Tag Archives: curriculum

Oops, I did it again! Changing curriculum again… and again

1 Nov

By Renée Gotcher

My tango with homeschooling curriculum has been pretty well documented on this blog. If you haven’t followed my journey, here are the highlights of our curriculum exploration over the past two years…

First Year: My Father’s World and why it didn’t work for us

Second Year: Why I chose to try Heart of Wisdom & Charlotte Mason method

Ask a NextGen Homeschooler: What textbooks or curriculum do you use and why?

What I haven’t divulged this school year is that in the beginning, we were trying yet another new multi-age Christian homeschooling curriculum. We started our “official” year with the highly regarded Heart of Dakota — in hopes of finding something more flexible, more “laid out” (read: ready to go) and more easily customizable to my three daughters’ ability levels, while also being faith-based and unit-study driven like Heart of Wisdom.

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We gave HOD an honest go for about a month, and it quickly became clear to me that my eldest daughter — 11 1/2 years old and the avid reader in the family — would quickly speed way ahead of my 10-year-old daughter (with a short attention span), and that if I tried to keep them both working on the same unit according to the lesson plan, one would be bored and the other would be frustrated with too many items on her daily “to do” list. I also tried to find cross-over with my 5-year-old daughter’s HOD curriculum for our daily enrichment activities, but her suggested track with HOD for her age was actually quite different in subject matter from what I was doing with the older two, so there was very little we could do together (such as art projects, read-aloud living books, etc.).

When it came to math, we had discovered early on in our homeschooling journey that Math-U-See worked fabulously for all three girls. That was a real blessing, so no issues there! Shurley English, which is new for us this year, has worked really well for both my sisters in law Rosanna and Elizabeth and working with their multi-age daughters together. So far, it has been working smoothly for us as a grammar and writing curriculum for both of my older girls together, while my youngest is still learning to read with Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, combined with BOB Books.

I was really hoping that HOD would provide the “laid-out” lesson plan that I was looking for to handle the rest of our subjects in a unit study, multi-age, Charlotte Mason kind of way, with a strong biblical foundation. And don’t get me wrong — it’s a fabulous curriculum if you like the unit study format with a biblical worldview. There was a lot we enjoyed about it, but unfortunately I was spending way too much time trying to re-customize the given assignments for each child to fit our daily plan together and challenge my older daughter while breaking things down better for my younger daughter.

On days when I thought I had it all figured out, school lasted hours longer than I had planned. My eldest was always ahead and asking “what’s next?” while my younger two were overwhelmed and quickly began to lose interest. This is after I negotiated great deals on securing our new curriculum online via used homeschooling sales on Facebook and other group Web sites.

Seriously? Are we here again?

If there’s one thing I have learned on my previous two curriculum expeditions, it’s that there’s no reason to waste any time trying to reconfigure something that isn’t working for you. You’re the teacher, so you can switch gears whenever you feel that it’s necessary — no need to wait for a semester break or new school year. It’s more important to do what works for you than worry about being “inconsistent” or having a few extra books on your shelf.

So just as quickly as I purchased this year’s HOD books online, I was able to resell them to other eager moms waiting to score a used curriculum deal too. The buyers were happy — and I was happy. No harm done to the pocketbook.

Now what?

Earlier this summer when I was investigating Heart of Dakota, I had also come across a curriculum called Trail Guide to Learning by Geography Matters. I had originally been attracted to this curriculum because it was not only multi-age and unit-study driven, but it actually provided grade/ability-specific “notebooks” for each child that followed the main curriculum. The student notebooks provided different assignments (already predesigned in PDF form!) that were matched to their skill level for the main unit the entire family was studying. It was so close to what I was looking for, I was initially sold from the Web site alone. However, when I asked around on Facebook and other social media outlets, I didn’t hear back from many moms who’d been using it and could provide their experienced opinion. So I moved on.

Now that I was basically back to the drawing board, Trail Guide to Learning was my first stop, and their first series, Paths of Exploration, seemed like an ideal place to start with the ages and skill level of my girls. One thing that had always appealed to me about POE was the fact that you can download one unit at a time online, rather than purchasing a whole year’s curriculum at once for a higher price. The PDF file of each unit comes with both a teacher’s guide and student notebook pages, as well as related appendix pages. Perfect for tentative buyers like me who want to see if something is going to work before making a full-fledged investment!

Another plus: Downloadable, predesigned lapbooks that accompany each volume of the year’s curriculum. This is about as “well laid out” as I could have imagined! Last year we had experimented with lapbooks, and although the girls loved the creative aspects of them, they really wanted more direction as to what to include and how to present the information in an easy-to-discover format. The templates and cutouts provided by the POE lapbook PDF were exactly what we needed to bring lapbooks back into the picture without creating additional work for me and additional research for them.

I also appreciated that the books on the recommended reading list were not only “living books” (a Charlotte Mason recommendation), but easy to purchase used online or download to a Kindle. I had no trouble securing the books for Unit One the same night I downloaded the unit’s curriculum from the company Web site. Within two days (Amazon Prime delivery time), we were ready to dive into our fourth curriculum expedition.

