Saturday, October 22, 2011

Homeschool Curriculum 2011-2012

Outside of "How do you live in only 380 square feet in the middle of nowhere?" the top three things I am most asked about are backpacking, canning, and how we homeschool. Though we talk quite a bit about the backpacking and canning, very little has been covered on our homeschooling. So, this year I thought I'd hit it a little harder than before. By the third year, we are starting to have a pretty good thing going and I feel comfortable enough to talk about it.
The Stats
The Barracuda is 7 years old and technically enrolled in second grade. For many of his subjects he is enrolled in 4th grade having completed/tested above the second grade standards. He is an incredibly intense student and we have learned not to restrain this, but to provide it knowledge as best we can. When restrained, he gets bored, naughty and generally becomes a butthead. Either that, or he decides to learn it for himself and some conclusions are a bit strange. (Did you know that Islamic berqas make it so that women can't see? I didn't realize this, but after some discussion I quickly clarified that berqas are meant for women to not be seen instead of being blind.)

Due to his intensity, some of this might look a little hardcore for his age. The topics are of his own choosing and he continually expresses what is working and what isn't. For the most part, if it isn't working we change it or drop it. Throughout this post I use the term "we" to mean us as a family and most specifically The Barracuda and I. Since we are in this together, we are learning together as well. Homeschooling is a family endeavor, there are just no two ways about it.

We would be considered structured unschoolers, in that The Barracuda gets to make a good 85-90% of his own learning choices, time commitments, and school structure. Due to his perfectionism, and the lack of personal knowledge he has some places where we insist he broaden his horizons (examples include, guiding him away from singular projects he is fixating on in unhealthy ways for weeks and weeks at a time, providing academic reading lists or books, requiring him to write even though it was difficult for him initially).

By October, most of the sand has been shaken out of our curriculum choices and we have found the rhythm of what is going to work. Like many homeschooling families, that which looks great on paper in August, doesn't necessarily turn out the same a couple months in. By now, we have a focal point in all our studies and a general backbone of where we are headed.

Curriculum for 2011-2012

Reading: The current goal of reading in our family (beyond just enjoyment and fluency) is to develop conversations in multiple forums about books. The Barracuda therefore will not only write his thoughts about books in report fashion, but also have discussions with adults and peers about different aspects of literature.
Personal Reading: Harry Potter series with book reports for each completed book. He will often choose fluff reading books here and there that he can just pound out like candy when he wants them.

Group Reading:
Going through the Top 100 Classic Books Novels list (the list gets reviewed every 10 years or so and you can find out more about where it came from here). These books are read by both The Barracuda and myself and we do Socratic discussion as a family.

Peer Reading:
Our homeschool group has a Literature Circle. A children's novel (Ms. Piggly-Wiggly, A Cricket in Time Square, etc.) is read independently, the kids discuss their thoughts about it in a Socratic seminar, and a project is completed about some facet of the book.

Writing: The major focus of this year's writing is to create cohesive essays which are constructed and revised with purpose. A focus on not only conventions, but cohesion and organization of ideas is the major goal.
Copywork: The Barracuda does regular copywork as he is trying to learn cursive writing something fierce. He picks a book of his choosing (right now The Arabian Nights), grabs a passage, and writes for a while.

Daily Paragraph Editing: The boy loves this stuff!

Essays: The Barracuda also completes shorter (only 5-8 paragraphs) essays on various topics he has learned about in science, history, or math. The focus is on thesis writing and clear exposition.
Social Studies: We do not do revisionist history or watered down current events in our household. We talk about smallpox blankets, not Pilgrims and Indians sitting down to eat turkey. My son listens to NPR, The Daily Show, and the Colbert Report with us and we answer his questions honestly. Sometimes it gets turned down a bit when talking about raping small children or equally graphic issues, since the point is to make him aware not scar him.
United States History:
We are doing American Literature and literary periods as they correspond with historical events. We try to read first hand accounts of literature (On Plymouth Plantation, The Declaration of Independence, Nature by Emerson, Civil Disobedience, etc) and discuss their common threads to create a cultural understanding of the time period. We mainly use "Elements of Literature: Fifth Course" (Holt, Rinehart, and Wilson). This is supplemented with Joy Hakim's "Freedom: The Story of U.S." and "Creating America: Beginnings through World War 1 Online Addition" (McDougal Littell) for maps, charts, graphs and pictures.

