FAQs: Curriculum and Grade Placement

How are reading and writing introduced in the Oak Meadow curriculum?

The primary focus of the language arts in the early years is building an appreciation of the richness of language, and strong foundational skills for later work in reading and writing. The year begins with letter recognition and awareness of vowel and consonant sounds. This work is introduced through stories and images in a very creative, imaginative way. The parent is encouraged to integrate this story/letter work with daily life so the child is able to take in this new knowledge in an organic, relaxed way. In the course of learning to write, the child naturally begins to learn to read by reading what he or she has written. In kindergarten and first grade, children create a Main Lesson Book which is a large blank book that eventually becomes filled with letters, drawings, sentences, stories, poems, etc.

Later in the first grade year, students who are ready begin working with a reader, expanding on the work they have done with word families (-it, -at, -ag, etc.). “Readers” are books that a child reads independently, although young students may need the support of the parent (or “Home Teacher”) when reading. The Little Bear and Frog and Toad books are included with the first grade curriculum package for those children who leap forward in reading and are eager for more challenges. These books are often used as read-aloud books by the parents of children who are not yet reading independently, or used as read-together books to solidify skills and instill confidence in emerging readers.

Oak Meadow’s curriculum and philosophy encourages parents to follow their child’s individual pace when introducing reading and writing. The development of literacy is a complex task that involves two primary skills: decoding (forming a sound according to the printed symbol, i.e. reading) and encoding (creating the symbol that corresponds to the sound, i.e. writing). The acquisition of these complex skills takes time and should not be rushed. When children are allowed to come into reading and writing in a relaxed way, they often seem to acquire the skills magically, as though there is an innate ability that is waiting for the right moment to emerge. The beauty of homeschooling is that you have the flexibility to move forward at a pace that honors your child’s unique needs.

How does Oak Meadow’s curriculum compare to the new Common Core Standards?

We have carefully considered the widespread implementation of the Common Core Standards and its impact on homeschoolers worldwide. After studying the Common Core Standards in depth, we have determined that our curriculum already addresses the vast majority of these standards in our own way, while maintaining a creative, hands-on approach and adhering to our core, founding principles. Our curriculum was aligned with Virginia standards back in the late 1990s and is loosely aligned with Vermont standards as well.

We recognize the value of using widely-accepted standards as a framework, while at the same time acknowledging that no single set of guidelines can serve the needs of all children. Starting in 2015, any course that is revised will include a list of lesson objectives to clarify the educational goals for all home teachers and to give support to those wishing to align with Common Core standards (view supplements).

It is of great benefit to many homeschoolers to know that by using Oak Meadow curriculum they can easily comply with their state’s standards-based homeschooling regulations while providing their child with a truly unique, engaging, and child-centered approach to learning. We also understand that there is a large portion of homeschoolers who are unconcerned with standards, preferring to follow their own educational guidelines or a more individualized, interest-led approach. Many of them find Oak Meadow’s flexible, creative approach to be a good fit, as well.

Oak Meadow has been honoring the independence of the homeschooling experience and responding to the needs of our families for over 35 years. We believe one of the greatest joys of homeschooling is that families are able to adapt and modify their curriculum to suit the needs of each individual student and to align with personal family values. Our curriculum is designed to allow the freedom and independence of learning that we feel is essential to the success of homeschooling.

How old should my child be when starting Oak Meadow kindergarten?

In general our kindergarten curriculum correlates developmentally with ages 5 – 6 and grade 1 with ages 6 – 7. Therefore, we encourage families to wait until age 5 or 5 ½ before beginning kindergarten.

However, every child’s development is unique, and so there really is no one-size-fits-all recommendation. Families following a Waldorf pedagogy often don’t start first grade until their children are 6.5 or 7 years old. The idea behind waiting is to let the children mature into their physical bodies and abilities so that the rigors of formal education (including learning to read and write, and being comfortable working quietly and focused for a span of time) come to them more easily.

We encourage parents to read our FAQs on curriculum and grade-placement and then call the office (802-251-7250) to speak with an educational counselor for help determining the appropriate grade placement for each child.

It is also very important to remember that our curriculum is designed to follow nationally accepted educational standards for each grade level so the academic level of children using Oak Meadow will be comparable to their peers at that same grade level. This means that a child who leaves public school at the end of one year, then completes the next grade in Oak Meadow the following year, should be able to re-enter public school at the next grade level without being held back. Of course, that is always at the discretion of the school, and how thoroughly the family works through the curriculum will make a difference in the child’s readiness for the next grade.

