Originally Sent: 4/4/2014
April 3, 2014
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Choosing High School Curriculum: Sifting through the Process
April is an interesting time in the school year. It’s late enough in the year to worry about all you have not yet completed but too early to begin a countdown to the last day of school for 2014! If you are adding to your busy schedule by trying to find time now to plan and think about curriculum for next year—it’s enough to make a grown man or woman cry … or at least begin to blubber.
Chin up! Let’s help you chart a course toward choosing curriculum that won’t stress you out, cause you to lose sleep, or drown you in a sea of perplexity.
Your Educational Approach
Each homeschool parent has the advantage of determining his or her approach to learning. For some of you, the approach you’ve used during the early years of homeschooling will remain the same through the high school years. For others, you may feel it’s time to modify how you’ll teach the high school courses. We’ll begin by providing a summary of some basic educational approaches.
• Traditional, textbook approach—each subject uses a textbook as its primary course material. In most cases, prepackaged curriculum may include student texts, teacher guides, tests, quizzes (or other evaluation tools), and answer keys. Very little teacher preparation is required, but it’s preferable if parents interact with their teens by supervising and guiding the learning process of the material being studied.
• Classical approach—typically great books are used as primary source books with an emphasis on rote learning in the early years, logic/reasoning skills in the middle years, and rhetoric/debate/persuasion skills during the high school years.
• Unit study approach—a topic is chosen and the parent collects study materials to help the student investigate, research, and learn about a particular topic usually in an integrated way.
• Unschooling approach—don’t get too excited (!)—This approach does not mean no schooling is done; it means that learning is usually self-directed with a student following his interests with a parent overseeing the instruction.
• Eclectic approach—a variety of methods is used. Many homeschoolers follow this process and pick and choose elements from different approaches as they lay out their plan to teach each subject.
A more detailed explanation of each approach along with suggested publishers/curriculum providers in each category is provided at the Homeschool Marketplace website. Once you've decided on your approach or educational philosophy, it’s easier to begin narrowing down curriculum options.
One Subject at a Time
You may find it helpful to focus on one subject at a time. For example, if you decide to include Algebra 1 in your teen’s high school plan next year, you should first determine the format of the course. Will you be the lead teacher? If so, the hunt for curriculum will begin in earnest. More on this in a minute!
However, if you choose to outsource a course, (online correspondence school, co-op, dual enrollment at a community college, or individual tutor), you will likely not be the one choosing the curriculum, so simply move on to investigate curriculum options for other subjects.
The upside to homeschooling teens is there are so many curriculum choices; but the downside is there are so many curriculum choices! (We’ll wait until you read that last sentence again.) Sometimes parents become paralyzed with indecision when selecting a curriculum because they are fearful of making a mistake. Putting off the decision may only lead to further stress. In some cases, you may end up ordering your materials so late that it precludes you from having adequate time to prepare to teach the course. This only adds to the pressure.
We have a few suggestions to relieve your anxiety. Don’t look at curriculum selection as choosing between “good and bad” but between “good and good.” Use your best judgment and then rest in the decision.
Past curriculum blunders (hindsight is always 20/20) may cause you to hesitate, but remember that this year is a new beginning. We’ve all made mistakes when selecting curriculum and sometimes wished we had used another curriculum rather than the one we chose. But see this as a learning experience, not an out-and-out fiasco. When making a decision, know that nothing is set in stone—you may need to change direction next year. Besides, that’s what fuels used curriculum sales!
If you narrow down your curriculum choices to a few and find it difficult to make a final decision, why not involve your spouse or another homeschool parent in the process? Sometimes it helps to chat about the pros and cons of a curriculum choice with someone who is familiar with your teen and family situation.
Bringing Organization to the Process
Designing a spreadsheet to record information as you research various curricula may help to bring organization to this task. You’ll want to track details such as publisher, websites/catalogs where you can purchase the curriculum and a comparison of costs from different curriculum suppliers. Column headings (such as the ones listed below) and their related questions will help you concentrate on curriculum selections you may want to investigate in more detail.
Teacher Preparation Time
When beginning your curriculum search, use homeschool catalogs/websites or check out the sampling of suggestions on HSLDA’s website for curriculum options. (Please remember that HSLDA’s listing is by no means exhaustive!) Reading about a particular curriculum in a homeschool catalog or on a website is helpful to gather information about the content of the course. Attending curriculum fairs and homeschool conferences where you have the opportunity to actually view the materials and speak with curriculum vendors/authors provides a wonderful opportunity to gather further information on your options.
Cathy Duffy’s new, updated book, 101 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum, is a valuable resource when trying to sort through the many curriculum alternatives. Also, her website is a gold mine of information providing comprehensive reviews of curricula. Another helpful resource matching curriculum options with learning styles is Home Ed Expert.
Interviewing parents, asking questions, is an additional way to gain knowledge about a specific curriculum. A parent may absolutely love Curriculum A; but when you question them closely, you find out what they really enjoy are the weekly two-hour trips to the library to collect all of the reading materials necessary to use the curriculum! If you don’t have this amount of time in your week to devote to this task, then Curriculum A is probably not for you.
In addition, as you are quizzing other homeschool parents, be sure to keep in mind your teen’s likes and dislikes. Your friend’s teen may be very enthusiastic about reading the text and completing workbooks, while your teen may find this method of learning less stimulating. If your teen loves hands-on projects, then by all means purchase curriculum that provides plenty of opportunity to use creativity when studying a subject. Maybe your student can’t get enough of meteorology. Encourage him to work with you to design a course and search out materials where he can peruse his interest.
Listen to your teens’ comments, suggestions, and frustrations relating to previously used curricula. Engaging your teens in the ultimate selection is advantageous because it provides an opportunity for them to invest some ownership in the choice—which hopefully will increase motivation for the course!
When determining what curriculum to use, don’t forget to check out free resources in many different subject areas that you may want to use as supplemental materials. Use your public library to the hilt! Books, videos, audios, magazines, reference tools—all of these resources can be used to bypass the purchase of curricula especially for elective courses such as music appreciation, art history, church history, and many more. (Check the high school website for ideas for electives to add to your teen’s high school program.)
As you search for curricula, ask yourself what materials may be added to your “homeschool library” for use with multiple children, future reference use, or possibly as the beginnings of a personal library for your children.
It’s wise not to be prejudiced against a curriculum simply because few families you know use it. It may turn out to be the perfect option for your family. Remember, the beauty of homeschooling is the ability to custom design a high school program using curriculum that is best for your teen.
The earlier you begin to check out various curricula, the easier it may be to clear your thoughts and take charge of the process. Be encouraged that you are in the best position to know what may work for your family! The Lord will give you wisdom and grace as you map out your course of action.
If you are a member of HSLDA and would like to chat with us regarding curriculum options, we are happy to make suggestions.
Join us next month, as we provide some tips for busy homeschool moms to make time for Bible study/devotionals.
Anticipating the promise of spring and cherry blossoms (!),
Becky Cooke and Diane Kummer
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