Planning Our Curriculum

If no one has noticed I’m a planner.  I love planning our curriculum.  Nothing like a nicely ordered book shelf to increase my happiness levels.

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I’m a firm believer in the adage ‘fail to plan, plan to fail’.  However, I believe a good home ed plan (for us) needs flexibility, needs to, in practice, feel relaxed, spontaneous and unplanned.  I ask a lot!

I have no doubt children learn best when they are leading and shaping the way so Sam’s opinion and my experience of what works for him are the most important considerations.  But I believe there are some essential skills and knowledge children need to learn to have doors open to them and that life is easier with a certain level of general knowledge/cultural literacy.   Pretty much anything can be boring or interesting depending on the presentation, my job is to make as much as possible engaging to Sam.

My key starting points:

We need variety; short lessons and a range of style of resources.

With a good routine things feel effortless, routine is important but it needs to be flexible enough to absorb illness/days out etc.

Have a small set of achievable goals.  Keep these very realistic.  Plan beyond them, aim for more but don’t get disheartened if you don’t keep up.

Prep ahead!  In term time I need things to just tick along. The more I’ve prepped the more we manage to do.  But not too far, as it’s easier to jettison things not working if you haven’t spent hours prepping.

Alongside the one above be organised.  Place for every thing and every thing in it’s place.

Question the educational value of all resources you use and adapt as needed.  Is there any benefit to writing something down when they can say it?  Is there any point in continuing doing practice sums at maths when they’ve obviously grasped the idea?

Year Goals

Bold = First level priority, italics= second level, text = that would be nice if we can fit it in 🙂  In terms of judging success at the end of the year, failure on first level priority is a ‘should I consider school’ response, failure on second level says tweaking to approach/resources needed

Overall numeracy and literacy remain main concerns but start decreasing importance and increasing focus on science/humanities.  

Start to encourage more writing across the board as prep for KS3 but make sure it is meaningful.

Continue building basic literacy, more work on grammar and vocabulary

Maths – no learning objectives at all, build confidence and make fun

Languages – Latin and Spanish – build up vocab, continue with discipline of regular practice

Some Science reading and activity every week.  Focus on consolidating knowledge.  Have a scrapbook to show at end of year.

History and Geog – don’t let projects drift.  Reduce number of field trips to allow more time for other aspects to get better balance.

Do more group socialising.  Less individual.  Reduce demands on time and guilt levels.

Work through programming books

Regular exercise

Learn about the stories behind diff religions.

Read aloud regularly

Works of diff artists

More time for walking/outdoors

Routine

We don’t have a timetable as such.  We have a rhythm and a routine to our weeks and days.  Always a new one for a new year as we tweak the social side.

Our core basics (Maths, English, Languages and reading basket) I plan to a four day week.  The four days might be a different four days week by week to accommodate trips/events/mood.  I do allocate dates on a planner to individual tasks for Maths and English to try and make sure we progress along at a reasonable pace but this is very much a guide and I plan by week rather than by day.  I plot in catch up weeks every now and again at times I suspect we might have got a bit behind.  Plus try and have a very light schedule for the last half term as June is always a hayfever blur.

Year schedule (note this is a work in progress, waiting to see how somethings work before planning further)

It works best to get up and get on with core work first thing and ideally finished by 10.30.  Leaving rest of time clear for the more hands on/going out stuff.

We try and have a couple of regular social things on the calendar and everything else gets slotted in around those and one off events.  Aiming for 2 days a week that are ‘ours’ (no regular commitments) this year.

It’s hard to explain but I have a mental priority list of how things slot in.  I tend to over plan so when I look at science or project plans I know we probably won’t get through all of it but I have in my mind the most important.  What is most important will change as we go based on previous work.

Diary then gets done on a week by week basis.  I don’t use a proper diary, use a notebook instead for flexibility.  Start off with dates on the calendar and idea of regular events.  Then on one page of notebook have a list of the core tasks for English and Maths.  Then Science, project, RE.  Then have a column for carried overs.  Finally a list for extra ideas and at the bottom anything needed to be done for future prep or collected for that week.  On the opposite page have the days and allocate things to days as I can.  This is new approach so very much work in progress.  Will sometimes allocate stuff on day by day basis so we have a lot of flexibility.

