Ayoung homeschool mom once told me that she chooses her curriculum by selecting whatever her friends at church are using.
There are benefits to using this process. Co-op classes must use the same books. Sharing resources with church family saves everyone money. A homeschooling mentor is a valuable gift to a young home educator.
There are some disadvantages to using the “what works for someone else” selection process though. What happens if what works for them does not work for you?
Curriculum is a tool. Moms use tools every day. When I bake, I follow a recipe. I measure ingredients, mix for the recommended time, preheat my oven, and check my cake for doneness. My friend eye-balls the measurements, rarely uses the suggested ingredients, and she bakes her cake in the microwave. We both use the tools that work best for us.
As you can imagine, we employ vastly different methods of home educating our children as well, but we both get excellent results. Go figure!
One of the greatest advantages of home education is that the parent directs the education to fit the unique needs and gifting of each child, while also considering the parents needs. When we use someone else’s tools on our child, we are often attempting to fit a round peg into a square hole.
It is time consuming to investigate the many curriculum choices that are available. Perhaps it is even scary and confusing, but it is also a rewarding endeavor. Researching, purchasing, and planning breaths new excitement to the task of educating.
If you are brand new to home education, and you have removed your child from school in the middle of the year, you may not have time to invest in studying the many curricula and methods of home education. You need to jump right in and finish off the current school year. I would recommend that you invest in a traditional textbook approach, purchasing books that are similar to what you and your child are familiar with, and finish the year as best you can. Take time off from teaching during the summer to re-evaluate and plan.
My favorite resource for finding excellent curriculum reviews is www.cathyduffyreviews.com. This website is very easy to navigate and the reviews are excellent. Cathy Duffy began home educating her children in 1982, and her two-volume Christian Home Educators’ Curriculum Manual (Elementary Grades, Jr. High and High School) was an early success. Her book, Top 100 Picks for Homeschooling Curriculum, is a classic. This book provides help with planning and choosing curriculum, and has charts that help you to figure out your own philosophy of education and your child’s learning style. This book and website provide very practical help.
Here are a few of my time-tested suggestions for choosing curriculum wisely:
Know Yourself: Naturally organized people can get away with an eclectic approach to selecting curriculum and teaching methods. The less-organized need to select a curriculum that will do the organizing for them and help keep them accountable.
Know your Limits: The best curriculum in the world will not work if it is collecting dust on a shelf in your home because you do not have time to adequately prepare and teach from it. Select a curriculum that fits your time limitations. Good intentions alone will not get the job done. If you are consistently not making the time to adequately teach with the tools that you have, then you need to select a less time-consuming curriculum or teaching method. While you are at it, get rid of the dust-collecting books before they become a source of discouragement.
Read your own Bio: How well do you know the subject that you want to teach? If you are very familiar with the subject then you will have greater freedom in selecting curricula that is outside of the scope of a traditional textbook approach. If you do not know a subject well, do not be afraid to learn alongside your child. Consider purchasing any or all of the teacher’s manuals and keys with which a textbook provider is supplementing the student text. Some teacher’s manuals are very nearly scripts for the teacher to read, while others expect the teacher to be very familiar with the subject. Know the difference before purchasing.
Beware of Shelf Life: Many textbook providers have developed the habit of updating their books every couple of years. While the changes that they make are usually quite minor, the modifications make it very difficult to use old texts with new workbooks. If you are buying used books, make sure that you can still purchase workbooks to go along with them. If you are purchasing new, ask the representative how long it has been since it was last updated and when they expect to update it again. This is especially true if you are planning to reuse the book for subsequent children. Some people purchase workbooks for all of their children when they purchase the initial book to insure that they will have what they need when they need it.
Hold Fast to that which is Pretty Good: Don’t be too quick to discard a curriculum that you are finding moderate success with, especially if your only reason for doing so is because you have heard about something better. Make transitions slowly, perhaps only one subject at a time. Every home educator you meet will have a “perfect” curriculum that they think you should try, but remember my cake analogy! Their tool may be working effectively for them, but you may have found a nearly perfect tool for your child already.
Insanity: Insanity is defined as doing the same thing, the same way, over and over again and expecting different results. If you have several children that you are home educating then this definition may fit. Each child is unique. Quite likely what worked for one of your children will not work for another. This is the time for you to go tool shopping, for a tool that will work for this next child. Change things up once in awhile for the benefit of your children and yourself. It is refreshing to do things differently.
Buyer’s Remorse I have never met an experienced home educator who has not made a poor curriculum choice at some time . It happens! When it does, don’t try to keep using what is a broken tool for your particular child. Replace it. Recycle it at the next used curriculum sale, and move on.
Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Help: Your spouse is a great resource when selecting curriculum. Often times my husband has had an instinct for what will work, especially for our sons, that has surpassed my own. Make curriculum shopping a family endeavor.
Make Informed Choices: A great place to make curriculum choices is at the annual CHOIS Convention each June. Representatives from many curriculum providers will be displaying and selling their products from our exhibit hall. These representatives are knowledgeable experts in their field. The convention provides an excellent opportunity to pick their brains. Many offer convention discounts. Our exhibit hall provides an opportunity to actually hold a copy of the book in your hand, to flip through the pages and get a feel for whether or not it really is all you are hoping it will be.
Another excellent resource for finding curriculum at reduced prices is the CHOIS Used Curriculum Sale. Our sale is unique in that the owners are selling their own books to our shoppers. This provides an opportunity to speak directly to someone who has recently finished using the books you are seeking to purchase. You will also save money by buying used.
Researching curriculum choices can be time consuming, but the rewards are plentiful. Finding that perfect new book energizes teacher and student. Get excited about tool shopping! Your children will appreciate your enthusiasm.
Finally, remember to ask the Lord for wisdom. He will lovingly guide and direct our efforts to find the perfect tools to teach His children.
Linda Patchin has been purchasing curriculum for over two decades. In the early years, there were only a couple of textbook companies that would even sell their products to home educators. Thankfully, Linda has survived to see the day of ENORMOUS selection. She and her husband, Paul, serve on the CHOIS Board of Directors.