A personalized education is one of the numerous benefits of home education. But sometimes we have learn to adapt from child to child.
“My Johnny was a national spelling bee finalist using this spelling curriculum, but now my Jack can barely spell three-letter words using it. I just don’t understand!” As educators we need to remember that square pegs don’t fit in round holes very well, whether the pegboard has thirty holes or three. There are a variety of ways in which we can personalize our homeschooling to meet the needs of our unique learners: using the same curriculum for all, adapting our chosen curriculum, or using different materials for each child.
There are times when we may be able to use the same curriculum and approach for all our children and just allow their natural talents and preferences to provide the personalization. This probably works best with a multi-level, unit study program. Throughout my kids’ elementary years (and into middle school for the eldest), we used a multi-level unit study that covered several core subjects. I would start out having everyone complete lower-level objectives and move toward the more advanced. Although the lower-level objectives might have been rather basic for some, they provided an excellent introduction to the subject matter. The higher-level objectives might have been over the head of some, but I knew they would grasp and retain what they were capable of understanding. I would also choose objectives that incorporated a variety of learning activities, knowing that all three would experience better retention from employing multiple modalities.
In other circumstances, we may need to adapt our chosen approach to best meet the needs of each child. For example, when working on mastery of basic math facts, my eldest required a variety of practice involving a combination of approaches. We used sandpaper numbers, games, hopscotch, and computer-based games/drills. Flashcards and written drills didn’t seem to help. My second one learned best by listening to a CD with the facts set to music. After that, we would add in some other practice to improve her speed. For my youngest, building each fact with manipulatives and writing out the equation was how she committed them to memory. A little bit of computer-based and written drill was added when needed to increase fluency. When learning a new math concept, my eldest needed first to sit and watch me complete problems without any participation. I would verbalize my thinking process throughout – building, writing, and saying as I went. After internalizing the concept that way, he would begin gradually taking on more and more of the process. The second one would interact with me in exploring the concept from the start until she could demonstrate mastery but then would want me present while completing her work just to touch base and confirm she was doing everything correctly. The youngest preferred to go over the new concept and then head off to work independently. Although I used Math-U-See with all three, it was applied slightly differently. Maybe your chosen history program requires a written report, which was fine when your firstborn used it, but isn’t working so well for your struggling writer. Would a PowerPoint presentation, drawing or painting a picture, or acting out a scene demonstrate mastery of the material while better allowing her to enjoy the process? We must also consider differences in development in our children in relation to our curriculum choices. It could be the reading program that worked great for Mary at age six isn’t working for Ben at the same age but will be perfect for him when he’s eight or nine.
However, there are times when we must simply accept the fact that, even with modification, our preferred approach may not work for a certain child and we need to move on to something new. While doing so may result in additional cost and preparation time, it can also have many advantages. If two siblings are close in age but at very different levels in a subject (or different ages and the same level), there can be an unhealthy sense of comparison that can be hard on the one child’s self-esteem. Moving to a different curriculum or approach for one may help to reduce this type of competition. Changing your curriculum can also result in a renewed sense of enthusiasm for both student and teacher. Breaking away from the familiar can allow us to look at a subject with a fresh perspective. My youngest had always disliked history, despite exposure to several different curricula. In the eighth grade she so enjoyed the writing style of the author of our choice for history that year that she fell in love with the subject. She will soon graduate with her bachelor’s degree, double majoring in English literature and history. This interest would have gone undiscovered had it not been for a change in curriculum!
Whether it involves shaking things up a bit with what we are using or throwing everything out and starting fresh, it’s imperative as parent educators that we are sensitive to the individual needs of each of our children. Even when everything seems to be working great, it’s worthwhile to keep up to date on other approaches. Who knows? You might discover something that works better for you as the teacher. Remember, you are an individual, too!