Monday, March 28, 2011

Planning Your Own Curriculum

How I Plan My History Curriculum

I haven't found a history curriculum that really gives me everything I want in a curriculum.   I want a clear concise flow of history with a bit of depth, hands-on activities, engaging quality fiction, writing, and a clear way to show what we learned by the end.   Oh and I don't want all this to cost a ton of money.   Asking too much?   Most likely yes, since I haven't found what I'm looking for yet!

So, in years past I would buy a curriculum and tweak it to death!  Recently I decided to skip paying someone else to develop something I would simply redevelop.   I have been designing my own history curriculum since then and have come up with some simple steps that anyone could follow to design a course of study themselves.  

1)  Prioritize.    What is most important to you?    Do you want to emphasize culture, memorization, religion, a hands-on aspect, developing reading skills, geography, writing, vocabulary, reading comprehension, following a four year cycle,  American history, world history, or ___________?    The list could go on forever--every family has different needs and focuses.

           My priorities this year for history are: 
1)  Cover an overview of history through the Middle Ages and Renaissance
2)  Work on reading comprehension for my two youngest
 3) Improve my son's research skills
4) Understand the geography of the regions studied
5)  Supply activities for my crafty artsy daughters that could also be left out for my let's-get-it-done-now son
6)  Incorporate writing skills into our history studies
7) Use historical fiction to increase understanding of everyday life and to introduce discussion

 2)   Research the available resources

                  This is the fun part for me. I read my Rainbow Resource  ,   TimberdoodleWinterpromise, Beautiful Feet, Veritas Press, and Sonlight catalogs, as well as what ever other catalogs I can get my hands on.    I look at Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites.   I look for books and products that will meet the priorities I've set for our study.   I read the product descriptions looking for age suggestions, number of pages, worldview, skills taught, and reviews of others who have used the products.   I look for products that will help me meet the goals I set when I prioritized in step 1.

Then I move on to The Well Trained Mind Forums.  These fabulous boards have thousands of homeschooling moms and dads willing to share their opinions on every topic under the sun!   While it is a good place to get info, it can also be a rather overwhelming place to visit.   That is why I only enter after I have already narrowed my choices to a few specific products.   It is easy to search for discussions on the products you are interested in.  Most likely, someone has used it and shared why it did or didn't worked for them.   If a discussion hasn't already happened, feel free to start a new one with your specific questions.

Spend time at the library perusing their history section.   Look for books that could work as a core and for books you might want to add to the core. 

At this point I usually have more products and ideas than I can possibly use.    Think about how often you will be working on history and how much time you and your children can reasonably spend on assignments.    I plan to work on history 3 hours per week.   On top of that time spent working together I expect my 8th-grade son to spend 3-4 more hours reading, researching, and writing, and my 6th-graders to spend about 2 hours working on projects in their history portfolios.  Pare down to what you can do in your time allotted to history.   

3)   Don't Be Tempted.

Okay, very important!  Don't go ahead and order the curriculum package you read about in one of the above wonderful catalogs unless it meets all your priorities!   I've been homeschooling for over 11 years, and each year I am tempted by all the fabulous curriculum that arrives in my mailbox via those catalogs.   I want to buy the Veritas Press history cards--even though I know they don't quite work for my family.   The Sonlight guarantee always tempts me!   But people!  this is why we are creating our own thing!   If after researching things you find something that looks great and reassures you your child will be a genius after using it, but it doesn't fit your goals, it will not work for you in the long run!  Spending money on it will be a waste of resources.   Okay, deep breathe!  Now that we got that out of our systems lets move on. 

4) Pick your Core Materials

It usually works best to choose one main book to be your core.   Your core is the book that will work as the backbone of your program.   You will follow its layout adding other components to it.   A core for history could be a history encyclopedia, a textbook, or a series of books.   I chose for our history core The Story of the Middle Ages , The Story of the Renaissance, and  these History Portfolios.  These are the texts that set the pace and path of our study.

5) Add to your core.

 Look at the table of contents of your core book.   Read through the book.   Decide where to add the other components of your program.

I try to pick six books for me to read aloud and six books for my kids to read themselves.   Looking at the table of contents,  I plug these books into the chapters they will add to the most .

I want to add reading comprehension to our history  for my daughters who need extra work in this area so I added  these workbooks.   And over the years I've figured out that trying to make every source match up with every other source will only drive you crazy!   So, I don't try to match the topics in the workbooks up with exactly what we are studying in our core book.   I've found that having topics slightly off schedule can be an advantage as it builds review into the curriculum.

My goal for my son to work on research and writing skills is met through the library.   I plan for him to pick a topic to research and then in our weekly visit to the library I help him look up and find books on the topic.   I've learned through experience not to plan these topics out.    Every scholar on the earth may think the art of a certain period is important, but my child may feel the bathroom habits are more interesting!    I go with the flow, since my real goal is improving his research and writing skills.

I also take topics from our cores to practice outlining and summary skills.   The cores I've chosen also have discussion questions and activity suggestions at the end of the chapters.    I skim over these to pick any activities my girls might like to complete and add to their portfolios.   Planning these ahead of time allows me to have the supplies needed at hand.

