When I began researching homeschooling a seeming lifetime ago, Cathy Duffy was my friend. I don’t mean this literally, of course, but her Christian Home Educators’ Curriculum Manuals were some of the most helpful books on the market. They introduced parents to the different learning styles, which was an entirely new concept to me, and helped us in our frantic search for just the right curriculum. When her books went out of print, I knew the homeschool world had lost a tremendous asset.
But now she’s back in print, and better than ever. 100 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum, a brand new release, is my new homeschooling favorite for parents on the curriculum hunt. If you’re a Christian in search of curriculum, do yourself a favor. Invest in this book first, take time to work your way through its variety of helps, and then make your purchasing decisions. I guarantee you’ll be glad you did.
If someone had asked me what ground should be covered in a book designed to assist homeschoolers in selecting curriculum, my list would have included everything Cathy Duffy covers here, and less. Right, no matter how thorough I could have been in my suggestions, she’s thought of even more. The only way you could get better help than this is if you were able to hire a qualified curriculum consultant who could work with you on a one-on-one basis. Cathy Duffy is the perfect guide to chose when venturing into the curriculum world.
Think I’m exaggerating? Read on.
Chapter One: How on Earth Do I Figure Out What Curriculum to Use?
In these few pages, you’ll find encouragement, exhortation, and a few hints at the helps to come. One of my favorite sentences from this chapter also explains the power of the book. “My purpose with these first few chapters is to help you become goal-oriented rather than ‘curriculum driven.” Take it from someone who has been there and done that; dashing out into the exhibit hall without preparing yourself properly ahead of time is a mistake. You cannot chose the right curriculum without clearly outlined goals.
Chapter Two: “Drill and Kill,” “Real Books,” “Delight-Directed Studies”. . .What’s Best?
This, of course, is the first question most potential curriculum consumers ask, but the answer is not so simple. The question isn’t really, “What’s best? ,” but is actually, “What’s best for US?” Here in chapter two you begin working towards finding out what is best for you, one step at a time. The very first, and most important, step is establishing your “Philosophy of Education.” In my early years I saw this as a non-essential, something I didn’t need to spend time on. In my later years, I saw differently; much of the heartache we went through as we grew as homeschoolers could have been avoided if I’d taken time for this. Please, learn from my mistakes.
Understandably, many are intimidated by the thought of dealing with anything that includes the word philosophy, but establishing your philosophy of education will be relatively easy if you follow the path laid out in this chapter. It starts with answering a series of simple questions, and ends by condensing those answers, and quite a bit of other information, down into a single statement. This statement is the foundation for decisions you will make later, so don’t skip this step.
Continuing to work on your Philosophy of Education, you begin the process of determining which approach to education is most likely to fit with your family’s needs. Your guide has created an outstanding chart that permits you to rate the importance of certain educational details. Once you’ve marked the chart appropriately, prioritizing the things that are important to you, you then learn how to interpret what it tells you. With these results in hand, you have a list of the teaching approaches that are most likely to suit. Continue through the chapter and you learn about each of these approaches - the way they work as well as both their strong and weak points - and will likely end up with a fairly definite direction in mind. Along the way, you’ll find many suggestions for further reading on the various teaching approaches.
At the end of Chapter Two, you look more closely at what you’ve learned about yourself and the most appropriate teaching methods by answering questions that serve as reality checks. For instance, in a perfect world, Unit Studies may be the ideal course for you, but if you answer “Very little” to question 2 (“How much time do you have available for working directly with your children and for planning and preparation?”) you may have to reconsider. But don’t despair; your helpful guide offers assistance in matching your ideal teaching approach with your very real lifestyle.
Chapter Three: Putting Together Your Philosophy of Education
You’re getting closer, and Cathy Duffy is right there with you! She shares her own philosophy, and how she put it together, as if she were in your shoes. You’ll get to see how she answered the same questions she’s already asked you, as well as how she filled out the charts and forms, and how she translated the results from both into a four-sentence Philosophy of Education. Once you have done the same, clarifying exactly what you believe education should be in your family, you will find that choosing appropriate curriculum is much easier than you had anticipated.
Chapter Four: Learning Styles: How Does My Child Learn Best?
The next step is understanding learning styles - not just learning modalities (visual, auditory, kinesthetic), with which many people are familiar, but learning styles, which goes much deeper. This is a complex subject, but one that your guide has quite skillfully distilled into a few, short descriptions and explanations. First you determine your own learning style. This alerts you to the manner in which you will be inclined to teach. Having discovered this, you then, if they’re old enough, determine your children’s learning styles. This is where life gets challenging, because it seems God delights in giving us children who are our direct opposites. Understanding both your and your children’s learning styles is important when choosing a curriculum, because you want whatever you buy to work for everyone if at all possible - not just for Mom. It won’t surprise you to learn that your guide is still beside you, helping you confront this challenge as well.
Chapter Five: Who Should Learn What and When?
See? She really does know what questions you’re asking!
And she answers this question every bit as well as she’s answered all others, though the answers may surprise you. You will discover, while working your way through this chapter and setting your goals, just how important your Philosophy of Education really is, because it is what will help you determine what your children should learn and when they should learn it.
Hopefully by now I’ve made it clear that this is not a book to be read lightly, but one to be worked through quite seriously. Choosing the right curriculum is a huge part of the homeschool challenge. Don’t try to cut corners in making the decision; use this book as it was intended to be used if a successful homeschool really is your goal.
Chapter Six: Top 100 Picks
Now that you’ve navigated the challenging path towards that all-important exhibit hall (Or wherever you intend to search out curriculum), you are prepared to take a look at Cathy Duffy’s top 100 list. But this is no mere list!
In Chapter Six you discover, preceded by several pages of explanatory notes, page after page of charts that break each of her top 100 choices down by various categories. For instance, if you’re in search of a math curriculum that’s right for your Wiggly Willy, you need only go to the chart’s math section, look down the column entitled “Multisensory/Hands-on (Wiggly Willy)” and you will find your guide’s rating for each of the math programs’ appropriateness for one who operates in this learning style. There are fifteen columns on the chart. Four deal with the learning styles, two with the amount of parent/teacher involvement, and others with things like prep time, ease of use, education style (ie., Charlotte Mason), and Christian content. The final column gives the page number on which you will find the review of the product.
Subsequent chapters present the product reviews, broken down by category. Those categories are: Phonics, Reading and Literature; Mathematics; Language Arts; History, Geography, and Cultural Studies; Science; Unit Studies and All-in-One Programs; Foreign Language; and Electives, Online Classes and All-in-One Programs. All reviews follow a consistent format (cover photo, title, author, publisher/supplier, contact information, price, review text) and each of the reviews is pure Cathy Duffy, which translates as “entirely helpful.”
Cathy Duffy, we’re glad you’re back in print!