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Your Best Curriculum Starts with YOU

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“What curriculum do you use?”

It’s the most common conversation starter in homeschool circles. Why not? We all want to know the best curriculum, and it’s a great way to break the ice when meeting a fellow home educator for the first time. It’s a topic of immediate common interest. 

Choosing the best curriculum is, after all, the most important decision to ensure our children receive the best education, right?

Well, maybe. 

I was a typical young mother when my husband and I made the decision to homeschool our second, not-so-typically developing son. We felt it would be best for him and save potential teachers lots of grief. 

Like 99 percent of first-time homeschool moms, I had no idea what I was doing and was pretty scared. So, I asked the “Best Curriculum” question to some homeschooling friends and got many answers. Thankfully, one helpful mom suggested I attend an upcoming used curriculum event at a local park.

On-the-money advice.

I drove into the parking lot. From my eight-passenger van, I could see several large picnic tables laden with all kinds of curriculum choices and books. My heart pounded! It was real. I was finally a full-fledged home-educating parent buying a curriculum. I could hardly wait to explore the wondrous contents.

So much! A smorgasbord of perfect teaching tools. My eyes widened and fell upon a nearly-new Bob Jones Spelling curriculum with its thick teacher’s guide and matching student workbook. Bob Jones had been highly recommended by one of my friends. The student book looked doable. Then I began reading the teacher’s instructions for the lessons. 

I felt woozy. My palms began to sweat. I became sick to my stomach.

How could I ever accomplish what was laid out for just one day’s spelling lesson? So much to do! It would take me all day to do it well. And this was just spelling! It required so much time and effort for such a small subject. 

I retreated back to my van and gripped the steering wheel.

What on earth would I tell Russ? That teaching was beyond my abilities? I could never do it?

I knew in that moment that a traditional curriculum, like Bob Jones and Abeka, didn’t mesh with my somewhat ADHD self. However, during my rapid withdrawal from the sale, I caught a glimpse of Mary Pride’s first edition of The Big Book of Home Learning. I tracked down a copy and wrote to every provider who offered a catalogue. 

My mailbox overflowed. I loved it. I scoured and marked every catalogue that offered something that would fit my style and personality. Some were somewhat standard workbook materials that seemed more inviting and less intimidating than the curriculum used in traditional classrooms. Others offered more adventurous, less-traditional approaches.

I ordered many resources, none of which my friends had ever used. I dug in.

I taught myself how to use the resources because nobody else was there to help.

I forced myself to fully understand the content and the purpose of each lesson, chapter, or activity until I owned it and it didn’t own me.

Then, and only then, would I introduce it to my son.

I knew what to do, even though there were days I hadn’t put enough me into the lesson to be fully satisfying and instructive for my son or me.

With that commitment, I thought I had learned to be a good home educator during my first two years. I was even invited to be on panels for my homeschool support group because of the approaches I employed with my son.

But then—and isn’t there always a “but then”—we decided to bring our oldest son home from a private Christian school in the fifth grade. By then, I knew he was a good student; he had done well with a rigorous curriculum and never complained about homework. Homeschooling him was going to be a piece of cake!

I selected a highly regarded, easy-to-use, straight-forward grammar resource. He never complained or avoided it. He completed page after page with no difficulty and typically perfect grades. He was thrilled with his exceptional scores and so was I until . . . I gave him a writing assignment. It required him to use the grammar concepts he had just covered.

He eagerly engaged in the assignment. I anticipated an enjoyable, interesting short report.

Well, the content was interesting and creative, but the grammar! Terrible! Nothing from the straight-A grades made it from the worksheet to his brain. He had not learned anything. Nothing had transferred from the lessons into real-life, practical application. Our investment in the excellent curriculum produced no useable skills or knowledge.

So, back to the drawing board I went.

Where had I gone wrong? Then it dawned on me; it was me. Rather, the lack of me. I had taken me out of his learning equation. I had left the teaching to the curriculum, and my son did not know how to learn from it. He could fill in the blanks but did not transfer the correct answers into practical, functional application.

That was my responsibility. It was my job to know and understand everything I taught and transfer it to my child so he learned correctly. That was and is my role, and mine alone.

It was hard for me to go back and make sure I understood those grammar concepts intimately enough to re-teach my son accurately. He wasn’t happy. He’d checked the box off and didn’t want to re-do the lessons.

He had no choice in the matter. He learned those concepts.

I learned an even more valuable truth about the best curriculum.

Without me—without you—a curriculum may not be worth the paper it’s printed on or the pixels flashed on the computer screen.

Only when you and I invest the time, effort, and resources to be “professional educators”—who fully understand and know what our children need to learn to advance academically—will we and our children experience the full measure of success that is possible (and well within our reach!) from the call to teach and learn at home.

Educational psychologist Dr. Brenda Murphy lives out her mission to Serve All In Love by sharing her deep knowledge of the art and science of teaching through professional development, personal consultation, and mentorship. She encourages all teachers, parents, and students to experience new possibilities through her belief that they each possess undiscovered gifts and talents. Find out more about Dr. Brenda and how she helps parents like you at www.sailawaylearning.com.

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"Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it" (Proverbs 22:6).
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