Choosing A Curriculum
Schools were originally one teacher schools. The increase in size of schools has been largely for administrative convenience. One to one tuition has always been the best which is why homeschooling is so successful. Homeschooling enables all students to succeed providing they are permitted to work at their own level and own rate. Every child is unique and will have pre-set learning rates and individual needs. Homeschooling allows parents to cater for both the learning rate and the learning method regardless of the child's ability. Slow, average and bright students all do well under this type of system. Homeschooling also allows for training in self-discipline which will be required throughout life.
Parents are, and always have been, the best teachers. They know their children and are prepared to expend whatever time and energy is necessary in ensuring the child's success. If self-instructional material is used then children are not limited by their parents’ knowledge, or lack of it, in a particular subject. The parent remains the "authority figure" in the child's life and is available to guide the child. As a result, families become closer.
The main criteria for success in homeschooling is that parents be able to discipline both themselves and their children to follow a schedule. Initially this should be fairly rigid, e.g. begin work at nine o'clock and work until eleven on academics, however, once a pattern is set this can be relaxed to suit the family needs, e.g. the birth of a baby, sickness, relatives coming to stay.
Not all books are the same standard. Many books are written as “one-off” and do not follow sequentially. Sequential learning is important. You can not just choose any books from a book shop at a particular grade and expect them to work well. They won’t!
At home children must be able to work from the material provided with minimal supervision since the mother needs to spend time with other children and with house duties. This trains children to work on their own and set their own goals by adjusting their rate of study to make most efficient use of their own time. These skills will be needed later in the workforce.
Teaching requires too much time. A family with four children studying five core subjects at different levels would involve the preparation of twenty separate lessons per day. The curriculum must therefore be self-instructional, that is, not require the constant services of a teacher. Self-instructional material makes it unnecssary for the parents to have a high level of education or know all subjects. The author in effect becomes the tutor. Self-instructional material frees the parent to spend time with a child who may be experiencing difficulties. Text selected should have answers as this also saves parents time.
Homeschooling is a long term commitment requiring long term planning. Material should be available from pre-school to year 10. It should be broad enough to cater for a range of children, since not all children are the same.
We are Australians and as a nation different to Americans or any other race. We spell differently, we use different grammar rules, the sequence we teach our maths is different, our chemistry and maths is different, our outlook is different and we have different needs.
Most overseas curriculum have been written around the country of origin. An Australian curriculum does not have these problems and nor does it have problems of supply. Purchasers should ensure that the curriculum contains Australian Social Studies, Maths etc. Parents should be especially careful when choosing science and maths material for highschool age children to ensure that their children complete the necessary level for their chosen career.
The Australian curriculum we have provides a great variety within the material. Children will be required to comprehend, reason, fill in gaps, write sentences, paragraphs and essays, draw maps and research material. This gives children the opportunity to gain a wide range of skills and makes it less likely that the smart child will work out the “system” of the programme.
Australian material does not assume that every child will reach year twelve or higher. Since the material works on a spiral system skills, are learnt and built on the following year thus ensuring a child is equipped for the workforce regardless of the level at which they exit.
Beware of packages or arrangements that allow you to use reference books or answer keys for a specified amount per year. There may not be enough reference books in the system. If you have more than one child you will pay over and over again for the same books. Consumable workbooks which include the answers are best.
Also, beware of teachers who are willing to “tutor” children. Generally these people are looking at creating a job for themselves. Look out for schools that are willing to let use their fascilities. The Federal Government has changed the way it funds schools and some are now willing to “assist” homeschoolers. This often means that the child is placed on their roll and they receive grants for the student.
Curriculum should be tailored to suit the child rather than children being slotted into a curriculum. Children can vary greatly and so can their needs. Individual characteristics need to be catered for. No child will consistently have subjects all at one level. Generally, children are better at either maths or english. Children need to be able to progress at their own rate in each subject. The curriculum should not be designed to envisage a yearly progress from one grade to another but should allow a child to advance in each subject as he/she masters each section.
It should not be assumed that chronological age is a measure of scholastic achievement. Diagnostic tests are required to find the point at which a child should begin the curriculum. They should be begun at the year below which the child is presently working. The tests should reveal specific weaknesses needing special attention to ensure the child has a solid foundation. (The Test Your Maths, Test Your English and Test Your Spelling series does this.) Do not place the child at a higher level simply because he is older. It is better to know a little thoroughly than a lot inadequately. For example, a child must have mastered addition, subtraction, multiplication, fractions, decimals and percentages before proceeding to highschool maths.
The “Test Your …..” series is available up to year 9. These can also be used as extension work at the end of each level to ensure the child has no small gaps before progressing to the next level. This way a child will always succeed.
Material must be readily available. Some curriculum coming from overseas may be subject to supply problems as deliveries may be delayed. If goods do not match the order, re-ordering and delays of several months may result. If a child needs extra work in an area it should be readily available. It is important that the supplier be based in Australia and that he carry a large stock of the material. Question the stock levels and resupply times carefully before purchasing. Australian material, unless it is being reprinted, can generally be obtained under two weeks even when your supplier is out of stock.
Service should be fast and efficient. Do not be afraid to ask how long it generally takes for an order to be processed. Can you return the books if you find one is not suitable or must you pay a re-stocking fee? What period do you have to look at them? Are you required to pay the postage on back orders or will the supplier?
Unlike conventional education, homeschooling often requires specialised advice, especially in the initial stages. It is essential that the supplier of the curriculum offer advice on its use. Since the supplier is earning money from sale of the books this should be free. You do not pay for advice if you buy, for example, a microwave, in a shop.
Some specialised services may need to be paid, for example, reports. Be sure that the person giving the advice is qualified to do so. Ask the following questions and evaluate the advice accordingly:
- Does the person homeschool or has homeschooled previously? Homeschooling requires different skills to those used teaching in a school. (Be sure that they really have homeschooled and not been just part of a parent run school.)
- How long have they homeschooled? If they have homeschooled for a short time their advice may be theoretical rather than practical.
- How many children do they have? Families where there are fewer children may use techniques that are unsuitable for large families, e.g., they may teach two children at one level. Teaching a number of children at various levels is almost impossible and self-instructional material is required.
- Do they use the material they recommend?
- Have they had any children finish homeschooling and entered the workforce? Have these children succeeded in their own field.
- Are they willing to listen to what you are saying about your children? Every child is different. The person who best knows the child is the mother. Most mothers can accurately pinpoint the problem if asked although they do not always realise that they have this knowledge. Any “professional” who thinks that they know more about the child than the child’s mother should not be listened to. Take advice from someone who is willing to listen to you and help you choose material on the basis of your knowledge of your child.