Homeschooling, a Report From the Trenches – Part 3


    by N.C., Survival Blog:

    (Continued from Part 2. This concludes the article.)


    Sorry, I don’t have a free full curriculum link for you. All new homeschooling parents look for it and I was no exception. Now, with a few years under my belt, I am suspicious of things claiming to be a complete curriculum let alone a free one. Every teacher supplements the curriculum and it’s a surprisingly fine line between supplementing and building.

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    Your job is to keep your child challenged and working at their best. Too rigid a curriculum, or sticking too rigidly to one, will hamstring your child. Look for understanding and mastery and then stretch to the next goal. You are guiding growth and you need to be flexible to keep your child growing as they should. To that end I will give you is a selection of resources, that is, places for you to find tools. I’ll also recommend some specific tools I’ve found.

    I encourage you to experiment with a wide range of things as a part of your homeschooling practice. Your child should be brilliant in the basics but also exposed to a wide variety of activities. Your children will need physical activity, they will need recess (my state specifically states how many hours of recess can be included as instruction hours) and they will each need to create. Music, art, and shop class should be included. Everything that you think your child needs to be competent at, you get to teach or find someone to teach.

    Finally, make sure to take these recommendations, and all recommendations, with a grain of salt. Follow Bruce Lee’s wisdom: “Retain what is useful” as you delve into homeschooling advice. Some things work for some families and not others. Some things work for some kids and not others, even in the same family. It’s your job to find what works for your family and your kid in order to get where you all need to be.


    My number 1 resource? My very top resource? The public library. Even with my extensive home library I am constantly finding useful resources with the public library. Many public libraries have books aimed at educators and even home educators. Most public libraries are also part of a network of libraries so you can access a much larger collection through the online catalogs. My local library may only have a handful of books on ancient Rome but there are a couple hundred across the entire system. My local library may not have anything on the Assyrians but across the entire system there will be several sources.

    Importantly, the library is not a fire-and-forget resource. You really do need to proof the books you get. In the nonfiction there is less likely to be objectionable material but you’re looking for a lot more than that. Some books will be too advanced and others too basic. Many books will repeat each other too closely. Your job is to find the good resources that are at your student’s reading level that also catch their interest. Cast a wide net and winnow it down. You will find nuggets of gold and a lot of dross but that’s okay, just return the dross.

    More conscientious users may worry about “taking advantage” of the library but generally you shouldn’t think that way. Libraries, as a rule, prefer having higher circulation numbers. Sometimes that’s part of their funding and generally it’s how they demonstrate their value to local government. Interlibrary loans from outside the system may cost your library some money but generally there aren’t charges for between libraries in the same system. You have already paid for this system with your tax dollars, absolutely use it to educate your children.

    There has been a lot of change in libraries over the last 10 years. You’ll find a lot of new stuff to help your child learn. It may be a “maker space” where your child can learn to use tools you don’t have at home or it may be tools you can actually take home and use. I’ve seen looms, silk screen printing sets, leatherwork tools, cake pans, sergers and sewing machines, 3D printers, a KitchenAid mixer, musical instruments, board games, education kits, puzzles, video games, and sewing patterns. You won’t know what’s in your system unless you look.

    A final note on libraries: their book sales are incomparable places to get books for your personal library. The modern library bias towards new books mean that many old and excellent books are sold for a pittance. Additionally, many donated books are simply resold again for pennies on the dollar. I’ve found books on curriculum design, art projects, history, science, and math kits all for a song. I’ve found books that I loved as a child and grabbed so that my children could meet Encyclopedia Brown and explore Dinotopia. The book sales are almost always worth a browse and it’s also a good chance to let your children do some shopping and buy books they like. 10 bucks won’t go far even at a used bookstore but may result in a bag of books at a library sale.

    My second most useful source: garage sales and secondhand stores. The bargains aren’t as good as they are at library sales but there are still many good finds. I’ve found sealed science experiment kits that retailed for 75 bucks resold for 5 bucks. I’ve found workbooks and educational books for excellent prices. Garage sales likewise I’ve found a lot of homeschool resources sold for a good price since they are finished with the job we are still undertaking.

    These are also excellent places to get supplies that aren’t on their face educational. You’ll find board games that you can use to develop logic and mathematical reasoning. You’ll find toys that encourage building and experimenting (marble runs, blocks, tinker toys). There are cards and dice which are wonderful random number generators for math. You’ll most definitely find craft supplies galore.

    My third source is the Internet. Caveat emptor applies, doubly so if it’s free. Don’t just accept testimonials or popularity. Test it yourself. I’ll go to bat for the Learning Company’s “cluefinders” series but I will not pay money for ABC Mouse. Sadly, cluefinders is fairly defunct and doesn’t play well with modern computers. I’ve heard good things about Khan Academy for math but I haven’t fooled with it. Ultimately you’ll develop your own standards and your own instincts for whether or not the “resources” are worth your children’s time (and your money). Ask yourself: is it challenging your child? Are they learning things of value? Be brutally honest here.

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