Ten Criteria I Use For Choosing Homeschool Curriculum

I know many of you are in the middle of planning out next school year, which includes making final decisions on which homeschool curriculum to use. While every person does it differently, I do have people ask me frequently how I decide what we are going to use. Here are the top 10 criteria I look for when I choose our curriculum:

1. Does it have a Biblical worldview? Since everything was created by God, every subject we learn teaches us a little bit about God. I look for curriculum that reinforces a Biblical worldview and godly character whenever possible.

2. How does it approach/handle other worldviews? While I want the curriculum to be God-centered, I am very careful to make sure I am teaching other worldviews as well. The last thing I want is to teach my kids in a Christian ‘bubble’ where they know only our beliefs. It is extremely important to me that their education includes what others believe as well, and discussions on these beliefs. I lean towards material that is apologetic (gives a defense for Biblical truths) – especially for science and history.

3. How much preparation is involved? I work, and while I do have some time to fit in preparation before the lessons are presented, I found over the years that this causes problems for me if it’s too involved. I look for curriculum that has lower teacher prep, or prep that can be done all at once for the year (like gathering specific art supplies).

4. Is it written to the students? My goal in teaching is to create lifelong, independent learners. Each school year, I expect a little more independence and responsibility from the kids in an effort to teach them how to teach themselves. I find that material written to the students rather than to me is better for establishing this habit.

5. Does it have a mix of different learning styles? I have one visual and one auditory learner, but it’s important to me that they experience all the different learning styles frequently. While I try to tailor some things to their specific styles, in the real world you can’t always get information in the way you learn best.

6. Are the lessons varied in their presentation? I know it’s easy for me to get bored if every single lesson and assignment is just like the last, so I know my kids will too. I look for a mix of projects, reports, oral presentations, experiments, worksheets, etc. This obviously isn’t possible for every subject, but where we can mix it up we do.

7. Is there a good teacher’s manual? It’s been a long time since I was in middle school, and certain things like animal classification and finding the coefficient of friction have frankly left my brain. I always evaluate the answer keys or teacher manuals to make sure that there are sufficient explanations so that I can help them if they get stuck. (And I’m always surprised when I start to remember things I thought I had long forgot!)

8. Will it motivate them to learn? My daughter is very much like me when it comes to math. It’s practically impossible to get us excited about it. And my son likes writing about as much as he likes stepping on nails. I know they will never love every subject, but I do try to find curriculum that will at least not make it drudgery.

9. How does it fit in with their interests? Again, this doesn’t apply to every subject, but where I can I choose material that interests them. My equestrian daughter did a literature study using horse books a few years ago, and my surfer dude is doing a kids marine biology course for science next year.

10. Will this work through high school? For our core subjects, when possible I look to the publisher’s high school curriculum to see if I like it. I prefer not to jump from publisher to publisher each year, so if I like the high school material I do consider that when making my final decision. (I’m never married to any curriculum, but I do generally try to stick with what’s working).

 

See other posts like this at Top Ten Tuesday at Many Little Blessings

Auditory Homeschool Spelling? We’re giving it a try!

Spelling is one of the subjects that causes us the most angst in my house. I have one child who can spell any word, any time, anywhere – regardless of whether she’s seen it before. I have another child who tries very hard, but is often discouraged because spelling just doesn’t seem to stick. I’ve used the same spelling program with both of them from the very beginning, so it’s obvious to me that the problem lies not with the book but with how my son needs to learn spelling.

What confounds me even more is that I myself was a very phonetical speller growing up, and yet I can’t seem to help him (a phonetical speller himself) break through that and become a better speller. I have to admit that when I am teaching him diphthongs and so called ‘rules of spelling’ I find them as mysterious as he does. Sure, ei makes a long ‘a’ sound – but only some of the time?!? Weird. 😉 What saved me in school was that I was able to just memorize tons of words, but even now there are a few that spell check has to handle for me.

When I analyze his spelling, what I have found is that for words he misspells he either spells them completely phonetically OR he has all the right letters, just not in the right order. I should also mention that he reads exceptionally well, and has no problems sounding out large words he’s never seen before. How can you read words great but not be able to spell them??? This was my question.

