Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Curriculum Question

The first and biggest hurdle after deciding to homeschool our kids was deciding how to homeschool them.  We researched different methods and theories, browsed websites and educational supply catalogs, and read thousands of curriculum reviews. 

Some aspects of "unschooling" appealed to me; I definitely believe that providing kids with lots of life experiences is an important part of educating them, and I love the idea of indulging my sons' curiosities and following their interests.  However, I was uncomfortable with idea of completely abandoning standard curricula and grading methods.  My biggest fear as a homeschool parent is that one day my son will know exactly what he wants to do with his life, but be unable to pursue those goals because his education was lacking in some way.  I need to feel confident that I'm preparing my children for college. 

I wanted the best of both worlds; I wanted a program that was both flexible and enjoyable, but also demanding.  It was also important to me to have a basic plan from kindergarten all the way through high school graduation.  I floundered for a while, unable to find any curriculum packages that appealed to me, and quite put off by the high prices.  My oldest son was still only in preschool and my second hadn't been born yet so I had some time before I'd have to decide on a formal curriculum, but I was still feeling the pinch.  My anxiety mounted as I searched for and failed to find a program that met our needs.

One day while watching my son play in the childrens' room of our local library, I picked up a copy of The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer that someone had left sitting on a table.  Flipping through the book, I immediately realized that I needed to take it home for a closer look. It turned out to be exactly what I'd been searching for - not a curriculum in and of itself, but a guide, a structure.  This approach to education eliminated a lot of the problems that I felt were plaguing the American education system.  Up until I found The Well-Trained Mind, I had only goals and ambitions; the book gave me a realistic path to realizing them.  Due to the book's increasing popularity there are now many companion materials available, but using them is completely optional. 

I promptly bought my own copy, and it's the best decision I've ever made for our school.  Here's a link to find out more about the book:



This is the updated 10th anniversary edition, available in hardcover and kindle editions.  It's a little pricey by my standards (though certainly not compared to a lot of curriculum packages and textbooks aimed at homeschoolers) and while I think it's well worth every penny, especially considering you get twelve or more years of use out of it, I encourage anyone who isn't sure to check a copy out of the library and read it before buying.  Even if you can only get your hands on an older edition, you'll get the idea.

The Well-Trained Mind is by far the best purchase I've ever made for our school, and my first recommendation to any family that wants a challenging education that won't suck the joy out of learning.

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