One last consideration regarding developmental readiness is that starting children in kindergarten at 4 years old (which seems to be more and more common in public schools today) may put them at a disadvantage in future grades when curriculum content addresses issues that are appropriate for a more mature audience. Also, if children who are on the young end of the spectrum enter a school or group educational setting later, they may be a year or more younger than their grade-level peers, which can sometimes make social connections challenging.

Looking at each child’s development on all levels (physical, social, emotional, and intellectual) can help parents determine when to start formal schooling. Sometimes a child will excel in one area while being developmentally aligned in all other areas with a specific grade or age. In that case, parents can add extension activities or other challenges in that one area to enhance the grade-level curriculum. If a child who has completed kindergarten at a young age does not seem ready for the challenges of first grade, repeating the kindergarten year may be a gift that yields benefits far into the future.

I am an independent homeschooling parent with more than one child, and I’m a little overwhelmed trying to work with several grades at once. I have two daughters close in age. Can I teach them together by combining two grades? Can I teach both children using a single grade level?

We have many families who are homeschooling multiple children, and while the task may sometimes feel daunting, the rewards can be wonderful. Our curriculum is designed to be easy to adapt to all sorts of family situations, including have two children work together. For example, you could have your 4th and 6th graders working together on 5th grade curriculum if you like, and simplify it for one and add complexity for the other. Another idea is to have your students work at grade level in some subjects (math, in particular), and then have both students work together on the same material in other subjects. When they work together, they can work from one of their own grades, or from the 5th grade. If you view our sample lessons, you will probably get a good sense of which grade levels will best suit your children for working individually and working together.

If students are closer in age and ability, you can purchase two grade levels (e.g. first and second grade) and pick and choose among the various assignments in each syllabus to create a custom-designed curriculum. Using a variety of lessons from each grade, you can teach both children simultaneously. They will be completing the same assignments and projects, working together when possible, yet each will be working at her own level, producing work that differs in mastery and skill. [NOTE: An enrolled family who would like to modify a lesson should pass it by a teacher first.]

Every family dynamic is different and you know your children best, so we encourage you to experiment to find what works well for your family. You also might enjoy reading an article about homeschooling multiple children that appeared in the Winter 2009-2010 issue of our seasonal journal, Living Education.

I would like to start using your curriculum, but my child has never done knitting or recorder. How will I help him “catch up”?

Knitting, playing recorder, painting, beeswax modeling, and clay sculpting are all part of Oak Meadow’s rich, artistic approach. While these abilities are developed over the course of the early grades, a student coming to Oak Meadow in later years should be able to pick up these artistic endeavors fairly quickly, regardless of previous experience.

For those new to handwork, arts and music, our Oak Meadow Guide to Teaching the Early Grades provides detailed instructions for these wonderfully practical, traditional skills. Also we offer you many books in our Bookstore that teach these skills so that you, in turn, can teach them to your child. Not only is it a pleasure to create handwork, art, and music together with your child, studies have shown that important brain connections are fostered through these activities that carry over into academic work and support the development of a host of skills necessary to academic success.

My child finishes the assignments quickly and seems eager for more. How can I add complexity to the material to make the work more challenging?

It is such a pleasure to see a child eager to learn, and while it is never a good idea to pressure a student to learn more quickly, for students who are ready for more challenges, there are many ways to offer complexity within the context of the Oak Meadow curriculum. One great idea is to expand the assignment into another subject area. Making connections across the curriculum adds relevance, encourages skills in practical applications, and helps develop a flexibility of thought that allows creative problem solving. In addition, it’s fun!

With a little creative thinking, you can come up with new ways to expand each lesson. If there is a science assignment to research the discovery of electricity, your student might also write (and perform!) a speech or write an advertisement announcing the invention of Thomas Edison’s newly designed light bulb. Your student could draw sketches of the clothing people wore during that time period, and list ways in which electricity changed life in the late 1800s. Another idea is to have your child see if he can find out which of his ancestors would have been alive when electricity became widespread, and what that was like for them. You could work math into the lesson by having your student calculate the additional number of hours worked per year after electric lighting lengthened the work day, or estimate the increase in factory output with longer hours versus the additional expense of electricity.

Each lesson or topic can be expanded upon in this way, and it can be fun to come up with lesson extensions that challenge and intrigue your student. If you are looking for more ideas and inspiration, you can join our Facebook online community and see what great ideas others have come up with. Your child will probably also come up with interesting ideas, and can be encouraged to explore those ideas exponentially. That’s the benefit and joy of homeschooling!