The history portfolios have a teacher's guide which I find invaluable for helping with writing topics and interesting activities as well as providing the mapping activities that fulfill priority number four.  

I've found that it is always nice to throw in something different through-out the year to keep things interesting.   I picked these history magazines and a few Jackdaws to change things up a bit.   They filled the gap of the Byzantine Empire, Feudal Japan, and the Vikings I found in my cores.   An unit study, in-depth art project, or a field-trip can all work to add interest to your studies.

6)  Type it up

I like to type my plans up making a schedule to fit our school year.    For some reason having this official looking plan makes all the difference for me!

7) Be willing to change things up!   

Some weeks things won't go as planned.    Some activities will be duds.   A new enticing book might show up at the library.  One of your lovely children may HATE one of those wonderful resources you carefully picked out.  

I've found I'm better able to deal with these things and change things up when I start with a plan and goals.   With your plan in place, you can take one read-aloud book out and plug in another.   You can skip the activity that doesn't work for your busy week while working ahead in another area, so you can fit that activity in another week.

There you have it.   A curriculum made to order.   


  1. I wish I was that brave. I get so lost in how and when and if I can finish it all that I just use MOH and edit as I go. I plan to add more literature next year, however.

  2. I appreciate how detailed you were with your own plan and "how to." It shows that you really care that others "get it" for themselves and their families. I love the feel of the blog and your heart for others! ;0)

  3. Great way to explain it all. The curriculum you design yourself to fit your child is beyond the best! Kudos to you for all of your hard work. Stopping by from the Homeschool Hop!

  4. I have been a little like that BUT I am fearing it for this year.I had a friend tell me to go by what the state recommends or by the book what your ?? needs to know and just pull from here and there and go with it.

    I could use your confidence,bless your heart.Thanks for sharing this post.
    Hopping over from HHH

  5. This is our first year homeschooling, and I bought a whole bunch of tools (yup, you're SO right about the temptations out there!), but I really have to pick and choose a lot of the time to keep the 5-year-old (wiggly, giggly boy!) engaged.

    You are very brave, and I love your advice about writing out a plan to help you refocus. Will definitely have to do that!

    Thanks for stopping by today. Visiting you back from the HHH!

  6. I have had a horrible time finding a history curriculum that I love. I have turned to putting together my own. I love quite a few of your suggestions. 2 thumbs and 2 gold stars for this post!

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  8. Thank you for visiting my blog.

    I really like the ideas you wrote about here, I am just starting to do this for our History program for next year. I am going to use STOW but need some other supplemental resources and information. Thank you for your thoughts.

  9. This post was absolutely, hands-down the most helpful, full of useful ideas post I have ever read. THANK YOU!!!

    In January we started an eclectic method, and I have been struggling in a few areas. You have pointed out some of my own errors, and then provided solutions. Again, thank you!

  10. Thanks for all the kind comments.

  11. You rock! I tried to go your route before and I just couldn't do it. I became overwhelmed and decided I am better as a tweaker! LOL

    I chose TOG because it is meant to be tweaked and fussed with so it is perfect for me. I do add in a lot of the resources we already own and we love the library. I use it as my spine and build from there.

    I wish I had it in me to do it from scratch! WTG Miss Moe!

  12. I'm sure many others will find your detailed plans and approach very encouraging!

    Just you add to your thoughts:

    I used Clay Clarkson's The Wholehearted Child Handbook to plan all the learning areas. You can see the overview diagram of a house with all the five focus areas on my planning pages.

    I also selected one (or 2) major lapbook projects to follow during the year. Once I had those, I didn't have as much pressure looking for hands-on activities. With some of my main history themes I looked for a hands-on activity as a highlight/ conclusion for our studies.

    My first eclectic year was by far my best homeschool year ever! We all loved it! Blessing in yours!

  13. I am moving to more of this approach.... we having been using The Story of The World this year, and I really enjoy it, but I find myself pulling in additional resources and just using SOTW as my history spine.

    Thank you for all of the wonderful ideas - I especially like the link to the comprehension workbooks. I appreciated the seriousness of your blog and the focus on planning. It's something I can benefit from.

    Have a wonderful Easter.

  14. Thank You for writing this post -- "Planning Your Own Curriculum".

    I am not sure how I found your blog... a little hop here and then a little hop there. However, I looked into your archives and was so greatly encouraged! I am moving to this more and more and I am really noticing a difference in my young children. They seem to happier to have a wide range of things to look at and do as we study. I think this will be really what I do for High School when we get there! It seems so far off though.

    I really enjoyed that you wrote about the "back bone" of the curriculum. That was helpful in understanding the shoot offs with the read alouds and the other books.

  15. I love the sound of this but I still spend five to ten hours a week planning. How can I make this work and not spend so much time planning throughtout the school year. Currently spending 5 to 10 hours a week researching and changing things around. So I have been thinking that perhaps a curriculum all planned out may be better for me. Help me think this through please.

  16. Thankyou so much for sharing this! Exactly the kind of thing i needed to read when i was starting out. I knew there was nothing that fitted my needs so i didn't get sucked in to pre-packaged curriculums, but I really had no idea how to break it down to put it together myself. I fumbled along and we do our own things, but it isn't complete or cohesive in a lot of areas. I can see how you plan can really help me for next year. Thankyou!


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