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Details on individual plans can be found on the below links.

Maths

English

Languages

History/Geography

Science

Art

Other Stuff

Other Stuff 15/16

All the bits not worthy of their own post

Music

Last year’s plans didn’t really come to anything at all.  The ukulele was a flash in the pan interest.  Even our classical concert was cancelled – we did make it to a Gamelan one which sent me to sleep.  I’m not going to make any attempt to ‘teach’ music at all this year.  With only limited time available to cover everything we want to it seems daft to waste time on stuff that neither of us find interesting or useful.

That aside he’s become much more interested in listening to music this year and I aim to set it up so we can have music on in the background while we do work.  From time to time he’ll sit there with youtube piano tutorials and teach himself to play a few lines of a song he likes.  Will leave it at that though.

Nature Study

Just read my plans for last year and laughed out loud.  They were very ambitious for us.  We’re not nature lovers, we like being outside but too many allergies to enjoy anywhere with plants for much of the year and we hate being hot.  More jumping in puddles and home for hot choc by the fire sort of people.

Plan to take a more or less completely unplanned approach this year.  We’ve loads of spotters guides (good ones) and activity ideas books.  Whenever time, weather, health and mood allow we’ll try and get out.  We’ve lots of nice walks on our doorstep.

Will include readings from our Enid Blyton’s Nature Lovers book and her Hedgerow, Woodland and Country Tales in our reading basket.  Curled up on the sofa with a book is our sort of nature study 🙂

 Religious Education and Festivals

Plan to try and address this more this year.  We’ll include some of our collections of religious stories in our reading basket – I have a few 🙂  Also have the Usborne Encyclopaedia of World Religions to read though.

However I have a set of lesson plans bought from Planbee that I will try to build into our week.  Until we get some routine established I don’t know how realistic this is.  If it works we’ll start with looking at Christianity, where the Bible came from, stories from the Bible,  running up to Christmas.

I’ve been adding dates of random holidays and events to the calendar to draw on if we have time to fill 😉

Computer Programming

Sam has been dabbling with this for a while but looking for an ordered approach this year.  We have these to work through.

20150827_3In case any one else falls for it, the one on the right is not identical to the Computer Coding for Kids with Carol Vorderman on the cover but close.  But it has the advantage of not having Carol Vorderman on the cover so we’ll use this one and pass on the other 😉

Philosophy

I have had the IF Odyssey sat on my Kindle for about 18 months.  I am hoping to set up a monthly group to work through this.  Ideally 4-6 children of similar age to Sam.  Thinking that debating ideas with his peer group will add something different to just talking with me.

PE

Organised sports are not Sam.  Thinking one afternoon a week for Laser Quest/Bowling?/Out door Gym/Long walk.  Then if my Dad will provide transport another afternoon for either swimming or table tennis (we’ll chop and change week by week as mood takes us).  This is work in progress!

Reading Basket

I’d like to get into the habit of reading aloud more again.  I’m thinking we’ll start the day with reading on 4 day rotation from the basket which will have;

Nature Stories (Enid Blyton’s as mentioned above)

Aesops Fables

Year of Poetry

Children’s Bible

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We’ll also hopefully keep a longer story on the go.  Probably some sort of fantasy book to tie in to creative writing.  Going to start with Alice in Wonderland.

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Social

From wanting to see someone (ideally at our house) nearly every day setting us on a social whirlwind that nearly finished me off, he’s had an about turn.  He’s happy to go out a couple of days a week but wants to stay home the rest which works well for me.

We’re planning on attending one of the adventure playgrounds every week.  Plus laser quest monthly.  Working on monthly bowling and philosophy plans and if they come off will probably suggest a walk/soft play the other week.  That’s 2 group events a week possibly.

Looking around at who’s signing up for things I think numbers for trips might be an issue so will not bother with much trip booking this year I think.  Days out with family and friends instead.

We’ll continue to have friends round as we’ve fallen into routines.  Cubs obviously too.

Will also try and get things set up so he can skype etc.  I do a lot of my socialising through the computer I think I need to accept that that will suit Sam too.