My child has been reading since she was four. Should I still start her with the Kindergarten curriculum?

Many students come into Oak Meadow already knowing how to read, or being familiar with the letters. Our approach to letters and numbers is so imaginative and artistic that many children who are already reading find themselves thoroughly enjoying the creative look at something they already know. It is often a wonderful experience for students to “play” with the letters in kindergarten, even if they already “know” them.

For students who are eager for more challenges, it is relatively easy to add depth and complexity to the assignments without having to stray very far from the lesson framework. For example, if the assignment is to memorize a four line verse emphasizing the long “a” sound, you might have your son write and illustrate his own original poem instead. Or he might create a list of 10 rhyming words with the long “a” sound, and then see how many sentences he can make up using those words. Or he might draw a picture that only has long “a” things in it. In this way, you are staying within the framework of the lesson (exploring the long “a” sound) but doing so in a creative, challenging way.

Our kindergarten curriculum is designed to allow the child to learn and experience many concepts beyond letters and numbers, through the use of archetypal fairy tales, fables, myths and legends. Using an artistic approach, the student will write and illustrate books centered around the foundational themes of these stories. Careful attention to the artistic expression of these themes and ideals fosters a child’s inner growth and the development of persistent, focused awareness. All the material is presented in a natural, informal way which encourages learning to be a process that comes from within instead of something that is forced from the outside.

My child is excelling in select subjects. Is it possible to purchase single subjects at different grade levels?

Whether your are enrolled in our distance learning school or using Oak Meadow curriculum on your own, it is possible to work at different grade levels in different subjects after grade 3. In the early grades, all the subject material is integrated into a single syllabus, but beginning in 4th grade, math is in a separate book, so parents can choose to purchase a different math grade level if that works best. In 5th and 6th grade, both math and science are in separate texts, and beginning in 7th grade, all subjects are in separate texts so grade levels can be mixed and matched as needed.

My child is working below grade level in math. Do I have to purchase the curriculum from the grade below as well?

The question of grade level placement is one we get asked frequently. Many children are uneven in their acquisition of academic skills, which is one reason homeschooling is so wonderful. You can adapt the curriculum to serve your child’s particular needs and abilities.

It is not uncommon for a student coming to Oak Meadow after studying elsewhere to find gaps in content or skills that need to be addressed. When you come upon material that assumes prior knowledge that your child does not yet have, simply stop the lesson and take as much time as needed to go over the new skills or information. Once your student is comfortable, you can resume the Oak Meadow lessons. With adaptations like these, each student can feel successful with the material.

Let’s say your child is in third grade, but working below grade level in math. Our third grade math curriculum does assume prior knowledge of most of the multiplication tables. While it is not expected that the student will be comfortable with multiplication and division, it is necessary for them to have a basic comprehension of all four processes. This can often be done very informally, using math games and manipulatives. Sometimes working for a few weeks before beginning the curriculum is enough to familiarize the student with the necessary basics.

Once the grade level work is begun, you might have to adapt the math lessons to your student’s abilities, but that shouldn’t be too difficult. For instance, if the 3rd grade assignment is to give your child 20 math problems using all four processes, you could sit with them to help guide them through the borrowing and carrying until they are more comfortable with it. You might also let them use a multiplication table (one that you’ve created together by hand—it can be very colorful and beautiful, if you want) until they start to memorize their times tables.

In the upper grades, you can easily allow your child to work at a lower grade level in math, if necessary, since we include math in its own separate syllabus beginning in 4th grade. Also, keep in mind that we post the latest resources for homeschooling families every day on our Facebook page. You can post a question if you are on the hunt for math resources or more helpful tips.

My first grader already reads and writes. Should I skip first grade and use Oak Meadow’s second grade curriculum?

Choosing a grade level for your child is an important decision, and we generally recommend a placement based on age, regardless of the reading level. It is most often the case that a child who is already comfortable with reading by first grade is not developmentally ready for a second grade curriculum across the full range of subjects. We feel it is better to add supplementary activities and assignments to keep the first grader excited and feeling challenged than to skip a grade. Another consideration is that if your child eventually joins his peers in a school setting in later years, having him be a year (or more) younger than everyone in class could present challenges.