It’s been two weeks, and…

I’m happy to report that we love our Paths of Exploration curriculum! I love it because I have that well “laid out” lesson plan that saves me time and keeps us on track for the year. Along with that, my daughters have their own tracks to journey along with the family in our unit study in a way that meets their skills and ability level — and I didn’t have to come up with those customizations on my own. They are also enjoying the week-long lapbook project that goes along with our daily lessons and notebook work. It’s a great way to switch gears for my short-attention-span learner and provide extra work for my speedy learner. Even my five-year-old has gotten into her own sping on the lapbooks, because why not? It’s all ready to print out and go — and she loves anything that involves coloring and cut-outs!

The recommended reading for “enrichment” (read: speedy learners) is just as compelling as the required reading for the unit. My eldest has already read two books off the recommended reading for enrichment, and she is learning more than I ever learned in school about these subjects. There is plenty to keep her challenged and engaged, while my 10-year-old gets the same content covered in smaller bites she can swallow.

Dare I say that we might have discovered the ideal curriculum for our family?

I’m too pragmatic to call this particular stop “the end” of our curriculum journey. However, I’m extremely optimistic that Trail Guide to Learning could really work for us. Right now, it’s working: The girls love it, I love it. It truly fits my family in this particular moment in time.

And this moment in time is all that matters.

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” — Matthew 6:34

Renée Gotcher is an entrepreneur, writer, wife & home-educating mother of three daughters: Audrey, Claire and Elise. Renée was homeschooled during her last two years of high school and started homeschooling in 2010. She and her family currently reside in Castle Rock, Colorado.

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Ask a NextGen Homeschooler: How do you save money on school expenses?

17 Jul

Welcome to “Ask a NextGen Homeschooler…” It’s your turn to ask the authors of NextGen Homeschool — four formerly homeschooled moms who are now homeschooling our children — to weigh in on your homeschooling questions. From the practical to the personal, all questions are welcome — whether you’re a current homeschooler or just homeschooling curious!

This week’s question is probably on every mom’s mind — regardless of whether they homeschool or not — at this time of year (and it seems to get earlier and earlier every summer): How do you save money gearing up for the new school year? Especially as a homeschooling parent, with all the costs of schooling to manage, do you have a strategy for purchasing supplies and curriculum without breaking the bank?

Last school year we addressed the topic of how we choose curriculum in a separate post on curriculum. This post also includes some tips on saving money as well when putting your curriculum together. Here are strategies from the NextGen Homeschool authors about shopping smart during the back-to-school sales and other promotions going on at this time of year:

NextGen Author Rosanna Ward
Was homeschooled since 8th grade
Began homeschooling in 2005: Two homeschool graduate daughters & two sons (7, 1)

“I have a real problem with school supply sales. Even though I already have plenty of stuff after homeschooling for seven years, I just can’t help myself. I can’t pass up 50-cent crayons and markers, etc. I literally have to keep myself from filling my cart with all this “fun” stuff. I still have unopened glue and markers from last August.

I remember when my girls went to public school, I would go pick up the dreaded “school supply list” and then gripe and complain about the odd things on it, such as baby wipes, paper plates and plastic baggies — and the fact that they wanted certain brands (why did they have to be Prang watercolors and Fiskars scissors?). Now that I am a homeschool mom, I have the freedom to just stock up on the items and brands that I want: It’s so much more fun!

The biggest curriculum savings I found when I first started homeschooling was that my girls were able to do history, science and English together because they were so close in age. I saved money because I didn’t have to buy two of everything, but it was also more fun to do their school lessons together.

We are also very blessed, here in Tulsa, to have a used homeschool bookstore called Bibiomania, and a once-a-month free “book blessings,” where we can pick books up for free and also donate the stuff we are done with. I actually splurged this year and bought mostly new or barely used Horizons curriculum and history curriculum (Ancient Civilizations and the Bible, which I will use with my sister Elizabeth’s girls as well as my son Joel).”

NextGen Author Elizabeth Thomas
Was homeschooled from K-12
Began homeschooling in 2009: Four daughters ages 13, 12, 10 & 4

“Take me to the sales — I make a list of what I need and stick to that list the best I can. I try to hit places such as the Dollar Tree and check for the big sales at other stores. Pencils are my big item that I must buy more of this year during these sales. Paper of all kinds, pencils and red pens seem to be the things we run out of most often during the school year, so I will try to stock up this time.

To save money on curriculum, I have used Goodwill, Bibliomania, Craigslist, thrift stores, Amazon.com, and the Free Books trade at a local church. Oklahoma is such a big homeschooling state that finding used books can be pretty easy. For example, I got a Saxon Math book at Goodwill for $1 and picked up the accompanying answer keys for free at the book trade. If you’re resourceful, you can assemble a very complete curriculum for your children without spending thousands.”

