Choosing Curriculum: Make it Personal

The Canadian Homeschool Blogging Team is talking curriculum this month. 

This is a topic that used to cause me such anxiety.  As we are now finishing up our 5th year of schooling at home, and planning on the 6th, I do feel a lot more at ease and I'm happy to share what works for us.

When I started homeschooling I was so anxious on my "performance" (what other's thought of me), so I mimicked public school as best I could.  I printed worksheet after worksheet.  Stacks of the suckers.  And I made my poor (then) 4 year old wiggly boy sit through and complete them.   While it made me feel less anxious to mimic a public school it did not in any way work for my kinesthetic visual learner.  School soon became stressful for us all and we both hated it.  That's when I clued in that I need to find our own curriculum - not a public school curriculum.

I'd say the first thing to do is sit and think about how you would like to teach.  Do some research on different methods and also consider your child's way of learning.    It's very useful to have a general understanding of the many methods of schooling before you choose a curriculum in any given style.  There is so much out there and the saturated market can be very overwhelming - which is why you should narrow down to at least your preferred method of teaching.  Here's a couple links to get you started:

We do best with an eclectic style of school.  I love the idea of the Charlotte Mason method.  In addition we love unit studies, as well as child-led learning and we love love love literature.  With a little bit of help from Cathy Duffy, I found several curriculums that fit our current personal needs/wants.

Most of these are too pricey on our single income with 3 children to teach.  So what happened is I went with the Five in Row because I can teach all my children with great flexibility. 

I often visit the other sites and view the appropriate grades.  I make notes of the books I like best, and what topics my kids would most want to learn.  I find a homeschool conference near me and look at the list of vendors then visit the vendors websites to see if they have the books or curriculum I am interested in.

Attending conferences has saved us money in that there's been several times I thought I would want a certain book or box set and I've done my research online and have been certain it was for me.  I'll make my beeline to the vendor, locate the book, pick it up and realize it wasn't what I thought at all.  Or I'll see it isn't a good match for my child after all. 

When I can't find a good fit at a conference, I have one last resource I look into.

My most favorite "curriculum finder":  the library.  After researching my favorite publishers, I search my list of books on the library catalogue.  Having the book to take home is so helpful in deciding if  I'd like to purchase it for our bookshelves or not - which is great money saver.

The library is my first "go to" for many subjects.  Even if I can't find an exact match, there's likely to be a related book in the same topic.  You can find language arts books, history, social studies, science, math, art methods, art history, music history, and on and on.  And the best part:  it's free.

With the library we aren't confined to a boxed curriculum.  We can learn what we want when we want and at our own pace.  We aren't reading textbooks, we are reading real books.

It took just a couple times of going to the library as our main source of learning before our oldest (8) caught on and started anticipating our weekly trips.  Each week he runs ahead of me and makes his way quick to the juvenile non-fiction where he searches for topics that catch his eye.  I don't even have to choose curriculum for him anymore, really.  He does it (mostly) on his own.

I just love that he's learned at a young age, to seek books to learn information.  He doesn't even realize he's learning because to him it's all fun.  It's all what he chose based on his interests.  To me, this is a great lifelong habit to be fostering.

Getting out of the "box" can be scary.  It is also so worth it.

To see how the rest of the Blogging Team chooses their curriculum and for a wonderful printable to help you plan your own, visit The Canadian Homeschooler


Goodnight Moon {bfiar}

We've been working our way through the Before Five in a Row (bfiar) curriculum this past year with a 2, 4 and 8 year old.  Many of the titles I know are too young for my 8 year old and as such I'll find him a related topic to read about independently.  (we do this curriculum because I didn't want Emma to miss out on all the good young person fun with bfiar).

Goodnight Moon is one title I thought for sure Connor would roll his eyes at.  When Monday came and it was time to begin our readings, I didn't even call Connor over to join us.  He was happily working on some drawings so I just began to read to the younger two, Emma and Sam. 

As I read he quietly got down from the table and made his way over.  8 is such a hard age.  Right on the brink of "big boy".  Still so young, but also so grown.  He knows he's growing and he wants to be grown, but he also yearns so much for the days gone of lap sitting, cuddling and night time tuck ins.  The days where he has to hold mom's hand as he crosses the road, and needs kisses for his boo boos.  Yet he also longs for the days of freedom and independence.  It's such a confusing age to be.  So we both cherish these moments.  The moments he gets a glimpse of a memory of what it was to be 4 and he moves closer, wanting to be little again, and yet wanting to be big.

