Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A Road Map

Our navy blue van rumbled down the rough dirt road. The heat rose from the path in waves. So did the bugs. These were swarms of Biblical proportions. I felt like Moses in the desert. The only thing that separated me from being eaten to the bone was the glass and metal of our vehicle. We were in the arid, scrubby wilderness of eastern Oregon. Almost no one lives there, for good reason. Crops are impossible. Life is nearly so. What were we doing there? We were on an adventure, a search for the birds who came for the insects. This was their land of milk and honey. It was our land of discovery. Our cell phones didn't work, and we were miles from our lodging. My son and I were alone against the brassy sky with its melting heat, against the insects, against the possibility of becoming lost or stranded. In spite of all this, I was happy and content. I was not afraid. I had a good map.

Over the past twenty years, our family has traveled extensively. I have amazed myself in this, because no one, by any stretch of the imagination, would call me adventurous. It was a revelation to me that I was quite willing to do some gutsy, edgy things if I had good maps and travel guides. As long as I knew which road I was on and I could find it on a reliable map, as long as I had prepared with proper equipment, I could have an adventure in the middle of nowhere.

My personal turning point in creating a great home school was to find out exactly what needed to get done -- to have a road map and a travel guide. Once I had a clear, sensible list of what was normally taught in each grade, I had the confidence I needed to explore. This became my road map which let me know where we were in the process of reaching our final destination, even if our path led us through a wilderness. I needed this reassurance, so that I could experiment and try new things, so that I could listen to my children's wishes, so that I could shop for interesting materials.

When I learned how to prepare for our adventures, my fears evaporated.

In the elementary and middle school years, I relied on Learning Objectives for Grades K-8 from Hewitt Homeschooling Resources . This book offers detailed lists of the concepts and skills that are typically mastered in each grade. Their standards may be more advanced than your local school's, but they work well for most students.

One caution: social studies and science objectives can vary dramatically from school to school, so these guidelines are just that -- guidelines, not laws. Even so, they provide an overview of what would be acceptable and of the topics typically appearing in annual, standardized tests. I found it helpful to supplement the science objectives with Kathryn Stout's Science Scope

I also found that teaching the listed objectives didn't take very long. So we added to them by building additional objectives around what we wanted to study. More often than not, our ideas could be organized into unit studies for science or social studies. At first, we kept our old curriculum in math and English and began exploring new ground by chasing our passions. This brought a fresh breeze into our school room and changed the atmosphere dramatically.

For the high school years, my favorite resources were:


These books helped me craft high school courses and learning goals that took my boys from our home classroom to college scholarships while at the same time letting them pursue their interests.

Insider's tips:

1. When I found terms I didn't understand in learning objectives, I looked them up in a good dictionary. The standard definition always made the meaning clear.

2. When my boys entered high school, I called several colleges that were future possibilities for them. I asked the admissions officers to describe the high school transcript and coursework of a desirable applicant. This told us, in black and white, what needed to get done. It was a good tonic and gave us well-defined goals. Combining that information with my sons' personal interests gave me a list of topics to study. The high school guides (above) gave me instructions on how to craft their courses, how to negotiate standards, how to keep good records, etc.

1 comment:

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