Curriculum for unschooling 7th grade – sort of?
The fact is, we’re not exactly “textbook” people.
We’re DEFINITELY not workbook people.
In good news, we are book people. Lots-and-lots-of-books people, actually.
We’re not exactly “grade-level” people, either.
By Pennsylvania law and standards, Sarah, who is 12 and a half, is a seventh-grader as of July 1.
Her work and her abilities, though, literally range from about a third-grade level in some subjects to a post-high-school level in others.
Oh, wait. We’re also not really “planning” people.
Thankfully, the law in Pennsylvania, while it requires that you submit “objectives” to your school district, doesn’t require you to plan out your year or even pick a curriculum.
It simply asks you what skills you think your child will learn each year, which can be answered with broad-brush bullet points like this one:
“Student will review lower-level math fundamentals and work to increase her knowledge of subjects such as geometry and pre-algebra commensurate to her ability.”
Most days, I have no idea what we’re going to learn about until it happens. We make plans – of sorts – but the best opportunities always seem to be those that just arise naturally.
With all that in mind, why am I even bothering to join the “Not Back To School Blog Hop” for curriculum week?
Mostly, because I want to show other not-exactly-planning, not-exactly-at-a-grade-level, not-exactly-textbook people – and I know you’re out there – that you CAN make this homeschooling thing work!
And, if you haven’t already, I also invite you to check out our later ideas, the unschooled version of a 10th-grade-ish curriculum plan (2015-16), the unschooled version of an ninth-grade-ish curriculum plan (2014-15) and the unschooled version of an eighth-grade-ish curriculum plan (2013-14).
So with that, I give you…
The Conciliotto family’s unschooling 7th grade (ish) curriculum
Well, let’s start with this idea in mind: What we learn about is driven by Sarah, and what we do is experienced as a family. Don’t stress about that right now. If you’re thinking, “But if I gave my 12-year-old a choice, he or she would sit around and play video games all day,” you’re probably right. So would Sarah – and she WILL play a lot of video games, which she loves.
But if you find out what your kids are REALLY interested in, you’d be surprised what you can facilitate.
Sarah made this list of things we’d like to learn about as a family this year. (You can tell it was done voluntarily, because you can actually read it. Her handwriting when she doesn’t want to do something is truly unreadable!)
We also made this list, of places we’d like to visit, some near and some outside our state.
So how does this turn into “curriculum” – and what else will we be mixing in? As well as I can, I’m going to try to do a subject-by-subject look; most of what we do is what would in my state documentation be called cross-curricular, but this way, if you’re using a planned curriculum in some subjects and want to mix in something we’re using in another, you can see how it might fit.
History, social studies and geography
This is one of Sarah’s favorite topics – and, while it was always my least favorite “school subject,” I’m finding that I’m learning a ton by experiencing history through books and trips with Sarah! Some of the items on our bookshelf include:
- Several books in the Sterling Biographies series, which we really enjoy the style of, including Sitting Bull: Great Sioux Hero and Jim Thorpe: An Athlete for the Ages as part of our study of American Indians and Abraham Lincoln: From Pioneer to President to help us learn more about the Civil War.
- Abeka’s New World History and Geography and Old World History and Geography. I mentioned we’re not much for textbooks, and we don’t tend to use textbooks LIKE textbooks – but Sarah really enjoys some of the Abeka stuff, and when she saw that two matching sets of this were available, she wanted me to get them and give the extras to one of her best friends, Madi, a fellow homeschooler, “so we could both be reading them.” For reference, I think one of these is designed to be a fifth-grade text and the other a sixth-grade one, but I find Abeka’s materials to be a bit advanced, so I could see these being used at least through an eighth-grade level.
- Fiction. Lots of historical fiction. We’ve just started the last of five books of the Indian in the Cupboard series by Lynn Reid Banks, titled “The Key to the Indian.” After that, I’m hoping to dig up some Civil War middle-grade fiction, so any suggestions are welcomed! (Doesn’t have to be “about” the war, just the time period.)
- American History: Observations and Assessments from Early Settlement to Today by James P. Stobaugh. I received a free copy of this to review through New Leaf Publishing Group, and while I haven’t done the “official” review post yet, Sarah has loved browsing through it. It’s considered a 10th-grade text, but she’s had a great time reading various parts that piqued her interest. If I were using it “officially,” I’d probably have to modify some of the essay questions, which are a little beyond Sarah’s level, but the great thing is, we can pick the parts that work well for us and skip the rest!
