Choosing a Homeschool Curriculum: The Carolyn Way

There are approximately 4 pootillion homeschool curricula out there (is it annoying to use curricula or should I switch it to curriculums?). Finding the “right” one can be a daunting task made worst by the fact that curricula can be expensive. Hopefully I can help you narrow down your choices.

I don’t actually own that shirt.

Research Teaching Philosophies/Methods

If you are overwhelmed by the hundreds of curriculum choices out there, it may help to read-up on education models and choose one (or a few) that sound like a good fit for your children (and you). Familiarizing yourself with education models and philosophies could also help eliminate some curricula. Here are a few breakdowns of popular teaching philosophies and models:

Classical

  • Use of three learning stages, referred to as the Trivium (grammar, logic, rhetoric)
  • Language focused (learning comes from words rather than images)
  • Systematic/rigorous study
  • Follows a strict chronological reading plan
  • Lots of memorization early-on
  • Video Explanation HERE

Charlotte Mason

  • Use of “living books” rather than text books
  • Emphasis on the cultivation of good habits
  • Narration
  • Copy work
  • Short lessons
  • Liberal education (arts, music, nature study)
  • Video Explanation HERE

Montessori

  • Hands-on learning
  • Mixed aged teaching/classrooms
  • Children are free to choose learning activity
  • Unstructured time
  • Video Explanation HERE

Waldorf

  • Threefold learning process: Thinking, Feeling, Doing
  • Early childhood focus on doing
  • Middle childhood focus on the heart/feeling
  • Adolescence focus on the mind (Discernment, Judging, Thinking)
  • Emphasis on well-rounded education
  • Hands-on approach
  • Block learning: study one subject for 3-4 weeks then rotate
  • Video Explanation HERE

Unschooling

  • Child-led/interest-led learning
  • Learning happens through life experiences
  • Children’s natural interests are nurtured
  • Days can be structured, but not around a curriculum
  • Video Explanation HERE

There are more education models and philosophies than these, but I just wanted to give you a taste of the similarities and differences. For more information, including pros and cons, I recommend this article: Homeschooling: Which Model Is Right for You?

Assess Your Child’s Learning Style

There are three main learning styles: kinesthetic (tactile), auditory, and visual. Knowing your child’s dominant learning style can help fine tune which curriculum you purchase as well as assist in what kinds of manipulatives, workbooks, and other supplementary materials can aid in teaching. Keep in mind, your child may be great with all of these styles or appear to stink at all of them. I think my son does well with visual and tactile (definitely not auditory).

“Draw me, Mama!”
“Okay.”

Here are a two Learning Style quizzes: Homeschool On and Scholastic

That said, I personally wouldn’t rule out a curriculum or workbook simply because it doesn’t match your child’s dominant learning style. There are manipulatives and supplementary resources that you can use in conjunction with your curriculum to make things more visual/auditory/tactile.

Also, I recommend taking some time to observe your child in a learning setting. Can your child sit and do a worksheet? For how long? Test this a few times since kids have good and bad days. How self-motivated is your child? What distracts him/her? What calms him/her down?

Research then Narrow Down

When I first started researching education, I loved the idea of putting my son in a Montessori school. But as I began to research and use Montessori methods at home, I was put off by “child led” education. While I do adjust my curricula and teaching methods based on my son’s strengths and weaknesses, I knew he would end up a total bonehead if his education followed a child-led model. Once my husband and I decided we would homeschool, I started looking into the Classical method. I read a Well Trained Mind. Classical education sounded great until I actually imagined my son and I doing it, day in and day out. When I imagined attending weekly Classical Conversations meetings and teaching other peoples’ kids, I thought, “This will annoy me in two weeks.” Some people love that and are great at it. I am not one of them. Then I began to research the Charlotte Mason method and that method, for the most part, seemed like a great fit for our family. It excited me.

I’m not trying to promote one particular learning style over the other. Instead, I want to encourage you to choose a method that works for (and excites) you and your family. Some of these methods and philosophies may sound great, but if you’re like me, it’s easy to get caught up in the promotion of ideas and their results, only to find out it doesn’t suit your family. Think of it like a hairstyle. Might look great on that gal over there, but it’ll make you look like a freak.

I cut my own hair.

Be honest with yourself: what are your strengths and weaknesses? Do you like going to events? Do you enjoy reading out loud to your children? How much structure do you want/need? I don’t like going to events, but I love structure…my structure.

If you don’t have the time (or interest) to read a lot of books, I recommend going to YouTube or doing a basic search of reviews of each learning model/philosophy. Also, keep in mind: just because someone gives something a bad review or a positive review, their lifestyle, personality, values, etc, may not be like yours.

Religious, Secular, or It Doesn’t Matter

I personally don’t feel the need to use a Christian curriculum. However, I think you should do what’s best for your family. You know your day-to-day life better than anyone. If incorporating religion into your schooling will assist you in teaching your child about the Bible, then go for it. Or, if you’re doing devotionals, prayer, etc, throughout the week, then you may not feel the need to narrow your choices to only religious curriculum. There are Christian-owned companies that produce secular curricula as well. For example, Math-U-See is owned by Christians, but the math curriculum is completely secular. Sonlight is Christian, but they created a secular option called Bookshark.

So, for example, a Google search of “Secular + Charlotte Mason + Homeschool + Curriculum” will narrow your search results quite a bit.

Choose a Curriculum

Here was my thinking: Charlotte Mason was the best fit for my family. My son prefers hands-on, visual learning (not a great listener). I value good literature and a well-rounded, liberal education. My son needs short lessons with lots of outside time and movement. He would enjoy it and so would I. However, I decided I would not strictly follow this learning method and would instead borrow from it.

homeschool curriculum five in a row explode the code eclectic

For Kindergarten, I went “eclectic” and used the Charlotte Mason method for reading, Explode the Code (great for visual learners, illustrations are not visually overwhelming), Five in a Row (literature based unit study with focus on art), Handwriting Without Tears (GREAT for visual learners), and Math-U-See (visual and tactile, but not overwhelming).

For first grade, we will be using Bookshark (Charlotte Mason inspired) and Math-U-See.

Here are a few examples of curricula and programs that are either strictly or loosely based on each learning style:

Classical: Classical Conversations, Veritas Press, Well-Trained Mind

Charlotte Mason: Simply Charlotte Mason, Ambleside Online
Charlotte Mason Inspired: Sonlight, Bookshark (secular version of Sonlight), My Father’s World

Montessori: Because Montessori is more of philosophy, there aren’t curricula out there that are strictly Montessori. However, there are plenty of online stores that sell Montessori related materials: Montessori Outlet, Montessori Activities from Teachers Pay Teachers.

Waldorf: Oak Meadow, Christopherus Homeschool Resources

Unschooling: Who knows…

Christian Curriculum: Abeka, Five in a Row, Bob Jones University


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