This is the time of year when I am cleaning out my bookshelves and making decisions on curriculum for next year. I have questions I've learned to ask myself before I choose new curriculum and I realized that they could be helpful to you. I'm looking forward to sharing them in a bit, but first I would love to have you join me at Homeschool Sanity on Facebook. I love sharing articles, entertaining photos, and engaging questions there.
Teaching Tip of the Week
As you probably know, I've written an elementary language arts curriculum called Grammar Galaxy that includes writing. But I only have the level targeted to second grade completed and my own kids were 4th grade and up this year. I also teach writing in my homeschool co-op and I needed something that I thought would work for multiple grades. While I've used a number of writing curricula that I've enjoyed, I have to say that what I used last year has been my favorite–so much so that I became an affiliate. It's WriteShop. It's a straightforward way of teaching multiple types of writing. The assignments are short and specific grading rubrics are included. I used WriteShop I with 6th through 10th graders. The 10th graders felt it was too easy for them, so I allowed them to write much longer pieces. As a result, I saw them write some of their best work. Every student's writing improved significantly and everyone received an A in the class because of how the assignments are structured. Students are given multiple opportunities to correct and improve their work, so an A for everyone is legitimate. You do not have to teach multiple students to use WriteShop and as with every curriculum, you can modify assignments for your child. For example, while I think the inclusion of certain writing techniques (such as an opening adverb) is a good practice in general, I relaxed the requirement when it negatively affected a student's work. I highly recommend that you take a look at WriteShop for your writing curriculum this fall.
Organized Homeschool Challenge of the Week
Questions You Should Ask When Choosing Curriculum
The questions I ask myself about curriculum apply whether I'm buying it or using something for free. As I discussed in the Curriculum Addiction podcast episode, curriculum that we commit ourselves to using takes our time, space, and energy. I realized that having these questions as a checklist would really be helpful to me, so I created one for you.
Click Here for the Checklist
#1 Do I really need this curriculum?
One thing I've learned over the past 17 years of homeschooling is that I don't need as much curriculum as I think I do. I have wrongly believed I need more curriculum because:
I assume there's always a better curriculum than the one I'm currently using, even if what we're doing is working. If you and your kids don't hate a curriculum, do yourself a favor and stick with it. Yes, you may find new curriculum that has a characteristic you like, but I guarantee you will find something about it you don't like. There really isn't a perfect curriculum.
Likewise, I have often assumed I need to add additional curriculum to teach the same subject. What typically happens is that I don't end up using it anyway. I also end up confusing my kids. The simpler we keep things, the saner our homeschools will be.
Finally, I have often purchased curriculum to teach extra subjects I felt I should be teaching: computer programming, calligraphy, current events. These are all valuable subjects to teach, but if it's challenging to fit my core subjects in, I shouldn't be purchasing curriculum that will make me feel like I'm not doing enough.
If I ask myself whether I really need this curriculum and the answer is yes, I ask myself question #2 which is:
#2 Does this curriculum fit my schedule?
Curriculum, no matter how excellent, that suggests by its own teaching schedule or breadth of content that it will take me five days a week or most of my day will not work for us. I have told myself that I can teach longer hours for the sake of using an excellent comprehensive curriculum, for example. But experience tells me that my resolve will disappear quickly when the realities of the school year become apparent.
When I ask myself this question, I don't ask whether a curriculum fits my ideal schedule, but my real-life schedule. I have to find curriculum that requires less of my teaching time and provides more independent learning time. But my own schedule is not all that I consider; I consider my students' schedules as well. I have a child who does not do well with an hour of math problems, for example. My high school student will be working and taking a dual enrollment class or two in the fall. I do not want to give him curriculum that is very time-intensive. If your schedule is more open, you'll still want to consider your and your child's energy levels throughout the day.
If I love the curriculum, but it looks to be too time-consuming, I ask myself whether I can easily modify it without taking away from the best part of it. Often times I can. I talked about this in the episode on How to Homeschool in Less Time, but do remember that you can choose not to use aspects of a curriculum. It's why we homeschool. We know what will work best for our kids.
Once I've determined that a curriculum will fit our schedules, I ask myself:
#3 Does this curriculum fit our style?
