Choose the Best Curriculum | Emergency Homeschool Podcast
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Emergency
Homeschool Podcast
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EPISODE 5

How Can I Find the Best Homeschool Curriculum?

LISTEN ON: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google Play | Stitcher


FEATURING:
Pam Barnhill, homeschool mom and Founder of Your Morning Basket
DeLise Bernard, homeschool mom, educational consultant, and Founder of Surviving Homeschool
Being confronted with the choice of curriculum can feel overwhelming — especially for those accustomed to having their school district doing the selecting and curating. Where do you even start? In this episode, we talk about why the hunt for the best curriculum doesn’t need to be stressful.
The curriculum decision is really where it can get overwhelming. It’s the most common “panic spot” in the at-home learning decision.
- Pam Barnhill
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Curriculum Recommendations?
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Choosing the Best Homeschool Curriculum for Your Student

Before choosing any curriculum, it’s important to take a step back and consider how you want your child to learn and grow. This will include considerations beyond specific academic outcomes.

For example: What do I want for my child as they become an adult? What skills do I want to foster in them? What will their values be? What will they be interested in?

Determining your educational philosophy first will help you make choices regarding your curriculum and how you'll spend your homeschooling time.

Your Curriculum and Textbook are Jumping-off Points

In general, curriculum is designed to be flexible. There are no rigid expectations that your student must do every single suggested activity. In fact, when you're looking at giving high school credit, the recommendation is that you finish 75% or more of a textbook. Curriculum developers provide a wide range of options for different kinds of learning and exploring content, but that does not mean you are expected to finish every single chapter in the book.

Your Student will be OK, Even If You Pick the Wrong Homeschool Math Curriculum

Remember, you can always change your mind. The curriculum you choose for this year is not the curriculum that you have to keep forever. While you don't want to "curriculum hop" too quickly, you are not stuck with your first selection. Recognizing that your decision isn't permanent can help you avoid putting too much pressure on yourself as you review your choices.

All-in-one vs. Best-in-breed Homeschool Curriculum Options

Big-box curriculum options are easy: All the decisions are made for you. If you plan to homeschool temporarily, a big-box, all-in-one curriculum is a great place to start. It will probably be similar to the lessons you and your student are familiar with from school. Considering all the other things about your life that are going to change over the next few months, familiarity can make the transition to homeschooling easier.

But that all-in-one option is not a necessary constraint when you’re choosing your own curriculum. Mixing and matching your curriculum also allows you to choose the best learning options from a wide range of choices.

Similarly, at-home learning gives you the flexibility to move at your child’s pace. For instance, your child might be advanced in mathematics but behind a grade level in spelling. Not only can you choose a best-in-breed model for that curriculum, but you can customize the level to match your student's.

When you're managing at-home learning, you have a much better sense of where your child is not just by grade level, but by specific concepts. Many homeschool curricula rank progress by levels, not grades. This organization lets the parents keep track of the child's progress but isn’t demoralizing to children who may not be perfectly “on grade” in every subject.

The best-in-breed curriculum choice is a big benefit of at-home learning. Different companies and curriculum providers may have different reputations for certain subjects, and you get to pick and choose the best.
- Pam Barnhill

Making Time for Homeschool Electives During the At-home School Day

Remember that success isn't always about moving to the next level; sometimes, it's about giving your child an opportunity to explore and deepen their own interests. When your child finds something they’re passionate about, spend more time with it and go deeper.

You can also integrate their learning by building lessons into your everyday lifestyle. Electives don't have to come from a book or be taught by an instructor. If your child wants to cook, invite them into the kitchen; you don't need to enroll your child in a cooking class.

Doing things together makes it less about learning a skill and more about the relationships within your family. And it is especially important to remember that you don't have to be fully responsible for all of these things yourself. You can find opportunities for your child to pursue their interests independently.

For example, DeLise Bernard described a time when her son wanted to build a computer. Her first inclination was to get a book and figure out how to do it herself so she could teach him, but then she decided to let him figure it out for himself. She had him develop a plan, helped him find a mentor, and just watched the magic happen.

