Curricula Fairs and Conventions: How NOT to be Overwhelmed! by Cheryl

 

You have decided to homeschool. You have taken the necessary steps to withdraw your child(ren) from school or register with your district/state. Now you need to pick the perfect curriculum. Where do you start? What about the convention and curricula fair that is happening in the spring? You can go and browse everything that’s out there and make a decision! There is nothing better than getting a hands-on look at everything, right?

WRONG!

A convention or curricula fair should be your last stop on the journey to find the right curriculum. The best way to guarantee that you will be overwhelmed  is to go in without any prior research. So how do you prepare? A few simple steps will help you enjoy the convention and find what you need.

1. Know what method of homeschooling fits your family: Classical, school-at-home, Charlotte Mason, eclectic, or unschooling. Most libraries have a shelf of books on homeschooling. Select one with an overview of different methods to start your research. Once you pick a method, select a book that is specific to that method. I use a few books as support on my journey through classical homeschooling: The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise-Bauer and Jessie Wise, The Core by Leigh Bortins, and Charlotte Mason’s original homeschool series. The first two books have curriculum suggestions for most subjects. These are my guide as I start to narrow my search.

2. Know your teaching style. Do you need a script to teach, or just a textbook? Some products (Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading, some Abeka products) tell you word for word what to say to the student. Others provide a teacher’s manual with teaching helps (Singapore Math, Rod and Staff, Real Science 4 Kids, and many others). Some are self-teaching (upper levels of Saxon math, Teaching Textbooks). What do you need and what do your kids need?

3. What subjects do you want or need to cover? This will be partially determined by your state and partially by your child’s age and interests. Most families will cover math, science, history, literature, grammar, and spelling. Do you want to add a foreign language? Which one? Do you want to add geography, health, social studies, or writing? Do you need reading and phonics? Make a list of what you want to cover.

4. Is there a company that specializes in curricula for your style? Classical Academic Press, Memoria Press, Peace Hill Press, and Classical Conversations all cater to classical homeschoolers. Do you have to be classical to use their products? No, but knowing that classical is the method they specialize in will help you as you shop. The scope and sequence of the products is geared toward the classical student.

5. Do you want secular, protestant Christian, Catholic, or Jewish programs? Or does it not matter?

Once you have considered these five things, you should have a manageable list of curricula to search out at convention. By this time, you are no longer researching; you are at the decision-making point. You will know which tables to visit and which tables to skip.

Will there be distractions in the vendor hall? Yes. Will you find something new and wonderful that you’ve never heard of but is perfect and you must have it? Yes. But you will be focused and you will be able to weigh your options better because you are informed.

Before purchasing, there are two more steps to completing the process and be satisfied with your decisions.

6. Set a budget. You know what you can spend. Set a limit and stick to it! You don’t need to buy EVERYTHING. You can find literature selections and some history curricula at your library. Be sure you have checked what is available.

7. If your convention lasts two days, window shop and attend seminars on the first day. DO NOT BUY ANYTHING YET! Take a notebook. Look at everything on your list. Make a price list. (Many times you will save money by purchasing at convention: No shipping charges and sometimes a discount for buying on-site. Note the savings in your list.) Go home, review the list, make decisions, sleep –  and then go back to purchase the second day. This alone is the best piece of advice I have ever been given.

If your convention is only one day, follow the same steps, but do it before and after lunch.

Our local convention is huge, with thousands of people and more tables than I have time to visit. By going in well-researched with a shopping list, I know my shopping experience will be less stressful. This allows me to pick the speakers and workshops I want to attend and shop in between. I don’t feel the need to spend all day in the vendor hall.

One final and important hint: Take a rolling cart for your purchases! Those books get heavy fast!!

Conventions can be a great help and support to new and veteran homeschoolers, but we must all go in prepared!

 

Cheryl–Cheryl is a singing, dancing, baking, homeschooling mom of three. She has danced her whole life and taught ballet and cheryltheatre for most of her adult life. Her favorite pastime has always been cooking and baking, and as a Pampered Chef Independent Consultant she gets to share that love with others. Home educating her three children has been and continues to be one of her greatest learning experiences! It is an adventure she is ready to continue.

Why Classical Education? Peace of Mind Pedagogy, by Lisa

 

I spent last weekend at a large homeschool conference vending for a company we’ve worked with for years. I talked with parents who were trying to sort out the best curriculum for their unique children with homeschooling budgets that varied from stingy to excessive. Some came with lists and were clear about what they were looking for; others needed whatever help was offered. The common denominator was that each of these parents was homeschooling and wanted to provide their kids the best education they could afford.

When I was a younger mother, I remember walking through vendor halls feeling a mixture of anxiety and personal struggle. Would I spend our curriculum dollars well; would my kids respond well to the purchases; would they learn; would we have fun; would this solve the problems we’d had the year before; would the difficult subjects be mastered?

