Oops, I did it again! Changing curriculum again… and again

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My experiences changing curriculum have been pretty well documented on this blog. If you haven’t followed my journey, here are the highlights of our curriculum exploration over the past two years…

First Year: My Father’s World and why it didn’t work for us

Second Year: Why I chose to try Heart of Wisdom & Charlotte Mason method

Ask a NextGen Homeschooler: What textbooks or curriculum do you use and why?

ChangingCurriculum

At the beginning of this year, we were changing curriculum again: I decided to try another multi-age Christian homeschooling curriculum called Heart of Dakota — in hopes of finding something more flexible, more “laid out” (read: ready to go) and more easily customizable to my three daughters’ ability levels, while also being faith-based and unit-study driven like Heart of Wisdom.

20121101-002220.jpgWe gave HOD an honest go for about a month, and it quickly became clear to me that my eldest daughter — 11 1/2 years old and the avid reader in the family — would quickly speed way ahead of my 10-year-old daughter (with a short attention span), and that if I tried to keep them both working on the same unit according to the lesson plan, one would be bored and the other would be frustrated with too many items on her daily “to do” list. I also tried to find cross-over with my 5-year-old daughter’s HOD curriculum for our daily enrichment activities, but her suggested track with HOD for her age was actually quite different in subject matter from what I was doing with the older two, so there was very little we could do together (such as art projects, read-aloud living books, etc.).

When it came to math, we had discovered early on in our homeschooling journey that Math-U-See worked fabulously for all three girls. That was a real blessing, so no issues there! Shurley English, which is new for us this year, has worked really well for both my sisters in law Rosanna and Elizabeth and working with their multi-age daughters together. So far, it has been working smoothly for us as a grammar and writing curriculum for both of my older girls together, while my youngest is still learning to read with Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, combined with BOB Books.

I was really hoping that HOD would provide the “laid-out” lesson plan that I was looking for to handle the rest of our subjects in a unit study, multi-age, Charlotte Mason kind of way, with a strong biblical foundation. And don’t get me wrong — it’s a fabulous curriculum if you like the unit study format with a biblical worldview. There was a lot we enjoyed about it, but unfortunately I was spending way too much time trying to re-customize the given assignments for each child to fit our daily plan together and challenge my older daughter while breaking things down better for my younger daughter.

On days when I thought I had it all figured out, school lasted hours longer than I had planned. My eldest was always ahead and asking “what’s next?” while my younger two were overwhelmed and quickly began to lose interest. This is after I negotiated great deals on securing our new curriculum online via used homeschooling sales on Facebook and other group Web sites.

Seriously? Are we here again?

If there’s one thing I have learned on my previous two curriculum expeditions, it’s that there’s no reason to waste any time trying to reconfigure something that isn’t working for you. You’re the teacher, so you can switch gears whenever you feel that it’s necessary — no need to wait for a semester break or new school year. It’s more important to do what works for you than worry about being “inconsistent” or having a few extra books on your shelf.

So just as quickly as I purchased this year’s HOD books online, I was able to resell them to other eager moms waiting to score a used curriculum deal too. The buyers were happy — and I was happy. No harm done to the pocketbook.

Now what?

Earlier this summer when I was investigating Heart of Dakota, I had also come across a curriculum called Trail Guide to Learning by Geography Matters. I had originally been attracted to this curriculum because it was not only multi-age and unit-study driven, but it actually provided grade/ability-specific “notebooks” for each child that followed the main curriculum. The student notebooks provided different assignments (already predesigned in PDF form!) that were matched to their skill level for the main unit the entire family was studying. It was so close to what I was looking for, I was initially sold from the Web site alone. However, when I asked around on Facebook and other social media outlets, I didn’t hear back from many moms who’d been using it and could provide their experienced opinion. So I moved on.

Now that I was basically back to the drawing board, Trail Guide to Learning was my first stop, and their first series, Paths of Exploration, seemed like an ideal place to start with the ages and skill level of my girls. One thing that had always appealed to me about POE was the fact that you can download one unit at a time online, rather than purchasing a whole year’s curriculum at once for a higher price. The PDF file of each unit comes with both a teacher’s guide and student notebook pages, as well as related appendix pages. Perfect for tentative buyers like me who want to see if something is going to work before making a full-fledged investment!

Another plus: Downloadable, predesigned lapbooks that accompany each volume of the year’s curriculum. This is about as “well laid out” as I could have imagined! Last year we had experimented with lapbooks, and although the girls loved the creative aspects of them, they really wanted more direction as to what to include and how to present the information in an easy-to-discover format. The templates and cutouts provided by the POE lapbook PDF were exactly what we needed to bring lapbooks back into the picture without creating additional work for me and additional research for them.

