At this time of year we home school moms haul out our glossy curriculum catalogues and dream. Then we order, and occasionally what we order matches the dream instead of our day-to-day reality.
We make expensive curriculum mistakes because we misunderstand our educational philosophy, our own teaching style, or our children’s learning styles. We forget to factor in the notion that each day has only 24 hours (really?!), and that junior can sit still for only 15 minutes at a time (oops!). We forget that when our family has changed in some major way (e.g. health, number of school-age children, financial situation), we should rethink the ways we have been doing things. What we need is a sensible, sensitive link between the world of curriculum providers and our own kitchen tables.
In her book 100 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum: Choosing the Right Curriculum and Approach for your Child’s Learning Style, Cathy Duffy helps us understand that link. For example, we’ve all been told we need a philosophy of education, but what exactly is that, and how would we go about determining what our own philosophy of education is?
Through a list of questions, Duffy helps the reader determine what educational content is important for her family and what other criteria must be considered. With a unique table of questions, she helps the reader determine the kind of approach (Charlotte Mason, traditional, classical, unschooling, etc.) that would suit her family, and then she explains each of these approaches and lists resources for each one. Finally she discusses how practical issues such as mom’s confidence, her time, her budget, and her religious beliefs impact home schooling choices.
By this stage, I was confused both of the times I went through the book—yes, that’s two times, now, and I plan to do it again this summer! Fortunately, Duffy devotes a whole chapter to how she would have answered the questions at a certain point in her life, and I find this sample chapter very helpful.
Next, there’s a chapter describing adult and child learning styles. Duffy discusses when learning styles are particularly important and how to compromise when a family has several very different ones.
Of course, even if you know how you want your home school to run, you still need to know exactly what you want to teach that year. You need to know not only what subjects each child should cover, but what your goals are in each subject. Duffy walks you through that process, too. In my dozen years of homeschooling, I have often skipped this step by choosing a resource so carefully that my goal would be to finish the book or program. Sometimes this has been good, sometimes not.
After this chapter, Duffy finally begins her list of 100 top curriculum resources, tabulating them in terms of learning styles, parental involvement needed, amount of writing needed, amount of prep time required, ease of use for the teacher, whether or not the teacher’s manual is necessary, how closely the resource supports Charlotte Mason or classical education, and whether the resource is more suitable for Protestants, Catholics, or non-sectarian families.
After this incredibly useful table, each of the 100 top curriculum choices is reviewed thoroughly. Cathy Duffy has been reviewing home school resources for more than twenty years, and she knows what sort of information parents need to make curriculum choices. Many of her other reviews are available on her website or in her wonderful Christian Home Educator’s Curriculum Manuals —these manuals are great for overviews of different subjects as well as for the reviews, even though they are quite old now.
Cathy Duffy has been one of my guides during the past twelve years, and has greatly influenced my children’s education. Other moms feel the same way about her as this thorough review shows. Duffy’s 100 Top Picks and her curriculum manuals help me find my bearings whenever life changes enough that we need to adjust our home school style.
At least once a year, I borrow 100 Top Picks from our library, and usually end up renewing it. If you don’t have quick access to it through your library or interlibrary loan, it is definitely worth buying. Of all the how-to-home school books I have read, this is one of the best, if not the best, general guide to philosophy and curriculum choices.
Disclosure: I am not compensated in any way for telling you about this wonderful resource.