Of course, if Connor were a single child we wouldn't be using BFIAR at his age.  In these moments we can just slow down and pretend time isn't moving so much faster than anyone wants to admit.

For this "row" I found so many great titles at our library, to go along.  We began with Goodnight, Canada.  As Emma turned the pages for me, Connor would follow along and put the provinces in their place.

For science we learned about elephants.  Connor especially loved our library find,

We happened to be learning about birds of prey at this time, so we also grabbed some books on owls, such as Owls : hunters of the night.
Connor had some independent reading on moons:
Meanwhile Emma made herself a crayon resist artwork of space.
 For math we played a game by Scholastic, Hickory Dickory Clock.
The rest of our time was spent unrelated to Goodnight Moon, exploring the great outdoors with a local nature hiking group.  We were late so we had to explore on our own before catching up.
(My intent with these posts is to just share our experience with the bfiar (before five in a row) curriculum.  I stray away from the manual because this is my 5th year with the company and I feel more confident in my teaching than I did when I started, so I add and adjust depending on our moods and what's available at our library.  Please don't compare your school to our school.  Yours may look different, and that is perfectly okay.)

Linking up with:
Delightful Learning Hip Homeschool MomsWeekly Wrap-Up


Birds of a Feather {a review}

Homeschool Legacy Review
If you're a regular reader of our little blog you might know by now that we love the unit study teaching method.  Unit studies are typically done with all ages, thereby making it affordable and easy on mom - just one curriculum!  There is great flexibility in a unit study because you can use a wide variety of what is called "living books" as well as plenty of hands-on learning with science, history, art and math.  My kids love books and they love a hands-on type of learning.  I love flexibility and the ease of just one curriculum we all can learn together from.
I have felt right at home using, and reviewing, a "Once a Week" unit study, Birds of a Feather, created by Homeschool Legacy.  Homeschool Legacy is a company that offers biblically centered unit studies on a variety of topics for grades 1 up to grade 12.  These Once a Week studies are designed to work around any curriculum you are currently using, requiring no prep work (other than collecting your books from the library).  Some of the fun topics are: "Victoria and Her World" (which would be fun with Victoria Day today!), Knights and Nobles, Forest for the Trees, and Birds of a Feather - just to name a few.  The units are offered in paperback or a convenient downloadable (and printable) digital form.
While focusing on your topic of choice your student will learn from a variety of subjects, centered on the one topic, including:
  • Bible
  • arts and crafts
  • science
  • research
  • hands on activities
  • field trips
  • literature
  • music and art appreciation
  • history
  • and more 

If you have children in Boy Scouts of America or American Heritage Girls, Homeschool Legacy will help them earn their merit badges while learning along side any non-scout siblings.  This is something I thought was especially neat and I was very curious if that would work with our Scouts  Canada, however we are one year shy of entering Scouts so I have no answers on that.
Homeschool Legacy Review
The unit we chose to review was Birds of a Feather, a 4 week study of birds intended for grades 2 through 12, because my eldest loves eagles and was eager to learn all he could about birds.  I used the digital version with my children, who are grades 2 and Kindergarten (and of course the 2 year old tagged along as well). 
Within this 34 page bundle you'll find, in addition to the bird study: 
  • suggestions on how to schedule your week
  • information on how to be a good steward of birds
  • really handy guide "Getting the Most Out of Your Once-a-Week Unit Study"
    • really helpful additional information on things such as writing, high school credits, research, reading choices and more
  • Boy Scout/American Heritage Girls badge information
  • list of library books for read-alouds and non-readers, organized by call number
  • handy clickable links (for those with the digital copy)

The clickable links within the PDF file were well received and appreciated, and I also enjoyed being able to print out the file to make notes on the book list and take it with me to the library or just to our living room for quick reference while we learned. 

The suggested scheduling is to take one day and focus just on the various activities, but as it is a suggestion we chose to do a little bit every day, in the following weeks, because we were on a break from our regular curriculum and because my kids are younger (shorter attention span).