I also appreciated that the books on the recommended reading list were not only “living books” (a Charlotte Mason recommendation), but easy to purchase used online or download to a Kindle. I had no trouble securing the books for Unit One the same night I downloaded the unit’s curriculum from the company Web site. Within two days (Amazon Prime delivery time), we were ready to dive into our fourth curriculum expedition.

In practice…

I’m happy to report that we love our Paths of Exploration curriculum! I love it because I have that well “laid out” lesson plan that saves me time and keeps us on track for the year. Along with that, my daughters have their own tracks to journey along with the family in our unit study in a way that meets their skills and ability level — and I didn’t have to come up with those customizations on my own. They are also enjoying the week-long lapbook project that goes along with our daily lessons and notebook work. It’s a great way to switch gears for my short-attention-span learner and provide extra work for my speedy learner. Even my five-year-old has gotten into her own version of the lapbooks, because why not? It’s all ready to print out and go — and she loves anything that involves coloring and cut-outs!

The recommended reading for “enrichment” (read: speedy learners) is just as compelling as the required reading for the unit. My eldest has already read two books off the recommended reading for enrichment, and she is learning more than I ever learned in school about these subjects. There is plenty to keep her challenged and engaged, while my 10-year-old gets the same content covered in smaller bites she can swallow.

Dare I say that we might have discovered the ideal curriculum for our family?

I’m too pragmatic to call this particular stop “the end” of our curriculum journey. However, I’m extremely optimistic that Trail Guide to Learning could really work for us. Right now, it’s working: The girls love it, I love it. It truly fits my family in this particular moment in time.

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” — Matthew 6:34

POST UPDATE: We are now in our second year of Trail Guide to Learning curriculum, using the Paths of Settlement units and middle school supplements for my now 13-year-old. The good news is that we STILL love it! I am supplementing a little bit: For example, using additional science curriculum to complement things like planting our spring garden (using Apologia’s Exploring Creation with Botany). However, I really love the structure of Trail Guide, which uses history as a “spine” for all other subjects and makes it easy to plug in additional resources wherever we’d like to.

After four years of homeschooling, I feel very confident about where we are, what we’re using, and how to move forward. Praise the Lord!

Have you found the ideal curriculum for your family’s homeschool? Are you still on the hunt for great curriculum in particular areas? How does teaching and learning styles affect your curriculum choices?

About Renée Gotcher

Renée Gotcher is a wife, writer, entrepreneur & home-educating mother of three daughters: Audrey, Claire and Elise. A former journalist, Renée was homeschooled during her last two years of high school and started homeschooling in 2010. She is editor of NextGen Homeschool and blogs on personal topics at A New Chapter. Her family lives in Castle Rock, Colorado.

Comments

  1. Lindsey Clair says:

    You have given me hope, haha. Also in my second year I am finding myself scrambling all over the place and really just need unit studies and labooks for my multi age crew of girls. I received my catalog for Heart of Dakota (currently using A Beka, yeah, not working), and feeling optimistic. When you shared on my blog your current curriculum, I am excited to research this one out too. Such a blessing to be connected with homeschooling moms and families and not feel so alone in the adventure. http://www.brandonmhomeschool.blogspot.com

    • Hi Lindsey! Glad my adventures in curriculum can encourage you – there is hope! :) I would say the biggest difference for me between Heart of Dakota & Paths of Exploration is the Student Notebooks that come with the age-specific assignments, which I really needed because of the different learning styles, abilities, and personalitites of my two girls that are using it. Also, I really do love having a lapbook assignment that flows right in with the weekly work – you could do the same with Heart of Dakota because of how the units are broken out, but you’d have to come up with your own content for the lapbooks.

      One thing I have realized as we’ve done these different “multi-age” curriculum options is that when children two years apart are doing the “same” thing, it can either make the older child feel less accomplished or challenged (and my eldest is particularly self-motivated and achievement-oriented), or the younger one feel like this is “too hard” or “too much” if the eldest is doing it too. At least that is what I have experienced with my two girls. Now they both feel a sense of accomplishment about doing their “own” work even though we’re reading the same books, doing the same discussions, and studying all the same content.

      Will pray for the Lord to shine His light on the right choice for your family, Lindsey!
      Renee

  2. Thanks for linking up!:) I really enjoy reading about the different curriculums available for homeschooling. We plan on homeschooling when God blesses us with another child!

    • Hi Ashlyn!
      Thanks for visiting and hosting the link-up, it was such a blessing to discover your blog yesterday via a link-up list on Homemaker By Choice! Happy also to hear you plan to homeschool too. It is really a privilege that we authors on NextGen Homeschool were blessed by as students, and I pray we’ll continue to have the freedom to homeschool our children in America for a very long time.

