Tame Hard Subjects ~ One Step at a Time

Photo of Kaiandra recycled from 2008

Whether the difficult subject is Latin or life skills, teaching it boils down to building a good staircase.

No, I’m not talking about teaching carpentry, but rather breaking down any subject into progressive, incrementally attainable steps.   The staircase is the first thing I evaluate when choosing curriculum or creating my own lesson plans.

When challenging material overwhelms or bewilders a student, the staircase is faulty or lacking:  Sometimes a few stairs are missing.  (Or perhaps the student’s tried to skip up them two at a time.)  Sometimes the steps are too steep–or they aren’t steep enough, making the climb tedious.

A stair case might be solidly built but need minor alteration to best accommodate the student’s individual stride.

Distinct steps, rather than a ramp or incline, provide important small plateaus atop each step.  These brief plateaus afford practice, and establish confidence in newly acquired skills before the student stretches upward once again.

One of my children in particular is always eager for new challenges and tries to turn all her stairways into ramps.  If left unchecked, she’ll blithely skate up the ramp–later becoming frustrated when she slides backward without the traction steady steps provide.

As I look at the past year’s weaknesses and successes, I’m evaluating the staircases in each discipline.  Did it move upward toward the goal?  Was the steps to shallow or too steep?

I’m excited about our new Greek curriculum because the steps set an ideal pace for my crew.  (Although, here’s an example of even the best staircases needing altering–I added an extra resource to make the first few steep steps manageable for my youngest Greek scholar who still has a shorter academic stride.)

I suspect my eldest will find this upcoming year’s math to be a well deserved little plateau at the top of a step–a good confidence builder before steeper stairs to come.

On the other end of the continuum, I have a little fellow past-ready to dive into formal math.  While his curriculum is a steep step this year, a challenge is exactly what he needs at present.

Different staircases suit different scholars at different places on their academic journey.

No matter how difficult the subject is, with a solid staircase and motivation to reach the top, it can be done–one step at a time.

(This article is cross posted from my regular HSB Taming the Chaos column.  Other Old Schoolhouse writers are discussing “How to teach hard subjects” on the Front Porch this week: Hop over to join the discussion!)

~Domestic Chaos tamer and homeschool mom of 5, Dell writes about home, heart and hearth.~


4 thoughts on “Tame Hard Subjects ~ One Step at a Time

  1. Thanks for sharing! I have visited your blog time & time again to glean ideas & get encouragement. You’re doing a great job! My question is….what has been the best method for you to find the various curriculum (outside of TOG) that best fits your family? What about the extra resources for those “steep steps”? I haven’t even heard of those Greek resources, so it’s fun to keep learning what’s available to us out there. 🙂 Also, when you made your skeleton plan through high school, was it hard to decide what to use all the way through? Thanks for your time.

  2. Hi, Jamie! It probably helps that I love researching curriculum. I think I tend to work backward. Rather than looking at various curricula to decide what I want, I decide what I want in a curriculum and then scour the web and homeschool catalogs until I find the resource (or combination of resources) that’s closest or can be adapted to what I’ve envisioned. (I haven’t decided whether knowing what I want is a blessing or a weakness… I think it’s rather a double edged sword.)

    On the Greek, I knew about the Bluedorn’s resources, but it wasn’t the right pace to quite suit my purpose as the whole thing. None of the other Greek currics I’d heard of were either, I determined to hunt down or create the right resource and found the Open Texture curric we’ll use as our core Greek from from Google or Amazon searching for “Koine (biblical) Greek for Children” or some similar terms. I knew it was right when I found something that felt like an old friend and seemed instinctive to me for our family.

    I usually have a Rainbow Resource Catalog and a Timberdoodle Catalog and a copy of The Old Schoolhouse in my tote bag as well and will often search the Well Trained Mind forum when I’m looking for a curriculum to fit a certain slot and want to hear why it works or hasn’t worked in individual cases–often the very reason it didn’t suit someone else makes it perfect for us–or vice versa, so reviews that detail what the individual did or didn’t like specifically are valuable.

    I hope that rambling helps. I wish I could just point to one great resource, but usually I do a pretty determined hunt until I find (or piece together) what will fit best. It helps that I enjoy the research stage. For me, I’d rather spend a few hours hunting online and comparing tables of contents than buy something and try to make the round peg fit our square hole, but I know others hate the hunting process and are good at flexing their teaching around whatever curriculum they have at hand. They create those “half steps” intuitively without needing to lean on resources that carve out the steps for them–a very admirable trait.

  3. Thank you, thank you for your very thorough and thoughtful answer. It definitely makes sense. I’m always amazed at the different curriculum combinations that varying families use for their specific needs. We just finished our 6th year of homeschooling, and each year has looked a little different. We just finished out our second year using “My Father’s World,” and will start up again in the fall with it for our 3rd consecutive year. I admire those that can research curriculum for their family and not get “obsessed” 🙂 with it. It seems like you have a healthy balance. In years past, I would start searching in Jan. or Feb., and couldn’t get it off my mind. I think this is the first year that I’ve waited this long to get the ball rolling for our following school year. Like you, I have a bag that has lots of my curriculum books (plus other books and magazines), so I can take it with me just in case I have the chance to go through them just one more time. 🙂 Again, thank you for your response…..and keep up the awesome job!

  4. It sounds like we do things similarly, Jamie. I too enjoy hearing what others are using–the uniqueness of each homeschool is fascinating (and wonderful) to me!

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