NextGen Editor Renée Gotcher
Was homeschooled in 11-12th grade
Began homeschooling in 2010: Three daughters ages 11, 9 and 5

“Last spring I became a full-fledged couponer (see my personal blog for a four-part series on my journey), so spending as little money as possible on school supplies was a must for me utilizing my new couponing skills. I didn’t do a good job of tracking all my expenses and savings, but I do know that I saved LOTS of money by using coupons plus weekly store sales — and I still have unopened packs of notebook paper, pens, pencils and index cards, plus unused spiral notebooks and 3-prong file folders.

One thing I learned from shopping more strategically last year that is helping me save even more money this year is that week to week, at least one store (if not several) will feature a few “penny” and even FREE items, with limits to how many you can purchase at one time. These super deals will vary each week, but they always cover all the basics, such as pens, pencils, paper, folders, glue, crayons, etc. So my plan this year has been to limit my shopping each week to the super deals (and utilize cash rebate programs whenever possible) and trust that by the end of this back-to-school cycle, I will have all the bases covered.

I use helpful Web sites such as the Krazy Coupon Lady, Passion for Savings and Coupon Connections, because they do all the research for you. This makes it quick and easy to identify where I will go each week and what to buy there. You can even print out a shopping list of just the deals you plan to shop for right from their deals lists!

All of this for a net cost of $4.12 using coupons, Staples penny deals of the week, and cash rebates on items purchased!

So far I have passed on a lot of the first week sales that weren’t so great and have spent only a net of $4.12 at Staples, purchasing about $50 worth of items! I now have two plastic shoe box sized tubs filled with enough glue, crayons, pens, pencils, mechanical pencils, markers, new scissors, erasable markers, and more for all three of my girls.

And if I have any holes left to fill by the end of this early sale season, I can pick up what I am still missing during clearance time: Last year I discovered that Target’s clearances seemed to be the best, with lots of necessities still in stock but for 80-90% off. Walgreens also had a pretty decent selection of school items left come clearance time.

When it comes to curriculum, I am still looking for that perfect match between curriculum publishers and my pocketbook. Our first year I bought a multi-age curriculum package for about $400 (however it didn’t include math or language arts) and found that we didn’t use all the books. So last year I tried to save money by purchasing curriculum lesson plans only and then borrowing, buying used or checking out all the necessary books to complete the year’s lesson plan. That was more work than I thought it would be, and sometimes I simply could not locate a book that I needed at the time I wanted to do the lesson. But I only spent about $150 on the lesson plans I purchased, which was a big savings over my first year, and much less on math by purchasing used curriculum and only one new student book.

This year I am searching yet again for the ideal curriculum to fit our family and our budget. I will keep you posted!”

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How do you save money on school supplies, curriculum and other school-related expenses? We’d love to hear your strategies and tips too!

We are also taking NEW questions for upcoming “Ask a NextGen Homeschooler” features. Send your questions to nextgenhomeschool@gmail.com or post them as comments to this article (and let us know if it’s OK to quote you if we use your question). We look forward to responding to your homeschooling questions!

Tulsa OCHEC Homeschool Convention 2012

17 May

By Rosanna Ward

The long anticipated yearly homeschool convention in Tulsa has come and gone. Both my sister and I needed the encouragement. Tuesday, the first day of the convention was awesome – my lovely daughter, Virginia, was home watching Leif so my homeschooling sister Elizabeth and I could be kid free for the day. The speakers were good, but the best part was just walking around the vendor hall researching our curriculum options and buying odds and ends.

It was such a great feeling to be in a crowded convention center with other homeschooling families! Wednesday was a little harder for me because I had to bring the little guy and wasn’t able to sit through a class, but again I enjoyed walking around the vendor hall. Elizabeth learned quite a bit in her classes.

Joel went to the kids program, which he loved! Virginia entered three photographs into the convention Photo Contest. Her black-and-white photo won first place: She received a ribbon and a Mardel’s gift card.

Once again my favorite speaker was Andrew Pudewa. I took his workshop on the Reluctant Writer and also on the Culture War. I had wanted to attend his workshop on teaching boys again but wasn’t able to. A new speaker this year was Kirk Martin and his son Casey, who have a ministry called Calm Christian Parenting. I attended their workshop called, “Are You at Your Wits End? 10 Secrets to a Stress Free Home.” They spoke about discipline: I picked up a few new ideas there and was inspired by the class.

I didn’t get a chance to attend any of the other speakers, but my sister Elizabeth went to a class on Reading Disabilities by Sam Oliphant and really learned a lot about how to effectively teach her daughter Faith. I hope she writes about that here on our blog soon.

Overall it was a good break and gave us some much needed motivation. I hope they get some bigger speakers next year, because I should be able to sit through more of them by then. But this year I got just what I needed — a little bit of education and a lot of encouragement!

Rosanna Ward is a devoted wife of 19 years and mother of four children, two of which are currently homeschooled. Her oldest daughter is a homeschool graduate, and her youngest son is a toddler. Rosanna is a homeschool graduate and has been homeschooling for six years. Rosanna loves to study History and Genealogy, and currently resides in Sand Springs, Oklahoma.

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