Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Warnings for Homeschoolers: Curriculum

This is the third in a series of posts about homeschooling. If you haven't read the first two, you may want to do that first, but here are a few theses about what I'm going to write both now, and in the posts to come:

  • Children must receive an education based on the Word of God.
  • Parents must be involved in their children's education.
  • I believe that if a person decides that, after wisely considering the options, praying, and researching, that they ought to homeschool their children, I am OK with that, and I wish them well. These posts are written in the spirit of graciously warning them about some perils in the path.
  • The key question: What is, in the will of God, the best option for providing quality Christian education to my children?
Once the decision is made to homeschool, one of the biggest decisions—and one of the hardest—is deciding what curriculum materials to use. The reason it's hard is because most parents are not curriculum experts. Here are some common options (but certainly not the only ones):
  • Curriculum materials from Christian publishers, such as BJU Press, A Beka, and others
  • Curriculum materials from secular publishers
  • Online/video courses from a variety of sources
Some parents may choose to use one publisher exclusively for all (or most) subjects; others may choose to be more eclectic. Then, of course, deciding how the curriculum is going to be unveiled to the student:
  • Will the parent "teach" in a traditional sense, lesson-by-lesson?
  • Will the parent supervise as the student learns, for the most part, on his own?
  • Will the parent be completely hands-off and rely upon videos, online classes, etc.?
The materials used to educate your children are very important. [Disclaimer: I work for one of the largest Christian textbook publishers in the country.] Let me begin by listing some reasons parents should not use for choosing any particular curriculum over another:
  • This is what my friend recommends. That's nice, but is your friend an expert on how to educate, or more to the point, how to educate your children? A surprising number of decisions seem to be made based on nothing more than an informal suggestion.
  • This is what the salesperson told me would work best. Keep in mind: They are salespeople. They are compensated based on their ability to convince you of this. Again: Does the salesperson know what's best for your children?
  • This curriculum is cheaper. That might be true of the milk with tomorrow's "Sell By" date, too, but that isn't necessarily a good reason to buy it. Sometimes you get what you pay for.
Here are some things I think every Christian homeschooler must consider before making curriculum decisions:
  1. Research extensively. What works for your best friend's kids may not work for yours...and that's OK. You need to go to trade shows, visit conferences, get on the internet, physically look at the books, and-yes-talk to the salespeople, etc., in order to get a good feel for what is out there. And the less you know about pedagogy, the more research you need to do. Ask for the opinions of those who have wisdom and knowledge in the field. If you do not know anyone like that, hunt them down. Plan to spend serious numbers of hours on this; it could be one of the biggest homeschooling mistakes you make...or one of the best decisions.
  2. Use Christian materials to the greatest extent possible. There is a place within the curriculum for age-and-maturity-appropriate exposure to classical literature, current political events, and so forth. For the most part, however, quality Christian curricular materials are available for every major subject, and should form the core of your homeschooling curriculum. If you really expect to give your children a Bible-based education, you should use Bible-based materials in each subject.
  3. Know your limitations as the teacher. Not a chemistry expert? Can't remember a thing about geometry? Then take this into account when choosing curriculum. There is a saying that says something like, "The parent just has to stay a chapter ahead of the child." Baloney. Then the child will remain one chapter behind you. If you cannot teach it with confidence, consider how you could get your child to learn the material more successfully.
  4. Try to avoid "hands-off" options. This is the balance to the previous point. Some parents leave their children in a room with a screen to "watch school." This is not ideal. The parent, no matter what his or her knowledge level in a given subject, needs to stay involved and aware with each lesson, so as to best help the child when it's needed. Even if the parent isn't a chemistry expert, he or she should still be keeping abreast of the coursework the child is completing.
  5. You may have to stay cognizant of state requirements, but it's often OK to think outside the box. This is particularly important if you have several children being schooled at the same time. Can two or more children be working on the same coursework? Is one able to help (note: I did not say "teach") others who are younger? Don't go overboard, though: Reading, math, science, and history—and, of course, the Bible—are all still critical elements of a proper education; don't leave them out.
Remember that the key is to help your children receive the best possible, quality Christian education that you are able to provide. It will take research, time, and effort. It won't always be fun. Choosing the best curriculum for your children will go a long way to that end.

1 comment:

Brenda said...

Excellent!! Very wisely put!!