what subjects you want to follow or change as you see fit. For example right now we are using Math U See instead of the Kindergarten Saxon Math which I intended to use at first. You can also purchase lesson plans without having to enroll. They are also fairly inexpensive especially if you purchase the books from Amazon/ebay/used bookstores.

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  10. MODG here, but that's because you can buy the syllabus and everything is spelled out. As I am discovering my son's learning style I'm learning to adjust to his needs (e.g.: he's in first grade math as a kindergartner with Abeka but we have to get really crafty with reading). Reading has been a real "unschooling" experience. With my daughter, who is a jumior in high school, I am sticking to that curriculum like white on rice. Teach chemistry?? Me??

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  11. Check out the book "Designing your Own Classical Curriculum." It's a great place to start. Check out Teaching Textbooks for Math (requires less work from you but pricey). I recommend a strong English program, rigorous, with lots of writing. The program I used through Seton (unregistered, I just had the books) was very rigorous and in retrospect, very good. I just got a great History program called RC History. The curriculum itself is not that expensive but then you have to get the supplementary books to go along with it...LIBRARY! I love it because it starts with the beginning of time and just goes.

    Another completely different avenue is to go with a "boxed curriculum" that you can afford, even using Seton books, for example, (but not registering, just buying the books they recommend) and then decide what you like and supplement. That way you know they are covering all the bases and then some. Check with your state to see what they should know for each age based on public school standards, keep them one year ahead and you should be fine. ;)

    I dont think you have to spend a lot of money to do a good job homeschooling or have appropriate materials, but I do think it will take some time weeding out what you dont like and figuring out what you do...is there a homeschool conference near you any time `soon?

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    1. Yeah, I feel comfortable designing on my own....my problem is, and will be, time. I can do the lessons, but the lesson planning, printing, organizing is what I'm trying to get out of for next year. Too much stuff, not enough hours in the day!

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  12. MODG!I absolutely love it.Our first son went from 7th through 12th with Seton. I loved it too. However our second son has learning diabilities and MODG is a better fit. They just seem to be more flexible about substituting texts books and incorporating Co-op, (this is our firt year for that: Latin, history, science and writing).

    I like that they are accedited, which is extremely important to me. The syllabus & teacher planner book is user friendly and kid friendly, the extra history reading list is wonderful. I am looking forward to high school when accountability needs to be with some else than just Mom or Dad. Had that journey once and that was truly enough.

    It is costly compared to other programs, yet very much less expensive than Catholic school. It keeps me organized and on track, which is what I need trying to juggle all my other responsibilites. When life gets us off track it gives me a great base to start at and get back in the game. If I didn't have a syllabus & teacher planner book I would just unschool and work all the time. I don't mean unschool in a good way either. You can jump on Emmanual Books and buy the syllabus & teacher planner book without actual enrollment. A couple of families here in Nevada rotate them around. At this point if I had more little ones to manage with the older ones I would use Catholic Heritage for the little ones. Keep it light and simple.

    I do not love peanut butter either, but have found that it is great with chocolate...But I am having a thing about almond butter of late: spread on dried bananas, which is why my middle spread looks like it does. I wish I could say I was pregnant,instead I am just menopausal. Yikes!

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  13. I'm that person who can read any sort of educational philosophy and I buy it. Mason? Sign me up. Classical? Okay! Waldorf? Sure! Montessori? Sounds great!! In the end, while I was picking and choosing for a while, I realized that for sanity sake, i needed a set plan to go off of. After looking through all the Catholic curricula/syllabi I could find, it was between Angelicum and Kolbe. So now we follow Angelicum Academy without being enrolled. We may enroll in the future to get the lesson plans and be able to participate in the distance learning, though I'm not sure since it's pricey for us. I also don't use their prescribed math and use Singapore instead. Hope that helps somewhat. www.angelicum.net I think.

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  14. Just to be a little different, I have a number of FREE curriculum links on my blog at this website: http://oursideofthemtn.blogspot.com/p/fun-edu-sites.html. These links are from different philosophies, but mostly more "traditional" school. Happy hunting!

