Choosing curricula can be one of the most exciting times of the year. I love when the packages arrive on my front stoop. It feels like Christmas with something new to open almost everyday. However, selecting from the wealth of options available can be overwhelming. How do we pick what is best for our families? I choose my curriculum similarly to how I choose a car.
The last time we bought a car, I was nine months pregnant. We knew that very soon our car would need to hold two car seats and other baby paraphernalia. Also, we lived in a rural area, far from work and shopping. We drove a lot which put finding a van that would get good gas mileage (at least good mileage for a van) at the top of our list. Our budget was limited, so affordability was extremely important. Given the hot summers we experience in the South, we considered air conditioning essential, and because I cannot drive a stick-shift, automatic transmission was non-negotiable. Last on my list was the color. I really like blue and green and wanted a van in a shade of one of those colors.
After we had listed what we wanted, we began to research. We talked to friends about their vans. We read Consumer Reports. We took a few models for a test drive. We found the van that was just right for us, with one exception. To get the price we needed, we had to buy the model on the lot… a RED one. I am not fond of red cars, but I had to admit that of all of our criteria, color was of least importance. We decided to concede on color preference and became the owners of a bright red mini-van.
We choose our curriculum in a similar fashion. Curriculum is a our educational vehicle, and it must get our children where we want them to go. That is why we set educational goals before purchasing curricula. If a curriculum does not meet certain expectations, it will not yield the results we want. If we do not know what our expectations are then we are bound to buy haphazardly and find ourselves dissatisfied in the end. During our "homeschool conference", we set these goals and use them to guide our choices.
After our goals are set, we research. That involves reading reviews and talking to homeschooling friends. The Old Schoolhouse Magazine's Homeschool Crew is a great review panel and offers free reviews on a number of homeschool products. The Homeschool Lounge is good place to chat with other homeschoolers. They even have a group called "curriculum" that serves as a forum for posting questions and discussing experiences. HomeSchool Reviews allows you to post your own reviews and read reviews written by other members. Membership is required but is free. Cathy Duffy also offers a number of product reviews. The Curriculum Choice is another great site. Not only do the contributing authors review products, they explain different schooling philosophies and provide links to sites where you can find more information on each approach.
However, my most valued reviewers are my homeschooling friends. Because they know me so well, they can offer me more insight. Frequently, a friend has said something to me like, "You would love this program. It fits your personality." or "I don't think you would be happy with ____. It just isn't your style." They are often right, too!
Next, we take a few test drives by ordering samples. Most suppliers offer a sample lesson that you can download for free . Others will send you freebies via snail mail or allow you a sneak peek online. Once again, I involve my friends in this process whenever it is appropriate. I am not shy about asking homeschoolers in my local association for their opinions. Most homeschoolers are happy to help each other and to discuss their favorite curriculum. Some have even loaned me materials long enough for me to peruse them and determine if they fit my needs.
In the end, we have to make some concessions. When we set our car-buying goals, we did not know that the only model available would be red. As fallible people, we cannot claim to have the wisdom to get everything right the first time… or ever, for that matter. Likewise, a perfect curriculum just does not exist. However, to help us exercise wisdom in making concessions, we have divided our goals into two categories, essential and non-essential goals. We have selected three essential goals and try our best never to compromise on them. They are providing a distinctly Christian education, developing a Biblical worldview, and promoting a strong work ethic. Non-essential goals can range from wanting a rubric for scoring writing to wanting lessons that are broken into small chunks.
I intend to write more on our goals later in a series on "socialization". As you read our goals, they may differ from yours. That is to be expected. Each family has different needs and must follow God's leading in meeting them. However, each of us has the same command… to raise our children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Eph 6:4) Educating our children is a huge leg of our life's race. In 1 Corinthians 9, we are admonished not to run this race aimlessly but to run as one who wants to win with the self-control and training of an athlete. Ladies, I encourage you to take time this summer to reexamine your goals and I will reexamine mine. Let's seek the wisdom to set them well so that we might finish well, too.
Return soon for Part Three: Purchasing Materials