- Our subscription to National Geographic. I don’t think we’ve had an issue yet that didn’t turn into a history, geography or social issues learning experience. In fact, I think I’m on some kind of “wavelength” with the NatGeo folks, because we got the Titanic issue right when Sarah was most passionate about that, and now that we’re heavy into American Indians, this month’s issue focuses on the Sioux and their lifestyle today!
- The Olympics are providing a great springboard into geography as well (and tie in nicely to that Jim Thorpe biography, don’t you know?) We’ve been using our globe to find the countries involved in our favorite sports and talking about them, and we’ve learned more about London than I ever thought I’d know!
- Finally, we’ll be improving on and adding to our giant timeline of history with dates from our research. Sarah loves using this thing – and I am coming to love seeing it on the door to our basement. (And I finally, after 29 years on this planet, know the approximate dates for the Civil War, a fact that eluded me despite many years of Advanced Placement work in school.)
This list is as short as the history list is long! We have started the Life of Fred series of “math as a story” books, and Sarah is loving them!
So far, we’ve finished Life of Fred: Apples and are about halfway through Life of Fred: Butterflies, the first two books of the 10-book elementary series. I’d love to see us get through all 10 of the elementary books this year and then see if Sarah is ready to go on to Fred’s version of fractions, which is the topic she REALLY struggled with last school year.
Essentially, much of this year will be a “rebuilding year,” to quote most Phillies managers ever, but I’m 100% fine with that. Given Sarah’s significant math phobia coming out of public school, a mix of Life of Fred and some fun and games based around our favorite math-in-the-real-world resources will serve us better in the long run, I think.
Also, I want to make sure I’m clear: Life of Fred is described as a Christian series, and we are secular homeschoolers. We haven’t had any problems taking what few religious references we’ve found and using them to discuss what different people believe, which we like anyway.
Like with history, this is another area in which I don’t have to worry too much about Sarah’s interests leading us down a path. Not a week goes by that she doesn’t pick up an interest in something scientific. Some of the topics I’m guessing we’ll focus on this year:
- Space and astronomy. This week’s landing of the newest Mars rover, Curiosity, has been a HUGE hit with Sarah. We’d already been using the “Let’s Explore Astronomy” set from Calendar Connections at 1+1+1=1, and coincidentally, our current Life of Fred book talks about the constellations, so… WAY cool tie-ins there.
- Butterflies. In fact, look for a post coming from me later this week or early next week on some of the fascinating butterfly stuff we’ve been doing in the last month! I expect we’ll work in the “Let’s Explore Bugs” set from Calendar Connections here, too, where we read a fact a day on the topic.
- Wildlife. With our 4-H club being the Wildlife Watchers, it’s kind of a given that we’ll be doing a bunch of projects on this topic through the year. In addition, though, Sarah wants to take another trip to a wolf sanctuary about an hour from our home, and she wants to focus on how we can help endangered “big cats,” which is a huge National Geographic initiative. The great thing about these projects is that they also turn into entries for her 4-H wildlife journal, which can then be entered as a 4-H fair and county fair project.
- Plants. Sarah is our resident gardener, and she’s been planting to attract wildlife (and especially butterflies). This is a great way to tie together a lot of her learning (and a great 4-H project, too!)
Here’s a look at some of the books we lean on as resources in these areas.
- Enough butterfly and bird field guides to sink a ship. We have tons, and Sarah’s always talking us into buying more. Should the blue-footed booby, crested grackle or great horned whoozywhatsit decide to perch on our deck, if it can wait while we search a catalog the size of the unabridged Oxford English Dictionary, we’re sure to be able to identify it.
- Birds and Blooms magazine. This is another subscription we get immense value from, on everything from butterflies to birds to gardening.
In some ways, this is our simplest subject to explain.
Here’s the short version: We read across genres as a family, both aloud and silently. We work with Sarah to help her spell the words she needs to use correctly.
And she writes all sorts of things of her own choosing, everything from blog posts to fiction stories to her 4-H project documentation.
Now, for the longer description…
The hardest part about not “assigning” writing projects comes when I have to prepare documentation for our evaluator.
Sarah knows a lot about many subjects – including the ones we’ve talked about above – but asking her to write a report or an essay isn’t a good way to get her to show what she knows. That said, the evaluator needs something she can easily look at that shows Sarah is making progress as a written communicator, as well as in her core subject areas.
This is one area where I admit I don’t quite know what we’re going to do.
