When we first started homeschooling Jude, I knew almost nothing about how to choose curriculum, other than to put "homeschool curriculum" into Google. I got pages and pages of programs, and had no clue how to wade through. As the years have gone on, more and more companies have released programs. The last time I checked the same search, Google spit back literally 8 and a half million returns.
That's a bit overwhelming!
As I started wading through all of that, I began asking myself questions like:
- Should we get a box curriculum?
- Maybe I should piece things myself?
- What "style" are we?
- What grade is my kid, anyway?
So after five years of homeschooling, when I'm asked what is the "best" or "perfect" curriculum, do you know my answer is?
So very zen, isn't it? Except when you're poring over catalogs and websites, you're not feeling particularly zen. And I admit to going through some of this every year. Here's how we have been able to do pretty well at choosing things that work.
1. DO NOT PURCHASE ANYTHING AT FIRST.
I know, this sounds crazy. I know my first thought was "Oh, gosh, we need..." If you feel like you have to purchase something, buy some crayons, or poster paint, or a picnic cooler to take lunch to the park. Crayon and paint are good for all ages, and you'd be surprised how much even a jaded teen enjoys lunch sitting on a blanket after walking around a zoo, museum, or National Park. (The only exception I'd make is a couple of student-chosen literature books for older kids, and even those you could probably get from a library.)
If you're transitioning from a public/private setting to homeschool, take note of the child's interests, strengths and weaknesses. A struggling reader may benefit from audio texts. A child who loves science may be better suited to a unit study approach where a scientist's experiments are the central focus, with studying the biography of the scientist (literature) and the context of the era (social studies/history) provide other disciplines without being overtly "other subjects." It will make things much easier if you can rule out "read a book about it" if you find child would prefer to explore something in person or via virtual field trip.
2. GET TO KNOW HOW EACH CHILD LEARNS. (And don't assume it's the same way you do, or how his siblings do.)
I love to read. I devour books like the Very Hungry Caterpillar on Saturday. I wanted to instill that love of reading in Jude. So many people recommended a particular literature based program. It was horrible for us. I desperately wanted Jude to love the books. He desperately wanted the books to go away.
Lesson learned. Jude is not an auditory/reading learner. He struggles to hear a read-aloud story and imagine a still picture and process it all at once. That's not to say he doesn't love stories. He does, when he reads it himself or when it's presented in a video form. This usually means not using pre-packaged programs, and just picking and choosing individual books based on his actual reading level, and not necessarily using a curriculum's "parent read, kiddo listens" plans.
Be prepared for siblings to have different learning styles. With Luke, I can hand him a book, a quiz and some discussion questions at the end, and it's all good. Matthew needs smaller goals -- like questions each chapter to make sure he stays on track.
3. GO BACK TO THE SEARCH ENGINE AND ENTER "<NAME OF CURRICULUM> REVIEW."
Sure, every website that sells a particular item is going to extol its virtues. As my Grandfather used to say, "You'll never hear a huckster holler 'Rotten Fruit!'" What you want to find are honest reviews, written by people that have used the programs. A good company will have many parents' input. A great company will have negative reviews. Why? Because what bombs for one child is perfect for another. I never put any stock in "This was stupid. Waste of money..." reviews, because they're not helpful. I want to know WHY it worked (or didn't) for someone, not just "Great value! Love it!" If someone writes "This is terrible -- the books are written on a 6th grade level and it's for 9th grade curriculum," that is still helpful. Matthew isn't a particularly excited reader, so going with easier reading and more complicated hands-on works well for him. Someone else's black cloud may be your silver lining! (This is one reason why I love Schoolhouse Crew reviews. With so many families reviewing something, you're going to get a wide variety of homeschoolers' opinions.)
If a friend offers her opinion, take it for what it is - her opinion. Consider her children's learning styles and if they match yours. If she has a child that loves online programs, but you have terrible internet coverage, that's probably not going to be a good fit for your house.
4. IF A COMPANY OFFERS A FREE TRIAL, USE IT.
This is one of the best ways to see if a program fits. I've found that I can tell if a program is working well enough to keep going within a week. That's not to say that after the two weeks or one month trial we decide to spring for the program; pay attention to the child's behavior and attitude after the first few days. I never make a decision until at least a week in -- sometimes the novelty wears off and you realize it's not a good fit, or a recalcitrant student finally warms up to the program, but usually after a week you can tell if it's worth continuing on or moving on. A short test drive will help you decide.
5. CHOOSE YOUR BATTLES WISELY.
A good friend of mine used to say "Ask yourself, 'Is this the hill you're willing to die on?'" If it's not, then yield.
For example, the battle I want to win is "Write a good book report." I've learned it's better to say "Choose a novel," and get an enthusiastic and well-written report on Mockingjay than an argued-over and half-done Hemmingway. Sometimes you do have to be more specific, but I try to give as much leeway as I can; when Luke studied Edgar Allen Poe, I gave him a choice between Annabelle Lee or The Raven to pick apart and study poetry.
Is there a subject that is a non-negotiable, especially for a high schooler? Compromise where you can: if the requirement is "two years of a foreign language," let your child choose. You might think that Spanish makes more practical sense, but he thinks Latin would be better because he's fascinated by word roots, or he wants to learn Russian because it uses a different alphabet. As long as he's willing to learn it, that's half the battle right there!
Finally, if your student feels like he's running in circles, consider a university/semester model with less subjects in a day but longer sessions. Luke has found that he'd rather spend three months on literature and then three months on history, and have the time to really dig into them, than feel like he's always waiting for the "change classes" bell.
6. GIVE YOURSELF THE GRACE TO SAY "THIS ISN'T WORKING, WE NEED TO CHANGE TACTICS."
It's so hard to give up on a program, especially if it's not cheap. That literature-program-debacle was not an inexpensive mistake. (We kept the books and now read them "just to read," not to pick apart.)
However, the beauty of homeschooling is being able to tailor the education to your child, not force your child into a particular curriculum. If a program truly isn't working, sell it, shelve it, or share it.
Life is too short to spend every day negotiating to get schoolwork done. It's OK to start over. I've spent too many hours fighting when just saying, "Ok, how can we make learning xyz happen?" would have been far more efficient.
Adventures with Jude
Day 1: Choosing Curriculum (this post)
Day 2: Homeschooling Isn't Cheap
Day 3: Creating a Customized Curriculum
Day 4: Don't Lose the Big Picture
Day 5: 8 Truths about Homeschooling (live 4/1 @ 8 am)
Homeschool Coffee Break
Latonya @ Joy in the Ordinary
Laura @ Day by Day in Our World
Leah @ As We Walk Along the Road
Lisa @ Farm Fresh Adventures
Lori @ At Home: where life happens
Megan @ My Full Heart
Melanie (Wren) @ finchnwren
Melissa @ Mom's Plans
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