Saturday, 20 January 2018

Choices, choices - how to choose your curriculum wisely

This year I am taking part in the 2018 Virtual Homeschool Fair, which is hosted by Susan @ Homeschooling Hearts & Minds. This is the third week, and the topic is Our Homeschool Curriculum.

When you begin to home educate, or when a new stage of home education begins (such as the start of senior school), then the choice of curricula available can be a little overwhelming. The freedom to pick what suits your family best, and each individual child, is one of the huge benefits of home education, but it is also a serious undertaking, and can become a burden.

So, how to choose? Here are some principles that I have loosely followed, and which have helped me decide the way forward at different times.

1) Go Slow

Take one or two subjects at a time, and invest whatever hours you need to in order to make a good decision. If possible, I start researching a number of months ahead, but when this isn't possible, I will wait to start a new subject rather than rush the research stage.

2) Do your Research

My first port of call will usually be The Well Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise. I like the classical approach, and reading through the curricula suggestions by subject and stage of education is usually a helpful starting point for me. A high proportion of my choices, especially early on, were from this book.

I will talk to other home educating parents about what they are using. When I was starting out, friends letting me have a look at the resources they had was very helpful. In case it's helpful, here is a list of the key resources we've used for my primary aged children.

I also regularly ask for ideas on various home education forums on facebook, which will also yield many options to choose from. If I am looking for something fairly specific e.g. a reading curriculum suitable for a child with speech delay, this is particularly helpful.

Once I have narrowed the choices down, if I am at the nearly-certain stage, I will look for samples online, and maybe get the child I am looking at it for to have a glance at any sample pages with me so I can gauge whether or not it will be a good fit.

Some of my 8 year old's books this year.

3) Keep Clear Aims

It's worth being clear about what your looking for.

For example, when researching Latin options, I knew that I wanted a British curriculum (we learn the noun cases in a different order - and I am too old to change!), and a strong emphasis on grammar. This immediately ruled out lots of options, and made the process easier.

When I was looking for supplementary maths for one of my sons, I was pretty certain that I wanted something in a book rather than online; again, this narrowed my choices helpfully and meant that my research was focused.

4) Know your Strengths

I have a degree in Classics (Latin and Greek), so I'm pretty confident that I can deliver any Latin curriculum. Art, however, is something at which I am weak - so I need something much more step-by-step to help me and my children.

5) Know your Children

If you have a 7 year old boy who hates writing, then using a history programme that requires extensive written composition is going to suck the joy out of your studies. Conversely, choosing a maths curriculum that is overly repetitive for a very able student may be frustrating (or they may find it fun - you will know your children!).

A history activity from The Story of the World.

6) Spend Cautiously

Often, the less expensive options are very good, and there is no point in blowing your home education budget when a cheaper option is available. Especially early on, while I was growing in confidence and knowledge, I relied on cheaper materials, most of which I could buy easily in the U.K.

7) Spend Wisely

Nonetheless, there will be times when a more expensive option is quite obviously better. If you have the freedom to choose to buy what you want, or can manage your resources in order to be able to do so, sometimes it is worth investing in something more expensive.

For example, I invested in All About Reading and All About Spelling for my younger two children, largely to help my son with thorough phonics instruction as he had a pretty severe speech delay. They have been outstanding (I've written about them here), and well worth the investment. Plus, they are fairly easy to sell second hand so I am trying to keep them in good condition so I can recoup some of the investment later.

I often spend my early summer break selling books and resources we no longer need, in part to fund purchasing some of my more expensive choices.

8) Don't Compare

It is so easy to look at what someone else is using with great success, and wonder if you should switch you current programme. You may be right - I've pinched plenty of ideas from other people; however, don't change in a panic. If something is working for you, then keep going. Every family, and every child, is different. There are lots of "right" options.

Exploring Nature with Children was a curriculum I chose when I saw a friend using it.

Also, it will be the case that other families have different emphases and strengths. If this is an inspiration, it can be a real help. However, if you are constantly chopping and changing what you do whenever you see something that looks appealing, it probably won't yield great results for your children. If I see something that looks good, I may spend a few weeks (or months) trying to realistically consider if it will work for us or not before adding something new.

9) You WILL make wrong decisions.

With all the research and planning in the world, we all pick something that just doesn't work - for a myriad of reasons. It's not a disaster, and dropping something can be the right decision. I usually try to give something a good go before we give up (and it's only happened a few times), but it is worth having the confidence to backtrack if something isn't doing the job it's supposed to.

Looking for more curriculum ideas? Visit my fellow homeschool bloggers! 

Note: all posts will be live after 8 am EST on Monday, Jan. 22nd.
Our Homeschool Plan for 3rd, 6th, 8th, & 12th Grades by Susan @ Homeschooling Hearts & Minds
Our 10th Grade Plans by Christy @ Unexpected Homeschool
Planning Out Our Unschooling Studies by Jen @ A Helping Hand Homeschool
The Details of Curriculum by Michele @ Family, Faith and Fridays
Reflections of a Curriculum Junkie by Brittney @ Mom's Heart
Freedom through nature journaling. by Kim @ Good Sweet Love
How I pull together a homeschool curriculum without packaged curriculum by Dana @ Life Led Homeschool
Our Favorite Curriculum and Resources - An Annotated Bibliography by Sabrina @ Kids, Crunch, and Christ
Our 2018 Homeschool Curriculum Choices by Amanda @ Hopkins Homeschool
Top Home Educating Resources by Sarah @ DeliveringGrace
Homeschooling Curriculum We Are Using This Year by Laura O @ Day by Day in Our World
Use the Force and Complete the Course by Kym @ Homeschool Coffee Break
Choices, choices - how to choose your curriculum wisely by Lizzy @ Peaches@Home
Our Curriculum Needs - grade seven by Annette @ A Net in Time
The Heart of Our School by Laura @ Four Little Penguins
Curriculum We Have Loved Using - Virtual Homeschool Fair -Week 3 by Joelle @ Homeschooling for His Glory
How to Avoid Gaps in Education by Kristen H. @ Sunrise to Sunset
Tricky Subjects and Starting the Decision Making Process by Lori H @ At Home: where life happens
High School Syllabus by TrueNorthHomeschoolAcademy @ GoldenGrasses

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