What to Consider in Choosing a Homeschooling Curriculum

I’ve gotten a reader request to write up my thoughts on choosing a curriculum, so I’m jumping ahead to the end of the series, and then I’ll come back and revisit Math and Religion.

Can you afford it?  With a very few exceptions, I don’t ever recommend pursuing education you can’t afford.  End of story.  Kolbe and the like are not cheap (though Kolbe is less expensive than some of the other alternatives), and as with many good or convenient things, when you are short on cash, you have to find another way.  Sometimes the other way is in fact a better way, so don’t panic.

–> Don’t spend your whole book budget at the beginning of the year. Save some money for mid-year changes, because you aren’t omniscient, so there’s a decent chance you’ll pick one or two flops.  It’s okay.  Set aside the cash so you have it when you need it.

Does is fit with your real life?  That’s how we ended up with Kolbe, FYI.  I’m perfectly capable of writing and teaching from my own curriculum, and enjoyed doing it. But I’m not at all above outsourcing cleaning help, buying prepared foods, paying some other mom to drive the carpool to dance class . . . whatever it takes to make real life work. [I once started to ask my daughter to pray my rosary for me, then remembered, “No, that’s not something you’re supposed to delegate.”]  When I was at a point where something (else) had to give, on the long list of things I do, writing up weekly course plans was one I learned I could outsource.  So we did.  It’s been good.

–> My point here is to encourage parents to look closely at the time and energy and involvement different curricula require.  Don’t pick Math Made Easy By 60 Minutes of Absolute Silence if you just gave birth to quadruplets. It’s okay to pick the cheesy, low-intensity, lowest-common-denominator program, if that’s the one you’ll actually do.  Doing all (or most) of the work from a cushy program is better than doing little or none of the work from that majestic High Standards Because We Are Achievers program.

Do you like it?  You.  The parent.  When you read about the curriculum, or thumb through the book, does it make you smile?  If it makes you groan, or you think, “I guess I have to do this because these smart people say you have to, but how on earth . . .” that’s your warning.  Back away.  If you hate it, it’s not going to work.

Do you believe it matters?  If the student finds it fun, the student will do it.  Unfortunately, there’s a 95% chance you are going to try to teach your child something the child doesn’t think is fun.  Which means your willpower is the only thing that will make the learning happen.  Don’t spend a lot of money and space and guilt on a product you don’t actually think matters.

–> I am increasingly convinced that the reason Living Books or Nature Study or Memorization Of Everything or Latin First English Second or Name That Approach, Written About With Fervor And You’re Ruining Your Child If You Neglect This One Thing . . . I’m convinced they work, and work well, because of the teacher’s enthusiasm.  There are bad teaching methods, don’t mistake me.  And I have methods I love and firmly believe in, and that I think make for sound teaching and real education.  But ultimately some part of my success as a teacher isn’t about having found The One True Way, it’s about having found a way that I can run with, that matches who I am and how I teach and the way my brain works and helps me connect to my students.*

As you learn about curricula, look for choices that just seem so right.  They just seem to fit.  They make you smile and go, “Yes!”.  That’s your ideal.

Do you scruple?  Kolbe is very intent on subsidiarity, and I love that.  As the parent-teacher, I blackline some assignments, I add to others, some things I trade out wholesale.  I have a friend who nearly died of heart failure using Seton, not because Seton is a money-maker for cardiologists, but because she wasn’t comfortable with paring down the curriculum as she needed to do (and as her advisers at Seton said she should).  She does everything 100%.   Seton proposes a tremendous curriculum, and she didn’t know how to say No to the parts that were too much.  She needed a lighter program that she could plow through from start to finish, and rest knowing she had Done The Whole Thing.


Those are my main thoughts.  I know we have a number of other homeschoolers reading here. What else would you add?



*This, I believe, is why Math books are like a religion unto themselves.




3.5 Time Outs: Awestruck

Thanks once again to our host, Larry D. at Acts of the Apostasy.

Click and be amazed.


This week I learned that someone was in awe of me. I advised her to seek counseling.

Not actually.  I did tell her she has a vivid imagination. That explanation makes it a reasonable mistake – imagine you knew me only on the internet, and furthermore had seen pictures of my home when it wasn’t that terribly terribly out of control — it could happen.  You’d be deluded.  But an honest mistake.


