Wednesday, November 21, 2012

My Father's World Curriculum "Review"

Sigh of joy and relief... we finished week 12 of school and we are breaking for Thanksgiving!  Things have been going great, but I was wise and planned for some time off.  The old teacher-mom in me would think, "Nah, we can keep going!".  No, we need a little vacation.

With that said, I'll get to the thrust of my post.  Quite a while ago, a blogging friend asked me for more information on My Father's World curriculum.  I am only a first-time user this school year, so I certainly don't know all the ins and outs, but I will attempt to share what I've learned and experienced so far.

My Father's World is an all-in-one curriculum provider, meaning when you purchase one of their core programs, you receive a complete year of social studies, science, art, music, and read aloud literature. The teacher's guide pulls all the included books together, schedules them for you, and supplies hands on project ideas, language arts suggestions, and more.  You add math, English, foreign language, writing, and spelling of your choice.  They sell their preferred version of these, including Singapore Math, Spelling Power, Writing Strands,  Emma Searl's Language arts, and Rosetta Stone, but they can all be substituted with your own preferences.

The cores follow a five year chronological history cycle.  They are designed to be multi-level for grades three through eight.  This means you can teach all of your children that are at this level together, however the teacher's guide has some work that is designated for "Advanced" students.

Other all-in-one programs include Sonlight and Winter Promise. Again, you purchase a core of books and receive a teacher's guide that outlines how to use the materials to teach your children.

By contrast, there are many, many home education products available that teach only one subject, such as Apologia Science, or The Mystery of History.  These often have teacher's guides available along with suggested teaching schedules.  You could make your own combination of these curriculum to create your own "core".

For the first five years of homeschool, I used The Weaver curriculum from Alpha Omega.  It is a unit study series made up of five volumes that move chronologically through the Bible, deriving the units studies from here.  Book suggestions are given, but they are rather outdated since it has not been updated since 2001.  It requires a lot of teacher planning and the purchase of books of your choice, or the frequent use of a library.  I personally enjoyed the planning process for those years that we did it.  I liked choosing the extra books to teach the units and choosing our own read alouds.  However, last year I grew weary of so much resting on my shoulders.

I have always loved the idea of using Sonlight, as I am such an avid book fan, and a book collector, and I believe it is a very rich curriculum.  However, it has not yet felt like the right fit for my children.  My sister-in-law used My Father's World for the past two years and found it very easy to use and very complete.  The first thing that sparked my interest was the teacher's guide, laid out in a very easy chart form for each week of lesson plans.  I just liked the look of it.  I have looked at many curriculums that are wonderful, but I just couldn't wrap my brain around the teacher's guide.  My Father's World is laid out very simply.  A list of materials required is given at the beginning of each week, a list of photocopies needed at the beginning of each unit.

That's another thing I love- the units!  Unit studies work great for me and my children. I love dwelling on one topic for an extended period of time.  But not too long- almost every unit this year in Exploring Countries and Cultures is two weeks long. Plenty of time to get a feel for our topic, but not get bored.  Hands on projects that are easy are given in the teacher's guide. I don't feel the need to do everything, though.

You can purchase either a basic or deluxe package for each core that My Father's World offers.  The basic package includes the books necessary for social studies, science, and Bible.  The deluxe package includes scheduled read-alouds, art, music, and perhaps some fun kits like an ant farm or magnet set.  Their prices are very reasonable because they also suggest a "Book Basket" for each core. In the back of each teacher's guide is a list of books by unit that could supplement the program and provide further learning.  It's a list you can take with you to your local library or purchase some books of interest new or used.  The packages provides everything you need; the book basket is if you want more. I love this aspect of the curriculum. I don't have to do all the planning, but I still get to enjoy picking particular books I think my children will love.

While the schedule is very thorough, I don't feel like we are doing so much school work that we don't have time to enjoy play, going outside, or work around the house.

The most important aspect of My Father's World, for me, is it's Biblical worldview and the integration of everything with the Bible.  Bible is not an isolated subject.  We are memorizing verses, using them as copywork and dictation exercises, and reading about great heroes of the faith and the work God is doing around the world.  This is not a west-centric curriculum.  In our 12 weeks so far, I've seen amazing fruit in my children's lives and my own when it comes to the things of the Lord.  This is irreplacable and this is why I home school.

Each time we finish a week, I literally want to sing the praises of this curriculum because it is not a chore to get through, or another thing to accomplish in my busy day. Yes, it is work of course, but it has eased the burden I began to carry in trying to do everything myself.  I honestly think "What on earth was I doing the past five years, planning everything myself!  This is so much easier!"  And it is a great fit for us.

