"What curriculum do you use?"asks the newbie homeschool mom overwhelmed by all the CHOICES.
Before summer's end, I will invariably hear this question about a dozen times. Moms who only recently made the rather difficult decision to homeschool are now faced with the equally difficult task of finding the "perfect" curriculum. And so with admirable resolve, they ask ANY and ALL homeschool moms, "What curriculum do you use?"
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In-and-of itself, it's not a BAD question...it's certainly coming from a place of sincerity and hope. But, unfortunately, it's the WRONG question.
New homeschool mom, in trying to replicate someone else's homeschool curriculum, you are setting yourself up for homeschool failure. Why? Because your HOMESCHOOL will be as unique as your HOME. You are a unique mother with unique children. You have a unique schedule and a unique budget. You've been blessed with unique struggles and unique success. ALL of which need to be taken into consideration when choosing a UNIQUE curriculum for you and your household.
So, if you can't create a carbon copy curriculum of your well-meaning homeschooling friend, how do you go about choosing the "perfect" curriculum?
Here's how.......(insert the sound of chirping crickets)
Sorry to be so facetious, but the truth is, there is NO black-and-white, tried-and-true curriculum choice formula that works for every mom. It's kind of like the spotted unicorn...it just doesn't exist.
But, before you slump over in complete defeat, there ARE a few very important tips to consider when choosing that illusive "perfect" curriculum choice for you and your kids.
Ask yourself a few simple questions.
- Why do I want to homeschool?
- What is my child's learning style? (The three major styles: Auditory, Visual, Kinesthetic)
- What is my teaching style?
- What is my curriculum budget?
- How much time do I have each day for lesson planning?
- How many hours do I have each day to devote to homeschooling?
- How many children will I be teaching?
- Do I have little ones that will demand an equal share of my time during the school day?
- How involved will my spouse (if applicable) be in the day-to-day teaching?
- What are my teaching strengths? weaknesses?
- What subjects do I wish to cover?
- Do my children have any particular gifts or passions?
While it is a noble goal to want to tailor your entire homeschool to your child's learning style, the fact of the matter is, there are many other factors to consider that just might have to TRUMP that. (Up until this year, all my children have been using a math curriculum that I REALLY LOVE, but the time investment will not be possible in the upcoming school year when I will have four full-time learners to teach. I have resigned to buy my "second choice" for my daughter because it is more independently structured and would require less from me.)
Determine what kind of teaching methods you prefer.
After asking yourself the previous key questions, determine which teaching methodology most lines up with your answers. There are many different methods of education. I'll just touch on a few of the most popular.
Traditional Textbook ApproachThis instructor-driven approach is similar to that used in a traditional classroom. Textbooks, tests, quizzes, and well-ordered lesson plans often come in a "boxed set".
- A Beka Book
- Bob Jones University Press
- Alpha Omega
- Rod & Staff
Unit Study Approach
Most, if not all subjects, are unified by studying one particular topic at a time. Books, videos, field trips, and hands-on activities combine to make a well-rounded look at the chosen topic of interest. While this approach is helpful when teaching multiple ages, it often requires intentional planning.
- Geo Matters
- Unit Studies by Amanda Bennett
- Five in a Row
Designed to develop independent learners with critical thinking skills, the classical approach focuses on the trivium stages of learning (grammar stage, dialectic stage, rhetoric stage). Ancient disciplines and literary classics are emphasized.
- Writing Tales
- Tapestry of Grace
- Classical Conversations
Living Literature Approach
As this approach to learning utilizes "real" books rather than textbooks, a library card is a MUST. Learning comes from natural exploration of books written by experts in a subject. In its simplicity, the living literature approach CAN be combined with other methods to produce a well-rounded study.
- Veritas Press
- Heart of Dakota
- Beautiful Feet
Charlotte Mason Approach
Named for its founder, turn-of-the-century educator Charlotte Mason, this particular approach is very similar to the Living Literature style, but also incorporates a thorough study of nature, art, and writing with the help of copywork and notebook keeping in order to educate the "whole child."
This particular approach is a combination of all the others. Value is found in certain aspects of each method and combined to create an "a la carte" curriculum. Science might be taught using unit studies, while history might be enjoyed with living literature books. Mathematics could be incorporated with textbooks while language may be taught with classical resources.
Other Methods Include
- Waldorf Education
- Thomas Jefferson Education
- Montessori Approach
For more information on each method of education, be sure to check out a great Homeschool Methods and Approaches series written by moms who have embraced one particular choice or another.
List your subjects in order of importance.
While all subjects have merit, not ALL subjects deserve equal attention. Make a list of the subjects you wish to cover in the order of importance to YOU. If you determine that Language/Grammar is the subject that you find the most important to a well-rounded education, begin your decision making there. Devote your time to investigating and purchasing Language curriculum. Then, move on to the next most-important subject on your list. Otherwise, you might end up squandering your entire spring and summer deciding upon incidental subjects and have no core subjects with which to begin your school year the following fall.
Seek opinions for PARTICULAR curriculum choices.
Unlike asking the open-ended "What curriculum do you use?" that does not account for your particular variables, asking "Have you ever used ______? What did you like/dislike about it?" limits the conversation to only curriculums that could possibly work for YOUR unique circumstances. Once you have done some initial investigation to narrow your choices down to some SPECIFIC companies/curriculum, you can now ask around for some PROS and CONS to help solidify your decision.
In addition to the thoughts of veteran homeschoolers in your own personal homeschool circles, here are a few other trusted sources to help. Please keep in mind that curriculum reviews are ALWAYS mixed. Every curriculum will have an equal number of people who LOVE it and HATE it. Just remember that the very quality that makes a curriculum NOT work for one family, might be the exact quality that would make it perfect for you and yours. Have an open mind and consider your UNIQUE homeschool before making your decision.
Curriculum review resources
- 101 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum: Choosing the Right Curriculum and Approach for Your Child's Learning Style by Cathy Duffy. In addition to 100 reviews of some of the top homeschool curriculums on the market, this WONDERFUL book also includes many helpful checklists, surveys, and lists designed to help you determine your child's learning style.
- Homeschool Reviews- an on-line forum of curriculum reviews BY real moms FOR real moms.
- Curriculum Choice- a group blog completely devoted to reviewing both the big name curriculums and the smaller, lesser-known companies and books
Give yourself grace.
In your first year of homeschool, you have to allow yourself imperfection. Remember that you can not expect to create the same "picture perfect" homeschool as the veterans that surround you. They have been "perfecting" their school day/curriculum for years. Much of their "perfection" has come from trial and error...from successes AND failures. When you are just starting out, remember my recent advice to Newbie Homeschoolers and show yourself grace. Plan to make a few mistakes along the way. If need be, budget for it. Understand that you will PROBABLY order something that you will not like, that you will not use, that you will have to chalk up as a loss. THAT'S OK! Box it up and pass it on...GRACE!
Once you've got your choices in place, it's time to make your shopping list! Be sure to grab my FREE printable. Good luck! You can do it!