Week One:  Bird Basics and Your Backyard Habitat

The first week of Birds of a Feather starts you out on bird basics and setting up your very own backyard habitat.  (This first week is also offered as a sample week.)  The read-aloud books and family movie nights are all well thought out and match each week's activities.  For example, in the first week as you set up your own backyard habitat you are also reading a book where school age children are attempting to create a habitat for storks.

There are so many suggestions for setting up your backyard habitat.  We did what was easiest for our age range and soon had a number of birds in our yard daily.  I'd also add that this section is one we continue to visit even now, 6 weeks after beginning the study, adding something new to our habitat weekly.

When we began Birds of a Feather there was still snow on the ground and the birds were very eager for food. 

Sometimes birds take a couple weeks to find the feeders.  Our birds are overachievers and took just mere minutes to come to the feeders. 

Week Two:  Bird Identification

This week the suggested read-aloud was one that we couldn't find or buy, which was still fine as we were still reading the lengthy book from week 1 (and the kids are loving it).

Some of the things we were learning and doing this week:
  • bio of a bird scientist and artist
  • bird identification
    • labeling
    • drawing
  • family hike
  • movie night
One of Connor's favorites this week was the bird app that is suggested.  He just loved identifying all our birds this way, and then confirming with our bird guide.  This time of year (early spring) was especially enjoyable to observe.  The birds were easy to see in the leafless trees and the kids enjoyed seeing the cardinals and finches feed each other and enjoyed seeing the robins gathering our dead grass for nesting.  One day we identified 9 different species!

On our "bird hike" we seen a goose warming her eggs, a peacock (in a small inner city park/zoo) and we were able to go inside our nature area's small portable and see stuffed birds and various bird bones on display.

Week Three:  Ornithology

Some things learned and done this week
  • definition of ornithology
  • bird bone activity
  • science of a bird feather
  • study of eggs
  • migration
This was another very full and fun week.  Connor especially loved learning about one particular and amazing detail of feathers taught this week.

By this week little Sammy, age 2, was very enthusiastic about birds as well.  When it came to movie night he eagerly climbed up onto a chair and watched nearly the entire documentary with us.

Week Four:  Birds of Prey

Highlights of this week
  • U.S. national bird and why it was endangered
  • extinct birds
  • difference of endangered, threatened and extinct
  • field trip
  • movie night
Week 4 is the week Connor long anticipated.  He read many of the suggested readings this week, and others that were related.  He declared, after all his readings, that the Golden Eagle was his new favorite, with the Bald Eagle a close 2nd.

We were able to end our very thorough study of birds on a high note of with a birds of prey show, where we got an up close view of a Golden Eagle and baby owl!

My Thoughts:

While being thorough in content the quality of the activities and topics remains high.  The suggested readings were never a waste of our time and the kids never got bored.  I found it easy and flexible in that if I couldn't find an exact book mentioned I was able to find a close match easily.

There are many activities for each week, ensuring you will find something for all age ranges needed.  Because my kids are on the young end, we'll be able to revisit this unit for years to come, going into more detail as they grow and coming back any activities we skipped.

We all (even I) truly loved these weeks of bird study.  Near the end of the four weeks Connor came to me and said, "Mom?  When are we going to be done learning about birds?"  "Why?", I asked, "are you getting bored with it?"  "No!!  I want to keep learning!"

We've done bird studies before, on our own and with free recourses found on the internet.  None have been so thorough nor as fun.  I would most definitely recommend Birds of a Feather as well as any of the other studies Homeschool Legacy offers. 

To read what the other reviewers studied with Homeschool Legacy, click the banner below:
Homeschool Legacy Review

The Carrot Seed {BFIAR}

The Carrot Seed, by Ruth Krauss, is such a short and simple book and yet one of the most loved titles we've "rowed" with Before Five in a Row (BFIAR) - even with my 8 year old.  In fact, my 8 year old had a friend over for dinner one night and the friend picked up the book and read it out loud to us all.  They all giggled at the end with the illustration of the huge bushy carrot stem next to the little boy.  All the kids agree with many laughs, "That's not a carrot!!".  Oh but it is, kids.  

