When I began homeschooling in 1996, it felt like there were only a few curriculum and resource choices.
I looked around and saw Bob Jones, A Beka, Rod and Staff, and Alpha Omega. I am sure there were alternatives, but I hadn't yet 'plugged in' to the homeschool community online or found a support group.
The lack of options felt disconcerting, but the choices readily available were familiar to me, and at that point I was still of the "school at home" mindset. So A Beka won by default.
The first time I saw a Sycamore Tree catalog I rejoiced with joy unspeakable - pages and pages of resources based on grade levels, subject areas, and publishers. After a happy dance, I sat down with it and tried to figure out what would be a good fit for us.
And then reality hit, and I was back at Square One. Of all the wonderful books and materials suddenly available to me, I didn't know how to choose what would be best for our homeschool.
Can you relate? Now more than ever there are choices for homeschoolers, and I'm not just talking textbooks. With a quick search you can find online programs, DVDs, streaming Netflix, educational websites. Textbook publishers have joined in to provide materials geared more for individual families than classrooms. Add to that the many resources created by homeschoolers for their own families that they share on their blogs and online stores.
I was recently looking over some unit studies published by a veteran homeschooler, and even from the perspective of 20 years and four kids, I felt a little déjà vu. There were loooong lists of books and websites and projects a family could choose from. I wondered if this particular resource would be all that helpful, especially to a new homeschooler. It looked like this homeschool mom had made lists of every book and website she'd ever seen on this particular topic.
Don't get me wrong - this is an awesome problem to have. But I kept thinking of that much younger me feeling a bit sick trying to make good choices within my budget, thinking that I had to Get It Right. Like, NOW.
Is this too much of a good thing? How do today's homeschoolers function under the avalanche of choices?
If you feel overwhelmed, try these suggestions to narrow it down:
Take some time to just learn about homeschooling. There are books and blogs about how homeschooling families live, work, and educate their children. You don't need to read them all - find a few that speak to you and get a feel for what this new lifestyle might be like for you and your family.
Unstress and deschool. Spend time with your kids having fun, learning how to communicate with each other, and guide them to their natural abilities and interests. Involve them in their own education, and find out what their dream school might look like. Think about your definition of success. Is it measuring up to others? Being financially stable or even wealthy? Becoming a person of good character?
Goal-setting. You don't know where you are going until you have a destination in mind. What you have in mind and what your kids want might be two different things. It's time for a family meeting (to two) to figure out why you want to homeschool so you can figure out how to homeschool.
Don't buy anything yet. There are probably homeschoolers in your area that you can connect with who will let you look through the resources they've purchased, and some will even let you borrow stuff to try for a while. The local library often has textbooks and other educational materials available in print books and online, so you can do a test run and note what clicks for you and your kids. There's enough free stuff online that you can use without a cash investment. Once you make the commitment to buy curriculum, you will feel locked in. It's OK to wait until you are more confident in your choices.
Think in terms of skills instead of knowledge. Memorizing facts is not an education. Learning how to think, compare, problem solve, follow instructions, and locate information are skills that are immeasurably valuable and will be used in every facet of one's life. Knowing that the first traffic light was put into operation in Cleveland in 1914 or that giraffes don't have vocal cords may make you sound smart, but a recall of trivia doesn't make you intelligent. Applying knowledge to solve problems and benefit others is evidence, not only of intelligence, but of character.
Just do it. There isn't a perfect curriculum out there that can guarantee the success of your child. Your child's future depends on them, not books or programs - the resources you choose are simply tools. The hammer doesn't build the house; the carpenter does. At some point you just need to make some decisions and get going with it. It's highly unlikely that you will do something wrong, and making a choice about curriculum isn't like getting a tattoo. Many textbooks and programs are very affordable, and if it doesn't work, you can resell or donate and try something else without risk of infection, scarring, or unsightly leftover pigment stains.