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Examples of Homespun Curriculum

By Barbara Phillips

Barbara Phillips is a CA certified teacher and reading specialist who has homeschooled her daughter for 11 years. © 2001.

I clearly remember the summer of 1989. Our daughter Rachel had turned six years old in March, and she had just figured out how to read. We had also made the huge decision, for many reasons, to homeschool.

I knew how short a time I would have with her, as I had the benefit of already raising two children to adulthood. I knew that childhood was short, and that six wonderful years had already passed with her. I wanted to enjoy this last child. I wanted to savor her younger years. To that end, we succeeded beyond our greatest expectations.

I spent the summer of 1989 getting ready for homeschooling. I did not understand what that meant but Rachel would, in time, teach me. I also figured out that I had about nine years left with her before she would create her own life and want to pursue her own interests.

I looked at that nine years as a whole, and talked with Richard (Rachel's Dad) about traveling to enhance our homeschooling. We liked places of historical interest, and I knew that Rachel liked hands-on experiences, so I researched places where there were actual re-enactments of history that we could visit. During the past nine years our homeschool curriculum was based on the following trips:

  1. We experienced Colonial and Federal Period history by visiting Old Sturbridge Village outside Boston; Plymouth Plantation; Williamsburg, Virginia; Pennsylvania; and of course Washington, D.C. Prior to our trips we read historical fiction together, sitting on our couch, day after day, enhancing our understanding of each of these places.
  2. We experienced Native American tribal history through our visit to Canyon du Chelly and Mesa Verde in the southwest; Seattle and Vancouver in the northwest; and many places in California. Rachel studied the Native Americans for several years. I made her a full sized teepee.

    She made clothing, learned how to do a bead loom, made a medicine bag, and studied the different types of moccasins. We spent much time at Coyote Hills in the East Bay where there is a archaeological dig of the Ohlone Tribe dating back before the Spanish arrived in California.
  3. 3. We toured the Amish Country outside Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Rachel made two quilts based on Amish patterns, one that is crib size, and one for her dolls.

On that same trip, we got a taste of the South and the Civil War era. We saw tobacco drying in the old barns and the beautiful green rolling hills that typify horse country in Kentucky. We also saw Mammoth Caves in Kentucky, and Andrew Jackson's home in Tennessee.

We have taken a major trip every other year, and spent at least one year, and sometimes much more, preparing for these trips. This was the major part of our homeschooling. There did not seem to me, based on my previous experience with my older children, to be a need to focus on anything but reading, writing, and arithmetic. I saw no need for grammar books, history books, science books, comprehension books, English books, in fact, I saw no need for any text books at all. The one exception was math, where the Miquon and Key Curriculum series gave us what we needed. When she turned 13, we enrolled her in Indiana University's High School English classes, and she learned to write.

To prepare for our trips, we read a great deal of historical fiction within one two-year span I quit listing books we had read after I reached 130. Favorite authors included Laura Ingalls Wilder, Jean Fritz, Mary Kay Phelan, Madeleine L'Engle, and of course Elizabeth Montgomery. We took an entire year to read all the original correspondence between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, and another year to read the wonderful tale of the Lewis and Clark expedition called Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose. We looked at maps, talked with people, rented videos that were historical in nature, and went to museums. When we eventually went on a trip, we knew a great deal about what we were seeing. The history came alive when we walked the Freedom Trail in Boston, saw Fort Clatsop (the winter camp of Lewis and Clark) in Astoria, Washington, and stepped into an Anasazi cliff dwelling in Arizona.

Rachel kept a diary every year of her experiences. She pasted in pictures of places we went, events we had tickets for, and any other memorabilia she had saved. To give you an example of what our life was like, here are some actual entries in her diary. (The spelling is original she tells me this is the one area I failed in teaching her!)

Oct. 27, 1990
"Rachel lost her frst tuth. I lost my tuth taday!!! I was veree ixsited I had lost my frst tuth. Oh! I am veree hapee!"

Oct. 30, 1990
"I plade with johana, and wocht the trtls."

Nov. 26, 1990
"At Math Club we used pante and papr to show simitree."
(Note: I organized a weekly hands-on math experience for a group of 6 children at our home for several years. )

April 5, 1991
"I went to the nursing home. wee and the home-egicaters. wee made kucees."

May 13, 1991
"I went to the ballet. it was ok but not grate. the coshtome wer good."

October 14, 1991
"It is going to be a long day and a boring one. I am going to do math."

October 22, 1991
"my dad had his sholder wrkt on. I am dowing my scool work. Yesterday we went to see Sleeping Beauty with my home schooling group."

November 12. 1991
"I am dooing my work it is fine. at 11:00 I hav math. then I am going to a parc."

March, 1992
"I went to punisula senter for the blinde. It is a very inturesting plase. There wus a gide dog." (Rachel drew a picture of how to use a cane.)

August, 1992
"We took a train trip to San Diego. On the way we stopped at Mission San Juan Capistrano and Mission Santa Barbara."

December 3, 1992
"Brownie fieldtrip to Ano Nueva beach to see the elephant seals."

September, 1994
"We had a man do science at owr house; it was great! It was hands on and fun. And dirty too."
(Note: Rachel pasted in pictures of classes with her science teacher, John McChesney. Initially, these classes consisted of about 8 kids and were held weekly in our living room.)

October, 1994
"I went to a first Aid corse for home schoolers. It was good I think. I lerned alot."

And so went our lives. There were days of boredom (not many), days of fighting (we eventually learned how not to fight), and many days of going on great local outings either alone or with others. We have taken tours, visited all the museums many times, walked in our beautiful State Parks, taken advantage of the great cultural opportunities available to us, and all, in all, had a full and rich nine years. I met lots of homeschool Moms and a few Dads along the way. I created classes, organized field trips, made hundreds of phone calls, and learned that the best way to run our lives was to take charge of it ourselves.

Rachel is extremely self-directed and when she wants to learn something, she will pour herself into the experience. She has attended classes at a junior college for the last two years, and has found that she does not particularly enjoy the old paradigm of being told everything she is supposed to learn. When she gets too far away from direct experiences, she sits down and creates something a doll, or a piece of clothing, or a beautiful picture. She is an artist by nature, and her homeschooling has allowed this to be evident to her. She has had time to contemplate, to create, and to discuss life with us. The rest of the chapters are yet to written by her.

I know what you're thinking right now, and it goes something like this: "I can see she had a great childhood, but she sure can't spell!" Well, she did eventually learn this skill (with help from a Franklin Speller) as evidenced in this recent e-mail she sent to a friend of hers who just started homeschooling:

"Congratulations on now being a member of the elite homeschooled class. I think (ney, I know) that you will love it! However, it is not without its rough moments. Therefore, I have included in this e-mail, 'Rachel's Homeschool Trouble Shooting List 2000' to aid you in your endeavors.

  1. Feel free to sleep in late unless meeting somebody in the morning.
  2. Don't quit homeschooling because you may be fighting. You're trying out un-charted water...it could be choppy.
  3. Follow your instincts and make the world your classroom.
  4. Don't worry about what kids in school are 'learning' at any given time compared to what you are 'learning.' Go your own way. After all, if what they had been doing was helpful, you would still be there, and I'm so happy you're not.
  5. Completely disregard everything I have just said and make (or don't make) your own list.

May the force be with you in your homeschooling and life endeavors.

Rachel Phillips, Inc.

See also Learning to Read and Spell, also by Barbara Phillips.