      My homeschooling sister & two sisters in law have each used different curriculum for different reasons. If you like getting more opinions on what’s out there, check out the article we posted earlier this year where all four of us discuss our “why” on our curriculum choices: http://wp.me/p1MH6f-pI. Look forward to following your journey on your blog!
      Renee

  3. I wish I could see a sample lesson and what I can expect to pay? Is there a link or way for you to send me more info?

    • Both curriculum providers I mentioned in this post have sample pages from their lesson plans available online at their Web sites. You can find the sample page & student notebook pages for the one we are using now, Paths of Exploration, at this link: http://www.home-school-curriculum.com/learning_series/Paths_of_Exploration/

      Paths of Exploration can be downloaded one unit at at time. There’s a total of six units for one school year, and each download is $30, includes the teacher’s manual, lesson plans, student notebook pages, and related appendix pages for that particular unit. I think it’s a good deal, personally I like the idea of spreading out the cost over the year instead of one large purchase up front!

      Hope this helps & thanks for stopping by NextGen Homeschool!

  4. Jennifer Creekmore says:

    Trail guide to learning is really intriguing to me. We are currently using mfw (exploring countries and cultures). My children are almost 7 and almost 9 and have already done a year of American history with mfw in adventures so I am not sure which guide would be the best fit for us in trail guide. Thoughts??

    • Hi Jennifer! That’s a great question: I was also not sure where I wanted to start because of the ages of my girls (10 and almost 12) when we started the year, as well as what we had already covered in previous curriculum plans we’d used.

      Content-wise, Paths of Exploration didn’t cover too much of the same ground historically that our prior year’s work, so I decided to start there even though it’s 3rd-5th grade and my girls are 4th & 6th grade. Now that I’m using it, I realize that because it incorporates geography (and science!) into the history component, we may be covering similar topics as previous years but in a different context. Also, I use the middle school supplement for Paths of Exploration with my 6th grader and it’s been perfect for expanding the unit to a higher level for her.

      I think that deciding by the age (& ability) level of your children is probably more important than what stretch of history the content covers. Because you use “living” books rather than textbook-like books, your children will still be reading different books than they did with the previous curriculum. You can download free PDF samples of a typical week, etc. on the Trail Guide to Learning Web site to help you get a feel for what the level of work will be, as well as the unit lesson approach.

      Hope that helps! If you’re still unsure, I would call the company – I know that really helped me with deciding how to approach MathUSee when bringing my girls home from public school. The approach was so different I wasn’t sure where to start, but talking to a rep really helped and they were right!

      Blessings to you & your family on your journey!
      Renée

  5. Thanks for the info! I saw your link on hip homeschool moms. i hope to find something new that works for us soon.

    • You’re welcome Michelle – I hope you do too! I love that with homeschooling, you can change things up when something isn’t working. Thanks for visiting us from the Hip Homeschool Moms.

  6. I am also looking at Trail Guides for our next school year. I noticed you stated you were looking for a Christian based Curriculum. This was what held me off from getting this last year. Do you use the Bible supplement with it? Do you have a problem with it not being Christian based?

    • Hi Tracy! Trail Guides is definitely a Christian-based curriculum. The separate Bible supplement is designed as an additional Bible study path, following themes from the unit study itself using scripture and memorization projects. And yes, we do use it for our Bible curriculum. However the main curriculum is written with a Biblical worldview. This wasn’t clear to me either when I was checking it out initially online, but I went ahead and downloaded the first unit of Paths of Exploration ($30 for each six-week unit download PDF) to give it a try, and it is definitely written with a Christian foundation. The required reading living books selection have a biblical worldview as well. Hope that helps you with your decision-making!

  7. This is my second year of homeschooling my 9 year old. I too have changed from Bob Jones last year, to McRuffy LA(horrible) and now use Teaching Textbooks Math (I like), Easy Grammar (I like), writing Strands (I like), Answers in Genesis videos (love them),history and some science is from different areas and I use Time 4 learning(it’s just ok) but I want the whole biblical based history, bible, science together for two kids…I will begin next year with my first grader…so one will be in the 5th grade and one in the 1st. Any suggestions?? I too am tired of just changing curriculums and the daily planning is endless! thanks so much :)

