Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Finding the Perfect Curriculum

Looking for the perfect curriculum? You will most likely look for a long time, because there isn't one. A perfect curriculum would fit all your children and suit your needs as well. It would be reasonably priced and easy to work with. I'm not sure it's available.

How do you shop for curriculum?
Well, there are lots of ways you shouldn't shop, that's for sure! Imagine yourself walking down the aisle of a homeschooling store. You see a special on workbooks and think they might be pretty good, but then you see a mom and her child digging through a box of manipulatives...that looks like fun...but wait, what about that program the lady in your church mentioned...what was the name of that one?... You get the picture don't you?

You have your check book, you have a budget and school starts in a few weeks. WHAT DO YOU DO??

Back up and take a deep breath. Do you have a budget to stick to? Most of us do and that has to be a priority. Start by asking yourself some questions...

If this isn't your first year...
What did you like and dislike about the previous years selelction? Make a list of what you have, what you have tried. Which one's worked and which ones need to be sold? Are there any programs you can use again? Can some of them be used again in a different way? In another year or two? Would you use it again? If you will use it, you just saved some money. If not, sell it.

If this is all new to you, try starting here...
Which ones should be avoided? Try to avoid programs that require a lot of planning each day, especially if you have several students at different grade levels. If the program allows you to teach several children at once, then the time may be worth it, but if you are teaching 2 grades and 8 different classes a day, you may burnout long before spring.

How much of your time did the programs use for planning and teaching?
Did you find yourself skipping a science lesson because you couldn't find all the materials? What about the days you skipped Geography because you couldn't find the book in the library? Programs that are all planned out are not much use to you if you can't find the materials. Ask questions, check on book availability and do research on a program BEFORE you buy.

Does the program require hours of busy work each week from your children?
This may take up valuable time for your child; time that could be better spent on activities they want to pursue. Why spend 2 hours on a science program about outer space if your child likes to catch bugs and lizards? Sitting at a desk for 6 hours is for a public school, NOT a homeschool. Homeschooling is efficient and should be easily completed in half a day. If the program requires more than that, I suggest you look for something else.

Does the program require you to do every subject, every day?
Try science one day a week and art another. Pursue the three R's each day, but back off on the other subjects unless your child WANTS to do them. Combine spelling with handwriting, reading and history, hiking with science. Put two hours into the basics and then pursue other interests after that. Find ways to pursue your son's fascination with dismantling machines or your daughter's love for horses. You can pursue their interests, spending the money there and they will get so much more out of it. What good is the ability to recite the names of our planets in order, if they would much rather rattle off the statistics of players on a baseball team? How much easier will it be for your children to rattle off those planets after they have honed their memorization skills on their favorite topic, such as baseball or the names of every breed of horse known to man? Foster that love for learning that comes so naturally to most children. Their interests do change and somewhere along the way, the planets will come up and you will get to teach them about it then. Unless THEY are ready, it will go in one ear and out the other. Find those teachable moments and work with them.

Keep your school year's planning loose...
Don't try to plan each day, week or even month at the beginning of a school year. If your son wants to study the Civil War this month, he may move on to W.W. II by next month. Try to plan a general course of study, say 1800s to present, and Life Sciences, but leave it flexible and open to those times when they really want to dig into something. I will never forget the year my daughter wanted to study our solar system. I found a simple program that would last about a month and I thought that would be enough. Boy was I wrong! We ended up on it for over 6 months. I put many of my planned activities for the year aside, and learned right then and there that I would purchase the basics at the beginning of the year and buy the other stuff as we went along.

What did your CHILDREN like and dislike about the last school year?
Pay careful attention to what they like. Did the curriculum and methods(whether at public school or home) fit their learning style? Was it effective in teaching them? Did they do well in those areas? Let them have some input, but at the same time, don't let them make all the decisions. Do their likes match your likes? It is hard to teach a program you can't work with or one that demands an enormous amount of your time. Find something that fits both your needs. We often compromise on subjects. We will choose a program that takes a bit longer in an area they like and something a bit quicker, more cut and dry in an area that they have little interest, like spelling.

