Itís quite common for homeschoolers to start out using a packaged curriculum. A large percentage of them gradually move to creating their own curriculum and a percent of that to no curriculum at all, or at least not what is usually thought of as curriculum. The longer you are involved with homeschooling, the more comfortable you become with using alternative (meaning alternative to textbooks and lesson plans) methods to teach.
But I do believe there is a place for formal curriculum. There are California state requirements to fulfill or you may belong to an ISP or umbrella school that requires you to turn in samples. You may have to report to someone or you may personally have a conviction that you need to have a formal school time with curriculum. I don't think it hurts a child to learn to use textbooks, write essays etc. Some children will enjoy the sense of accomplishment as well as being able to explain to outsiders in simple terms what they are doing in school. Teens especially want to know they are at least somewhat like everyone else.
Elder Boyd K. Packer said:
Some subjects do require some memorization, some written practice, or curriculum. I beleive there can be a happy medium between becoming bogged down in curriculum and being let loose without any guidance at all.
Make the curriculum you buy a thoughtful decision and not just an impulse buy. If a book will probably only be read once, it's probably not something you need to purchase. Spend your money on books and other materials that you and your children will read over and over again and that exemplify the ideals and values you want your child to have. I once heard a story about a mother who wondered why all of her sons decided to join the navy until she realized that the paintings of the sea on the walls of her home might have had something to do with it. If you want your children to have your values, share your values through the books you choose to buy and read aloud.
Using the Charlotte Mason method, the necessities include paper and pencils, a library card, drawing or painting supplies and some carefully selected books. Much of my homeschool budget went to educational activities such as lessons, concerts, and field trips, including annual passes to places like museums, aquariums, and local attractions. A high-speed Internet connection is nice since so many resources are available online for free, but it's not absolutely essential.
In addition to these basics, I have created a list of questions that can help you as you choose what curriculum you should purchase, what curriculum you can borrow from the library, and what you can improvise at home or devise new ways to teach or learn. My definition of curriculum is anything you use to teach your child. It can be a textbook, a novel, a website, a TV show, a zoo pass, a game or many other things.
When looking at curriculum, consider the following questions before purchasing.
What am I required to teach?
Depending on where you live and whether or not you accept government money, there may be subjects you are required to teach. In California, private schools are required to keep attendance, teach during the day, and offer certain classes. The California Department of Education has frameworks, but private schools (homeschoolers) are not required to follow them. They are required to offer classes in certain subjects like English, science, social studies, math and so on. Specific scope and sequence are not required and neither is it required that all students take the classes that are offered.
The following subjects are required to be offered in high school in California: English, math, social sciences, science, fine arts, health and physical education, foreign language, applied arts, vocational education, and driver education. Discuss with your teens the plans they have for the future and decide together what they will need to do to accomplish those desires. In our family it is important to study economics and the United States Constitution in high school so I have included those subjects as our social science/math courses. We read the text together and have discussions about the principles we learn and how they are working today. There is a complementary test booklet, videos, and activities available also. We try to incorporate field trips when possible. Once you know what your situation requires, there might also be classes that you would like to add to that list such as seminary, homemaking, woodworking, computer, shop, or whatever. In some cases, especially seminary and drivers education, your teen may be able to sign up for an outside class. You may be able to use a sports team or dance class for your P.E.
How much money can I realistically spend?
Spend more time than money, especially in the beginning and you will end up saving both time and money.
Decide on a budget that is realistic. I have seen homeschoolers spend hundreds and even thousands of dollars at homeschool curriculum fairs and many of the things they buy, although wonderful, are never opened or used only briefly. Most homeschoolers are single-income families and we need to use our resources wisely! All of us have a stewardship over the money we earn and there is no need to waste money even if we can afford to. There are so many other worthwhile and important places to use our money.
Do not feel the need to spend your entire budget if you find you can get away with less. Remember that the creators of every catalog makes their living on what you buy so they want to make everything look appealing.
