Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Curriculum Season, Part III

You will love the third step:

Go Shopping!

(Have you rolled your eyes yet?)

Read on to see what I mean exactly, then tell me what you think about it.

Take your short list, gleaned from the curriculum guide, catalogs, and homeschooling friends to a homeschooling fair this spring. Now is the time to put the date on your calendar and plan to go. Not sure which one or where? Google a few key words and see what surfaces. Ask your friends for suggestions. Curriculum fairs have often been the places where I turned a corner on some area that was troublesome or launched the next big step in our family's learning adventures. For one thing, I was able to view the products I was considering. I almost always discovered new products that fit perfectly into our program. I've had the opportunity to discuss possible options with an amazing array of experts at curriculum fairs. Many times, I've even been able talk about the product with the person who created it. Over the years, I have met and chatted with Deb Bell from the Home School Resource Center, Susan and Howard Richman of PA Homeschoolers, Jay Wile of Apologia, a family member of the Chalk Dust Math Company, Rea Berg of Beautiful Feet Books, and many others. Fairs also host speakers who give seminars and workshops. Not all of these sessions are enlightening to the same degree, but collectively they can work together to lift your understanding to the next level.

Even when the kids were in high school, when we had been doing this for years, I found that shopping was the crucial, final step which let us build a school that truly fit them. It's tempting for veterans to skip this step. After all, you could (almost) make it to the end on what you already have in your schoolroom. But high school is where, more than ever, you should be specializing as your kids prepare to further develop their unique interests into careers. Yes, you need to cover the basic, core subject requirements. And it's sensible to re-use your best materials. I know that we certainly did. Our family used the same math and English textbooks for both my sons. But even with standard courses and texts, there is a need for a custom-fit. How the core courses are taught should depend on the student's career goals, learning style, and aspirations. In addition, you should try to build a program that intriques and delights your student. This is the best way to encourage excellence in the classroom. I found that a trip to a quality bookstore, even of the chain variety, was invaluable for uncovering fresh inspiration. Here is where we found many of the resources my kids enjoyed most. Beyond this, the high school instructor should consider online advanced courses and community college courses. High school kids can benefit tremendously from a few experiences in new settings with instructors who are experts in the subject they teach.

Insider's Tip: When my children were young, I found that it was always best to leave them at home while I shopped at a curriculum fair. This was a time when I needed to concentrate and to make decisions. Even in their teens, they tired quickly of "shopping for school" at a large fair. A couple of hours was their limit! What worked best was to talk with them before I left home and then go without them. I was less distracted and more productive, and they were happier. In contrast, our trips to the bookstore together were delightful. We would shop for their special interests and then have coffee while we chatted about our finds in the bookstore. It felt like an outing, a very adult event, and they relished it.

If you can't go to a fair: during the years I was not able to attend a fair, I still used the selection process I have described to your over the last three days. Instead of attending a fair, I went to a nice library to "shop". Next, I ordered the materials that appeared to be the best choices. I was bolstered by a general awareness from all the shopping I had done in previous years. I gave myself permission to mail products back if they weren't right and to try again. Before ordering, I checked with to be sure of the return policy. While this wasn't quite the same as a curriculum fair, it produced acceptable results.

One last encouragement: if you take the ideas you have gathered from your kids, veteran homeschoolers, curriculum guides, and catalogs, and you combine these with your special insight (which has developed from years of living together), you have a combination that no boxed curriculum can compete with. Take all of this with you when you shop. And remember, practice makes perfect. You will learn from your mistakes and gain confidence and competence as you do this.

So, go -- with my blessing. Enjoy your adventure. Cherish the discovery process. Lay aside, as much as you can, your anxieties. It's doesn't have to be perfect. It won't be. But your investment will pay dividends over time that will exceed your expectations. I know. I found my way through the woods and back home again

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