We had checked out a book from our library, Plants Feed Me.  I put the books side by side to show them that, while exaggerated, the plant next to the boy is indeed a carrot. 

While we were learning from the Plants Feed Me book Emma asked where sugar comes from, so I pulled up a video from YouTube.  Meanwhile Sammy got sidetracked off onto tractors.
In addition to Plants Feed Me, we checked out several other related books on the topic of plants and growth.  My favorite find though, was Cool Carrots from Garden to Table.  This book starts out talking about how you can grow your own carrots at home in a pot.  So we set out to the dollar store to buy the biggest pot we could find and planted our own tiny little seeds.  Included in the book were several recipes centered around carrots.  We had just made a silly impulse buy at our Costco of a humongous bag of carrots, so I was quite glad to use up some.  We made carrot muffins and carrot soup, which was delicious.
Since we were cooking so many carrots I saved one top and put it in a saucer and asked the kids if they thought it would grow.  "No way!", as the laughed at me.  Days later they were pleasantly surprised.
For art I asked Emma to draw anything she likes and narrate to me her story.
1)  "This is Emma planting carrots and watering the carrot so it can grow.  She is also growing donuts from the ground."
2)  "This is Emma planting and sweating on a hot sunny day she has a sandwich in her mouth and milk and her hand." 
In addition to our regular bible devotions, we focused on diligence this week using Kids of Integrity and Character First Education.  The kids love listening to the nature story while coloring the animal printout.
We ended the week with a field trip to a local nature area where they had a program running where the kids could plant native seeds to take home.  Emma chose to plant milkweed.
Here's Emma on her planting day and her seedlings three weeks to the day later.

(My intent with these posts is to just share our experience with the BFIAR (before five in a row) curriculum.  I stray away from the manual because this is my 5th year with the company and I feel more confident in my teaching than I did when I started, so I add and adjust depending on our moods and what's available at our library.  Please don't compare your school to our school.  Yours may look different, and that is perfectly okay.)

Linking up with:
Delightful Learning Hip Homeschool Moms Weekly Wrap-Up


Avoiding Homeschool Burnout {a review post}

Successful Homeschooling Made Easy Review
There is no need to pave your own path, stumbling, learning, and getting lost and/or discouraged on the way.  There are others that have gone before us and it would be wise to listen to the words that those before us have to share.  One such successful veteran homeschooler, Stephanie Walmsley, creator of Successful Homeschooling Made Easy, has written a very helpful 26 week course.  With this course Stephanie takes us by the hand, so to speak, and guides us through the more difficult aspects of learning at home.  She'll show us how to be more practical, how to better schedule in order to accompodate the early riser or the night owl, how to keep a clean house with everyone home together all the time, how to organize, and much more.

Successful Homeschooling Made Easy Course is an e-course.  What this means is that upon signing up you are sent an email each week, for 26 weeks, with a link to download a PDF from an online source (Word Online).  You can save your PDF to your computer and read it offline at your own convenience.  Since this is done through your email host and a webpage you can save and access your course in several ways.  You could read your course on your desktop, your smart phone, your iPad or any device you use with access to your email and the internet.

For myself, I enjoyed downloading the course to my desktop computer where I'd save a copy and print it out so I can make written notes in the spaces provided.  I also enjoyed sometimes going into my email, via my iPhone, and clicking the link in my email to open an additional copy I could take with me anywhere I went.

1 lesson of the 26 is sent each week. The topics are all around how to make your home life simpler when choosing to teach your child(ren).  You will find many topics, such as:
  • how to start your homeschool
  • how to make math easier
  • things you could expect to encounter when staying home with the kids
  • how to avoid burnout.
  • how to avoid living vicariously through your children and instead fulfilling your own dreams
  • ideas on how to choose curriculum and ways to think outside the "box"  
  • extracurriculars and overscheduling
  • how you would accomplish keeping your home tidy while teaching your children at home 
  • and many more 
So far, in the 10 weeks that I've had with the 26 week course, the sizes of the PDFs have varied from 11-26 pages.  Within each file you will find not only helpful homeschooling information, but links to suggestions made for books or other things to consider.  I have read several of the book recommendations with the help of my library.  I was just generally amazed at how helpful this could be in making our life simpler and less dependent on curriculum. 

