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Homeschooling: Choosing the curriculum

34 Whether you're a brand-new homeschooler or you've been doing this for years, curriculum is always something you'll be thinking about. For many moms, it's a lot of fun to look at. Area conventions and book fairs are an exciting time in the life of a homeschool mom.

But at some point, after thumbing through colorful catalogs, surfing the web, and strolling the aisles at the book fair, you finally need to make some decisions. With the mind-numbing amount of choices out there, where do you begin?

There are several things to consider, and many ways to get recommendations. The age (and even gender) of a child is important to consider, as well as their learning style. The parent's teaching style is also important. Then you need to factor in things like family size (how much one-on-one time do you have with each student?), family schedule, and even budget.

Before you go any further remember: there is no perfect curriculum. Don't let anyone tell you there is! There are many, many great choices, but there is no right or wrong choice. The curriuclum that is doing wonders for your best friend's children may be a disaster at your house.

So, here are some ways to explore the different options available:

Decide on your goals This is the number one way to start any homeschool venture. Sit down with your spouse and talk about why you are homeschooling in the first place. You may already know in your head, but it helps to talk it out and even write it down. When you know the why, you are better able to set goals. Certain goals may direct you to particular curriculums.

If you've removed a child from school because of learning problems, then your focus might be to address those problems. You'll likely want to choose a curriculum that is strong in your child's weak area.

If you're starting your children at home from the very beginning, and your goal is to be their only teacher, you will have a broader focus, and can concentrate on things like strong academics, strong morals, good books, or lots of family time.

These are just a couple of the numerous reasons for homeschooling. You can ready why we homeschool here.

Ask your friends Start by asking your homeschool friends. Ask if you can actually look at their materials. It's so much better to see it in person than just online. Ask how much time the parent spends in preparation, or how much time the child spends completing the work. Ask why they like it, and ask them to be honest about what they don't like. How easy is it to buy used versions of this? Ask your friend if they would purchase it again?

Our local homeschool support group recently had a Curriculum Show and Tell, where many moms gathered and took turns sharing what they use, why they like it, and what they might change about it. Everyone had a chance to ask questions and look the books over. It was a great way to get some insight into programs that we might not have heard of, or might not have considered. Hearing from real moms who use the programs (instead of just the salespeople who are trying to make another sale) really made a difference. You might consider getting a group of families together to do the same.

Ask your friend's kids Yep. It's good to hear from the actual students how great a curriculum is! I recommend Math-U-See a lot because not only do I like it, but my kids also like it! And they don't mind telling others. I've let people come over and flip through the books, and I'll show them the DVD and demonstrate the manipulatives. Sometimes they love it, and sometimes they decide it's not for them. It's better to find that out before you buy!

Check your budget If you have a tight budget, that will narrow down your choices for you. Then, based on what's affordable for your family, you can choose from the remaining options. Don't worry that your child is missing out on the most expensive options out there. Expensive certainly doesn't mean better, and it doesn't make smarter children! It usally just means there is more 'stuff' provided, or glossier, more colorful workbooks.

Decide on your family's schedule Is your family large or small? Will you have school 5 days a week, or just 3 or 4? Will you school year-round, or follow a September-May schedule? These are things that should be considered. These are also things that may change over the years, but it's good to take a look at them as you're choosing a curriculum.

When you do choose, don't let the book be your boss. For instance, if you choose a curriculum that lays out a schedule for you (and they typically lay out a standard Sept-May schedule) don't feel that you have to do your work on the exact day the books states! Just check off the work as you go, and let it be your guide. Otherwise, you will feel 'behind' and guilty all the time because you're not doing Tuesday's work on Tuesday, or you're working on February work in April. Remember: it's a helpful guideline, but it's not the gospel!

Let your children have a voice This does not mean that you should let kids pick their own curriculum. But, if you've narrowed it down to a couple of good choices, it is sometimes worth letting the kids look the choices over to see what appeals to them. I've done this on limited occasions, because it makes the kids more excited about their lessons.

Be flexible Once you've made a decision on curriculum, you will likely be very excited to get started. But what if you begin working through it with your children and you come to the realization that this just does not fit? Be flexible enough to find something else. Now, I don't mean that you should give up after a week or two! But give it enough time to know if the problem is the child or the books. Sometimes it's just a behavior problem, and no curriculum will fix that for you. You will have to address the behavior at some point, and sooner is SO much better than later! However, you will know if it's a curriculum problem, and it's okay to be willing to change to something else.

I've switched curriculum right in the middle before. One grammar book in particular made my daughter cry almost daily. It wasn't worth it to me, so we switched. The change was instant, and we never went back to that type of book. There are other times, though, when I can tell that the child just doesn't want to do their work today, and it's not any fault of the book we're using. I just remind them that learning is their job right now, and it is a requirement in our home. Then I turn my back and expect the work to get done. (If I don't let the dialogue continue, they usually just get right back to work.)

Sometimes you may have to change because the wonderful curriculum you thought was going to be fun, turns out to be a lot of prep work for mom. I've encountered this before, and if I didn't have time to do the prep work, then the rest of it never got done either. No matter how great a program is (or how smart it will make your kids, or how popular it is with the rest of the homeschool world) if it's not practical for you, there's no point in driving yourself crazy over it! Sell what remains, and find a better fit.

My final thought on flexibility is this: realize that what you're using now may not work next year, or may not work for a younger sibling in years to come. Children are different, and the spelling book that your daughter LOVES may be torture for your son next year. That's okay. There are so many options available. Give something else a try!

So, here's what we are using right now:

Sonlight Core 4 for all the kids
Five in a Row for the two little kids (ages 2 and 4)
Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons (age 4)
Math-U-See (for the three oldest kids)
Life of Fred math (for the 13 year old)
Queen Homeschooling grammar (for the 9 year old)
Word Roots Software (for the 13 year old)
Answers in Genesis Biology (for the 13 year old)

You can find links for most of these on the right side of this blog for more information.

Happy shopping, and happy learning!

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