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Choosing & Using Curriculum (Book Review)

Choosing and Using Curriculum by Joyce Herzog

Way back when my first child was only a couple years old, I just knew I was going to homeschool him. I was not only going to homeschool him, he was going to be the smartest little thing that ever walked the face of the earth. I went to my first homeschooling convention, armed with a good pair of shoes and a notebook that I filled with all the ideas I had for teaching my son. 🙂

God in His graciousness brought me to two workshops by author Joyce Herzog. (I still have the notebook with my notes from her session…) I remember her telling us how children learn, explaining her ingenious Scaredy Cat Reading System, and glowing with reports of how well “special needs” kids can do. (I honestly didn’t pay much attention to that part, because I didn’t plan to ever have a child with special needs. Oh, how God humbles us…)

Shortly thereafter, I was also introduced to the writings of Ruth Beechick, and these two authors have honestly changed the course of my life! I was tickled pink to be reintroduced to Joyce Herzog recently on Facebook, where she announced that she had written a new book, Choosing and Using Curriculum. You know how much I love this topic, so I was thrilled to be given permission to review it!

Joyce’s teaching style is similar to Ruth Beechick’s, and that’s why I love her. She’s biblical — but PRACTICAL. Ahhh…

The books starts out with a quote that I mulled over for days:

“If he has no hands, teach him to play soccer! If he has four hands, teach him to juggle!” (p. 5)

Here are some of the features of this book that I felt were most useful:

  • A list of things to look for when choosing a new curriculum (p. 8). Yes, she starts the book with this useful information. (I felt her list was useful for those of us writing curriculum, too, because it will give me a checklist of important features I should never forget, such as “Are the pages cluttered?” and “Is there a clear-cut way to determine mastery so you know when to introduce a new topic?”
  • How to attend a homeschooling convention. I was impressed with her concise instructions and emphasis on buying wisely and allowing God’s Spirit to direct our choices. I also know first-hand how many years of experience she has attending conferences.
  • I thought her list of advantages and disadvantages of different types of curriculum as “right on.” She points out the good and the bad in everything from textbooks to unschooling.
  • She describes many different kinds of homeschooling moms. I had to laugh, because I’m a “Mrs. High Performance” homeschooler (p. 19), but the awesome thing is that she then makes specific curriculum recommendations for each type. Very cool!
  • I loved her explanation of grade levels and why we should and shouldn’t use them (chapter 5). Actually, I think she was the first person from whom I ever heard this idea, and it made so much sense to me. My husband was then enrolled in a secondary education major in college, and he was required to read John Dewey. Sure enough, everything that Joyce wrote about grade levels was true.

Here’s a great quote about parenting, a gem in the middle of a practical book:

“Read Jeremiah 2:30 to see what God thinks about [not training our children]. ‘In vain have I smitten your children; they received no correction.’ In other words: ‘Because you did not train and correct your children and train them in obedience, I can call until My voice is hoarse and they don’t listen or respond because they are not accustomed to listening or obeying.’ Remediating that is far more important than “teaching” early academics!” (p. 33)

  •  In chapter 9, she encourages you to take a snapshot of your child’s progress, and she gives a wonderfully practical list of ways to do this. I love it! (I wish I’d had it when my older children were younger.) I’m planning to print it out and work through the list with my children at least twice a year, from now on.

She then starts a long list of chapters which include specific recommendations for subjects and categories. It starts with a chapter for infants and preschoolers, and I noted that she recommends books on “special education” even for the healthiest kids. A year ago, I might have wondered why she did this, but since God gave us our own little “special learner,” I now see the great wisdom in her suggestions.

“Some of us are ‘turned off’ when we see that a particular material was designed for the learning disabled. We don’t have any children like that! We look elsewhere. But the truth is if it works with learning disabled students, it is some of the best material on the market! What the learning disabled need is the very best teaching methods combined with a variety of methods of review, consistent small doses of practice and lots of built-in features to keep them interested over the long haul. What child wouldn’t be blessed by that?” (p. 60).