I don’t think I’m the only one who goes to vendor events with that level of anxiety. In fact, when I jokingly mentioned to a harried mom who came to my booth that I was a trained therapist (I am), she breathed a huge sigh of relief and exclaimed, “Good! Maybe you can help me!” I laughed with her, but seriously, don’t you sometimes feel the intense pressure and weight of what it is homeschooling endeavors to do – provide your kids with an individualized, cost-effective quality education provided by…you?

I like themes; I look for them. As I gazed around the vendor hall I didn’t find a theme- just a whole conglomeration of mismatched stuff, thrown out there for people to “eclectically” pick and choose from, hoping that it would all come together – like stew. You know, you just pick out whatever’s left over in your refrigerator, throw it in a pot, add some seasonings, and everybody loves it.

My understanding of the theory of eclectic homeschooling is much like the theory behind a good stew. You throw whatever you have in to the pot and the results will be pleasing.

What about when the stew turns into a gloppy mess, everyone grumbles and complains, and it really is so bad you can’t justify forcing people to choke it down? In my years of “eclectic” and “literature-based” homeschooling, it could go either way. We had some wins; we had some losses; we spent a fortune; and every year it was the same anxiety, the same worry and frustration over choosing the right stuff, and finagling a bit more money for the latest “wonder curriculum” that would solve all manner of problems.

I saw both the beautiful stew and the gloppy mess as I looked around the vendor hall. And frankly, I breathed a sign of relief that my days of “other-than” classical ed were over. We’ve homeschooled for a long time. And we know others who have homeschooled for a long time. Many of the people that we know/knew who have homeschooled for many years have essentially given up on academics and turned their homeschooling attention towards “delight directed” learning (whatever the kids want to learn) or “life skills” (keeping the house running). They quit worrying about their kids understanding math and talked about how they would learn what they needed to know when it was important to them.

My personal testimony is that this is false.

Just because I want to learn something doesn’t mean that I have the skills or ability to learn it. This becomes more true the less natural ability you possess or the more skewed your abilities are. Furthermore, if you don’t spend time building a firm foundation, it’s hard to move on to more difficult subject areas. Basic math is necessary for algebra which is imperative for the study of astrophysics. If I don’t know algebra, no matter how much I want to learn astrophysics, I’m not going to be able to do so. This applies to subjects both simple and complex. Guessing at whole words does not a strong reader make.

As I looked around the vendor hall I did not see what I was looking for. I didn’t see it years ago and I still don’t see it. What we were looking for was an academic pedagogy that guides and directs the training of minds; that affords study as worship; that pushes us beyond our own wants of the moment, that shore up our weaknesses. What I found in the vendor hall was some really great curriculum, lots of information on worldview and religious training and plenty of books, books and more books. Those are all good things. Necessary, but not sufficient.

We continued to seek for an educational method that actually taught people to learn and think and seek, that taught the benefits and joy of discipline, that increased knowledge and wisdom. I found all that in the Classical Model of Education.

Classical Education provides a methodology that is time tested, works effectively, trains the brain to retain, gives your child the gift of knowing what they know, and provides a clear incremental, sequential, logical path that points the way to what’s next. Now, if you are thinking to yourself that you are not a left brain, logical sequential learner or thinker, don’t worry. I’m not either. I’m a big picture, random, global thinker who needs to know the why and where of things. I think in Venn diagrams, not time-lines themes, not specific details. The classical pedagogy is not a formulaic plan for a specific type of thinker. It provides a plan for any type of thinker.

That is part of the beauty of it: classical education works regardless of your abilities or lack thereof.

Using a classical pedagogy has saved us thousands of dollars. Why? I’m not second guessing choices nor am I catering to fun or my kids learning style or the latest homeschooling fad. I’m not comparing myself to the draconian homeschooler or the radical unschooler or the Christian school or the public school. I’m simply following the path and pattern of assured academic success. And we have lots of fun along the way. Furthermore, my children know the deep and lasting satisfaction of sustained effort that bring forth excellent results.

While many pedagogies tend to focus on either skills or content, classical education focuses on skill building and content. Students end up with more tools in their academic toolbox and a better appreciation of how to apply them.

With a clear vision of what I want and how to get it, I look around the vendor hall and purchase very little – some audio books and signed copies from a favorite author – and was totally at peace. I already have a clear plan in place for next year. This plan requires some research and planning on my part but no desperate searching or pressured buying or frantic questioning. I’m just sticking to the plan we implemented years ago and trusting that it’s going to yield the results it’s known for.

Classical Ed, all the way, Baby!

 

Lisa hasImage homeschooled her 5 kids for 23 years, 3 of whom have graduated. She continues to homeschool her two youngest and has recently re-entered the working world. You can find her blogging at Golden Grasses