Are You Using the Right Curriculum?

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I must apologize for being so late on this post...I've been trying to have my second post each week published by Friday morning.  But when I started my blog last fall, I made the commitment that it would not trump my responsibilities as wife, mom, teacher, and lifelong learner.  So this is coming to you two days late because I've been working a little harder at my "real job" lately!

Okay everybody, take a deep breath in nice and deep and now...exhale!  We are to our last focus area for our January Examen series.  In my Sacred Ordinary Days planner, this area is called "Work", but since this is a homeschool blog, I am making the assumption that most of you, like me, don't have an outside-of-the-home job, or if you do, it is a very much part time situation.  At the same time I am also assuming that, like me, you take the education of your children just as seriously - if not more seriously - than you would any job or career!  So, for our purposes I am replacing "work" with "Homeschool"!  Which works out perfectly because February is going to be Curriculum Month here on the blog, where I take you through what we use in our homeschool.  So, you can consider this an introduction for next month as well as a wrap-up for January!

My intention today is not to make you feel like you need to change your curriculum.  At the same time, I hope after reading this post you will feel the freedom to change things up if that's what you feel your family needs.  Changing curriculum isn't easy - we did it a year ago.  It took a huge investment of my time and energy to wrap my mind around our new system.  But the fruit of that decision has been amazing.  

Here are a few questions to get you thinking about your current curriculum.  I'm referring here to your "core" curriculum - the framework using to shape your children's education.  For example, we use a Charlotte Mason approach combined with ideas from a classical education perspective.  You might follow a Montessori model, Classical Conversations, unschooling, or a complete boxed curriculum like A Beka or Sonlight.  I'm not referring to specific "secondary" curriculum choices like which foreign language, science, or math you use.

Does your homeschool curriculum bring your family joy?

At the end of the day are you and your kids generally energized from your school work?

Do you feel like you are giving your children and education rich in varied ideas?

Is your curriculum flexible enough to customize for the different needs of your children?

Do your children - especially the younger ones - have plenty of time for outdoor and imaginative play?

If your answer was 'no' to any of the above questions, you might be in need of a curriculum tweak...or maybe even a complete overhaul.  Consider the negative side to the above questions: Our curriculum feels lifeless.  We feel drained at the end of most days.  My children are bored.  It doesn't fit the needs of some of my kids.  We are too busy "checking off all the boxes" to fit in time for free play.  I'm not saying there won't be days when you feel drained or your kids get antsy.  But if that is the prevailing sentiment day after day, something might be amiss.

About a year ago now, our family made a complete curriculum shift...sort of.  I had always valued learning from "real" books over textbooks, doing plenty of reading aloud in the younger years, and focusing on the very best literature available.  We started off our homeschooling years generally following the approach outlined in The Well Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer.  I still think it's a good book, and you definitely can give your children an excellent education with it.  As my children got a little older though, I found it increasingly difficult to "piece together" what we were supposed to be doing using Bauer's approach.  For a while we switched over to Mystery of History, and then Veritas Press History.  My oldest son also did a year of the Omnibus curriculum from Veritas Press.  I still love that program - it was definitely the hardest thing to let go of.  We even did a year of My Father's World in there somewhere.  I know, it totally sounds like we jumped all over the place over the years.  And in a way, we did.  But the content of what we were learning, and the general spirit in our home remained pretty consistent.  It was sort of like we were going on the same tour, just switching tour guides every so often.

But about a year and a half ago now, our family experienced a crisis (not related to our homeschool) that totally shook me right down to my foundations.  And our curriculum?  It felt so...flat.  Even after our struggles were (mostly) resolved, I knew I could not go on with what we were doing.  Somehow this sort-of-classical approach we had been following just wasn't cutting it.  It was missing something.  After much contemplation and searching, I realized there were actually two things missing from our curriculum:

Beauty

Synthesis

Now, at the same time that I was processing all of this, I had also started listening to podcasts from the CiRCE Institute; in particular, The Mason Jar, in which my homeschool hero, Cindy Rollins, discusses the ideas and practical philosophy of Charlotte Mason.  And there it was.  A curriculum that spreads a full and generous feast of the most beautiful, good, and true ideas, and then provides a framework for synthesizing those ideas into a unified understanding of the world in which we live.  In other words, wisdom.  

So, one year ago (almost to the day!) we began our first year of Ambleside Online, a free curriculum laid out by real homeschool moms, for homeschool moms.  Actually, I have a hard time even calling Ambleside a curriculum.  It's a course of study; an outline of the best real, living books in a wide variety of "subject" areas, as well as an outline for studying the "extras" (which aren't really "extra"!): art, music, poetry...even nature study and fitness.  Did I mention it's FREE??  Seriously, these ladies on the Ambleside Advisory have given us such a blessing.  Their contribution to home education will have a far-reaching and profound influence on the world for generations to come.  And I am not exaggerating.  I could go on, but I will leave it there for today.  With Ambleside, all you really need for the curriculum is the books, and life.  That's really it.

Am I saying everyone should use Ambleside Online, or some form of it?  Well...maybe.  No.  Yes.  Is it perfect?  No.  (Although I have yet to find the flaws!).  I know of some people who have tried it and it just didn't "click", and that's fine.  For some, especially those who are new to home education, stepping out without any textbooks might be just a little too much to swallow.  For me it was - I actually looked into Ambleside ten years ago when we first started and I just couldn't fully wrap my mind around it.  But when I revisited it ten years later, it was a balm to my frazzled soul.  

I guess what I'm trying to say is: I'm not necessarily trying to convince everyone to use Charlotte Mason's methods.  But I think it is worthwhile to ask yourself the questions I listed above and really give them an honest evaluation.  And if you honestly are not satisfied with the education your children are getting, don't let fear of change hold you back from trying something different.  It took us ten years to find our "perfect fit," but the search was worth it.