    • Dear Tracy,
      I know this post is somewhat old, but in case you still needed some feedback, I would like to mention that I am using Paths of Settlement starting in the Fall, and have read tons of independent reviews of Paths of Settlement and Paths of Exploration. Although I have not personally used Paths of Exploration, having now read through and worked with set up for Paths of Settlement, it seems to me that you could probably adapt the curriculum of Paths of Exploration for both children. It is a fairly flexible system and even though Exploration is geared for 3rd through 5th, they have support options for younger AND more advanced students.. Besides the notebooking and lapbooking pages, they offer Junior readers to use with younger students and you could always read those to your child if they aren’t quite ready to read them without assistance yet. If you need more advanced material for your 5th grader, they have material for that, too. Depending on the child, you may need a language arts curriculum geared for a younger child. You could just use the spelling words as vocabulary words and skip some of the other language arts assignments until your 1st grader is a little further along in their skills acquisition. In other words, you would almost certainly need to adapt the curriculum for your 1st grader, but it seems VERY doable, especially since you wouldn’t have to do much of anything to prep curriculum for your 5th grader.

      Also, so far when I have had a question, the people at Trail Guides have been very supportive and helpful. Good luck.

      JC

  8. Hi I am brand-new to the idea of homeschooling my kids. I am seeing that you adapt the curriculum for multiple age levels. How does this work exactly? I understand adding components to make it more difficult or subtracting them to make it easier for multiple age levels. What I don’t understand is when my six-year-old gets to a higher level and is in a new year of schooling would we not just be repeating the same subjects? Because he is already completed a smaller version the year prior? Am I just not understanding this concept? Help this newbie! Also what is a lap book?

    • Hi Liza! The curriculum we use, Trail Guide to Learning, covers the same time period for all your elementary ages from 3rd grade up in six units a year, but provides level-specific work (in a notebook form) for each grade level. We study the same subjects, but the work is designed for their appropriate levels. Then the next year we don’t repeat those same units but do a new time period in history and six new units. Check out Trail Guide’s web site for more info about the progression of years. There are several other curriculum providers that work well with multi-age families, we just happen to love this one. It works well for my girls at their ages!

      Lap books are simply presentation folders (that you can make out of one file folder or several stuck together) where the students create visual representations of what they’re learning in the unit. Art, vocabulary cards, flip-up “files” with facts, etc. This post shows a lap book we made for the elections so you can get an idea of what they look like inside.

  9. So, this year has just started. We just started homeschooling in January of this year, and I thought that I had this new school year figured out, but, we’re only one week into MFW ECC, and I’m already feeling like all I’m doing is going from one book to another (and spending most of my time doing that and looking for the correct pages and that there’s not a lot of continuity, plus I’m not sure that my dd’s 8 and 10 (and ds 6) really should be learning the definitions of animism (and others) at this age. I’d rather focus on Chrisitianity! So, thank you for your post about switching, I just hate to switch until I give it more of a chance, but then I came across TGTL, and thought, Wow!, that looks like a great program. So, I’m torn as to what to do. Thanks for your input. Blessings on the journey, Anita

    • Hi Anita,
      Thanks for sharing your curriculum dilemma – I know how you feel! One thing that I can recommend about trying TGTL is that you can purchase one unit at a time via digital download, so if you’re feeling like MFW isn’t working for you the way you’d hoped, you can put it aside for six weeks and work through one unit of TGTL and see how it compares. Honestly the main reason we switched gears to try TGTL when we did was because I didn’t have to purchase another entire year’s curriculum package in order to give it a try.

      Although I’ve made more changes in our homeschooling history than I would have liked, I do believe each change was for good reason: The curriculum wasn’t meeting my homeschool mission, and there were other options available that seemed like good potential replacements. If that’s how you’re feeling, I’d say pray about it and make a change if you feel led to do so. You’re not “giving up” if you’re following God’s leading. I know I’m glad for every change I made, what we learned in the process, and where God led us next. Hope that helps, Anita! I pray that God will give you clarity on your curriculum choice! :)

Trackbacks

  1. [...] girls and I are absolutely loving Trail Guide to Learning’s Paths of Exploration, which we implemented in October after realizing that a previous 2012 curriculum choice just wasn’t working out the way [...]

  2. [...] there were the curriculum changes. I will admit that even a NextGen Homeschooler like myself can have trouble finding the ideal [...]

  3. [...] math curriculum — for her math program. My sister-in-law Renée recently wrote about why Math-U-See works for her girls. I did change to a unit study approach, which we all really enjoyed and allowed us to [...]

  4. [...] Third Year: Started with Heart of Dakota, ended up with Trail Guide to Learning’s Paths of Exploration [...]

  5. [...] Third Year: How I started with Heart of Dakota, ended up with Paths of Exploration [...]

  6. […] Oops, I Did it Again: Changing Curriculum Again… And Again […]

  7. […] there were the curriculum changes. I will admit that even a NextGen Homeschooler like myself can have trouble finding the ideal […]

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