I saw the most amazing floors this weekend.  Clean.  You’re chuckling now, thinking you’ve seen such a thing before.  No.  Quite possibly you have not. I hadn’t. These were VERY VERY clean floors.  They shined.  They were smooth underfoot.  No tiny grains of sand (of course we removed our shoes at the door).  No coarse edges.  No lint.  No crayons.  Clean.  And my daughter who babysits for this family reports these floors are always this clean.  Always.

Now to my knowledge, this family has no cleaning help.  They do have a new baby, a preschool boy of the usual energy level of preschool boys, and a homeschooled rising kindergartner.  Yes, this family does crafts.  Yes, this family eats dinner.  Yes, the children are home all day. And no, the mom is not a powerhouse of non-stop energy.  She is just a very, very, clean person.

This is what she loves.  I think she spends as many minutes cleaning as I spend writing, and as many minutes decluttering as I spend reading, and those two facts explain her home, my home, and our respective literary outputs.

Other than that, we’re both normal people.


Now if you have spent an evening in one of these homes, it is truly a marvel.  It was relaxed and comfortable — the furniture was simple and unpretentious, the food was home-cooking, the children chased each other in loops through the kitchen, changed into 70 different dress-up outfits (actually just three, rotated), and there was the rhythmic thud of a boy jumping off his toddler slide onto a pile of cushions into what would have been the dining room, if these were the sort of people who were interested in impressing rather than welcoming.

Instead it was just luxurious.  So clean.  So peaceful (to someone used to preschoolers). Plus: Jello-Whip Cream Salad, green.  And I did marvel.  Wow.  God made a person who loves cleaning this much.  It is truly a work of art.  A gift to the world, however small and humble.

But because I’ve known Mrs. E all these years, I wasn’t intimidated.  She’s a normal person who happens to have this one gift.

So that was great, and now I remind myself when I’m intimidated by someone, that it’s because I’m only seeing some small side, and not the whole picture. And when I’m unimpressed by someone — same story.  You know there’s another side that tells much more.  Just have to dig for it.


Chickens.  Just two.  Strictly as pets.

Pets you can eat.


Well that’s all for today.  Tuesday is Link Day for all topics, help yourself if you are so inclined.   Post as many as you want, but only one per comment or the spam dragon will eat you up and I’ll never even know.  Have a great week!

At CatholicMom.com: Homeschool Planning & Setting Priorities

Homeschool Planning: You Can’t Do Everything in which I talk about the trade-offs my family makes in order to bring our curricular fantasies down to earth, and put together a homeschool curriculum we can actually sort of accomplish, more or less.  Also in which we discover I’m much better about wanting to study Latin than about actually studying it.

The Kolbe Reviews: Geography

For Geography, Kolbe uses the Map Skills series from Continental Press.  It’s rare that a teacher with a passion for a topic is wholeheartedly enthused about a particular textbook, but I am in love.  Love.  LOVE.

This is the best thing going.  It’s an 8×11 glossy full-color paperback.  The fourth grade book has about 42 lessons, the sixth grade book has sixty. So throughout the course of the year, students do one or two lessons per week, depending on how you divide it out.  Each page is its own self-contained lesson.  The student reads the explanation and then answers the questions using the map on the page.

What I love:

Self-contained and self-teaching.  Once or twice there has been an assignment that required using a separate map (ie, “a map of your state”), and we’ve pulled out the globe as well.  My sixth grader considers this to be the fun page — like doing one of those puzzle games on the children’s menu at the family restaurant.  My fourth grader can read the lesson and do the work by herself 90% of the time.

Real maps from around the world.  There’s never an assignment using a fictional map to illustrate a point.  The Kolbe course plans periodically call for map-memorization (state capitals, etc.), but just doing the work in the book is an education in world geography all on its own.

Spiral curriculum.  You can start the series on grade-level, even if your student has never done geography before.  The fourth and sixth grade books cover all the same essential concepts — the difference is that the sixth grade lessons delve into each topic with a little more detail and little more difficulty. I believe Kolbe stops using the books after 6th grade, though there is a final book for grades 7 or 8.  If your older student has never studied geography and needs to be brought up to speed, just pick up the last book and it’s all there.

