One of the things I’ve observed about homeschool families is that the process of choosing a curriculum tends to be boiled down to finding curriculum packages or programs. I understand why this approach would be helpful in the process of making what is an unquestionably overwhelming decision. This approach is also not unique to the homeschooling community. I’ve seen private school curriculum chosen this way and have observed public schools implement curriculum packages as if they are “the curriculum.” The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t fully encompass the heart behind curriculum. A curriculum is a course of study, a plan for how you will journey toward your intended destination.
Quality curriculum has five important characteristics (Sousa & Tomlinson, 2011):
- Organized around essential goals
- Close alignment between goals, assessments, and plans
- Engaging and relevant to the learner
- Grounded in authentic disciplines or field of studies
No single package or program can possibly encompass all you want your children to learn. Sticking too closely to a program or package can be restrictive. Further, a package or program may include elements that don’t drive you toward your intended destination (or worse, drive you in the wrong direction).
Homeschooling opens up a world of opportunity for incorporating the characteristics of quality curriculum and using them powerfully as we educate our children. In my consulting work much of what I did was wrestle alongside teachers or district leaders to find ways to address the state- or district-mandated standards while still crafting quality curriculum. This was difficult when we were faced with particularly limiting standards (VA SOLs, I’m looking at you…). Most homeschooling families are not constrained by state or district standards. We are free to follow the interests, strengths, and needs of our little classroom of learners without the pressures of addressing a particular standard in a specific time frame. Unfortunately, it is this same limitlessness that grants us the freedom to use research-based practices so powerfully that can also be so overwhelming. Thus, I imagine many people feel a bit adrift when they get to the point of what to teach their children. Or many may feel like it’s an occupational hazard to have to “buy and try” many things before landing on something that fits comfortably. Yet I believe there can be a more purposeful and efficient way of determining what to teach. Yes, even with the sky as the limit.
What does this look like for me? Where will I begin? How will I focus the scope of what we accomplish here in our homeschooling endeavor? First and foremost, I need to have a clearly articulated vision statement. What is it we hope to accomplish by homeschooling our children? What compels us to pursue this school choice over all the others? What are our goals for the short-, mid-, and long-term future? This vision statement should be concise and clear, yet comprehensive enough to serve as a guide for future courses of action in relation to homeschooling.
Second, I need to make sure I have my learning goals clearly articulated. I see this as a two-part project. Initially, I’d like to develop a set of enduring understandings and essential questions for each discipline we want our children to study. I’d love for them to be something we revisit each year as they grow in understanding and knowledge. Well-designed goals for understanding can really shine in a spiraling capacity or in a multi-age learning environment. (I’ll explore this in greater depth in a later post.) As I flesh out each of my children’s more specific goals for skills development and content acquisition, I’ll consider various sources and sketch out a framework for our year.
I would like to note that it is only after these frameworks are put into place that it is most effective to select curriculum resources. Otherwise, I might wind up with only a vague idea of what we hope to accomplish, but nothing that can allow me to confidently and purposefully select only those tools, packages, or materials that will drive us toward the articulated goals and vision statement. I’ll end up with too much “buy and try” that has to be sold or donated, and, I imagine, extra doses of frustration and guilt.
Lastly, I personally want to research my “blind spots.” Early childhood is a blindspot for me, an area with the least amount of professional experience and exposure. I want to dive into the literature on what young learners need developmentally as well as best practices in literacy development at this age. Of course, I have a list a mile long of books I’m planning to read from this fresh perspective of a homeschooling educator. I’ll summarize my findings and report back on the blog so stay tuned and thanks for joining me on this adventure!
Sousa, D.A, & Tomlinson, C.A. (2011). Differentiation and the brain: How neuroscience supports the learner-friendly classroom. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.