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How to Choose CurriculumPosted Monday, February 6, 2012, at 9:05 AM
One of the first questions new homeschoolers have is how to choose a curriculum. While there are many options, they can be roughly sorted into three main strategies-- going with a boxed curriculum, picking out your books individually, or doing a unit study. I am going to examine the pros and cons of each one.
Pros: Ordering a boxed curriculum set is by far the easiest option. These curriculum kits include everything you need for every subject-- textbooks, teacher's manuals, worksheets, lesson plans, and other supplemental material. Boxed sets are designed to make homeschooling super easy. Some of them use online resources or DVDs, and some even do the grading and record-keeping for you. Some examples of boxed curriculum are Abeka, Sonlight, and Rod and Staff.
If you are short on time or worried about gaps in your child's education, or if you feel like you lack the creativity or expertise to educate your child effectively, or if you are just overwhelmed at the thought of homeschooling, a boxed set may be right for you.
Cons: Boxed sets can be expensive. For example, Sonlight's Grade 3 Multi-Subject package is priced at $912.99. That's just one grade. Some are a lot cheaper. For example, Rod and Staff's sets run about $200 per grade. You may also discover after purchasing the entire set that you have paid for items (such as supplemental math drill books) that you don't even need. Some parents also find the sheer volume of books included to be overwhelming.
Another downside is that boxed curriculum can be limiting. If you rely on a boxed set, you might very well be missing out on something that you and your child would love so much better than what comes with the curriculum.
My advice: If you use a boxed curriculum, don't feel like you have to be a slave to it. You are the teacher. The lesson plans and all of the material are there to help you. Don't feel guilty if you decide to tweak things around a bit to fit your lifestyle. You don't have to do every suggested activity or use every drill worksheet provided. In fact, as you go along, you may want to consider ordering the items individually instead of the package deal so you can order only the stuff you really want.
Picking and Choosing
Pros: Selecting your textbooks individually is a wonderful way to make sure you get the best for your child. You can design a school program custom-made for your unique child by shopping around and reading reviews. One excellent resource I use to find my school books is christianbook.com. You are also not limited to textbooks--many homeschoolers prefer reading whole books instead of textbooks especially in areas such as science and history.
Another advantage to this method is that you can save a lot of money. You don't have to buy everything new. If you are reading whole books, you can find biographies and other great resources at your local library. You can find used textbooks online at places like usedhomeschoolbooks.com. Some homeschool support groups have lending libraries, and some people even find curriculum at yard sales.
Cons: Planning out every subject individually is time consuming and can take some skill and practice. All of the lesson planning is up to you as the teacher. Unlike a boxed set, different curriculums are not going to be integrated with each other and there may be gaps in the material. You will need to be aware of that and plan to make up the difference.
My advice: Make sure to thoroughly research the curriculum you are using. It can be tempting, especially during tough economic times, to just grab up whatever is free or cheap without making sure it actually meets your child's needs. Remember that your child's education is extremely important. This is not an area where you can afford to be a Scrooge. Attend curriculum fairs and read reviews before teaching, and never buy anything used that doesn't include the teacher's manual.
Pros: Unit studies like KONOS aren't a "real" curriculum. They are more like an idea book. They arrange subjects according to units and contain lots of projects and reading lists. Usually you will still need to purchase Math (and sometimes English) textbooks. All of the other subjects are integrated into units. Unit studies are fantastic for highly creative people and kids love all the hands-on projects. Most of my best homeschool memories are from my KONOS years.
Cons: You will have to do most of the actual research when you use a unit study. It's not spelled out for you--you have to gather the information and present it to your children, or have your children research the topics on their own. You must be highly motivated in order to make it work. It will take time. Plan to be a stay-at-home parent if you want to do a unit study because it's going to pretty much become your life.
My advice: Make sure you live close to a good library or learn how to use the interlibrary loan system. Be aware that there are extra costs besides the initial curriculum, such as craft supplies and additional books. Keep a big box somewhere for gathering empty dish soap bottles, milk jugs, sour cream containers, egg cartons, and toilet paper rolls. You will need them. Make sure you are okay with having messes in your house. If you can, work together with another family or two that is doing the same curriculum for group activities.
Whatever you do, remember that it's okay to change if something is no longer working for you. Be careful about changing too often, though. Many kinds of curriculum are progressive and build upon previous years. Switching around too much can be confusing for kids.
There are hundreds of options available to help make you a successful homeschooler. While it's a great idea to ask other parents what they use, remember that there is no child, parent, lifestyle, or situation that is exactly the same as your own. You will ultimately need to find what works for you.
Homeschooling -- The Next Generation
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