Five Tips for Choosing a Homeschool Curriculum

choosing curriculum

“I am so sorry.” she said after bumping into my arm. I smiled back and reassured her that it was not a problem. Apologetically she replied, “I am just walking around in a daze!” I saw that same dazed look many times throughout the day. I recognized it almost immediately. This was the look that many mothers have when attending their first homeschool convention.

I remember, very well, the overwhelmed feeling that came upon me many years ago. As I contemplated homeschooling my 4 year old, two thoughts whirled through my mind. The first was, “Wow! Look at all these homeschooling families. I won’t be alone.” The second thought was, “Wow! Look at all this curriculum. How will I ever choose the right one?”

Knowledge plays a paramount role in choosing the correct curriculum for your family. This process of learning is never ending. For us, it began when we started our incredible homeschool adventure, over a decade ago. It has continued on through the last homeschool convention we recently attended. And in the years ahead we will continue to seek knowledge.  Homeschool fairs and conventions are wonderful means to attain information but they can also be rather intimidating. In fact, for a first time homeschooler, pouring through dozens of catalogs, simply doing an internet search, or just talking with veteran homeschooling families can be daunting. There is a lot of information out there. And there are a lot of things to take into consideration each school year. What style of teaching will we use? How much money will we spend? How many hours a day or days a week will we teach? What will our goals be? And what curriculum will we use?

Choosing a curriculum for your children is an important task. In addition to acquiring knowledge about each product there are some key factors to consider in this choice.

 What foundation is it built on?

The first aspect to consider when choosing a curriculum is to determine what foundation the curriculum is built on. Each family will have a different standard. For our family, it is imperative that it has a strong, Biblical foundation. The importance of giving children a Christian education is one of the focal reasons many choose to home educate. When I look at various curriculums, the subject that needs to be addressed is whether this particular study will give my children a biblical world view. The reason we ask this question is because there is no such thing as amoral education. I believe that everything our children learn will either draw them to God or away from God. We must ask ourselves, as parents, if this is a dynamic worth considering. “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do? Psalm 11:3.

 Does it fit our family?

Just as there are many different types of families, equally there are many different types of curriculums. Some families choose a traditional home education. This is simply taking the concept of school and bringing it home. Traditional homeschooling usually includes text books, workbooks, written tests, and core subjects. Others choose to incorporate Unit Studies into their education. I have a friend who is doing a unit study through Little House on the Prairie with her three daughters. All three girls, of different ages, will get their math, language, science, history, and Bible in this study. In addition, they learn how to cook and sew throughout the year. Other families choose eclectic, relaxed, or unschooling. Still others choose the methods of Charlotte Mason, DVD/video schooling, or internet homeschooling.

We have used various types over the years. I began with the traditional approach, but soon realized that my young son was less apt to sit behind a desk all day. It was more effective to teach him his spelling words while he did jumping jacks, or read to him classic literature curled up on the couch. We found that doing science at the park or in our back yard was successful as well. So we adapted our methods. As we added more children to our family, I found myself doing more Unit Studies. Now that the children are getting older, we have switched to doing the majority of their schoolwork with a computer program. And, if necessary, chances are we will again alter our approach to fit our family.

When determining what style fits our family we should pay attention to not compare ourselves to other homeschooling families. I have noticed that homeschooling parents seem to be notorious at the comparison game. The Jones children are leaning Latin. The Smith children are three grade levels ahead in math. Our friends at co-op are using the newest science curriculum. And so on. It is an easy trap to fall into. And yet it must be avoided for the well being of the family. The Bible warns us of this. “For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise,” 2 Corinthians 10:12. It is not wise to compare ourselves to others because we are not them. We must seek the Lord and His standard for our family and stop comparing ourselves to everyone else. God created us unique. He created our family unique. Unless we embrace our differences and do what works with our family, we will constantly struggle in our homeschooling.

Is it fun?

As the old adage goes, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” Likewise, consider the wisdom behind this saying, “Give a child a love for learning, and he’ll never be in school.” If we can successfully instill into our children a true love for learning then the act of studies will not be a chore. This is a concept that I still have to go back to on a weekly basis. Sometimes lessons become mundane. But one of the greatest advantages of home education is that they do not have to be.   We have a great freedom in how we teach our children. Math facts can be boring but if you have a daughter who loves to cook you can teach her fractions in the kitchen. She will have so much fun that she will not even realize she is learning. History can be a drab but if you have an auditory learner you can find some fascinating historical audio dramas to listen to in the car. This will help peak your child’s interest in history. Some children struggle with writing but are very proficient at sending letters to friends or writing emails. A wise parent will use these avenues to teach their children. My oldest son loves to work with wood; therefore, we have tried to use his passion as an opportunity to teach various subjects of importance.

