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Picking Curriculum Carefully

By Jessica Hulcy
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #11, 1996.

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Jessica Hulcy

The musical Paint Your Wagon contains a song that tells us the manner in which many parents start homeschooling. The verse begins, “Where are you going? I don’t know. When will you got there? I ain’t certain. All that I know is I am on my way.”

Ready or not, many homeschoolers begin teaching who knows what, going who knows where. Have you ever tried to play a football without a game plan or build a house without blueprints? It is equally impossible to train children without first establishing goals and then establishing the means to achieve those goals.

Certain about their primary function to raise a godly seed with excellent character, most Christian homeschoolers place equal emphasis on excellent academics for their children. Parents have some real-world concerns, such as, “Will my child score high on the SAT, get into college, or hold down a job?”

Basically, parents want their children to succeed by making the most of the talents the Lord has given them. But how does one build toward that success?


Before we can listen to “the experts,” we must identify the experts. True experts are people who have homeschooled with reasonable success and seem to have wisdom and philosophy to share.

However, like most movements, homeschooling has its own brand of self-appointed “experts.” These people live in distant towns, write down anything they please, and charge large sums of money for their “expertise.” Each “expert” claims to possess the best way to teach children. One touts higher scores on standardized tests while another provides a list of ways to keep your daughter pure. Still another assures children will love learning only if the hands-on approach is used.

So to whom do we listen? They can’t all be right—or can they?

Most methods do contain some truth. That’s why you should read extensively about the differing home schooling approaches and philosophies, constantly comparing what they read. Amazingly, many parents purchase curriculum without even considering the philosophy behind the curriculum. After comparing the differing philosophies, then ask, “What are the goals this expert seeks to attain using this method? Are these the same goals I have for my children?”


By just being a parent, you know enough to say, “I wish I had been taught like that,” or, “My child would love learning this way.” Certain curriculums evoke immediate heart-felt responses. For success, read what others have to say, sift through the information, make a choice, and trust your instincts. But remember, before instincts can be crystal clear, extensive research must be done.

If homeschooling were packaged, it would read, “Danger! Do NOT start until ready.” Parents and children are better served if children read one library book after another for two months while parents decide which curriculum to use. Numerous parents who have spent large sums of money on curriculum that does not work for their child, yet refuse to chuck it because it was expensive, will tell you, “Better to start late on the right road than to take the wrong road altogether.”


Treat each child as a unique individual. The beauty of homeschooling and the tutorial method is that you can tailor curriculum to each child’s needs. Not every child needs auto mechanics, animal husbandry, or calculus. Excellent teachers respond to a child and his needs rather than being driven by a curriculum or method. You should constantly evaluate what works with each child.

A friend of mine, Kathy von Duyke, tells the story of a professor who noticed that his students were more attentive if he stood near a vent in the room than if he stood at the front of the room. The professor, therefore, responded to his students and ended up lecturing sitting on the vent, because it worked. Small things like recognizing that a child learns more if he holds the book himself than if a parent holds the book help us respond effectively to each individual child. If it works, keep it. If it does not work, shelve it and try it in a different season.


We should, however, consider more than just the child. Homeschooling takes place in the home and must work for all those involved. A wise parent evaluates himself as a teacher, his child as a learner, and the family’s situation at that particular time and then chooses the curriculum that works best.

Just as children need different sized clothing as they grow and different kinds of clothing as the seasons change, so too curriculum must adjust with changes in time and situation. High school children who have previously learned in an integrated, unit fashion may move toward a more traditional approach of studying subject-by-subject while continuing to integrate a few subjects where applicable. Likewise, families who have high-stress years may find it helpful to employ a more structured, self-taught curriculum to relieve a parent of constant involvement. Other years a unit approach allows the entire family to learn and grow together.

Success in homeschooling is directly proportional to the amount of research you do and your ability to evaluate all the elements of your homeschool—your goals, your students, you as the teacher, your life situation, and your curriculum. All elements must work together for homeschooling to be successful.

The chart below will help you objectively evaluate curriculum and then choose the curriculum that best meets the needs of your children and your life situation. When your curriculum fits your family and your family’s situation, success is assured.

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