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Charting Your Homeschool Course

(Or: How to Get From Here to There)

By Vicki Bentley
HSLDA Early Years Coordinator

When I mention the word curriculum, what comes to mind? Most of us think of books. While your studies will surely include books, the word curriculum simply means “course of study” (its root translates from the French courir, “to run,” and Latin counterparts). Think of your curriculum as the road map for your homeschool journey.

Now, a little secret about maps and me: I am hopelessly geographically challenged. I have been known to call my husband on my cell phone from the parking garage of the state convention, unable to find an exit—even after 11 years at the same facility. Not long ago, I got lost for 20 minutes, a mile from my own house—after four years at the same address.

So if I called you for directions, you’d probably ask me where I am now and where I want to go, so you could help me figure out the best way to get from here to there. Similarly, in mapping out your homeschool course, you must determine where you are now, where you plan to go, then ascertain the best way to get from here to there (lest you be “lost in the parking garage” of homeschooling). This can seem overwhelming, but don’t panic! Let's take a “rest stop” to determine your philosophy of education, which will guide you on the rest of your journey.

Why are you homeschooling?

Is this something you feel “called” to do, or are you “trying it out” for a year? This will steer your curriculum choices somewhat. If you are planning to put your child into public school in the near future, you may want to use a fairly conservative approach, possibly a pre-packaged curriculum (maybe a correspondence course), or you may want to compare your customized curriculum to the grade-level standards of learning for your state. For placement (knowing where to begin), determine what your child already knows versus what is covered in the material. Just because he is a first-grader doesn’t mean he has to be constrained to covering first grade reading skills again if he is already reading well above grade level.

(Note: If you are removing a child from a conventional school setting and you have a concern that he is not up to the cognitive levels indicated by his grade level, you may wish to have him take a standardized test or have him evaluated in some way to provide a baseline for you. That way, at the end of the year, you have a starting point against which to evaluate his progress.)

If you are committed to homeschooling for at least several years, you will have more latitude in your choices, since you will be responsible for setting the long-term standards for your child’s education. What is your concept of an education? What skills, knowledge, and/or experience will your child need in order for you to consider him ready to be on his own? If you can’t think that far ahead right this moment, at least consider what you want him to have accomplished by the end of this year. These goals should be measurable—how will you know when they have been accomplished? Discuss with your spouse and your child (if appropriate) how these objectives fit into the “big picture” of his future.

This is also a good time to set some goals for yourself and your family in general. As you choose activities and curriculum for your children, evaluate these against the goals you have set for this year. Will this activity move you closer to your stated objective? Is a good activity or book or class keeping you from having time to do what is best? Maybe it is something that can wait until another time.

Will you use a packaged curriculum to get started? Or will you choose various books and games that fit into your plan? Are there some subjects that you can teach to all the children at one time in a multi-level approach? Do you prefer the security and continuity of a traditional textbook approach, or do you like the idea of an integrated unit study approach? Maybe the patriotism of the principle approach excites you, or possibly your maternal instincts go into overdrive when you read about Charlotte Mason’s gentler approach to learning. As you read, you may find that the classical approach sounds like what you equate with homeschooling, or maybe you are attracted to the relaxed approach of studying what is of interest in your family at the moment. Feel free to borrow and re-arrange from all these different approaches; they are not mutually exclusive. That’s one of the wonderful benefits of homeschooling—you can create a custom curriculum!

There is no one “right” way to home school, no “perfect” curriculum. What works for one family may not be the best for another, or what works for you one year with one child may not work for the next. Don't compare your children to the support group leader’s children or your friend’s children; compare your family only to God’s ideal for your family.

Have a great time along the way, and be prepared for an incredible journey!

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