Which Curriculum?

world classroom

This is the question that plagues every homeschool mom’s thoughts. The oh so important decision that leaves you always second guessing if there might not be a “better” curriculum out there. Let me share with you three things I’ve learned about curriculum.

1. Something shiny and new will always come out just after you’ve spent months researching and finally decide to make the investment. Always.

2. Those curriculum reviews? They are usually written by people who have received the product to evaluate for free. Why is this important to know? Because you’re more inclined to give something a better review when it’s free versus shelling out $300 to try it.

3. Curriculum really as important as consistency is. For example, there are half a dozen excellent homeschool math programs out there. Each one has it’s strong points and it’s weak points. What works wonderfully for your children might not work for another. The key is to choose something that most identifies with your child’s style of learning (and your style of teaching) and stick with it. It’s ok to curriculum jump at first, in fact I think it’s good to try out different programs so you can evaluate them, however most evaluations can be done pretty well using the free samples online. Once you’ve chosen your “perfect” program, just use. If you flip flop half way through you have to start over again and then when you get tired of that one switching to another just confuses your children and frustrates you. Just pick something and stick with it. If, at the end of the year you hate it, then try something else.

You’ll find more tips over at my “Selecting a Curriculum” tab under the Getting Started. If you want a glimpse at our journey to find the “perfect” curriculum, keep reading…

After my “let’s try to replicate the public school at home” disaster, I realized I might actually need to read a book or two about education. I started by ordering a copy of The Well Trained Mind. I instantly identified with the author as to the reasons she began homeschooling and thought, great! I’ll just pick and choose curriculum that she suggests and we’ll be good to go. I did my diligent research and purchased loads of curriculum and some of it went well and others I found pretty useless. It all seemed so unconnected, so disorganized, trying to remember what to study when and forgetting that I even had certain books.

I needed to find a better solution. In the meantime we were kind of unschooling, studying bits here and there but our primary curriculum was traveling. We would study about British history and take a trip to England, learn about the art in the Louvre then go visit. Because of our situation it made sense for us to focus primarily on history, art, German and geography. We still kept up with math but all our literature was focused on the places we were about to travel. It was a bit like Unit Studies on steroids. But I knew this whirlwind of travel would not last forever and eventually we would have to hunker down and really homeschool (like at home). My kids were also nearing the “legal” homeschooling age where I would actually have to prove to someone that we were doing something.

I had already tried my hand at traditional schooling and quickly realized that was not going to work well for us. Not to mention the traditional schooling options required massive financial investments each year. The classical method rang true with me in many instances but when it came to picking and choosing curriculum it just took so much time and was not easy to organize. I had read a few articles about Charlotte Mason that really resonated with me but I hadn’t actually read any books about her methods. I finally got serious about learning and ordered a small library of homeschool books, everything from Charlotte Mason to Thomas Jefferson Education to Waldorf.

I found things in each of these books that I identified with, however the only method that felt complete to me was the Charlotte Mason method. She really explained how to teach every subject and it wasn’t just about schooling, it was about helping the child grow into a complete person. But with this method also comes a complete education. One can’t simply buy a curriculum and have a Charlotte Mason education. It is much more than a curriculum, it is a way of life. I think the Charlotte Mason method is one of the more challenging educational philosophies because it does require so much education and discipline, but I also think it’s the one that will provide my children with the most well rounded education. And, as Charlotte Mason said, “Mother’s work wonders once they are convinced that wonders are demanded of them“.

I had already been using the book lists from Ambleside Online but hadn’t delved into their site enough to realize that their curriculum was based on Charlotte Mason’s methods. I find this one of the most difficult sites to navigate because of the sheer amount of text and lack of graphics of any kind, yet it is one of the most knowledge-rich sites once you learn to actually read rather than skim. There are basically two main sites that provide curriculum recommendations for a Charlotte Mason style of education, Ambleside Online (AO) and Simply Charlotte Mason (SCM). I ordered many things from SCM and enjoyed some of them and was deeply disappointed by others. In the end, I felt that AO provided a much more rigorous education. The literature selections combined with already selected poetry, hymns, folksongs, composers, artists, etc…AND free schedules already written out for me! What had once seemed so confusing now seemed so magnificently simple. I plan to incorporate classical curriculum from Memoria Press into our homeschooling when my children are older, however we will likely continue to use AO as our core curriculum.

I have been following their recommended schedules and trying my best to use Charlotte Mason’s methods of teaching based on what I am learning from her Original Homeschooling Series, for over a year now and this has been the smoothest year so far. I am absolutely certain that we made the right decision to use the Ambleside Online curriculum and I couldn’t be more pleased. The best part? The curriculum is FREE. You simply buy (or borrow from the library) the recommended books. Many of them are even available online for free, but I like to have real books and all my children will read them so it’s worth it to me to buy them. The best part is, if you are just starting out, you buy all the books for Year 1 and from then on you only have to purchase 1 year’s worth of books (I usually spend around $200/year)! I have been amazed at how much I have learned from reading along with my children, I feel like I am finally getting the education I should have gotten years ago and am so impressed with how well my kids remember the stories from history.

This has been my journey and I can’t recommend Ambleside Online and the Charlotte Mason method of education highly enough. You can learn more about Ambleside Online here and about Charlotte Mason here. Your journey and circumstances will be different, but I think the key to finding that “perfect” curriculum is education. Read, read and read as much as you can about the different styles of learning. As I did, you will likely identify with most if not all of the styles, but what it comes down to is how to implement that style to everyday learning. Experiment and find what works for you. You might have to try them all to find one that fits, but that’s ok! Don’t give up, you will find the right curriculum for your family.