President Brigham Young said, "Never consider that you have bread enough around you to suffer your children to waste a crust or a crumb of it. . . . Remember it, do not waste anything, but take care of everything. If you wish to get rich, save what you get. A fool can earn money; but it takes a wise man to save and dispose of it to his own advantage." (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 292)
Does this item meet my standards?
Itís not always easy to know if a book, video, or other material will meet your standards, especially if you are buying sight-unseen from a catalog or online store. Remember that the vendor is always trying to convince you to buy their product. They are never going to make the product sound expensive or bad. If possible, look at the materials in person and if that isnít possible, ask as many people as you can first. LDS products are more likely to meet your standards but you should still check them out first if you can.
For history books, I look for references to the Mormon pioneers, Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, modern U.S. presidents (ones I am more familiar with), etc. I read a little from those pages and see if they are acceptable.
Ask yourself if what youíre seeing fosters a positive outlook about your country and patriotic spirit. So much of the curriculum out there (including literature) is depressing. Itís OK to have a realistic view, but when everything is negative it changes a personís outlook on their country and their world.
All textbook publishers have built-in bias from the authors which you may or may not agree with. In one popular history textbook, the caption under a photo of Grover Cleveland says, ďstubborn conservativeĒ whereas the caption under the photo of Fidel Castro says, ďromantic Marxist.Ē The rest of the book has a similar bias. Most of the Christian publishers have anti-Mormon bias. Some are blatant and some merely leave out mention of the church altogether.
Look to see if they quote original sources or if they tell the story in their own words. Original sources are better! If you were to compare what Christopher Columbus said about himself and what modern textbooks say about him, you would see the revisionist history that is being taught in our schools and colleges. Go to original sources yourself when possible. So much is available online now. You can listen to speeches, watch videos, read old news reports, etc. Itís pretty easy to find things if you know what youíre looking for.
Bias isnít limited to textbooks, of course. You can find bias in all forms of media including historical fiction and childrenís literature. Choose books that exemplify the ideals and values you want your child to have.
Is it going to require any editing or supplementing?
Sometimes you may find something that is so wonderful that you donít mind editing certain parts or supplementing with additional material. Thatís fine, just be sure to include that when planning your budget. For instance, if you decide to go with a Christian publisher that doesnít mention the Mormon pioneers, youíll probably want to supplement that in.
Homeschooling is a lifestyle and you will soon find you are constantly looking for supplemental material to enrich your subjects. Keep your eyes open for websites, PBS programs, field trips and anything related to the subjects you are studying. Those can add a lot to your school. Many homeschoolers find that the ďsupplemental materialĒ eventually becomes the actual curriculum.
We spent most of our homeschool budget on field trips, especially annual passes to zoos, aquariums, and museums. These were the best investments we made since they served so many different purposes. During the 5 years we lived in Saudi Arabia, we spent 8 months in Europe and several weeks each in Africa, Asia, and America. Each time we planned our next vacation we would send away for information the children could appreciate. We used these trips as jumping off points for unit studies (social studies, science, arts, etc.). Real life experiences make the subjects memorable. Children are able to relate them to their own life which makes it a whole lot more interesting.
Does the material match my childís learning style?
Everyone has certain learning preferences and styles. I am visual and so are two of my children. It was easy for me to see what would work with the visual children. The other one was auditory. I had to change many of the things I was doing in order for that child to catch on to some things.
The visual learners memorized the math facts easily from a simple math game I bought and short timed worksheets. This never worked with the auditory one. When I was at the end of my rope, I found some math tapes that sang the facts and she had them memorized in a few weeks, listening to the tapes in the car when we drove around town.
Once I figured out that my daughter was auditory, we began to look at the library tape collection every week. We found a lot of books on tape for children there. We also found fun tapes that listed all the countries on each continent set to music, math facts, composers, authors, etc. This really made a difference for that child. The rest of us also picked up a lot and expanded our learning style. I now do almost all of my reading through MP3 audio.
Can more than one child use the material?
