Choosing A Curriculum

So you've decided to homeschool. That's great, the decision has been made. Now, where do you get the "books"? The homeschool market is flooded with choices of books and materials that all claim to produce excellent results. Making a decision can be difficult and confusing. Will you use a pre-packaged curriculum? Make your own? Use workbooks only? Life experiences?

The beauty of homeschooling is that it can be tailored to fit your unique family, concentrating on the needs and interests of each individual child. No one person or group can claim to be doing it the "right" way because "right" for one child may not be "right" for another. As you receive new insights about your children and as your children mature, your choices may change.

Joe Sutton, Ph.D, defines curriculum as "a carefully sequenced body of skills covering the academics, social, behavioral and spiritual areas that children are expected to master. The breadth and depth of these skills vary according to the chronological age and grade level of the child." He explains that learning experiences are not limited to textbooks and educational materials, but also include activities such as structured field trips and laboratory experiments. He cautions parent-teachers that "one size does not fit all" when it comes to selecting instructional materials to become part of the child's homeschool program.

There are several teaching approaches to consider as you try to match one approach or a combination of them to your family's needs. When you have decided which approach to take, selecting books and learning materials will become simpler.

The Traditional Approach

The traditional approach is probably the most familiar to you and may be the one you feel most comfortable starting with the first year. Your homeschool will be run much like a traditional school. Textbooks for each grade and subject are used and "follow a scope and sequence that covers each subject in daily increments for a 12 year, 180 days a year academic program. Teacher's manuals, tests, and record keeping materials are usually available that correspond to each of the texts."(Elijah Company Catalog). Some major suppliers of this type of curricula are Abeka Book, Bob Jones University Press, Christian Liberty Press, and Rod and Staff.

Worktext/workbook only

A variation of the traditional textbook approach is the worktext or workbook approach also known as programmed instruction. It is designed for students to work independently. A selection is presented followed by questions. There are eight to ten small workbooks (paces, or lifepacs) for each subject in each grade. Suppliers for these materials include School of Tomorrow and Alpha Omega.

The Classical Approach

The classical approach has existed since the middle ages, producing some of the greatest minds in history. It was reborn due to the efforts of Dorthey Sayers, a British writer and historian. She says, "The true end of education is simply this: to teach men how to learn for themselves; and whatever instruction fails to do this is effort spent in vain." The five tools of learning, known as the Trivium, are Reason, Record, Research, Relate and Rhetoric. In the preparing stage, the child learns the three R's. He builds on this with compositions and collections in the Grammar stage. The Dialectic stage emphasizes serious reading, study and research. All the tools come together in the Rhetoric stage with communication as the primary focus. Parents choosing to use this educational approach may find "Recovering The Lost Tools Of Learning", by Douglas Wilson, helpful. Also available is the magazine "Teaching The Trivium" from Trivium Pursuit.

The Unit Study

All subjects usually taught separately are blended in the unit study approach. A topic or theme is studied for one to six weeks with compositions, models, art, music, history reports, literature and possibly science projects all centered around the same topic which could be weather, Mexico, honesty or an endless variety of topics and themes. One study indicates that forty percent more learning takes place when subjects are integrated. Students are usually more motivated and engaged when they can do projects or experiments along with the usual reading and writing assignments, especially if they have input in choosing the topics. Unit studies take more time to organize initially and to gather materials, but since several grades can study the same topic at different levels, it actually takes less teaching time if you have students in several grades than teaching each grade separately. Research and inquiry are encouraged through the many projects. You can develop your own unit study or purchase a prepared one such as Alta Vista, KONOS, The Prairie Primer, TRISMS, Bill Gothard's Advanced Training Institute of America, and Five in a Row.

Charlotte Mason Approach

Charlotte Mason was a turn-of-the century educator in Britain who felt that children were not mere containers waiting to be filled with knowledge but persons in their own right deserving of respect. They should be given time to play, create, and to be involved in real-life situations from which they learn. She states, "There is no sort of knowledge to be gotten in these early years so valuable to children as that which they can get for themselves of the world they live in." Mason's approach involved teaching the basic reading, writing, and arithmetic beginning in the first grade and using a broad range of sources for the other subjects. Her students took nature walks to observe nature, museums for art, and books which she referred to as "Living Books" that made geography, history and literature "come alive". One other aspect was the use of narration and dictation from passages of books and the discussion of books with the teacher. Numerous books on this approach have been written beginning with "Home Education", a six volume set written by Charlotte Mason. Some other books are For the Children's Sake by Susan Schaffer Macaulay, A Charlotte Mason Education by Catherine Levison, and A Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola.

The Moore Formula

Dr. Raymond and Dorothy Moore are proponents of modified, casual academics and, based on their research, feel that children are far better off whenever possible waiting until age eight or ten for a sustained learning program. Dr. Moore states, "Despite early excitement for school, many, if not most, early entrants are tired of school before they are out of the third or fourth grade." He cites scientific evidence indicating that vision, hearing and other senses are not ready for continuing formal programs of learning until at least age eight or nine. Before that time, learning games and activities provided at the Moore Foundation teach without pressure. Children who begin formal studies later quickly surpass their agemates, who started school at five or six, in learning, behavior and sociability. Younger children are often taught academic skills before they have enough life experiences and background knowledge to comprehend what they are learning or to grasp the concepts involved. Another disadvantage of children under twelve spending more time with their peers than with adults is their tendency to become peer dependent, deriving their sense of self-worth from their peers. The Moores recommend a program with a balance of study, work or involvement in family activities, and service to others. Their book, Home Grown Kids, is where many veteran homeschoolers got their start and it is considered a homeschooling classic. Other books by the Moores include Better Late than Early, Home Spun Schools and Home Style Teaching.

Unschooling

The last approach is hardest to explain as it does not just describe an educational approach but a way of life, unschooling. What it is not: just hanging out or "doing nothing". Unschooling was defined by John Holt, an educator who felt that children had an inborn desire to learn that will surface if not stifled by the usual methods of teaching. Holt wrote in his book Teach Your Own, another homeschooling classic, "what children need is not new and better curricula but access to more of the real world; plenty of time and space to think over their experiences, and to use fantasy and play to make meaning out of them." The Davises, of the Elijah Company explain that "unschooling refers to any non-structured learning approach that allows children to pursue their own interests with parental support and guidance, and lets children learn by being included in the lives of adults. The child is surrounded by a rich environment of books, learning resources, and adults who model a lifestyle of learning and are willing to interact with him. Formal academics, if pursued at all, are pursued when the need arises. In this approach, children are apprenticed or 'discipled' by adults who include them in what they are doing. In the process, the child learns everything the adult knows, and possibly a great deal more." Delight-directed, natural-learning, child-led, relaxed home school; these are all ways to describe unschooling. For those who want more information, try reading some of John Holt's works and Home Schooling for Excellence by David and Micki Colfax, The Relaxed Home School by Mary Hood, Growing without Schooling Magazine, and Home Education Magazine.

You will find the resources cited above listed in the back of this publication. Call or write for several catalogs and compare the resources offered by each. Many of the books mentioned in this article may be in your public library. If your local library does not have them, the librarian may be able to get them from another library for you.

Note of caution: The books and materials cited in this article in no way represent all the materials available. There may be resources of equal or superior value that were not mentioned. It is your responsibility to research and determine which materials are best for you. We have merely suggested a few to get you started.

Last updated: 02/20/2000
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