Emergency Homeschool - Episode 5 Transcript

Narrator (00:00):
We've had so many parents reach out to us and say, "We're trying to be prepared for whatever happens this fall. Can you recommend curriculum for other subjects, like what you offer for Math and Language Arts with Beast Academy, AOPS Academy and AOPS online?" To help them out, we surveyed our Art of Problem Solving families to find out exactly what curriculum they use for their curious and motivated students. See their homeschool recommendations for yourself at aops.com/homeschool. That's aops.com/homeschool.

Eric Olsen (00:35):
What's your favorite subject in school?

Child (00:38):
Definitely writing, especially making reports on my computer.

Eric Olsen (00:42):
Why do you like writing so much?

Child (00:44):
Because I love to express my feelings in the words that I write.

Eric Olsen (00:50):
Is there a subject that you haven't loved as much?

Child (00:53):
I'm not great with social studies. I find it a little boring to read the social studies books that my school provides.

Eric Olsen (01:03):
Do you think there's any way that you could learn history in a way that it would be more interesting for you?

Child (01:08):
I really liked reading about the Titanic in a book, I thought it was really interesting. And I do like learning about different historical events in books and videos.

Eric Olsen (01:21):
I'm Eric Olsen with Art of Problem Solving. And this is the very first time we've ever considered homeschool options for our nine-year-old daughter. She loves her public school. She loves her teachers, she loves her friends, but we just don't know what traditional school is going to look like come fall and want to be prepared either way. In this series, I interview some of the best minds in the education and at-home learning spaces to figure out our options and learn how to craft an at-home learning plan that's right for our family. This is Emergency Homeschool.

Pam Barnhill (01:53):
The curriculum decision is really where it can get overwhelming. The what do I teach? What subjects? What educational philosophy? What curriculum providers? It's the most common panic spot in the at-home learning decision.

Eric Olsen (02:08):
This is Pam Barnhill, educator, homeschool, mom, and Founder of Your Morning Basket. What advice would you give new and tentative homeschoolers about choosing their curriculum?

Pam Barnhill (02:20):
Well, the first thing I would say is you're not going to ruin your child with one year of curriculum, so go ahead and choose the curriculum that you feel the most comfortable with. You're going to be able to tweak this curriculum as you go along. I think one of the big things I want new homeschoolers to know is when curriculum providers write curriculum, they do not intend for you to do 100% of what is written. Think back to when you were in school, how many times did you actually finish 100% of the history book, or the science book, or the math book in a school year?

Eric Olsen (02:59):
Great point.

Pam Barnhill (03:00):
A lot of times the teacher would skip around and skip certain chapters. And when you're looking at giving a high school credit, the recommendation is if you finish 75% or more of a curriculum then you can award a high school credit for that curriculum. And so really curriculum providers are providing all the options out there for the people who like different kinds of learning and doing different things, they are never intending for somebody to finish every single page, every single chapter in the book.

Pam Barnhill (03:34):
The other important thing to remember is that you can always change your mind later. The curriculum that you get for this year is not the curriculum that you have to keep forever and ever, amen. I don't recommend that you curriculum-hop too quickly. But keep in mind, if you do it this year, if you get to the end of the year, even if it worked okay, you don't really like it, you find something new and shiny down the road, you can always switch. You're not stuck with one thing forever and ever. It's a temporary decision, it's not a permanent decision and that takes some of the pressure off.

Eric Olsen (04:12):
How important is determining the level of parental involvement ahead of time before choosing a curriculum? For instance, if both parents have full-time remote jobs, perhaps choosing some live online classes taught by someone else makes more sense than completely independent learning?

Pam Barnhill (04:29):
We have a lot of people in the homeschool community who think, "I want my kids to be independent, I want to be hands off." I'm sorry, when you have a five-year-old, a six-year-old, a seven-year-old, even up to a nine and 10-year-old, there's only a certain level of independence. You have got to be hands on with those kids. Now, fortunately, your day is much shorter than a traditional school day. We're talking maybe an hour to an hour and a half for a six or seven-year-old, but you have to be there with them, almost exclusively.

Eric Olsen (05:05):
How might a family's broader educational philosophy inform their curriculum choices?

