Tuesday, May 24, 2016

5 Tips for Finding What Works in Your Homeschool (From Things That Didn't Work in Mine)

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5 Tips for Finding What Works in Your Homeschool (From things that didn't work in mine) on Homeschool Coffee Break @ kympossibleblog.blogspot.com - Just because a curriculum is great doesn't mean it's a great fit for our family. Here are some lessons I've learned the hard way about picking great curriculum that great FOR YOU!

One thing I've learned after many years of homeschooling with a mix of curricula, and a few years of reviewing educational products, is that just because a curriculum or resource is great doesn't necessarily make it a great fit for our family. This is the time of year that homeschoolers are busy pulling together at least some of their plans for the next school year, so I thought I'd pass on some of the lessons I've learned about how to choose well for your family.

We get to try out a lot of homeschool products for our Schoolhouse Crew Reviews, and there's just no way we could keep using everything. Some things are such a great fit that we stick with them for a long time, and in many cases become loyal customers of those publishers. Some things work well for that season and we finish out the book or whatever, but for various reasons we can't find a permanent place for it in our homeschool. And some things we greatly appreciate being able to try, but we decide not to continue with them. Honestly, the same thing happens with the things I have gone out and purchased as well. The new and shiny thing that caught my eye at the curriculum fair didn't pan out the way I expected.

5 Tips for Finding What Works in Your Homeschool (From things that didn't work in mine) on Homeschool Coffee Break @ kympossibleblog.blogspot.com - Just because a curriculum is great doesn't mean it's a great fit for our family. Here are some lessons I've learned the hard way about picking great curriculum that great FOR YOU!

That's almost always the case with curriculum that we don't continue to use. It's high quality, well-written, appealing, challenging, and many other excellent things - but it's not a good fit for our homeschool. Here are a few things we've reviewed or purchased over the past few years that didn't suit us but might suit others. Along with some tips for making sure that what you choose is a good choice for your homeschool.


One size does not fit all.
I don't often make this mistake any more, but I sure did when my kids were younger, and I wonder if it might be the most common curriculum choice mistake. Curriculum A was a huge favorite of all the homeschool families I know, it gets glowing reviews, and maybe it even worked great for one of my kids, so it's the best and what all my kids should use, right?! That's just not how it works. I bought my oldest son the high school science that everyone raved about, but for some reason he really didn't like it. He slogged through it and finished, but it wasn't the positive experience I'd hoped for. We reviewed Analytical Grammar and found it a suitable fit for Landon so we kept using it. But I know already that it wouldn't appeal to Kennady. On the other hand, Kennady loved Lightning Lit & Comp but it was more in-depth and time-intensive than Landon wanted.

Read my review and a follow-up post about Analytical Grammar to see if it would work for your student: Analytical Grammar (Schoolhouse Crew Review) and  From the High School Lesson Book - Analytical Grammar

From the High School Lesson Book - Analytical Grammar on Homeschool Coffee Break @ kympossibleblog.blogspot.com - Share your posts about homeschooling through high school in this weekly link-up!

Read my reviews of Lightning Lit & Comp for middle school: Lightning Lit & Comp (Schoolhouse Crew Review) and Middle School Monday - Lightning Literature and Composition

And Lightning Lit & Comp for high school: Lightning Lit for High School


Consider the timing.
No matter how much we like a particular curriculum or how great it is, if we can't fit it into our schedule, or if a student just isn't ready for it, it's not going to work out well. So before making a big commitment to a curriculum, take a good look at what else is already on the academic plate and see whether you really have time for it. This is especially important in the middle of a school year, or nearing the end of a school year. Also think about whether your student is ready for it. It's not that challenging a student is a bad thing, because we do want to stretch them academically sometimes! But a student that already has a full schedule or is being stretched in other subject areas already may not appreciate one more challenging course on top of what they already have. In some cases, you could hold on to the new thing for next year, but I've found that I seldom actually use my stockpiled curriculum so I try not to hold onto things if I don't have a definite plan. We've often reviewed things that we actually liked very much, but the timing just wasn't right, so we didn't continue with them. One prime example is Illuminating Literature from Writing With Sharon Watson. It's an amazing literature course for teens. We liked it a lot. However, we were just starting a new school year, and both of my students had already settled on literature courses for the year, and we were committed to those. At first, I held out hope that we could do at least some of the Sharon Watson course in a book discussion group that some in our homeschool group were wanting, but that never came together. Eventually, I had to accept that as much as I love this particular lit course, the timing just wasn't right.

Read our review - maybe the timing will be right for you! Illuminating Literature: When Worlds Collide (A Schoolhouse Crew Review).