Art 15/16

Another one that reading back on I had over complicated, over ambitious plans for last year.  The art award group never came off due to lack of take up.  We never managed as much outdoor sketching as I’d like.  Problem of taking friends on nature walks, can draw or socialise not both!  Plus I keep forgetting the Book of Centuries.  Will try a bit harder this year.

Art group became too hard work and Sam wasn’t enjoying the social side any more.  Did enjoy the art though.  Plan on abandoning the worksheet side this year, not sure that added anything that we couldn’t gain from observation and discussion.

Still working through the artists from the Anholt’s Artists books.

So plan is to look at an artist a half term and one particular piece of work of theirs a week.  Sometimes if we have a busy week I suspect we won’t get round to art but it’s an aim to do one a week not a rule.

Artists we plan to do.

Van Gogh – Van Gogh plan

Cezanne

Marc Chagall (new Anholt book out in Nov)

Then we run out of Anholt books I think so pencilled in we have

Gauguin

Dali

Warhol

We’ll go for the modern.  Might do O’Keefe instead of one as fancy the Tate exhibition next summer.

History and Geography Projects 15/16

The 6 projects a year, 3 with a History bias and 3 with a Geography bias worked really well last year so we’ll keep going on that path.  I say bias because the two are so entwined.

We don’t have a set approach to project work.  Sometimes we’ll produce something like a lapbook often we won’t produce anything at all.  Most often we’ll have a sort of display of craft projects.  Sometimes I’ll plan in depth, others I’ll buy in some resources, book some trips and let things unfold and see where we go.

I tend to have a broad agenda of a few things I’d like him to take away from a project (and these shape the resources we use).

For example our first project of the year will be spies (we’ve planned a visit to Beaulieu so looking for something to leapfrog off it).  It would be easy to get caught up in the gadget/tech/spy fiction side but this is supposed to be a history project.  So the things I’m looking for him to take from it are the idea that spying has a long ‘real’ history (not all James Bond style) and in particular an overview of the Cold War factions.

I’ve bought these books.

The orange one is excellent, exactly what I wanted.  We could achieve my aims just by reading this.

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I’m really planning just on reading and discussing.  Will try and add some cards to our timeline box.  May stick True Spy Stories on the kindle for reading out and about.

Besides Beaulieu which is a family thing I’d booked a couple of group home ed trips to add the local context but looks like I won’t have the numbers to go ahead.  Not bothered by one, was a ‘may as well’ booking, but disappointed to cancel the Dockyard one, the idea of looking at spy history in Portsmouth really appealed.  Will just have to see what I can find out so we can look into it ourselves.  Going to take it as a sign that I should do trips just for us this year and stop booking groups until I’m ready to book KS3 ones as lots of Sam’s friends are just slightly older.   I’d decided we wouldn’t do Bletchley Park as too far for the day and didn’t fancy an over night – seriously reconsidering!

We can’t do Spies and not do codes and gadgets and James Bond so sure all of them will feature.

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Don’t plan on spending a full half term on this one, suspect 3 or 4 weeks will do.  The project scheduled in next, Europe, has the potential to be much bigger and I’d like to leave the run up to Christmas for looking at European Christmas traditions.  So we won’t linger on spies.

Other projects planned for this year are:

Romans

Greeks (possibly moving on to History of Sport – Olympics!)

Water use and sanitation

Rivers.

 

Science 15/16

Found my Science mojo again last year.  Never quite came together the way I’d have liked though.  Focused too much on the practical and too little on the background.  Doing it with friends was fun but perhaps too much distraction so we’re back on our own.

I’ve been collecting a series of oldish books (suspect out of print) called ‘How ****** Works’.  We’ve got least 5 or 6 now and I’m envisaging doing one a year until GCSE age.  This will hopefully give us time to really get into things.  The books are a mix of information and experiments and could almost stand alone as a curriculum.  The biggest problem was deciding which book to start with – Sam’s mind changed frequently!  In the end we settled on ‘How The Earth Works

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The plan is to break it down into subtopics

  1. The Earth in Space
  2. Inside the Earth
  3. Volcanoes and Earthquakes
  4. Rocks and Soil (will make this one a long full term one – got to love Minecraft 🙂 )
  5. Water Cycle
  6. Atmosphere and Weather

I’ll plan a term at a time so we an adapt as needed.

