Curriculum and Grade Placement

Common Core

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 does not teacher per Common Core methodology, but rather address the best-practice learning objectives that align to national standards.

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. For those places where our curriculum does not meet CC standards, we have created free supplements to augment our curriculum for those wishing or needing to be aligned to the Common Core.

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.

Grade Placement

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 needs.

If you have questions after reviewing our materials, please contact us or call our educational counselors at (802) 251-7250 for free assistance.

In kindergarten through 3rd grade, our curriculum is integrated across subject areas and contained in a single coursebook. In grade 4, the math curriculum is printed separately, and in grade 5, the math and science are each their own coursebook. In 6th, 7th, and 8th grade, all four core subjects (English, social studies, science and math) are in printed as separate coursebooks. This allows you to choose the best grade placement for your child in each subject in the middle school years. 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 30 days to return your materials (restocking fee applies) and to place an order for new materials in the bookstore. If you are enrolled, speak with your teacher during the first 30 days (60 days for grades K-4) of your enrollment.

Starting Preschool

We recommend waiting until around 4 years old to start preschool. While it’s tempting to jump into homeschooling with young children, we encourage families to give their two and three year-olds lots of unstructured playtime and a stable routine. That’s the best preparation they can have for the educational journey ahead.

Young ones can be included in the homeschooling routine of older siblings, but little should be expected of them in terms of focused academic work. They benefit most from imitating practical work and exploring nature and materials on their own—this provides a solid educational foundation without any formal lessons.

At about age four, many children are ready for a little more structure to their learning. Our preschool curriculum is designed to help parents introduce arts, music, physical games, and stories in a gentle way that still respects and honors the freedom and joy of childhood. At Oak Meadow, letters and numbers are not formally introduced until kindergarten. Through stories, games, songs, and nature explorations, young children may begin to become familiar with abstract academic concepts like letters, phonics, numbers, time constructs, and scientific classification. Trying to teach these concepts intellectually in the early years often backfires—children are quite capable of repeating back things they have memorized but if they lack experience of the concept in the real world, the knowledge is meaningless.

For these reasons, we urge parents to relax and enjoy the early years with their children. Turn a deaf ear to critics who worry your children will “fall behind” if they aren’t learning to read when they are three. Protect the freedom and wonder of childhood. When your children turn four or five, they will be wonderfully equipped to embrace the world of conscious learning.

In the meantime, books like All Year RoundSeven Times the SunA Journey Through Time in Verse and RhymeA Child’s Seasonal Treasury, and The Rhythm of Family are just a few of the excellent resources that are available for families of young children.

Starting 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.

Our curriculum is designed to follow nationally accepted educational standards for each grade level so the academic level of children using Oak Meadow is comparable to their peers at that same grade level. This means, for example,  that a child who uses Oak Meadow for 4th grade should be able to enter public school the next year in 5th grade without being held back. Of course, this 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 began their schooling sooner than is recommended 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, such as reading or math. 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.

If you still have questions about grade placement after looking at the grade pages and curriculum overviews, please contact us or call our experienced educational counselors at (802) 251-7250 for free assistance with grade placement.

Teaching vowel sounds

Why do we teach long vowel in kindergarten? There is much advice to 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, emphasizing decoding written words (from the parts to the whole), which is introduced in 1st grade.

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 the new skill of reading and writing from many directions. We also don’t expect every student to be reading in first grade, thus we 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).

Reading and writing in K-3

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.

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. Our approach is gentle and there is no pressure; children will begin to read when they are ready.

In kindergarten, letters are introduced individually each week through stories and illustrations. Students are not expected to read by the end of kindergarten, but rather are encouraged to engage with reading at their level by listening to their parent read aloud, following along, or reading themselves.

First grade begins with a review of letter recognition and awareness of vowel and consonant sounds through more 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. Beginning readers are included with 1st and 2nd grade curricula. 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. A list of these books can be seen on the grade-level pages.

My child is behind in math

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.  Many children are uneven in their acquisition of academic skills, which is one reason homeschooling is so wonderful.

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 3rd grade, but working below grade level in math. Our 3rd grade math curriculum does assume prior knowledge of most of the multiplication tables. While memorization is not expected at this grade, 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. For instance, you could sit with your 3rd grader as the work on their practice problems,  helping 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 grades 5-12, you can easily allow your child to work at a lower grade level in math, if necessary, since we print math as a separate coursebook beginning in 4th grade.

My kindergartener is already reading

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. Therefore, we highly encourage student to enroll in the grade level appropriate for their overall development.

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 child write and illustrate an original poem instead. Or she might create a list of 10 rhyming words with the long “a” sound, and then see how many sentences she can make up using those words. Or she might draw a picture that only has long “a” things in it. In this way, you are staying within the framework of the lesson, 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 their Main Lesson 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 first grader is already reading and writing

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. Most often, a child who is already comfortable with reading by the beginning of 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 1st 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.

Mixing and matching subjects from different grades

Starting in 4th grade, you can mix grade levels for different subject areas, depending on your student’s needs. In the early grades, all the subject material is integrated into a single coursebook. Beginning in 4th grade, math is printed as a separate book, so parents can choose to purchase a different math grade level if that works best. In 5th grade, both math and science are in separate texts, and in grades 6-12, all subjects are in separate texts so grade levels can be mixed and matched as needed.

If you need assistance, please contact us or call our educational counselors at (802) 251-7250 for free guidance to grade level selection.

Homeschooling multiple children in different grades

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.  If you view our sample lessons, you will get a good sense of which subject areas 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. 1st and 2nd grade) and pick and choose among the various assignments in each coursebook 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 perusing many useful articles from our seasonal journal, Living Education, which is full of homeschool tips and tricks.

Adding complexity and challenge for students who want more

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.

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 Nikola Telsa’s AC current. 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 she can find out which of her 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 her 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 or Instagram communities 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!