Monday, November 7, 2011

Spicing up math and reading

One thing we do a little differently in our homeschool is to mix and match curriculum. I mix and match in two very key areas - reading and math. Normally, these are the two areas families decide to choose one curriculum and stick to it.
There are a couple of reasons why I like to pull sources from various curriculum. The first is that it allows the children to have some repetition, that doesn't really "look" like repetition. While most gifted children learn material in as little as two repetitions - I personally like to see my children show a skill more than that. However, my children can easily detect a pattern (and most curriculum goes into a pattern) and they don't even need to look at the page to tell me the right answer. This is particularly important in math.
For reading, since my eldest is dyslexic he needs a lot of opportunity to read aloud. However, reading from just one type of reading program can lead to boredom - for him and for me! Being able to spice up reading selections, but still stay within his current reading abilities is wonderful. It also keeps him from detecting the patterns of books too quickly.
I also want my children to not get too dependent on any one style of information. For instance, most math programs will stick to one font. This might not seem important on the surface - but numbers written in different fonts can look quite unique. Also - some books will give math programs horizontally while others will give them vertical. Some books use word problems, some use visuals, some use numerals only. I want my kids to get practice solving problems in a large variety of ways. We can't easily detect the future, so preparing broadly is a big factor in our home school.
With that said, we do tend to have a "spine" for our major subjects. This is a primary curriculum that I use to determine the sequence in which we will introduce new information. However, I use as many as five different reading curriculum programs and five different math curriculum programs. It takes a bit more effort in staying organized - but it really allows us to have variety and challenge from a number of different levels.
For reading, "Understanding the Logic of English" is our spine. We also utilize Reading Horizons (both the teacher led and the computer based program), Bob Books, StarFall (both the computer based program and the books). We use some Scholastic sources as well as four different handwriting workbook programs. I also throw in some Montessori materials and other hands on sources to give us even more variety.
For math, "Singapore Math" is our spine. We also utilize "Life of Fred Elementary Series", Kumon Math workbooks, Montessori Materials, occasional activities from Family Math, and lots of different hands on learning materials.
I will admit, this approach isn't for everyone. Some people like order and some children need a much more narrow focus - especially if they struggle with ADD/ADHD or some learning disabilities. If you are a family that likes order and wants to know exactly how long a program will take and when you will move on - this may not be something you want to tackle. Finally, if you are required to turn in lesson plans - writing one for this type of study is horrible I will admit.
However, if your family likes variety, don't be afraid to mix and match core materials. Also, if your child attends a traditional school - definitely give them extra practice in materials that are presented vastly different from their school curriculum. Often times, parents make the mistake of wanting to present home learning materials consistent with the school materials. While this sounds good in theory, it boxes children in. If the school district changes materials, or if you move to a new school using a completely different program - children that have been taught just one way can struggle - even if they know the material.
So, if variety really is the "spice of life" - make sure to put some into your learning as well!