What Curriculum Should I Use?
Choosing curriculum will seem overwhelming at first. There are so many good choices, and it costs a lot of money. Get help from other homeschoolers. Not only can they advise you; they can help you use the curriculum they have recommended when you need help. In the beginning, stick to basics. Pick a good phonics curriculum and a good math curriculum. The other materials are less crucial.
What Kinds of Curriculum are There?
- Traditional subject-oriented curriculum
- Unit studies
What Is a Traditional Subject-Oriented Curriculum?
This is what most of us think of when we say curriculum. This type of program follows the traditional breakdown of knowledge into subjects. It was championed by Plato and has generally dominated modern pedagogy. Advantages include the fact that schools, testers, evaluators, and family are familiar with it. Some people really mean this when they talk about education. If you decide at some point to quit home educating your children, the transition back to an out-school will probably be easiest from this method.
There is a wide variety of materials available, from secular to Christian. Many homeschoolers are going to prefer Christian, since godly values are often the motivation for homeschooling. You can’t go wrong with A BEKA, Bob Jones University Press, or Rod and Staff publications. All of these have provided curriculum for Christian Schools for many years. Using these materials will give you the assurance that you have covered everything that the out-schools cover.
One of the positive aspects of home education is the flexibility to tailor the work to the student, rather than tailor the student to the curriculum. The subject-oriented curriculum diminishes this advantage.
What Are Unit Studies?
Unit studies are the complement of the subject-oriented studies. Unit studies begin with a topic and then study everything about that topic. An example might be baseball. A unit study would look at the history of baseball, the mathematics (maybe looking at the Pythagorean theorem and calculating the distance from home plate to second), the physics and chemistry of baseball, the sociology of baseball and the like. Many unit studies could be covered over the years, and at the end of the schooling years the student should not only have a good fund of knowledge, but a good idea of how to approach a subject.
The unit study method has been popular among home educators. It is better for teaching children of many different ages simultaneously. It does place the responsibility for the curriculum and organization of materials more squarely on the parents. There are now many curricula available on the market. Konos is the best known of the unit study curricula.
What Is a Self-paced Curriculum?
This approach is based on programmed learning. It often takes the form of workbooks or work texts. Two prominent examples are Alpha Omega and ACE. They offer complete K through 12 curricula that are workbook-based. Artes Latinea is a Latin curriculum based on self-paced learning.
Some advantages to this type of curriculum are the ease of preparation (lesson plans are built in) and there is little supervision or teaching required. Many children can work through these quite rapidly, thereby getting ahead of their grade level. Another plus is the fact that the parents can feel comfortable in knowing that educational experts have made sure that all the requirements have been met.
A downside is the amount of checking required and the large volume of booklets required to do a whole curriculum. If your child is doing seven subjects and has 10 workbooks per subject, and there are 2 teachers’ books and 10 answer booklets, this will total 154 booklets per child. Alpha Omega has released their material on CD-ROM which should help. Another problem is the temptation to learn the material only for the short term. A further drawback to this system is the urge to supplement. There is sometimes a feeling that these systems are a bare bones approach. If you need to do a lot of supplemental work, you lose the advantages of this type of curriculum.
What Is a Parent-Designed Curriculum?
This is where Mom and Dad write the curriculum they want to use. Many of the curricula currently available began this way.
The advantages to this are quite obvious. The materials aren’t just written for any student; they are tailored to your particular student (at least for the firstborn). The materials will be precisely oriented to the particular philosophy of the family.
The negative aspect of writing your own materials is the amount of effort involved. It also requires a certain self-confidence to be this independent.
What Is a Character -Based Curriculum?
A character-based curriculum begins with the assumption that character is more important than intellect. An example of this might be the statement, It is more important to be honest than smart. The prime examples of this type of material are the Advanced Training Institute International (ATI) and Konos.
The advantages of this philosophy are numerous. The first and foremost is that it is right. God cares about our character a great deal and about our intellect only after we are conformed to Him. We should all desire to have and to teach our children to have great character. The character-based materials can and must be individualized to the learner.
Disadvantages to the method are the lack of good endpoints. It is difficult to know what you are accomplishing. This method also requires some willingness to stand alone. It will be quite different from what most school administrators and even evaluators are used to.
What Is a Classical Christian Curriculum?
