The giddiness of families making educational choices for next year has begun! It is exciting to head to the NC Thrive! Conference and see all the bright shiny new choices. It’s like Christmas to flip through a catalogue or browse an online market full of books and perfect curriculum choices.

But with so many good options out there, how do we know what is best for our family? Do you ever get stymied by indecision? Do you come in like Franck in Father of the Bride and say, “Let’s change everything”? Do you blow your budget buying all the things that only sit collecting dust on your shelf the following year?

Here are four questions I suggest you ask yourself before you begin buying all the books at the conference center!

1. What kind of human would I like to raise?

Before you consider any academic goals, it is helpful to look at the big picture: at the end of the day, what kind of person do you want your child to be? Try listing five non-academic specific traits. Here are some ideas to get you started: honest, kind, creative, persistent, hard-working, diligent, peaceful, empathetic, funny, joyful, loving, self-motivated, curious, lover of God’s Word, servant, leader, one who prays, self-controlled, bold, faithful, or friend.

All of these are good things, and I could keep listing even more qualities I hope characterize my grown children one day. It can be helpful to think about your own family’s top priorities. Keep this list of curated traits before your mind the entire time you are choosing curriculum and making choices for next school year. If you are visual, you might literally write them in big letters at the top of your planning brainstorm sheet, tape them on a piece of paper on the wall above your desk, or even carry them on a 3x5 card as you walk through the book fair. I’m an external processor, so this step often involves me sharing lots and lots of words out loud with my very patient husband.

At the very least, before you begin any period of planning, purposefully think about what kind of person you hope (by God’s grace) leaves your home when the school years are through. The list you curate also gives you an ideal way to pray purposefully with and for your children, not just during planning season, but all though the year! After-all, fruit is always the work of the Spirit!

Education is not about producing children whose minds have been filled up with a certain amount of knowledge and facts. As home educators, especially, we are able to plan our academic year with the whole person in mind.

2. What has worked really well this year?

So often I have heard a fellow homeschool mom talk about choosing new stuff for the upcoming school year, even though what they have been using in certain subjects has been working out great already. Some of our personalities veer more this way than others; we long for a change, something new, something exciting.

Let me caution you—if something is already working well for your children and your family, change for the sake of change is probably not a good choice. Faithful consistency is our best friend in this marathon. There are enough areas of challenge that may require a change; don’t throw a new math curriculum in there if your children are already enjoying the program they have.

How do you know what has worked well? Here are some questions to ponder:

  • What books have your children been most excited to use this school year?
  • Which programs have produced the fewest tears? (Remember, just because something was occasionally hard doesn’t mean it wasn’t working.)
  • What have you observed your children talking about outside of school hours or incorporating in their play?

Also, don’t forget to consider what has been enjoyable for you as the teacher! Has there been something that has made your life easier or been exciting for you to pull off the shelf? Teachers are people, too! Ask your children for their perspective directly, as well.

3. What has not worked well this year?

Is there something you never got around to using because you or the children didn’t like it? Maybe it was good in theory but not in reality. Is there a curriculum that always led to tears or confusion? Did you find yourself having to re-teach a subject because the textbook was unclear?

Did you put too many things on your daily checklist? Too few? Sometimes, we make things too hard for ourselves and our children. Sometimes, they may be bored, because we haven’t challenged them sufficiently.

What do you most regret not getting to regularly this year? Is this something you would like to prioritize for next year, or do you need to accept that it is not feasible in this season of your life?

Ask your children: what is something you would like to see change? If you could eliminate one subject from school, what would it be? (Now, obviously, you can’t just stop math or reading, but maybe this warning sign points to a subject whose materials could use a little shake-up or creative supplementation!)

4. At the end of next school year, I will feel successful if _______.

How would you complete this sentence? There is not a right or wrong answer. Would you feel successful if your child has mastered their addition facts? If you have spent thirty minutes a day reading aloud as a family most of the time? If you have gone outside every day? If you’ve seen healing in a difficult family relationship? If you have kept a consistent morning routine? If you have incorporated more hands-on learning?

The answer was probably not “I will feel successful if we finished all of the workbooks.” Maybe it was. (If so, to quote Princess Bride, “get used to disappointment.”) If you can figure out what would truly make you, the teacher, and you, the mother, feel successful, it will help you make wise choices about how to fill your time and planning sheets for next year.

It has been surprisingly helpful to see how sometimes what looks like success to me is not exactly the same as it is for my husband. By discussing this question and analyzing our similar-but-different end-goals, we are able to craft a united vision for our family.

Start with the big picture.

We’re all familiar with the priorities word picture: put big rocks in the jar first, then the small pebbles, next the sand, and finally the water. If you fill the jar with water first, there is no room for anything else. In the same way, answering these big picture questions now ensure that you fill the jar of your education and curriculum planning with the big rocks of your family’s priorities first.

Don’t choose another family’s priority-rocks; purposefully choose your own. You don’t want to get to the end of the year full of discouragement because your days always seemed full, but you never quite got around to what was important to your own family!

I am convinced that if we skip the philosophical foundation and head straight to choosing a science textbook, we are not setting ourselves up for success. Take some time to pray and think through these questions. Journal, discuss them with your spouse, and talk with your children. Pray some more. Process some more.

You just may find that planning and purchasing your curriculum for next year will now proceed with a lot more focus and peace!

Amy Sloan and her husband are second-generation homeschoolers by grace alone to five children ages three to thirteen. They adventure in Holly Springs, NC. This article was originally published on her blog at www.humilityanddoxology.wordpress.com.