These are the plans for this term

Science plan term 1

These are the activity books to supplement this term.

20150826_2 These are our reference books to refer to.  They’re all excellent.  The Earth book isn’t particularly child friendly but has some fabulous  photographs.  The Geog encyclopaedia and What’s Where in the World are both strong contenders for my top 10 books to grace a home ed bookshelf  (I’ll write it one day 😉 )

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The DVDs listed on the plan are  Earth Story, Orbit and Rise of the Continents.  Also found this which I’d forgotten…

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I want to try and focus us a bit more this year, something a bit more than reading and experiments but nothing like lapbooks or workbooks.  I’ve prepared a few worksheets/paper activities for the first 1/2 term as reinforcement (still got 2nd half to do).  We’ve covered a scrapbook (the sparkly black thing) into which we’ll stick worksheets, photos etc.

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I’ll try and remember to update as we go.

Languages 15/16

Spanish

Decided this summer that the Spanish group we’ve been doing for a few years is no longer working for us.  One of the children has moved, the tutor’s situation has changed and she was finding it hard to give me a time plus the book they’d moved onto was a bit writing heavy.  So we’re going to go it alone for now.

I’ve lots of ‘fun’ materials and games but not sure these will work for us.  Little and often is how we work with languages.  I’d rather do 5-10 mins a day and most resources take nearly that to set up.  So for now we’ll stick to just Duolingo.  Perhaps with reading the odd story book in Spanish and seeing how well we can translate.  The advantage of this approach is we both have our own accounts and are learning alongside one another (he’s got the motivation of staying one step ahead of me).

Must admit I’ve been greatly reassured by seeing the chaotic, hodgepodge approach to teaching languages that goes on in Jack’s school, where they can sit a GCSE in a language they start in yr 9.  Not sure we’ll ever do GCSE anyway, languages are hard to arrange so it’s for personal use really.

Latin

This is another one where little, regular and really unexciting works for us.  I keep looking at the Minimus book on my shelf but it’s just not for us I feel.  On we plod with Latin’s Not So Tough.  It’s made up of very short lessons with one new word at a time and lots of practice.  All a bit random really it seems but the idea of studying Latin is to be able to spot links and word origins and conversation shows it’s working, he’s recognising links to both English and Spanish.

English 15/16

This is the hardest area to get right for me.  It is probably Sam’s weakest area but the most crucial in being able to get over all the tickbox requirements of later academic years and it is the one area I feel that I need to have him ‘school ready’ just in case he ever chooses to go.   Writing is pretty much essential for all aspects of school.

I have to walk a balance between providing enough practice in basic skills to help him improve (he does better with practice) and not getting carried away and going too far and putting him off.

What appears to be working is a set of short tasks focussing on particular areas.  The improvement in his handwriting in the last 12 months is amazing.

Writing

We’ll continue working through Writing With Ease.  We’re on Level 2 and should complete it before the end of the year.  It’s an approach that works well for us, we like the use of extracts from real books and the 4 day week aspect of the structure fits well with our routine.

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Grammar

While Sam was liking the Collins Focus (possibly because I kept 3/4 of it verbal) I’ve got doubts about the depth of learning he was getting from it.  Problem of a lot of UK resources I feel.  They go too fast.

Decided instead this year that having got used to WWE by now I can live with the scripted aspect (by not using the script) of it’s sister publication First Language Lessons.  I’ve picked up level 2, which on reflection is considerably below what Sam should be able to manage but I’d rather go slow and build confidence.

The aim is to use this 3 days a week.

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Creative Writing

This is where we failed last year.  My plan to include it every day as part of regular programme was too ambitious.  We didn’t have the time and the resources didn’t excite us.

At various points last year we put aside regular language work for a few weeks and did some creative work, in particular writing scary stories in run up to Halloween.

I would like to keep more routine this year so one day a week instead of grammar we’ll look at creative writing.  I intend to focus on Fantasy stories all year using Scholastic’s guide and story starters site.

