By Carolyn Forte
Once the decision to homeschool has been made, the question of curriculum choice is often the next decision to be addressed. With the amazing variety of materials available on the internet and at conventions, it is no wonder that parents are confused and overwhelmed. Curriculum decisions can mean the difference between success and failure of the homeschool project itself. An inappropriate curriculum often turns into a nightmare for the whole family. Sadly, many new homeschoolers blame themselves instead of the curriculum choice and decide that “Homeschooling just isn’t for us.”
With a few preparatory steps taken before the choice is made, this kind of distress can be avoided. There is no perfect curriculum and there is no “best” homeschool method. God created us all as distinct individuals, with different strengths, weaknesses, talents, interests and dispositions. The curriculum that suits your neighbor perfectly may not work for your children at all. The program that your eldest loves may be unworkable for your youngest. Keep that in mind as we continue.
The first step is to determine your child’s learning style. We recommend Discover Your Child’s Learning Style by Mariaemma Willis and Victoria Hodson because it is the only learning style book that takes all five of the major elements of learning style into account. In addition it is very user friendly and includes an online survey to help parents further. There are other fine books available, but they usually group all people into four different dispositions, ignoring the vital elements of modality, talents, interests and environment. Without a clear and complete picture of the way your child learns best, you are in danger of making a less than optimal choice.
Even armed with detailed information about your child’s learning style, choosing homeschool materials can be complicated. You have to take into account your budget, special life circumstances and any specific needs your child has. You may not be able to follow the same pace the program sets. This is not really a problem if you are patient. One of our daughters is very strong in the personality style that tends to prefer workbooks. However, she had an undiagnosed vision problem, which caused her to run from anything that looked like schoolwork. As a former teacher, I knew that she would have been labeled ADHD, dyslexic and dysgraphic had she been in school. Instead of trying to force feed a curriculum, I took the advice of Dr. Raymond Moore and let her develop her talents and strengths as she slowly absorbed the foundations of reading, writing and math. Once we discovered her visual problem and addressed it, she rapidly “caught up” with her peers.
Thus, even if you pick a program or curriculum that suits your children well, the recommended pace may not work for you. If that is the case, simply adjust it for your needs. It is perfectly fine to take one and one-half or two years to get through a book, if your child is learning and understanding. Forcing the pace to match a curriculum’s schedule is simply “conveyer belt education.” This one-size-fits all approach to learning is unrealistic and often unworkable. It is one of the reasons homeschooling is so popular. Remember, the curriculum is your slave, not the other way around.
Once you have an understanding of your child’s and your family’s needs, it is important to look deeply into curriculum styles and philosophies. The “school-at-home” type curriculum uses the same books and materials that are used in Christian schools. In some cases, you can even “tune in” to a classroom using these same materials. This is the least flexible type of homeschool program and the one that must be approached with the most caution both because of the inflexibility and the large monetary outlay, which is often non-refundable. Only a small percentage of students will be entirely comfortable here.
There are numerous homeschool styles which emphasize reading “living books” and original sources as opposed to textbooks. These include: Charlotte Mason, Thomas Jefferson Education, The Principle Approach, Moore Formula and various “classical” approaches. Each of the above styles arises out of a wide array of educational philosophies. Each is valid and each has strengths, but they will not all fit your unique children even though they are very flexible. Before committing a year’s worth of money and time, it is prudent to research these programs and give some prayerful thought to how they will work for your family. Unlike the packaged, school-at-home type curriculum, however, you can sample the above styles for a few weeks or a few months to see how they work for you without committing to an entire year.
Does this sound like too much work? Are you already overwhelmed just thinking about the options? Take a deep breath. You don’t have to decide today. In fact, you shouldn’t decide for quite a while. You can’t teach, guide or mentor your children well until you have learned what it means to educate yourself. Schools don’t teach that and most of us went to school for many, many years. Here are some suggestions for getting started:
- Whether you are already homeschooling, but unhappy with your program or a brand new homeschooler, read Discover Your Child’s Learning Style and do the profile on yourself and your children.
- Now that you know more about your children’s learning styles, spend as much time as possible doing things with your children: cooking, gardening, games, field trips, walks and mealtime talks. Pay close attention to their preferences, interests and talents. Build on what you have already discerned to zero in on the way your children learn best.
- Read several books about homeschooling and learning in general. There are dozens of good ones, but try to get a variety of viewpoints. All humans are fallible. Without counsel purposes are disappointed: but in the multitude of counselors they are established. (Proverbs 15:22 KJV) You can get some help from the internet, but read at least a few whole books. There are quite a few on our web site (www.excellenceineducation.com) under Homeschooling Books and under All About Learning. There are at least four very different types of “classical” curriculums. Don’t assume you know what “classical” means because you read about one of them.
- Find a homeschool support group nearby and get involved. Talk to lots of veteran homeschoolers. Find out what they like and why. If everyone is doing the same thing, be cautious about jumping in to whatever it is they are all doing. Make sure it is a fit for your children. You may also want to find another support group to add to your circle. It is OK to frequent more than one group! Just watch out for group-think. It is too easy to fall into line with what others are doing without carefully and prayerfully thinking about whether it works for your children.
- Find something new to learn yourself. John Holt recommended that every homeschooling parent learn a new musical instrument. This will put you in a new learner’s position and help you remember what it is like to learn something from scratch and develop a new skill. You will have a lot more patience with your children if you do this.
Finally, don’t stress yourself out! Your children won’t get behind if you take a while to find what works best for you. They will learn so much faster when the curriculum is a fit, that it is well worth taking your time to find it.
©2016 Excellence In Education