Lighting our children’s paths: Choosing the right curriculum
“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” – C.S. Lewis
This week amongst other conversations, my kids have talked to me about: the fact that Jeremy Fisher’s boat was a lily pad, the differences between coniferous and broadleaf evergreens, Babylon’s second rise to power in the 7th century BC, the 6 times table, John’s gospel explaining Jesus’ existence in the beginning, Florence Nightingale’s work-rest balance, John William’s musical score to Jurassic Park, spelling rules for doubled consonants, the recurrence of the white bull image in ancient near eastern mythology, how to write the letter f, what sweets might grow on the Owl and the Pussycat’s Bong Tree, and how we can sing ‘It is well with my soul’ with sincerity.
When I began home educating my children, I was blown away by the variety of high quality curricula out there that could be used to provide an outstanding education. The monopoly of the state curriculum has made it easy for many to believe that it must be superlative to alternative educations. Not so, and I want to show you a few options out there. There is so much fun to be had browsing subjects and providers of different curricula. The choice is vast and the questions that follow are even greater. I’d like to emphasise that you don’t have to buy curriculum AT ALL, since there are so many options online for free learning as well. I suggest that as you explore the options ask yourself some of these questions. Every parent is different, and every child is too. Therefore you want to find something that suits your family culture.
You might ask yourself:
- Shall I buy one curriculum that delivers all the subjects or dip into different providers?
- Do I want a text book based curriculum or a hands on ‘learn through life’ curriculum?
- Is there a particular philosophy of education that I can relate to and want to use?
- Do I want to join a community that follows the same curriculum?
- Do I want book based or online based?
- How much do I want to spend? - Do I want to prepare lessons myself or leave it to an organised learning package?
- Will these curricula affirm our faith?
“Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” – Psalm 119:106
Our home school style is a mishmash of whatever takes our fancy; a bought curriculum here, an old story book there, something that provides community online or in person if we fancy, a bit of text book and a lot of hands on. I want to share some of the things I look for when choosing a curriculum:
1. A curriculum that affirms Jesus as Lord
This is one of the main reasons I’m choosing to home educate my children – so that Jesus is made Lord of every part of life, every subject, and every lesson. There are so many incredible people in the world of education who have given hours of prayer into creating curricula that puts God back in His place as creator and sustainer of all things. I always want a curriculum package to encourage my children with scripture and stories of God that models Christian values. I want to help my children grow with a worldview that puts God at the centre, so that every topic is lit up brightly with the truth of Jesus.
2. A curriculum that meets academic needs
At times, you will need lesson material that stretches your child, and other times, that caters for their stage of development or learning needs. I believe very strongly that we shouldn’t compromise quality of education for faith-based education. This may seem an obvious thing to say, but unfortunately my experience is that it needs to be stated. The Bible affirms that all wisdom starts in the fear and knowledge of God. Wisdom is so much more than head knowledge, it goes deep into the person, revealing the nature and purposes of God. We want lessons that point our children to grow in a deep understanding of God, and their role as His image bearer. We also want to equip our children for life in the big wide world, with relevant qualifications and achievements that will prepare them for every situation God brings them to as an adult.
3. Something that doesn’t cost too much
Occasionally I may splash out on a special curriculum that really attracts my attention, but I’m sure you would agree that it could get pricey if we buy everything that comes our way. We need to use discernment in how we put together the curriculum for our children. There are often promotions and reductions, free downloads and links, apps, and printable versions. It’s good to keep your eye out for things floating around. Most of the time, I hear about things by word of mouth or shared on social media. It’s also good if it can be reused for other children in subsequent years (I photocopy pages as and when they’re needed, rather than letting my child work directly in the book, for example).
4: A curriculum that inspires me as a teacher
Let’s be honest, if I find the lesson boring, my child will also probably do so. When I look through a textbook or download, I want to feel excited about what we’ll be learning together as a family.
