When I first began home schooling thirty years ago, I had just graduated with an elementary education degree. I had a one-year-old son, and we began home schooling my younger sister. Of course, coming right out of teacher’s college, I began doing things just like I would have done in my classroom. I soon discovered that all of the classroom things were not necessary – that those things were needed for mass education but not necessarily for one-on-one tutoring (or even small group instruction).
Even after discovering this, however, I still had this urge to be a “teacher.” That is, I was always drawn to materials that were teacher-intensive. I love teaching! And I still do. But by the time I had my third child in school, with a preschooler, toddler, and baby, I was teaching eight and ten hours a day. Something had to change.
It was then that I discovered many independent curriculum items for my children. We had already been using Geo Safari, a computerized laptop type of game that taught and quizzed the children on geography, history, art, and much more. I began using a lot of other less teacher-intensive items. I developed independent work lists for each child based on each one’s age and level. These independent work lists had checklists for each day that the children could do without my input, such as the aforementioned Geo Safari, Calculadders math drill sheets, Mathsafari, educational coloring books, and much more.
I was using unit studies at that time, which we absolutely loved. I knew that in getting away from so much teacher intensive material, I did not want to leave unit studies behind. There were other subject areas, however, in which I could drop some of the more teacher intensive things. And so I did, and I had more time for other things. I wasn’t teaching as long each day. And my children were learning independent skills, study habits, and thinking processes that they might not have learned had I continued to “teach” everything.
Here are some tips for choosing curriculum that is varied in nature as far as teacher intensiveness is concerned:
1) First of all, consider what your individual children need. This should always be the primary benchmark in choosing curriculum. If you have a young mathematician, he might do fine with a more independent math program. Maybe your middle school writer can work through a writing/composition text on her own. You know your own children. Consider which subject areas will simply not work out at all if the materials were too independent for each child.
2) Once you have determined which subject areas each child absolutely needs your help in or needs a more teacher intensive approach, then look at which subjects you simply have a good time teaching your children. For us, while we did use individual Bible materials, reading and studying the Bible together was something that I never wanted to give up. Likewise, as I mentioned earlier, our unit study times and our read aloud times were precious to me. For over twenty years, I read to my children two to four hours a day. So, even in trying to reduce my teaching time, I knew what times a day and what subjects together we loved the most. Those things did not change.
3) Next, look at what is available for independent work for children in different subject areas. Consider materials that you have used in the past that your student enjoyed. For example, if you have used some Alpha Omega life packs, and your student enjoyed those, check out the listings for those and see which subject areas might work for your student. Consider what online courses or local co-op courses might be available. Additionally, check out materials that have the teacher on a CD or a DVD. This has been a lifesaver for us in math. I could give my students entire math over to the CD program since it checked and graded the assignments for my student. (This program is Teaching Textbooks.)
4) Even if you do use unit studies, consider how this could even be made less teacher intensive. For example, grouping children together and then using the bus stop approach in which younger children only stay for a portion of the lessons is a way to make teacher time more productive. Also consider what assignments can be given to your students outside of unit studies. Many unit study programs have this built into them. That is, they will have you assign your student independent projects, writing assignments, books to read, and so forth. In this way, I was still able to use unit studies while giving independent assignments from what we were studying whenever possible.
5) Use independent materials for those “extras.” I used math drills, computer programs to practice states and capitals and other memory work, educational coloring books, craft kits, independent penmanship programs, and more to help my students become more independent in those extras.
By using a variety of materials, we are able to hone in on our children’s strengths and their learning styles. We are able to choose materials that suit each child’s strong areas while using more teacher intensive materials for areas in which the student needs the teacher more. We are able to add variety to the school day, so the student doesn’t have to do the same type of material in every subject. And we are able to set up our school day to be more enjoyable for Mom and the students.