Saturday, April 14, 2012

Your Homeschool Curriculum Discovery Path

This is a continuation of another post in which I discussed my path of curriculum choices (and how I became a curriculum junkie). For some people, starting out in homeschooling is overwhelming by the sheer number of curriculum choices available, never mind the matter of taking on your children's education! For me the thrill of the hunt made it a little less so, and I was young and enthusiastic. Today I want to give some of you who may be thinking about or just starting out with homeschooling some ideas for finding a good curriculum fit.

These are some questions to ask about yourself:
--Are you energetic or more low key?
--Are you self-driven and motivated to stay on task, or do you require accountability?
--Do you like to have things orderly and scheduled or do you enjoy spontaneity?
--What is your curriculum budget?
--How many children and at what stages will you be homeschooling?
--Is your focus the type of education they will receive or the lifestyle of learning in the home?
--How will your family dynamic affect your homeschool experience, schedules, activities, etc?
--Do you have a lot of time and the desire for planning?
--Does your religious affiliation play a part in what you will choose?

Some questions to ask about your children:
--Are they high energy or content to be still for long periods of time?
--Do they remember things better by hearing or seeing?
--Do they welcome the chance to do arts and crafts or would they rather skip the glue and scissors?
--Are they self-driven and focused or do they require continuous reminders to complete tasks?

Some of these questions you will be able to answer about yourself and your children before you look for curriculum, and others you may not be able to answer until you have begun your homeschooling journey. But it's a place to start.

If you like things be to organized and scheduled, but do not have the time or desire to do planning yourself, then you will want to look for a curricula or companies that do the planning for you with laid out weekly schedules for the entire year. This certainly makes life easier for the homeschooling mom, but does not offer as much flexibility. These curricula can also be cost prohibitive because of their all-inclusiveness. They are good at keeping you on task, especially if you choose a computer-based or on-line curriculum. These planned out curricula might be by individual grade level and they might be for multi-age teaching.

Do you like the idea of traditional workbooks and textbooks, or do you want to use the whole book approach where learning is done by discovering the world through well written pieces of literature on the subjects at hand? There are many companies that sell complete curricula based on their textbooks, and others who plan entire year's studies based on novels and non-fiction works of science and nature.

Do you want to spend time discovering and learning with your child or do you prefer to walk along side as a support as he learns? If you are into learning and discovering, you may enjoy the Charlotte Mason style of learning or the unit study approach. These are very laid back, hand-on, and discovery oriented. I think this is a wonderful style of learning to try out when they are young because you will quickly see the things that they enjoy because they are exposed to such a wide variety of subjects. You may find that you son dislikes coloring but loves to learn about the things found in nature. You may discover that your daughter is not interested in knowing how something works, but she would paint all day if you let her. There are many preplanned curricula available in these styles of learning, but they can also be accomplished by your own creative planning.

Begin your hunt by asking yourself these questions, and giving yourself realistic answers.The first year is not the year to be overly ambitious, whether you are starting in Kindergarten or 5th Grade. Make a list of must-haves, wants, and maybes.


Must Haves
Biblical Worldview
Preplanned Lessons
Multi-Age Teaching

Printable Worksheets
Chronological History Study
Hand-on Science

Includes Art and Music
Computer Based

You see where I am going. So start with your list. Go on-line or to a curriculum store or convention, or raid another homeschool family's book library. You can quickly eliminate some by your must-haves list. Remember to make your list as realistic as possible, considering your personality (and your children's), your lifestyle, and your budget. This list may change after your first year of homeschooling. You may discover that you are more or less organized than you thought, or maybe your child's learning style does not mesh with what you chose. And there are several books out there on discovering your child's learning style.

After your initial eliminations, make a list of the curricula that appeal to you. Make pros and cons charts based on your other lists. Which of the ones you like meets the most number of your criteria?Being systematic about this may save you a great deal of frustration and money. If you dive into it with nothing but passion and the recommendations of a few friends, you may find yourself quickly worn out and doubting yourself.

Now you have scoured the Internet for the best deals on the curriculum you think you want and the last criteria will be the budget test. Maybe you have gone a little crazy and forgotten about the budget. Prepare your list in Excel or with a pen and paper or calculator. Make it neat if you are submitting it to the Principal! You may have to trim the fat, so to speak, and let go of a few maybe and wants. You may decide to start over and maybe find something better!

Now I will tell you about some of the curricula we have used and how they worked for our family.

Unit Studies:

Weaver: Very teacher intensive, I did not like the grammar or spelling part of this program.

