March 1, 2015

How to Choose Homeschool Curriculum: A Quick Primer

I’ve spent the last two years researching resources in terms their positions on the common core standards (CCS) and recording the information on my database, The Homeschool Resource Roadmap. During that time, I've been asked many times how a new homeschooling parent might go about choosing curriculum. Of course, the question is both important - homeschooling is much easier when one finds a "good fit" in terms of method and materials - and understandable, because the curriculum possibilities seem endless. Indeed, in my research, I've sent queries to well over 1,000 curriculum providers and have examined the websites of hundreds more. I had no idea so many options existed! And if I'm overwhelmed as an experienced homeschooler doing a research project, I can imagine how absolutely untenable the task looks when one is a fledgling homeschool parent trying to find "the perfect curriculum" for one's child.

But that brings me to my first point: Simply put, there is no "perfect curriculum." And that's okay; we don't need perfection. In fact, one of the best things we can do as homeschoolers - for ourselves and our kids - is to give up the myth of perfection all together...with curriculum and everything else.

Perfectionism kills joy and peace, and it simply doesn't belong in our homes.

Of course, we do need to pursue excellence. And, in terms of curriculum, that goal translates into finding a very good fit between our children's needs and the materials we choose to use. But how on earth do we begin the process of sorting through so many possibilities? I know the process can seem very overwhelming, so I wanted to break it down to just a few steps that would enable any new homeschooler to get started:

·      Don't start by asking for ideas from homeschooling friends. As odd as that sounds - after all, networking among homeschoolers is really important - it's not the place to begin when choosing curriculum. Why? Well, simply put, what works beautifully for one family - given their overall situation - may be totally inappropriate for another. For example, I know a woman who followed several friends' advice to use a very solid, textbook-style curriculum. The program is a good fit for the friends' kids, but it turns out to have been completely inappropriate for the woman's children. As a result, this family's first year of homeschooling was much more difficult than it should have been, and she ended up putting her kids back into school. The woman's friends meant well, of course, but they couldn't really know what would meet the needs of her children.

·      Do begin with prayer. Whatever your spiritual foundation, take time before you launch into your research to start praying for wisdom and discernment - and continue praying as you go. Also, be sure to ask your spouse to pray for you regularly even if he's given you authority to make the ultimate curriculum decisions. As a Christian, I know that God cares deeply about my homeschooling journey, so I know He will guide via His Spirit if I give Him that permission.

·      Analyze your family from a homeschooling perspective, discovering your children's preferred learning styles, your preferred teaching style, and other important factors that warrant consideration. The best resources I know for tackling this task are How Am I Smart? by Dr. Kathy Koch and Cathy Duffy's 102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum. Dr. Koch helps you determine each child’s multiple intelligence strengths, while Ms. Duffy takes you through descriptions, checklists, and charts that will ultimately show you the general types of curriculum that will work for you. And, of course, knowing what will work enables you to confidently (without guilt!) eliminate from consideration a wide variety of otherwise fine material that simply wouldn't be a good fit for you and your kids.

·      Consider important “philosophy of education” questions. Among other things, you need to determine the worldview/religious perspective you prefer; which of the five major homeschool approaches resonates with you; whether your kids would do better with spiral or mastery math; if you’d like to use a phonics-based or a “whole language” approach for early reading instruction; at what age and with what method you’d like to teach grammar; and – very importantly in our current political climate – where you stand on the common core standards (CCS). Deciding how much connection you want with the CCS is a choice only you can make according to your personal convictions. But you do need to know where each resource you're considering stands in order to make a fully informed decision. And once you do determine your position on the CCS, you can utilize The Homeschool Resource Roadmap for further guidance.

·      After paring things down in this way, you'll probably have a rather short list of viable options. So from there you can visit the companies' websites to study online samples and enlist the help of your homeschooling friends. Specifically, ask if others have hard copy samples of the materials you're considering so you can see the books themselves. Or, if possible, attend a homeschool conventionand study your remaining options there.

·      If you've been praying through the process, I'm confident you'll have a good sense of peace at this point. Of course, you may not be 100% sure - as homeschooling moms, we are our own worst critics - but "almost sure" is really all you need. If you feel too much doubt, ask your husband if he'd be willing to share his preference among your two or three strongest possibilities. And, if he indicates an inclination toward one, trust him and go with it. On the other hand, if he leaves it up to you, simply go with your gut. Remember: You've covered the whole process in prayer and you've done your homework so any of the remaining options will be a very good fit and you can trust that you're choosing well.

I realize this process will take a bit of time - but it really will bear beautiful fruit. You won't be choosing on a whim or trying to copy your best friend. You won't be picking based on a colorful website or slick advertising campaign. Instead, your choice will be grounded in meaningful research and faith, so you'll be able to move forward into your first term as a homeschooler with confidence that you've begun well.

Photo Credit: Phillip Winn


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