Tag Archives: lesson plans

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.


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.

Gearing up for the “official” start of school: Ward family

10 Aug

By Rosanna Ward

Although my son Joel and I have been reading and doing math facts practice all summer, along with golf and swim lessons, August 6th will be our “official” back-to-school start date. That means back into (um… or beginning) a routine: bedtime, awake, chores, breakfast, devotionals, no cartoons, and a full school schedule starting at 9am and stopping at 3pm.

Does this mean I make my 7-year-old boy sit at a desk for that time period? Like that’s even possible! No, this year I am planning “centers” (kind of like a Montessori thing, I guess). He will have a lesson plan with assignments in Horizons workbooks for each subject, but because he usually finishes each assignment in less than 15 minutes, each center will have other activities to do.

For example, we will start off the day with math. Joel will do a math facts practice sheet (5 minutes), followed by his Horizons assignment (15 minutes). Then he will have 20 minutes or so to enjoy a math “center” activity, such as a math game on the computer or iPad, math bingo or the math dice game, or some other activities I have. I found a great Web site for creating math facts worksheets called Math Fact Cafe.

After math, we move on to reading, then English, all with the same concept — an assignment followed by some time in a “center” activity. After lunch and a short break, Joel will do science and history the same way. I am hoping this will solve the “starting at 9am, done at 11am, and bored the rest of the day” problem we experienced before.

I have also put together “center” ideas for my toddler. He now has a “town” rug with all of his cars and floor toys, as well as a table and chair for his art, play dough, and small manipulative activities. I am doing all of this in our home office space this year, hoping to contain the mess.

Something I started last year that I plan to maintain is the Prize Bucket. It worked great as a motivation tool and also helped me be able to say “no” when I take the boys to the store and they want me to buy them things.  I recently refilled the Prize Bucket with Matchbox cars, airplanes, flashlights, fans, gum, Toy Story figures, candy bars, stickers, trading cards, Angry Birds toys, etc. I really need to get in the habit of picking up clearance toys for this, because those little $1 to $2 items can add up quickly. However, it really seems to motivate Joel to focus on getting things done.

Everything in the Prize Bucket has a points value, and once a month, Joel can take the points he has earned and buy things from the bucket. Last year I kept track of his points with a punch card: For some reason, it was hard to keep track of the points this way, so I may try something new this year.

I plan to award points for meeting different 2nd grade standards, such as reading a certain amount of pages. Last year I awarded points per book, but we are moving from short, easy-read picture books to “chapter” books this year. I will also award points for doing math facts in a certain amount of time. Our goal this year is to get addition and subtraction facts to 3 minutes or less. We are also going to work on writing skills. Points will be awarded for good spelling, vocabulary tests, and creative sentence writing, as well as copy work and some dictation.

All of these subjects have pretty objective standards, but one of the bigger areas we will be working on this year is attitude.  We are trying to eliminate the “whine” —  I am still coming up with a way to award points for this.

I bought the Well Planned Day Planner at the Tulsa homeschooling convention this spring, and I am trying to be better at filling it in this year. My goal is to stick to a plan and a routine a little better than last year. Next up in the planning stage is field trip and outside activity scheduling.

Rosanna Ward is a devoted wife of 19 years and mother of four children, two of which are homeschool graduates. She currently homeschools her 7-year-old son Joel and her youngest son is a toddler. Rosanna is a homeschool graduate and has been homeschooling for seven years. Rosanna loves to study History and Genealogy: Her genealogy blog is called “Rosanna’s Genealogical Thoughts.” She and her family reside in Sand Springs, Oklahoma.

Ask a NextGen Homeschooler: What Role Does Dad Play?

13 Mar

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 was inspired by a recent article on SimpleHomeschool.net called “Collaborative Homeschooling for the Whole Family,” which was followed up by another view on this topic in “A Mom & Dad Homeschool Team.”

What role does Dad play in the family’s homeschooling life?

Although we NextGen Homeschool authors aren’t in the same shoes as the author of the Collaborative Homeschooling post, Hillary Boucher, who is now working full-time while her husband handles the day-to-day homeschool duties (which was a role reversal for them), we appreciated the ideas shared by both posts because they raise great questions — and solutions — about parents working as a team in the homeschooling process. We realized that even though we moms are handling most of the daytime schooling activities in our homes, the roles our husbands do play are very vital to the success of our homeschooling efforts — and we are very grateful for that partnership.

NextGen Author Rosanna Ward
Was homeschooled since 8th grade
Began homeschooling in 2005

“I have posted before about my own dad’s role in our schooling when I was being homeschooled. (See “What Role Can Dads Play in the Homeschool?“) My husband Jason’s role has always been more that of a principal. He makes sure we don’t get too far off track, deals with any real discipline problems, etc.

I guess you could also say Jason is in charge of the business and work experience credits for my two older girls. Both girls worked at our donut shop several days a week since they were 13 or 14 years old. They both have a lot of experience in customer service, mental math, counting change, bank deposits, employee management, and the other aspects it takes to run a successful small business.

For my 7-year-old Joel, his dad teaches the golf portion of his schooling. They go golfing at least twice a week and talk golf nonstop. He also takes Joel to the shop with him sometimes and to go buy inventory, so Joel is getting a head start in business administration as well. Jason also likes Joel to read to him sometimes, and when I need to step away for a few minutes, he helps with math or whatever Joel is struggling with at that time.

