Is it the Book or is it Me?

bored student educationForget diet secrets and extreme makeovers.  Struggling homeschool moms have a more pressing question on the mind: Will a new curriculum solve my problems?

Maybe I’ve been using the wrong book.  Maybe, like the catalog promises, my kids really can learn the state capitals, speak fluent Spanish, and master organic chemistry, all for just $189.95.  Or maybe I’m just a terrible teacher.

As anyone who’s successfully lost weight or decluttered the house will tell you: Yes and no.  Finding the right method is essential.  So is changing bad habits.

A Tale of Two Subjects

Recall that I’m the lady who struggles with self-discipline, and I have a few weak subjects.  Last summer I invested in what I hoped would be more successful materials for two of our worst subjects, Latin and math facts.

It worked beautifully in one case, horribly in the other.

A Success Story: Latin

My husband and I never learned Latin in school, but it’s a subject we want our children to study.  (You might have a different wish-list subject.)  When our eldest was ready, I started out with a book that seemed perfect for him.

We ran into a wall.  The textbook was written for instructors who already know the subject.  There’s something about “Mother of Multiple Young Children” that didn’t quite mesh with “Master a New Latin Topic Every Monday Morning”.

When I started using Kolbe Academy for the older kids (successful change  – I needed typed up course plans, and that’s what they do), and we gave their Latin a try.  Again: I liked the book.  But again: That wall.  The text was ideal for students who attend Latin Mass, but we don’t live in that city.  Overwhelmed Mother Syndrome struck again.

In desperation, I went to Rainbow Resource, a protestant homeschool mega-supplier, and did a search for “Latin DVD’s”.  I also scoured the local used book sale.  In all, I found three curricula that actually work for my family.  I’ll tell you the three, not because they’ll necessarily work for you, but as a lesson in improving the odds on the book gamble.

Visual Latin

This is a DVD course suitable for middle school to adults.  You print out the workbook, and then watch the classes and do the assignments.

Why it worked: Because my 7th-grader likes the straightforward academics, and the dry humor.  And because I could drag my exhausted rear to the back bedroom, hit “play”, and let someone else teach for half an hour.

Another key for us was that the program uses more of an “immersion” approach, rather than lots of rote memorization.  That’s more the way my son and I prefer to study a language, so it plays on our natural strengths.

It also took some personal change. I still have to force myself to sit there and take the class with my kid.  Without some improved self-discipline, we would not have made any headway.

Song School Latin (DVD and Teacher’s Manual)

For the girls, I knew I needed something gentle and fun. Song school Latin is as campy as it gets.  Cheesy animated cartoons.  A lady who teaches at six-year-old speed.  And a very, very, light curriculum.  Typically the kids learn just four or five words a week.  I blush to admit it: Monkey Latin was right for us.

More embarrassing: Buying the expensive ready-made flash cards was a lifesaver.  I know! You can make your own! But we use the pre-printed cards way more than we ever do when I try homemade.  I console myself that if I spent the money, at least I had a decent return, academically, on the investment.

Latin’s Not So Tough (starting with book 2): My fifth grader needed more than four words a week with a silly monkey. The Latin’s Not so Tough workbooks are about right for her.  The pages are easy enough that she can work independently, but with material that’s closer to her grade-level.  And yes, again, I found myself in love with the expensive flashcards-on-a-ring.

What’s the underlying theme in these three programs that finally worked?

  • Matched the kids’ personalities.  Which meant three programs for four kids.
  • Matched my energy level.  Sometimes even getting myself to sit down and hit “play” is a struggle.  But knowing I don’t have to do all the work, I just need to be a good student, helps push me over the hump.
  • Taught in a way that my kids could learn.  What worked for one child was not always what worked for the others.

Abject Failure: Math Facts

I won’t belabor the details.  What you need to know is:

  1. I was the world’s worst mother when it came to teaching the kids math facts.
  2. I knew it.
  3. I found what looked like a great solution for this year.  Spent the money.  Started using it.
  4. It didn’t work.

Late in the year, after an ugly argument with my husband, I had to admit: The solution I liked wasn’t working.  With several false starts, and some serious changing of personal habits, and I think we’ve finally figured out a method that will work for us.

We Are Not Omniscient

There’s a demonic notion in the air, that we homeschooling moms must be perfect teachers, who always spend our curriculum money on the right program the first time.  It’s a load of bull.

Buying textbooks means taking a risk.   In my trouble-subjects this year, I had about a fifty percent success rate in picking out programs that meet our needs.   I can beat myself up for not being an all-knowing super genius.  Or I can accept that I’m a human, and I have to learn by experience.

How about you?  What kinds of curricula work best for you?  When have you had to overcome a personal weakness in your homeschooling?  What struggles are you going to tackle in the year ahead?

Jennifer Fitz is a homeschooling mom of four, catechist, writer, and accountant. She manages the Catholic Writers Guild blog, and writes on her personal blog, jenniferfitz.wordpress.com. Her latest project is a book of practical, encouraging support for parents struggling with the decision to homeschool.
Filed under: » » » »