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  15. If you like the idea of Classical, Catholic and no curriculum planning (besides Math and reading for younger ones), Aquinas Learning is the way to go. This one is mostly for centers, but I think starting next year, they are going to have the option for individuals to do it at home. It's a newer program (only in it's third cycle now) but it's spreading like wild fire in Catholic homeschooling communities all around the U.S. Here's the link: http://www.aquinaslearning.com/

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  16. I'm currently a terrible homeschooler (and I'm so excited to hear about ALEKS! I'm signing up tomorrow!) but back when I did a good job I did all my own curriculum on the cheap. I think this might appeal to you; Dwija. I happened to have a lot of my own childhood textbooks. Then I supplemented the rest by buying old Catholic textbooks off eBay. For Math I did use Saxon--I was lucky enough to get to borrow that from our umbrella school, but you can find that used too. So you could just pick a grade and buy books at that level for each subject, whatever books you fancy. I loved the old Catholic readers and I know you would too. And the Catholic English books were just lovely. I didn't teach science in the early grades--just spent time outside and sent them to the occasional camp. But I was only homeschooling for fourth grade and I knew whatever they missed they'd pick up quickly the following year.

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  17. I absolutely love and recommend My Father's World. Multi-age, cycles, and is easy to use. Covers classical, Charolette Mason etc. I love that it is planned out, but I can stray out on my own for some subjects. Story of the World is my fav for history, I love Singapore and Miquon for math, Spelling Power for spelling just plain rocks (one book for all kids all levels! Cool, no?) Good luck!

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  18. Yeah, I'm gonna like you just fine ;) I have a couple of ideas to share with you - I'm hsing a 6 yr, 7 yr, and a 10 yr old - all boys - my 10 yr old will be doing some 6th and 7th next year & my 6 yr old is doing K & 1st - so, I'm all over the place too - I'm loving GeoMatters Trail guide to learning series because it can be tweaked to suit us and I can work with them all at once & then a bit separately - loving IT!!! we do a lot of hands on learning too - more later on the subject- I'll catch ya on twitter - following now :)just finished the TTD conference (Teach Them Diligently) and am heading to Apologia Live - so I'll have plenty of inspiration to share

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  19. Homeschooling- Our older two did mostly Seton with a year of MODG and STAA. They graduated from Seton but I don't plan on doing that again with our younger two. The older of the younger two is 5 now. We did some CHC K last fall before the baby. We used Math U See for math. This coming fall for her more official K year we've enrolled with St Thomas Aquinas Academy. Can't get the link to work and it's after midnight Sorry. We really liked them the year we used them before and I think we'll enjoy them again. You can send work in for records but it's optional. I like how they really look at the individual child and family to tweak their suggestions for your needs. And I like the majority of the materials they suggest so not a lot of substituting was necessary for us.

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  20. Yay for Charlotte Mason! Pretty much our entire school philosophy is based on her! We used the Tapestry of Grace curriculum at my school for a few years, which is unit studies and such all co-ordinated. It was good, but we always ended up with every teacher riffing off of it so much that we stopped buying the curriculum. My husband teaches all his math classes with the Math-u-see books, but he modifies them a lot. Allt his isn't actually helpful, is it? I can recommend Winston Grammar, Wordly Wise vocab, Explode The Code phonics, Apologia science (kind of... our science teacher likes them. The year I had to teach all the subjects to my grades, I was kind of irritated by Apologia...) For history we find original sources (like the actual journal of Lewis and Clark) rather than textbooks and then we choose the literature to coincide with the historical time period. Usually. This year I didn't because they're doing Ancient history and I don't really feel like reading the Epic of Gilgamesh or whatever :)

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  21. I would just send them off to Catholic school. Seriously, though, I am so amazed at you homeschooling moms. Truly inspirational!!! If I homeschooled, my kids would always be on a fieldtrip :)

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    1. I might consider it if Catholic school was free! But really, the reason we do it is so that we can all be together and they can learn about farming and homemaking (all genders!) in addition to their regular subjects. When they were at school all day, they never got to participate in taking care of the animals or really gardening, and Catholic school wouldn't really solve that problem, as lovely as it would be :)

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  22. I did correspondence study for my last five (six?) years of high school through the North Dakota Division of Independent Study. I really liked it; but during the first four years had a really hard time keeping on task with it. It was the whole send in assignments and tests thing, but it was really nice to have a GPA *and* a high school diploma when it came time to apply to colleges. That said, it's not the cheapest route to go for homeschooling. Good luck!

