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Decision Time

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By Beverly S. Krueger

It’s decision time for many homeschool families. The curriculum fair has come and gone. Homeschool catalogs have been pored over. Product reviews have been read. Now it’s decision time. Which math program am I going to purchase for my reluctant daughter? Is there anything that will motivate my teenage son to do more than sleep, eat, and play video games? There probably isn’t a perfect book, program, or resource for your child, but you can do far better than hit or miss if you follow some simple guidelines.

1. Buy resources that suit your child, not you.
It’s easy to get trapped into thinking a resource is perfect because it appeals to you. You love reading history. That history of science book that details the great scientific advances through the ages looks fascinating to you. It’s the perfect solution to doing science with your son who’s been begging to do more science. There’s one problem. Your son is a hands on learner who really wants to do lots and lots of experiments. You’ve looked at a couple of science experiment books and reacted as expected to what would be your nightmare resource. What’s a noble homeschool mom to do? Well don’t worry, you don’t have to buy that nightmare resource. Neither should you buy the history of science book. Your better purchase would be a TOPS Learning Systems book or a science activity kit. Even a chemistry set from the local toy store would be better than sitting and reading about science for a hands on learner. The key is to find resources that suit your child, that don’t also create more headaches than you can handle.

2. Get your kids input.
This is a biggie. This is your child’s education, and they should be invested in that education. They should be participating in deciding what they will learn and how they will learn it. The level of participation should grow as they get older. By the time they reach high school, they need to have an understanding that what they want to do post graduation will be affected by what they choose to study in their high school years. A future pre-med student will be doing things differently from the student who wants to work in the field of graphic design. They both will need certain basic skills in math and language arts. Getting through that consumer math program or learning bookkeeping will be relevant to them if they see it as a stepping stone to meeting a future goal. When your kids are invested in their education, motivating them to get their work done is easier. It’s not a cure-all. Most kids still need a little prodding to do those tasks that are less enjoyable.

3. Don’t expect more from your kids than they are truly capable of doing.
So what if you were valedictorian of your graduating class. Who cares if you were the grand prizewinner in a national speaking competition. Your kids are not you. Don’t push them to meet expectations that are based on your past experiences. The opposite is also true. You didn’t do well in school, so you’re determined that your kids will be doing accelerated work using the most difficult curriculum you can find. Math was hard for you? Then don’t be surprised if math is hard for your kids. It’s easy to see when you’re pushing young children too hard. They cry. It gets a little more difficult for older kids. They react in ways that can often seem like rebellion or obstinacy. If you’re having problems with your kids being frustrated by their work, take a good long look at the possibility that it just might be too difficult for them at this point in life.

4. Don’t equate price with excellence.
Some of the very best curriculum is very inexpensive. I think this is particularly easy to see in reading programs. You can go out and buy a $250 reading program. Some are good. Others are not so good. You can get an excellent program for far less. We spent very little on learning to read materials. I taught three children to read with AlphaPhonics ($29.95) and the reading materials from Pathway Publishers for less than $20. Your local library is a great place to find books to create your own history and science lessons. Then there’s the Internet with so many great free educational resources. Don’t overspend.

5. Use a broad definition of curriculum.
Often we think of curriculum as this math program or that language arts textbook. Curriculum is really a course of academic studies. Textbooks may be one resource that can be part of a curriculum, but it’s really the least interesting and most limited resource you could choose. For starters, use as many real books as possible. However, don’t limit yourself to books. Software, videos, science kits, and games should all be considered when you plan your studies. Look within your own community. A membership to the local children’s museum, natural history museum, or art museum may be the single most important curriculum purchase you make this year. Often museums will have educational classes that members can take at discount. Is there someone locally that could offer lessons to your children? Local organizations or homeschool support groups may offer opportunities that you can’t provide on your own. Expand your definition of curriculum and get creative in your homeschooling.

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