Monday, 6 May 2013

Curriculum Planning Made Easy Part 2

In Part One I talked about why it was great to write your own curriculum and the areas to think about before you started. In this post I will discuss the nuts and bolts of how I go about actually putting a curriculum together for a year, from conception to 'finished product'. In reality I don't view it as a finished product as I leave room for it to grow with us through the year! I have been strongly influenced by the philosophy of Charlotte Mason in that the basis for our curriculum is books, wonderful, captivating, living books!

Halfway through the 'academic' year, around March time, I start looking ahead to what we will cover over the following year. Usually I wonder what on earth I'm going to plan - didn't I already use up all the good ideas for this year? And what is my youngest daughter actually interested in anyway? After a brief blank period some ideas begin to form and it all comes together in the end!! When I come to a brick wall I tuck my lists away for a few weeks and leave my subconscious brain to mull it over until I have a flash of inspiration or stumble upon an idea that kick starts my creative juices once again! It is definitely an organic process for me that grows over time, it isn't something I sit down and bash out in a few hours.

Where to Begin....
So where do the ideas come from to use as a foundation for building the curriculum on? I start with what fascinates my children. I go for the enduring passions rather than passing interests as the material won't be used for a few months. Sudden interests can be accommodated as they come up as they can't be foreseen! My eldest daughter loves to sew and create, and my youngest daughter loves animals. Below is a tidied up version of the part spider diagram part flow chart that begins the process:


  • Stitches - make a book like Granny did as a child? x-stitch project? sampler?
  • Patterns - making and following a pattern? Actual clothes? Doll clothes? Hand sewing or machine?
  • Machines - history of, domestic and commercial machines, weaving/looms..... mills?
  • History of cotton mills - life of the workers?
  • Fabrics - where come from? What used for? cotton/tweed/tartan - UK fabrics? How made? sample books?
  • Threads - cotton/wool/nylon - how made and properties - raw materials.... trade routes? Transport methods and systems?
  • Fashion - history of, designers, process?
  • Tie to time line?
As you can see, there is way more than we could possibly cover in a year, even if we wanted to! Allowing the ideas to flow means that even when you start with a tremendously broad topic such as 'sewing', or ones that are too advanced or unworkable (like getting the sewing machine out with a toddler and new baby in the vicinity!), these can evolve into the perfect solution.  As an example, some of the ideas here are conceptually a little advanced for now such as looking at the composition, properties and uses of various threads and fabrics but are well worth keeping in mind for future years though as sewing is an enduring passion of Eve's.

Fleshing it Out.....
Having narrowed down my ideas to one or two strong veins that I want to go with, I start looking for books that bring the subject alive. I aim to build a selection that covers many different genres of books such as autobiographies/biographies, historical fiction, factual books, poetry and so on. I was inspired by 'The Book Whisperer', written by Donalyn Miller to do this. Although aimed at teachers guiding older children through literature classes, it is a motivational read! 

Within the genres I look for titles that cover a wide range of subject matter, for example:
  • History
  • Geography
  • Human Factors such as personality traits, relationships, decision-making etc
  • Ecological Issues
  • Important historical figures such as composers, artists, inventors and leaders.
I don't try and cover all genres and subjects for every topic I am building a book list for. The idea is that I cover all these genres and subjects over the course of a year, giving the children a broad range of ideas and styles of literature to feast on! Sometimes the important figures are not who you would expect them to be. When I researched books to bring Robert Scott's race to the South Pole to life last year, I discovered a most amazing, inspirational man named Tom Crean who possessed seemingly herculean strength and endurance, and with compassion, humility, ingenuity and lashings of courage! I'd never heard of him before but he saved many lives on several expeditions and was a bonafide Irish hero, his biography was the lynch pin that held our studies together! These figures should ideally be contemporaries of the time period you are roughly covering, or linked in some way for example a story of Tchaikovsky's early career to complement a study of ballet.

I find book suggestions using two main avenues to get me started:
  • A Google search will yield plenty of results, but you will have to play around with your search terms, refining the words and phrases until you begin to come up with the sort of material that matches what you are after. This can be a useful way of finding ideas for a topic in the first place, or you may go back and add to or change the ideas you jotted down in the first planning phase. As well as directly leading you to books, Google may throw up websites, blogs and book lists that are valuable mines of information and book ideas!
  • An Amazon search - after you have hit on one good book, the site will bring up similar books that others searching the same topic have looked at. This often has a snowball effect and you gather a number of books pretty quickly. I always look inside the books if the option is available and read reviews, or look for reviews on the net to decide if they are of the type and quality that I want, and to find a suggested age-group if it isn't clear. I check out authors and series that we have enjoyed before also.
Filling the Gaps.....
I let the books sit in my amazon basket for a while before I order them.... a cool off period if you like! I buy books rather than use the library for two reasons - our local library tends not to have many of the titles leading to frustrated searches and time poorly spent, and I want to build up a library of wonderful books both for the younger children to tap into and for us to have to go back to and build upon in the future.

Once I order the books I look them to over to make sure they are what I expected and consider the growing collection of books as a whole before adding more. I look at where there are gaps and how they could be filled. For example, there might be five or six books for our sewing topic, but only one or two for building and architecture, therefore I will focus on finding another one or two for building and architecture. Alternatively I might note that there are a few great historical fiction books but no biographies or poetry, nudging me to focus on those genres to build on what is already there. I often return to a search engine to research the areas I am focusing on before looking for specific books about those people, ideas or subject matters.

A Few Final Pointers.....
  • You don't have to do it all at once, remember the mantra of 'less is more' and 'quality over quantity'!
  • Don't be afraid to explore complex issues and ideas, but at the child's current level of understanding.
  • Don't be afraid to try something new - if it doesn't work out then learn from it and move on!
  • Go for about 20-30 books over a year - my list is on the lower end of this which leaves room for other avenues of inquiry that pop up through the year!
I hope that you find this useful and that it inspires you to be creative with your curriculum writing. The final post I will write will be a round-up of the book choices I have made for the coming year, along with a few explanatory notes of how they all tie together and how we will use them!

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