Narrowing It Down - Tips For Picking Curriculum



So let’s say you’ve decided to homeschool in the upcoming school year, and you have started looking into curriculum.  How do you not get overwhelmed with the endless curriculum options out there?  Because seriously guys, there is so much.  I’ve heard from so many new homeschool moms that all the different curricula is overwhelming.  How do you start to narrow it down, how do you figure out what will work for you family?  I have a few thoughts and tips on where to start.



Figure Out Your Homeschooling Style (As Much As Possible Anyway)

Before you start to wade through curriculum, I think it’s helpful to think ahead to what you are hoping to get out of homeschooling, for yourself and your kids.  What exactly do you want your homeschool to look like?  What are your main goals for your kids?  How do you want to evaluate their learning? Do you want it to look like textbooks and quizzes? Do you want opportunities for learning through doing?  Do you want them to develop any particular skill really well?  

One thing that really helped me was doing a little research into different homeschooling educational philosophies - learning more about the possibilities really helped me figure out the specific things I wanted for my kids out of different subjects, and out of our homeschooling journey as a whole.  I wrote a summary of some popular homeschooling styles here, and I also highly recommend watching this video to give you an idea of the different homeschooling styles.  

Don’t get too bogged down in research, but once you know the types, I think you should think carefully about which style (or which aspects of different styles) appeal to you.  If you really like the idea of learning through interesting books (as opposed to textbooks) that will affect the curricula you pick. If you want your kids to have more input into what they learn (as in unschooling), that will guide your whole year.  If you love the idea of the trivium in classical homeschooling, you’ll want to look for a curriculum that incorporates some of that.

And if you look at all the different styles and you still have no idea where to go with it - don’t worry.  I’ve got more tips.

Attend A Curriculum Sale 

If there are any homeschool conferences or curriculum sales in your area, I highly recommend you attend (though I do realize that this may be hard to accomplish in 2020).  If you can’t find a curriculum sale, see if there are any physical bookstores in your area that carry homeschool curriculum (Mardel’s is one), or you can ask friends who are already homeschooling if you can come over to look through their curriculum.  It is so much easier to get an idea of what you like and don’t like in a curriculum if you have a chance to look through it.  

Even if it’s a curriculum you aren’t initially considering, take a look at it anyway.  Read through the parent notes at the beginning of the book and start thinking through what you agree or don’t agree with.  Look at a curriculum that has a lot of moving pieces, and see if you like that or not.  I think just looking through different curricula of different styles will help you start to decide which direction you want to go.

Choose A Curriculum That Appeals To YOU

I think it’s tempting to try to choose a curriculum that’s going to be perfect for your specific kid and their learning style.  But…as Pam Barnhill says in Plan Your Year, “the best homeschool curriculum is the one that will get done.”  And especially if your kids are young, the person who is driving the curriculum is you, as the mom.  You want to work with a curriculum that you are excited about, that you want to open up and start with your kids.  If you open up a book and feel excited to teach the subject to your kids, then your kids are most likely going to become more excited to learn it.

Consider Your Child’s Dislikes

As you are looking at curriculum, I think considering what your child hates to do may be more important than considering what they like.  One of my goals for homeschooling is that my children learn to love learning, so I don't want to make it harder on them than necessary, especially in the younger years.

If you kid really hates writing, you’re going to want to avoid a curriculum that’s mostly writing-based.  If they are still getting a handle on their reading, don’t choose a curriculum that expects the child to read huge chunks of text (unless you know you have time to read it to them).  If you know your child loves learning in a certain way, by all means incorporate those things!  But pay attention to the things that are difficult for them, or that they dislike, and find a curriculum that you can adapt to work around those things until their skills develop more.



Other Things To Consider:

Worldview

One of the most important things to me in picking curriculum is making sure that I choose a curriculum with a biblical worldview.  A major reason why I homeschool is so I can impart a knowledge and love for the Lord to my kids as an integral part of their education, so I try as much as possible to pick curriculum that fits with that (especially with subjects like science and history).  Before you pick curriculum, make sure you are okay with the worldview it has as its foundation, and also make sure you agree with how it presents differing worldviews.  Since this is such an important aspect to me, I've eliminated a lot of curricula on this point alone!


All-In-One Or Piecing It Together

Is it really important to you to choose an all-in-one curriculum, or are you okay with piecing together different curricula for different subjects?  A lot of moms like the ease of an all-in-one curriculum, and the fact that a lot of the subjects can be integrated and connected in an all-in-one, because someone else already thought it out for you.  Other moms (like me) have specific ideas about how they want to teach different subjects, and it’s easier to choose curriculum for subjects individually in order to get exactly what they want.  

