I suggested that our co-op do a series on world geography. And in a moment of weakness I also volunteered to come up with the curriculum for it.
News flash: I don’t have a curriculum. I don’t own an Easy Reader book on every country in the world. Now what?
I’m sure I’m not the only homeschooler to find myself teaching something sans curriculum. And a homebrewed Overview of World Geography has tons of potential … which could be a problem. In fact, it is DEFINITELY A PROBLEM. What in the world is important? I haven’t traveled anywhere but Scotland! What if I leave all my friends’ children stranded in lifelong ignorance? How will they ever understand Sweden if we don’t study it in kindergarten? AHHH!
After I calmed down, here’s how I broke the subject down into something actually teachable (I hope).
I began with my calendar and figured out how many weeks I had to work with. It came out to roughly three weeks per inhabited continent and one for Antarctica. Perfect! Suddenly the scope was much more finite. I decided to focus on three major countries for each of those continents and trust that this would not be the students’ only discussion of the world for their educational career.
This year, our lessons are loosely structured around three stories, a poem, a craft or excursion, and lunch. That works well for our group. For Geography, I decided each week we’d aim for three stories, map time, an activity, and lunch. I bought some awesome dry erase maps in back-to-school sales. The moms and I discussed doing fun things, like making a “passport” for each kid that they could fill in each week as they discover a new place.
Then I lost my list in the move. (That step is optional.)
I decided I didn’t need my list. I can remember at least three countries per continent without it, so there. I started with the library: for budgetary and shelf space reasons, I try not to buy any single-use books we can check out.
The girls and I headed over to the library one evening and discovered one of my college classmates is librarian there. Everything is better with a friend, especially sorting overwhelming search results. So while my children amused themselves amongst the puzzles and board books, of course with walking feet and quiet library voices, she unleashed her librarian-jitsu skills on the computer.
My approach to library reserves is either “ugh, I don’t know” or “RESERVE ALL THE THINGS,” so it’s really nice having a librarian on hand. She knows more books and authors than I do. She also really understands the library website, and I found out that librarians have access to more powerful search options than the general public. These are all helpful qualities. So we picked one plausible-looking country and reserved a pile of books for it.
I brought the pile home and let it sit on my end table for several weeks. (This is another optional step.) I hoped Meg would look through it and pick out the most interesting ones—and actually there were one or two books she did enjoy on her own, so that’s a recommendation. Eventually I decided the pile had jelled long enough, so I read through them one afternoon and snapped a picture of the ones that seemed like a good fit for our class. I’m aiming for a mix of engaging fiction and non-fiction, enough to get across the flavor of each country. If the kids can fall in love with every place we study, I’ll be happy.
Then I returned that pile and we picked books for some more countries. As they come in, I’ll pick the best of them and go on to more countries, and so on until I have an actual curriculum.
So that’s my plan so far. But I’d love to hear from you veteran homeschoolers out there: how did you teach subjects that you didn’t have a curriculum for? How did you decide what was essential? Have you ever really succeeded in teaching so your students fell in love with the subject—and if so, what did you do?
Photo Credit: First image graphic design by Charity Klicka; all other images by Carolyn Bales.