Spring 2019 / by T.K. Chapman
Ah, spring! The trees are budding, the flowers are blooming, and the birds and bugs are emerging. Homeschool catalogs appearing in your mailbox. An unmistakable freshness and newness permeates the air. It’s the time of year when many homeschool families begin selecting (or at least thinking about) the next school year’s curriculum. Maybe you use one curriculum/company, so your decisions are minimal, or maybe you’re a smorgasbord-schooler, treating catalogs and websites like a big ol’ education buffet. (This being my preferred method.) Regardless of your situation, how do you go about this process without going crazy? Here’s where the five Ps of picking curriculum can help.
This is the most important and most easily neglected part of the process. We’re all pretty good at the desperate, “Dear-Lord-how-can-I-teach-this-child-math” type of prayer, but less than diligent when it comes to regular and specific prayer for curriculum choices. Why is this? I can only speak for myself, but what I’ve learned about my own lack of prayer is that it is usually accompanied by a surplus of pride. I don’t pray, because I fail to see my need for help in an area. Lack of prayer is my silent, “I’ve got this, God. Catch up with You later.” But the God who led you to homeschool is there to guide you through each step of the process. He knows your family better than you—every strength, weakness, ability, disability, personality, need, and future need—so that when it comes to making decisions, there is no better source of wisdom.
If we’re convinced of the need for prayer in this area, for what, exactly, should we be praying? I’m sure you can think of more, but here are three good starting points.
- Ask for insight into each child’s learning style and needs.
- Request help in finding needed and appropriate material.
- Pray for wisdom in making decisions.
I confess. I love looking at homeschool curriculum, so each time a catalog arrives in the mailbox, my heart skips a beat, and I spend the next few days (okay, weeks) totally absorbed. I have no problem poring over page after page of products. Maybe you can relate, or maybe you lay aside those catalogs and scan through those websites doing your best to avoid deciding. Somewhere between the extremes of obsession and avoidance lies a better path. That better path is called planning.
Planning is simply sketching out what materials you will need for the upcoming year. If you use a packaged curriculum, you may only need to choose between a couple of pre-selected items in a subject area like math or language arts. Or maybe core subjects are decided, but electives are all up to you.
Whatever your situation, the first part of planning is sorting out what subjects you need/want to cover. (For help with this, check out the article “What to Teach When” in the Fall 2018 edition of GREENHOUSE.) The next part involves finding the curriculum to fill all those subject slots, which brings us to step three: perusing.
Though there can be overlap within these steps, planning before perusing can save you time and money. When you have a plan, you can peruse with purpose. Knowing what you need and want narrows down choices, allowing you to skip over entire sections of catalogs and websites.
So, you’re praying for insight and direction. You’ve sketched out a plan. Now what? Since a giant scroll probably won’t drop from heaven, now is the time to peruse what’s available. Perhaps, you’ve heard the illustration about God providing food for the birds but requiring them to get out and look for the worms. The same principle can apply to homeschoolers on the hunt for curriculum.
With your plan in hand, start scouring those catalogs and websites. You’ll quickly discover that different companies organize these in different ways, such as by grade level, subject, or homeschool method. Use this to your advantage as much as possible. If you have only elementary-aged children, there’s no need to wade through high school electives. If you’re Charlotte Mason all the way, you can skim right past the workbook sets.
When it comes to narrowing things down by learning style, the search can get a bit trickier. Not every company allows you to search for products by learning style and several products themselves don’t advertise as being learning style specific. This is where you will need to dig deeper by visiting a product publisher’s website directly and reading product reviews by fellow homeschooling families. You may find that what, at first glance, appears to be just a textbook has an optional audio version and a supplemental workbook filled with lots of hands-on activities, making it a viable option for your auditory or kinesthetic learner.
Once you start finding potential curriculum products, you’ll need some method of tracking them. This can be as simple as bookmarking catalog or web pages, or you can go all out with elaborate pro/con lists and such. Just be sure you do track your favorites, because it’s very disheartening to have to search through each previously viewed page to find the name of a great product you can’t remember. After you’ve located a few curriculum candidates for your needed subjects, it’s time to move to step four.
This step is as simple as it sounds, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy! Now is the time to make your final selections. If you’ve narrowed down your options but are having a hard time choosing among two or three good products, don’t fret. It’s likely that all your options are good ones, which means you’re not making a right or wrong choice. Much stress can be eliminated with this realization. If you’ve prayed through the process and chosen curriculum options in line with your children’s learning styles, don’t agonize at this point. Just pick and proceed to step five.
- Put It All Away
I have great difficulty with this step—putting away the catalogs and lists. As I mentioned before, my penchant for planning is obsessive. I am ready to plan the next year’s curriculum as soon as I have the current year’s figured out. I am also ready to reassess all options at the tiniest hint of difficulty with any of the choices I had made. My thoughts go something like this: Oh no! I’ve chosen the WRONG curriculum. This whole year is down the drain. What am I going to do?
Here’s what I do: I make a beeline for those bookmarked pages and curriculum lists I had compiled (which, to be honest, had never been out of eyeshot anyway). It takes some time for me to learn that not every problem requires a change in curriculum. Fears that you are ruining a child’s education or whole future with one less than ideal curriculum product are unfounded. Constantly reassessing material distracts you from the primary task of teaching. While there may be times when it’s necessary to make a change midstream, most often it’s best to put those catalogs and lists out of sight and out of mind and commit wholeheartedly to working with the curriculum plan you have in place.
The prospect of picking curriculum can loom large for homeschooling families, but a simple method that breaks the process into manageable steps can keep you from feeling overwhelmed by the task. Having prayed and planned, you can peruse and pick with confidence. Then, you can put it all away and move on to enjoying a new school year with your children.