Learning Styles

What about learning styles, you may ask?  How do you figure out if your kid is an auditory, visual, or kinesthetic learner, and how do you find a curriculum that fits with that?

This is just my opinion about learning styles in my experience so far, so take it with a grain of salt…but I don’t think kids’ learning styles are quite as important as people sometimes think.  Learning styles are still being researched, but it's my understanding that there is no hard evidence to support the learning styles theory, or the idea that we must teach to specific learning styles.

In my very unprofessional opinion, I suspect that most people probably work within a combination of learning styles - some people may lean more toward one style than another, but most people are served well through a combination of hearing, sight, doing, etc.  

And if your child really does appear to lean heavily toward one learning style, you can probably adapt most curricula to fit within that.  For example, if your child retains more by hearing, consider the audio version of a textbook if it’s available, or just plan to read it aloud to them (or have them read aloud to themselves).  But where a curriculum doesn’t quite fit, your child can also get practice in other learning skills too.  Maybe your child is a big visual learner, but practicing listening skills through audiobooks would also be a good thing for them, for example.  You don’t necessarily have to pick a curriculum that focuses on one learning style just because your child might lean that way.  

However, I do think it’s important to consider your child’s skill areas and areas of struggle when choosing a curricula - this is less about an innate "learning style", and more about being aware of where they are excelling or still growing. To me, it’s more important to consider my child’s current skill level in order to not overwhelm them in that area too quickly, as I explained under “Consider Your Child’s Dislikes”.  If my child is a weak writer, I want to gradually stretch them in that area, but I don’t want to make them drink from a fire hose by choosing a really writing-heavy curriculum either.  That would just be a recipe for a miserable year for everyone.

Subjects To Do Together

If you have multiple kids it is very easy to combine different age groups for certain subjects.  You don’t have to do this - you can choose grade-specific curriculum for each child in your house if you would like.  But if you have a bunch of kids (like I do) doing some subjects all together will make for an easier and shorter homeschool day, so that may be something to consider when you are looking at curriculum.  

For example, we do history, science, and Bible all together as much as possible in our house.  I read the book to all my kids, and then I might give my older kids a couple extra tasks to reinforce the lesson.  We are able to do subjects that way because I chose a history and science curriculum in which we could all participate together.  If I had chosen a curriculum that was more grade-specific, or an all-in-one that had different books for different grades, this might be harder to do.



So to sum up, here are some questions to ask yourself, and these will help inform what kind of curricula you should be looking at:

-What is my preferred homeschooling philosophy and teaching style?  Does the philosophy of the curriculum I’m looking at fit with that?
-Does the curriculum I'm looking at support or undermine the worldview I am trying to pass on to my children?
-Do I want an all-in-one curriculum, or do I want to hand-pick each subject?
-Do I want to combine multiple age levels for certain subjects?  Is the curriculum I’m looking at conducive to that?
-Have I looked inside the curriculum and read the teacher’s notes?  Does the philosophy of the curriculum make sense to me?
-Am I excited about this curriculum?  Would I have liked it as a kid?
-Is this curriculum a good fit for my child’s current skills and abilities?  Will it stretch them without overwhelming them?  Does it include too much of any elements my child struggles with? 

I hope this post has been a little helpful if you are still struggling with choosing amongst the sea of curricula!  And if you have any questions or additional tips, please add them in the comments!

Galveston Island - Part Two



Once we were on Galveston, we spent a lot of time at the beach, the hotel pool, and out on trails!

We tried a couple different nature trails, and we saw so many interesting birds that we don't have where we live.  When we were driving in the car in Houston, I spotted a bird with pink wings flying overhead, but I couldn't tell what it was.  "Oh," Wyatt said, "maybe it's a roseate spoonbill."  Well, lo and behold, when we went on a nature walk, what did we see?  A bunch of roseate spoonbills in a pond!  It was so cool to see those birds, because they really aren't anywhere else in the U.S. except right along the coast in Texas and Florida.  We also saw a blackbellied whistling duck, a yellow crowned night heron, neotropic cormorant, and a common gallinule.

We ate picnic lunches along a canal (it looked like a popular fishing spot), and the beach.  We also went out to eat a couple times.  Our favorite was The Rainforest Cafe!  We don't have those where we are, and the kids thought it was so much fun!  Well, except for when the "thunderstorm" started - then Georgie slapped her hands over her ears and made the cutest little face until it was over.

