Word is spreading about The Family School, an all inclusive LDS curriculum for homeschoolers distributed by Latter Day Learning. And I am excited to share what I have experienced the past year using this curriculum. I am usually hesitant to recommend curriculum because every family is so different, but I dare say that this curriculum could open the doors to homeschool success for countless LDS families. (Disclaimer: I don’t work for them or know anyone who does. I don’t get any compensation for my review -although if they want to send me year two free I won’t refuse! I share solely on what I have experienced. LDS-NHA does not recommend or sponsor any specific curriculum or philosophy.)
First, a little background on my curriculum search. I got a degree in education and have always been interested in how kids learn, so I have studied and read widely on the subject. When I began looking into homeschool I was disappointed at the curriculum I was finding. Either it was fun, but academically anemic or it was academically rich, but didn’t employ the good teaching practices I had studied in college. I liked the idea of a religious curriculum but I didn’t want it sooo religious that ‘Nephi’ and ‘Abinadi’ were our spelling words, nor did I want to spend time altering mainstream Christian materials to mesh with my beliefs.
Frustrated that I couldn’t find a curriculum that bridged what I knew about “education” and what I loved about “homeschool”, I began creating my own Hands-on, LDS-friendly, Classically-Infused, Nature-rich, Unit-studying, Standards-approved, One-Room-School-House, Homeschool curriculum for all Learning Styles. My dream curriculum was based on all of the favorite things I had found from each curriculum I studied. Needless to say, it was a LOT of work. And I didn’t get very far.
Imagine my relief when one day I clicked on a link to The Family School and found they were doing exactly what I was trying to do, only they were doing it way better! I didn’t waste much time ordering and we happily started using it last August. I am convinced it is Heaven sent! I have started and stopped homeschooling so many times my kids should have whiplash from going back and forth, but this curriculum has given me the confidence that I can continue on with all my kids throughout their education.
So What is The Family School?
This curriculum covers, Music, Art, History, Literature, Geography, Science and Religion. It is being written as an outreach of the American Heritage School based in Utah. This school has teamed up with homeschool veterans to adapt their school curriculum to a homeschool setting. The scope and sequence involves a 6 year plan that you can repeat with your family. They are still writing the curriculum. I think the team is currently writing year three. Year One has been released. Year Two is in its beta year (they’ll take suggestions from test families on how to improve, then release for Fall 2014). And years three through six are yet to come.
The bad thing about it being brand new and currently written is you can’t start on say, Year 4, as your first year because it doesn’t exist- yet. The creators could have waited to release all six years at once, but could see the need for this curriculum in their own homeschooling families. So in an effort to help ASAP they are tossing it out there fresh off the press. (And boy do I mean fresh. Last year our school started one week later than planned because of a delay at the printers.) The good thing about it being current is they are constantly taking feedback through their active user forum and improving the product to the meet the needs of the families using it. I’ve seen great improvements to an already great product just this year. They recently released an ipad format for Year 1 which looks really cool.
What ages of children can use The Family School?
I feel like the general scripted text is targeted at an upper elementary level. There are activity suggestions for younger children that have been suitable for my kindergartner and second grader and adaptable for my pre-K student. The activities for older children are often right on or a little heavy for my above grade fifth grader. The Advanced children’s assignments we haven’t ever touched, but look 14+ to me. I can with no preparation whatsoever teach the lessons at a 2-7 grade level. To make the lessons work for my pre-k and kindergartner I need to shorten, summarize, or skip a lot. We rarely cover everything in the lesson- they give so much in each lesson. I like that so I and pick and choose what is most relevant for my family.
What about high schoolers?
I graduated from high school, but I am learning from this curriculum. The way it is formatted the lessons are a springboard for learning with so many enrichment links to learn more and dig deeper. I think any age could benefit from this curriculum. The gospel principles are applicable to all ages as well.
If I had a high schooler who wanted to participate in The Family School I would have them choose subjects to teach and let them be the teacher. The lesson format helps teach the teacher HOW to teach. For example: each lesson starts with an attention getting activity that engages the kids and gets them thinking. (This is usually my kids’ favorite part.) Then academic concepts are researched through plug and play scripts, informative online presentations and thought provoking questions. Then a gospel principle that relates to the concept is explored. Activity suggestions to apply and record what has been learned are then assigned according to skill level. Classic novels are recommended as family read-alouds that go along with what is being learned.
Is it Too Religious?
Because the concepts are presented as first academic and then related to a gospel principle I don’t feel like the religion takes over the academic. The gospel principle sections in each lesson are substantial and sometimes heavier than my little ones need, but they have been inspiring to me and I feel like my testimony is growing by just reading the lessons. The gospel principles give me a natural opportunity to bear testimony often to my kids. The gospel principles are beautifully taught and solidly based. I definitely don’t think the religion takes away from the academics but adds to it and gives it relevance.
But is it Academic Enough?
One reviewer said they didn’t purchase because it looked weak in the academics. I don’t know how to measure how “academic” something is, but I know The Family School is a heckuva lot deeper than any public school I went to. And I am learning loads. I almost had a heart attack when I read over the first unit in science classifying invertebrates that I had never heard of. Or when I saw The Comedy of Errors by Shakespeare on the Literature list. I knew nothing before about echinoderms or The Bard, but now I (and my 3-10 year olds) can geek out with the best of ‘em on both subjects. With all the further reading, recommended links, and enrichment activities the sky is the limit with the academics and it would be simple to beef up for super-schoolers.
What about Math and Language Arts?
Not included. Bummer. Maybe someday they will simplify that for us all as well.
What do I like best about it?
I am learning WITH my kids. The lessons are fun. The gospel connections provide a framework for all the things we learn and tie it all together. I have felt the spirit more times in one semester of Family School than every family home evening we ever had combined. I can spend zero time preparing and still have successful lessons. (If I read through the night before things are even better!) I am learning better teaching skills using their methods. The six year outline gives me confidence that there won’t be huge holes in my child’s education. My favorite feature is the Online Library they give access to when you order the curriculum. In the online library each lesson has awesome online links, power points, movie links, enrichment links, worksheet printables and more in addition to the purchased printed materials in the manuals.
Would I do anything differently next year?
Instead of trying to cover a different subject each day of the week I will do one whole unit of a subject (one or two weeks) before rotating to the next subject. I will outsource one subject to my oldest to help teach. I will not purchase the workbooks- I will just print as needed. I will make one notebook as a family to hold all of our work for the year, instead of buying separate binders for each kid. I will co-op the art and music lessons with a friend so I don’t let those subjects fall by the wayside. I will not try to cover everything in every lesson.
The Family School provides an excellent model for home education. I would recommend it to homeschool veterans and beginners alike. Knowing all families will teach and learn differently, it is loosely structured enough to provide wiggle room for varied ages, teaching styles, educational philosophies and school structures. Though no curriculum fits all, this is as close as I’ve seen to a one-size fits most program for LDS homeschoolers.
The Latter Day Learning Conference is in May. I am too far away to attend, but if you are a Utah local you can get a hands-on look in a few weeks and see what these people are all about. Last year they offered about a $50 discount to the curriculum during the conference so if you are thinking of ordering, do it during their conference dates (online too) rather than waiting until Summer. While the dollar sign might give you a heart attack, trust me, there is no way I could have purchased a boxed curriculum for all of those subjects and all of the ages of my children for that cheap, especially since I will be cycling back to Year 1 with my younger kids in five years. This has been worth every penny for my family.
Have you used The Family School, or do you have questions about this new curriculum? Comment below.