20150822_3Handwriting/Spelling/Vocabulary

With the improvement in Sam’s handwriting and the fact that both WWE and FLL include copywork this is no longer such an important part of our English routine.  So the idea is 10 mins a day (4 days a week) of ‘skills practice’.  We’ll start with 2 days of handwriting, 1 of spelling and 1 of vocab.  Do as much of the book as you can in 10 mins.

Handwriting we will continue with Getty Dubay since it’s served us so well.  I have really struggled to find a spelling programme we like, I’d wanted something fun and ideally on line but nothing seemed right.  We like the Collin’s books. I don’t feel we need intensive teaching in this area (hence dropping Spelling Made Easy), the copywork element of WWE seems to help.  So the fun practice should suit.  Vocabulary book looks okay despite having Carol Vorderman on the cover!

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Depending on how we go I may drop handwriting to one day a week and replace it with Bond’s No Nonsense English, which I found on our cupboard and like the look of but can’t see a way to fit it in.

Reading

Sam enjoys reading, reads lots and with increasing variety.  All I plan to do is keep feeding the habit and encouraging diverse tastes.  He’s looking forward to a new Rick Riordan series coming out and I’ve mentally logged the Chronicles of Prydain as ones that may appeal.

Hoping to get into the habit of reading aloud more.  Possibly make use of bus journeys as we start venturing out to groups more.  Planning to read some fantasy books to go along the creative writing element.  Thinking Alice in Wonderland, Arthurian Legends, Peter Pan, The Wizard of Oz, The Neverending Story …  too many really.  Might reread Narnia, we love Narnia.

Last notes

The whole session should take between 40 mins and an hour depending on whether we’re doing creative writing or grammar (I hope).  I may set an hour aside and let him fill the time with Reading Eggspress, I’ll see if it’s a one day wonder before subscribing though.

What this plan lacks is any comprehension besides the narration part of WWE (unless we include the Bond book).  This is fine to me.  I hated comprehension in school, picking apart a text destroyed it for me.  I’d far rather that Sam loved reading than could tell me why so and so might have said such.  That element can wait for a few years and we’ll see if he needs it.  In the mean time narration gives him practice at pulling out the key points in a piece of text.

 

Planes, pulleys and polymers

A few photos from the last few days.  We’re still in holiday mode but I’m trying to make an effort to distract Sam from screens as he’s showing the signs of far too much time on them – very disrupted sleep patterns and prone to weepy episodes.

We went down to the beach on Tues to see if we could see the Battle of Britain flypast.  Went over Portsmouth to the IOW so not sure how we missed it but we did.  Got us out though and prompted us to do a bit of plane building with the kits we’d picked up from Tangmere.

20150819_5 20150819_10 20150819_12 20150819_11We’ve also been messing about with some of the science kits we’d perhaps not made as much of as I’d have liked.  I’d love to say it was part of clearing out old resources but at the moment we’ve made a lot more mess than we’ve cleared up and have several ‘experiments in progress’ are covering surfaces.

Force meters and pulley systems and fun squishing polymers.20150819_13 20150819_16 20150819_18 20150819_21 20150819_2420150819_2620150819_27

Maths 15/16

Just glanced over my notes from July 14 and laughed.

We lasted a couple of months into the year before the repetitive nature of Saxon became a negative rather than a positive – see Rethinking Maths post from January.

We’ve spent the rest of the year mixing and matching hands on stuff and the playing with online schemes.  The lessons learnt are:

a) He likes the competitive nature and awards of online games.

b) Online stuff is great for practice for us but not for teaching.  He just doesn’t learn that way.

c) I am not as good as I’d like at delivering Maths ‘hands on’.

d) We work better with a scheme and a plan for Maths, although a loose, flexible one.

So the quest for this year was to find a ‘scheme’ that we could link to an online programme that included lots of variety and hands on stuff.  Not easy but I think I’ve done it!

Quite by chance I was poking around the parent area of Mathletics, his online programme of choice, and came across their workbooks.  They include few too many worksheets maybe but a lot of it is games, investigations and puzzles, can’t imagine I’ll find something more suitable for us without writing it myself which is what I’m trying to avoid.

