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May 242012

There’s a joke that goes something like this: What’s the first thing a new homeschooling family does? They buy $500 of curriculum they’ll never use. Ok, maybe it’s not such a funny joke, but it is often a truism.

When I was considering homeschooling, a woman in a local support group was kind enough to invite me to her home and show me how her curriculum, how she organized her day, and so on. I got to her house and was led into her school room. She had six desks lined up in two rows, one for each child. There was a huge whiteboard at the front of the room, one section of which was devoted to her kids; chores: Child A was in charge of making breakfast, Child B was on dish-washing duty, etc. Another section of the whiteboard detailed the week’s lesson plans for each child, all from the A Beka curriculum program. When I met her kids, they were models of politeness and good behavior. Wow! I wanted this. I promptly went home and ordered the K and 2nd grade A Beka programs for my kids. As I waited for the arrival of our materials, I drew up weekly schedules not unlike the ones I had seen. And I ordered a pad of “chore charts” on which I itemized each child’s responsibilities.

And then the materials arrived. As I unpacked the boxes and looked at the workbooks I’d ordered, I realized that, while there was nothing wrong with the A Beka materials, they were absolutely the wrong thing for my kids. One of the reasons we’d chosen to homeschool was to have greater freedom of materials and methods. A Beka was essentially school-at-home. In addition, my kids were not workbook learners. Back into the box everything went for shipment back to A Beka.

I then turned to Sonlight, a literature-based program. I was thrilled with all the great literature my kids would be reading as part of their homeschool journey. Again, I ordered two complete sets of curriculum materials. And again, when the materials arrived, I realized they were not quite right for my kids. To be sure, my children would enjoy the literature they’d be reading. But the amount of writing required would have undone my 2nd grader (who hated writing with a passion). I was looking for a curriculum I could use with both kids. Beyond this, Sonlight was organized on a strict five-day-a-week schedule, which I wasn’t sure was a good choice for us (I believe Sonlight now offers four- and five-day programs).

At this point, I realized that I had a pick a curriculum based on our family’s core values for homeschooling, not on what worked for another family or even what I myself would have liked to have learned from (the Sonlight curriculum would have been great for me as a child). So I thought about what was important to our family and came up with these three requirements: The materials we chose had to be

1) academically rigorous
2) interesting to my children
3) easy to teach with

With this in mind, I set out to do research on available programs. And what I came to realize was that we were not a “program” kind of family. I selected Miquon Math for math, Explode the Code for phonics/grammar, Spelling Power for spelling, Stories Of Great Americans For Little Americansfor history, and D’Nealian Handwriting: Grade 2: Student Edition for handwriting.

Over the years, we used many other materials, sometimes because of a recommendation from another homeschooling family, other times because of my research. It took a while but the number one lesson I learned was to seek out materials that matched our core requirements and to not be afraid to sell or donate those that did not. By staying true to the values that were important to my family, I was able to ensure that our homeschool experience was the best one possible for us. And that’s what this choice is about — finding the materials and methods that work for your family!