Pam Barnhill (05:11):
I think you should always stop and think about, before you choose a curriculum, what is it that I want for this child? When they're an adult, what do I want them to be able to do, what will their skills be but also what will their values be? What will their loves be, what will they be interested in? And so when you take those things into consideration before you choose a curriculum, it helps inform it. I like to call it throwing the spaghetti against the wall. You think about your educational philosophy, we call it riding a homeschool vision.

Pam Barnhill (05:50):
One of ours is “In our homeschool, we work hard to mastery.” Some subjects need to be learned well. We will consistently practice skills such as reading, writing, and mathematics even if working those skill muscles are not our favorite tasks. You think about your educational philosophy in your homeschool vision and you get those ideas in place and then you can throw the spaghetti at the wall. You can bring up the curriculum choices, you can think about how you're going to spend your time in your homeschool. How much time are you going to spend on extra curricular activities versus just giving your kids downtime to be able to read good books. And all of that is going to be informed by that educational philosophy.

Eric Olsen (06:35):
Parents looking for homeschool curriculum are going to come across those big box all-in-one solutions that cover every subject for a specific grade. Talk about the benefits of choosing this kind of package.

Pam Barnhill (06:48):
It's easy, all of the decisions are made for you. And this is not necessarily wrong. I mean, there are a lot of homeschoolers who don't choose this kind of curriculum but then there are a lot of homeschoolers who do. And so if you know that you're homeschooling temporarily, or if you just want to get your feet wet with homeschooling and you don't know where to begin, then this kind of curriculum is a great place to start. And it's also going to look like what you know, and it's going to look like what your kids know, it's going to be familiar. And so think about all the things about your life that are going to change over the next few months by embracing homeschooling. And having something that's familiar, and that's what you know could be the one thing that keeps you going.

Eric Olsen (07:38):
And what are the benefits of a best-in-breed use case for a parent who wants to make specific curriculum choices for specific subjects?

Pam Barnhill (07:48):
A lot of times what we find out when we bring our kids home and we start teaching them at home is they're not on grade level in every single subject. You may have a child who's advanced in mathematics, but behind grade level or on grade level in reading or spelling or something like that. And so by taking this, you called it a best-in-breed approach, then you can cater to what they need at the moment, the different grade levels that they need.

Pam Barnhill (08:20):
You're going to find a lot of homeschool curriculum actually doesn't have a grade number on it. Those are my favorite homeschool curriculums. You don't say, "Oh, this is grade six math." I have a ninth grader right now in pre-algebra. I also have a child who just finished the seventh grade who's in pre-algebra. And so it's okay with us that in our math curriculum all up through elementary school did not have numbers on them. It had various levels so I could keep track of where were but there was no grade six math. That would have been really demoralizing to my older child. For years and years they've been in the same book and it would have been demoralizing to her to see that number on there that was the same as their brothers, they were just at the same level.

Pam Barnhill (09:10):
Some other things that are beneficial to that best-in-breed is you can go with the best curriculum for whatever the subject is. Different companies, different curriculum providers may have a really great English curriculum or spelling curriculum but then you may want to use a writing curriculum from a different company. And just because of ease of use or because it's simply a better product, and so mixing and matching allows you to do that.

Eric Olsen (09:42):
What about grade-specific curriculum choices? One of the flexibility benefits of that home learning is its self-paced nature. If your child is ahead in math but behind in reading, how should you think about selecting on-grade materials for them? This is the DeLise Bernard, homeschool mom, educational consultant, and Founder of Surviving Homeschool.

DeLise Bernard (10:04):
That is a huge benefit of homeschooling, you can move at the child's pace. And when you're managing at home learning what's interesting is that you actually have a much better sense of where your child is not just by grade level but by specific concept. And then to your other point, if a child is ahead in a particular subject, there's obviously the opportunity to continue to move that child to another concept.

DeLise Bernard (10:28):
But honestly, I like to suggest to parents that it's also an opportunity to dig deeper into concepts that they're currently learning, give them an opportunity to learn more about something that they find interesting. They don't always have the opportunity in a traditional school setting and so when they find something that's interesting to them, I think it's a great time to be able to spend some more time with it because it's not always about moving to the next grade level, but sometimes giving them the opportunity to explore their own interests at their level, but to deepen their understanding of that.

