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Tips for Choosing Curriculum and Aptitude Testing

Added by Heather Idoni

Monday, May 26, 2014
Vol. 15 No. 8, May 26, 2014, ISSN: 1536-2035
(c) 2014, Mary Beth Akers and Heather Idoni

Welcome to The Homeschooler's Notebook!

If you enjoy our newsletter, please share it with a friend! 



From a Boy to a Godly Man: A Boy's Bible Study of David is a refreshing Bible Study that reflects on the life of David, and then applies God's Word into the reader's life.

Originally written for the authors' 11-year-old son, readers are challenged to DO God's Word, not just hear it.

Applicable for ages 10 - 15.

216 pages. Softcover.

Available at amazon.com or www.digginwithkaty.com.

We pray it blesses you & the young man in your life!


Notes from Mary Beth
-- Curriculum Selection
Winning Websites
-- Mary Beth's Top Picks
Helpful Tips
-- Aptitude Testing
This Issue's Question
-- More Tips for Conventions
Additional Notes
-- Newsletter Archives
-- Sponsorship Information
-- Reprint Information
-- Subscriber Information

Notes from Mary Beth

Conventions and Curriculum Selection

In the last issue we discussed tips for getting the most out of a homeschool convention. Since many people attend conventions to acquire their teaching materials, that selection process is important to address as well.

Although we are approaching this from a curriculum fair or conference perspective, the same principles apply if you are shopping for curriculum online or out of a catalogue.

If you are attending the convention, hear the speakers first. Most of their messages will help you form or solidify your educational philosophies, which will in turn enable you to make wiser choices for your family.

Start with a good parenting resource. Read at least one of the following before you begin buying teaching materials:

  • I Saw the Angelo in the Marble and/or I Carved the Angel from the Marble by Chris and Ellyn Davis

  • Educating the WholeHearted Child by Clay and Sally Clarkson

  • A Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola

  • Wisdom's Way of Learning by Marilyn Howshall

    Prioritize your family's values. If you believe that character is more important than academics, your curriculum should reflect that. One family might think penmanship is important, while another believes that keyboarding skills will serve their children better. Perhaps you'd rather invest your time teaching money management skills than memorizing the capitals of all the states or countries. If a stranger came in your home and looked at your books, would he be able to accurately assess what your family's values are?

    Your children's interests might influence some of your purchases. If your child is interested in trains or astronomy, you'll want to see what's available on those topics.

    Knowing your child's learning style will narrow down your options. A kinesthetic learner will not respond well to a workbook/textbook approach. We tend to be drawn to materials which fit our own learning style, which may or may not be the same as our children. I'm visual, my daughter is auditory and my son is kinesthetic. Once I learned to evaluate curricular materials from their perspectives, things went lots better for us.

    Be cautious when you look at packaged curricula. These are the ones that are self-contained grade level materials -- math, language, science, history, etc. are all in a set. The attraction is that the teacher doesn't have to make decisions about day-to-day lessons. There is an element of security in thinking that your child is progressing according to established guidelines. Using packaged curriculum the first year might be a good way to ease into the home schooling lifestyle, and give yourself some time to design your own course of study. But I have serious reservations about these programs.

    1. They are very restricting. You usually won't have time to pursue passions that are not included or are not presented in depth.

    2. They are not individualized. A publisher in some far away city, using the guidelines from the federal and state government, decided what your child will need on any given day. I'm not sure what their agenda is, but I'm fairly certain that it doesn't line up with yours. The publisher is interested in sales, and the government -- well, who knows what their agenda is?

    3. They do not allow for strengths and weaknesses. Unless your child is working at the same grade level in all subjects (and few children do), you will find that some of the material will be either too difficult or too easy.

    4. They are lifeless. The writers of textbooks show up for work, receive their assignment with all the guidelines (reading level, how many square inches of pictures, politically correct standards . . .), and put in their time. Contrast this with a real book written by a real author who has a passion for the topic. Would you rather read a cold, mechanical report on the War Between the States, or a diary of a soldier who served in the war?

    5. They are designed for large groups, not private tutoring, which you are doing. Keeping a room full of children busy and out of the teacher's hair is a big issue for them, but probably not for you.

    6. They do not lend themselves well to multi-level teaching, which you are doing unless you have only one child, or your children are very close in ability levels.

    Publishers of traditional textbooks spend much of their research dollars on marketing strategies. Think back on the books you've read, and list some of your favorites. How many on your list are school textbooks?

    By using a smorgasbord approach and handpicking your school books, you will be able to give your children a designer education fit for the child of the King.

    So -- how do you evaluate teaching materials for your family?

  • First ask yourself whether you can teach the subject matter naturally without using any curriculum at all, or by using real books.