We can't do everything.
This is certainly related to the issue of timing, because we simply can't fit everything on the wishlist into a workable school schedule. But it's also about priorities. In other words, the curriculum is good, but it's a subject that we're already covering with something else we like, or it's a subject that isn't a high enough priority for us. In our family, that's been things like Latin and Foreign Languages, Logic, and some electives. We've enjoyed studying Latin and I think it's valuable, but in our real world we couldn't fit it in. Foreign languages are another valuable subject area, but my students weren't motivated enough for us to make it a priority, and it's not a hard and fast requirement for graduation. Logic is pretty neat to study, but we don't follow a classical model for education, so we never studied it as a stand-alone subject. Computer coding was a fun elective we tried, but not high enough priority to stick with it as a full-time subject or high school credit.

Some great things we reviewed that just didn't fit in an already full schedule include:
Latina Christiana from Memoria Press (A Schoolhouse Crew Review)
KidCoder Web Series (Schoolhouse Crew Review)
The Art of Argument


Things change.
This was a hard lesson to learn. A curriculum that was a great fit in one grade was no longer the best choice a year or two later. Sometimes the style of the textbook or workbook changes from one grade level to another, and sometimes the student's needs change, but either way, it might be the perfect fit at one point in your homeschool journey, and then not so much later on. That's okay. Just don't get so locked into something that you don't recognize the signs that you may need to adjust. I've already mentioned Lightning Lit & Comp as something that worked great for one of my students, but not for another. We're also finding that Lightning Lit for high school is more demanding for Kennady than she'd anticipated, or maybe it's just that she took on too big a task for her first year of high school. It was turning out to be too much, especially considering the rest of her course load, so we adjusted the expectations of how much of the course she would do. We also found that Math Mammoth, which was such a helpful curriculum for her several years ago, suited her needs less a couple years later because what she needed in math instruction changed.

Read our reviews of Math Mammoth: Math Mammoth Light Blue Series and Math Mammoth Green Series


It's just not your style.
I thought about putting this with the "One size does not fit all" rule, but in the end decided it wasn't quite the same. You may feel like you need to try a certain curriculum because "everybody else" loves it, which is similar, but in this case the curriculum is a poor fit for your family because the overall approach or style is not right for you. For example, I like a lot of the ideas behind Charlotte Mason or Classical style educations, but we don't genuinely follow either of those, so I need to be very careful about choosing a curriculum that is very strongly geared to those styles. It might work . . . but it might not. We've often tried things that would have been better suited for a co-op class or small group rather than a single student; things that were really meant for a family; things that required more teacher prep than I could handle; things that were way more structured and rigid than we could handle; things that had too much writing; things that were more in-depth than we needed; things that just didn't capture our attention; and the list goes on. I think every one of those things that didn't work for us was a great curriculum, just not for us. So take a careful look at it - if it's got a lot of hands-on projects that you know you won't do, or lots of worksheets that your kids will complain about, or a strict lesson plan that will be a headache to modify, or any number of other things that are way different from how your homeschool usually operates, it might not be a good fit for your style.

Teen Prasso was a neat Bible study, but I thought it would have been much better for a group: Teen Prasso - Continually Practicing the Bible

Home School Adventures has great materials, but didn't suit our style: Home School Adventures

High School Biology in Your Home is wonderful curriculum, but wasn't a good fit for my student that wasn't interested in biology or doing dissections: High School Biology In Your Home

Crime Scene Investigations: Real Life Science Labs For Grades 6-12 still fascinates me, but I should have bought it earlier and used it for co-op. I couldn't figure out how to make it work for just one student at home.



If you're already partway through the curriculum and are not sure you want to ditch it entirely, maybe you can find some ideas for adjusting in my post M is for Make It Work.

What are your tips for choosing curriculum that is a good fit for your homeschool style? Leave a comment and let me know!

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Annette said...

having a boy who hates to write... if anything is heavy in the writing department it's simply not worth the hassle for me...I don't need family upset over curricula! :)

Shelly said...

I really try to pay attention to the way my kids do things in their free time. My oldest daughter is very no-fuss. She just wants to get things done quickly and efficiently, which is why she usually works well with textbook-driven learning. My teen son hates reading and is very active, so we use Daily Grams for grammar because it only takes 5-10 minutes and No-Nonsense Algebra because, well, it's a no-nonsense curriculum! My other teen daughter loves to read and doesn't like textbooks, so we use Life of Fred for her language arts and math since it's literature-based. Choosing curriculum is so much fun! Visitng from Hearts for Home! Glad I stopped by...I see you on Twitter all the time (I'm @redheadmom8) but have never visited your blog before!

Kym said...

Annette - I agree! I had one student who loathed writing so I tried to find ways to keep the writing to a minimum.

Shelly - good suggestion to note how kids spend their free time. That really would provide great clues to what kinds of curriculum will work for them. So glad you stopped by and introduced yourself! I'm following your blog and on Twitter now!

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