Homeschool Curriculum

homeschool-world-classroomWe (the Luzardo family) moved from California to Costa Rica due to a growing awareness that our status-quo lifestyle was actually contributing indirectly or directly to many of the current problems in the world. We agree with Plato that “an unexamined life is not worth living” and that the best way to examine it is from the outside. Living in a wooden shack up in the forested mountains of Costa Rica and learning how to grow our own food and construct our own shelter, we were able to clearly see much of what we unconsciously learned from our previous materialistic, money-dependent lifestyle in California. A major part of a self-dependent (self-sufficient, freedom-based) lifestyle is to not only have the right to educate our own children but to ensure that the education is unbiased and truly reflective of Life and its need to evolve for the sake of All. Now that we have experienced life on both ends of the spectrum, we learned that the life worth living (that makes us a part of the solution and not the problem) is the middle path by removing the negative sides of each and incorporating the best of each.

outside-the-box“Unschooling”

For those who have been through the conventional school system, special attention is put on the process of “unschooling” which is essentially healing from the trauma and undoing damaging programming from the conventional school system. “Unschooling” seeks to heal the:

  1. Weakened bond between parent and child (and between siblings) due to many days and hours of separation which usually leads to the child leaving their family as soon as they are adults as well as sibling rivalry.
  2. Peer pressure to conform, ridiculed because they look, act, or think different (instead of finding one’s own unique voice, style, and expression, feeling good about what makes them different, and using it as a gift to give to the world)
  3. Fear of authority, punished for questioning authority or not obeying authority
  4. Fear of making mistakes due to the grading/scoring and rewards and punishment system (instead of learning from mistakes, trial and error, and learning for the fun of learning)
  5. Lack of initiative due to fear of authority and fear of making mistakes
  6. Hiding, lying, and cheating to rebel against all the rules and restrictions
  7. Low self-esteem due to difficulty learning a “one-size-fits-all” instruction
  8. Exposure to violence, bullying, alcohol, drugs, premature and irresponsible sex, etc.
  9. Exposure to toxic, processed foods from conventional school lunches, social activities, and peers
  10. Emotional trauma from the label of ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) or ADHD (Attention Deficit & Hyperactivity Disorder) and physical poisoning from Ritalin drug prescriptions (see Making a Killing: The Untold Story of Psychotropic Drugging documentary to learn more)
  11. Lack of creative and critical thinking and the dumbing down effects of learning by memorization and regurgitation of mostly irrelevant, incorrect, misleading, or useless information
  12. Stress and dislike of learning due to the pressure to perform in a standardized way, the irrelevance of the subjects, and the lack of passion for teaching and learning from the teachers themselves
  13. Constant studying and lack of application of knowledge; hence, the word “students” – one who only studies information and does not apply it. Otherwise known as the “knowing-doing gap”.

More Reasons to Say “No” to Public School Systems

The Schooling of the WorldThe Schooling of the World documentary uncovers evidence of the real purpose of the public school system across the world: which is the implementation of a monetary-based system to benefit a few elites and to destroy self-sufficiency, gift communities, and Mother Nature. As Mahatma Gandhi said: “Real freedom comes only when we free ourselves of the domination of Western education, Western culture and the Western way of living.” As JAL said: “This video is about education becoming indoctrination in the belief that a culture is superior to other. This has been the tragedy of this so-called ‘civilization.’ Terrible the twisted minds of a few in power! Watch this video now because this video is a gift. Feel the hearts of those who have been and are oppressed so we can do something about this injustice.” http://www.filmsforaction.org/watch/schooling_the_world_2010

Also see the following video for an example of a homeschooled boy, his profound thoughts about the conventional school system, and how homeschooling helped him far exceed his conventionally schooled peers on many levels:

Weakened Bond Between Parent & Child

The school system programs children to live the monetary system lifestyle which usually entails getting a job in another city or farther which takes them farther away from their parents. In addition, being away from their parents for 8-10 hours a day, 5 days a week for most of their childhood naturally weakens the bond between parent and child and therefore they will most likely want to move out when they become adults (when they can get a job). They actually spend more time with friends (and therefore develop a closer bond with them) than their own parents so this makes sense. This is a trend we see whenever public school systems are implemented in a country. “The Archers of Bhutan” documentary https://youtu.be/lyXb-b4oSWg was the first to show us this and then when we moved to Costa Rica and started talking to the locals here, we found a similar thing happened to them when the public school system was introduced in Costa Rica which was actually relatively recent (less than a generation ago) like in Bhutan.