If you have one or two children, you might not mind buying a whole different curriculum for each child, especially if they are far apart in age like some of mine were. But if you have several children, you will save money and valuable time teaching them out of the same material. If you are trying to do 3 or 4 or 5 different grade levels at once, you will go crazy. Thereís nothing magical about what a child must learn in each grade, especially when it comes to history and science. Combine topics as much as you can and you will all be a lot happier. Look for books that will be interesting to all ages and can be used again and again.
Will this material require a lot of preparation or teaching time on my part?
One of the biggest worries that new homeschoolers have is how they will "fit it all in." They imagine themselves trying to do what public schools do in each grade times 4 or 5 children. If you did that with several children you would go crazy. One of my children loves to tell people that I didnít teach her anything and sheís almost right. I spent very little time teaching lessons. We read books, we watched educational shows, we went on field trips and did certain science or art activities together and the children did their seatwork on their own.
Children want Momís attention and they deserve some of it every day. But they must also learn that Mom has her own job to do and they must respect that by learning to work independently. Look for materials that your children can use on their own or with a little direction from you, especially as they get older. By about 10 my children were all working completely independently. I gave them assignments and they showed me the work when they were finished. If you notice a lot of lesson plans in a book, it will probably take a lot of time to teach.
Can I find something similar (or better) online or at the library or used?
Sometimes itís important to have your own copy of a book that you can write in or refer back to again and again. And sometimes you just want a little taste and are then ready to move on. Learn to distinguish between what you can get at the library or online and what you will want to use again and again. If a book will probably only be read once, it's better to get it from the library. If you live in an area with a good library you might also find educational videos, CDs and computer programs. There are also a lot of free materials available online. Again, donít waste your money regardless of your financial situation.
Recently someone asked me if they should get an encyclopedia. In my opinion, the Internet is much better than any encyclopedia so buying one would be a waste of money. For instance, online you can see videos of manís first steps on the moon where the encyclopedia just has a photo.
Similarly, sometimes you want a new copy and sometimes used in good condition is fine. Used can be purchased online for a fraction of the cost of new and is often just as good. In some homes, the new one will look used in a few days anyway!
Is it going to hold the interest of my child?
Sad to say, but even some classic old books will not hold the interest of todayís child. Iím thinking of one of my favorite science dictionaries that I loved as a child. My children didnít enjoy the black and white photos and children of today that are used to videos would probably never open it despite its value.
I once purchased a set of history books that I thought would be exactly what I was hoping for. They turned out to be dull and disconnected without pictures. We all found them to be too boring to use.
Think about what holds your childís interest when you shop for new curriculum. Donít be swayed by the wonderful descriptions.
Also, keep in mind that you canít avoid making mistakes altogether. When you find something that doesnít work for your family, donít be afraid to stop mid-chapter and look for something else. Sell the old one on Ebay (one manís trash is another manís treasure) and use the money to get something else.
Along with that, donít think you have to read every word of a book, or read it all in order (unless itís a story!). If you are using a science textbook, for instance, feel free to use only the parts that are interesting to your children.
What about gaps?
You love your children and want whatís best for them. You want them to learn everything they will need for the rest of their lives. New homeschoolers are almost always afraid of forgetting something important or getting behind or of having "gaps" in their childís education. Many turn to the state or professionals for guidance because of this fear.
Thereís no need to worry that your children will have "gaps" in their learning. I can guarantee you that they will.
Maybe you seen the TV show, ďAre you Smarter Than a 5th Grader?Ē Sometimes Iím just sure theyíve chosen the most illiterate person they can find and maybe that is the case. But on the other hand, I also know that most people will not remember everything they learned in school. The reason these people lose is because they have forgotten a lot of ďimportantĒ information.
Your children will be the same. They will not remember everything you teach them and there will always be "gaps." The important thing is whether they know how to find the information they need when they need it. Do your best, follow the spirit and create experiences you will remember forever.
State Education Laws and Regulations for California Homeschoolers
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