by Ginny Seuffert
A big benefit of home education is the opportunity to make sensible changes or additions to the curriculum to accommodate a particular child’s learning needs. Of course, the wise homeschooling mom realizes that modification needs to be implemented to enhance the child’s overall educational experience, not simply because the child is resisting assigned work. Sometimes curriculum changes are called for when parents are unable adequately to teach the planned curriculum, or to meet a legitimate educational need, or to provide true enrichment to students’ education.
For years I have been asserting that the greatest qualifications for homeschooling parents are the graces from the Sacrament of Matrimony and the love they have for their children. Am I contradicting myself to say that there are some educational jobs that they simply can’t handle? Not at all! Sometimes a prudent mom carefully considers her own limitations and gets just a bit of extra help.
At times Mom simply does not have the background in a particular subject — upper level math, science, and foreign language come to mind. Some parents solve this problem by buying program add-ons like Saxon Teacher. It is not at all unusual for a homeschooled high school student to have a dual enrollment in community college to study chemistry or Spanish. Many local support groups and some homeschool-friendly parishes sponsor group co-op classes which offer educational opportunities along with the chance to mingle with other Catholic homeschooled kids. All of these may be legitimate methods for customizing the curriculum.
Although resistance alone is not sufficient reason to modify a curriculum, some children do have special educational needs. Little boys often struggle to form letters and numbers in the early grades because they lack small motor coordination. That is not a reason to label them dysgraphic, and allow them to do all their assignments orally. Most children will improve over time with handwriting practice. On the other hand, you may feel that delayed penmanship is actually holding them back in other subjects. For example, if a 2nd grader needs to practice arithmetic facts, but takes forever to write the answers on a drill page, get creative. You might set an egg timer and tell him you will write any correct answer he gives you orally in the next three minutes. He has to write the rest.
Perhaps primary boys can be allowed to type some compositions on a computer (fun) and write others by hand (less fun). They can recite history or science facts out loud, and practice spelling and vocabulary words by repeating them as they march up and down the hall. These accommodations will allow Junior to continue to make academic progress until his penmanship catches up. Of course, his handwriting will catch up best if he practices it everyday.
As a general rule of thumb, I am not a big fan of moving high-achieving children to higher grade levels, but rather to provide enrichment. If little Johnny or Janey finishes American history early, get biographies of famous Americans from the library. Get a map book and have the little one memorize the names and locations of all fifty states, their two-letter postal abbreviations, and capitols. If science is a breeze, take trips to zoos or museums, or get in-depth library books. Children who finish the reading curriculum for the year should read some, or even all, of the books on Seton’s recommended reading list. If a vocabulary lesson teaches that a sow is a female pig, challenge the straight-A student to make a chart of the names of male, female, and young animals.
While the possibilities for enrichment are almost endless, the exception is math. Unlike other subjects, math does not really lend itself to enrichment, only to advancement. Some students just “get” math. If your student zooms through the grade level, there is no reason not to order the next level. A child who finishes Math for Young Catholics 4 without problem can skip Saxon Math 54 and move right into Saxon Math 65. If that same math whiz has no problem with Math 65 in the 5th grade, and Math 76 in the 6th grade, there is no reason to do Math 87, which is pretty much a remedial book anyway. That student can finish Algebra ½ in 7th grade and get a head start in high school credit by finishing Algebra 1 in 8th grade. Take more time with students who need it, but do not be afraid to move children ahead in math.
Any student following the Seton curriculum is receiving a prep school education. Secure in that knowledge, parents can be free to add enrichment to enhance the child’s education. Many homeschooled students take instrumental music lessons, but there are other opportunities to give them a greater appreciation of music. Look in the calendar section of your local newspaper for performance opportunities. Many churches offer high quality sacred music presentations for free or for a nominal fee. Local theaters and dance academies host reasonably priced shows. If professional opera, dance, or symphony performances are outside your price range, call the company. Ask them if they have any scholarships or special pricing for students and teachers.
Seton meets national standards by mandating two years of foreign language study in high school, but learning a conversational language is best done years before that. If Grandma is bilingual, ask her to speak only her native language to your children. Several video programs teach young children vocabulary in a different tongue. Your public library may have CDs or DVDs you can borrow for free.
Many of the previous suggestions focus on enrichment, but what about those of you who have children struggling to keep up with Seton’s basic curriculum? First, try to ascertain if your child is simply too young or lacks maturity for the grade placement. Never forget that these grade levels are a bit arbitrary. Some children, often but not always girls, can function a full year ahead with little problem. Other children, especially younger boys, would benefit by working six months or a year behind level.
The second consideration is if the struggling child has legitimate unmet educational needs, versus needing a firmer hand. A child who truly lacks the ability to focus on schoolwork, for example, would also struggle to watch a 30-minute TV program. If you are not sure if your child has ADHD or just needs more structure, start by becoming more disciplined in your schedule and your expectations, and see if there is any improvement. If you are having a tough time with homeschooling, your best course of action is to call a Seton counselor who can advise you based on your specific circumstances.
The basic principle behind modifying a curriculum can be summed up as follows: Any changes should be implemented to enhance my child’s educational attainment.