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The Curriculum Carousel (Round and Round We Go…)

image - pile of school booksAsk any veteran homeschooler about burn-out, and she’ll quickly get to the topic of curriculum. What mother hasn’t sincerely purchased piles of curriculum only to discover later that her choices were a terrible fit for her family? (Waving my hand here!)

If you’re already partway into your homeschooling year, yet you’re worried about the curriculum choices you’ve made, you probably don’t have the money to just throw it all away and start over. Still, you might be starting to worry that the whole year is a waste!

I’m going to give you some general reasons why you should not change your curriculum plans, but I’m also going to give you some specific recommendations for some simple things you can do for each subject to supplement your curriculum if you still need help.

Don’t compare to others.

The Apostle Paul gives some good advice that he tried to follow in his own ministry:

We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise” (2 Corinthians 10:12).

As a professional blogger, I receive several emails a day from various authors and companies who want me to review their books, products, curriculum, and gadgets for the homeschooling community. I understand the valuable service reviewers offer us, but I sometimes wonder if all this “commending” of ourselves causes us to “measure ourselves by ourselves and compare ourselves with ourselves.” We hear of something better, and we immediately feel discontent with the choices we already made.

Paul says that when we do this, we “are not wise.”

Of course, this doesn’t only happen online. It also happens at church, at our local homeschooling co-ops, and at our summer conventions.

Did you and your husband pray about the choices you made? (If not, why not set aside an evening or a day to pray now?)

Once you’ve asked for wisdom from God, then stick with the wisdom He gave you.

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does” (James 1:5-8).

Comparing yourself, your circumstances, and your children to others is never acting in the wisdom of God. It only results in instability, making you feel like you are being “blown and tossed by the wind.”

Comparison is never a good reason to switch curriculum.

What are some good reasons to change curriculum?

  • You’re collapsing of fatigue because you’ve been doing school for more than 8 hours a day… and you’re still not getting it all done.
  • Your child is just not “getting it,” is crying because of frustration, or has lost all interest in learning. (Note: This should be more than just a one-time occurrence or passing phase.)
  • You are concerned about the vast amount of secular influence in your children’s books. (Note: This should be more than an occasional reference, which can provide you with excellent opportunities for discussion. We’re talking instead about such pervasive humanism that you just can’t counter its affects.)
  • You don’t have a plan at all; rather, you’re making it up each day as you go. Actually, it’s more like you hardly ever have school at all because in reality, you’re totally overwhelmed.
  • Your husband thinks you should change something! Listening to your husband should always be a high priority of yours.  (So often we listen to everyone else first…)

What can you do if a change is needed?

Reading

  • Are you being consistent with your teaching of phonics? Reading takes practice.
  • If your child is still not catching on to phonics, authors Luanne Shackelford and Susan White recommend trying sight reading.  I know, it sounds like heresy, but they contend that some children just learn with a different part of their brain.
  • Take a break for a while, and just read to your child. Come back to it later, after his brain has had more time to mature.
  • Free choices: http://boostforreaders.com/ and http://www.readingandspelling.org/

Spelling

Writing

  • Before teaching writing, teach handwriting skills. If your child just doesn’t have the physical coordination for handwriting, keep trying but also teach typing.
  • Before teaching writing, teach how to “tell back” what your child has learned from his reading, from television viewing, from sermons, and from everyday life. Let him do this orally.
  • Before teaching writing, a child needs plenty of life experiences. Reading is much more important in the earlier years. Discussion with you is also more important.
  • Get a lovely book of copywork such as Favorite Poems Old and New (by Helen Ferris Tibbets), and ask your child to copy something each day.
  • For creative writing, get the simple little book, From Heart to Page: Journaling Through the Year for Young Writers, by Michelle Van Loon. Have your child write something every day.
  • Free Choices: http://www.handwritingforkids.com/handwrite/index.htm and http://donnayoung.org/penmanship/index.htm

Math

  • If your younger child isn’t understanding basic math concepts, spend more time playing. Legos are wonderful, as is time spent in the kitchen cooking (and talking) with you.
  • Manipulatives will only take you so far. Eventually, your child simply must memorize basic math facts. Set the curriculum aside for a time, head to a discount store, and get inexpensive packs of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division flashcards. Learn the facts, then all the rest of math will come easier.
  • If your older child is entering math subjects that are over your own ability (or time available), don’t hesitate to use a tutor, use a DVD or online curriculum, or enroll him at a local community college. A option we’ve liked this year has been http://www.khanacademy.org/.
  • A not-free but helpful math choice: http://www.mathonthelevel.com/
  • Free Choices: http://www.multiplication.com/ and http://www.mathcats.com/ and http://www.aplusmath.com/Worksheets/.