Sarah and I have talked about what we need to be able to turn in, and sometimes she’ll get it in her head to “do a project” on someone or something, so my plan right now is that I have faith that we’ll end up with a research report on Olympic gymnast John Orozco or a PowerPoint on Sitting Bull somewhere along the line!
In addition to those general notes, here are a few of the language arts-y things we’ll probably focus on specifically this year.
- Biographies. (Obviously, from the lists above!)
- Short stories, fairy tales and folk tales. Sarah likes short fiction, and Chris has a real passion for fairy tales. He uses them to help Sarah learn about culture and geography, too; in fact, right now, we’re interspersing our Sitting Bull biography and The Key to the Indian with Ruth Manning-Sanders’ “Red Indian Folk and Fairy Tales” and talking about the tribes the stories come from!
- Historical fiction. Given a preference, Sarah will read a nonfiction book over fiction any day, but she really enjoys the experience of being read to in this genre, so I’m glad to continue doing that. (It’s also a great way for me to gauge her interest in a topic; the Indian in the Cupboard series was one I loved and thought she’d like, and it was a great way for me to see if Native Americans were a topic we’d want to delve into more.
- Understanding higher-level texts. This is a HUGE benefit to reading aloud as a family. For instance, right now I’m reading to Sarah a National Geographic article about the Lakota Sioux and their lifestyle on the reservation today. There’s a lot of complicated stuff in there – from the controversy about growing industrial-grade hemp to the use of peyote in traditional rituals to the symbolism of Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse monument. Sarah could “read the words” on her own, but her understanding of it as we talk through things is growing deeper and deeper, and the more we do it together, the more she builds an ability to do it on her own.
Music, art, technology, home economics, faith, physical education and other good stuff
I could spend all day listing the things that we do in this area, which includes an awful big swath of things Sarah is interested in.
Here are just a few:
- In the area of music, we’re going to listen to things across all genres, and attend concerts as often as possible. (Big ones include Celtic Thunder and David Byrne, both in September; we’ll also do the local high school band’s show and the spring musical.) Sarah also enjoys composing song lyrics and putting tunes to them at the piano, which I’m sure she’ll continue.
- In art, we’ll dig into the works of M.C. Escher and Andy Warhol, including a trip to the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh if we can. We’ll also almost certainly do some family collage, calligraphy and Native American art projects.
- As far as technology, this will be a big year, because Sarah will get her own cell phone and be responsible for managing it. She already uses Pinterest, Twitter and Google Plus, and will continue to work with those, and we’ll possibly consider letting her have a Facebook account once she turns 13, their minimum age.
- Home economics. Oh, that’s a fun subject, which I usually lump under the category of “daily life skills.” That’s everything from cooking and baking to doing dishes and laundry to helping with the grocery shopping to managing her savings accounts. Thankfully, Sarah’s pretty independent in those areas, but we’ll keep working on the finer points.
- For physical education, Sarah’s going to continue her tae kwon do lessons (her goal for the year is to earn her green belt, the first intermediate level in our discipline), and we’ll hike and bicycle as a family. She’s also using the pedometer on her 3DS to track her steps each day (she found this feature, by the way, not me!)
- Other fun stuff. I take this to include lots of trips, lots of reading, lots of internet searching and lots of time with friends.
So how and when do we “do” all this stuff?
We don’t plan our days to include any particular “school times.” We learn when it happens.
That said, we’ve got a family tradition that is a HUGE part of how we learn, and that’s our bedtime reading aloud with Sarah. This isn’t simply “read a story” reading aloud, though it started out that way.
It’s morphed, though, into what is usually at least an hour and a half of devoted time in which either Chris, Sarah or I read aloud. That’s really the linchpin of our day in many ways, with the hours immediately before bed tending to be heavier in learning than the daytime ones. (We’re all night owls – yet another reason homeschooling works for us!)
And that’s where the books that figure so prominently in the lists above come in. Most nights, we’re reading and discussing chapters from three or four books on a variety of topics.
We’re even at the point where, if Sarah’s going away overnight, we sit down and read before she leaves. We read while we were on vacation. It matters, and we love making time to do it.
Will we get to all – or maybe even any – of the listed items this year? Not a clue. And I couldn’t be happier. We’re hitting our stride as a homeschooling family, and wherever this year takes us, I hope you’ll stick around for regular updates!
Don’t miss the eighth-grade-ish version of our plan here! We posted it in August 2013, and we’re thrilled to share it.
This post is also part of the How to Teach Without a Curriculum linkup through the iHomeschool Network. Click the image below to read more posts on teaching without formal curriculum!