I definitely couldn’t homeschool without Jason’s help; physically, emotionally, and financially. I know that I am blessed that I have spouse that works hard so that I can stay home and teach our children.”

NextGen Author Cristina Eklund
Was homeschooled since the 6th grade
Began homeschooling in 2010

“What a great question! I am so grateful that we live in a time in history when women can share the upbringing of the children with their spouses in more ways than having husbands solely funtion as the bread winners (though thank you very much to the husbands that do so!). My husband Jeremy is a high school history teacher, and when we went from two incomes to one (it’s been six years on and off that way), he has also added carpentry and landscaping side jobs to his workload.

First and foremost, Jeremy shares in the weight of homeschooling with me by fully supporting and even encouraging me in this endeavor. I decided before even attempting to homeschool the kids that if he was not 100% on board, it was a no go. Thankfully, he is fully supportive.

Jeremy says he really appreciates that I’ve taken time to read books on the subject of education (I’ve got at least 10 on my nightstand) and that he is grateful I am teaching his kids. This is huge for me, because he’s a teacher and I am a designer by trade. My job used to be to read fashion magazines!

Secondly, Jeremy picks up on a lot of the slack around the house: laundry, dinner dishes, bathing the kids, (many of which inevitably fall behind because of additional time spent on outings), planning lessons on the computer, filing schoolwork that is complete… You get the idea.

Thirdly, Jeremy reads a lot to the kids, and I usually slip in books I need to get covered for the unit we are on into the pile of books he is reading them. He also reads aloud on Monday evenings after dinner (a non-picture book to get the kids using their imagination a little bit more). After dinner or as they are finishing up seems to be a non-threatening way of accomplishing this, as well as providing an enjoyable time hearing the story as well.

Jeremy always attends field trips or special co-op meetings with me. Just having him there reminds me and the kids that we are a team. Lastly, I find I can easily fill my schedule with great “to-do”s for the kids, but talking to my husband about my plans and what our days look like, he always bring me back to what is important in their education right now (things we’ve talked about together in the past) and encourages me to cut out the extras.

Though the planning and day-to-day teaching of the kids is something I take care of, I feel a huge amount of support from my husband. Having the kids’ work ready for them to show him or a book we read for them to narrate to him at dinner keeps him in touch with what we are doing.

Recently my husband brought up that because of our son’s amazing memory (he memorizes picture books word for word, which my husband became aware of because of Elijah’s recitation of them to him), we should focus some time on training him to memorize large portions of scripture. I thought it was a great idea and will be sure to include my husband on deciding what portion we should start with, as well as what incentive we should use.

I feel that part of my responsibility of training my children is to include their dad, so that they know he cares very much about their education, as much as their mommy does.”

NextGen Editor Renée Gotcher
Was homeschooled in 11-12th grade
Began homeschooling in 2010

“I was intrigued by the ideas shared in the articles mentioned above because even though my husband works from home and could probably be more involved in the day-to-day aspects of our homeschooling, we hadn’t figured out yet what that should look like. I really appreciate the ideas shared by these other families, and they’ve given us a lot of food for thought. Right now, the question is still on the table for us because my husband Kenny truly does want to be more involved with our homeschooling.

What my husband has provided for us from the start has been 100% support — spiritually, emotionally and financially. Kenny was homeschooled along with my sisters-in-law Rosanna and Elizabeth by his father, and homeschooling was something we had both talked about doing years before we had children. Although we didn’t start right away when our eldest were school age (for more on that journey, see “My Biggest Homeschooling Blunder: Thinking I’d Be Ready“). My husband’s encouragement played a huge role in helping me get to the place where I was ready.

Once we made that choice and started preparing, he helped me sort through curriculum options and find what we thought would be the best fit for our family. When I started struggling with it midway through our first year, he helped me troubleshoot my problems and find solutions. He also helped me search for new curriculum and lesson planning strategies that would overcome those issues in the new school year. Like Rosanna said, I’d say Kenny is a great “principal” for our homeschool: He sets the standard with me and keeps us all in line (I need it too sometimes).

On a day-to-day basis, I currently do all the teaching. Since Kenny does work from home, he will watch an occasional presentation from the girls, come see a new skill they’ve just mastered, and eat lunch with us most days. He’s also available for those moments when I need a break from the girls to clear my head and want to talk to an adult for a few minutes. He has made a point of trying to attend most elementary presentation days and other important functions in our local homeschool group as well.

One of the biggest contributions Kenny makes to our daily life as a family is cooking dinner — yes, you read that right, my husband is the chef in our family! I am so blessed and grateful for his skills with food and his willingness to share them with us on a daily basis. He is a whiz in the kitchen, and not only does his preparation of dinner save me time and an extra thing to think about all day, it provides another opportunity for our girls to learn a skill from him, not just me. I do enjoy baking with my eldest daughter Audrey (who loves to cook and bake) from time to time, but I really enjoy letting my husband work his magic in the kitchen and let the girls learn his secrets in the process.

Things we are currently discussing for future implementation include Kenny teaching a class from time to time, his being more involved in our morning routine and some more of the fun things we do together, like watch educational DVDs as a family and go on our own field trips besides those provided through our local group. We also want the girls to get a better sense that he’s just as involved in the homeschooling planning and follow-through as I am, even though I’ll still do most of the teaching.

I look forward to reporting back again soon with news about what we implement and how it improves our homeschooling environment, both for our girls and for us.”


What role does Dad play in your homeschooling life? We’d love to hear what you think!

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!

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