We went miniature golfing, and really, is there anything cuter than little kids trying to hit a golf ball?  I think not.

We went to the beach a couple times and built sand castles and waded in the water.  None of us went out very far though, because there were rip tides a few of the days that we were there, which is terrifying to me.  I'm a born mountain girl, and the ocean scares me in general, so we are very cautious with the kids by the water.  We make them wear their life jacket/floaties whenever they even put their feet in the water, and they aren't allowed to go our past their ankles without one of us holding their hand.  Like I said, the ocean scares me a bit.  But I loved getting to relax, and play in the sand with the kids, and read!  I got a little paper reading in, but I mostly do audiobooks on the beach so I can watch the kids at the same time.  Even with Derek there, it's good to keep two sets of eyes on five kids.

We also loved the hotel pool, and we went swimming almost daily.  The kids are getting more and more confident in the water!

This was a quieter vacation for us overall - we generally pack our days with all the local sights, but this trip we just took it easy.  It was a nice reset from months on stay-at-home orders, though I told Derek I felt like we needed another week!  One week to get back to a stressless baseline, and another week to really refresh.  But still, it was a timely and needed vacation.



(See the spoonbills?)











 (We walked along the seawall to get to a gift shop we wanted to visit called Murdocks - which is funny, because Murdocks at home is a country-western store, not a store filled with seashells!)

(The seawall had these tiled benches all along it, and they had information about ocean-related things.  We stopped and read each one.)



 (All kinds of neat coral and shells.  We let the kids each pick out a shell as a souvenir.)

(Rainforest Cafe!  We also got the kids little stuffed animals here, which they proceeded to play with the rest of the trip.)

(Inside the cafe.)

(Mini golf!)

(This would be a great picture of me, if it wasn't for the mini-golfing/overalled figure behind me, ha!)



(The ocean, just after a big rainstorm. Of course we proceeded to walk on the beach, because the light was so interesting and pretty.)






(These pelicans just kept flying past in a huge line.)

(Frozen yogurt in the evening.)



(Lots of evenings at the pool!)

(And more sandcastle building and reading on the beach!)








We saw a few pretty sights on the way home, so last part of our vacation photos coming next week!

Five Goals For Early Fall



At the beginning of this year, I was really trying to make monthly (or at least semi-monthly) goals.  I did pretty well until about March, and then...well, you know.  It's time to try to get back into goal-keeping mode, and I am looking forward to having something to work toward for the last few months this year!  These are my goals for August and September (I find I do better if I give myself goals every two months, instead of every month).

Finish Our Summer To-Do List

I wrote here about all the fun stuff I hoped to do with the kids this summer - we've done about half of the things on the list, and I think we could probably cross off at least ten more items before the end of August!  I'll post a final list update of everything we did in a couple weeks, but I'd like to squeeze as much as possible before we start school.

Finish All My Half-Read Books

These are the books I am currently halfway through:

-Lord Edgeware Dies by Agatha Christie
-The Underground History Of American Education by John Taylor Gatto
-The Last Of The Doughboys by Richard Rubin (Kindle only $3!)
-The Bright Side Of Going Dark by Kelly Harms
-Lovely War by Julie Berry
-This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger
-Maybe You Should Talk To Someone by Lori Gottlieb
-Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
-The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien
-The Book Of Signs by David Jeremiah

It looks like alot, but since I'm halfway through all of those, it's really equal to about five books.  I'm tired of having so many books going at once, and I'd really like to close these books up before diving into some fall-ish mood reading.

Workout At Least Four Times A Week

As I mentioned in my post the other day, this is my first year in eight years to draw a deer tag.  I know if I don't try to get in better shape I'm going to be wheezing my way up the mountains during hunting season.  I want to put my best effort in since I haven't been hunting in so long - I want it to be as pleasant of an experience as possible, and I want to get something!  My goal is to workout at least four times a week, and especially my legs, so hopefully I won't slow Derek down too much.

Sort And Print This Year's Photos + Print One Year's Worth Of Past Photos

Something I've had on my goal list for the past several years is to finally print all the pictures from the kids' baby years, and put them in albums.  This is something I've been terrible about ever since Gwen was born.  I'd like to go through the next year in my backlog (I think it's 2014), narrow it down to the 200 (or so) best photos, and get them printed up before the end of September.  (We'll worry about getting them into albums later.)

