- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 13, 2006

Many home-schooling families agonize over curriculum and schedules, and wonder how to provide a good learning plan for each student. In beginning your home-schooling year, it’s sometimes helpful to have an initial planning meeting with your family.

The discussion should be a working meeting, in which all the participants can express their goals, wishes, desires and dreams for the coming year. It’s often good to have a large board or paper to record ideas. As in any brainstorming session, no idea is ignored. Even if someone says something funny, jot it down. Keep going, writing everything, until the flow of ideas begins to slow.

Then, with a fresh mind, look at the list you have created. Usually, a pattern will emerge. Maybe you see that five ideas involve sports, so group those ideas together. Maybe three ideas involve travel. Another few involve home improvement. There might be a number of field trip opportunities.

You also may notice that certain goals intersect. Perhaps one child wants to learn Italian, another wants to study art history and the family wants to travel to Europe. By linking these goals, the family may realize that a trip to the art museums of Italy would accomplish all the goals.

Resist the tendency to discourage any goals or ideas because of practical considerations at this point. Just “connect the dots” in terms of the goals and the ways they could become part of your year’s educational activity. It doesn’t cost anything to dream, and the process itself is valuable.

As your session continues, you may discover certain gaps in your collective knowledge. For instance, if you want to participate in a dramatic production, it would be helpful to know if any groups are doing that in your area. So start another list for items you need to research. On this list, you may end up with five or 10 topics, such as “Football league? Cost of train tickets? Guitar lessons? Video camera?” These items then can be assigned to various family members to check on and report back.

The next phase, which each family member will be doing on his or her own, is to see what opportunities exist that might fulfill some of the goals you’ve listed. Local parks and recreation departments, community colleges, libraries, government offices and volunteer or faith organizations may be able to help. What you and your children will rapidly realize is that there are dozens of resources available to you, often cheaply or at no cost, that can support your educational wish list.

When you have finished the research phase, you will consolidate the information into a final list that will include the teams, projects, classes or trips available. Now, your family can make decisions: “If John goes to football every Monday and Wednesday, and Patricia is taking violin on Tuesday and Thursday, how can we also get Sam to choir on Monday and Thursday?” A yearly calendar may be helpful, with ample space to fill in each person’s choices.

Your final job — not your first one — is to categorize which activities fit which subject areas. For instance, is it physical education, literature, history, math or science? Does it incorporate several of these?

Some of these subjects will require certain books or resources. A language dictionary, a musical instrument or a CD on algebra may be needed to attain the skills needed to accomplish the goals.

As a result of this process, your family will have created an individualized educational plan for each member, along with a calendar and the learning resources needed. This is not only as valid as any course selection process done in institutional schools, but far more useful, because it involves students and teachers in the discovery process, and it incorporates skills such as research, community involvement and, most of all, ownership of the goals and the methods. I guarantee this method will produce a highly effective study experience for your family.

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a freelance writer who lives in Maryland.

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