To study geography, or not?

Kolbe advises parents to skip geography if the overall course load is too overwhelming.  I partially disagree:

  • I think it’s fine to do geography some years but not all, or to spread one book over two years.
  • But geography matters, and is a skill of its own separate from the subjects it supports.  History and earth science make no sense if you don’t also know geography.  And trip planning?  Let’s just say it’s no fun traveling with people who can’t or won’t read maps.
  • In my experience, struggling students are sometimes helped by easing off the overwhelming subject, and exercising the brain elsewhere.  The geography in this series requires math, reading comprehension, writing, and visual processing skills.

So in our family, my inclination is to reduce the number of assignments from the National Catholic Reader (but still do some of the better selections) and hold onto geography, at least most years.

The Kolbe Course Plans

The course plans call for students to do two assignments per week.  There are no quarterly exams.  Other than a few “memorize this” or “practice that” assignments, the plans simply divide the book so students know how many pages to do each week.  So if you are not enrolling with Kolbe, I’d skip these plans and write your own chart of how many pages to do.  Or just open the book and circle pages.

Write in the book, or not?

This is not a reproducible, so photocopying assignments violates the copyright.  There are some assignments that require students to label the map in the book. We chose to have the kids write their answers on separate paper (works 85% of the time), if there was a map to label, we’d just do that assignment orally, and the student could point to the answer on the page.  The glossy pages are fairly durable, so the book should hand down as well as any other text.  Given the option of buying the book themselves or writing on a separate sheet of paper, both kids decided to save their cash for better purposes.

What else do you want to know?  I’ve got the fourth and sixth grade books on hand, and the course plans, so ask away.



Mothers, Teachers, Plans and Purposes

My Hail Mary post at Sarah R.’s place is up.  What I discovered writing it, is that I’d been looking at this question of feminine genius all backward.  Our culture wants us to look at men, and try to guess how women compare.  But just ask Adam — it’s the other way around.  He was adrift until he discovered Eve.  What, after all, is the purpose of tending the garden and taking care of creation, and all the other amazing and wonderful things guys do?  What is the work of Christ, the bridegroom, done in service to His bride, the Church?  He makes her mission possible.  That is, Christ and the Church have a single mission.

BTW I stuck the photo up big, here, so you can see that girl-smile.  It doesn’t quite come across when posted in moderation, the way sensible blog-owners do.


I’ve got an article in the new issue of Mater et Magistra.  I haven’t seen the final (edited) version, so I can’t tell you exactly all the parts that made the cut.  [You never know how many words there will be room for, once all the articles for the month are gathered together.  So I submitted my article divided into sub-sections so it would be easy to edit down in chunks.]

But anyhow, it’s pure accountant-frugality meets homeschool-desperation: How do you decide what books to buy?  Don’t panic, I don’t advise anyone to act like I do and buy waaaaaay too many books.  Instead I actually talked with a bunch of much more sensible and practical homeschool moms, and found out what does and does not work in real life, for staying sane and under-budget, and still getting school done.

Let me know what you think when you read it, I’ll happily post your thoughts here.


I haven’t figured out how to get my Amazing Catechists feed working quite right, but one day I will.  Meanwhile, I posted about Journals & the Sacrament of Confession this week.  Because a real live human being (who I don’t know personally, and I have no idea when or where or how the incident took place) asked my opinion on this:

Is it appropriate for religion teachers to ask students about their sins?  In my friend’s  religion class, the teacher asked him to write in his journal about one of the sins he would be confessing at his next confession.  What do you think?

No, seriously.  I didn’t make that up.   I can write fiction, but there are limits.  And anyway, I don’t do horror.

3.5 Time Outs: On Tour

Thanks once again to our host Larry D. at Acts of the Apostasy, who pulled the ol’ you-vacationed-where?? trick on me.  Works every time. I’m easy to surprise.

Click and be amazed.


We unplugged for Triduum, and wow:  Peaceful.  But look, the power of scheduling made it look like I was on the internet: In Defense of Pretty Good Schools, at CatholicMom.com. Technically it’s a homeschooling column (because that’s how I tricked Lisa H. into letting me write for her — I said, “Gosh, do you need any homeschooling columnists?”), but actually it’s for everyone.


