Julie Lyles Carr: Curriculum Quandry

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Curriculum Quandry

To Julie....From Julie (no, I didn't write myself...this email came to my inbox from Julie of The Antics of the Three 22nds)


I love reading your blog, and I have a question for you! I can tell that you and your husband are well-educated and obviously want to give your children a quality home education. That being said, you are also obviously very busy. Which leads me to my question: what kind of curriculum do you use?

I have 4 children 7 and under and also work as a nurse about 20 hours a week. We are homeschooling and are quite familiar with the process since my husband and I were both homeschooled. Back when my mom homeschooled me the options were slim, and she worked hard to make up/supplement our curriculum on her own. I love the thought of doing topic based studies, getting books from the library etc but am starting to wonder if it is practical for our busy life.

I am using Sonlight this year and I like it ok, but it seems really easy and somewhat scattered. Maybe because it is the Kindergarten curriculum? :)

Any thoughts? I don't want to burn myself out, but I want to be satisfied in what I am teaching my kids.

You may have written about this in the past, but I couldn't find it. Feel free just to point me to the post if you have!


Julie, you're so right about the options having expanded exponentially when it comes to homeschool curriculum. When I started homeschooling 1 of 8, there were only a handful of choices. Now, peruse a few sites and prepare to be astounded and overwhelmed by the number of options available.

While only having a few options has its challenges, so does the current situation of having so many options. Attending a homeschool curriculum conference can be akin to wandering the aisles of IKEA for the first time~~it's all shiny and amazing and seemingly absolutely necessary for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Here's the good news: I think any number of curricula offer a well-rounded educational opportunity. But there is a caveat to my opinion.

And that caveat is this: the curriculum choice is only as effective as the environment in which it is experienced.

We've worked to make our kids' education something that is not just experienced while working through the books at the kitchen table. It's also hauling out the laptop at dinner and looking up science facts while enjoying a lively discussion over the meal. It's making a habit of watching documentaries together. It's taking the extra time to stop at museums and historical sites while on road trips. It's being in the habit of questioning our kids to explore critical thinking, to look at situations and events from a number of perspectives, not just having them regurgitate what they think we want to hear. It's having a conversational environment in the home that allows for questions and debate, exploration and doubt and discovery.

With that framework in place, I'd be happy to share with you what we are currently doing and where we have been. We have always used Saxon math for the kids from the very beginning. It is the one piece that has remained constant. They spend a bulk of their 'table' time on math, usually completing two lessons a day. Some parents and teachers feel that Saxon math is too repetitive and has too many drills, but in my world, the repetition and the drills have led to mastery.

In our school, everyone makes straight A's, not because their teacher runs grading on a curve, but because our other prevailing philosophy is that we teach to mastery. I want the kids to 'own' at least 90% of the material we are covering. We rework problems, rewrite papers, retake quizzes if needed. I'm more interested in them really having a grasp of the material than in the time it takes for them to get it. Some of the kids have sailed through assignments, some have to take more time. It's all good.

As an idealist, I love the literature-based approach of Sonlight and other curricula. We schooled from a literature-based system for a few years and enjoyed it immensely. But our protracted move experiences, which began seven years ago, and my subsequent ministry and speaking work made it necessary to reevaluate. The literature-based approach with such an age spread of students became more and more intensive. I felt that I was spending more and more time overseeing and prepping for each child. While I didn't mind doing that for the kids, the Lord was clearly leading our family in a new direction in terms of time and work. While I can idealistically tell you all the reasons why I felt literature-based unit studies were superior to workbooks, we've been happily using AlphaOmega LifePacs and computer-based Switched On Schoolhouse for several years now. And you know what? The kids have learned and grown all the same. You might check out this link from the archive for more encouragement...

Which leads me to another important concept in our homeschooling experience~it is my goal that the kids become auto-didactic, equipped and confident in searching for information, researching areas that interest them. At the end of the day, learning is not something you can force on someone. It is something they have to choose to receive and pursue.

So, for this season, for this time, we use Saxon for math, AlphaOmega LifePacs and Switched on Schoolhouse for Language Arts, Science, Bible and History and we read tons of books and watch many documentaries. We discuss, share, explore and enjoy the process of learning something new each day.

Which is the best education of all...

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