I'd also like to get this current year's photos sorted and printed up until this point.  Last year for Christmas I printed up the best pictures of each kid, put them in a little brag book album from Walmart, and put them in their stockings for Christmas.  They loved it.  They loved having a book full of memories and photos of themselves and our family from the previous year.  I want to do it again this year, and I don't want to leave it to the last minute because it is quite alot of work.  So I'm going to start on that early.

Finish Christmas Shopping

Derek brought up a really good point  - we may want to accomplish our Christmas shopping early this year.  Who knows how things will go in the months leading up to election day, if there will be more shutdowns, or if the mail service will suffer more delays than it already has.  I don't want to order things in November (as I usually do), and run the risk of anything interfering with packages arriving on time.  So I'm attempting to finish ALL our Christmas shopping by October 1st.  This year has been stressful enough that I'm also liking the idea of having a very non-stressful Christmas because I got everything organized early!



Did your goals for the year get de-railed like mine did?




Galveston Island - Part One



I'm finally getting around to writing about the trip to Galveston that we took in May!

Needless to say, vacation this year was really weird.  Because of Derek's work, we can't take vacations in June or July, so we usually end up going on our summer vacation in May or August.  August vacations can be a little tough on me - it's really hard to get back into school mode when we just got home from summer vacation.  So our preference has been to try to vacation in May.

This year that was obviously a little tricky.  Flights were cheap but highly discouraged, and we wanted to be conscientious about going to a state with a similar case-load as our state, and about trying to keep social distance while still having some fun.  We settled on a road trip to Galveston!

The drive was fun, and we really enjoyed the terrain in Texas.  It's so much greener than I imagined it to be.  We also drove through a couple towns that I had been reading about in The Worst Hard Time, and that was really fascinating to me - we went right through the land that was once a part of the XIT Ranch.  We also stopped for candied pecans on the way as a treat.

We reached Galveston late at night, and the first couple days down there were a little rough, with a dirty AirBnB debacle (full story here).  We made a quick trip to the beach the day we left the AirBnB, but we had to drive back to the Houston area to stay the night since there wouldn't be a hotel room available until Monday.

That ended up being a good thing, because I ended up getting a full-blown ear infection, and I had to go to Urgent Care to get antibiotics!  Within 12 hours of taking them, I felt 95% better, which is crazy to me.  I haven't had to take antibiotics in years, and I was impressed - those things really work!

All that to say, our vacation didn't feel like it truly started until four days into it.  I was bummed that we missed a couple days that we could have been spending at the beach, but hey, it is what it is.  Has any vacation truly gone perfectly?  We haven't ever had a vacation that was without bumps.

We did get to see a movie while we were in Houston, something we still haven't been able to do at home, so it was a treat.  We had the theater nearly to ourselves, and we saw "Playing With Fire".  The kids thought it was completely hilarious and begged me to buy it - aside from a little "potty humor", it was cute.  I think the excitement of going to see a movie after so long is what made it memorable though!

Once we were back on Galveston we toured an old mansion to kick things off right, a place called Bishop's Palace.  It was a beautiful old place.  It was a self-guided tour, and we were literally the only people in the whole building except for two clerks in the basement.  It was really interesting to be in there all alone!  I do wish we had been able to take a guided tour, because the pamphlet they gave us was light on the history.  Obviously a Bishop must have once lived there, and I was under the impression that some services must have been held in there too because of all the gorgeous stained glass windows and other paraphernalia.  But that is all speculation, because the pamphlet told us things like "This was Mrs. Gresham's room," which I have to be honest, I found really amusing!  I wish I knew who Mrs. Gresham was.  That's what we get for trying to do a self-guided tour.  The exhibit on the hurricane that hit Galveston in 1900 was really interesting though!

After checking into our hotel we drove down the seawall and we were able to walk onto Pleasure Pier, which is basically an amusement park on a pier.  All the rides were still closed, but it was fun to walk along it as the sun was going down!  Everything was so pretty.

Then the next day we went right on back to the beach!

(Ready to go!)

(We stopped at a few historical sites along the way.  This was the site of a massacre, so we stopped to look at the memorial.)

(Driving through New Mexico - looks like there was a brush fire behind that hill.)

(The beach!)



(Our first day at the beach before we hung out for a couple days in Houston.)

(The Bishop's Palace.)








(Wyatt was really interested in the exhibit on the 1900 hurricane.)




(Walking on the pier.)



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(Back to the beach!)






Part Two coming next week!




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