Many home educators will discuss their curriculum
choices in relation to what their children are working
with at home. In reality, ‘Resources’ is a far more appropriate
word than ‘Curriculum’ for the variety of choices and
tools utilised by practitioners of home education.
Whatever we choose for use as support materials for our child’s home education experience, it can be helpful to have some guidelines. Below are some thoughts which hopefully will aid you in your selection process.
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Curriculum or Resources
Most definitions of ‘curriculum’ refer to a course of study and its execution in a school or college. When home educators go looking for what is relevant to our own children, we may well be looking for a school-like course of study. But then again, we may not. We may just be looking for a single book to supplement existing studies, or a list of websites that will provide a variety of information, or a set of resources that can be used throughout a chosen course of study, or any number of other tools that will get our child where they want or need to go.
To my mind, ‘resources’ far more adequately describes what it is we look for. A ‘resource’ is commonly described as a ‘source of supply, support, or aid, especially one that can be readily drawn upon when needed.’ Don’t you think that’s a better way of thinking about what we’re looking for?
Dos and Don’ts
So how do you find good resources? The simplest answer is, research, research, research.
- Research how your own child learns.
- Research what will captivate your own child’s attention.
- Research materials that will resonate with your own child.
I hate to provide you with a list of Don’ts, but to give yourself a fair and equitable chance of investing in resources that are genuinely useful to your child, it’s well worth avoiding the following pitfalls:
- Don’t just do what another family does because it works for them. Your family is different. If you can, borrow something they’re finished with to see if it really does work for you, before you invest your own money in a potentially expensive purchase.
- Don’t be swayed by impressive sales pitches, online, over the phone, at conferences, or even with persuasive friends over a cuppa. You really do need to be able to take a step backwards and assess the appropriateness of any resource for your own unique situation.
- Don’t think that by doing what your friends are doing that it means you’re “doing it right”. There is a confidence that’s associated with running with the pack, but it doesn’t necessarily serve your child’s unique needs, and the whole point of home education is doing what is best for the needs of the child. The confidence that comes from seeing the light come on in your own child’s eyes is the reward you’re really looking for.
7 Guidelines for Selecting Resources
Many lists of guidelines for selecting home education curriculum online seem to presume that everyone will be looking for a whole-course outline. While I am no longer an advocate of such a schoolish approach, I understand that many families will feel the need to at least start out in this way, because it is more familiar. The following guidelines are intended to be very general, and appropriate regardless of the approach you choose.
Ask the questions:
- Will this resource suit the way we are home educating?
- Is it appropriate for our style?
Remember that you don’t have to do everything any book suggests. You are in charge of the resource – it is not in charge of you. Use any resource in a way that works for you and your child, rather than allowing it to dictate a rigour or format that is uncomfortable and makes learning distasteful.
Ask the questions:
- Is the format of this resource appropriate to my child and how they learn?
- Will the way this resource is laid out draw my child through it, or frustrate them?
Consider aspects such as font style and closeness of both printed materials and web-based resources. Fonts with small embellishments (like Times Roman), called serif fonts, are easier to read than sans-serif fonts, which are very straight up and down (like Arial). Even small things like this can make a big difference to how a child is able to connect with a resource.
Some children, confronted with large blocks of text, will instantly lose interest because the mass of words seems daunting.
- Eyesight testing may be appropriate in some instances. (Educational ophthalmologists can be particularly helpful here, helping to diagnose tracking problems or small eyesight difficulties that can produce large problems.)
- If there are no eyesight problems, and the text is on the computer, enlarge the screen view to show just a single paragraph at a time to reduce distraction.
- If the text is on a page, use a shield to mask off all but one paragraph at a time.
Consider relevance to your child’s learning modality in particular. With Maths, for example, some children love pages and pages of problems to solve, but others see no point in repeating processes after one or two examples have been mastered. Always work with who your child actually is.
Ask the questions:
- Does this resource rely on the ‘teacher’ (parent) having comprehensive knowledge of this subject already?
- Will this resource require more involvement from me, in a supervisory capacity, than I can realistically provide?
- Will this resource encourage and support an appropriate level of self-sufficiency from my child?
Typically, resources that are written for use in schools assume that the teacher has a working knowledge of the subject already. As a home educator, you may be better served by resources that are specifically written for home educated students. These tend to lead the child in a different manner, that doesn’t assume a classroom situation, or rely on a teacher with a lengthy background in the field.
Ask the questions:
- Are the reviewers of this resource objective?
- Is the review relevant to my questions regarding this resource?
- Do I need further information?
It’s well worth taking the time to ask questions about resources that you intend to buy, and the bigger the financial outlay, the more information you need to justify the purchase.
If I see something at the local shops for $5 for example, I’d be willing to buy it in the hopes that it would be useful – it’s no great loss if it isn’t. If I see a book online for $50, I’d want to read some reviews and show it to my daughter to gauge her response before I made the purchase. At this point, I’m wanting some assurance of effectiveness before I commit any finances. If I was buying a comprehensive resource worth $500, however, I’d want to talk to people who had used it already, and find as much out about the product as possible before investing my money – for that much outlay, it has to do the job it’s being purchased to do.
Ask these questions (the bigger the potential outlay, the more important it is for you to answer them to your own satisfaction):
- Why do I want this resource?
• not because all my friends have it and rave about it
• not because it looks pretty and impressive and I think DET will be wowed
• not because it’s the latest “in” thing amongst my child’s friends
• not because I think it’s going to be the answer to all my problems
• not because a large financial outlay shows I’m providing well for my child’s education
- Can we afford it now, or should we save up for it and make use of more readily available resources while we save?
- Is this purchase really necessary?
You’d be amazed at the number of delusional justifications I’ve come up with over the years, only to be sadly disappointed in the effectiveness of the product once it’s in our hot little hands. Over-resourcing is one of the biggest pitfalls for home educators, so I’m endeavouring to help you ask yourself really pointed questions so that your purchases are both smart choices and effective tools for your child’s use.
Ask these questions:
- Have I had enough time to think about what we’re actually going to be doing before deciding on what resources to buy?
- Have I taken time to consider my child’s unique learning requirements and how a given resource will sit with those?
- Have I had time to discuss my planned purchases with my child and/or my partner?
Truthfully, I have learned by hard experience that rash purchases are usually wasted purchases. The ones I’ve taken time to consider, however, have usually been the real treasures that we go back to often.
Ask these questions:
- Is this genuinely the best resource for my child?
- Is the resource I’m most interested in available through the library, or borrowed from a friend?
- Do we need our own possession of this resource, or will a borrowed version suffice?
Some resources you do genuinely need your own copy or item of to really utilise to the full. Sometimes, though, perfectly adequate resources can be found at libraries or borrowed from friends, and your funds can be better used toward an excursion that provides hands on personal experience in a particular field.
“It’s not hard to make decisions
when you know what your values are.”