Sunday, January 1, 2017

How We Choose Curriculum

How We Choose Curriculum

I haven't participated in the Virtual Curriculum Fair in awhile, but I decided to jump in again this year since it's always fun and refreshing to get ideas from fellow homeschoolers.  The Virtual Curriculum Fair is hosted by Homeschooling Hearts and Minds, and is a way for homeschool bloggers to come together and share ideas, inspiration and the "nitty gritty" of homeschooling.  The VCF will be a five week series, and each week we're going to give you a peek into our homeschool.  Since we all have unique homeschooling styles, you will see many different perspectives on the same topic, so I encourage you to visit everyone who is participating and peek into their minds and homeschool!

The first week's theme is See How We Learn/Welcome to the Fair!

I always share what curriculum we're using each year, and usually the why, but I don't think I've ever really shared how I choose the curriculum.  So that's what I'm going to do this week.  I'm going to share my process for narrowing down curriculum choices for my family.

The first thing I do is evaluate how things went the previous year--do we like what we used?  Was it easy for me to implement?  Did the kids look forward to that subject or groan when I pull out the books?  Do we need to change?  If we need to change . . . why?  Was it tedious for me?  Did the kids complain because it was boring or didn't meet their learning styles?  Knowing why we want to change can help me focus on what type of curriculum might be a better fit.

Identify Your Philosophy/Method
Research different methods and decide which one is most consistent with how you want your children to learn and your overall goals for their education.  As your children's needs evolve, and your teaching style evolves, you might find that the reason your previous curriculum isn't working is simply because your philosophy has changed.  Changing your "method" or becoming more eclectic is normal, and often a necessary part of the homeschooling process.

We've always been literature-based.  There is just something so simple and satisfying about learning through real books, so I tend to prefer curriculum that is based on, or at least compatible with Charlotte Mason's philosophies.  There are so many different methods though, and you might find that Classical or Unschooling or another method works best for you and your children.  Just don't be a slave to any one method simply because you identified with it first, or because it's what all your homeschool friends follow.  It's okay to be different.  If you identify with different aspects of different methods, it's okay to be eclectic and pull out the best of each method in order to make your learning environment true to your family.  

The Different Ways to Homeschool
Five Homeschooling Styles
Quiz:  What Kind of Homeschooler Are You?

Sometimes there is not much research required, because we stick with a curriculum we love.  When changing things up though, it's important to research using a few key ideas.  Look at samples and read reviews to make sure it's the direction you want to take.
  • Homeschooling Method - I usually start by googling something like "Charlotte Mason curriculum for SUBJECT" or "living books history program" because that's my style.  It must be compatible with our relaxed, Charlotte Mason inspired, living-books approach.  Otherwise I'm setting us all up for failure.  {That's not to say it has to be pure CM in approach, because I'm flexible and eclectic, if I'm being honest...but it needs to mesh well with her general philosophies.}
  • Teaching Style/Prep Time - I tend to prefer teacher's manuals that are casual and give ideas and suggestions, but aren't scripted and/or full of prep work.  I don't mind occasional prep work, but I don't want tons of copying, organizing, making props or gathering obscure supplies for projects or experiments.  You might like detailed schedules and verbatim lesson plans, and you might enjoy the prep and planning, and that's okay.  Find what works best and doesn't overwhelm you.  I'll stick with the relaxed manuals!
  • Learning Styles - It is important to take the learning styles of your children into consideration. Are they a visual learner?  They might like video based learning.  Do they love crafty/hands-on projects?  Find programs with lots of art projects and experiments.  Use a living book program for your bookworms.  You want to find something that meets their needs too, not just yours.  Ask me how I know.
  • Family Dynamics - If you have an only, this isn't likely to be an issue, but families with multiple school-age children must find a balance.  I like to do unit studies and use living books because it allows me to do multiple subjects together as a family.  My kids do individual language arts and math, but we do Science, History, Bible, Art, etc together.  It keeps my prep work down, and my kids still prefer to work together anyway.  If you have multiple kids that need "their own" work, you might consider programs that allow more independent study or self-directed learning in order to help you split your time appropriately between children.

The Old Schoolhouse Reviews
Google - "Review of XYZ Curriculum" and you'll find reviews in homeschool forums and blogs.