Remember that whole girl problem I was having before?  That Christian LeBlanc answered so easily, like he always does? I stole his answer, of course.  He’ll probably cringe when he sees what I went and did with it.  My post on the word “Women” goes up at Sarah R.’s blog on Thursday morning.  She says she likes it.  But if you want something really smart, with Doctors of the Church and all that, you’d better just read Jeff Miller’s post about “Among”.  Or for a reflection about intimacy and Old English, you’d want Julie Davis on “Thou”.

But Sarah’s going to be nice to me at least until Friday, because her Catholic Family Fun book tour visits right here at this blog, when I’ll be reviewing her book in seven quick takes, for the other evil overlord who we won’t mention just now.  What you need to know today: It’s good enough I actually bought a copy with my own money to give as a gift to somebody.  Admittedly I buy a lot of books.  But when I acquire a second copy, that’s your hint.


Look, more things for smart people:  Barbara Nicolosi let us post the transcript of her workshop on “Towards a Literature that is Catholic” at CWG.  I think maybe she doesn’t read the Hardy Boys much, because she says things like:

My theory is that the secular world is not anti-Catholic as much as it is anti-bad art.

Me, on the other hand, I’m all about bad art*.  Then again, I’m not real secular.


In more book tour excitement, this coming Monday I’m reviewing Karina Fabian’s Live and Let Fly, and let me tell you, it is absolutely . . .



Well, that’s all for today.  It’s Link Day once again, which is not an obligation, just an opportunity.  Because no one likes having their perfectly good link stuck in my inbox with a little star next to it, when it could be down in the combox for everyone to enjoy.  One link per comment so you don’t get accidentally caught in the spam dungeon, where even detective dragons dare not prowl.

And hey, Happy Easter!

*This is not a strictly factual statement.  I’m good with hokey genre fiction as long as the story is fun and entertaining, though I reserve the right to joke about it over a cup of coffee with the boy afterwards.  But even I have my limits.

7 Quick Takes: The Path of Least Resistance

A whole weekend's worth of entertainment at your fingertips. Click to read more.


The 4th grade science book had this explanation of charge (negative, positive, etc) that was just not computing with a certain child. Trying to figure out how to explain what the girl needed to know was going to take more brain power than I wished to exert.  So I fetched the boy’s old snap circuit kit, and said, “Read the directions, make a couple of these, and then we’ll talk.”

She loves them.  She’s made maybe twenty of the projects now.

And the SuperHusband came home and explained the habits of those wiley electrons in terms we could all understand.


In his explanations, he observed electrons are a lot like people.  Certain children, for example, would much rather we evenly populate the rooms of the house, than have three girls crowded together in one bedroom.  It was an analogy our people-person girl grasped immediately.


On the evening walk after dinner, Mr. Boy proposed seminars that run the opposite direction.  “People Skills for Engineers”, for example.  In which you explain that people are a lot like electrons.


Every time your blood pressure spikes from reading about offensive jury verdicts in which parents are paid millions to publicly wish their children dead, Allie Hathaway’s the perfect choice for your offering up. Have I mentioned that reading the news is a near occasion of sin for me?  You might have noticed.


Benadryl season, here.  I ran out of the liquid.  Seven-year-old had dark circles under her eyes, perpetual sneezing, and was losing her voice.  But the pill.  It doesn’t want to go down.

Until I remembered this stuff:

Now she’s very punctual in reminding me when she needs her next dose.


We weren’t sure whether our dog would get along with our friends’ dogs during the pending staycation, in which all Fitz creatures under a certain age vacate castle premises for the weekend.  So we ran a test the other day.  One of the host dogs was not pleased at the arrival of the guest dog, and our pup insisted on saying a few pointed words back .  The altercation slowly edged them towards the pool.

Our dog, unaware she was backing up towards the water, fell right in.  She swam to the side, and my friend showed her the way up the steps.

And after that, the dogs got along just fine.


And with that, I’m out of here, and offline, until sometime Monday.  Think I might send the telephone off with the kids, too.  Have a great weekend!


UPDATE: Thank You Facebook Helpers.  The new page name is: www.facebook.com/JenFitz.writes.  You guys are the best.