Science

History

  • The best way, I think, to learn history is to grab a good book, gather your children around you, then read aloud to them. After a chapter or two, stop and discuss it. Good listings of books for history are available in All Through the Ages.
  • At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I think that one of the best world history choices on the market is free, written by Christine Miller and available at http://www.classical-homeschooling.org/curriculum/history-grammar.html.

Bible

If you are a first-time homeschooler, you might like to see some of the curriculum purchasing suggestions we have made in our book, Just Tell Me What to Order. Then, next year, you will at least know what you didn’t like and can make a more educated choice for the following year.

~Anne

Comments

  1. I just wanted to say that I appreciate your list of “when to change”, especially about secular influence. I agree that occasional references are okay and meant to be used in instruction for our little ones and should not be overlooked. I feel too many christians stay away from secular material “just because”. It will hinder their children when they need a firm foundation in faith and to be able to express it to others.
    Thank you for your continued encouragement!

    • Yes, Vicki! So true… We had a writing assignment just last week, where the kids had to take notes on a few paragraphs about whales and how they have improved through evolution and natural selection. We had such a great discussion about it that I’m not sure we learned much about note taking. LOL! That said, if we were having to have discussions like that every day, all day long, I wouldn’t have time to teach them. Or, worse, I’d get lazy about it and stop discussing it at all. Thanks for commenting!

  2. Thanks for your wise counsel! I’m struggling with what to do in teaching my son to write. He is 8 and excels in all other subjects. However, writing often brings tears! He feels overwhelmed. He is also behind in this subject so I’m not sure if I should keep up with what we are doing and encourage him more or if we should look at doing something different. It’s always finding that balance and knowing are they being stubborn or am I being stubborn in my approach? We are currently doing Language Arts 3 from Sonlight with supplementation from Writing Strands. He is a smart guy in so many other areas I wonder about trying to incorporate writing to our other areas of learning and just forgetting a L.A curriculum. For example he loves to invent and build. My thought was about writing details for his invention or a little story to go along with it. My fear is that without a curriculum I won’t teach him what he needs to learn. Any thoughts on all if this are welcome.

    • Maryann, if he is 8 and excelling in his other subjects, this is my hunch. Writing is a very difficult subject because it uses BOTH sides of the brain — the analytical left and the creative right. Most children are dominant in one side. However, some children have a “mixed dominance,” meaning that some tasks they do better with the left side and other tasks are easier with the right side. This sounds nice, but it’s really not. It takes the brain a lot longer to access the parts of the brain it needs to function. This is more common in boys, and it’s a huge subject, as you can imagine. I’m wondering if this might be his problem.

      Now, what to do about it. Well… again, with writing, this is tricky, because writing involves so MANY steps and both sides of the brain. You need to strengthen his functioning on his “weak” side, then I’d guess his writing will “magically” improve.

      Many curriculum (such as Sonlight) use both sides of the brain, but I bet he needs some focused help (aka “drill”) on just his problem areas in writing.

      I would go to CurrClick or a teacher supply store and find small workbooks that help with just one skill. Search for Writing Skills. (“Teacher Created Materials” is a possible publisher.)

      Maybe he needs help with brainstorming ideas, or making a sentence, or figuring out how to make topic sentences for paragraphs. (It could be a LOT of things… writing is a huge topic!) But go surf around and see what’s available, and see where his problem areas are. Then help him with those little pieces. (If you do achievement testing, the results can help you pinpoint these weak areas.)

      I hope this helps! 🙂

  3. Thankyou Anne I will look into that 🙂

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