I got to hear David Hazell speak at the Great Homeschool Convention in Hartford this past June. He and his wife Marie are the writers of My Father's World. They are former missionaries and Bible translators.  I had already bought my Exploring Countries and Cultures curriculum when I heard him, but it confirmed our choice for the new year.  To me, it truly does bring together the "best of" unit studies, Charlotte Mason, and classical education, and it's only our first year, and twelve weeks into it.

There is  a great community of families that use this curriculum.  It's fun to see what they are up to on their blogs or on the message boards. This is something I missed during my five previous years too.  It's a real encouragement to read about how others are being blessed by the curriculum too, and to get ideas for alernate projects etc.  My children love that we are doing the same school as their cousins and vice versa.  I think we all enjoy feeling like we have something in common with others.

It's very easy to do school on-the-go with My Father's World.  Several times we have gone to visit my parents and just packed up my Desk Apprentice from Staples with all our books in it and my teacher's guide.  We've had everything we need to easily get school done while we are away.

There is certainly a lot more to this wonderful curriculum than I can expound on. Again, it is my first year, and I have not used the K-2 programs that MFW offers.  But I think my thoughts are an accurate reflection on the grade 3-8 Family Cycle.  It's such a great fit for us this year and I would already go so far as to say it's our best year ever, partially because my own work load is lighter thanks to the wonderful teacher's guide.  Home education curriculum has come so far and there is so much to choose from, it can be extremely daunting.  My hope is that you find the resources for your family that are just the right fit.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Weeks 9-11- Brazil!

The past three weeks have been busy learning lots about South America, rainforests, and the country of Brazil.  The highlight of this time was reading aloud the biography of Nate Saint, a passionate pilot Missionary Aviation Fellowship who lost his life in Ecuador trying to share the gospel.  His story is inspiring, but what the Lord has done since and because of his death is nothing short of miraculous.  I personally watched the documentary Beyond Gates of Splendor made by his son Steve Saint. It is available to view on Netflix and I highly recommend it.  The photographs and video footage are haunting, but it is so inspiring to see how the Lord used something evil for good no one imagined.  The kids made a model paper airplane similar to the one Nate flew over the Ecuador rainforest.

We also watched an excellent documentary called Discovery Atlas: Brazil Revealed (also on Netflix).  It focused on eight different Brazilians, young and old. We learned so much about the culture, the religion, the sports, and Carnival!  Carnival is the world famous celebration held in Rio de Janeiro, of course, and we learned that is centers around the samba, the original dance and music of Brazil.  We listened to some samba and bossa nova music and made fancy Carnival masks for our own celebration.

 There was a Carnival mask project in Global Art, the book included in our My Father's World core, but it was much easier to print one off the Internet and decorate them!

We didn't have a huge Carnival celebration, but we did get the cousins together in their masks and Carnival costumes on Josh's birthday.  Nana helped Mister and Brown-Eyed Girl make pretty snazzy costumes featuring rainforest animals, piranha, and flowers while we visited her for a few days this past week.  We used simple white pillowcases for this project.

I also read the book Gooney Bird Green by Lois Lowry to the kids and they loved it!  It's a great, sneaky way to teach kids about writing stories!  They were both upset that there are no other books about Gooney Bird.

The next six weeks of our curriculum, we will be in Europe!  Our first stop is Norway, but I think we won't finish our travels through that country without taking the week of Thanksgiving off.  We've been  working hard and having a lot of fun, but we're all looking forward to a little time off.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Holding Back a Homeschooler- Part 2

 You will find Part One to this post here.

My son is a May baby.  I began formally preschooling him when he was four years and three months old. Up til then his natural learning delighted us. He learned his colors, numbers, shapes,and alphabet with hardly any teaching from us, it seemed.  He made up pretend play scenes, turned turkey basters into musical instruments, and had no trouble keeping himself occupied.

But in September when he was four, I promptly sat him at the dining room table and began force-feeding him an educations. Much of what we did was fun and gentle- crafts, cooking, read alouds.  But I suddenly felt the need to get him on the fast rack to learning and to start documenting it.

I don't regret having a regular time of sitting at the table together, reading the Bible, and doing a few workbooks. I think the structure was good and began to teach him that this was important.  It also helped get us on a sort of schedule.

I do regret how hard I pushed my son, particularly in math. It became the subject that would plague us most in coming years.

Things seemed to come to a head last year, his third grade year. We moved in September. For months prior to that he had been struggling with anxiety, particularly in regards to his sister.  An incident at church, when we couldn't find her and a friend, had visibly upset me. Since then he would be overcome with anxiety and panic in regards to her whereabouts.

