In Search of the Perfect Curriculum – Help!

Ok, so I’ve decided to bite the bullet, pay the cash and invest in some actual curriculumn for my boys’ homeschooling for the next year. However, the problem is what curriculum. I’m not really interested in “school at home” type curriculum like A Beka. For kids my sons’ age (particularly the older one), I like the approach of The Well Trained Mind. However, as much as I love my kids, I have two little ones who need watching, writing that I want to do and various other things to attend to along with teaching two boys. So, in order to prevent burn-out, I need something with more guidance than you get from using The Well Trained Mind.

I like literature based learning such as Sonlight and Beautiful Feet. However, after reviewing their materials, I cannot in good conscience hand my children over to either of these curricula. Sonlight actual quotes white supremacist literature in their coverage of slavery for their junior high American history guide. (They feel that the condemnation of slavery and the south for practicing it is too unthinking and seek to offer challenges to this narrative.) Both of them include religion in ways that I find very problematic. For example, I think it goes well beyond the teachings of Christianity and scriptures to claim that Leif Erickson was commissioned by God to find North America (Beautiful Feet early American History). While a quick spin around this blog would show that I am a person of deep Christian faith, I have found that most Christian homeschooling materials take approaches which I strongly disapprove of, so I tend to avoid them.

On the other side of things, I have looked into the Great Books materials, which is completely secular. However, I am very suspicious of curriculum which seems to take its cues from some UN Commission and arranges units around discussions of human rights and democracy. I also watched a video of a teacher using one of their books to teach a story in which students were encouraged to “make connections” with their own lives. I think pointing out connections is fine, but putting the student and his/her life at the center of the study of literature is NOT how literature should be taught, IMO.

Soooooo . . . here’s my question for y’all: does anyone know of any good literature based curriculum out there which do not claim to be able to read the mind of God, question whether slavery was all that evil, use the bible as a literal history book, or engage in the worst of the modern liberal approach which has made our education system a laughing stock? Come on people! I’m not asking for much here – just the perfect, classical, non-ideological curricula which isn’t too much work for me. 😉 Any suggestion?

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14 thoughts on “In Search of the Perfect Curriculum – Help!

  1. We use Ambleside Online, a very challenging great books curriculum based closely on the curriculum used in Charlotte Mason schools. They do recommend some YEC texts for science, which we ignore, but we would otherwise heartily endorse this approach. (Actually, it’s odd that some of the most vehement YECs I have met have been in the CM community since Mason herself was a theistic evolutionist, but hey.) Using this curriculum does depend on one’s embracing CM philosophy (habit formation, nature study, narration, handicrafts etc.) and implementing it to the best of one’s ability — this is a work in progress for us (especially the formation of habits of attentiveness and tidiness). It’s also an approach that takes into account the real nature of the child (capable of both good and evil, naturally inclined to learn from other minds (from great, living books as well as parents) and from his/her environment (nature study of the local environment), to describe what he/she knows (narration)). It has much in common with classical ed., but deviates significantly in not stressing a trivium approach — CM believes that even young children are capable of what she calls a science of relations — making many connections on their own, having a relationship with a number of things in the natural world and in the world of ideas. Anyway, you can read more at http://www.amblesideonline.org. Check out the booklists from the various years for a sense of the progression of the program.

    Hippimama

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  2. Why not take the elements you like in each curriculum and combining them to make your own? We use the ease of workbooks, the fun of Sonlight recommended literature, the available-ness of secular history accounts that a accurate, and the fun of nature studies and “projects” all to our advantage. I don’t think any certain curriculum is going to be perfect, because each family is independent in its dynamics. You gotta do the research and find what works for you, and stick with it! But I feel where you are coming from on the history thing, Yikes! Some of the books are coming from the theological background that America is the new chosen of God, and that doesn’t fly with me. Right now we are in 2nd grade material, and so we use the Scholastic series “If you lived during . . .” We study the book, make a timeline, and do some online research to find out about the characters. A great resource is “Fifty Famous Stories Retold” by James Baldwin. You can get the free Audio book to download at http://www.librivox.org.

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  3. I use the mix-and-match approach also. I think nothing beats A Beka for elementary math (beyond that, we like Teaching Textbooks); History of the World books (from TWTM) are great to learn the basic historical timeline, and then you can embellish with books from the library; basic grammar – well, A Beka is pretty good, though I skip the creative writing parts. We also use Seton materials, but those would all be too Catholic for you. It’s too bad, because I think Seton has the best (and cheapest) way of teaching the kids to write clear paragraphs and essays.

    I can give you better ideas if you tell me how old the boys are!

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  4. Ah, how old are my boys – good to know, eh?

    I have one working at Freshman level and the other at 4th/5th grade level. We have math and science covered, but I really need help with literature, writing, history, etc.

    I’ve looked at ambleside before, however it seems like too much work on my part. I don’t mind sitting down and discussing materials with my boys or working on projects with them. My problem is that I don’t have the mental energy to come up with questions, discussion points, writing assignments, projects, etc myself. But then again, I might not have delved deeply enough into their materials.