It must be said, however, that it will be difficult to make everything a child must learn fun and exciting for them. My son likes to ask the question, “Why do I need to learn this?” He continues with explaining that it is likely that he will never use this information in life. It is then that I take the opportunity to remind him of an important fact. It may be true that unless he becomes an engineer he might not need to know the high levels of calculus and trigonometry. But he will need to learn how to study. And unless he becomes a history major it is likely that it will not be necessary to memorize all the dates of every war. However, he will need to be able to sharpen his memorization skills. Studies teach us diligence. And that is unquestionably an attribute worth achieving. All children need to be trained in the art of hard work. And all of these things can come about by simply learning higher math or detailed history. With the right attitude, even learning tedious facts can be a joy to both the student and the teacher.

 What are others saying?

The homeschooling movement has grown over the years. There is a generation of homeschool graduates who are now teaching their own children. Homeschooling groups and co-ops are in abundant. There is easy access to literature and information about homeschooling and curriculums. Homeschoolers do not have to be lone rangers. There is support and connections all around. Parents need to learn to take advantage of all this information and wisdom from others. A little research will go a long way in determining if a curriculum is right for your family. Ask around. See what others are saying. Talk to people who have used it. Read the reviews before buying. As one homeschooling mother puts it, “A friendly warning about curricula that doesn’t live up to the hype has inoculated me against unnecessary cases of buyer’s remorse.”

 Are we being consistent?

When choosing a curriculum for your children remember these key factors. What foundation is it built on? Does it fit our family? Is it fun? What are others saying about it? And one final thought I would like to offer is on consistency. While consistency does not necessary play a part in which curriculum to choose, it does play a part in whether we become successful in this choice. We have found ourselves having to change a curriculum that was not working during the middle of a school year. But one thing that did not change was the consistency of doing that necessary study. The math curriculum might have changed but the study of math did not. Perhaps a reading or language curriculum is not working for your family. It is okay to adjust. Just be sure to continue to teach reading and language on some level. Maybe you are unsatisfied with a Bible program, that’s okay too. Just be sure your family is reading the Bible every day. A good rule of thumb for younger children is to be consistent in teaching the three R’s – Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic.

An essential element in homeschooling is you, the parent, taking the God given responsibility for your child’s education. These decisions are important but you are not left to face them alone. Commit the path of learning your family will take to prayer. Trust in God to lead you. And keep your eyes focused on Him. “Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee. Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established,” Proverbs 4:25-26.     

 (This article is taken from my book Home Discipleship: Much More than ABC’s and 123’s. To read more visit: www.homediscipleship.net.)

Aaron’s First Audio Drama

ontheairWhat is your favorite evening family past time? One of our favorite things to do is to bring everyone into living room and read great books to the children. Although, I can’t really take credit as Dana does all the reading and I often fall asleep. While it is one of our favorite things to do, I admit that when the children were younger and life was slower that we did this much more often. But even now we still love to gather around a good book as a family, and if we can find a good one, we will on occasion listen to audio dramas during this time.

So, the other day Aaron (my 16 year old) said he was interested in learning about making audio dramas. One of the joys of homeschooling is that we can break from the normal routine to let our children pursue activities of interest. He picked a short chapter called Buried for his first attempt. This is the second book in The Peleg Chronicles by Matthew Christian Harding. We were introduced to this series a few years ago and they quickly became one of our family’s favorites. (You can read my review on the first book here.) Below is the 3 minute result of Aaron’s first attempt (with some help from a good friend).

After you listen to it I’d love to hear what you think.

Read for the Heart

Do you have children that love to read?  We do.  We are a family of readers. When my children were younger I was very specific about what they read.  In fact, unless their father or I had read the book ourselves we did not let them read it.  The reason is simple.  For a Christian, the battle field is often fought in the mind.  Therefore, what we put into our mind has a tremendous influence on our lives and effects our spiritual growth.  (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)

However, we ran into a challenge when our children started out reading us.  Aaron would pick up a book at the library and ask if he could read it.  I would tell him to get the book and his father or I would read it first.  But we got to the point where we couldn’t keep up with him.  So, what is a parent to do? 

We solved the problem for a little while by finding authors we trusted.  We would then let them read anything they had written.  Again, we ran into problems there.  For example, my children love C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series but there we just some of his books we did not wanting the children to read until they were older.

If a parent wants to guard their children’s hearts they must sort through thousands of books to find those that are worthwhile.   There is, however, another option.  You can find a trusted source that has already done the work for you.

Apologia offers the solution.  Read for the Heart by Sarah Clarkson is a trusted guide in children’s literature.  In her book she recommends over 1,000 stories for young people from the classics to modern favorites, picture books to adventure novels, and read aloud favorites.  She shares her heart on reading and informs us of the literacy crisis here in America.

Read for the Heart is a wealth of knowledge.  If you would like more information about the book, visit Apologia to read a sample chapter.  The book cost $17.00.

To see what others are saying about this book, click here.