I think I have found the answers! I have been going through IEW’s Teaching Writing with Structure and Style DVDs this past week, and Andrew happens to mention as an aside that spelling and reading take place in different parts of the brain. He explains that when you study spelling visually, your brain sees the word as an entire unit and stores it that way. However, to spell, your brain needs to recall the word sequentially to get the letters in the right order. Herein lies the problem. He goes on to say that particularly for boys, this visual/sequential storage can be more problematic. It totally made sense to me and seems to be exactly our problem here! (Cue angels singing in the background).

You can see a quick video introducing their ideas on spelling here.

So my plan is to take a leap and try out this (pretty expensive) spelling program and put our regular one on the shelf for now. I normally wouldn’t invest in something like this, but if I can help him succeed then it will be worth it! I really like the methodologies IEW uses, so I feel confident that we will be happy with this auditory style of spelling instruction. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Do any of you have experience with The Phonetic Zoo?

2013-2014 Homeschool Curriculum

First of all, let me say that I LOVE planning out the new school year.  By Spring Break, I’m ready to be done with our current books and jump right in to next year.  Since that is not a good plan, I scratch that itch by starting my planning for the new year instead.  I usually order our new curriculum by Easter, and spend the next few months pulling together lesson plans and fun things to mix in with the books.  (I know, I’m weird.)

 

My organized mess
My organized mess

Now that summer is here, it’s time to kick the planning into high gear.  As you can see above, my planning makes for quite a mess of piles! Since I have a somewhat unpredictable work schedule, I like to plan as much of the year ahead of time as possible.  This allows me to only have to worry about making assignments and teaching each week.  I just find I don’t have the time I want during the school year to focus on long range planning.

I spent April and May reviewing the books I purchased to make sure that they were going to work, and I feel like I have the final list down.  Here is what I decided on: Note: some of these are affiliate links.  I will receive a small commission on purchases made through affiliate links.  

For my daughter (8th grade)

Science: Apologia Exploring Creation Through Physical Science  I also use this lab kit – it makes life so much easier!!

Math: Life of Fred Pre Algebra 1 & 2  The Life of Fred Series has totally changed our math experience.  LOVE THEM.

Grammar/Writing: Lightning Lit  I haven’t used curriculum from this publisher before, but I am very impressed with what I see!  I did not buy the individual chapter books.  Some I already own, and the rest our library has.

Logic: The Art of Argument  Last year she finished Fallacy Detective, so now we are moving on to more detailed study of fallacies.

Vocabulary: Vocabulary From Classical Roots A  She finished the last Spelling Workout last year, so this year we are concentrating on Latin and Greek roots for our English words.

Home Ec: We are using this series from Christian Education.  She begged me to find something like this just for fun, and she said she might start this over the summer.

For my son (6th grade)

Science: Apologia Zoology 2: Swimming Creatures  I also use the notebook journal and the lab kit for this one.

Math: Life of Fred Mineshaft, Percents, and Physics.  He finished the decimals book at the end of last year, and I wanted him to have a little review before diving into percents, so we are starting with Mineshaft for a few weeks.

Grammar: Abeka Language C

Writing: Wordsmith Apprentice  I really like the humorous and creative way this book approaches writing.

Logic: Logic Liftoff  Up until now we have been using the Mind Benders series for logic, and this year he will begin a more formal study.

Spelling: We will continue with Spelling Workout.

**Update: I’ve decided after more research to try IEW’s The Phonetic Zoo A instead. I think the science behind it is more what he needs than a visual way of learning. We’ll see!

Joint Subjects

We will also be doing several subjects together:

History: We are studying American History this year.  I am currently in the process of writing the plan for it now.  We will be using a combination of movies, original sources, and the History of US series to study our nation’s history.  I will be posting our lesson plans over the summer. I am using IEW’s US History Vol. 1 writing program along with this.

Geography: To go along with our history, we are studying US Geography.  I am again currently writing the plans for this.  It will be a mix of journal activities, map work, mission activities and food!

Latin: We are going to try Visual Latin this year, it looks really fun!

Bible Study: I am in love with these new books from Apologia.  We are going to do Who Am I and Who Is My Neighbor. Last year we did a study of each book of the Bible (who wrote it, why was it written, when, etc.) with Route 66, and this year I really wanted to focus on Biblical thinking and Godly character.  These books NAIL it.  I am also using the weekly verse from these books as a way for our whole family to memorize Scripture together.
What are you using this year?

This post is part of The Ultimate Homeschool Link-Up and Teach Them Diligently’s Curriculum Link Up.