Addressing the Social Interaction Concern

It is true that homeschooled kids in general have less social interactions with others outside their family and neighbors when compared to the constant, 5-days a week, 8-hours a day conventional school setting, which is in our view, excessive for kids during their formative years (age 0-17). However, homeschooled kids tend to actually have better social skills (do not have behavioral problems, act out for attention, or get into conflicts with others) when they do interact with others outside their family due to their stronger sense of self-esteem, self-confidence, and well-rounded knowledge and skills. We speak from personal experience because our kids originally started out in a conventional school environment (two of them from preschool to middle school and one from preschool to elementary) so we can see the difference these two different school environments have had on our kids. Though we live in a remote location on a permaculture farm 800 meters up the mountain, our kids have good opportunities for social interaction beyond our family and Tico (term for native Costa Ricans) neighbors because we attract a fair amount of international visitors (including other families with children) due to Costa Rica being the most popular country in the world for ecotourism and ecovillage tourism, and due to the self-sufficiency internship and holistic healing retreat programs we offer.

Because our kids are not constantly surrounded by other kids in a conventional school setting and have more opportunities to interact with other adults one-to-one as peers (not as subordinate to authority figure), they appear to be mature for their age and it is not unusual for us to receive feedback from our adult visitors on how much they enjoyed conversing with our kids, that they feel like they are talking to enlightened adults, and are so impressed with their level of knowledge and intelligence. However, when our kids are around other kids, they naturally play and act like kids so we know they have not lost their childhood sense of fun, play, and imagination.

Our Teaching Credentials

JAL and I (Ngoc) have extensive experience in teaching and curriculum and instructional design. JAL taught at one of the most prestigious universities in Venezuela (Universidad Simón Bolívar) for 14 years. He has a PhD in Engineering Mathematics from Claremont Graduate University and California State University Long Beach, a joint PhD program for which he was awarded a full-ride scholarship. I graduated with honors from Scripps College in Claremont, California with a BA in Psychology for which I was also awarded a full-ride scholarship. After graduation, I worked as an instructional designer, corporate and technical trainer, and Knowledge Management (KM) consultant for 11 years at Ingram Micro Inc., a Fortune 100 company. I founded and spearheaded their KM function due to a KM Methodology I invented for which the company filed U.S. and international patents on my behalf.

Having the parent be the teacher brings a very strategic educational advantage because parents know their child significantly more than anyone else in the world and they have the strongest instinctual connection, bond, and trust with their child which would make them have the child’s best interests at heart so they would be willing to sacrifice a lot more than a stranger for the sake of their child (assuming there is a healthy parent-child relationship). For the purpose of survival and thrival, children are genetically hard-wired and instinctually programmed to learn from their parents since birth so this makes it even easier for parents to teach their children. These advantages, together with the parent’s extensive experience and skill in teaching and curriculum design, make the most ideal and successful teacher-student environment because the curriculum can be most accurately and effectively designed and taught to meet the exact unique needs of the student and the student will be a lot more open and willing to learn due to the deep trust, bond, and care.

Due to living in a remote location in a Spanish-speaking, third world, underdeveloped country and learning to live humbly with a limited budget, all courses are done at home with JAL and I as their only teachers (no in-person or online classes with external teachers). Since JAL and I have extensive experience in teaching, instructional design, and curriculum development, we designed and developed the entire homeschool curriculum, including the daily schedule of assignments, which is generated daily to make learning dynamic and responsive to what was actually learned the previous day, and to keep the assignments up-to-date with the latest and greatest content. Luckily, the world-wide web has become the greatest and most extensive library of information and knowledge on Earth, making it very possible to design a cost-effective, world-class education if you know what to look for and how to put it all together.

Our Homeschool Philosophy & Teaching Style

We believe that learning is a fundamental part of human nature. We were all born to learn and have an innate desire to continually grow, evolve, and develop on many levels. The reason why this is not as evident now is that the process of learning has been made into a negative experience in children’s formative years (age 0 to 17) for the various reasons stated earlier in this article. However, being practical people, we do what we can to work with the current educational system while continuing to find ways to improve it. A homeschool environment allows the freedom to do this. Because JAL and I are responsible for the education of only three students, we can give them a 1:1 teacher-student ratio and give them significantly more individual attention by tailoring the curriculum to their unique learning style, talent, and interests. They learn a lot more in a much shorter timeframe compared to kids who attend much larger schools in which a large portion of the time is spent on tracking, managing, controlling, and disciplining large numbers of kids. To get a lot of kids to be together on the same page, a lot of rules and organization need to be established and applied which is time-intensive and trains the student to fit in a box instead of liberating them from the box. This is the main reason why students who graduate from these educational environments have a tendency to think inside the box (lack of innovation and critical or independent thinking) and support the status-quo even if it is unjust, harmful, wasteful, or unnecessary.

