Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Tips for Choosing the Right Curriculum for Your Student

The biggest mistake I made when we first started homeschooling was picking a curriculum that I thought was "wonderful," only to find that Jude didn't agree.  At all.  I asked people, "What do you recommend?" and so many extolled the virtues of a particular super-popular literature-based program.  I looked it up, read probably forty reviews of it, fell absolutely in love with it, and bought it.

And then Jude hated it.

I kept trying and trying, and he kept pushing back.  I mean, what kid doesn't like stories?  Apparently...mine.  I had neglected to take into consideration the fact that he had auditory issues, and it made decoding sounds extremely difficult.  He lived for when we watched a video, and finally I realized why -- he had plenty of visual to help provide context clues.  I scrapped that "wonderful" program, and we started over.  This time, I didn't ask people what their favorite program was.  I said, "What do you suggest for a visual learner?" or "Why do you like that program?"  I learned the hard way that it's not enough to know what a homeschool mama likes, but knowing why she likes it helps you.

That story leads me to the three things I tell people who say "I'm just starting, what do you recommend?"

I'll bet can guess my number one tip:

The next step is to create your budget.  I know some people are very proud that they spend next to nothing.  If it works for their family, that's great!  This year, kindergarten Damien thus far has cost me about 20 bucks in paper and ink.  We have a few programs I have been able to hand down, though a few "mistakes" I made and saved from Jude aren't a good fit for him, either.  Being the youngest of five, we have lots of great literature books (including the ones his brother hated), so that saves money, too.  For kindergarten, a couple of printed pages to work on fine motor skills (coloring, cutting, etc.) and practicing his letters is good enough.  My biggest budget allotment for Damien will be craft supplies - paint, more glue, etc.  Jude is fairly inexpensive as well, especially because the pace he is going at means some programs will last us two years instead of one. Yes, I have to pay it all at once, but it help bring the overall cost down.

However, for Luke and Matthew, it's a different story.  I can teach Jude multiplication, but I can't adequately comprehend Trigonometry to teach Luke.  My five years of high school and college Spanish will get me around Madrid on a holiday, but that's about it.  We try to figure out what I can teach myself (history, language arts, etc.) with good books, and then budget the rest for qualified teachers.  They take Spanish with individual tutors from Homeschool Spanish Academy, and have video instruction for math and science.  We do lots of things to cut down on absolute costs, from reviews to being program affiliates for several companies.  However, I've also come to accept that while homeschooling the big boys is far less costly than their tuitions were, quality college-prep level classes aren't cheap. I will always say "I want to get the best value for my money," but my second tip is this:

So, now that you have done your research, and worked a program's cost into your budget, what happens when you realize that it's just not working? 

The first thing is to look at it and ask "Why?"

-Is it too hard and really for a more advanced student? Shelve it for next year.

-Is it too easy? What if you added some extra reading or videos to bulk it up?

-Does kiddo just not like the subject?  Sometimes you have the luxury of saying "OK, we'll do something else," especially if your student is younger. Luke learned the hard way that whether he liked it or not, not doing high school chemistry was not an option.   It took him three chemistry programs to settle into one that he didn't dread and suited his learning needs.  (Note to self: Follow Rule No. 1.)

Once you know why it's not working for you, maybe you can find a middle ground by:

-Tossing the manual out the window and rework the program to suit your needs. Use it as a spine to guide you, and pull in other resources to round it out.

-Trying to swap or sell the program.  Maybe you won't get all of your money back, but most curriculum holds its value, and you'll be able to get something to put towards something that works.

 -With an older student, recognizing their frustration and asking him to help pick something out.  I've been shocked by the things my older boys have chosen - they wouldn't have been what I thought they'd be interested in - and thrived with.

If it's just not going to work, then sometimes you need to start over.  I know, I know, it's painful on your wallet, and sometimes, you really don't have the extra cash and kiddo just has to muddle along until you do.  But my third rule for myself really is:

If you can't adjust something because it's just inherently a wrong fit, or something that would require a total overhaul to make work, cut your losses and move on to something new.  Something I've learned is that the beauty of homeschooling is the curriculum can (and should) fit the student, not the other way around.

What is your best tip for choosing a curriculum?

Posts in this series:

My Secret for Stress-Free Planning
Tip for Choosing the Right Homeschool Curriculum
Grading When There Are No Tests 
Field Trips: Learning Through Experiencing

Click the image to see a list of all 55 bloggers participating in the Hop. See how they plan for the Back-to-Homeschool season.


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