Many homeschoolers, especially veterans, thrive on the freedom homeschooling affords their family. They can schedule breaks when and where they are needed. They can go back to cover material if it wasn’t clear the first time. They can skip ahead if the material is old news and already understood. They can choose materials from a wide variety of sources.
Other homeschoolers, particularly some who are just starting out, find all of this freedom intimidating! Are there no rules? Isn’t there a guideline to follow? How do I choose “the best” materials from everything out there? How can I determine if something will fit my child before I spend money on it? Do I have to figure out my child’s learning style to succeed? So for those who are struggling in this area, here are a few thoughts that will hopefully make your journey easier.
Keep the first thing the first thing. As Christians everything else in our lives flows out of our relationship with Christ. Some of the difficulties we get ourselves into can boil down to simply getting our priorities straight! Think Mary, instead of Martha who was worried and troubled about many things. Put your faith in Him, and let Him direct your path.
Starting out, it may be easier to follow something laid out for you. Just realize that you are trading ease of use for flexibility. (For more on this trade off, and what you can do about it, read Making the Case for Educating Ourselves.) There are many paths you can follow:
- The usual way of doing things. Some homeschoolers prefer to use traditional materials with their traditional scope and sequences because they understand how these materials work. Many of the resources from Christian publishers aimed at the homeschooling market have great guidelines, some are even scripted so mom can pick it up and go. The schedule is all laid out in lessons to cover 180 days so there is no guesswork. As with most things, doing things the usual way cuts both ways. If mom thinks that homeschooling is about grading all of these papers, keeping up with the curriculum, or homeschooling taking up the entire day through dinner – it can lead to burn out! You can always use the materials but keep your own schedule, skip the pieces that don’t fit your family, do some of the work orally instead of using tests to check for comprehension or modify the program in any way you see fit.
- Follow a different model. You can check out classical homeschooling, Charlotte Mason’s ideas, the Principle approach and other educational models. The same caveat that applies to traditional methods also applies to these other educational models. Following a method to the letter may not work for your family. But a model does give you a good place to start. The model also provides a framework that guides your material purchases.
- Follow the curriculum. This doesn’t have to mean textbook. There are many materials and unit studies already planned out for you and geared specifically to homeschools, such as Sonlight, Tapestry of Grace, My Father’s World, Konos and Ambleside Online. Most have samples available online or by request.
Cathy Duffy’s book, 100 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum, provides a survey to help you determine what “style” of homeschooling best fits your family. Knowing in advance whether you tend to prefer a more workbook-oriented or a more individualized-learning approach, for example, can help you determine the type of materials that will work best for your family. The book then notes materials that will fit your preferences.
Start tweaking. With time you’ll start to see what works for your family – and what doesn’t. Workbooks may be in or out. Reading lots of books may be interesting or draining. Strict scheduling may work or not. You can tweak whatever you are using and take advantage of the freedom homeschooling affords your family!
For more help narrowing down your curriculum choices, you might enjoy reading Overwhelmed by Choices.