Archive for curriculum

Do a MacGyver on a MacGuffin Homeschool Curriculum

Angus MacGyver

Are you a MacGyver? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For some parents, the real educational goal for their child may be to simply marry well or to avoid military enrollment as a last resort. For other parents, the real goal may be produce a son who becomes a successful entrepreneur rather than an employee. Or it may be to produce a daughter who is unusually proficient in the ministry of hospitality.

However, whichever of the many underlying reasons, many parents will still choose just one particular learning curriculum, very often a default MacGuffin goal of using that curriculum for getting into college for a liberal arts degree. In some cases it is not a mistake, when the goal is clearly understood.

But in general, a one size fits all solution is a mistake: a MacGuffin can be a very inefficient, expensive, and round-about way to achieving any of those examples mentioned earlier. Usually there is a much more efficient way to meet your true goals for your young person, assuming you know what your true goals are in the first place. So if you are not afraid, do a MacGyver with your child’s textbooks and homework assignments.

It’s your son. It’s your daughter. It’s time to take charge.

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Life of Fred Interview by Dr. Melanie Wilson


Intrigued by a unique way of math learning for children?

Thanks to Dr. Melanie Wilson of the UltimateRadioShow, you can listen to a recent 2014 interview with the author of the quirky math series of books called the “Life of Fred.” Stan Schmidt explains how he got started with creating the books. You can listen to the impact he has had on children based on the fan mail he receives from both children and parents.

They are designed to be self-paced books where the children follow the quirky life of young Fred (who faces surreal situations where, for example, he gets accidentally recruited into the army at the age of 5!) and in the process the readers learn how help Fred solve his problems by using math.

You can also read Melanie’s written review of this very unusual math curriculum on her blog here and how it has worked for her sons:

Review excerpt: “My oldest, an advanced learner, loved it! I often found him chuckling while doing math. I found him motivated to get at least 9 of 10 problems correct so he could pass the “bridge” and not have to do a different set of ten problems. As a psychologist, I thought this approach was genius. Why should a homeschooled student want to complete a page of problems when he would just be faced with another?”

Philosophy for Five Year Olds

philosophy for five year olds.jpgGuest Post by Renee Harris:

This past week I spoke on the phone with two different women, in two very different situations, who eventually asked the same question: what curriculum should I choose?

The first woman was a grandmother who saw the lasting results of homeschooling in other families and wanted to encourage her daughter to homeschool her own child. The second woman pulled her child out of public school last January when she grew exhausted from the petty dealings of the administration who cried “bully intervention!” every time there was a disagreement on the playground.

While both women had seen enough of the homeschool world to know there’s value in educating the child at home, each was hung up on how to teach him.

Did I mention that in each situation, the child was only five years old? Five!

For you veteran homeschoolers, you remember the early days. Once the decision to homeschool was made, you immediately began collecting curriculum catalogs, attending workshops and fairs, and asking questions of other homeschoolers.

If I had wanted to end the conversation abruptly with each of these women, I would have directed them to some popular “box” curriculum websites, where an all-in-one package is ready to jump start each family on its homeschool adventures. Or I would have suggested looking for play groups and co-ops to enroll their children to make sure the socialization part of the homeschool day was met. Or ultimately I could have suggested they look into the local charter school. In the latter case, they could have educational professionals ready to create a plan for their child, and even provide funding for extracurricular activities, like piano lessons or swimming.

But I couldn’t give them a short term answer, when I knew there were negative long term consequences to those choices when they are not selected in the context of a good home education philosophy. It was one of the comments which brought the underlying issue to light: “My son can’t sit still for 15 minutes to get through his writing lesson.”

Right there, the issue being brought out in this comment is not really the problem of finding the right curriculum, but the problem of not having a strategy and plan for managing the focus of young and active little boys (little girls, too, but especially little boys). In this conversation, my husband was also part of the Skype call and we both immediately told her to stop worrying about the writing lessons… at least for now.

I won’t deny that the pressure is there to come up with the quickest fix possible. The new homeschooling mother feels like she must prove to the outside world that Junior can identify his letters and colors by age four, know his states and capitals by third grade, and soon after be able to distinguish between a direct object and an indirect object. In short, she must produce a child that looks like everyone else’s child, at the same stage in life, and on exactly the same subjects of interest.

Here’s the problem if either of these women go down the short term road:

  1. She’ll produce average children, who won’t look any more interesting than any other average children on your neighborhood block.
  2. She will either underwhelm or overwhelm the child, leaving her child feeling very frustrated in some subjects and leaving him completely bored in other subjects.
  3. Her child’s time and education will be dictated by a workbook, which can’t possibly care for the family’s or child’s natural strengths and handicaps.

So what’s the better alternative for a young child?

For the five year old, here is the philosophy I recommend in approaching selecting learning resources and apportioning time:

  1. Provide gentle home activities where the child learns to share: puzzles, Legos, and coloring.
  2. Provide a home schedule where the child learns to clean up after himself, as part of his learning and not as an after-thought: create 30 minute increments of “school” where the focus is not on worksheets, but rather tactile learning. The focus should be to teach how to set up and clean up (known as “mise en place” for you foodies). You’ll be thankful when he’s 10 and knows where to find his pencils and paper…. and printer ink.
  3. Provide opportunities to interact respectfully with his parents and siblings. He should know how to wait to ask for help rather than demand attention from an adult who is deep in conversation on the telephone. How do you teach this? Provide a 30 minute period of time where he is not allowed to interrupt you from your work. Set the timer so he knows when he’s free to talk to you.
  4. Provide “jobs” reserved just for him which place an importance on the child’s place in the family. Our five year old empties the dishwasher a couple times a day. He “reads” comic books with his little sister or plays Dominos with her. He fills her glass with water at meal time.

