Are you planning for the next school year and finding yourself overwhelmed with choices? Then here is some good news. The curriculum choices you make will not determine the success or failure of your homeschool!
It is a common anecdote that despite the obvious hardships homeschool veterans faced in the early 80s, today we have it much worse. They didn’t have so many options! Obviously this is said tongue-in-cheek and we can all be grateful for the advances made by those brave pioneers. That said, we face a staggering number of choices in materials today. Homeschoolers have become a viable target for marketers.
Educating our children is a big responsibility. Many of us would spend our last dollar if it guaranteed that our children would receive a quality education. And it is oh, so easy to be swayed by companies that make claims such as “You don’t want to deprive your child of a good education – buy our product and rest assured your child will not miss out.” Or “No gaps here; we’ve covered all the bases so you don’t have to.” Or “We’ve been serving schools for years and we know what we are doing.”
To make it even more complicated, about the time the supplier catalogs start arriving in the mail and the homeschool conventions are in full swing, the e-groups begin to buzz with the latest offerings. Over at our favorite online homeschool hangout, the pace starts to quicken. The bandwagon starts moving in one direction, then another. It’s hard to keep up. It’s hard not to be caught up! It’s hard not to get run over!!
So how do we determine what will and will not work before we spend the money? How do we decide among such a wide array of products? Here are a few ideas that might help you in your decision making.
- Keep your perspective…and your peace! “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.” – Isaiah 26:3 Don’t rely on the marketers, promoters, message boards, e-mail lists, blogs, homeschool “experts,” well-meaning neighbors or your homeschooling friend down the street to make choices for you. God gave your children to you for a reason. No one knows them better than you. Trust Him to help you make decisions that will provide them with what they need to accomplish all that He has created them for. Amid all of the hype, be calm and hear that still, small voice.
- Keep curriculum in its place. It is easy to understand why we focus so much of our attention on the materials we buy. It is the one piece of the homeschooling adventure we feel we have some control over. But we really give the materials more credit for our successes (or failures) than they deserve. The materials we choose are simply a tool to help us accomplish our goals. By keeping this focus, we can avoid spending money unwisely on materials that, while they may receive rave reviews, take us in the wrong direction, or simply do not fit our needs.
- Focus on those materials that will meet your goals. Prayerfully consider what you hope to accomplish. What are your educational objectives for each child? Rather than adopt a particular publisher’s objectives as your own by following the book (unless they truly are your own), think through your goals. When they finish their homeschool careers, what do you want your children to know? What skills will you expect them to possess? How will they be prepared spiritually and physically, as well as academically? What are those areas that cry out for more attention? Where could you better use your time? What type of environment do you wish to establish?
- Consider the needs of each child. Did he do well this year? What does he need to focus on next year? How does he best learn? Does your homeschooling style fit him? Some children simply may not click with a particular method. We can take advantage of our tutorial role by meeting the needs of each child.
- Consider your needs. Some homeschool moms are very creative and energetic. Others excel by having everything laid out for them. Before you purchase materials, decide what type of homeschool mom you are. Do-it-yourself? Mix-and-match? Ready-to-serve? Knowing up front how much time you will be willing to spend making lesson plans or pulling materials together will help you choose those materials that will best fit your lifestyle.
- Realize that NO curriculum is perfect. Alas, you will not find a magic bullet. There will always be problems with most, if not all of the materials you choose to use and parts that you wish you could change. Keep a broader view. Think of the process as similar to that of buying a house. When the “perfect” place doesn’t present itself, have an eye toward what will work, realizing that with a little vision and effort, you can mold it into what you need.
- Focus on the heart instead of the books. Really, you can use any materials if you are willing to make them work. When we don’t have many homeschool dollars to spend we can make the most of what we do have with confidence. We set the atmosphere. There is a saying, “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” We can purchase the most lauded materials available, ones that fit our family perfectly; but if our heart isn’t into it, if our child’s needs do not come first, if our focus is off, it will profit us nothing.
- Avoid making comparisons. One of the biggest traps homeschool moms fall into is comparing ourselves to others and our choices to those made by others. We fear that we may not be doing enough, working hard enough or providing what our children need for a sound education. In our anxiety we tend to look to others to see how they are doing things. A particular homeschool mom’s children may seem prefect. She appears confident and intelligent. We notice she uses XYZ curriculum and homeschools using the ABC method and conclude that we will reap the same results by co-opting her methods. Based on this faulty logic, we shift our focus, uproot our ideas, spend money on purchasing XYZ curriculum, and leave our entire family in a state of angst. There is only one right way for each family to homeschool and that is the way our family is led to homeschool. We can rest in focusing on what God wants for our family, knowing we are where we are supposed to be.
- Focus on current needs. It would be nice to have all of our schedules, material needs, and plans laid out from Kindergarten through high school before we start homeschooling. But one of the benefits of tutoring is responding to the current needs of each individual child. We don’t have to decide how we will handle high school English when our oldest is a five-year old. Also, keep in mind that something that works today may not have the same appeal or fill the same need down the road. Keeping our options open will save us time and money.
- It is ok to make a mistake. Sometimes a product that sounded like a perfect solution ends up being a big disappointment. Rather than continuing to plod on with something that is not working, and despite the money and time we have invested in the product, it usually makes more sense to put it aside and move on to something that will work. Curriculum decisions are not set in stone. There are abundant outlets to sell used curriculum, letting someone else benefit by our mistakes while recouping some of our investment.
- Be slow to make changes. Making change for the sake of change is never a good idea. The benefits of new products may be real or imagined, but if what we are currently doing is working, it is best to stick with it. There will always be time to re-evaluate our options the next time around. Make a list of ideas you would like to consider for next year and wait to purchase until the “want-it-now” bug has moved on.
Making decisions about what materials we should use does not have to be an overwhelming experience. By keeping our focus on the needs of our family we can purchase with confidence!