In the lessons each week you will also find journaling space to write down your thoughts with helpful questions to prompt you.  Each week's lesson is ended with an assignment and a preview of what you can expect the following week.

Before this review began I had thought of myself as pretty set in my ways and rather comfortable teaching my children and I was vainly thinking there is not much room for improvement - even knowing I suffer burnout each year.  I went into this review not expecting to be very impressed.  I could not have been more wrong.  There are many things I hadn't thought of yet, such as the many wonderful book recommendations.  As for the scheduling, I thought I was doing okay on my own, but after using Stephanie's method for 9 weeks, I do much prefer my new schedule.

After just a couple weeks of implementing the new schedule, to which it is suggested you have a daily literacy hour, my son asked me "Why do we have a reading hour now?"  I asked, "well, don't you like it?"  He said, "No, I love it!!"

I didn't ask them to all read separate, in the photo below.  I had actually intended to read aloud to them but they quickly got so engrossed in their own books.  It was a sweet (and quiet!) moment.

We have all truly loved our new, more relaxed, schedule.  Each week I anticipated the arrival of my new lesson and assignment and that won't stop now that the review period is over.  This course offers a priceless wealth of information and ideas to help us get through our schooling each day with less stress less tears and generally just more fun. 

Already, before the course is even complete I am feeling more relaxed, organized and even excited to teach and to also learn right alongside my children.  I feel I have a better understanding o f myself as well as with the many confusing methods of homeschooling.  I feel less overwhelmed with the many choices of methods and curriculums, which means less stress.

With a 30 day money back guarantee you really can't go wrong here.  Stephanie offers fair pricing for four different currencies and with two different methods of payment (6 monthly payments or 1 total payment).
While we do all walk this path of homeschooling together, the point of this course is to make it an easier walk and to make it unique to each of us.

To see what the other reviewers had to say about this course, click the banner below.
Successful Homeschooling Made Easy Review

The Little Rabbit {b4fiar}

My intent with these posts is to just share our experience with the BFIAR (before five in a row) curriculum.  I stray away from the manual because this is my 5th year with the company and I feel more confident in my teaching than I did when I started, so I add and adjust depending on our moods and what's available at our library.  Please don't compare your school to our school.  Yours may look different, and that is okay.

Treat the manual as your as you would a main course buffet.  Pick and choose according to how "hungry" you are and how much room is on your plate.  Treat Pinterest (my blog included) as a dessert buffet.  Pick one or two extras if any at all.  Make your "meal" your own.

Anyways.  Emma was in love with this row.

We "rowed" The Little Rabbit right before Easter, so all our bible focus was on Easter, in addition to our regular bible devotions.

Language Arts

Sam (2) had a rare turn with our iPad and I had him play ABC Farm, R is for Rabbit.  He looked at various pictures and watched rabbit videos.

Emma's (4) reading curriculum is with This Reading Mama and this week happened to mesh so perfectly.  We were at the "ET family".  We used Reading Mama's awesome printouts and our Pairsinpears for a fun little activity.

Then Connor (8) and Emma both did some journaling of their choice (Connor chose to write the difference between hares and rabbits).


We printed a game from an ebook from scholastic, called Bunny Hop.  (we got this during the dollar days, so keep an eye on those $ saving days!).  This game was too hard for my 2nd grader and too easy for my pre-Kinder, but we did have fun and learn lots of teamwork and sportsmanship.

that's clay in her fingers.  ;)

We made fingerprint bunnys with Ed Emberley's Fingerprint Drawing Book.  Connor did a fingerprint of a dragon scene

The following cute little craft isn't my own idea.  I was thumbing through a craft book at the library and seen it.  It looked easy enough to remember so I opted to go on memory rather than lug a huge book home.  Unfortunately I can't remember the book title.

We got various books from the library.  Connor's favorite this week was Rabbits, Rabbits & More Rabbits by Gail Gibbons, where he learned the differences between hares and rabbits.

Fun Play

Emma acted out the story, "finding" her new rabbit in a basket.

Emma just adored The Little Rabbit.  She talked of it often for weeks and would gladly point out anything that reminded her of Buttercup.

Linking up with:
Delightful Learning Hip Homeschool Moms Weekly Wrap-Up

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