Do you notice how most of those activities are not really for sale in standard curriculum?

Make this the primary focus of your five year old’s education. Sharing, showing respect, taking care of one’s property, and completing chores are best taught at age five, not twelve. Then later at age twelve, he can go all out on much more traditional learning type of activities because the mechanics of organization and respectful interaction in the family are assimilated. Reminders and growth in maturity are always necessary, but you won’t be dealing with the basics any more.

Follow those guidelines for a jumpstart to homeschool success for your youngster. Provide him plenty of snuggle time with you, reading, chatting and playing. It’s a great philosophy for five year olds and you instinctively know it. After all, you brought him home so that you can be with him. What will surprise you is that this emphasis on responsibility, respect, and “big boy-ness” causes him to be able to assimilate what you’re trying to do through workbooks, tears and frustration. He will WANT to be able to learn his letters and colors when the workbook frustrations are alleviated. You are teaching him and providing him the time within to learn how to love learning and how to be able to learn within a social context.

In the next post I’ll share some of the books and resources that Jonathan and I found extremely helpful for homeschooling our children in the younger years. By creating the right environment now, you will be able to build the foundation for later constructing the talent-based homeschool.

Fivejs Curriculum Plan Includes Talent Development

Sprint006 plan

Do you have your custom plan in place for this year’s talent development in your child? (Photo credit: J’Roo)

My friends at the website are purveyors of helpful and nifty tips and reviewers of resources that support homeschoolers. What they also do is boldly post their curriculum plans for each of their children for the up-coming year. In this year’s plan they are showing by their list of choices for their oldest son that they creatively substituting some standard type courses for very specialized ones that push deeper into expertise one of several sub-skills that their son needs to become very, very good at what he hopes to do. Pop Quiz: Do you think this talent focus will make him more or less attractive to immediate employment and college recruiters? If you were the recruiter, would you rather that young man be with or without his talent identity well under way?

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Grow Your Child’s Talent Like You Hike a Forest Trail

English: Hikers walking along the in the Larim...

Growing your child’s talent means getting him smart about taking advantage of his unique opportunities (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Growing your child’s talent to 10,000 hours of world-class talent is akin to hiking forest trails. At many bifurcation points along the trail you will have to make decisions as to whether to continue to the left or to the right. Some side-paths will only be visible and available to your child because of his unique position in time, place, and in his network of relationships with others. Some clearly marked trails will be overcrowded with lots of other traditional students: noisy and impossible to get around to the front of the crowds blocking your child’s way. In the same way, you should encourage your child to keep moving forward, but to jump onto different side-paths as he sees opportunities that will take him around obstacles and onto unique and less crowded learning paths.

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What to Do with Already Bought Curriculum

excellence in writing waste of time.jpg

What to do with already bought curriculum? Make it serve the talent your child is building in his life (or better yet, start a blog). Here’s an example of what this means in the context of a popular homeschooling resource published by Excellence in Writing. When you look at the table of contents, it lists the essays and articles it uses in order to demonstrate the course’s writing techniques and asks your student to use the same content for practice – it does not care what the content is about, only that you have something to demonstrate its method. If your child has a music focused talent, only one in all that entire list of articles pertains to music, with a largely useless one from the perspective of a talented musician, about Thomas Jefferson playing the violin to relax. This course represents about 300 hours of solid work with only 20 hours related to music. Instead of losing 300 hours, your child can gain an extra 300 hours of talent building by substituting each article in that curriculum with a serious one related to music.

Twaddle Me Some Useless Facts

what is homeschool twaddle

Agree for your children to learn useless facts, but only those that have strategic value that will help keep the social peace within your immediate environment. Do you really need to memorize all the county seat names of your State or country? Probably not, but maybe your old great-grandpa Herman who lives with you is insistent that your children will grow up to be barbarians without a chance to make it in life unless they do. He’s not on the Internet, but he still remembers WWII and that back then they had to memorize that list in boot camp and that proves that it was that kind of toughness that saved civilization. You can waste time on that list, but only because it has strategic value to keep a critical peace – the rest of the stuff is SPAM and you must ruthlessly spend time cutting out the twaddle if your children are going to become great in their talent.

She is Drawing, Not Talking Her Way Through History


What if your arts talented daughter could draw through most of her history curriculum, instead of talking and writing her way through it? Wouldn’t that accelerate her talent development?

What do you do with an arts oriented daughter who is having difficulty following a standard history curriculum? Instead of keeping her at a disadvantage, put her talent back in service by having her sketch or trace scenes from that time in history using the many available art history books. Because artists will have specifically focused on important points from that era, it will be easy for your daughter to draw her way through history, rather than primarily talk and write her way through it. Instead of losing time building her talent while she is doing traditional schooling, she is actually gaining ground and learning how paid artists apply their trade to bring value to others.

Curriculum for Character and Talent

Sculpture of Julius Caesar by 17th century Fre...

To make headway with your child’s architecture talent don’t just study Julius Caesar – study instead his power as expressed through architecture. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You are doing great if you can turn your character-based Christian curriculum into a curriculum that can also build up your child’s talent like this fictional report from “Practical-Dad:

It was awkward at first to red-pen words out of my son’s character-based curriculum questions and insert instead an aspect of his architecture talent that he wants to develop, but I am growing confident. For example, he had a short writing assignment that asked him to talk about the kind of power that Julius Caesar exercised over Rome. I re-worded the question so that it asked him to talk about how the public buildings were used at that time to exercise the power of Julius Caesar. Amazing! He is now excited about writing his essays and we have had to tell him several times in the last few days to stop and come to the lunch table.

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