We also believe that children are not born as blank slates, but with inborn talents and gifts that find their unique expression in the specific environment they grow up in. The teacher’s role in the formative years is to accurately identify those talents and encourage and support their unique expression as best as they can. With all the additional time children have in a homeschool environment, they can devote a significant amount of time on their hobby or career while meeting or exceeding college entrance requirements.

Another advantage of homeschooling is the real-time tutoring and feedback on assignments we can provide. In conventional schools, teachers typically take a week or more to review and grade students’ assignments and the assignments are returned to the students with no opportunity to review with the teacher why they got something incorrect so they can learn from their mistakes before the next assignment or lesson. What oftentimes happens is that students who struggle with the first assignment will struggle with almost all subsequent assignments because they will most likely repeat the same mistakes or lack the knowledge or skill needed to progress successfully. In our homeschool, assignments are not only graded but also reviewed with the student the same day so we can make sure they learned everything they need to before they work on the next lesson or assignment. Our kids can also ask us for tutoring help at any time during their school time since at least one of us is home with them at all times.

In our homeschool, there is no such thing as failing because we set our students up for success by ensuring their curriculum is well-designed to suit their particular needs to begin with so they will not be unfairly penalized for poor quality instruction or course materials. We also provide many opportunities to learn from mistakes and to practice by utilizing weekends, holidays, and breaks as a way to catch up, make up, or close any learning gaps that may have occurred during the week so our students are never behind or do poorly in a subject. Since students naturally value their free time, it becomes an incentive for them to do well during the week.

Grading Scale & Methods of Ensuring Lifelong Success

For primary school level students (elementary and middle school), about half of the homeschool curriculum is set by the children themselves and the other half by the adults. The projects and activities are very flexible and can be changed and adjusted to suit various schedules and individual needs. We try to have the older children teach the younger children as much as possible as teaching is really one of the best ways to master a subject. There is no grading, scoring, pass/ fail, testing, or reward and punishment system for primary school level children. Just pure curiosity, no stress, fun of learning, and applying what they learned during their early formative years. Assessment and evaluation of what they learned is done naturally via the hands-on projects or activities they participate in as well as oral questions and answers during and after instruction so it does not appear like students are being judged or numbered. This is how we ensure that the innate love of learning never dies which is critical to preserve and foster during children’s early formative years when their conscious minds are just starting to develop. The part of the homeschool curriculum that the children choose and design helps us identify their interests and talents so we can support them in making a career or hobby from it which is very important for the healthy development of their sense of individuality, uniqueness, and self-esteem. Because we believe children are not born blank slates, it makes sense that they start developing their careers a lot earlier than graduation from college. Higher education, in our view, is just a means to expand their already established career or an opportunity to pursue another one.

For college-bound, secondary school level (high school) students, about 25% of the homeschool curriculum (Fine Arts and Electives) is set by the kids themselves and 75% (English, Math, Science, Social Science, Foreign Language, Physical Education) by the adults in order to meet or exceed college entrance requirements. We use the following grading scale for all their classes:

  • A+ 98-100% (4.00), A 94-97% (4.00), A- 90-93% (3.70)
  • B+ 87-89% (3.30), B 84-86% (3.00), B- 80-83% (2.70)
  • C+ 77-79% (2.30), C 74-76% (2.00), C- 70-73% (1.70)
  • D+ 67-69% (1.30), D 64-66% (1.00), D- 60-63% (0.70)
  • F 0-59% (0.00)
  • 70% is the minimum passing grade

We only include the five core academic subjects (English, Foreign Language, Math, Science, Social Science) in our GPA (Grade Point Average) calculation because most colleges value these subjects over Physical Education, Fine Arts, and Electives. We recommend four years of each core academic subject to ensure you meet or exceed college entrance requirements for most colleges. We use a weighted GPA because our kids take AP (Advanced Placement) courses through KhanAcademy.org. AP courses are college-level courses that students can take in high school and therefore are given an additional point in value for each course which increases the maximum GPA to 5.0 instead of 4.0 on an unweighted scale. At the end of an AP course, students have the option of taking the corresponding AP exam from the College Board (the administrators of the SAT I & II, PSAT, and AP exams) for college credit which could give them a head start in college and save them some time and money.