  • Teaching reading — She gives too many choices! LOL! In my opinion, this is an area that is as difficult to do as it looks. My seven children have all had differences that really show up when trying to learn to read. (Well, 5 have learned so far.) I heard Joyce teach a workshop on her Scaredy Cat Reading System, and I have have always used the techniques she taught. However, in all honesty, I use her techniques in combination with my Abeka and All About Spelling materials. Sometimes it just takes a weird combination to get a mom’s personality and the child’s strengths and weaknesses to all line up. However, I agree with her statement, “I knew that God wrote a book. He is not capricious, deciding that some can learn to read and others should not. If He wrote a book, His desire was that everyone be able to read it” (p. 60).
  • Teaching Discernment in Literature (chapter 19) – This is a list of discussions to have after reading a book or piece of literature. It goes way beyond reading “comprehension” and helps a child discern good and evil in literature. I’ve never seen a list like this, and I love it. I want to print it, then have my children quickly fill it out as a “book report” after some of the chapter books that they read. Then we can discuss it together.
  • Developing Written Expression (chapter 20) – Chapters like this are worth the price of the book all on their own. It includes a fabulous list of ideas for helping your children learn to write.
  • Using Thought-Provoking Questions (pp. 94-95) – This is another list to print and include in my notebook, because it has ideas for starting discussions with your children. (This is so biblical…)
  • Adapting Materials for Special Situations (chapter 26) – I think that having this list handy, maybe printed out and placed in my teaching binder, would come in really handy when a child is having difficulty with a subject (or school in general), so that I could pull it out and come up with creative solutions. In other words, this is great for all students, just at the moment when they are “special learners” in just one subject. (Maybe they woke up on the wrong side of the bed and can’t add or subtract to save their lives…)
  • Testing (chapter 27) – Standardized testing is required in my state, so I was pleased by her explanation of the misuses of testing, as well as the ways that testing is helpful. She even uses Scripture to help us understand each kind. I’m in favor of testing — when it’s done right — because I see that God uses “testing” as one of His educational methods (Deuteronomy 8) . However, I’m frustrated and irritated by most kinds of testing. Her explanations made a lot of sense to me and helped clear up this issue in my mind.
  • Teaching Special Needs – This is how she ends the book, and it’s admittedly one of her greatest areas of expertise. I especially loved her suggestions for working with ADD/ADHD, even though it was only one page long. I have not read her Learning in Spite of Labels, but it’s now on my “wish list.”

An accompanying book to Choosing and Using Curriculum is a short Resource Ebook, which is chock full of links to websites. It’s nice because you can click right on the description of Joyce’s favorite resources and be taken directly to its website. I honestly haven’t even gone past the tip of the iceberg on these yet — there are just that many!

I get requests daily to do reviews of homeschooling books, but I really don’t want to commit that much time to reviewing other people’s books. However, Joyce’s books were a refreshing exception to my own policy, and I hope you’ll take advantage of her wisdom and counsel.


Disclaimer: I was given a copy of these two books by the author for the purpose of my honest and truthful review. I received no other compensation for this review, and my opinions and thoughts are my own.

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  1. Jennifer in PA says

    It sounds really interesting. I will have to keep it in mind. Thanks for the review.

  2. You’ve done a great job reviewing, and I think this will be a great help to me! God really provides for us on this homeschool journey. Praise him! I do have Learning without Labels, got it on Paperback Swap, which I recommend to you if you have extra books lying around…?

  3. I am really interested in this book! I went to order it from Joyce’s website, and shipping to VA is over $10!! Is there any other way to order is with lower shipping? I really don’t have the money for the book in the first place, as it’s more of a “want” than a “need,” but I think it will help me tremendously. Thanks!

  4. I am not sure, Wendy, but if it were me, I’d try searching on Amazon or from one of the homeschooling booksellers, such as Rainbow Resource.

  5. Thanks Anne. Can you tell me when she “updated” the book? Rainbow’s is 2001, but it seems like she may have an updated volume???

    • Yes, the one I reviewed was from 2011. I’m guessing that even her “old” advice is good, but I haven’t read the older one. 🙂

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