5. A curriculum that builds us as a family
I don’t always get every lesson choice right but I have found that even this helps me learn about my children in a new way that I might not have done before. I don’t want lessons to be a battle, but I want to come away from the lesson time having learned alongside my children. It allows us to develop the discussion later that day, week or month. It also shows my children that I am learning alongside them, and that learning is for life.
A peek at some ideas....
With all that said, I thought I’d share some of the resources we have used in our own home school that meets my personal expectations of a curriculum. There are so many more curricula that are out there, but I haven’t sampled yet and can’t comment. If you have something you would highly recommend being added to this list, do get in touch. For many of these purchasable curricula, there are also groups on social media for parents sharing ideas for these subjects.
Math Lessons for a Living Education, by Angelo O’Dell
For ages 4-12
This curriculum is written with elements of Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education in mind. It follows the story of twins Charlie and Charlotte as they encounter maths concepts in their family life. Each week begins with a story, and has related activities to complete each day.
The Good and the Beautiful Language Arts
For ages 4-12 (Language Arts curricula are free downloads – INCREDIBLE for a whole year’s worth of lessons). This curriculum emphasises faith, family, nature and high moral character, using wholesome literature and with a strong academic focus. It’s very compatible for a Classical approach to education.
The Good and the Beautiful Math
(It can be downloaded as a PDF for a lower cost minus an activity box, or purchased with postage from the US for a higher cost, including an activity box)
This is visually beautiful, with hands on activities and real life application. The courses emphasise the development of a strong number sense while incorporating God, beauty and meaning for all learning styles.
The Story of the World, by Susan Wise Bauer
These 4 course books covers 6000 years of world history. Each chapter tells the stories of the past in a straightforward, engaging style covering Africa, China, Europe, and the Americas. The first volume beings with the earliest nomads and goes all the way up to modern history. Each lesson includes a map, colouring sheets and extra creative activities that reinforce learning.
A Year of Tales, by Wilkinsonnest.com
For preschool and kindergarten
This is a year’s worth of literacy, maths, imaginative and creative lessons based on all of Beatrix Potter’s works. Each week introduces a phonic and a story by Beatrix Potter. There are suggestions for each day for how to develop the learning, there are handwriting practices, colouring sheets and creative tasks. Each week also introduces a scripture and Godly character trait to put into practice.
Exploring Creation Elementary Science, by Jeannie Fulbright
For ages 4-12 (these are so in depth that they could be used for children at lower KS3 level)
These books are rich with detail, scientific concepts and images to help your child get a deep dive into every topic. These encourage wonder at God’s creation, and provide opportunities for experiments and investigations.
Exploring Nature with Children, by Lyn Seddon
Adaptable for ages 4-12
A year’s worth of nature studies lessons, with a different theme each week. It is designed to guide you, step by step, through an entire calendar year of nature study. It has all the information you need to make nature study happen regularly for your family. Each week contains information, additional story books, poems, artwork to study, a themed nature walk and extension activities.
A final word...
Our homeschool is based on so much more than just these curricula though. We have a steadily growing supply of books that we love to learn from (I usually have a booklist to hand to family members as birthday ideas), with stories, folk tales, fairy tales, histories, and biographies of all sorts waiting to be read. We could easily build an education just out of the books lying around our house, or borrowed from the library. Let me encourage you to have fun exploring the options, to not feel pressured to spend lots of money, and to enjoy what resources you already have at your fingertips. You may be inspired by a book that you haven’t taken off the shelf for a long time, a walk in the great outdoors, or an evening sat together as a family telling stories. Start with a conversation about God and let the questions about creation lead you on to your next family discovery.
Surely you desire integrity in the inner self, and you teach me wisdom deep within.... God, create a clean heart for me and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Restore the joy of your salvation to me, and sustain me by giving me a willing spirit. Then I will teach the rebellious your ways, and sinners will return to you. - Psalm 51