Searching for the Unicorn Curriculum: Avoid My Newbie Mistakes

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Searching for the Unicorn Curriculum: Avoid My Newbie Mistakes

I’m a COVID homeschooler who has been wrestling with the decision to continue homeschooling next year or send my kids to public school. After a lot of prayer and discussion, my husband and I have decided to continue the adventure and homeschool next year! Woo hoo! Here comes the fun part: shopping for curriculum! Now that we’re in it for the long haul, where should I start? 

Ignorance Can Be Bliss

When we made the decision to homeschool last summer, I had just a couple of weeks to choose our curriculum.  Fortunately, I discovered Sonlight early in my search. Its literature-based, Christian approach appealed to me from the start. My biggest challenge was deciding which HBL to start out with for my 4- and 6-year-olds, and then selecting math and science programs. I loved the idea of using a tried and true curriculum from a company that had been serving homeschooling families for years. 

We dove into HBL K and began learning American history and laughing along with some very entertaining read-alouds each afternoon. My son progressed nicely with phonics, and handwriting—no tears, as advertised!  My 4-year-old begged me to do school like her older brother, so I ordered the kindergarten language arts program for her to do at a slower pace so that she would feel included in our new adventure.

Our homeschooling journey was off to a great start. 

At that point, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I had spent very little time pondering the different educational approaches to homeschooling such as traditional, classical, Charlotte Mason, unschooling and so forth. As the year progressed, I began to feel called to consider homeschooling beyond this year. I started to read blogs and reviews, listen to podcasts, and check out or purchase many of the books mentioned in these resources. I joined several social media groups and spent a little—no, let me be honest — way too much time scrolling through posts.

Classical, Charlotte Mason, Traditional, Oh My!

Even though I was happy with our choice of curriculum and knew in my heart it was a great fit for both my children and me, I couldn’t seem to stop reading about other programs or looking up a new curriculum once I saw it mentioned by another mom. This was especially true anytime we had a rough day or my son balked at doing his work. Boy, that would send me searching for that unicorn program that would engage my children 100% of the time in productive, happy learning. 

Spoiler alert: this program doesn’t exist! 

While I did learn a lot about home education and curriculum by doing this research, soon it became overwhelming and sucked much of the joy out of educating my children. I realized I was spending so much time trying to make sure I was using the best program for my kids, that I was forgetting to spend time with my kids. Which was, for me, the whole point of this adventure! 

So, as I set out to plan our curriculum for next year, I am going to rely on the following tips I learned from veteran homeschoolers to avoid getting overwhelmed when choosing curriculum, and how to stop agonizing once the decisions have been made! 

1. Consider Learning and Teaching Preferences

Knowing our preferences was critical for me as I considered our language arts options for next year. I heard about so many different programs for elementary aged children, each of which has a devoted following. It’s so hard not to believe that the grass might be greener over there. I’d see a few people comment that, “In all my years of homeschooling, Program A is the best program for teaching _______ I have ever seen” and I’d start to think, “Surely I’d be crazy not to at least try this amazing program?”

Then, a few days might go by, and I’d see a few people comment that Program A did not work for their children, but once they found Program B, their child was reading chapter books and writing paragraphs within a few weeks. I heard a seasoned homeschooler comment that all moms seem to torture themselves by second-guessing their choices, and at the end of the day what is most important is remembering not only why you initially chose what you did, but what will work best for you and your child.    

See which math program will work for you with this handy comparison chart.

2. Stick with the Curriculum that’s Working

It’s uncanny how many social media posts begin with, “We’re using program A this year and it’s working well. But I’m considering switching to program B for next year.” I might have even written a few of these myself! It’s such a blessing to have so many wonderful curriculum options out there, each one with its unique strengths. However, as the parent of a first grader learning to read and working on foundational math skills, I felt a lot of pressure to find the best, the unicorn, program out there for each core subject. 

It was so hard to trust my decisions, especially on those tough days when the kids just didn’t seem interested in learning. It is so tempting to wonder if the problem is the curriculum. Each time my 7-year-old boy refused to sit and work on his math, or made a comment that writing was too hard, I’d run to my computer, scouring the internet to find that magical program that would engage him every day. It took me several months to realize that most 7-year-old boys probably balk at sitting to work on math or do copywork from time to time!

However, by the time I reached this conclusion, we ended up with 3 (three!) different first grade math programs. To teach addition and subtraction!  

Changing the curriculum so much presented its own challenges. My son didn’t ever really have a chance to settle in and develop a routine.  As we head toward the end of our first year of homeschooling, I think I might have finally learned not to assume that a bump in the road should automatically trigger another curriculum search.

3. Don’t Let FOMO Create Overload 

My primary reason for choosing Sonlight was its focus on reading aloud and exposing my children to great books.  However, my FOMO,  or fear of missing out, was intense. First, I bought the 4-day bonus books for history and read alouds. Then I added a few books from earlier HBL’s to our shelves. Since we started with HBL K, our library holds list quickly filled with books for further reading on early American history. I even purchased six additional picture books recommended by other moms to supplement the program. 

My husband jokingly asked me one day just how many children I planned to homeschool this year! 

I knew I might be taking things a bit too far when my 4-year-old asked me one day, “Mom, how many more books are there about the Three Sisters?”

As exciting as this new adventure has been, I have learned that for us, at this stage, limiting additions to the curriculum is a good idea so that we can focus on reading, writing and math. We’ve got a marathon ahead of us rather than a sprint, so I need to adjust my pace accordingly. There's no need to keep hunting that unicorn curriculum.

4. Connections Are More Important than Curriculum

Lastly, and most importantly, I was surprised as I listened to many homeschool veterans this year go out of their way not to recommend a specific curriculum. Instead, they encouraged me to focus on my relationship with my kids and to make sure that we enjoy learning together. It was hard for me to trust this advice, as I was pretty sure that the answer really must lie in that free trial of online curriculum that just popped up in my inbox. Yes, we tried that one, too! 

But, over this past year, I heard the suggestion enough times that it has begun to sink in. I started homeschooling because of COVID, but we’ve decided to continue because I love getting to spend more time with my children. As good as this year was, I hope that next year I can relax and savor those precious afternoons of reading aloud in our backyard, sprawled on a blanket, munching popcorn just a little bit more.    

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