The Curriculum Hunt
Back in the early years of my homeschooling life (early 90s), my peers and I spent a lot of time reading about the philosophy of home education because, let’s face it, we knew no one who did it and knew nothing about it! I remember when my pediatrician asked Noah (then 6) where he went to school. When Noah replied that he was homeschooled, the doctor said, “What’s that?” That response today would be unthinkable! From “Mean Girls” to “Desperate Housewives” (yes, I confess to watching that addicting show), homeschooling is just another educational option and the whole world has heard of it. As a result, lots of parents pick homeschooling the way they might pick kitchen cabinets. They’re more interested in which type of home education they will execute than whether or not to embark on it at all.
Is that a good thing? Is it better to be able to get down to business and wade through the thousands of curricula choices available today or would it still be a good idea to develop a philosophy of education first? I vote philosophy of education.
Here’s why: Curricula hunts result in wild swings of educational styles year-to-year. These switches lead to frustrated children and burned out parents. Before we talk about how to develop a sound philosophy of education, let’s look at the “Curriculum Hunt Traps” together, shall we?
1. You imagine that the curriculum does the teaching,
rather than you doing it.
In other words, you hunt for the right tool to teach with and when it doesn’t work, you imagine it is the fault of the curriculum. And of course, it may be. But it may also be that you have other factors preventing its success. For instance, if the method you use requires your participation, but you would prefer to hand it to the child and not have to deal with it directly, that choice will fail. Or perhaps you chose a curricula with a schedule that requires daily use, but you only get to it once per week. It may be failing because the reinforcement required isn’t happening. To succeed with any curricula, you must commit to using it as it was designed and to the philosophy it espouses. Then you’ll know if it works or not.
2. You heard that a tool worked for your friend
so you expect it to work for you.
It’s perfectly natural to expect your friend’s success to be yours if you use the same workbooks. But kids and home environments vary. If your friend is creative and self-starting, the skeleton of ideas in her book may not work for you if you’re needing more structure and vice versa. Don’t blame the tool. Figure out if the tool matches your style of home life.
3. You expect a new curriculum to motivate you
because you’re bored with what you used last year.
There’s nothing wrong with needing a change of pace. But you want to separate out what you need, as a mom at home, from what is working for your kids. It can be dangerous educationally to switch math programs just because you’re tired of the one you’re in, if it’s working for the child. You might undermine the routine you set up by suddenly abandoning it for unschooling or unit studies when your child was thriving with structure and schedules (even though you were bored). Try to isolate what you’re feeling from what you see your kids doing. Focus on ways to keep yourself engaged; don’t get caught up in “new, shiny” ideas or books that make your kids learn a whole new structure and style of education if they seem to be happy and successful.
4. You get a lot of emotional support on
homeschool forums by discussing curricula.
It’s great to connect to other homeschooling mothers. But there are ways to do that that don’t involve the endless chase for new and better materials. If you find yourself rethinking your grammar book just because you wish you had something to talk about on a forum (it’s okay if that’s you; we’ve all done that), remind yourself that you can connect about other homeschool needs. If you need chit chat, go out to coffee with a girlfriend. Try not to make your homeschool social life about curriculum.
5. You want to please someone else with your materials.
Occasionally you feel pressure from your mom (who taught elementary school for 20 years) or your husband (who is a junior high counselor) or your best friend (who works in the Parent-Teacher Organization at the local high school) to find a “rigorous” curricula that will match their expectations of what school demands of kids. Be careful here. Homeschool is not institutional school. What works in a classroom of 25 with one teacher may be a spirit-killer at home.
There are plenty of other ways the endless hunt for quality curricula sabotages your homeschool. I want to help you get past that. To put your homeschool house in order, start with a philosophy of education. Then select materials that dovetail with it. Finally, use those materials as they were intended to be used. Don’t give up after two weeks. Stick with it. If your kids struggle, re-visit your philosophy. Does it take them, as people, into account? Is it focused on individuals rather than an ideal? Did you pick a philosophy that matches how you wish you could learn now rather than one that matches how your children learn or wish to learn?
Tomorrow’s blog will focus on how to develop a philosophy of education that suits you and your kids (both matter – your style of leading and your children’s styles of learning). Then we’ll talk about how to choose curricula that actually support you all, rather than leading you to a shortcut, which results in a dead end.