Where did you have the most problems?
For us, math was a big problem. I picked Saxon because I heard it was the best curriculum and it was familiar to me, since it was taught the way I learned in public school. We worked our way through Saxon 54 and by the end of the year, my daughter was miserable when it was time for math. It took over an hour each day to do a lesson. We would stop after an hour because I felt that was enough, but it was not fun for her. She scored well on her tests, but what was the point if I was teaching her to hate an essential subject. The answer? We found another program. Now we use Math-U-See. She likes the short lessons, the hands-on manipulatives and the logical (to her) way it is done. I have some trouble with it, but that is because it is different; it isn't something I am familiar with. But you know what? It's all worth it... I am learning something new and she is loving math again. Yes, it was a bit of an expense, but this year, that was our priority; making math fun again. Where did we save money? We bought Considering God's Creation for science. It is designed to teach multiple ages at once and will be useful for 2 or 3 years. A simple compromise and everyone is happy. By taking a closer look at your needs before you go to the curriculum fair or sit down to place your order, you may save yourself some money. Take advantage of situations where you can get your hands on materials and talk to someone who can show you a program they use. Ask if you can come over and "see" the curriculum "in action" when someone tells you they love it. You can learn a lot about it that way, and you will avoid the pitfalls of purchasing something that sounds great in the catalog and is a big disappointment when it arrives on your doorstep.

Keep Learning Fun!
We all know that the basics; Reading, writing and arithmatic are essential. They are not always fun for your child no matter what curriculum you try. You can balance that with the extras that make a school day something to look forward to. If you do math 5 days a week, why not take one of those days and play math games? We have a great book, "Mega-fun math games" that we sell in our store. It is packed full of ideas for games that improve your child's math skills in fun ways. Take the spinner away from a board game and use die instead. Counting those dots on the die and counting the spaces you must move are math skills. For older children, give them a pile of flash cards. If they answer the problem correctly, they get to roll the die. It is easy to make a simple board game in to a multi-level math lesson! Having that one day a week "off" is something everyone can look forward to and you don't have to feel guilty because they will be learning. Reading can be torture for some children. Give them books with lots of visuals. Usborne Books are great at keeping a child interested. Short, information-packed paragraphs surrounded by colorful illustrations. If they don't like books at all, read to them. Historical fiction is a great choice. It teaches and it is interesting. In addition to these great books, we supplement their reading with products like the "Ancient Times Treasure Chests". Our kids dive into these kits and explore time periods they have been reading about. It makes concepts concrete for them and having something they can touch is always a great reinforcement for a lesson. Science is a "hands-on" subject that should be taught with a minimum of text books and multiple choice tests. Get out and explore. I highly recommend "Considering God's Creation" from Kindergarten through 8th grade. It can easily be adapted to any of these grades and our "Nature Hike Backpack" is so much fun to have. We take it everywhere with us and the basic kit easy to expand to any nature studies you are interested in.

On Shopping Day

* Make yourself a list of the subjects you need and some products you want to see "in person"
* Try to go without your kids so you can concentrate and take your tim2.
* Get a feel for costs and write down some prices you see in catalogs. Compare prices and then compare shipping fees. If you can order more from one company and save shipping, then do it.
* Allow a little room for that special tape you just have to have or a craft you know will go great with your studies.
* Remember to check out used materials where it is sensible too. Try looking on Ebay or in stores that have consignment items. Shop at the local curriculum fairs, but make sure you have everything you need. Are all the materials included? If you buy it without them, can you order the missing parts?
* Take your time and don't feel pressured. If you get overwhelmed, go home and try again another day.
* Most important of all, enjoy yourself and have fun _- stop for a cup of coffee and relax --it's going to be a great year :)