KONOS Wonderful! Great for large families and mulit-age teaching. Utilizes whole books and timelines. Includes a whole lot of project ideas. History is not taught chronologically, but really the sequence is up to you. Using this does require access to a library and some amount of discipline to get your planning done and follow through on projects.

Lapbooks: Lapbooks can be utilized for any subject studied and are great for students who love to cut and paste. For students who do not, it is a time-waster and a drudgery! Free and For purchase lapbooking materials can be found all over the Internet!


Veritas Press: Classical, Chronological, Too labor intensive for us, and not interesting enough for younger ages, expensive.

Story of the World: Classical, Chronological, Casual reading together learning style with worksheet activities available and audio available (great for audible learners). We enjoyed this for many years, but eventually decided to look for a history with more of a Biblical worldview.

Mystery of History: Chronological, Conversational style learning, built-in activities, audio lessons available, nice recommendations for altering lesson plans for your school week, Biblical worldview.
This is what I continue to use with my middle son and he loves it.

Ray Notgrass Exploring World History: High school, a combination of history, literature, and Bible. Well-written, easy to follow self study. I like it as a parent, my son would have liked a deeper study into subjects (but you can only go so deep when covering world history in one year).

Starting Points Cornerstone Curriculum: An excellent curriculum for Jr./Sr. high includes history, literature and worldview, very pricey unless you can find the books used. This is a deep thinking curriculum.


Modern Curriculum Press: Standard workbook graded curriculum, just plain ole math, works fine!

Saxon: Very thorough, repetitious, many people swear by it. We used Saxon successfully, but not happily for about 5 years with my OS. Then we began hunting for other math curricula and it was a battle. MS's learning style did not mesh with Saxon, and we eventually abandoned it altogether.

Mastering Mathematics: A systematic approach covering math subjects one at a time rather than bits and pieces over the years. I enjoyed using this with MS because the daily lessons are short and good for short attention spans. Hands-on manipulatives are included. Some teacher prep and organization is required to include extra learning not taught in the main worksheets, like time, money, etc.

Life of Fred: Another systematic subject approach, inexpensive textbook style, written as a story, all life application of learning concepts. We have enjoyed these books for the past few years for both ages. They are a little better suited to self-learners (in the upper levels), but very much worth looking at!

Science: All from a Christian Worldview

Christian Kids Explore Series An easy to utilize curriculum that includes memory reinforcement and easy to do activities, also written in a conversational tone, black and white paper bound.

Apologia Elementary Series: We really enjoy these and are still using them. Well-written in a conversational tone with hands-on experiments to do with mostly household items, full color, hardcover textbooks. Also available are lapbooking kits and spiral-bound notebook journals to go along with them.

Apologia High School Series: Advanced Science courses including experiments for lab (but lab supplies must be purchased separately), well-written, will prepare your students for college, CD and CD-Rom companions are available.

Language Arts:
Language arts is a big subject because it include spelling, reading and writing, which can all be taught separately or together. I will only list a few we have use here, because we have tried ALOT!

Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons: It either works or it doesn't, it worked for my OS but not for MS.

Veritas Phonics: We used this expensive phonics program because we were able to buy it used from a friend. MS did learn to read, but I wouldn't choose it again. It utilizes, songs, games, readers that are included, flashcards, the whole shebang. Some people love it--as with all curricula.

Complete Programs:

LLATL:We only did this for one year, but enjoyed it. Literature based study which included spelling, grammar, writing, and lesson plans to go with several works of fiction, non-fiction and poetry as well as studies in journalism.

Total Language Plus:Similar to LLATL but done in a workbook style for one book at a time. An advantage of these is that you can choose the individual books at your student's levels, and I really prefer the format of these over LLATL. We still use these to cover 3-4 novels per year. One disadvantage, not a lot of grammar. You may want to do a formal grammar study before (or during) utilizing these.

I've used too many spelling programs to mention, and I discovered that I prefer spelling to be integrated into the language arts. We tried all of these and never saw a marked improvement in a subject that continues to be difficult for my boys.

Spelling Workout
Sequential Spelling
The Natural Speller
Spelling Power

Shurley Grammar: The only grammar program I enjoyed using, utilizes jingles to learn rules, and works! Very structured.

Writing has always been a sore subject for my boys and I. It wasn't until we joined a co-op and experience IEW that writing became less burdensome. It is very structured and expensive. We are thankful to have the opportunity to experience this class in a co-op setting.

Zaner Bloser: An adequate, classic hand-writing workbook approach.

Teaching Cursive: An effective program that is completed in 50 or so days, worked well with my MS.

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