DeLise Bernard (11:01):
And one of the things that I find fun around with this opportunity of self-pace is that you can supplement these subjects with interesting courses. And so for example, my son took a writing class, a traditional writing class but then I supplemented it with an all-boys writing class that used Frederick Douglas as a muse. And so while he was taking his traditional writing class, he was also taking a writing class where he was learning that Frederick Douglas wrote a biography, they read the biography and then he wrote his own biography. And so you can supplement, you can use this opportunity to supplement with some interesting classes or interesting, even cultural courses that you may have wanted to expose them to.

Eric Olsen (11:48):
We've had a lot of fun at my house this summer exploring new electives and some online learning opportunities. I can already anticipate the challenge of trying to sneak them in during the traditional school year. Is there any clever way to make sure that we have time for some of those fun exploratory electives?

DeLise Bernard (12:09):
Absolutely. I think that what would be fun is just making them part of your lifestyle. What I mean by that is that these opportunities exploring these electives don't have to come from a book or be taught by an instructor. Someone may say, "Oh, I want to put my child in a cooking class." Or, you can just invite them into the kitchen when it's time to cook and so they're doing it right alongside of you, right? If gardening is part of your lifestyle, you can garden together. You can build things at home together. Someone may have said, "Oh, I'll put my kids in an architecture camp."

DeLise Bernard (12:46):
Or you can build the bookshelf or bookcase that you've been having in a corner for a while, inviting them into our world and doing those things together as a family. Make it less about making time for it but it's more about these are just the things that we do together. And those things are the things that are traditionally seen as "electives," and I think that they're just really, really great ways to just make it part of what we do every day.

DeLise Bernard (13:13):
The other thing I would suggest is that we just schedule it for us in our household soccer practices four days a week in the fall. It's that we don't have to find the time, we just make the time as you said, right? And we make the time the same way that we do STEM activities, or we prioritize foreign language classes, or music classes. And it doesn't have to be... I think something that gets overwhelming for families is when we say something has to happen every day or every week, but maybe it's on the first Saturday of the month we have a family outing.

DeLise Bernard (13:49):
And I guess lastly, you'll hear me say this often which is just, "You don't have to be fully responsible for all of these things yourself." You as the parent, we don't have to be fully engaged and included in every learning opportunity that our kids take a part of. And so what I mean by that is, if you have a child and you've been having a great time and having a particular lesson or thing you want to expose them to, you can find opportunities for them to learn that thing independently, or even pursue their own interests independently and we can just look in admiration and pride.

DeLise Bernard (14:29):
One example for that was my son decided he wanted to build a computer, right? And I am not the tech person. And so my first inclination of course was "Okay, I need to get a book, I need to get this and we need to figure out how we're going to build a computer." Or, I took my own advice from dealing with this for a while and I was like, "You know what? I'm going to let him figure this out. He wants to build a computer." And what I did was I had him set out a plan for us about how he would raise the funds to build this computer, who he would find himself as a mentor to help him figure out how to build a computer.

DeLise Bernard (15:03):
And then I just watched this thing happen and it was refreshing to realize that I didn't have to be fully immersed and engaged in every single opportunity. And that there are times, and we experience this growing up, right? Our parents weren't fully helicoptering every educational thing that we pursued. We had to find ways to do it. And so I just try to figure out ways to do that in our family and I would encourage families, to parents in particular to allow children to have that freedom to figure out ways to explore their interests on their own and we can facilitate.

Eric Olsen (15:46):
DeLise, thanks so much for your time today.

DeLise Bernard (15:50):
My pleasure.

Eric Olsen (15:52):
In the next episode of Emergency Homeschool, we'll dig into hybrid homeschooling and a family's various options for supplementing whatever public schools end up offering this fall. We hope you'll stay with us as we interview the experts and navigate our at-home learning options together.

Narrator (16:11):
You've been listening to Emergency Homeschool, an Art of Problem Solving podcast. Since 1993, Art of Problem Solving has prepared hundreds of thousands of motivated students for success in prestigious universities and STEM careers through engaging curriculum, expert online instruction and local academies. To learn more, visit artofproblemsolving.com. That's artofproblemsolving.com.

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