Disclaimer:  As a member of The Old Schoolhouse 2010-2011 Crew, I received Read for the Heart in exchange for an honest product review.   I do not receive any other form of compensation for the reviews posted on this blog.

Teaching your Child to Read

The other day, my husband and I were talking with a man who was considering homeschooling.  I shared with him that teaching my children to read was one of the greatest blessings I have had as a mother. (That is aside from leading them to a relationship with the Lord.)  Reading is such a foundational part of life.  It has been said that great men are great readers.  I believe that statement.  Reading allows you to go places you’ve never been.  It opens up the world before you.  It inspires, teaches, and motives people to do great things.  Reading allows you to learn from the past and plan for the future.  These are the reasons I teach my children to read. 

However, the most preeminent reason I teach my children how to read is so they can read the Bible.  Can you imagine not being able to read God’s Word?   Did you know that there are people here in American like that?  A few weeks ago we had a lady in our church get saved.  I asked her if she had a Bible.  She said she did but that she could not read it.  My heart broke for her.  How many people can read God’s Word but choose not to?  That was not the case here.  Listen, it’s not that she didn’t want to read her Bible, she couldn’t.  A person cannot spiritually grow without reading the Bible.  So last night our family went to the local bookstore and bought this new believer an MP3 player with the entire Bible loaded on it.

Reading is so important!  

Because we have placed such an emphasis on reading, my older children are excellent readers.  And Andrew is following up behind them nicely.  Recently, we had the opportunity to review Scott Foresman Reading Street for 2nd grade.  Most of you are probably familiar with Scott Foresman.  When the books arrived I was very impressed with the quality of them.  They are sturdy, hardbacks of just under 500 pages.  The books are brightly colored and beautifully illustrated.  Andrew has really enjoyed reading them.  The books have activities, vocabulary words, and thought provoking questions for the student.  For those teaching enthusiasts, there are even websites available (like this one) with additional Reading Street teacher resources like power points, downloads, and links.

Reading Street is offered for pre-K to 6th grade. The 2nd grade books we reviewed (student edition, volume 2.1 and 2.2) cost $86.97.  Or, you can purchase them individually for $43.47 each.  The cost was a little too steep for our family but this was the only downside of these books.

To see for yourself visit their site.

To see what others are saying about Pearson Education click here.

Disclaimer:  As a member of The Old Schoolhouse 2010-2011 Crew, I received these books  in exchange for an honest product review.   I do not receive any other form of compensation for the reviews posted on this blog.

A Must Read…

We are a family of readers.  From the youngest to oldest, we all enjoy good quality books.  Books are like everything else, there are very good ones and very bad ones.  And there are many in between.  Therefore, you cannot be too careful when choosing books.  As believers in Christ, my husband and I try to be diligent in searching out the best things to put into our minds.  It is because we believe that what goes into the mind also goes into the heart. We are told in God’s Word to “keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life”, Proverbs 4:23.

 While we love reading, and I encourage my children to do it often, it needs to be more than just entertainment.  I want them learning.  I want them to be inspired.  I want them to meet men and women in the books they read, of the highest character.  I desire for my boys to be motivated to be brave and strong.  I want them stirred up for greatness, not for self glory but because they are children of the King.  I want my daughter to read of noble ladies of utmost disposition.  I want her to be encouraged in her faith.  And I always desire for our family to be pointed to God in everything we do.  Sometimes it is hard finding such commendable literature.  But sometimes, God just brings it to your door.  That was the case with our family’s newest delight, Foundlings, Book One of The Peleg Chronicles.  It was written by Matthew Christian Harding. 

 In our family, we save the best books to read together.  Dana usually reads one chapter each night before bed.  From the first page our family was captured.

It began:

 “There be dragons.  There be giants.  And God: our maker, our help, and our righteous judge…It was in the days of Peleg, when the world was divided.  After the flood of Noah, after the tower of Babel and the dispersion, when men wondered where they were upon the earth…when beast were more numerous than men – predators in the woods, in the water, and in the air.  But men struggled and fought, carving their place…”

 This book was an absolute pleasure.  After reading to the children five chapters the first night, Dana read ahead and finished Foundlings the following day.  We have already purchased the second book, Paladins, to read to the children.

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 There are too many heroes in this book to count.  But in my opinion the biggest is the author.  He is committed to produce the highest quality of Christian fiction without evolution or humanism. There is no magic and no compromise.  Matthew Christian Harding is dedicated to the Word of God and has even enclosing the Gospel at the end of his book.  More than an entertainer, Harding is a servant of the God of Noah and has been given a great ministry. 

Foundlings can be purchased from Zoe and Sozo Publishers for $11.95.  To see what others are saying click here.

Disclaimer:  As a member of The Old Schoolhouse 2010-2011 Crew, I received Foundlings free of charge in exchange for an honest product review.   I do not receive any other form of compensation for the reviews posted on this blog.