Monday, April 27, 2009

Curriculum Season, Part I

Have you ever seen a deer in the headlights of your car? Sometimes, the poor animal freezes in the middle of the road and stares unblinkingly back, as though hypnotized. Somehow the fear and the blinding light work on their brains so that they just freeze. When this happens, it's dangerous. If you are lucky, you can swerve around them just in time. In the mountains of western Pennsylvania, almost everyone we knew had witnessed this strange phenomenon. If you haven't and you'd like to see what I am talking about, you can go here.

See? I was telling the truth!

Now, why? What does this have to do with us?

Keep that image in your mind. It's the best way to describe a homeschooling mom in curriculum season -- that annual nail-biting festival which arrives as faithfully as tax day. The anxiety and overwhelming sense of responsibility I felt at these times is still seared on my brain. The options, in their sheer numbers, in their ads that made them all look alike, were too many and too little known. How could I know when I was being snookered? How could I know which choices were good, but not right for us? How could I possibly commit that much money? It was an agony. No wonder I started with a boxed curriculum from a private school.

But, as I wrote before, we needed to find our way back to joy.

If you have been reading for the last two weeks, you already have seen my recommendations for setting good standards. You know the importance of getting feedback from your kids. You are paying attention to what your school does best. You've looked at your books to see if they are interesting.

How do we build a life of joy and adventure in our home schools?

Over the next three days, I am going to share with you the three big ideas that helped me navigate from the point of paralysis through the woods and safely back home. These ideas work at every stage of homeschooling. They are the fundamentals of the selection process.

So here is the first idea:

Don't do this alone.

Find an experienced mom who is doing a great job and who has taught the grades your kids will be entering. If you don't know one, ask around. Once you have found your local, on-the-ground consultant, you need to ask the right questions. Not "What did you use?" or "What did you buy?" Instead, ask "What were the best things that you used? What were your favorites? What were your kids' favorites? What would you NOT buy again? Were there products you found disappointing?" The reason you ask in this way is because all home schools have strengths and weaknesses, things that are routinely done with excellence and things that just get done. You don't want to "adopt" something that just gets done. You're looking for the best, the cream of the crop, and you're trying to avoid the lemons.

Sometimes your relationships with veteran homeschoolers can be long-distance ones. One example of this for me was Deb Bell, who was invaluable to my personal growth. When I was learning about a better way to home school, Deb was teaching seminars and running a curriculum store. Her expertise was invaluable. I bought tapes of her seminars, used her catalog, and followed her advice with happy results. Now, she has written a book: The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling, which summarizes her field-tested wisdom and which you can order from her website. For insight you can trust, this book is hard to beat. It acts like a comprehensive travel guide for homeschooling. It's solid, sensible, and packed with practical advice that works. Her wisdom can help you design a program that is a delight for the whole family, but she also understands that you need to meet some standards and get the job done efficiently.

Tomorrow, we look at the second of the three big ideas.


  1. I'm going to pass your blog onto my homeschool email list. Some of them are new homeschoolers and would just love to read your wonderful insights. I feel like they are wasted on an old homeschool dog like me. Woof.

  2. Teacherperson, you are right. The topics of curriculum shopping and how we grew in our early homeschooling years are ones that are especially dynamic for new homeschoolers. I am hoping that our veterans will hang on for the ride with Apple Pie as we explore a variety of topics, but I'll certainly understand if they don't. I would enjoy meeting the friends on your email list. They are welcome here!


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