Why "What Curriculum Should I Buy?" Is Not the First Question You Should Ask


Why "What Curriculum Should I Buy?" is Not the 1st Question You Should Ask

“What curriculum do you recommend?” It’s a logical question when you have decided to homeschool or have been homeschooling for a while and looking to make some changes. It is such a common question that it is asked almost daily on homeschool discussion boards. You want to make sure that you are covering all the subject areas and providing your children with the best education possible. That is, after all, one of the main reasons you decided to homeschool in the first place.

I know that you want to jump in and learn how to DO this homeschool thing. It’s our natural tendency to figure out how things work and make it happen. But really, pausing right here in the midst of your questioning will serve you well all along the journey. There is so much more to choosing a curriculum than comparing scope and sequence, price, or reviews. The uncertainty you feel will keep your eyes and ears and heart open to finding the right fit and not simply settling for what others do.

So if “What curriculum should I buy?” is not the first question question to ask, what is? The question and its answers are simultaneously simple and sophisticated. The question is…

What do you believe about education and learning and life?

 Your answers…are as unique as your fingerprints.

You may not know what you believe, where to start, what to ask, or that there are even questions to consider. I had no idea about all the possibilities when we began our homeschooling journey about 12 years ago (and I hold graduate degrees in education!).

The good news is that you don’t need to know all the answers. In fact, you never will. I have spent the past 18 years learning about educational philosophy and I still feel like I have more to learn. I have applied much of what I have learned. Some of it has been somewhat successful and some has fallen raucously downhill. What has finally emerged is my own confidence that I will do what is right for my family (and each of my children) at any given time.

Rather than see this seemingly unorganized way of homeschooling as a hindrance to educating my children, I see it as an asset. With my eyes wide open, looking always for new insight into learning, I am more responsive to the educational needs of my children. So as my children and I grow, we call upon new ways of learning so that their education is truly tailor-made.

But how do you get from where you are, with all your questions and concerns, to a place of confidence? You keep asking questions. Always. To get you started, I made a list of questions for you. It is not a conclusive list, but rather, a compilation of the questions have been helpful to me and to those who I have coached through this gateway. There are links included and a downloadable worksheet to facilitate note-taking as you explore.

    • What do you believe to be true about learning?
    • What inspires learning in you? In your children?
    • What are your children’s primary learning styles? What are yours?
    • What are your strengths as an educator? What are you fears?
    • What approach would serve you best? School at home? A relaxed, organic approach? Something in between?
    • What educational philosophies appeal to you?
      • Charlotte Mason
      • Classical
      • Unschooling
      • Waldorf
      • Project-Based Learning
      • Montessori
      • Democratic Education
      • Outdoor Learning
      • Unit Study
      • Traditional
      • Eclectic

Every homeschooler, new or seasoned, benefits from learning about the educational philosophies. This investment will save you time, money, and maybe a little bit of sanity, maybe:-), in the long run.

Now that I’ve turned your brain upside down and scrambled up where you thought you were supposed to begin, I leave you with this. An anchor for the journey and the answer to all the questions.

No matter what you believe about learning or curriculum, the key to homeschooling is the relationships you build. The best place to start is by looking into your own heart and into the faces of your children.

Over the next month or so, I will be highlighting each educational philosophy, giving you a glimpse into the pros and cons, sharing some resources to further facilitate your learning, and my personal reflections on each one. To have all the posts of this series delivered to your inbox, simply subscribe here. Subscribe here >

Trust the Child

I was going to share the various educational philosophies on the continuum of homeschooling in somewhat of an order, starting with the most teacher-directed and moving toward the most child-directed. But this post is begging to be written. These words want to be heard, even if only by my own heart. You see, we began our homeschooling journey in a very teacher/parent-directed fashion. Over the years, we have dabbled and immersed ourselves in so many styles of homeschooling that I can confidently say we are completely eclectic in our approach. It varies based on the child and the season of our lives together. But today, I need to share about our homeschooling journey with our oldest. He is, after all, the one who has had to endure our trial and error more than any of the others.

Over the last week, this boy has spent between 6-8 hours a day intensely focused on learning. If you had told me last year or even last month that I would witness this passion and intensity with this child right now, I would not have believed you. In many ways, he has been the most challenging to parent and teach. He has high expectations and does not settle. He has never been one to do something just because I told him he needed to. He has to see value and purpose or he’s not going to give it his time or his best effort. Most people would say, “Well sometimes you just have to do what you have to do whether you like it or not.” And that is true. Sometimes. There are many times when he puts away all of the dishes or folds three loads of laundry or cleans the bathroom. Not because he particularly wants to, but because he sees the value in it but even more importantly, he respects that we, his parents, really appreciate his help. His willingness to help has come in the past year as he has grown and matured. I believe it has come because we have allowed him more freedom and space to be himself.