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The workbooks are broken down into 12 topics so I’ve split these into terms.

Term 1: Reading and Writing Numbers/Multiplication and Division

Term 2: Addition and Subtraction/Geometry

Term 3:Length,Area and Perimeter/Volume, Capacity and Mass

Term 4: Position/Time

Term 5: Data Representation/Fractions, Decimals and Percentages/Chance

Term 6: Patterns and Algebra/Plus time for assessment/recap

I got a bit carried away and have a nice colour coded spreadsheet breaking the online and paper lessons down by day mathletics plan 15  Hmm, I’ll try and treat it as more of a guide than a todo list.

The units all have assessment sections.  I’m unsure how to use these (or if to) yet.  I’m thinking of saving them to the end of the year and using as revision.

We’ve a few ‘catch up’ weeks in the calendar if needed.  Theoretically if we’re on target we will use these weeks for ‘fun maths’ and use some of the pointless gimicky stuff I bought in the hayfever fog of early summer when for some unknown reason they seemed a good idea.  Realistically I should just pass them on now ;).  They do look good but not really for us, too ‘fun’!

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Side swiped by a wobble

I often tell newish home educators that even the most experienced of us wobble at times.  However it has been a good 18 months since I’ve felt even a little tremor.  I felt like I’d perhaps not quite mastered ‘relaxed’ structure but we’d found a path that we were both happy on, which was structured enough at the planning level to give me the confidence that we were moving forward and relaxed enough that in practice it didn’t feel structured, plenty of flexibility in there.

Academic side isn’t really a wobble though.  I’ve gone too far with the planning I know – right down to colour coded spreadsheets.  But I know it’s because I’m overcompensating for a feeling of lack of control elsewhere in my life.  Flexibility is still there and in a day or so’s time when I’ve caught up on sleep (bad insomnia!) and shaken myself out of my doldrums I’ll be able to pick out the key points and laugh at my control freak keys and colour coding.

What brought me crashing down today was going to write an event on the calendar and realising that the idea of going to the local group’s Not Back to School picnic made me feel physically sick.  Having one of my really anti-social moods.  Been coming for a while, I noticed it at the end of term picnic where I’m sure I came across as rude.  I’m okay with people I know well (usually talking 5+ years here) particularly if I haven’t seen them for a while or strangely enough complete strangers.  Any one in between I lose all ability to converse with.  I suppose it’s a hangover from my own school days and a crippling lack of self confidence in my own social skills and ‘likeability’.  The wobble comes in because if I’m feeling anti-social can I meet Sam’s social needs?  He’s fallen into routine of being at home over the summer and isn’t asking to see people so can’t rely on him to motivate me.  Doesn’t help that practicalities mean we’re likely to lose a couple of regular events from our schedule and the boy isn’t biting at any of the alternatives I’ve put forward.

Writing that down I can see how ridiculous it is though.  In the last few weeks we’ve had sleepovers and friends to play and been out with friends so we’re not exactly socially isolated, we’ve also had builders in which has tethered us a bit.  Sam’s got good friends and he’s at the age where my social involvement is heading towards coordination and lift arranging.  Losing stuff from the calendar is good as we were doing too much last year.  This year was to be about slowing down and making more time for home and closest friends while finding the time to actually make it to a ‘group’ regularly and that is all pencilled into my calendar.

I suppose I’m projecting. There’s big changes elsewhere in my life and I find that unsettling.  After 9 years I’ve made the very difficult decision to leave guides (not sure yet if I will stay in guiding – perhaps brownies, we’ll see).  It’s not a positive decision, more a reaction to a difficult situation and one that will be quite drawn out as need to stay for a term to oversee new leadership.  I suppose I’m just feeling low in self confidence, a bit lost (it has been a big part of my life and identity for a long time) and rather emotionally battered.  Mostly myself to blame for last one do seem to put myself through the emotional wringer sometimes.

A quiet week making most of boy 1 being about (who is being marvellous 🙂 ), a dusting myself down with a firm internal talking to and getting back to routine and I’ll be fine.

In the short term I might buy some more books that usually helps 😉