Proclamation, Invitation, & Warning

Choosing Curriculum

 Kim Baumgaertel

            Ask any veteran home school parent about curriculum, and you are likely to get a variety of responses.  Each of us has our favorites, and our not-so-favorites, and our opinions about what has worked in the past and what we have learned from our mistakes.  Some of us will tell you of radical shifts in style or publisher or both; how we started our home education endeavors with one curriculum and dropped it for another.  Some of us base our preferences on what is easiest to work with; some of us on what is “best” academically; some of us on what fits with our world view or interpretation of scripture.  If you are a brand-new home school parent, you need a curriculum-in-a-nutshell overview of what is available to you, and an evaluation of it.

            Home schooling curriculums can be lumped into two broad categories:  teacher-directed curriculums, and correspondence curriculums.  Each has its pros and cons, and you should not assume that one is better or more wholesome than the other.  The Lord Jesus has directed you to home school your children and he knows even better than you do what your priorities and gifts are.  If you determine that a correspondence program is right for you and your children, then go with it.  If you determine that you have the time and energy and desire to plan your own lessons, then you will enjoy the independence of a teacher-directed curriculum.  Use the talents God has given you to do the best teaching job you can for your kids.

            Teacher-directed curriculums consist of books that you buy to teach subject areas in each grade level. You buy your books, with or without test booklets and teacher guides, spend a few hours looking them over, and then plan your lessons accordingly.  Teacher-directed curriculums allow you the freedom of chucking the books for a day at the museum or a week at grandma’s house in the middle of February or a (dare I say it!) day to catch up on laundry.  You also have the freedom to skip a chapter you deem to be too easy, or too repetitive, or too dumb, or too offensive.  You have the freedom to not assign all the “On Your Own” questions at the end of the chapters, or to let your child do all the odd problems in math, or to respond to the literature selection by writing a critical review.  You have the option of grouping your kiddos together for the science lesson or the geography map work. 

            The flip side of this freedom, of course, is the labor of plowing through those texts on your own.  Teacher-directed curriculums require the teacher to know what’s in them, and how to cover it sufficiently in a certain amount of time (determined by you, of course).  No, you do not have to be an expert on biology to get your tenth grader through the course, but you have to be willing to read the book with her and keep her progressing through it.  You will have a bit of help if you choose to buy any test booklets and answer keys to accompany the texts, but the daily planning and executing of lessons is your job.

            At the other end of the curriculum spectrum are the correspondence courses, including any on-line class or part-time attendance courses or co-op participation you may involve your family in.   These curriculums take the content and the planning out of your hands.  Your job is to make sure your kids wake up in the morning and get to work, and possibly to mail in any assignments or tests they have to take. Some courses, such as the Abeka video school, require participants to own a TV and VCR and to return videos by mail on a regular basis; the Bob Jones SAT program necessitates the videotaping of their live classes, possibly at all hours of the day.    Most correspondence courses provide a report card evaluation and high school diploma to their students, which is another factor that will make your life easier. 

            Which type of curriculum should you choose?  The answer depends on your talents and your family’s priorities.  All curriculums cost money.  Correspondence courses are the most expensive way to go, but you are also going to get a lot for your money, such as more time for other things and a record of your child’s work on an “official” piece of paper.  Teacher-directed curriculums, likewise, can be expensive unless you are able to buy used books or have a good home schooling support system where you are able to share and borrow books, etc.  Many families combine the two types of curriculum and use on-line or co-op programs for certain harder-to-teach subjects, such as math or science, and complete the other subjects on their own.  Many home school families have switched back and forth depending on family circumstances during a particular school year or because one child learns differently than another did.  If you are new to home schooling you may evaluate your time and talents and determine that a correspondence program is the way to go, and then change your mind as you become more experienced and confident.  Likewise, you may start out the other way with a teacher-directed course, and then determine that you are in over your head and need to make adjustments. 

            So, what do I do?  I desire to encourage, in Jesus’ name, any one who desires to educate their children at home.  Home schooling is a blessing and a joy, a labor of love, a calling of God.  I have home schooled for 13 years, and I have opinions on curriculum and lesson planning and just about any other aspect of home education you could think of!  When I share with you what I do and have done with our children, I do so because it may encourage you in your own endeavors, not to impress upon you the “right” way of doing it.

            I like teacher-directed curriculums.  For most of our 13 years of home schooling I have used Abeka books for science, history, and some language arts.  I own Understanding Writing by Susan Bradrick and highly recommend it for composition through all grade levels.  I recently began to use Spelling Power by Beverly Gordon and like it for my 8th and 4th graders.  I also like Easy Grammar by Wanda Phillips for grammar and mechanics in junior high. For math I have used almost extensively the Saxon Math series, and find it more than adequate because of my limitations in that area!

            I do not like correspondence programs, mostly because I want to be in charge of what my children learn and how they respond to it.  The correspondence courses I have watched my friends use appear to me to require too much “busy work”.  I don’t want to be tied to deadlines and assignments and textbooks that some other program has dictated for me.

            Whichever type of curriculum you choose, or maybe even a combination of curriculums, I pray that the Lord Jesus will bless and encourage your decision to educate your children at home. 

“And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.”  Ephesians 6:4

Email Kim with comments or questions

Editor's note: Kim and I do not necessarily endorse the views of any of the above mentioned organizations or individuals. Many of the textbooks include views we seriously disagree with. Dads and Moms who homeschool need to be Acts 17:11 Bereans as you make use of these homeschooling tools and texts.

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