From the beginning, this boy has had a mind of his own and in the beginning we saw this as a hindrance and not as the gift that it is. So it only makes sense that the homeschooling we did in his early years did not meet his needs. Even though we took his interests into consideration, I heavily directed his learning. Over the years and in and out of educational philosophies, we would find things that worked and many things that didn’t. Reading real, living books, like Charlotte Mason suggested, works. Giving a narration summarizing what we read, doesn’t. Using art as a medium to expression works, but not if it’s required.

What has always worked is giving him time and space to learn on his own terms. This doesn’t mean he’s left alone to figure it all out.. We offer guidance and resources for the projects he has chosen. Right now his day involves computer programming, learning about electronics through on-line science videos, taking pictures and videos and writing about his projects, and doing some traditional math and spelling work because he knows he’ll need it for his future projects, and playing the violin and drums. His days are very full and he’s happy. Our relationship is at its best. This child, with a mind of his own, is honoring his true nature. I like to reframe his education and his approach to life as ‘self-directed’ because that is what he is. He is motivated and immersed in meaningful ,self-directed, self-selected learning.

Our journey has allowed us to trust in ourselves so that we, in turn, could trust in our child. There were days when I felt my confidence in our relaxed approach flicker, but thankfully my trust in my child was greater than my fears. Otherwise I never would have had the privilege of witnessing the beauty of this boy in his element. It took time and patience and many, many ups and downs, and all of these will be put to the test in the years to come, but I will continue to trust.

Classical Education Simplified

Classical Education. Sounds kind of fancy, doesn’t it? After all, we usually associate the word classical with music that was written and performed by some of the most gifted composers and musicians in history. But what is classical education? Without going into the whole history of it (there are entire websites devoted to that), classical education is based upon educational values of Western Culture during the Middle Ages and Classical Period. The structure of Classical Education is found in the trivium, of which the three stages are grammar, logic, and rhetoric. Within the trivium, classical education focuses on the seven liberal arts of literature, poetry, drama, philosophy, history, art, and languages. Are you with me so far? I’ll break it down further so that you get a feel for what it looks like.

The grammar stage is the foundation, the first years of schooling, in which the student’s goal is to memorize facts. The rationale is that in the early years, the child is like a sponge, soaking up information, often without even trying. . Lines of poetry, phonics rules, math facts, foreign languages, the stories of history, facts from the world of science and many other things are committed to memory during the grammar stage. It may sound tedious or boring to some, but the young child’s mind is open and ready to receive information.

The second stage of classical education is the logic stage. Within this philosophy of education, sometime around the age of 9 or 10, maybe even 11, depending on the child, memorizing for the sake of it no longer appeals to the child. Now she wants to know ‘why’? It is no longer enough to learn that snow falls in winter. Now she wants to know why. What causes the seasons? How is the snow made?

The child in this stage looks for relationships between ideas, cause and effect, and seeks to find the logic behind concepts and phenomenon. The scientific method takes the place of simply exploring science. While still using hands-on activities, the child is able to work methodically to prove or disprove a hypothesis. All the facts that were memorized in the grammar stage are called upon within the logic stage and serve as tools as the child deepens his understanding of the world.

So far, in the first two stages of classical education, we have seen that the child learns the what, why and how of the concepts and ideas that have been presented to him. In the third stage, the rhetoric stage, the high-schooler/young adult draws upon the knowledge and experience gained in the grammar and logic stages. He now learns to articulate his conclusions and opinions with clarity and in his own unique style. Having a wealth of exposure to a variety of subject areas and disciplines throughout the classical education, the young adult begins to focus more closely on the subjects that she finds most interesting. With the foundation offered through classical education, the student is ready to move forward in the area she chooses.

Within the homeschool world, the most well-known authorities on classical homeschooling are Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise. Their book, The Well-Trained Mind, contains a wealth of information and an excellent resource for anyone interested in learning more about this philosophy. Some may find it overwhelming, but as with any resource, it should be used as a tool and not seen as an absolute. Always keep in mind the child in front of you. Use what works, toss the rest!