Struggling with Curriculum Choices?

May 31, 2012

Ah, the end of a school year! For home educators, the end of one school year leads to a season of mass confusion as the search for next year’s curriculum begins.

And talk about CHOICES!

As most of my faithful 8 readers already know, I am reluctant to discuss curriculum. Why? I feel curriculum choice is a persona decision. However, my stance on curriculum is pretty simple, and I”ll share it with you shortly.

As a former classroom teacher, I did not have a choice in what curriculum I used with my students. The principal would hand me the books and the teacher’s manuals, and off I would go to use what I was given. (STUDENTS did not have a choice either.) Was that a bad thing? I don’t think so! And I’ll tell you why.

In just a minute.

Here’s what I’ve been hearing from a LOT of home-educating moms lately: “Would someone please just tell me what curriculum to get so I can just get it?” Now, not everyone phrases it in that exact manner; however, the feeling of frustration and overwhelm is the same. There is so much out there to choose from! How does one even begin to choose? Interestingly, the sentiment seems to be similar no matter how long a parent has been home educating.

True, you want to choose something with a worldview similar to yours. One of the greatest aspects of home education to me is the luxury of choosing a curriculum with a particular worldview for my children. On the other hand, they are going to catch my worldview by being part of our family much more than they will from a stack of books they are handed. It is important that there is a similarity between the two!

Would you be surprised to learn that I have used the same basic bunch of books and workbooks for learning sessions in our home for over 20 years now? Yep, I chose them via catalog–sight unseen–before I began home educating my first little guy 20 years ago. Of course I added to that first bunch of books each year as my oldest progressed, but I have STAYED with the same stuff and used it for all of my kids. The texts that Lilienne–my youngest–is working out of right now are ones that Nick used when he was in fourth grade…along with six other kids who also used those same materials as they grew into them.

Why change?

I can tell you that I’ve been tempted to change over the years, but not out of any need to change. There are flashier things available today with more bells and whistles than existed in 1992, that’s for sure. But I decided if there was not a need to change, why spend the money and jump around from one thing to another? I stuck with what we had, and it has worked marvelously. Ah, but there is a caveat here: the curriculum doesn’t magically work by itself.

When you think about it, curriculum is NOT the most important thing in a child’s edusphere. Now what could be more important than curriculum, you may wonder.

I have discovered that ATTITUDE is much more important than curriculum when it comes to educating a child.

Here’s the rejoinder to my query above: Why is it not a bad thing that teachers are required to teach from whatever they’ve been given? Really good teachers are incredibly creative and caring, and they can take whatever is set before them and present the information to their students, laying it out in a manner that is logical and makes sense. After all, there are only so many ways to spin mathematics.

The problem comes when teachers are given students who have attitudes that preclude learning. Parents dictate the attitudes of their children either knowingly or unknowingly. Give a teacher a child who wants to learn and is eager to learn, and that teacher can take whatever curriculum he or she has available and present lessons from it. Take the same curriculum, the same teacher, but add in a student who doesn’t want to learn and in fact refuses to do his work, and learning is obstructed. Why? Because of the curriculum? Of course not. Attitude truly is everything!

In home education, parents have the time and ability to set the standards for attitude and behavior in their offspring. If a child has a crummy attitude about schooling–or anything else–it is up to the parent to deal with that attitude. If attitudes about learning are not set by the parent and cultivated in the student by the parent–especially at a very young age–curriculum will essentially become a non-issue. Learning is hampered by crummy attitudes. It doesn’t matter what the parent sets before the student, the student is going to fuss and argue and chafe.

Show me a child who is happy, cheerful, obedient, and thankful and I’ll bet money that any curriculum will be suitable. Show me a child who is unhappy, disobedient, unkind, and irritable, and I’ll bet money that no curriculum is going to work well. Education is 99% attitude and 1% curriculum.

When seeking out the best curriculum for your children, my advice is to find what is:

1. well-presented (orderly, colorful, illustrated, etc.)

2. challenging

That’s it. Find the most challenging material for your students, making sure it is not “boring looking” (because what child likes staring at boring-looking stuff?) Yes, that’s my final answer.

Should it be classical? Literature-based? Or any other classification that’s out there today? That is your personal decision. I can’t answer that for you. I could tell you what we’ve done, but that may not be what you want to do. Trust your instincts and roll with it, baby.  🙂

In the meantime, watch and listen to your children to determine types of attitudes that are on display and see if they need adjusting. I can honestly tell you that I care more about my students’ attitudes and behaviors than I care about their curriculum. Curriculum is simply a tool that is used to train the mind.

Training a child’s heart is the fundamental process of education. Then comes the training of the mind.

Once the heart is well trained, education can then become student-led.

Do I hear the Hallelujah Chorus?

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