We set up our students for success by encouraging or supporting learning instead of failing through high-quality, effective curriculum design, instruction, and assignments; on-demand tutoring; same-day grading, review and feedback on daily assignments before the next day’s assignments to ensure they learn from the assignments and do not repeat the same mistake on subsequent assignments, quizzes or exams; and many opportunities to practice, catch up, and make up assignments, quizzes or exams as a way to learn and master what they are struggling with thereby closing all learning gaps. In addition, we regularly update our curriculum and instruction materials when we find or obtain newer, updated, or better course materials so we can provide updated refresher courses as a way to keep what students learn fresh in their minds and ensure what they learn becomes encoded into long-term memory. Any hobbies or careers students had in primary school are now considered extracurricular activities and some of their courses that may be related to them are used to enhance their skills or support their hobby or career.

For all the above reasons, we make sure our students will never fail a subject but instead they can more easily excel and even master a subject which is why many colleges now seek out and prefer homeschoolers.

Self-Sufficiency Projects & Classes

We try to include the kids in as many self-sufficiency projects as possible so they can learn valuable life skills such as composting, taking care of a nursery of plants, and planting them when they are ready to be planted. They will be involved in many more projects and activities as we start working on them (see Current Projects). They will also have a kids’ version of all of our self-sufficiency class offerings that we will host at the Motherland (see Classes & Events menu above). See video narrated by JAL and edited by Renzi Luzardo below for an example of a self-sufficiency project the kids did:

FREE Homeschooling Resources

Creating a world-class education is easy with so many amazing FREE resources on the Internet now. The following are resources we have used or may use if schedule permits:

Online Schools & Courses
  • Khan Academy – Offers mostly high school level courses, but their math courses are from kindergarten through 12th. All their math courses and their Official SAT Practice course are the best we have found. Courses in other subjects are not as well-developed but are good nonetheless. We also use Khan Academy for AP (Advanced Placement) classes since they are the official College Board partner and AP standards and exams are administered by the College Board (the creator and administrators of the SAT).
  • CK-12 Foundation – Offers kindergarten through 12th grades online textbooks that can easily be used as online courses complete with videos, study guides, practice exercises for each concept, and real-life application exercises to extend a skill or concept beyond the textbook. We currently use it as a supplement to Khan Academy courses and for middle school subjects that Khan Academy does not have.
  • Open Academy – Have more than 8,000 lecture videos and 350 courses from universities around the globe in subjects such as Law, Arts, Sciences, Social Sciences, Engineering, Humanities, Mathematics, and Medicine. Video lectures come with downloadable exercises and homework assignments (at least the ones we looked at).
  • Saylor Academy, Open Yale Courses, MIT OpenCourseWare, Coursera, edX, OpenCourser, Allison – These may not completely FREE as they advertise since they may charge for assessments, certificates of completion (or any way to show you completed a course), only offer videos (no exercises, assessments, or reading material to help your process and retain the information), accompanying textbooks or course materials need to be purchased, etc. For these reasons, we do not currently use these but they may be useful nonetheless for those who can afford the expense, or as supplemental material for a course you are designing. There may be some courses on these web sites that are completely FREE though. We just do not have the time to verify each and every one they have so please feel free to check them out before deciding not to use them.
Textbooks, Books, & Study Guides
  • OpenStax – A nonprofit organization by Rice University which produces open source (openly licensed) college level  textbooks in subjects such as Math, Science, Social Science, Humanities, and textbooks for AP courses. All textbooks are kept current and updated yearly.
  • MathPlanet – Online study guides for high school level math subjects such as Pre-Algebra, Algebra 1, Geometry, and Algebra 2, as well as SAT and ACT practice tests.
  • PDF Drive – An amazing search engine that pre-scans the Internet for all available PDF files and then logs them into a searchable database (as of 10/25/2017 more than 301 million PDF files have been logged). PDFs are scanned for availability and malware or viruses once you click on an item to make sure it is still available and safe for access before downloading. We have found so many workbooks, textbooks, and reading books for free this way.
  • Internet Archive – A nonprofit library of millions of free books, movies, software, music, and websites, all of which you can download or borrow in various formats including Kindle, epub, or PDF if they are texts or books.
  • Open Library – An initiative of Internet Archive whose goal is to make every book ever published an e-book available for online check-out on this web site. Quite a few popular high school reading level books are available for borrowing on this web site.
  • StudyLib – An online repository of study guides, worksheets and exercises with answer sheets, flashcards, book reports, essays, research papers, and other homework help in subjects such as Foreign Language, Math, Science, Social Science, Business, Engineering & Technology, Arts & Humanities, and History uploaded by users around the world. We actually have not used this resource yet, but it looks like it may be useful.
English Class Resources
  • The Ultimate Classical Literature Unit Study Resource – Great list of classic English literature books broken by by high school grade level created and maintained by HomeschoolLiterature.com. It includes links to the free online or downloadable e-book, associated study guides, spelling words, and essay writing prompts.
  • SparkNotes – Literature study guides complete with quizzes, study questions, and essay topics.
  • Homeschooler’s Guide To Teaching High School English – Class materials by high school grade level for teaching English.
  • Spelling City – Free membership includes access to word lists (by grade level, reading program,  and the ability to create new word lists or modify existing ones for the purpose of spelling practice and quizzes only. Premium membership includes vocabulary, reading, and writing practice and quizzes, student progress tracking, no ads, and access to a significantly larger number of games and activities.
  • Grade Spelling – Free program includes access to a spelling grade placement test, spelling and vocabulary lessons and practice by grade level, handwriting lessons, and novel study guides. Premium program includes ability to create custom word lists, reporting and tracking student progress, no ads, printable PDFs for learning modules and novel study guides, writing lessons, reward-based games, and classroom messaging.
  • Annenberg Learner Interactives Spelling Bee – A fun but short spelling bee for grade levels 1-12.
  • Kids Book Series – Good site for reading books organized by age, reading grade level, book title, or author.
  • K12 Reader – Downloadable and printable self-study or classroom worksheets for English spelling, reading, grammar, vocabulary, and composition for kindergarten through 12th grade. Also includes a Learning Center which features an online reference for various English subject topics as well as educational blogs, articles, lesson planning templates, graphic aids, book lists, and links to many other educational websites.
  • The Public Speaking Project – PDF textbook downloadable by chapter written by professors and public speaking experts from around the world. Contains review questions and group exercises or activities at the end of each chapter.
  • Ginger Grammar Checker, GrammarBase, Virtual Writing Tutor, Reverso Speller – Good online grammar checkers. Some even have a spell checker, vocabulary checker, dictionary, translator, thesaurus, conjugator, and paraphraser.
  • WordWeb – Downloadable offline dictionary for those who do not always have Internet access
SAT, SAT Subject Tests, AP Exam Test Preparation, & College Admissions Prep
Spanish Class Resources
Homeschool Software

