At one point I had money remaining from my VISTA grant and had to do something with it. So, I took four graduate courses and have a certificate in gifted education. Mind you, I don't have a regular teaching certificate - but no matter! The courses were interesting and some of what I learned I have been able to pass on to friends. A lot of the information about asynchronous development is really important when dealing with young gifted children.
There was one resource that I really liked - Teaching Gifted Children in the Regular Classroom. Honestly, it is a book full of ideas about how to give kids creative choices in what they produce as a response to the material they are learning, how to help them pace themselves responsibly and how to help them skip ahead without missing out on the fundamentals. All reasons it might be helpful to the homeschooling mom.
Contracts are probably best with unit studies but I could see them being altered to work with narrations of a book. With contracts you outline what the student needs to master in both content and skill by the end of the unit studied, including options for how they can show what they have mastered (she includes a list of products similar to this one). In one sample contract they have a tic tac toe style board with 8 potential activities and one "student choice". The student then has to pick 5 of them (read a biography and write a response, make a list of 7 major battles in a war, where they were fought and their significance, etc.) The book provides lots of examples.
I can see this type of approach working very well especially with older elementary boys who want some independence but aren't prepared to figure it all out on their own. As a mom it helps you consider what you hope to teach through the lessons you are presenting. You can set checkpoints as they move through the material and then an end date. Honestly, this type of project planning and management is the type of thing that I am afraid I won't incorporate into my homeschooling - so this might be a good way to do it.
Compacting and Most Difficult First
Compacting is a great way to help figure out if your child already knows material. Basically, you identify what you hope your students will learn during the unit and then give them a pre-test. If they pass it then you don't have to cover the information or only cover those areas that they were weak in (especially if you are homeschooling). This works best with math or spelling - if they seem bored and get the concepts really easily let them test and if they pass let them move on.
Most difficult first is best for math. Here you pick out a few of the most difficult problems (3 - 5) and have the student work them out - legibly, with steps shown - in a certain amount of time, 10 to 15 minutes for example. If they are able to do the most difficult problems without any errors - then they don't need to do the rest of the practice problems because they have shown you mastery.
Book Sharing and Conferences
Some other good ideas are the "circle of books" which basically is a circle that has different categories of stories around the perimeter of the circle - biography, fiction, fantasy, humor, mystery, adventure, etc. As children read stories they categorize them. This can help them see if they tend to read in one or two categories and you can encourage them to branch out from there. They also recommend conferences with readers that are reading on their own - there are lots of good discussion starter questions like (for older elementary and beyond students):
Find a good descriptive passage in your story, read it aloud and tell me why you like it.
What character is the most developed? Least developed?
What do you admire about this author's writing style that you might use in your own writing?
How does the author help you to connect with the characters?
What are some interesting vocabulary words you have found and what do they mean?
She also includes some interesting activities with vocabulary and word analysis.
If you are part of a coop you might want to create time for a reading response. You could either have a bulletin board where student's tack up response what they have read, their reactions to it and who they would recommend it to. Alternatively, you could do something creative with the old book report so that students can share their reading with others and work on their presentation skills.
She also provides tips on letting students develop independent study type projects - how to give them guidance and freedom at the same time.
I think the ideas in the book are a great starting place for homeschooling mom's to consider how they might share more responsibility for learning with their children. Much of the books does discuss ability grouping, grading and tracking - which homeschoolers don't need to worry about. Hopefully this little introduction gives you some thoughts about ways to spice up your curriculum as the February doldrums hit!