Don't Ask For Advice
Wait, WHAT!?  I'm sure you're thinking that the whole point of having homeschool friends, support groups and mentors was to learn from those who have been-there-done-that.  

Well, yes and no.  Don't ask for advice first.  Research and narrow down your choices based on the above criteria first.  The reason I say this, is because most of the time when you see a generic question like "What spelling program should I use for first grade?" you'll see one of two things happen.  You'll get 32 different suggestions, and feel compelled to research all of them, only to find out that most of them won't be relevant to your homeschool philosophy or your child's learning style.  Or, you'll see 32 responses, but only two or three very popular programs are suggested.  If you take that to mean they're the only two or three quality programs out there, you could be missing out on some excellent curriculum that wasn't mentioned, just because their advertising budget isn't as large and people aren't as familiar with them.  I prefer to start out doing my own research, narrow down the selections that are most relevant to our needs, and then ask specific questions or for experiences related to those few programs.  This process is so much more efficient and the responses are more valuable in the long run.

So, if you could give a new homeschooler advice on choosing curriculum, or even an experienced homeschooler who's frazzled with their current curriculum, what would it be?


I invite you to see how my fellow bloggers learn in their homeschools!

The Evolution of Our Homeschool by Susan @ Homeschooling Hearts & Minds
Us-School Because We Are Us, Not Someone Else by Laura @ Four Little Penguins
It's All About the School by Michele @ Family, Faith and Fridays
Setting the Stage- the 2017 Virtual Curriculum Fair! by Lisa N. @ Golden Grasses
New Year, New Goals, New School! by Amanda H @ Hopkins Homeschool
Homeschooling - A Glimpse into How We Do it by Joelle @ Homeschooling for His Glory
Spotlight on How We Learn in Our Homeschool by Laura @ Day by Day in Our World
Our Unique Eclectic Homeschool  by Jennifer @ A Glimpse of Our Life
How We Learn on the Go by Jacquelin @ A Stable Beginning
Home Education - 10 Ways We Make It Work by Lizzy @ Peaches At Home
Schedules, where would I be without them? by Kim @ Good Sweet Love
Education at Our House by Shecki @ Greatly Blessed
Starting the Day Well by Sarah @ Delivering Grace
Making a Change - Accountability and Responsibility Through Routine by Lori H @ At Home: where life happens
A time to be encouraged is coming.. the Virtual Curriculum Fair by Annette @ A Net in Time
Loving the Moment! by Jen K @ A Peace of Mind
Keeping Our Homeschool Organized by Christy @ Unexpected Homeschool
Homeschool Goal Setting – Looking Forward, Looking Back by Kristen @ Sunrise to Sunset
How We Choose Curriculum by Brittney @ Mom's Heart
This Is How We Homeschool by Kym @ Homeschool Coffee Break
How we don't learn in our homeschool & how I don't plan {2017 Virtual Homeschool Curriculum Fair} by Meghan @ Quiet in the Chaos
Learning Our Way by Lisa @ McClanahan 7
Limping Along: Our Semi-Eclectic Approach to Homeschooling by Debra @Footprints in the Butter
2017 Virtual Curriculum Fair: See How We Learn by Dana L @ Luv'N Lambert Life

Week 1:  How We Choose Curriculum 
Week 2:  Teaching Language Arts without Curriculum
Week 3:  When You Don't Have a Math Plan
Week 4:  Exploring the World with Living Books
Week 5:  Seeking Beauty:  The Arts, and Everything that Brings Beauty to Our World

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  1. Good advice! That is pretty much the way I go about it, too!

  2. My advice is to find what fits each child's needs. All three of mine learn differently from each other. And advice from another homeschooling mom that made a difference years ago was simply the freedom to not have to complete a book if it isn't working.

  3. Could not agree more with the advice here. This is very much how I choose my curriculum.

  4. Choosing curriculum is the hardest part! There are so many good things out there. Welcome back to the VCF!

  5. I agree with everything you say here, especially the not asking for advice first (before doing your own research, etc.). I think many new homeschoolers put the cart before the horse by choosing the curriculum, which is a tool, before figuring out the other stuff. It's really hard to choose the right tool without figuring out first what you are trying to accomplish. :)

    Thank you for joining the VCF!