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  23. Not to be redundant, but wanted to chime in for MODG - I LOVE IT. Buy the syllabus and the teacher planner once you hit the upper grades and you are all set. No need to enroll, either, though a lot of people do when nearing high school or in high school. 4 day weeks, all laid out. No busy, silly work, and perfectly Catholic, every book and every text screened for you. Also very patriotic, which was important to me. The true history of the US, not the one we are fed in the schools now. If I were you, I would borrow or buy a used copy of Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum and one syllabus, so you can get a feel. Go check out the website - you will LOVE the book lists. Plus, it is totally adaptable. Really, really good for a beginner homeschooler, and forever more. It is so good, and sweet, you will love what your children are learning. Good Luck!

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    1. and this lady (friend of mine) has TONS of MODG used curricula for sale http://mrsapplepiebookshop.blogspot.com/

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    2. Ooooh, thanks for the link. Saxon 76 And 65 both available. Sweet!

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    3. Hi Megan, I know what you mean about wanting curriculum to be patriotic, since it's both annoying and false to pretend that the US is the scourge of the world and we ruined the continent, etc. On the other hand, there are lots of falsehoods taught in traditional curriculums, like not covering where Columbus actually landed (Haiti) or how many Indians were really here, or the way Lincoln's stance on slavery improved over his presidency, rather than was always a hard line against it, etc. Does MODG reflect that? Or the more traditional "comforting" patriotic history? I think you can have the truth and still not bash the US. The past is the past, not some big indication that we need to roll over and go socialist. :)

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  24. Delurking here, 'cause, doggonit, you're talking about homeschooling.

    I've been homeschooling for 18 years here, and I wanted to add some things in that no one else said.

    We do MODG, and I enroll just for high school, for the transcript. I like that I actually look my children in the eye and talk to them, and as Laura Berquist asserts, pass my family's views and opinions on to them. That doesn't mean that there aren't workbooks, just lots of talking in the classes that really matter.

    Now, this isn't going to happen to you, but I want to assure you about your upcoming kindergartener. I had a problem pregnancy with a really crazy first year with one of my children. I also had a kindergartener that year, who completed his math and phonics workbooks, from 2 - 2:30 in the afternoon. That's it. I felt like a failure. He's now 15 and is upstairs doing his chemistry. As a fully functional grade A student. So DON'T stress about kindergarten. It all gets filled in at the end, if you happen to miss something.

    Lastly, the best thing you can do for your children's spelling and writing abilities is to get them reading well-written books. You obviously have to TEACH writing and spelling, but for my family, the determining factor has been my line in the sand over good literature. I don't mean The Iliad in second grade or anything, I mean don't fall for the justification of "at least they're reading" when it's The Happy Puppies in Fairyland, or whatever is the latest In Thing To Read (*cough*Twilight*cough*).

    Hope I didn't offend anyone. I have......opinions.

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    1. As a mother of college age all the way down - I have to agree with the REALLY GOOD literature emphasis. I could be tempted to say that aside from religious formation, it is the #1 most important aspect of schooling. Good literature, and LOTS of it, will equal good ACT and SAT scores. It is that simple. If they can read very well, at a higher level, and write well, as an extension of all that reading, they will do well in college. I can't stress it enough. We had one (my stepdaughter who was NOT homeschooled - mother wouldn't allow it) who graduated from public highschool with a 3.8 on a 4.0 scale and get only 18 on her ACTs. Her first year in college was horrid as well. She never would read what I suggested, and I truly think it harmed her. GO with the good stuff!lol

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  25. Take a look at RCHistory.com
    (for Roman Catholic History)

    Living-books, Classical-inspired history infused with the Catholic perspective. (What else was happening in the Middle Ages?!?)

