Oh 2020! What a year of challenges you have ushered in. Least of all schooling our kids. Our family has been homeschooling for the last 6 years so the shock of schools shutting down for COVID-19 has been less of a shock for our family than for some, but it doesn’t mean that our routines weren’t disrupted. We have built our home school program to include classes at the local home school resource center as well as community classes, sports teams, dance lessons etc. As home schoolers we were not home as much as you’d think!
While as a K-8 certified teacher I am certainly qualified to be entirely self-contained and provide all the instruction for my children, they enjoy being in classes with their friends, and it is valuable for them to have other teachers with different styles and perspectives. So, while I often say we are home schoolers I think we are more “choice schoolers.” We choose which classes and teachers we’d like to attend and what topics we’d like to explore rather than simply accepting what is taught in a public or private school classroom. To suddenly be thrust out of those carefully chosen classes and lessons to be home had me scrambling a bit. Scrambling to figure out what we were going to do for lessons, find materials etc on short notice. If there is one thing universal about teachers, those in a classroom with 35 students or those moms at the kitchen table educating their own kids, teaching takes planning often a lot of it!
Knowing that the Seattle School District was going to be 100% virtual for the fall I wanted to look at curriculums for our youngest (going into 1st grade) as the spring time crisis virtual schooling that was offered didn’t work for her at all. I knew I needed to cover most of her primary subjects at home just she and I (the big kid, in 7th did just fine with the virtual format). I would stick with a couple virtual options for her to keep her spot in the homeschool resource center but chose classes such as Karate and Story Time with friends for socializing and fun! I also knew I didn’t want to build it from scratch, or spend every evening planning, researching to be a day or two ahead of her. I needed something pre-made that I could tweak.
Now there are about a million online curriculums, classes, programs to choose from. So many that you could spend months reviewing them. To be totally honest I only looked at a few and simply went with the one I liked the best! I choose the Torchlight program. https://torchlightcurriculum.com/torchlight/ I LOVE children’s books. I think they are a wonderful way to teach so when I found torchlight I didn’t look any further. I jumped right in and didn’t look back!
Even though I have a first grader, I started at the K level, because I really liked the idea of world geography and culture. I thought it would speak to the kids and lay a good groundwork for the level 1 curriculum. There are 36 weeks traveling to a different country (or regions). If you are interested they have same lessons on their website you can look at (half way down the level on the right side of their webpage.) Each week they have books on the various topic for the week covering literature and poetry, art and music, geography, social studies and culture, science, character building and reading and writing. There are books that we use each week like Atlas of Adventures, Smithsonian children illustrated atlas, cultured chef etc. Then there are books that are specific to a country and that week’s study. The curriculum does a great job letting you know which books you should purchase and which you can simply borrow from the library. Which is a big help because while the curriculum is very reasonably priced to download the books can quickly add up! Not that buying high quality books is a bad thing, not at all, but we all have to be mindful of our budgets.
In almost 16 years of teaching I have never found a perfect curriculum, all curriculums has strengths and weaknesses and need some tweaking and adding to. Torchlight is no different in that regard especially when tailoring it to a specific student (in this case my daughter). I have chosen to take each week and stretch it to a week and a half/two weeks as I am adding my own projects as well as completing all the supplemental/enrichment extensions.
I have been SUPER impressed by the books they have chosen. They have all been excellent. I truly believe that using literature is an incredibly rich way to teach. I have been slightly disappointed by some simple missed opportunities for activities. (Again, this is not a problem for me as I am very used to adding my own flare and activities but for someone who is not it would be difficult.) For example, when we did the week in the US, we read a book about how the Brooklyn Bridge was built. According to the curriculum that was all we should do. I however felt the logical activity to follow was to challenge the kids to build their own bridges out of popsicle sticks that could hold a bunch of canned goods. So, after finishing the book we went to YouTube and watched a couple videos on bridge construction learning about the different types of bridges, and what shapes (triangles) are the strongest etc. Then I had them build their own.
I have found that some weeks the curriculum is heavier in one area than another or sometimes the pace is too slow. For example, they have us reading some of the Mercy Watson books under literature, reading a few chapters a day but we read the whole book in one sitting. Which in the plan leaves 3-4 days without anything for literature. While other weeks have too much reading and we find it hard to fit in! The pacing simply seems to be off a bit.
I started both my kids (1st and 7th grade) on torchlight this summer adapting the curriculum upward as needed. Often for the big kid requiring more writing on topics, and asking him to dig deeper. We each have a binder to collect our wok in and are using the student pages from torchlight student book to create our own guidebooks for each country.
As the school year begins our daughter will continue through all 36 weeks of curriculum and books while our son will join in for some of the activities and stories but will need to focus his attention first on his online classes as he is carrying a full academic load. Check back as I share our weekly add on’s and extensions for each country.
The week themes are:
- Russia, 2. North Africa, 3. USA 4. Northern Europe, 5. Nepal and Bangladesh, 6. Argentina and Chile, 7. India and Sri Lanka, 8. British Isles 9. Congo, Zambia and Zimbabwe 10. USA Native Peoples 11. China and Mongolia, 12. France 13. Galapagos Island and Ecuador, 14 Netherlands, begum, Switzerland and Austria, 15. Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya 16. Asian Russia and Kazakhstan 17. Germany 18. Southeast Asia 19. South Africa and Madagascar 20. New Zealand 21. Arctic and Antarctica 22. Italy 23. Brazil 24. Canada and Alaska 25. Spain and Portugal 26. Australia 27. Mexico 28 Central Europe 29. Middle East 30. Colombia, Venezuela and Peru 31. Nigeria, Ghana and Ivory Coast 32. Greece 33. Japan 34 Korea 35. Middle East 36. Central America and Caribbean