I have had several requests for my thoughts on how I choose resources for our homeschooling. It has taken me some brain power to come up with just how it is I go about the process of choosing books and curricula….it is definitely a process.
Sebastian asked me if I have a “mental checklist” and the more I thought about it, the more that seemed to be just what I use to make the decision to learn about a product.
My Mental Checklist
1. Does it meet one of our yearly goals? This first question is one that I have learned to lean on more heavily as the years pass by. As our time shortens before graduation, I need to make sure that I have my goals firmly established in my mind before I start choosing materials to fill in our time. Always included in my goals for each of the boys is to make sure that the books and courses offer great ideas. I keep in mind the Charlotte Mason principle that ideas are high on the list of things that are important to daily feed our children. I don’t want to spoon feed them, give them preconceived notions, or lay it all out for them. I want the books and curricula we use to present lots of ideas. This way they can make their own connections and it will be meaningful to them. I want them to have a relationship with their books that comes from providing quality materials and living ideas.
2. Depending on the subject, does the book fit my child’s style of learning? Does the book present the material in a way that will be interesting to our family? Science books need to be able to be adapted to a more “living” approach to learning. History needs to be alive as well…no texts but rather books that are well-written and will give the boys a sense of the time period. I use book lists from our Tapestry of Grace plans, the lists on Ambleside Online, and Amazon.com reviews as my basic guide to literature selections. I usually purchase or borrow the books far ahead of time to skim through them before offering them as part of our school plans.
3. Will the books and plans allow us to be a little flexible? Have I seen other families using this curriculum or particular book with some success? No plan is a perfect fit so I need to know that I can pick and choose as well as adapt the plan to meet our needs. I like to see a curriculum in action if possible. As my boys get older, this is harder and harder to do since I know very few families that are blogging about their high school experiences. One good place to find reviews and see how other families use a particular curricula or book is on Curriculum Choice.
4. Is there a teacher’s guide or notes to allow me to feel I don’t need to read everything the boys do? I know myself well enough to realize I cannot read everything my sons read in the course of a year. I need well-written notes in order to discuss and follow along with the weekly reading. I do not feel comfortable letting the boys totally on their own. Besides, it makes me feel more of a part of their learning experience if I can go along for the ride.
5. Will the books and plans allow for some adding in of “hands-on” type learning? Will there be time to include art projects, lapbooks, timelines, and extra projects if we desire a more in-depth approach to the current topic?
6. Will the books and curricula have some resale value and thus allow me to spend a little more money initially knowing that I will regain some of the investment when I resell it? Will I be able to use the curricula more than once or with more than one child? This is not a huge factor but it has given me some freedom to purchase programs like Tapestry of Grace and IEW knowing that when I am finished there will be someone out there looking to purchase the plans used for their family. I check on ebay, Half.com, Amazon.com, and various homeschool groups to see which books and curricula are reselling and at about what price during this process.
7. Can I find something to use online or an ebook that might fit our need just as well as something we need to purchase? If I have time, I don’t mind digging around for an online/free version of a plan to use as long as I know it will give me a framework to add to and customize. I also used The Well-Trained Mind plans in this way by using SWB’s suggestions and then utilizing my personal library and our public library as much as I could. I also like using CurrClick and HomeschoolShare. We have begun to use YouTube videos regularly as part of our supplementing. Netflix is also a source of DVDs to watch and I research these online and then read the reviews before choosing which ones to share with the boys.
8. Is there a product out there that will mentor my sons in an area of their interest that I don’t feel qualified to tackle on my own? As we work through high school courses, I am finding that this is a lifesaver as far as time and energy. I would rather not have my boys enrolled in outside classes at this time because it is really a disruption to our day. I have found using DVD programs a wonderful addition to our homeschool. I get the Teaching Company catalog and watch for DVD series of interest to go on their super sale list. We are using these DVD programs for chemistry, history, and literature next year to supplement Tapestry of Grace. I have been very happy with every course we have used so far and I find that the boys really enjoy this style of learning. We have also used the CD companions to the Apologia series science books, the Teaching Textbooks DVD series for geometry, and the IEW DVD series for writing (both TWSS and SWI).
9. Is there a Yahoo Group or other discussion board for this curricula? Are there files available to use along with this curricula at no cost? Many times I join a Yahoo Group to feel out the product and see how other families are using it or if they have problem areas that they are discussing. I also find that many times you can go to the product’s website and find additional information and supplementary materials to use along with the curricula. I take these things into consideration when I am purchasing a new program. I like to know there is support out there if I need some help. I have found the Tapestry of Grace bulletin board and the IEW Yahoo Group valuable sources of information as I work through the curricula.
10. Remember that nothing is set in stone and you can always change your mind. I try to keep this in mind whenever I venture out to try something new. Just because it looks good on paper doesn’t mean it will work in real life application in our family. I have made some “oops” decisions and lived to tell about it.
Hope this is helpful to you in your planning and decision making process.
Barb-Harmony Art Mom