Even before I knew much about learning or homeschool styles, I knew that we love to read. Love it! Most, if not all, my children seem to learn best through reading. So when I looked at a comprehensive reading-based curriculum early in my homeschooling, I was really excited. But I didn't buy it. First, I was very concerned about the time commitment. I didn't think it would fit our schedule. But more than that, I realized that it didn't truly fit our style. My kids love to read, but even more than that they love to DO things. They love hands-on, gamified, group learning. Hours of reading would turn our homeschool into something they didn't enjoy. So I chose a unit study curriculum that incorporated reading and fun activities.
Even now I find myself attracted to homeschooling approaches that incorporate a lot of nature study. In my desire to be a nature-study kind of homeschooler, I've wasted money on books and curriculum that have gone unused. No matter how much I'd like to be a certain type of homeschooler, I'm left with the reality of who I am. The best predictor of your future homeschooling approach is your past homeschooling approach. It's much better for me to incorporate nature study into our co-op, which I know works.
I ask myself about style with respect to my children's individual curriculum, too. My oldest son was an obsessive reader, so I thought he would love Life of Fred Math and he did. My second son was also an avid reader and I thought he would like it, too. It was a no-go for him until he was further along in high school and wanted to return to it. This is why asking your kids what they think of a curriculum is so important, especially as they mature. If the curriculum you're considering provides a sample, have your child give it a try.
But there's another key question I ask with regard to curriculum fitting our style and it's this: Will this curriculum be enjoyable weeks and months from now? Most of my kids and I prefer a lot of variety in our studies. I purchased a curriculum for my oldest son years ago that was highly individual and encouraged research. That proved to be very rewarding at first. But after weeks of doing exactly the same things, he hated it and I didn't blame him at all. When I see a curriculum that doesn't vary, I know it won't be a good fit, no matter how good it is. Other students would thrive with that kind of consistency.
If I'm still sold on a curriculum I ask myself:
#4 Does this curriculum fit our budget?
Honestly, I don't have a set amount I spend on curriculum each year, but money still matters. I've been tempted to spend a lot of money on curriculum for extras that I don't need. My advice is to stick to your budget, spending more for quality core curriculum that saves you time. If you don't have much to spend on curriculum, you can take advantage of free curriculum online, borrow curriculum, or buy used. If you do have more flexibility in your budget, consider spending more for the best curriculum for your family for math, language arts, and science.
I've been tempted to spend a lot of money on geography curriculum. But I've realized that because geography isn't vitally important to my family or my family's mission, I can't justify the expense. Likewise, I haven't been able to justify the added expense of online reference memberships when we have so many books at home and free resources online.
However, I do consider my time. I could create my own science curriculum using free resources. But I can't justify spending the time it would take to do that when it likely wouldn't be as well done as what I'm using. I do have a post on the best homeschool science curriculum if you're looking at that now. I also consider how much time it will take me to make copies of digital resources. For me, it often makes more sense to just buy a printed workbook. You'll have to determine what makes the best use of your time and money. Finally, I ask myself:
#5 Do other families like mine recommend this curriculum?
I rely on reviews for everything, but I don't just look at stars. I dig deeper and read comments, looking for families with similar styles, schedules, and budgets. For example, if I had any concerns that a curriculum would take too much of my time and found a review where a mom with many children just couldn't keep up with it, that would help me decide. Likewise if a family like mine reviewed a more expensive curriculum and wrote that it was worth every penny because her family loved it so much, that would also weigh heavily.
I do like to look at Cathy Duffy's review and Rainbow Resources' review as well as Amazon reviews. Then I like to Google for reviews. If you're still not sure, I recommend asking on online forums or your local support group. You may find someone locally who would offer to let you look at the curriculum and answer more questions.
Today's actions steps are to check out WriteShop and ask yourself the following questions when considering a curriculum: 1) Do I really need this curriculum? As I consider how to incorporate minimalism into my homeschooling, that's a question I'll be focusing on. 2) Does this curriculum fit my schedule? In my life, shorter lessons are always better. 3) Does this curriculum fit our style? After 17 years of homeschooling, I can't fool myself about what my style actually is. We won't be doing daily nature study this year. 4) Does this curriculum fit our budget? No matter how fantastic it is, I won't be spending hundreds on geography curriculum. 5) Do other families like mine recommend this curriculum? You're always welcome to ask about curriculum on the Homeschool Sanity Facebook page and in our HomeschoolScopes.TV group.
If you know a new homeschooler or someone who is trying to decide on curriculum, please share this podcast with them. If they're not a podcast listener, they can also find the complete transcript in the show notes.
Have a happy homeschool week!