The classical education is based on the medieval model of education. It was re-popularized by the writings of Dorothy Sayers. It consists of a trivium, or three parts: Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric. The Grammar years are used to cover facts. This typically includes arithmetic, reading, writing, foreign language, Bible memory, and the like. In the Logic stage, the emphasis changes from memorizing facts to consistent use of the facts. Logic and geometry in math, and providential history are examples of this shift. The final stage of Rhetoric is where the student begins to synthesize the previous two stages into their own unique view of the world. Another emphasis of the Rhetoric phase is learning to communicate effectively.
Advocates of this method point out that this form of education teaches the student to make independent decisions in a wide variety of areas, not requiring as much reliance on experts. This is in high contrast to some modern schools which believe that only a very few elite students should be taught this level of independent thinking.
A disadvantage of the classical approach is that most parents are not prepared to teach the materials. Latin, Greek, and Hebrew are intimidating to many parents. There are many helps available, just as in math and science.
What Should I Use to Teach Reading?
The basic factor in raising readers is to be a reader. Your home should have a great deal and wide variety of reading materials. There should be many magazines, books, and newspapers in your home. Your children need to see you reading. They need to believe that reading is important.
God’s World Publications are an excellent resource. You may order their age-appropriate news weeklies for your children, as well as the adult magazine, World, for yourself and your older children.
You need to read to your children. If you can’t read every hour or so, once a day may suffice. One homeschooling father began reading John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion to his daughter when she was 3 months old. She became an excellent reader and a solid theologian as well. Read anything you can to them as often as you can.
Comprehensive multimedia (includes video, audio and printed materials): Sing Spell Read and Write is a highly acclaimed comprehensive program.
Bare bones: Alpha Phonics by Sam Blumenfeld. This book is only $19.95 and it will work. This program is now available on CD-ROM for computer-aided instruction.
What Should I Use to Teach Language Skills?
Grammar needs to be covered. Poor grammar is so obvious that outsiders will automatically conclude that your children are uneducated. Sing Spell Read and Write will include basic grammar. Some of the work texts, such as Alpha Omega, are good for introductory grammar. For older children (fifth and six grades) Wanda Phillips’ Easy Grammar is a good choice.
There are a multitude of good curriculum resources available. Understanding Writing by Susan Braderick is a wonderful program. It includes the whole curriculum for grades 1-12. Susan states that the primary goal of writing is communication. That about sums it up. This program is expensive, around $75.00, but it can be used for all your children. It is available from Braderick Family Enterprises.
What Should I Use to Teach Math?
Many homeschoolers have used Saxon or Horizons, and another program recently gaining popularity is Math-U-See.
The key to teaching math is the self-teaching aspect. Many parents who are teaching this material aren’t all that comfortable with the algebra courses. In spite of this fact, thousands of homeschoolers are learning algebra and more advanced math.
There is another series available for teaching math called Teaching Textbooks. They are designed to be self teaching with homeschoolers specifically in mind and provide a great deal of support material. Every problem is solved in the Teaching Textbooks manuals. They require fairly minimal parental input.
Video math programs are also becoming more popular and available for the junior/senior high courses. In most cases, a professor teaches the lesson and shows examples of the work. Then a textbook provides the practice problems. An answer key and/or solutions manual documents the steps in arriving at the correct answer.
What Should I Use to Teach Science?
One very important method of teaching science is to ask questions in everyday activities and look up the answers. Have lots of supplemental materials around to refer to when stumped.
In our day, it’s challenging to find science curricula that don’t merely assume the theory of evolution. You can find formal science books written by Christians at Bob Jones University Press and A BEKA. An informal approach for elementary children might include Bet You Can’t, Bet You Can, and Science Experiments You Can Eat by Vicki Cobb. Jane Hoffman’s series The Backyard Scientist would also be an excellent option. Supplemental materials can be obtained from the Institute for Creation Research (available from Master Books). The value of formal science before age 12 is somewhat limited.
For junior and senior high science you may also want to consider Apologia Press. The founder, Dr. Wile, is a former college chemistry professor who was converted to homeschooling by the homeschooled students whom he taught in college. He realized that there was something special about these students, and he became an advocate of homeschooling. He later began writing science textbooks for homeschoolers.
What Should I Use to Teach Social Studies?
Bob Jones University Press, Rod and Staff, A BEKA, and Alpha Omega all have excellent materials. The magazines from God’s World Publications also provide excellent resources for current events.