Geography: The Barracuda has decided he wants to learn the countries of the world as well as the mountain ranges, rivers, and other physical geography. This is taking the place of our world history for this year. We found this foundation to be essential since most of the books we have read are either ridiculously watered down, very stereotypical, or already assume you have a general idea of the regions geography. We are using "World Reference Maps and Forms" (Evan Moor) along with the great computer games at Play Kids Games (scroll down for the Geography games).

Local and Regional History:
The Pacific Crest Trail hike we are planning has become the largest source of our local history, geography, and social studies. The Pacific Crest Trail: A Hikers Companion by Berger & Smith is quite wonderful.

Civics: 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens and discussing how to implement the strategies in our lives.
Science: The goal of science in our household is for The Barracuda to understand the interconnected nature of everything around him. From his body to biodiversity and sustainable practices, we try to foster the idea that you must think about the minute details as well as the big picture.
Physical Science: Beakman's World is the jumping off point for many of The Barracuda's science questions. He is then allowed free reign on the Internet to Google topics and discuss what he finds. We also use Thames and Cosmos Physics and Solar Physics Workshops, build catapults and ancient weapons, and are a voluntary simplicity household which uses many simple and compound machines.

Earth Science: We hike and we hike and we hike. Most earth science is done through active discussion and participation. The Barracuda also keeps a Nature Journal where he draws, catalogs, and identifies most everything he sees (rocks, birds, bugs, fungus, plants, you name it).

Life Science: This is probably the most multimedia approach we have to any subject.
Puzzles: Melissa & Doug Human Body Floor Puzzle
Songs: Lyrical Life Science volumes 1, 2, 3 by Doug Eldon
Movies: Thank you NetFlix!
Books: The Incredible Machine by Robert M. Poole , Atlas of Anatomy by Anne M. Gilroy, Human Anatomy and Physiology by Spence and Mason (3rd Edition)
Art:The only time The Barracuda has ever asked to go to public school was to be able to have art class. I wasn't taking his desire for art seriously enough. So now we study a period of art, learn the historical/cultural significance, recreate great masterpieces from the period, and study the artist's technique and their lives.

He is a perfectionist and many of the paintings take him 6 or more weeks to complete. This is one area we have to "talk him down" from being neurotic and gently guide him forward. As far as he is concerned, Van Gogh's "Starry Night" is not completed yet and the city needs greater detail.
Materials: Acrylic Paints, PrismaColor Pencils
Books: Gardner's Art Through The Ages along with the book companion website
Time Period:
Currently Post Impressionists.

Math: Most of our math is discussion based. We incorporate our daily activities into mathematical practice. This year the focus is on multiplication, division, fractions and decimals. Currently The Barracuda is working with least common denominators and conversion of fractions to decimals. I expect wrapping his brain completely around this concept (not just being able to do it) will take most of the rest of the year.
Drill and Kill Practice: Math Connection 4th and 5th Grade (Rainbow Bridge Publishing)
Enrichment: The Barracuda picks these things all by himself. The only time we put a halt on enrichment activities is if they will actively complicate other things he has already desired to learn. He would like to begin both Latin and Mandrin, but he has to learn Spanish first. He cannot start the formal dance academy since we will be leaving to hike the PCT in April. By next year we will begin both dance and Latin.
Spanish: Rosetta Stone and Dos Mundos (McGraw-Hill)
PE: Rock Climbing/Mountaineering and PCT Training
Music: Absolute Beginners Guitar Course
Sunglasses are essential for being a rock star and for learning guitar.

4 thoughts:

MaMammalia said...

Hi! I found my way here via Outdoor Baby glad I did! I really admire what you're doing and love to hear details about how you've made it possible.

This homeschool curriculum is amazing! It sounds like your son is getting a WAY better education than the average kid. Keep up the good work!

Mel said...

Wow, that sounds cool..and intimidating. I am planning on homeschooling my kids and realizing how much work goes into for mom;) Even those of us who want to mostly unschool.

Granola Girl said...

@ MaMammalia ~ Thanks for the compliment. The Outdoor Baby Network is way cool. I totally dig all the people I have found on there as well!

@ Mel ~ Don't worry too much about the homeschooling (you're basically unschooling right now). It all kinda falls into place as you go. There is a very good reason you haven't seen much about homeschooling the first year or two :)

Mel said...

Yeah, I'm not too worried about it...until I see everything that is available out there. The boys want to try EVERYTHING and I want to make sure they are exposed to a lot so they can discover their "passions." But, I don't want to overwhelm anyone. You're right, though, I'll figure it out. I've gotten us this far ;)

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