Additionally, while we are eager for our children to advance along the continuum of academic skills, there are several points to consider when choosing the right grade level for a child. The first consideration is the importance of a thorough and creative exposure to the sound/symbol connection of our alphabetic system. A solid review of the sounds and shapes of letters, especially with the artistic, imaginative methods used in our curriculum, can be enjoyable for children already reading. Each letter is introduced first through a story, and then is “played with” in nature, art, crafts, rhyming, and song. This method of learning letters is probably very different from anything they have experienced before, and we find that many children who are already reading take delight in the creative exploration of each letter and sound.

A second consideration is one of balanced development. Early reading is certainly a noteworthy accomplishment, but parents should remain mindful that to read a book is primarily an intellectual experience, and a solitary one. At Oak Meadow, we seek to foster a healthy balance with all skills—academic, social, physical, artistic, imaginative—and we encourage young children to be involved in a wide range of activities. If our first grade curriculum represents a more relaxed pace for your child, this may offer a good opportunity to reinforce acquired skills while exploring new abilities in other areas.

Should my home school child skip a grade?

It is entirely up to the parents what grade level they choose for their child. However, because children often develop somewhat unevenly across subject areas, it is usually better to adapt and extend the curriculum to meet the child’s interests and needs than to skip a grade entirely. There is always the opportunity to encourage the student to delve more deeply into the material and make it more meaningful and interesting. Every lesson has a selection of projects and assignments to choose from, and a motivated student could easily choose two or more to complete. Even if an Oak Meadow lesson includes material that a student has previously studied, most students become eagerly engaged with it because of the creative, experiential way in which is it presented.

In addition to academic considerations, it is important to consider your child’s educational future. If at some point the decision is made to return to a classroom setting, a child who is a full year or more younger than the classroom peers can be at a disadvantage socially and emotionally. Another important factor for parents to take into consideration is that a child who skips a grade may not be developmentally ready for the content of the material in the higher grades. It’s not just a question of reading level, but one of comprehension and the ability to engage with the material in a relevant way.

There are always ways to make the work more challenging and engaging if necessary. For the vast majority of families, it works best to have the student work at grade level in most subjects (with the exception of math, which is often studied at an accelerated rate) and deepen their connection with the material through the use of additional projects and adding complexity to assignments.

What are Oak Meadow’s guidelines for grade placement? Do you use placement tests to determine what grade level to assign my child?

Oak Meadow believes parents are in the best position to determine what grade level to choose for their child. Instead of requiring placement tests, we encourage parents to study our grade overviews and sample lessons to make an informed judgment based on their knowledge of their child. Because we know that many students work at different grade levels in different subjects, Oak Meadow curriculum is designed to be easy to modify and adapt so you can customize your child’s education to serve his or her particular strengths, challenges, and individual needs.

Our curriculum is integrated across subject areas and contained in a single syllabus in kindergarten through 3rd grade. In grade 4, the math curriculum is separate, and in grades 5 and 6, the math and science each have their own syllabus. In 7th and 8th grade, all four core subjects (English, social studies, science and math) are in separate syllabi. This allows you to choose the best grade placement for your child in each subject. This type of flexibility makes Oak Meadow an effective way to learn for students of all abilities. Upon receiving and reviewing our materials, if you feel a different grade level would be a better fit, you have thirty days to request an exchange (shipping charges apply).

Why does Oak Meadow teach long vowel sounds first in kindergarten, and when do you start teaching short vowel sounds?

This is a good and appropriate question! There is much advice that says to always teach short vowel sounds first, but Oak Meadow introduces the long vowels first in kindergarten because long vowels sound like the letter’s name: A, E, I, O, and U. We introduce letters verbally first, with stories, songs, and verses, and the long vowel sounds are easy to hear. This is an auditory approach and a whole language approach (from the whole to the parts). It differs from phonics, which emphasizes decoding written words (from the parts to the whole).

We don’t do anything more formal in kindergarten. In first grade, long and short vowel sounds are introduced at the same time, beginning with letter A in lesson 1. We use a combination of phonics, auditory training, and whole language so students are coming at this new important skill of reading and writing from many directions, with a solid toolbox. We also don’t expect every student to be reading in first grade, so we can take a more rounded, gentle approach to reading. Phonics-based programs often include a lot of writing and decoding in the early years, so it makes more sense for them to introduce short vowels first because many short vowel sounds don’t need extra letters (short sounds like bed/hat/hop make good first words for decoding and sight reading, as opposed to long sound beet/field/play, which are tricky).

Here is an article that helps more clearly define and articulate Oak Meadow’s approach.