Thursday, October 9, 2014

Curriculum Cunundrum

In the last post, I discussed reasons for homeschooling.  This week I am tackling the next subject:  curriculum.

Homeschooling parents who are now grandparents will tell you that we have it easy because when THEY were homeschooling, there were only a few curriculum packages out there.  However, to a newbie homeschooling family, they might view the huge variety of curriculum out there like a Sudanese refugee might view a trip to an American grocery store--too many choices can be overwhelming.  My purpose is not to tell you curriculum XYZ is the best, but to help you think through your choices. Before you choose a curriculum, here are a few things you might want to figure out first (which, by the way, is not necessarily what I did.)

  • Figure out your kids.  What motivates them, what interests them, and how do they learn best. To help you on that last item, you can buy, or even check out of your local libary, How they Learn by Cynthia Tobias.  She talks not only about different learning styles and different processing styles, but she also talks about how kids thrive in different environments.  She gives practical ways to assess your children.  For instance, my youngest needs silence while the rest of my kids like music.  This means that my original plan to have us all studying together in one room might not work out well.  One child really likes to do all their work on the sofa, rather on the recommended desks.  If you have really young kids, spend your time in homeschool figuring these things out.  
  • Figure out what is your family's identity and what is REALLY important to you.  For instance, we generally are a family who loves to read, watch movies and do stuff outside, like camping.  My husband and I are also science geeks.  The thing is, you will not be able to focus on everything without driving you and your kids crazy and making school dull drudgery.  Make sure they get the basics, like reading, writing, and math, but anything else is extra.  And there are ways to incorporate other subjects within those three.  For example, history has the word "story" in it.  Historical fiction or just "living history books" which is a fancy way of saying history lessons written in storybook format is a great way to get some history in your kids. 
  • If you have more than one kid, chances are, that at least one of your child will not line up with your family identity.  My husband and I are science geeks, but we have a really talented artist in our family.  I had all of my kids take art lessons, but she took more because that is what she really liked to do.  Another family I know is a couple who both majored in art, but their oldest is really into programming and science.  This is proof that God has a sense of humor.   If you keep your schedule down to basics, you are far more adaptable to add extras based on your kid's interests.  Now if you your kids are 
  • When you go looking for curriculum, you need to know the underlying teaching philosophy behind the curriculum.  I have found really good website to describe the different philosophies at The Homeschool Diner.  Go there and figure out which philosophy resonates with you, then go search for curriculum within that philosophy. 
  • Also ask yourself what you want out of the curriculum.  Do you want something that is very structured, a curriculum that you can pull "out of a box" or do you
  • What is your budget?  This will have a huge impact on what you will choose.  There are some free curriculum out there.
  • Don't be a slave to the curriculum.  It is very easy to serve the curriculum rather than letting the curriculum serve you, especially if you buy a box curriculum.  The box curriculums usually give you more than you can possibly do in a week.  Decide what you want to do and ignore the rest.  There is another way in which you can be a slave:  if the curriculum is not working for you or your family, don't be afraid to dump it.  Dump it mid-season, especially if you or your kids are finding yourself having a breakdown more than once a quarter over it.  If you can't afford another curriculum, use the library to have your kids explore their interests, take time to explore your community by going on field trips or just take some time off while you figure out a replacement.  The best curriculum is not necessarily the most expensive one.  
The Good:  Know that this is a continuous process.  Your kids will change, their preferences will change, your educational needs will change.  You will not scar your kids for life if you choose a bad curriculum.  There is no perfect educational process and no perfect curriculum.  Let go of perfectionism.  For me, this is a daily process.  Even this year, I re-evaluated the curriculum I had been using and decided to dump most of the stuff we had been doing as "non-optional" and change it to "extra credit" because I was trying to do it all.  
The Bad:   This requires a lot of work and, like laundry and housework, might seem to never end
The Ugly:  Curriculum research can easily suck up more time than you actually spend teaching.  Set a limit for research and get your spouse involved or even another homeschooling parent.

Next subject:  Co-ops

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