Oak Meadow, founded in 1975, is one of the most experienced providers of curriculum and support programs for homeschoolers. They are best known for their distance learning programs for homeschooling for grades K-12. (They also have a preschool program which I did not investigate.)
Families who enroll students in Oak Meadow's accredited distance learning school receive full teacher support, evaluations, and record keeping. Enrolled families work with a teacher via email or telephone. Online opportunities such as class discussions, student collaboration, and real-time teacher feedback are also available for students enrolled in grades 7-12.
Alternatively, families may purchase either complete curriculum packages or selected resources without enrolling. After third grade level, you can mix resources from different grade levels to tailor a program for either a single student or for two students you might want to work with together. Grades K through 3 integrate all subjects: language arts, math, science, social studies, and the fine arts, so you cannot pick and choose from subject areas for different grade levels. In grade 4, math is separate, and in grades 5 and 6, math and science each have their own syllabus. So you can see that it might be challenging to mix resources from grade levels. Beginning in junior high, each of the four core subjects (English, social studies, science, and math) has a separate syllabus, and it is easy to pick and choose resources.
Oak Meadow's books The Heart of Learning and Home Teacher’s Process Manual are included in each K-3 curriculum package. The Heart of Learning presents the philosophy of the curriculum while the Home Teacher’s Process Manual provides concrete instructions for implementing the philosophy within the Oak Meadow curriculum for the early grades. Oak Meadow’s philosophy is eclectic, but in grades K-3 one can find the influence of Rudolf Steiner, founder of both Anthroposophy and the Waldorf schools. This philosophy, which is probably best classified as New Age, is reflected in some aspects of Oak Meadow’s curriculum in grades K-3, but it is very subtle—influencing the methodology and some course content rather than being taught. For example, they believe that a child is both physical and spiritual. In The Heart of Learning, they explain, “The ‘being’ of a child is already present at birth, created by forces far beyond us….if we accept that the child is already a complete being who comes to us at birth with unique inherent attributes, then our attitude becomes one of respect for the child’s uniqueness, and sensitivity to his or her needs; and we have a desire to create opportunities for the child to manifest those innate qualities” (p. 23). Consequently, Oak Meadow’s program is child-centered to some extent. This is especially evident in the early grades where kindergarten learning focuses more on experiential learning and the arts in contrast to primary emphasis on reading and math that is common to most current kindergarten programs.
Stories are an important part of the curriculum, and these stories include folk tales, fairy tales, fables, and mythology as well as other works of literature. For example, students read The Chronicles of Narnia as well as Native American legends without distinguishing either as being more true than the other. Children hear the stories without commentary. As they get older they can reflect upon and write about what they have read, but it is left to the child simply “take in” the story and its lesson or meaning. Children are allowed to decide for themselves what might be true. This provides a broad exposure to cultures and ideas—many of them religious—without advancing any of them.
Elements similar to Charlotte Mason’s philosophy are present—narration, nature walks, drawing from nature, teaching science through observation and drawing, recitation of poems, and hands-on learning. While Charlotte Mason stressed the formation of good habits which are taught by parents, Oak Meadow’s approach is more open to learning styles and preferences of the child. For example, there are a multitude of lesson assignment choices so students can choose the specific questions or activities that allow them to learn and to express themselves most easily.
The content of the program begins to look a little more traditional for fourth grade and above. Students maintain a daily journal, learn grammar and spelling through lessons in the Fourth Grade Syllabus, and learn math through a traditional type math worktext that uses only a few manipulatives.
However, because of Oak Meadow’s philosophy, the entire program is presented in a less demanding fashion. Standardized testing is neither recommended nor required by Oak Meadow since those tests reflect a different philosophy of education that is more focused on the accumulation of factual information and skills rather than the development of the whole person. That does not mean that the program is not academically rigorous. To some extent, rigor will be determined by individual students and to what extent they choose to challenge themselves.
At fourth grade level and above, students need access to research material, most of which can be found through the internet. Literature for each level is included either in the grade level package or (for high school) as part of the subject area package. Art and music are an important part of the curriculum at all levels, although they are offered as electives for high school. Optional craft kits for grades K through 7 simplify the gathering of materials.
Syllabi for grades 4 through 8 include much course content—these are not just course planning guides. They are written directly to the student so parents can gradually hand over responsibility for learning to students themselves. For example, the Fourth Grade Syllabus contains instructions, activities, and lesson content for all subjects except math. There are a few supplemental books: Indian Legends and Recorder Duets (both Oak Meadow publications), and eight literature books. Language arts for grades 4 through 8 teach both grammar and composition. Creative writing is given more time and attention as you might expect since it provides opportunities for a child’s self-expression. Science courses include experiments and hands-on activities while social studies also offer hands-on activities along with research.
At high school level, math courses use Saxon Math texts. Science courses—biology, chemistry, physics, and environmental science—use texts from Holt, Prentice Hall, Pearson, and Cengage as well as Saxon Physics. They also include lab work. Social studies courses also use an assortment of texts from secular publishers. Interestingly, they also offer a one-semester course in psychology. English courses concentrate on literature and composition with grammar skills reinforced through composition work. Literature selections offer an interesting mixture of philosophies with books such as Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, Ayn Rand’s Anthem, Ramayana (a retelling of an ancient Sanskrit epic), To Kill a Mockingbird, Huckleberry Finn, Ursula Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea, and David Copperfield. Some AP courses are available to enrolled students.
Oak Meadow's most distinguishing high school features for enrolled students include a Life Experience Elective Credit and an Advanced Study Program. For the Life Expereince Elective Credit the student earns credit for documented and verified work experience and/or extracurricular activity. Academic Advanced Study allows students to create a research paper, portfolio of experiments or essays, or PowerPoint or video presentations on areas of interest in the sciences, literature, and history. Professional Academic Study helps students gain valuable experience in an active work environment under the supervision of a mentor in the musical or visual arts, crafts and trades (e.g, carpentry), film production, accounting, web design, etc. As you can see, Oak Meadow excels in helping students gain skills and knowledge in areas of potential careers while incorporating that learning into transcript credit.
Oak Meadow would be a good choice for families who want broad exposure to many philosophies. Families pursuing faith-based homeschooling might either be attracted to or put off by Oak Meadow’s openness and inclusiveness. Many families with young children might appreciate Oak Meadow’s emphasis on hands-on, experiential learning in the early grades, in contrast to the increasingly common, intensely academic approach that begins in many other kindergarten programs. Older students are likely to be attracted to Oak Meadow's program that manages to be academically-challenging while allowing students to also explore and develop their own areas of interest and expertise.