Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Curriculum Season, Part II

Here is the second big idea that helped guide me through curriculum shopping:

Find resources that sort the options.

First, find a good curriculum guide that provides a limited list of recommendations. There are a number of good curriculum guides available. You should take the time to find one you like. My favorite was Cathy Duffy's Curriculum Guide; she wrote one for the elementary grades and one for junior high and high school In the years that I relied on her advice, I found that every review she wrote was accurate. It was extremely beneficial to me that she discusses the strengths and weaknesses of a selected number of options. Cathy Duffy also describes the type of learner suited to each product and makes it easy for the reader to understand. That's what I like most. She also has a website with some information on it, but I recommend the books.

Second, search for catalogs that have a highly selective list of offerings. Ideally, you want to find vendors who have carefully evaluated all the products they sell by a set of principles that are suitable for home schools. You are looking for phrases like: self-teaching, individually paced, inherently interesting, encouraging creativity, providing options for different styles of learning, and so forth. Some of my personal favorites were: Beautiful Feet Books , Home Science Tools, Veritas Press, and Sonlight Curriculum. These have an agenda and it's not making money. It's all about a vision of real education in the home setting, rather than in a classroom. Always keep your eye out for resources like these. Look for voices with insight, experience, and passion. Look for catalogs that operate from the assumption that each person needs a custom-fit program, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.

Finally, don't overlook the possibility of a magazine subscription. When we were homeschooling, I found that Mary Pride's Practical Homeschooling usually had some practical tip that I could really use. I had friends who claimed her as their favorite resource. Her website offers a free trial magazine.

Insider's tip: Many catalog companies are happy to mail a catalog to an interested customer who asks for it. I found that the catalog was a better choice than scanning a website. I could take it with me to the library, the ball field, the coffee shop, the curriculum fair. I could make notes in it, highlight the things that interested me, and show some of those to my children. It was easier to talk about options with my husband over a catalog than at a computer screen. I could more easily see my program as a whole by spreading the catalogs out on a table in front of me.

Another thing that I found helpful was to take the curriculum guide, catalogs, and other notes with me in a cloth "book bag" to sports practices in the spring. For years, I did most of my planning in the parking lots of baseball and soccer practices. This simple tactic let me arrive at the curriculum fair with a thoughtful list of products.

We will discuss the third, and final, idea tomorrow.

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