Hello. My name is Marcy and I’m a homeschool curriculum junkie.
I love homeschool curriculum. That’s probably why I love being on the Schoolhouse Review Crew so much. Someone is always tossing a science or history curriculum, or the latest math game or spelling program my way. And I love it. I love opening up that box (or file). And when I receive something that works well for Ben, it’s a blessing.
When Ben was first born, we hadn’t really considered homeschooling, but I began teaching him very early on. I talked and read to him constantly, pointing out pictures and telling him everything that was going on around us. He was bright, verbal, and soaked it all in. He knew his colors by 16 months (at least all of the colors in a pack of M&Ms), his shapes, including the trapezoid, by 18 months, and all of his letters months before his 2nd birthday. By the age of two, he was speaking in complete (understandable) sentences and had memorized all the names of the Thomas the Tank engine trains by their faces, thanks to the Thomas PC game (his first introduction to computers). By age three, his vocabulary was shockingly advanced, as were his computer skills.
I distinctly remember the very first thing I ever bought that would be considered homeschool curriculum — the LeapFrog: Letter Factory DVD.
By the time Ben was 3 1/2, I was beginning to think about homeschooling and he was asking to learn how to read. He knew all of his letter sounds from that DVD, so I began what would be a 6 or 7 year-long addiction to curriculum searching and purchasing. My first “official” homeschool purchase was Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, along with BOB Books, all 5 sets available at the time.
While I waited for my delivery from Amazon, I wrote out pages and pages of CVC words and began showing Ben how to string letters together into words . . . cat, hat, sat . . . let, met, set . . . dot, lot, tot. By the time the books arrived, he understood this concept and within a week after arrival, had read every BOB book. Then he was done. He informed me that he didn’t want to learn any more about reading and busily continued his obsession with Thomas the Tank Engine. I didn’t force anything, but I had been bitten by the homeschooling bug and my research continued. When he was ready again, I would be well armed.
I never cracked open 100 Easy Lessons, and ended up giving it to a friend a couple of years later, but I continued reading to Ben every day and sometimes I would watch him pull picture books off the shelf and listen to him laughing as he “read” them to himself. One day, just shy of his 4th birthday, we stopped by the grocery store for a few items. From his perch in the front of the grocery cart, Ben pointed to an exit door in the produce department and exclaimed, “Mommy, that sign says ‘please do not block this exit!'” A few weeks later, his preschool teacher asked me if Ben could read. He had volunteered to read the book of the day to the class, and did so without missing a beat. She was sure it was a book he had memorized. But that particular book was not in our home library.
Was he a genius?
Needless to say, I was a bit shocked by both of these scenarios. Reading BOB books was one thing, but my boy was really reading and I had done little to “teach” him. He had broken the code himself! I was sure he was a genius. I decided in that moment that we were definitely homeschooling now. I could just imagine what kindergarten would be like in 2 years. I already had suspicions about ADHD with Ben, and the voices of teachers, exasperated and frustrated with my little genius, who couldn’t sit still or be quiet, rang through my head. Did I mention that Ben was never quiet? I called him my constant utterer. If he wasn’t talking, he was singing, whistling, humming, or make some kind of noise to go along with his playtime.
About 3 months before Ben turned 4, I attended my first homeschool conference– Five in a Row, in Kansas City. One of the things I’m most grateful for was discovering this gentle literature-based unit study curriculum early in my research. I didn’t know much about homeschooling, but that weekend I learned a lot about unit studies, and was introduced to lapbooking. While I would later veer from the unit study course, the foundation had been laid, and we would return to it.
But first began the madness.
Convinced that unit studies were not enough for my genius, I began my foray into trying everything that people raved about. Five in a Row. Check. Sonlight Preschool. Check. Winter Promise. Check. My Father’s World. Check. And now we were through first grade. Add to that, math from Right Start, Singapore, and Funtastic Frogs, along with language arts from Handwriting Without Tears, Explode the Code, Sequential Spelling, Right Into Reading, and First Language Lessons and I was well on my way to needing a recovery program for curriculum addiction. Of course there were also unit studies from Amanda Bennett, lapbooks from In the Hands of a Child, History Pockets from Evan Moor, along with numerous Usborne books, Apologia Science books, Story of the World, The Mystery of History and trips to the library. And field trips. Let’s not forget about field trips.
I had every base covered and then some. I was hooked. And there was no end in sight. I prided myself on finding the best deals on used curriculum, and reselling the items we were finished with, or more than likely had never gotten around to actually using. Still, it’s likely I spent thousands of dollars in our first 3 years of homeschooling.
In those few short years, I had filled our home library with picture books, chapter books, art study guides, books about composers, historical fiction and biographies, every science subject you can imagine, dictionaries, atlases, teacher’s guides, videos, and art, craft, and school supplies pouring out of drawers and closets in every room. We literally put a bookcase in the bathroom for a short period of time.
My husband would often look around and exclaim, “he will never read all of this!” But I was sure I was doing it all right. I was filling our home with good books and every opportunity to explore, create, and invent. He might not read all of the books I had purchased, but by golly, if he had an interest in something, I was going to be ready with a book for him to read about it and a hands-on learning tool to help him express his creativity or remember what he learned.
It took awhile, but eventually I came to realize that I had filled my house with great stuff, but Ben was overwhelmed by it all, and so was I, to the point of being unable to use most of it. We didn’t know where or how to begin to use a small fraction of what I had accumulated. It left us frustrated and scattered — lacking focus. Sometimes, I found that I didn’t even know what I had, so even though many opportunities had presented themselves for us to use items from our home library and crafts closet, I had forgotten it was there. Worse even, I can’t tell you how many times I have discovered that I purchased the same book more than once.
If we were going to be successful, I was going to have to declutter, prioritize, and get rid of the bathroom bookcase. Was it easy? No. Not at all. For every book or curriculum I sold or gave away, I had at least 5 reasons why I should keep it. But over time, as we got more comfortable with how Ben learned and what was most enjoyable and successful in teaching him, it became easier to leave behind the stuff that wasn’t the best option for him.
Over the past few years, I have pared down considerably. I really don’t buy much curriculum anymore. Our delight-directed unit study approach is well complemented by a weekly visit to the library, along with some unit studies, notebooking materials, a membership to SchoolhouseTeachers.com, and a few art supplies. While I do like having some good Usborne encyclopedias and other reference books around, much of our home “library” has been replaced with a Kindle.
Homeschool curriculum shopping is like shoe shopping.
I still get my curriculum fix about once a week when another Crew vendor sends a box of goodies to my home. It’s fun to see new things and sometimes we find treasures that make their way onto our school bookshelf and into our daily or weekly lessons. It’s fun . . . like shoe shopping. I need shoes. I enjoy shopping for them. I like trying them on for size. Sometimes I buy and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I buy and later realize they pinch my feet and they get tucked away in the back of the closet until donation time. But sometimes I find that perfect pair that I wear every day. They’re comfortable and make the journey easier.
So while I may have been a curriculum junkie in my past, for now, I’m just walking in the comfort of finding something that fits well, makes the journey more comfortable, and will hopefully last for years. It’s simple, effective, and more useful.
Kind of like my Crocs.