Saturday, 24 November 2012

How We Homeschool - Part 3: Prepackaged Curriculum

There are many reasons to use a pre-packaged curriculum. But there were two main reasons we use them. The first is to help C learn subjects we don't know well enough to teach (like languages). The other is to give him an independent way to learn when I have to look after our baby J, that he will find engaging and interesting.


Online Free Curriculum
There are some truly awesome online curriculum options. Our favourite is Kahn Academy. We also use the National Geographic website.

Kahn Academy
This is a wonderful free resource that is a mix of videos and exercises. The videos are short (rarely over 10 mins), and explain one small aspect of knowledge, be it mathematics, science, economics, art or almost anything!

The mathematics section is the most fleshed out - it has a lovely tree of knowledge that builds from basic arithmetic up to high school maths. There are quizzes and exercises, and the student can earn badges for doing various things - getting so many right in a row, watching a certain amount of videos on a topic, etc. C loves getting a new badge.

Kahn has a wonderfully engaging and calm way of explaining new ideas - and though we do not solely rely on it for C's maths education, it is a major component of C's learning.  (We also use Singapore maths (see below), and the odd book, such as Enigma by Graeme Base).

As with any curriculum that is not individually designed, it does have flaws. One of these is its insistence on repetition - particularly the getting 10 in a row correct, and the constantly suggesting that C should redo older components if he hasn't been online for a while. I can understand why they are there - most students get a real advantage from doing similar problems a lot of times. But not C. After about the 5th problem, he starts to get bored and makes careless mistakes. Which I wouldn't mind, except that he then starts to doubt his ability to do the problems. So a word of caution for anyone with a child who easily absorbs maths concepts - be prepared for a bit of psychological engineering to convince rules-based kiddos that it's OK to skip ahead and ignore the Kahn rules. Because they are just suggestions. 
C writing words from Kahn Academy biology talks

The videos on other topics are also excellent. C has powered his way through the micro and macro-economics talks, and is now embarking on the genetics videos. It can be a bit hard to be sure knowledge is getting absorbed - so we try to incorporate biology / economics questions and ideas in our day-to-day lives as a way of enhancing the learning.

National Geographic
We've been using this as a wonderful geography resource. C loves doing the Geobee quizes - there's a new one each day. The advantage of these quizzes is that they give a long time to answer the question, so each question becomes a mini-geography lesson. We get to find the location on his globe, and talk about what a particular country is like - exports / imports, capital cities, geopolitics. It's a blast. Well worth checking out - just be prepared for a heap of questions from eager minds!


Paid Curriculum

Online:
Rosetta Stone
We've just started using this program. It's a lovely way for C to drive his own language learning. There is a good mix of 'click to answer' questions mixed with sections where C is expected to speak the words into a mike after listening to an example. At the end of each section it gives a score and recommend whether the student should repeat or keep going. This has been awesome self-direction - and as there is no real negatives for getting a question wrong, there's not as much chance of C getting anxious about performance. It also has many levels of the chosen language - so a student can move from beginner to advanced speaker at their own pace.

The one criticism of it is that the pronunciations into the mike have to be *very exact* or they don't register as correct. For a little boy who still slurs some words, this can be kind of frustrating ( though it does have a skip option ). But it is also a positive as well, as he's had to learn how to say the words correctly!
 

Print: Singapore Maths
We've been using this on and off for about two and a half years. When we started, we would try to follow the curriculum as it progressed in the book. C grew tired of doing this after a few months and wanted to skip ahead. At the time I bought 4 years worth of curriculum ( 1st - 5th grade), which with compacting, I believed would last maybe 2 years. It lasted 4 months max. C powered through the curriculum, absorbing the maths sponge-like.
That was when we started branching out - first with more hands-on maths (CSIRO maths and stats by email is awesome), then with Kahn. Now the Singapore maths is used whenever C wants to do some worksheets that are nice and easy and a bit of fun ( he rather loves the do maths problems - solve the drawing / maze-style questions). If you have a fast maths learner - they will probably love this, as the pace is nice and quick with little repetition. It's a mastery style curriculum, rather than a spiral, so topics are not revisited. But it might not last long if you have a really fast learner - so it's worth checking out cheaper options as well.

Conclusion
Pre-packaged curriculum has it's place in homeschooling, but can get expensive quickly, depending on your child's pace of learning. I've found a mix of different types of curriculum is best. Look for ones that are flexible, that will allow the student to advance at their own pace, however fast or slow that may be, with little extra expense. Choose only a few that you think will enhance your child's learning, and take your time on spending money on a curriculum till you've explored the many other options - including free options on the internet.

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