In the same way, even a wonderful home education curriculum will require some adjustments. And that is what I've found for us after now having completed nine weeks of our core program for the year in My Father's World: Exploring Countries and Cultures (ECC).
Actually, I made a few changes to last year's MFW core, too, but those were mere nips and tucks. In contrast, this year I've discovered that I must turn a size 12 dress into a six. But I still love the overall design of the "dress" and (after an extensive, three-year search) did not find another I like even half as much. Thus, even a somewhat drastic alteration is worth it to me.
The "problem" is the age span - potentially, all children in a family between the ages of eight and 14 - for which ECC is designed. I did not have the same issue last year, as that core - Adventures in My Father's World - was specifically created for seven- and eight-year olds as a way to transition them from the introductory work of kindergarten and first grade to the more academically rigorous demands of the higher grades. But with ECC, MFW has attempted to integrate a broad age span under the same "roof." And, while I appreciate the effort, I think the program falls a bit short in terms of meeting the needs of the children in the youngest grades (i.e., third, fourth and, possibly, fifth).
I can understand how that would happen. MFW surely (and understandably) wanted to be sure the material is academically rigorous enough for middle school students, a goal I believe they have met quite successfully. In fact, I am thankful the MFW core rotation will allow my girls the opportunity to repeat this material during their eighth grade year because I believe it'll be a perfect transition into the high school series.
The program does include some alternate materials and plans to accommodate younger children, but - after trying things as written for nine weeks - I don't believe it's quite enough. Specifically, while the main science text, Properties of Ecosystems by Answers in Genesis is an excellent book for older children, it is clearly over the heads of most kids my daughters' ages. And, unlike in some of the other MFW cores (especially Years 4 and 5), MFW has not provided explicit age-appropriate alternatives. Now, as with every MFW core, the teacher's manual does contain an extensive list of suggested library books, many of which are very good picture and easier chapter books designed for younger children. But I still wish MFW had actually included appropriate core "texts" in a supplement to be scheduled into the lesson plans.
Similarly, I've found the main geography texts - mere atlases - to be a bit dry for younger children (even though they would be quite good for older kids able to read and process the information on their own). Thus, it's been hard to keep my daughters' attention with them during group time read-alouds.
I've never had a problem modifying curriculum - not when I was a classroom teacher in the public schools and made changes both miniscule and huge, and not for the entire history of my girls' formal education. After all, an effective teacher must meet the needs of her actual students, not a group of hypothetical ones imagined by even the most well-meaning curriculum writers. So making alterations is just par for the course for a "seamstress" who neither wants the dress to suffocate nor drown the "bride."
I think it's brilliant that MFW's rotation requires students to study world geography once or even twice before high school - I've not seen that component in any similar curriculum - and so I would hate to see some moms discount ECC (or even MFW as a whole) based on potential difficulties for younger children. Thus, I share here the changes I'm making for the rest of our ECC year in the hopes that it might benefit other MFW moms with younger children:
- I put away the World Geography book until our second go-around with ECC. I wouldn't even attempt it with a child younger than sixth grade;
- Similarly, I put away Properties of Ecosystems until we repeat the program;
- I put Living World Encyclopedia in the book basket for my children to peruse at their leisure, but we no longer use it as a core text (because the layout is distractingly "busy" for read-aloud purposes);
- I'm not going to read the text in the Illustrated World Atlas as suggested in the manual. Instead, I may pull it out as we introduce the remaining countries in order to show interesting photographs, but we will talk through - rather than read straight through - any content I choose to bring up;
- I've stopped using The Complete Book of Animals. This is a nice supplement for some younger children, but it seems like extraneous "busy work" to us. We've got too much other content in terms of math, language arts, etc., to try fitting this in;
- The books in the Christian Heroes: Then and Now series present detailed accounts of the selected missionaries' lives, but I found they were above the interest level of my daughters. So I've replaced them with Heroes for Young Readers, a series (also published by YWAM) for younger children. Each book can be read in one sitting instead of over the course of two or three weeks as with the more advanced books. But that "extra time" has simply afforded us the opportunity to read more library books about each country;
- I have purchased and will use the books in Jim Haskins' wonderful Count Your Way through... series to introduce each country we "visit." These very engaging books present a wealth of information without being the least bit overwhelming;
- I also bought and use two books by DK Publishing, Children Just Like Me and Children Just Like Me: Celebrations!, to provide additional, interesting, age-appropriate information about the peoples and cultures in the ECC countries;
- I have purchased and will use the Introducing Habitats series by Bobbie Kalman, et. al, to introduce and discuss each habitat and other ecological concepts. As with Haskins' series, these books are informative and well-written for lower elementary-aged children;
- I've pulled out the One Day in the... series by Jean Craighead George that I've had for a long time (since I taught middle schoolers in need of remedial reading help). This is a series of five chapter books written at an average 3.5 reading level, each one set in a different habitat. In the context of a storyline, much information about each biome is shared in a pretty interesting way. They do contain some evolutionary references, but we've worked around that;
- I'm accessing from the library many of the picture and easier chapter books listed in the ECC teacher's manual, in addition to other age-appropriate books I find there. And I've devised an alternate schedule whereby I read aloud one or two of these books each day during our group time in order to "flesh out" my kids' knowledge of both the cultures and habitats about which we are reading. I feel these living books present the information also found in the atlases and ECC-scheduled science texts in a much more engaging manner. I may not cover every topic mentioned in the teacher's manual, but I'm confident my children will come away with a broad base of introductory knowledge about each country's physical geography and habitats and cultural geography. More in-depth study can wait until eighth grade.
All that said, I've found the following ECC books to be largely appropriate as-is even for my children, and we are including them in our studies within the context of my alternate schedules:
- Hero Tales;
- Window on the World;
- God Speaks Numanggang;
- Intermediate World Atlas;
- Maps and Globes;
- Geography from A to Z, doing one vocabulary word each week, as suggested in the manual for younger children;
- A Trip Around the World, though we won't do all the suggested reading anymore (dry!), just some of the hands-on activities and recipes;
- Another Trip Around the World, used just as we do A Trip Around the World;
- Global Art;
- Kingdom Tales, which - though some parents have found it too intense for younger children - works for us;
- The Great Animal Search, but only in the book basket to look at for fun.
As I mentioned, I'm in the process of creating alternate plans for each country. I wouldn't have to do this; I could, instead, simply pencil in my changes on the grids in the ECC teacher's manual. But I've decided that - just as when a seamstress uses a dress pattern - it'll be easier for me to make things work for my children if I customize our plans just for us.
I want to reiterate that I do not intend my alterations to communicate that I think ECC doesn't work well. On the contrary, I currently remain committed to using MFW for my children's education all the way through high school because, as I said, it is the best overall fit for us. But my daughters are eight and nine now and so they can't yet comfortably wear clothes that would work for a pre-teen friend; instead, they need things cut down to size, and I think my alterations to ECC will make for an excellent fit for the rest of this academic year.
Photo Credit: TJ Formal (http://www.flickr.com/photos/34636314@N04/5030772917/)