Curriculum vs. Framework
My husband has often marveled at my inability to follow a recipe. I tend to view recipes as a starting place, and 99% of the time I make at least one adjustment based on what ingredients I have, our family’s likes/dislikes, something I think sounds good, etc. Usually I’m pleased with the results, but occasionally I learn a lesson about what doesn’t work. Still, I love the freedom of using my kitchen as a place for creating something just for our family.
It must be a personality thing, because I have a very similar approach to homeschooling. Just like with recipes, I rarely follow any curriculum exactly the way it is intended. Consequently, I am reluctant to spend money on an all-inclusive curriculum, knowing that I’ll probably just tweak it anyway. Thankfully, there are some wonderful free resources available online, and even though I will probably never follow one to a tee, they help me build a sort of “framework” that provides structure to our homeschool year while allowing me plenty of flexibility as far as what I will include to complete our educational experiences.
Originally my plan had been to follow Ambleside Online (one of the best free resources out there, in my opinion), and we’ll still be looking there for a lot of guidance. I love the richness of their literature suggestions, and reading through their information about the Charlotte Mason method over the last few years has really shaped my educational philosophy. Our plans for school will primarily consist of booklists for each subject (using various forms of narration to ensure that the material in those books is absorbed). Still, there are things about AO that I want to adjust for our family. If I only had one or two children, I think I would feel fairly comfortable following most of the AO curriculum as written (as well as I follow anything), but I think for our larger family I would prefer to keep everyone together for as many subjects as possible.
Building Around 4-Year Cycles
In my search to find the best way for our family to learn together, I was most drawn to 4-year cycles. They’re popular with “classical” homeschoolers, but I wouldn’t necessarily put myself in that category because there are many elements of classical education that don’t excite me at all. The idea of cycles, however, has intrigued me since I first read about it. I know I have trouble grasping the big picture until I’ve seen everything laid out at least once and then can start making connections and putting together the pieces of the puzzle in my mind. Being able to go deeper with the same material as the children get older makes a lot of sense.
With four children (and possibly more someday?), there are other benefits as well. Rather than trying to help each child through an individual history track based upon their grade level, they can just join in our family history lessons as soon as they are ready, and I don’t have to worry about them missing something because within 4 years they’ll have been exposed to all the major events of history and will get to go through it again to pick up on things they might not have caught at a younger age.
I plan to use cycles not just for history but for other subjects as well. If we can touch on all the major areas of science in 4 years and then repeat that cycle, by the time they finish 8th grade they should have a pretty good foundation. (I imagine as they reach high school they’ll step away from what the family is doing in order to spend more time on particular classes.)
With Bible, I’m planning a 3-year cycle, allowing us to not just read through the Bible but have time for more in depth study as well. (I’m very excited about the main resource I’ve found for our school Bible study… more on that coming soon!)
Ditching the Recipe
There are plenty of curricular options that follow 4-year cycles, but as I said before, I’m not very good at sticking with someone else’s plan. For some subjects I may use a “spine” (either a book or a curriculum that can serve as a backbone for an entire year or more), but I’d prefer to just loosely work our way through various books, videos, and other resources that fall into our flexible framework so that we don’t end up getting too tied down to the idea of completing a curriculum at the expense of spending a little extra time on the things that pique my children’s interest.
Thinking this way especially helps me with long-term planning. When I come across resources I think would be a good fit for our family, I don’t have to worry about trying to piece them all into a cohesive plan. Instead, I just figure out where they fit into our cycle and look forward to getting to use them.
I’ll be sharing a little more about my plans in these individual subjects and what that will look like as we head into 1st grade over the next few months. There’s a whole world to learn about with my children, and I’m so excited about taking the next step of this journey with them.