(Meanwhile SuperHusband and I are enjoying an eerily silent weekend.  I’ll check back at the combox and all that come Monday, or whenever we lose our un-plugged concentration and just have to ignore each other for a while.)

7 Quick Takes: Lucky Women

Where is the brain? The other Jen F. wants to know. Trust me, it's not here.


It’s been a long few days here at the Castle.  I would be very grateful for your prayers.


This is hilarious: “Teach Yourself a New Culture in 100 Easy Lessons”, in which we see how a Haitian man studying English describes the pictures in the reading book.  I want the whole series.



Lent report:

1) Yeah, we pretty much stink at prayer-n-fasting.  Especially when housework is supposed to fit in their somewhere.

2) But I did have an Adrian Monk Moment, and clean the yard in a frenzied response to stress and frustration.  It looks really nice.  Or it did 24 hours ago, anyhow.

3) And then here’s what happened: We planned to meet Fr. W for lunch because after six months of trying, dinner just wasn’t happening.  Too busy.  And we decided that ‘at the restuarant’ was smarter than ‘at our house’.  And this morning I thought, “Yes, I’m so glad it’s at the restaurant, because this place is a wreck.”  And then I realized: “This place is waaaaay cleaner then the first time he came over last summer.  For one thing, at this time I would not need to send the children out on an hour-long mission to “get rid of the disgusting things”.

So, yes.  Progress.  Not as stellar of progress as my vivid imagination had envisioned.  But it’s something.

The Fitz House, Now 75% Less Disgusting!


You thought you could just pray for my intention up there in #1. No can do.   Allie Hathaway. Right now. 

. . . Okay good. Thanks!


Helen Alvare e-mailed me (and 18,000 of her closest friends, I’m pretty sure) with the reminder that:

 . . . The Obama Administration has put real accommodation of religious employers, insurers, and individuals off the table. And they have managed to get leading media to continue to claim that women are on the side of shutting down religious witness on the issue of the “free” birth control in employer insurance plans.

If you’re female and you haven’t signed the Women Speak for Themselves letter, do it now, here.

And this the Facebook page:  facebook.com/WomenSpeakForThemselves.

[H/T to the inimitable Mrs. Tollefsen for the head’s up about the letter and the encouragement to sign it.  They let me on, so they’ll take anybody.]


Bearing links to a really cool history article on eugenics, politics, and the Irish in 1940.  Click on her link and read the whole thing — very well-researched and written account of a suspicious marriage certificate, and the man who made it so, 52 years after the wedding took place.  For that matter, if you’re having withdrawal because you don’t like how my 3-D life is interfering with your goofing-off schedule, Bearing’s been pretty much rocking the house lately, so you just go read her for a while.


And that’s it.   Catholic Writer’s Conference starts tomorrow.  My yard is clean.  My blog is sad and lonely.  The weather is beautiful.  My truck is pale yellow from the pine pollen.  My 5 year-old has a new green plaid outfit made by her 10-year-old sister from scrap fabric, just in time to keep the neighbor kid from pinching her tomorrow.   I have given up all hope of predicting the future, and now consider my calendar to be a work of speculative fiction.

Oh speaking of saint’s feast days, last night I read the account of St. Abraham Kidunaia.  And I thought as I read, “Gee, his poor fiance, abandoned on the eve of the wedding, when he fled to the desert and locked himself in a cell.”  And then I read a little further, and concluded: “Probably once she learned he was planning to wear the same goatskin coat for the next 50 years, she was okay with it.”


Help! I’m homeschooling a six-year-old! Up at CatholicMom.com

My first article’s up at CatholicMom.com – Yay!.  Go read.  Natural follow-on to Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur’s column on How to Homeschool your Preschool Child, which you can treat as a pre-req. I think people run into trouble by thinking “1st grade” = “High School Lite”, when really it’s more like the final glorious days of preschool in all their imaginative, bigger-than-life power.

Jon & I noticed the other night that several of our kids have gone through a Terribly Tired phase right around six.  So if your junior hiker has just announced, “I was not made for walking”, take a deep breath and just work around it for a couple years.  Sometime in the sevens the big-kid-legs seem to show up, and the stamina returns.

BTW, Lisa Hendey has a nice collection of homeschool links on her homeschooling page.  Worth a look and maybe a bookmark.