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Choosing the Right Curriculum Part Two: Picking the Right Fit

In part one we discussed making a plan for your homeschool, now we will implement it as we look at the different curriculum and options. (If you missed part one you can see it here)

To make things easier to find I will divide the curriculums into 3 categories and explain how each one fits and what it has to offer. There are a tremendous amount of different curriculums out there so I will only outline a few I am familiar with in each category in order to give you an idea of what belongs so as you shop you can really compare and mentally sort things out.

After the three categories I will show you how we will use your list to help you sort through the -literally- hundreds of options out there.

The first Category is ‘Bundled Curriculum’ this is an all encompassing curriculum that covers any subjects you need and often has the recommended schedule for your school year available. This is a great place to start your search if you are either lacking teaching confidence, or aren’t organized enough to tie together different curriculum. It’s a stress free and easy approach.

  • Rod and Staff: A Christian/Mennonite/Anabaptist curriculum with strong family and community values. Children learn mostly from text with some teacher narratives and discussion. Designed for classroom style learning. There are few books, and very little illustration. I would recommend this for children distracted by illustrations or intimidated by large books. I felt their writing program was very good. This program is designed to end schooling at 8th grade, and begin apprenticeship afterwards.
  • Abeka: A Christian based classroom approach with very colorful pages and many workbooks. This program has probably the most workbooks, student texts, and teacher books I have ever seen… but you don’t have to use them all if you don’t feel that you need to! I felt this program taught science well for a bundled program.
  • Bob Jones University: another Christian based full curriculum, less workbooks than Abeka but still using full color illustrations, and bright fun drawings in each subject. The handwriting program that BJU has is very fun if your child enjoys coloring. I felt all the pictures in the math books were distracting.
  • Lifepac/AOP: These bite size boxed sets are very student friendly and student lead. Each box contains numerous little student books and one teacher book for each subject. The benefits would be that the student can be encouraged by completing all the smaller booklets, but I did notice that the answers are very easily copied from (almost always) the previous page. This company also offers the same style learning on a computer program, but I’ve not personally used this.

The second category is ‘Literature Approach’. These curriculums rely heavily on outside books and may include hundreds of books over the course of your school year in addition to the main curriculum. You should have a good relationship with your library for these! I love using this for SOME subjects, but it could become a bit wearying if you don’t stay on top of the books you need.

  • Sonlight: A great literature approach to your History, Bible, and of course Literature. I still remember and love many of the books I read in this program.
  • Story of the World: I recently started this history program with my kids. We LOVE it! There is a main text, and a ton of coloring and maps, but it does lean heavily on fiction and non-fiction works to fill in the blanks. This history program really could double (triple) as geography and social studies as well. I usually leave the library with 20 books a week and I haven’t even found all the books on the list yet.

The third category is ‘Eclectic Curriculum’ or curriculums that cover one or two subjects but you will have to mix and match for the rest. The benefits of these are that they are usually very thorough and good for your weaker subjects. You can add these in if you are unsatisfied with one subject in a different curriculum, if you or your child is struggling in this subject, or if your main curriculum doesn’t cover this subject.

  • Saxon: As far as a Math program goes, this would have to be my favorite. Math is my weakest subject, and I failed Algebra 1 four times… ouch. I felt that I was hindered by not having a good grasp of math language and bad communication with my teacher. I feel like Saxon really explains things thoroughly, and if you start in the younger levels there is a wealth of communication groundwork for the teacher to use. I not only know math better now, but I can see where each child struggles with their understanding and how they come to conclusions so I can help them when they struggle. Math is my Son’s favorite topic. Saxon only offers math, phonics, and language arts programs.
  • Apologia: Science from a Biblical perspective. This program really encourages experiments and observations, which I love because science is my favorite subject! The kids get a nature journal for every book that they can keep forever.
  • Susan Bradrick’s ‘Understanding Writing’: Though this book is out of print it is my favorite Writing program. All 12 grades are in one teacher instruction book and that is practically all you need. Each lesson encourages communication (love it!) and mastery of skills. Every topic is looked at from a Christ honoring perspective and scripture is often referred to.
  • Writing Road to Reading: using one set of 70 flash cards instead of an entire phonics program seems a bit odd at first, but this method of learning to read is proven effective and it is actually fun and rewarding! I loved teaching reading this way, and all my kindergarteners have learned to read with this method. The book advises you wait until your child is 7, but I’ve personally never waited if the child is willing and wanting to learn.
  • Life of Fred: while I’ve only taken the geometry course through this program, I have to say that it is funny, engaging, and very low-stress. You learn alongside a little character in the book named Fred, and I don’t know what else to say, it’s funny and it works. Life of Fred offers language arts and math.

Review

So with our plan we talked about:

1. Goals: you can narrow your search by searching for a curriculum that is either Christian or secular, most curriculums do follow a state standard for education but you could find some more catered to your personal goals.

2. Strengths and weaknesses: look at curriculum that is strong and structured for your own personal weak points, and that you can enjoy when teaching your favorite subjects!

3. Your organization: don’t get in over your head, if you can’t keep the loose ends together nobody will have fun. It’s not a bad mark to admit that you can’t do it all, and if you are just too busy than go ahead and find a bundle that works for you! But if you are going to be bored to tears doing the same thing day after day than do yourself and your kids the favor of mixing it up and personalizing EVERYTHING. These are extremes… but here we go.

Summary

Think to yourself, do you want a bundle? Do you want to bundle some but hand pick other items? Do you want to pick out items as they seem to fit your particular family?

If you’ve decided not to go for an entire bundle take a look at other programs that may cover several subjects, and see what you would need to fill in from there.

If you’ve decided to go completely eclectic, I would start by looking at one subject specialties first. Then working your way back towards the bundles for any missing bits or for inspiration on what subjects you may be missing.

From there you can greatly narrow down the criteria for the perfect curriculum. Look at each bundle/set/item in view of your teaching style first, and your students second. Then look at what you have narrowed down your search to. See what is compatible with other things you will have, and read descriptions carefully. Usually this process brings me down to about two or three options which I can then sort out by price or how well they fit with how many kids will need my attention at any given time.

For example:

For me I chose to build my school program around Saxon math, then Apologia for science. I picked out ‘Understanding Writing’ to follow ‘Writing Road to reading’ and then topped off my curriculum with Story of the World and Spelling Power. Most of our school day is dedicated to math and history (my weaker subjects) and language arts comes close behind. Science takes up little time in the school room, but since it’s my passion we end up ‘sciencing’ throughout the day as we talk and go about our day.

Each of the subjects I chose came with a recommended teaching schedule. So, even though I chose an eclectic route, I have a pre-planned and organized calendar to teach from. I don’t consider myself very organized in the planning department, so this is a big plus for me.

What about you? Let me know in the comments if this article is helpful, or if there is something else you would like to see explained! What curriculum did you choose for your school and why?

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