Undoubtedly his emotions were in a state of confusion and stress when we moved. We left the only home he had ever known, his beloved friends, grandparents, and a deep sense of familiarity and security.  I can only imagine the emotional turmoil in my son. It began to pour out, particularly in school.

The most heartbreaking thing about the stress that was pouring out of him was the negative self-talk.  He continually said he was stupid, that he couldn't do anything right, that he would never learn.  Tears, outbursts of frustration, absolute dread of math ensued.  If I got frustrated, of course this only magnified his stress and negative view of self.

I was very near taking him to a counselor to help both of us.

But then I read a book by Dr. Raymond and Dorothy Moore.  I tried to locate a copy of their landmark book Better Late Than Early, but it was out of print and ridiculously expensive used. So I found a copy of the only book they still had in print, The Successful Homeschool Family Handbook.  It highlights their research and true stories of children who are not formally taught until they are older.  Their research encouraged formal teaching no sooner than ten, especially for boys.  They certainly didn't mean no learning, just not formal, sit-at-the-table and be busy learning.  This book was a life-line for me.  It began to take all the weight off my shoulders. I could slow down our formal school pace and relax.  My son would be okay- and maybe even better- because of it.  The Moores don't advocate doing nothing. They encourage study, manual work, and community service. Study can be reading aloud, art, music, coloring, whatever they are ready for.  Manual work is at least as important as study. It gives children valuable work, contribution to the home, and an outlet for energy.  Service to others fulfills the socialization "gap" in a most realistic way.

After reading this book, I realized we didn't need counseling. We needed to relax and focus on strengths. It was shortly after this that I had my epiphany about keeping him back a year.  After Christmas break, I gave my son a level two math book instead of the level three we had been agonizing over and I began to watch him blossom.  The hunched shoulders of oppression were lifted, along with his head.  Math became "easy" some days.

I chucked the outstanding spelling program that got tons of accolades. It just didn't work for us.  I  made the executive decision that we didn't need spelling that year.

I began to discern a reading problem, too. It took me a while to put my finger on it, but it once again came down to maturity. He is an excellent reader and always has been, but chapter books are difficult for him. Their length makes him anxious right off the bat.  When he's anxious, he can't think as clearly and his attitude becomes negative. It's a vicious cycle. He can always be found reading picture books while eating breakfast or lunch, though. At this stage of maturity, he needed an end in sight; to be able to get the whole story quickly, not spread out over ten chapters.  I let him start choosing his own reading material.  It was Frog and Toad, picture books, and Bible stories.  Things below his reading level, but not elevating his stress level.

A huge weight was lifted when we decided our son would remain a third grader for another year.  It was purely psychological for me. I didn't have to stress to get him to fourth grade math.  I realize it's debatable what is third or fourth grade work.  Curriculums for homeschooling are based on different methodologies and styles. Not all are leveled by grade.  One very popular and successful math program is often accused of being light and a grade level behind. But it's saved many a homeschool mom and student in the math department. My children use two different English curriculum.  One is a classical approach, the other is a very gentle Charlotte Mason style approach.  My son would probably be three levels higher in the Charlotte Mason style book than he is the classical.

We didn't make the decision to hold him back a year based on the level of curriculum he was using, though I think he is doing very good third grade work at present.  We made this decision first of all because this what the Lord led us to do.  Secondly, this was a maturity issue, not an output issue.  While I love to think I will homeschool all the way through high school, my son will undoubtedly be involved with public school peers either in sports, clubs or individual classes.  Josh and I discussed that there could only be benefits to our son having an extra year before being grouped as a middle schooler or high school student.  Not to get a leg up on his peers, but to grow in maturity.  It would be far more traumatic to hold him back from high school than it would be fourth grade.

I'm not making the case for anyone to hold their child back a grade. I'm not saying level of works is the primary indicator of grade. I think the opposite.  Maturity and development has more to do with grade, since we seem to have to classify it to some degree.

We have seen so much confirmation that we did the right thing.  Academically, he is progressing with more natural ease and far less stress.  I hear a lot less negative self talk from him. He has more feelings of success and consequently his creative expression is flourishing too. He's been writing and illustrating books, drawing more elaborate and detailed pictures, building more detailed projects with Legos and Dominoes.  I can see the weight lifted from him. I hear him complimenting himself more, praising his work instead of condemning it.

I find we are right where we should be.  I'm not comparing us and how we home educate to others nearly as much as I used to.  I've been able to take my eyes off output and see the unique and special gifts my children have, slowly being unwrapped.

I have just one more "part" to this story I want to share in a future post. Until then, hope you are encouraged and blessed.