Friday, October 26, 2012

12 Reasons I like "The Family School" Curriculum

The Family School is an LDS-based curriculum sponsored by American Heritage School  in Utah County.  It was created by experienced LDS home schooling mothers.  

Here are some reasons I like it: 

1. The American Heritage School is extraordinary! 

I visited this private LDS-based school for an LDS Home School Conference in August. The beautiful halls were decorated with paintings of Jesus Christ and our Founding Fathers!  The classrooms had history timelines including Christ, Joseph Smith, and whatever subject that teacher taught, like famous literature or historical events.  We could really feel the Spirit!  

2. We learn academic subjects in a gospel-centered,  principle-centered model. 

I knew there were many Christian curricula, but I didn't know about an LDS curriculum before. Christian is great, but having the fullness of the gospel is even better.  D&C 88:78-80 lists subjects God wants us to learn, and they're listed in order of spiritual learning as a foundation before secular learning.  It's cool that we get to learn both at the same time. 

For example, history is introduced as His Story. The history timeline includes both secular events like the Founding Fathers, and gospel events like the creation, Adam and Eve, and Jesus Christ.  The theme of the science subject is to see God's hand in the creation of all living things. 

A recent literature lesson was about Cinderella and The Rough Faced Girl, an American Indian version of the same story.  We compared and contrasted the similarities and differences of the two stories in theme, plot, characters, and setting. Then we discussed why certain archetypes seem so prevalent in all cultures.  Could it be because they represent eternal things we learned about before we lived on earth so they're familiar to us?  So a hero who saves the people reminds us of Chris, and a person who chooses good but doesn't get immediate blessings and gets the ultimate blessings he/she wants in the end reminds us of our own lives. 

3. I am impressed with the two main curriculum writers.     

I heard the two sisters' presentation on Family School at the LDS Home School Conference and I was very impressed!  They seem like amazing mothers, very grounded in the Gospel.  Here you can see Jane and Nanette.

5. It's a one-room-schoolhouse approach so I learn right along with my elementary-age children. 

6. It covers six core subjects, but only one or two a day, which keeps things simplified. 

The two core subjects your children do on their own level are math and language arts.  You can see their suggested schedule here. 

7. It works in a six-year rotation. 

I told someone at the school how sad I felt that my youngest are in 5th grade, so we won't be able to keep learning through their whole six-year rotation.  She told me the school has online classes using similar methodology for older kids.  You can see their six-year scope and sequence here. (Scroll down to the bottom.)

8. You can use their suggested schedule or use your own schedule.  

You can use one or all of the subjects. Their schedule allows for one "enrichment day" for things like field trips, scouts, Faith in God, life skills like chores or cooking lessons, etc.  We use that day for our youth group and Knights of Freedom group. 

9. The school offers a month of free lesson plans so people can try it out and see how they like it. 

10. There is a network of support for other LDS home school families using Family School curriculum.  

This is especially beneficial, because the curriculum is brand new so things aren't perfect, and they're learning as they go along.  Moms get the opportunity to give feedback and let them know if a link isn't working or ask questions about a particular handout.  They're taking our feedback as they write and tweak the next quarter's lesson plans.  It's more expensive for them to ship them this way, but they want to keep working for the best quality product.  

11. They include a variety of learning methods: 

Stories, games, videos, scriptures, quotes from Church leaders, coloring pages, Power Point, and so on.  They give a variety of choices for activities to help the kids internalize what they learn -- writing, coloring, creating a story or poem, a report, drawing the six days of creation, etc. 

12.  It gives me a structure, while still helping me use many of the TJED principles I love. 

  • You not them -- you are learning together with your children, sharing your enthusiasm about learning. 
  • Mentors not professors -- you are a mother mentor. 
  • Inspire not require -- the lessons are quite inspiring, engaging and apply to real life.  It makes learning fun.  You don't need to use the entire lesson each time -- you can adapt and make them shorter, especially if you have younger children. 
  • Structure time not content -- This curriculum is structured, yet it allows free time to pursue personal interests too.  Often something we learn in Family School will "spark" an interest  in a topic the kids want to study on their own!  After our lesson about jellyfish I wanted to jump in the car and head to an aquarium field trip! 
  • Classics not textbooks. Classics means studying original works, great minds and great works like art, music, literature, and all subjects.  We have been doing that in child-sized doses. 
  • Quality not conformity -- this fits. 
  • Simplicity not complexity -- studying great minds and works in all fields, write, discuss, and apply. This is similar to the 4-R method that is used. (Click here to watch a "4R-ing Lecture" video.  Scroll down to the bottom of the page.)
  • Secure not stressed -- get your own revelation from God to know how He wants you to educate your children.  This curriculum was an answer to my prayers. I like the agency-honoring approach of TJED, but having no structure was driving me nuts last year (we started home schooling in January).  So I am flooded with relief at having some structure of learning great things and still having time for pursuing personal interests. 
13. I get to end each lesson with my testimony of gospel principles and how they apply to our lives. 

Some things I wish I knew ahead of time about Family School: 
  • The lessons aren't all the same length, and some are longer than my kids would like. I want to get better at figuring out how to shorten some of them, but it's tricky because I want to cover everything too!  Friday is meant to have a double lesson of literature and art or music. We haven't been very successful having enough of an attention span for two lessons in one day. 
  • Because the curriculum is brand new, expect hiccups along the way.  Sometimes a handout link doesn't work, or the lesson plan doesn't match up perfectly with the handouts.  If you want to wait until next year to start, you'll have a smoother experience as they've worked out many of the beginner kinks.  I can only imagine the incredible amount of hours these writers are spending creating wonderful lesson plans for us, and I really appreciate it!   This would be an advantage of being slightly behind the suggested schedule. 
  • You'll need to print handouts for every lesson, unless you choose to use my friend's method.  She uses digital lessons (cheaper than the printed ones) and uses her ipad for everything, having her kids write or draw things in an inexpensive spiral notebook. 
  • Many lessons have you gather things from around your house as object lessons. This takes time, but it makes the lessons more fun and engaging.  I don't think we'll ever forget the memorable object lesson used to represent Enoch staying pure while living in a wicked world. 
  • They suggest a list of suggested supplies list of supplies and books for each subject.  You don't need every single thing. Also many of the supplies will last you the whole six years so it's a one-time investment.  I haven't been using the recommended read-aloud books because we have so many other books we're reading for our youth group.  

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