    Best of all, no "requirements" and totally adaptable to your circumstances/needs. And you could do all the kids in the same history era.

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  26. Hi there! I found your site yesterday thanks to the marvelous Simcha Fisher. Thoughts:
    1.) You are hilarious. Not kind of funny. H.I.L.A.R.I.O.U.S.
    2.) Everything I've read on your site is interesting. Not that my standards are high, but because I'm the kind of person who can watch paint dry, I was pleasantly stirred from my regular stupor while reading.
    3.) I run a tutoring company/tutor/was homeschooled/was a teacher/am going to homeschool my kids when they're school age. I highly recommend Seton for a full blown curriculum that's very Catholic. They use Saxon, which is a great math program. If you want to mix-and-match, I LOVE Nancie Atwell's "Lessons That Change Writers" book, which is for classroom teachers, but easily adapts to any middle schoolers. It's a bit expensive, so email me if you want me to send over a scan of some of the stuff to see if it's up your alley. She also has some great books on reading, as do Jim Trelease and Kelley Gallagher. The year I taught reading to 7th and 8th graders, using techniques gleaned from these writers, my average student popped up 4 grade levels, after years of stagnation. Read, read, read!
    4.) Love the picture of you with the Spider Man hat.

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    1. Hello, I am a home school mom struggling with curriculum this year. I was working with a teacher who recommended Nancy Atwell's book you mentioned above. I bought it, and loss on how to incorporate it into my curriculum. I was looking for a step by step approach. Any suggestions. Thanks,

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  27. Have you heard of k12? It isn't charlotte mason, but it might be good for your "baby year". You can get your supplies paid for by the state. Here's the link for michigan... http://www.k12.com/participating-schools/michigan

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  28. I didn't see anyone mention this and it might not be the type of homeschooling you are looking for, but Time4Learning is what we use. My situation is very much different than yours, 1 child, 6th and 7th grade work, but she really loves Time4Learning. For your older kids, it might present an opportunity for them to work alone in their core subjects. T4L is standards based, online, and I know my child is getting more information in a year than she would in public school, and at her own pace. I love that it plans lessons and keeps records for me. We suppliment when and where necessary, but do enjoy it very much. Good luck and happy homeschooling!
    Linda
    Charging forward in our sixth grade curriculum, homeschooling because it is what we need to do, and wondering where tomorrow will lead us!

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  29. Dwija,

    If you can move from CA to build a homestead in MI, you can definitely keep going with homeschooling. That has been the one stable fact in a life as wild and crazy as yours--maybe crazier. Several times, we've looked into various "boxed" curricula (especially when we got to high school) only to decide that I would change this and that and the other thing. So far, we're continuing with our own ecclectic classical curriculum. I'm very happy with some elements and not so happy with others, but on we go. God bless. I love your blog.

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  33. Just found your blog. Thank you Lord!! You still out there? Last post was from a year ago. Very, very new to homeschooling. So new that today is the first day of no public school in 20 years(we have eight children). You had me at "you like your sacraments Catholic and your beer cold."

    Thank you to all the above input. I am beginning to kind of get it. Kinda. I am stressing because I think I have to run it like a brick & mortar institution but I am finding out that maybe I don't need to be freaking out...I can take some time to figure it out and our kiddos will learn along the way and be alright until I've got it dialed in right. Let's hope. Since I/we have never done this before I do believe I am going to go with a set curriculum. I think. Oh my goodness, so overwhelming this homeschooling, at least the getting started part. I will be attempting to educate our last two, a 4th & special ed 5th grader.

    Pretty sure we are going to use Seton, but I had no idea I could buy curriculum and not enroll.

    All comments and suggestions and or advice would be appreciated:)

    ReplyDelete

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