What Type of Curriculum Did You Use With Your Children?

The November 2008 issue of the Texas Home School Coalition REVIEW included an article I had written, “What Motivates Your Child?” In this article I encouraged parents to pay attention to what their children noticed or indicated as needing to be done differently and to be alert to that about which their children commented and shared with them. I wrote that parents should be willing to step back and become active observers in their children’s lives and give them time to reveal who they really are and upon what they most want to affect change. Once parents understand and respect their children’s interests, concerns, and natural talents, they can provide opportunities that allow their children to participate in activities and learning experiences about which they can get excited.

In response to that article, I received the following e-mail:

Hello, Ms. Preble,

I am a first-year home school educator to my eight-year-old son and six-year-old daughter. I worked in the public school system, and my husband works at a community college. Though we have experience in public and higher education, I must admit that home schooling is so much more challenging than I ever anticipated. I was curious as to your early years of home education and the type of curriculum you used with your children.

It has been quite some time since anyone has asked me questions about what type of curriculum I used when my children were younger. Both of my children are now grown. One of my daughters graduated from Texas A&M University in May of 2008, and the other one is currently a sophomore there.

I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed my trip down memory lane as I thought back to those early years of home schooling. I remembered the brightly colored, reading flash cards and the felt cutouts we used in kindergarten. I thought about all the wonderful history lessons, science experiments, and Bible study times and discussions. Then it occurred to me that, when we first started homeschooling, there was not the wide variety of curricular options that exist today. Back then I spent most of my time researching various educational philosophies and asking the Lord how He wanted me to educate my children. My husband and I were clear on our responsibility to instill in our children an understanding and love of God, but I did not know which reading curriculum to use or if the science material I had chosen would ultimately equip them for college-level courses.

Since I believed?and still believe? that God led me to homeschool, I knew that He would lead me in developing an educational philosophy that would help me to instruct the unique children that He had designed and placed in my care. So I began to pray that God would lead me to the material He wanted me to read and to the speakers I needed to hear. The very first speaker I heard who greatly impacted my approach to home schooling was Dr. Raymond Moore, author of Better Late Than Early. I still consider this book a must-read for all home schooling parents. His research and insights explaining the connection between children’s developmental stages and their readiness to learn has eased the mind of many worried home school parents whose children were not reading by age five or even older. (Visit the Moore Foundation Web site.)

After I read most of the books written by Dr. Moore, it was not long before I discovered the writings of Dr. Ruth Beechick and Charlotte Mason. I attended home school conferences and began to learn about various methods of educating children. Soon my husband and I developed our own philosophy of education. We agreed that our primary objective was to teach our children about God. We also decided that we wanted to instill in our children a lifelong love of learning. We wanted them to be curious and to investigate those things that interested them. We also wanted them to develop their God-given natural talents so they would be equipped to use their strengths to serve others.

These are the ideas that formed our educational philosophy. We selected curricula and learning experiences that would help us achieve our educational goals. We also helped our daughters identify extracurricular activities that helped them explore and develop their God-given talents and abilities.

Once we determined what we wanted the outcome of our educational efforts to be, it became much easier to identify which curricula and learning experiences would help us meet our goals. For example, since I believe that encouraging curiosity and investigation are key to helping a child develop a love of learning, I decided to incorporate one of Dr. Beechick’s ideas when it came time to pick my daughter’s science curriculum for her fourth-grade year. We had tried a number of typical science textbooks and found them to be rather dry. They also seemed to cover the same topics over and over again. My daughter was already starting to dread science, and she was only nine years old.

Dr. Beechick believes that teaching science by using a textbook actually works against the scientific process. If children are given a textbook and told that the answers to their questions about science are contained within that textbook, this can actually work against encouraging them to think like scientists. For example, the first step in the scientific method is to ask a question. Scientists are supposed to be curious people. Think about George Washington Carver and where his curiosity about a peanut led him. If your children are given a set curriculum that contains all the science they need to know for the year, when are they given the chance to let their own curiosity drive their investigation?

Therefore, in order to let my daughter investigate and ask her own questions about science, I decided to follow one of Dr. Beechick’s suggestions. I took my daughter to the library and directed her to the science section in the children’s department. I then told her to select three books that focused on a topic about which she was curious. Much to my surprise, my daughter selected three books on electromagnetism. I told her to record the five most fascinating things she learned from each book and communicate her results to me. She could either write a report, draw a picture, or give an oral presentation about what she learned. My daughter is now twenty-three, with a college degree, and still describes her fourth-grade year as the year that she most enjoyed learning about science.

My other daughter hit a snag during her third-grade year when it came to reading. None of the books or readers I selected were enticing her to want to read. I took her to our local home school bookstore and told her to take a look at all the books and readers available and pick something that looked interesting to her. Again, much to my surprise, she chose a set of readers that I never would have picked. She told me that the readers we had been using were not “chapter books,” and she wanted to read “chapter books.” I realized that the readers I had selected contained short stories with a beginning and an end to each story, and my daughter wanted to read an ongoing story, divided into chapters. She did not want to know the end of the story until the end of the book.

These are only two examples of things I did through the years to help my children become actively involved in their own educational process. Both of my daughters learned how to research and investigate to get answers to their questions. They also both developed a love of learning. These are two of the outcomes I had most wanted to see as a result of our home schooling years.

I realize my answer to the question, “Which curriculum did you use when your children were younger?” is not a simple one. I cannot say that we started kindergarten with A Beka and used it all the way through. We did use some elements of the A Beka curriculum, coupled with many different learning techniques and materials along the way. My advice to moms of young home schooling students would be to pray about what the outcome of your children’s education should be and ask the Lord to direct you to the resources you need to accomplish that task.