Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Homeschool and autism: K12 curriculum review

As our homeschool choice, we selected the K12 curriculum (impossible to google that, as all schools around the country make reference to K12). I have to confess that I did not spend weeks doing a ton of research into different programs before choosing this one. We have a family friend who also homeschools, and she did spend two months assessing curricula before homing in on K12. TH and I went to her house and reviewed the extensive materials they sent for grade 4.

Then I came home, reviewed their Website and this excellent resource of homeschool curricula reviews. After also discovering that K12 is the curriculum that many states use for online schooling, I was sold. If we move to a different state, which is currently in the works, and that state's homeschool requirements aren't quite as lax as in Texas (where you don't need documentation of any kind even to withdraw your child from school), we'll have a pile of evidence that we've maintained their own state-used curriculum.

That wasn't my only reason for choosing it. K12 also has an amazing online interface that sets up lesson plans for you (you've got plenty of flexibility to follow or not follow them). It tracks your progress on a 180-day calendar (or you can adjust as you'd like). This ability to go online and check our day's plan is especially important to TH, who like many children with autism, absolutely needs a schedule in front of him every day to know what's going to happen. Now, every morning when we get up and get started, he asks to look at the schedule to see how the day will unfold. And as we progress through the different elements, he's glad to see us fill in the "completed" squares online, marching through the day's plan.

Since we started using K12 in mid-January, I've found many other reasons I like it. First of all, it's a classic education curriculum that ties together many elements across subjects. For example, when we're talking about people and perspective--a useful unit for a child like TH--we also encounter exercises in perspective in our grammar and usage assignments. The spelling words are more challenging--and thus, more interesting for TH--than anything he'd had in school so far. In fact, he is now very much into spelling and sweats the final unit assessment, worrying over every word. Am I glad to see my son angsting over a spelling test? Yes, I am. It demonstrates awareness and a desire to do his best. And he is doing quite well as a result.

Another place he's shining through unexpectedly is English grammar and mechanics. For some reason, he's suddenly become an editing enthusiast, tackling his work on commas and quotation marks and capitalization with enormous gusto. And again, doing quite well at it. Will he be an editor like his mother? I'd encourage it because I love my job. And for a visual person with an eye for detail who might do best working alone, it might be the perfect employment for him, as it is for me. Slow down, people. He's only eight years old, for God's sake.

The last thing I like about this curriculum is its maturity and its focus on science and history across the subjects. We're doing things in science that I see in college-level biology textbooks (example: yesterday, we covered the concept of symbiosis and three types of symbiosis--mutualism, commensalism, and parasitism; TH loves this stuff). We do things in reading that strike me as quite mature in content and analysis.

And the developers of this curriculum seem to have known their audience. One reason I went with K12 was because it is secular. I imagine that many secular homeschooling families out there have a strong affinity for the sciences and nature. This curriculum appeals to that affinity, incorporating science and nature topics even into their math, reading, and language mechanics assignments. This cross-pollination of topics is perfect for TH, whose unifocal interest is science. One of our first punctuation assignments, in fact, was a series of sentences describing photosynthesis, to which TH had to apply the correct punctuation. Of course, he was enthusiastic and on board because--hey, it was all about plants. Yesterday's lesson on quotation marks was all about Benjamin Franklin, which had us both on board.

Finally, this is homeschool. So whenever we feel like it, we wander off curriculum and take a side road to something related. Yesterday, for example, while analyzing symbolism in Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, we had a discussion about what standing at a crossroads symbolizes. I searched for Robert Frost's poem "The Road Not Taken" and found this image to illustrate it, and we had a lengthy discussion about what it means to be at a crossroads, to make choices. Then, we returned to our regularly scheduled Roll of Thunder analysis.

History and science rolled into mechanics, reading, and writing. Mature science, reading, and spelling. A classical approach that appeals to me, with a thematic element that keeps TH engaged. The flexibility to wander off topic, to diverge, to explore when we feel like it. And the online scheduling that makes what is to me the most difficult part of teaching--writing out the lesson plan (I write them in my head just fine, but...ugh on the actual writing part)--a snap and helps TH track his progress. We've also added on history, art, and Spanish and keep plenty busy. Overall, we'd give this fourth-grade K12 curriculum a big thumbs up.