by Katie Julius
I remember my first experience on a homeschool convention vendor floor. My daughter was two-and-a-half and my husband and I were attending the “Intro to Homeschooling” free workshops the first evening of the convention, which included a pass to explore the vendor floor after the presentations. While we weren’t actually planning to purchase any curriculum at that time, we wanted to see what some of our options were. After all, we only had three years to decide.
As we entered the large ballroom with what seemed like endless rows of tables piled high with textbooks and workbooks and manipulatives, feeling overwhelmed was an understatement. Still, we walked up and down the aisles collecting handouts that vendors gave us as we shoved each one into the bag. I politely made conversation as waves of doubt and uncertainty washed over me as I wondered how I would ever be able to do this homeschool thing if I couldn’t even navigate the vendor show.
I would argue that the most daunting task for most first time homeschoolers is selecting curriculum. With so many options available, it can be a difficult process to wade through them all to choose the one that’s right for you.
As I’m finishing my first year homeschooling my kindergarten daughter, there are several words of advice I would offer to those who are facing this decision in their first year of homeschooling this year – whether with a young elementary student or a high school student or anywhere in between.
Find your style.
There are a variety of different homeschooling methods and philosophies. Determining mine was essential before making any other decisions regarding curriculum and how I wanted to structure our homeschool. If you’ve been around the homeschool community, you’ve no doubt heard terms like “unschooling” or “Charlotte Mason” or “classical,” just to name a few. Each of these approaches to education are different in the way material is presented and how learning occurs (through unit studies, living books, daily life, etc.).
You will also want to consider if you want a curriculum where you simply take it “out of the box” and start or if you want to spend time planning and preparing the lesson plan yourself. Another thing to determine is how involved you want (or need) to be as the teacher. Do you want a curriculum that you can hand to your child to complete on his own, or a video or online course to assist you in teaching, or do you want to be actively involved in the everyday instruction right along with your child?
Find your child’s style.
If you have more than one child, you understand that every child is very different, and this includes the way they learn. When choosing a curriculum, it’s important to know how your child learns. Do they like movement or hands-on projects, or do they make up songs to remember things, or do they have to actually see the words or illustrations in front of them? Identifying which learning style (kinesthetic, auditory, or visual) can help you select a curriculum that fits best with your child’s. A workbook or textbook based curriculum likely won’t work well for a kinesthetic learner, for example.
Seek recommendations from seasoned homeschoolers.
The best resource for a new homeschooler is other homeschool families who have been doing it for a while. They’ve probably been through a few different curricula over the years and may even have some you can browse through. Ask for recommendations based on your child’s learning style and your teaching style. “I’m looking for a math curriculum that is good for a kinesthetic learner with a mastery approach” will yield suggestions that narrow down your search. Just keep in mind that what works for one family may not work for yours, and that’s okay!
If you haven’t been to a vendor show at a convention, let my first experience be a warning to you – it will likely be overwhelming the first time you walk through the doors. But don’t let it scare you away! If you are able, research curriculum online before you attend the convention. Many publishers have samples available to download on their websites so you can review a lesson or table of contents. If you’re able to narrow down what you are looking for before entering the doors of the massive ballroom or convention center, you can seek out the publishers and vendors you want to ask questions of or books you want to flip through or look at more in depth rather than wandering aimlessly from booth to booth.
Often, some of the vendors will host a workshop during the convention where they discuss their offerings. Attending these vendor sponsored workshops helped make me make decisions for both our math and science curriculum this past year (and I’ve been pleased with both).
Don’t be afraid to change.
I went to convention with my mind firm about which math curriculum I was going to use based on my research and the recommendations of others. However, after speaking with the vendors and attending workshops, I chose a different curriculum – and it’s been a great fit for us. Math is my daughter’s favorite subject this year!
This is also true if you find yourself a few months or half way into the year and a certain curriculum just isn’t working for you and/or your child. It’s okay to either take a break from it and come back and try again or ditch it completely for something else. Buying used or borrowing from a friend are great ways to test out possible new curriculum.
Don’t compare yourself to others.
This is true in so many areas of our lives and especially so when it comes to our kids and how they learn. I mentioned earlier that some curricula work well for some families and they’ll recommend it to everyone who will listen, but it’s just not a good fit for your family. You may hear that little Johnny flew through his math book in just 3 months while your little Suzie probably won’t finish by the end of the year. Each child is uniquely gifted with different strengths.
Likewise, each of us as parents and teachers are uniquely gifted with strengths. Finding the right curriculum takes being able to fit each of those pieces together to find the best fit FOR YOU and your child.
Katie Julius joined the CHEA staff in April 2018. After being around the homeschool community through her friends and siblings growing up, she is now starting out on her own homeschool journey. She is married to her husband, John, and homeschools their daughter, who is finishing up her year as a kindergartener.
Katie earned a Bachelor of Arts in Art with an emphasis in Graphic Design from Azusa Pacific University while also serving as the Editor-in-Chief of the yearbook. She then earned a Master of Arts in Educational Counseling, also from Azusa Pacific University. She taught graphic arts, photography, and yearbook at the junior and senior high level for two years. Katie then worked as an administrative assistant for four-and-a-half years before making the decision to stay home to raise her, then, 15-month-old daughter. She continues to use her design and administrative talents as a volunteer for several local community organizations and is eager for the opportunity to support the homeschooling families across California as well.
“Since I was in college, I’ve always known I wanted to homeschool my (future) children, even though I was never homeschooled myself. There’s something about the ability to give a child the one-on-one attention and specialize the curriculum that’s perfect for the way God created them that has drawn me to choose homeschooling.”
CHEA’s 35th Annual Homeschool Convention is June 28-30, 2018 at the Pasadena Convention Center.