  • Look past the marketing, and check the content. Is it inviting enough to engage the interest of your child? Will it cultivate a love of learning, or will it be just another assignment to mark off a to-do list? Could you invest the same amount of money in books that you will pass down to your grandchildren?

  • How much time will it take -- considering the time it takes to prepare the lesson, teach it, complete the assignment, and evaluate it?

  • Does it cross age and ability levels? Can you use it with more than one child at a time?

  • Is it reusable for younger children coming along, or for reselling to another family?

  • Does it provoke the child to think, or is it just a fill-in-the-blank system, where the thinking has already been done for you?

  • Do you already have something that will work just as well? Why buy cute little counting bears when you can use pennies or Legos?

  • What is the return policy? Don't buy it unless you have at least 30 days to try it out. You need to actually use a product to see how your children will respond to it. If it is a consumable product, put plastic sheet covers over the pages and let your children use wipe-off markers for writing answers until you are sure you want to keep it. Be sure to find out what steps you need to take to return a product and save all your receipts.

    Here's to a productive shopping experience!

    -- Mary Beth



    Helpful Tips

    Aptitude Testing

    We recently invested in aptitude testing for our children. The testing measured various aspects of personality, interests and vocabulary as well as aptitudes. They received an in-depth recommendation of careers and hobbies for which they are well-suited. They will now filter those careers through a values-referenced formula and narrow down their options. After that, they will have a follow-up consultation with their evaluator.

    We believe it was money well spent, and would be even more valuable for a college-bound student. We see so many young people spend thousands of dollars and precious years of their lives, only to find that they don't like their chosen field -- and they still don't know what they do want to do.

    Aptitude testing can help young people pursue areas that make the most of their natural abilities, and avoid floundering in frustrating job situations brought about by trying to function like a 'square peg in a round hole'.

    -- Mary Beth

    Winning Websites

    Since we are discussing curriculum selection in this issue, I would like to share some of my favorite resources! This list is by no means exhaustive; I'm sure I've neglected at least one excellent company.

    Homeschool Marketplace - www.homeschoolmarketplace.com
    Beautiful Feet Books - www.bfbooks.com
    Timberdoodle Co. - www.timberdoodle.com
    Lifetime Books & Gifts - www.shoplbg.com
    Rainbow Resources - www.rainbowresources.com
    Simply Charlotte Mason - www.simplycharlottemason.com

    Last Issue's Question...

    "What advice do you have for attendees of a homeschool conference?"

    Our Readers' Answers...

    "Organization is KEY! It's hard, truly hard, to find the time to review the conference schedule, review material listings, review books on our shelves, etc., but without that reviewing I've lost time during the conference -- either in not knowing which speaker to attend, not finding the right room in time (so missing part of the discussion) or wandering in the vendor hall too long! And speaking of vendor halls -- KNOW what you're looking for! In the past, I've re-purchased terrific materials. How do I know they were terrific materials? Because I purchased the same book(s) more than once!

    Daily prayer and worship in the car on the drive to/from hotel or place staying. Asking the Lord to guide and direct and whisper to me throughout the day! His Voice is hard to hear in the overwhelming crowds... but He's in it! He knows what materials these kids need this year! Ask Him to highlight them for you. Allow Him to guide you to the speakers you should be listening to. Usually, the schedule is such that I'd like to be in two places simultaneously, but He knows which will bless us the most. (And get the MP3s or CDs to hear the other at another time).

    Lastly, allowing for those 'God' moments. Talking with someone about a specific item. Sharing an encouraging word with the Mom sitting next to you. Smiling at the organizers of the event (even bringing a cut flower from the garden can make someone's long, tiring day a bit brighter). The folks who put on these events are not thanked enough -- nor are the vendors. They're there longer than you are -- thank them!"

    -- Jennifer J.

    [Jennifer -- thank you so much for these additional words of wisdom! -- Mary Beth & Heather]

    New Reader Question...

    "Hello -- I wonder if anyone can help me with this. I have a 13 year old homeschooled boy with autism. Reading and language in general is very, very difficult for him. He can read the words, but has real trouble getting much meaning out of passages. His reading is only on about a 2nd grade level, while he is generally working on 4th-6th grade curriculum. I am wanting to teach history -- any history (world or US) -- but every curriculum I check into is very heavy on reading, which isn't going to work for him, even if I read it to him. Ideally I'd love something that is online, with the computer reading him stories or showing him videos, with a workbook or printable pages to go with it. Does anyone know of any history courses like that?

    Thanks so much for any replies! Suggestions on history, reading comprehension, reaching kids with autism, or anything you think might help him are welcome!"

    -- Pam in Utah

    Please share your thoughts with Pam! :-)

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