by Ginny Seuffert
For many years, Seton lesson plans included a piece of paper—hot pink to catch parental attention—that reminded parents to “change the program to fit the child and NOT try to change the child to fit the program.” Today, the lesson plans often remind parents that they are proceeding at a pace that is appropriate for that age and grade, but that parents can feel free to accelerate or apply the brakes if necessary. Clearly, modifying a curriculum plan to suit an individual student’s talents and abilities is an essential benefit of home schooling, but just how accommodating should a wise parent be? Is there such a thing as too much customizing, and how do we know? Here are some simple ideas to help you.
Finding the Correct Grade Level
Seton will help you by providing placements tests, but grade placement can be trickier than it sounds. Most children are not at the same grade level in every subject, and parents may be tempted to “fine-tune” the curriculum across grades to suit each child’s individual need. This is not necessarily beneficial. For example, it is not uncommon for a smart homeschooled seven-year-old to be reading at fifth or even sixth grade level, but that child should certainly not be enrolled in fifth grade reading. At that level, the students must write multi-paragraph book reports, above the skill set of most bright seven-year- olds. Also, many of the themes in the fifth grade assigned reading are simply too complex for such a young child. Finally some of the assigned work in middle school reading presumes knowledge of history or religion that even a good young reader would probably lack.
A better solution is to allow the child to read the Faith and Freedom readers for second grade, and write a one or two sentence story description in a notebook. If the student breezes through the readers, take the recommended reading list from the lesson plans to the local library and encourage your child to pick several each week. (Seton sells many fiction books precisely to promote healthy reading.) If your student has an interest in history or science, ask the librarian for help in locating age-appropriate books on these topics. Your child’s skills will still be climbing at a brisk clip.
Locating appropriate materials
Some homeschool literature encourages parents to seek out educational materials that fit the learning style of each individual student. Taken to an extreme, this could mean that a mother of four children would need to develop four individualized curricula, with four customized lesson plans, and be forced to purchase from a large number of publishers or providers.
This type of customized curriculum would truly only be necessary for a child with specific disabilities. The rest of us need to prepare our children for the real world by giving them strategies to cope with learning differences. Even if a child is mainly an auditory or a kinesthetic learner, he or she must be able to learn in other ways as well. If you tailor every last lesson to the child’s specific learning style, then what happens when the child encounters less fine-tuned materials? Remember that your children’s future college professors or bosses are not going to care that they were auditory or kinesthetic learners. They need to complete assigned work on schedule with no excuses.
A better approach is to locate high quality materials that use a multi-sensory approach to teach the concepts, and then work with them. For example, an elementary spelling lesson might have the children classify this week’s words using phonetic rules. The next day, they might fit the words into sentences by context, and the following day, see the words used in written paragraphs. The students should see the words, say the words, write the words, and use the words in context. That is enough for many young spellers to master the lesson. Some visual learners will just see the words and fix them into their memory.
Other children might need a bit more. An auditory learner can repeat the words and spellings aloud, so he hears them as he says them. A kinesthetic learner can write the words on a white board or even on the sidewalk with chalk, putting them into his “muscle memory.” All of this can be accomplished using the materials on hand, but it accomplishes another goal. The students are learning to compensate for their learning differences, a skill that will serve them well through the years.
It just doesn’t fit our family dynamic
One popular homeschooling author wrote that she ordered a “high-quality, and well-organized” curriculum for her first grade son, but within three or four days realized it was “not working out” and moved to un-schooling. When I read this, I wondered if the problem was simply that the author did not stick with the program long enough to give it a chance to work. Any new thing is hard, and if students are not used to serious academic work, they will find it hard. That’s not a reason to quit.
Things that are worth doing are often difficult. My grandson really struggled with penmanship in Kindergarten, a common problem with little boys. His parents could have told him he did not have to do it. After all, what are computer keyboards for? However, his dad went in the other direction, insisting on even more practice. By the end of first grade, his handwriting is well above average, and the little guy is proud of his accomplishment.
Yes, if a task is difficult and a student rebels against doing the work, the parent can give in because of the complaining. But then the children miss out on some very important lessons. They don’t learn to respect and obey their parents, as commanded by God. They don’t learn to apply themselves diligently to accomplish a difficult or frustrating task. They develop an incomplete view of the world where they can dictate the terms. Allowing students to direct educational methods can deny them an opportunity to build character.
Is there a rule to remember about tailoring the curriculum?
Former homeschooled student Thomas Alva Edison famously said, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” We homeschooling parents do not know what plan God has in mind for our children. We can only prepare them to be equal to any task, and that means giving them a rigorous academic and religious formation. So when we consider customizing a curriculum, an examination of conscience is in order. The only question we need to ask ourselves is “Am I making this change because it will enhance my child’s educational accomplishments?” If the answer is, “No,” we need to think twice about making the change.