    SC, can you buy materials from Seton for just one subject? I’m actually far more comfortable with Catholic materials than with many other Christian materials. My experience is that Catholic educators have a long history of teaching and being respectful to those from other faith traditions without compromising their own. Since I am still heavily influenced in my thinking by Catholic thought, I’m generally comfortable with Catholic materials anyways. I’m a former Catholic, but not “recovering” as so many people say. 🙂

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  5. There really isn’t much for the parent to do with Ambleside — apart from getting all the books together — no writing assignments until age 10 or 11 and then it’s only written narrations. Most of your work will involve asking for oral narrations of the material read (and even then you don’t have to do every reading). I’ve found it much less time consuming than workbooks, at any rate.

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  6. Rebecca, I must say that I would encourage you to look at Sonlight again. It is true that Sonlight does question some historical teaching (such as the popular view of slavery …which I wrote a paper about while attending public high school), and includes discussion about various perspectives, but that is one of the foundations of Sonlight: To encourage discussion and thought.

    However, Sonlight does have the 27 Reasons Not to Buy for a reason [smile] (#11 seems particularly relevant to your complaints).

    On the other hand, it has the 18-week guarantee for that reason as well… it may not be perfect for you and your family, but I would say that it is certainly worth a shot.

    ~Luke

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  7. Have you looked into K-12? It’s secular, but based on the Cultural Literacy ideas promoted by E.D. Hirsch. It centers around the classics, but incorporates good recent works written for children as well. It can be quite rigorous–but there is also flexibility for the parent in implementation. It’s probably conservative in its outlook–but by conservative I mean traditional, not right-wing, white-supremacist ideological. There would be no nutty pro-slavery stuff, that’s for sure. The “Virtual Academies” in many states (public charter schools that are really the state helping you homeschool) use k-12. We’ve homeschooled our 2 children for 2 years with it, and we think it’s a good curriculum. If you live in a state that uses it for a public charter school, and enroll your children, you can get it for free.

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  8. Sorry to post twice–I just re-read your comments and saw how you were having trouble coming up with writing assignments.

    The k-12 was very good for us in breaking down writing assignments into component parts. It really helps students develop their writing step-by-step.

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  9. Seton does sell individual books through their catalog. However, be forewarned that its materials are more traditionally Catholic that what is used in most parochial schools. I haven’t run across anything that’s overtly anti-Protestant in the Seton materials I’ve used, but they are unapologetically Catholic through and through. There are tons of references to Catholic doctrine and liturgical practice & it’s probably more than most non-Catholic Christians would be comfortable with.

    My recommendation for you would be to ask the folks over at the “Sonlight-Secular” Yahoo group how to avoid the materials in the Sonlight curriculum that you’d find problematic.

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  10. I am the Canadian Director for the Mortimer J. Adler Center for the Study of the Great Ideas, a Chicago based think-tank. I am an evangelical Christian, denominationally Anglican. Dr. Adler founded the Great Books when he was chairman of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Basically, it is the same education the Founding Fathers of the US were exposed to.

    I think you may have given them the short-shift.

    Buy Adler’s “Six Great Ideas”. It will change your life. Think of it as God’s general revelation in creation- the natural moral law derived/deduced from an analysis of human nature. It is a good quick summary of what you can get from the Great Books.

    God bless.

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  11. A google search on Sonlight brought me here. I have greatly enjoyed wandering around your blog.

    I know this is an old post but I would really like to know where your search took you and what you found. You also say you have science and math covered. What do you use for science? I am forever searching for a homeschool friendly alternative to the young earth creationist curricula that abound.

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  12. I agree with some of the earlier posts. We use Sonlight and just adjust where needed to fit our family’s needs. If nothing else you could use their book lists. Hope that helps.

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  13. Hi there, I’m enjoying your blog and I think we probably have some similar theological views…Like Julia who recently posted above, I too am interested to find out what you actually ended up going with. My son is younger (4 1/2 but doing kindergarten level work and ready for 1st grade reading), and we’ve yet to actually BUY a curriculum but i too don’t have a lot of PLANNING time as I also have a special needs daughter I’m tending to and constantly having to research for, though i dont mind spending the time with my son if i have a PLAN. I’ve also learned i’m very externally motivated and without a plan i end up basically unschooling, not out of desire, but out of a lack of discipline! We were looking at Sonlight, but I’m also checking out TWTM and CM…though it seems CM all requires more planning than i can do. I’m also interested to see if you found a good science curriculum…i know our kids arent the same age but i think I’m probably looking for a similar style curricula/philosophy…

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  14. We use Sonlight – one of the reasons, that I think would apply to you as well, is that it is pre-selected and arrives in 1 BIG box! We still have the freedom to decide we won’t use specific sections or books, but having it all arrive at my door makes it so easy for me and my kids LOVE the books and are thrilled that we THEY ARE OURS and don’t have to be returned to the library. Many get read over and over again. We do use a different math program and supplement with lots of music and sports activities.

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