It doesn't feel like they're doing anything to homeschool their child. It can't be as simple as a library card and a lap, anyhow. And even if it is ... someone must have the market cornered on the best way to do that, right?
So the newbie homeschooling parents end up falling into one of two camps: the I'll-Just-Get-A-Couple-Of-Workbooks-Because-My-Three-Year-Old-Is-Smarter-Than-You-Think-And-Picture-Books-And-Real-Life-Won't-Cut-It camp, or its equally common subsidiary, the We-Read-Fiction-Intended-For-Upper-Elementary-Children-Because-My-Three-Year-Old-Is-Smarter-Than-You-Think-And-Picture-Books-And-Real-Life-Won't-Cut-It camp.
Neither of those options leads to really good places in 99% of the families I've seen. The preschooler usually begins to balk at homeschooling by the time first grade rolls around, if not before. Often, another child or two has joined the family at this point, and the mother is feeling overwhelmed. She starts her days exasperated because the bar has been placed so high. Her seven year-old either cannot be entertained with the simple beauty of Blueberries for Sal because he has already cut his teeth on the Chronicles of Narnia and has therefore left his siblings in the dust (creating a massive gap the homeschooling mother has to straddle for years) or finds his own, far-advanced schoolwork dry and dull in comparison to the simpler stuff mom is pulling out for the younger crew.
How do I know so much about the thinking of these mothers? Well, because I was one myself, of course! Witness this excerpt from my journal, dated December 2000, when Jo was just three years old:
Finished reading Charlotte's Web again tonight. Jo is still infatuated with pigs and can't get enough of them. I got everything the library had on the shelves regarding pigs, fairs and farms and tomorrow we'll start reading through them. I printed out a writing worksheet so that she can practice the letter "p" and found a "finish the drawing" coloring page where she can try to complete the outline of a pig. It feels really good to be doing something that's tangible. I finally feel like I can account for all of the hours we spend in the day.
See? I know of what I speak, ladies and gentlemen.
Which is why I always tell parents that they don't need a curriculum. Then I wait, watch their reaction and gauge whether to go ahead and give them leads anyhow. Up until now I have really only had one recommendation to pass along. Today, I have added another to my short list of Preschool Curricula That is Worth Your Time: Itty Bitty Bookworm.
First and foremost, Itty Bitty Bookworm is a literature-based learning program. This fits perfectly with my thinking on educating very young children: READ TO THEM. Cuddle up close and read, read, read and then, read some more. Itty Bitty Bookworm helps moms give themselves permission to do this. Each month's lessons are built around a variety of excellent picture books that engage curiosity, build vocabulary and build interest in the world outside your front door. From this spring board, parents lead their children through activities as rudimentary as cut-and-paste skills and simple sing-alongs to more advanced skills like cooking and hands-on experiences. These are perfect "little guy" activities: things you might come up with on your own ... or might not, depending on how much laundry is stacked on your couch at that moment.
While Itty Bitty Bookworm isn't designed exclusively for the homeschool market, it's extremely adaptable. Each month's unit (which retail for $25 each) contains forms that remind me exactly how blessed I am to have my toddler at home under my own care. After all, I've never received a checklist letting me know when he pottied and when he ate a cracker. I guess I could fill that out for my husband, but I chose to ignore those pdf's and get to the good stuff.
Bailey's Curriculum is designed for 18-36 month old children and their very limited attention spans. Using two books over the course of a month, young toddlers are led through simple finger plays and large motor skills, as well as some early learning activities that will appeal to moms who need a little leading to feel that their child's play has value. Thankfully, Bailey's Curriculum is not centered on tying toddlers to seatwork. This is an experiential, enriching curriculum that has its priorities in order.
Bo's Curriculum is the 3-5 year-old arm of Itty Bitty Bookworm, and features four to six books per month. Tied more to early-education standards and the celebration of holidays and seasons, moms who like the idea of a more traditional preschool approach will be challenged by the vast array of ideas. This is play with a purpose: enough organization to keep kiddos on track and moms feeling accomplished. The literature is truly what shines in Bo's curriculum, though. Classics like The Little Engine That Could are interspersed with silly recent titles like Dinosaur Train, keeping the overall feeling light and the focus on fun and parent/child interaction. I love the selection of books. They are age-appropriate, engaging and necessary. I'm sorry--but if you haven't read Barn Dance or One Duck Stuck to your preschooler, you really should!
Mini-units, which I have not seen, are also available. I noticed that some of these are Bible units, which would add a spiritual element to an otherwise secular curricula.
A second year of Bo's Curriculum is in process, while the first is complete for both Bo and Bailey. Itty Bitty Bookworm allows parents to order an entire year's worth of lessons, or to select a month at a time. Because each month is a separate, self-contained unit, parents can truly customize by skipping entire months in addition to picking and choosing among the recommended activities and readings. This month-by-month approach may be a blessing to parents feeling a money crunch, too; there have definitely been years when Mr. Blandings and I would have far preferred paying $25 per month for curricula rather than ponying up $250 at one pop.
The biggest downside I can find with Itty Bitty Bookworm is simply this: the onus is on the teaching parent to collect the books and materials to be used in each week's learning. Parents with expendable income can easily purchase all of the books and supplies using the lists provided. Those with an excellent library system and the opportunity to work a weekly outing into their schedule can easily take advantage of resources as well. But a mom with many littles or older children with educational needs of their own may find the extra legwork just enough to negate the benefits of having a pre-written plan to pull from.
Tara Rison, the founder of Itty Bitty Bookworm, has graciously offered to sponsor a giveaway for people who comment on this post. Simply visit the Itty Bitty Bookworm site, peek through the Bo or Bailey pages and let me know which book listed has been a family favorite in your house. You'll be entered in a drawing for three months of either the Bo or Bailey programs.