Though homeschooling can be done without a computer and software, these technologies make it so much easier and efficient as well as save a lot of paper and ink.

  • LibreOffice – The new project replacing OpenOffice, the open source alternative to replace the Microsoft Office suite of software. Compatible with Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Publisher files as well as native support for the modern open standard OpenDocument Format (ODF) files. LibreOffice suite of applications includes Writer (word processing), Calc (spreadsheets), Impress (presentations), Draw (vector graphics and flowcharts, plus PDF editing tools), Base (databases), and Math (formula editing). Each application has an Export as PDF button which makes it super easy to create PDF files.
  • Foxit Reader – PDF file reader with a good number of markup tools (e.g., adding text, highlighting text, underlining, strikeout, circle tool, etc.) for completing assignments and grading assignments.
  • PDFSam Basic – Tool for extracting certain pages out of a PDF textbook for assignments. Can also merge and rotate PDF files.
  • PDF to Doc – An online tool (no need to install software on your computer) to convert PDF files to Microsoft Word format. Useful when you want to customize parts of a textbook or workbook.
  • Online OCR – An online tool to scan images or PDFs that act like images in order to extract or edit text in those files. Output formats can be Word (docx), Excel (xlsx), or plain text (txt).
Homeschool Administration Templates/Samples

Most of these templates or samples are in LibreOffice OpenDocument standard formats (ODT, ODS) so Google Drive will not display the formatting correctly so please download and install LibreOffice listed above before downloading the files below so you can open and view them properly and then edit them to make them your own.

Alternative Schools

We are always interested in learning about alternative school systems that children really enjoy, thrive in, and learn so much practical knowledge that will free them and others from the monetary system of slavery and help solve all our real-world problems. For example, the Kin School in Tekos Russia is such an inspiration to us. The kids there build and maintain the school themselves, teach themselves and each other 10 years of Russian school curriculum in a couple of years, and learn and master many practical survival and self-sufficiency skills (see video below).

See the “Alternative Schools” Ardent Light YouTube playlist for other interesting examples of alternative schools in which children are well-prepared to create a wonderful future for humanity and Mother Earth.

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