Books About Curriculum

101 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum

Author(s): 
Cathy Duffy
Copyright: 
2005
Publisher: 
Broadman & Holman Publishers
Binding: 
Softcover
Number of pages: 
313 pages
Review: 

I remember well the days when the only homeschool reviewers were Mary Pride and Cathy Duffy. Mrs. Duffy is still actively involved in the homeschool movement and, in this, her latest offering shares 100 favorite curriculum choices along with in-depth reviews of each item.

There are thousands of potential homeschool materials available for sale from different companies - Rainbow Resource Center alone carries over 30,000 items! It might be surprising then, for Mrs. Duffy to limit herself to 100. Why so few? After witnessing new homeschool mothers overwhelmed with the myriad of choices available, she is hoping to simplify the process by highlighting a small number that she considers to be excellent.

Mrs. Duffy explores important topics leading up to her 100 Top Picks. Each chapter builds on the material from the previous chapters, so you will want to read them in order. It has a bit of an interactive feel with the questions and fill in-the-blanks answers to help you determine what methods and materials would work best for you.

After explaining the advantages of tailoring your child's curriculum to his needs rather than purchasing a packaged curriculum, the author strongly encourages you to consider your philosophy of education, the method of teaching that works best for your family, your child's learning style, the goals you hope to achieve, and your daily schedule. After compiling all of this information, you will have a plan of action and will be ready to consider whether a particular resource will work for you.

Each resource is covered with an "overview" (description and coded categories involving learning style, prep time, ease of use, and special categories relating to who these materials would be suitable for) as well as an in-depth review. This allows the reader to easily scan through and decide which ones are worth further investigation. Her actual list includes a brief overview of each resource, including a helpful chart of 14 categories and a page number reference for you to read a more in-depth review of the resource. Some of the evaluation categories include 4 choices for the style of learner, prep time, ease of use for teacher, teacher manual, and more.

One very useful category explains the resource's suitability according to religious belief. For the most part, I agree with her choices of suitability for Catholics. One I would quibble with is the Exploring Creation Science series (I believe some of the books need Catholic commentary).

Subsequent chapters group the resources by subject. There are some extra "nuggets" tucked away in these chapters, such as an interesting list of favorite history books from Ancient Egypt to modern times in the history section. While most of the books would appeal to a broad range of people and includes some excellent selections from Bethlehem Books, I would recommend avoiding a few titles: Some titles by G. A. Henty (e.g. St. Bartholomew's Eve) and books about Luther and Calvin.

Over the years, I have been impressed with the author's wisdom and thoughtfulness in recommending curriculum. This book is specifically directed toward new homeschoolers of any faith. There are many choices in this book which are unobjectionable - particularly the large quantity of "non-sectarian" titles such as the Institute for Excellence in Writing and Sing, Spell, Read and Write. There are, however, some important points for Catholic Homeschoolers to understand when considering recommendations from this book:

  • Although Mrs. Duffy is a revert to the Catholic faith, the reviews are written more from a general Christian, rather than a specifically Catholic, point of view. Some resources are objectionable from a Catholic point of view (including some materials from Bob Jones University Press and A Beka). Although these are marked as suitable for Protestants in her overview, they may still seem appealing in the lengthier reviews. Approximately one-third of the resources in the 100 Picks are recommended exclusively for Protestants. For new homeschoolers or those not well-informed about their faith, I would recommend avoiding these resources entirely.
  • Those looking for specifically Catholic materials won't find very much here - only five are specifically Catholic. As evidenced by this website, there are many sources of specifically Catholic materials, including Catholic Heritage Curricula, Seton Home Study, Mother of Divine Grace School, Kolbe Academy, and Neumann Press. I should note that the author does have some reviews of additional Catholic titles on her webpage.

If you are wondering how to evaluate your homeschool teaching style and your child's learning style, this book would be very helpful as a jump start (although this is a small portion of the book). Although you shouldn't blindly accept the recommendations of any reviewer, this book in particular seems to offer few choices for Catholic homeschoolers.

Review Date: 
6-23-05
Reviewed by: 

Designing your Own Classical Curriculum

Book cover: 'Designing your Own Classical Curriculum'
Author(s): 
Laura Berquist
Copyright: 
1998
Publisher: 
Ignatius Press
Binding: 
Softcover
Number of pages: 
265 pages
Review: 

DYOCC is quite a bit different from the other books on Catholic Homeschooling. Instead of simply discussing homeschooling, as the other books do, Mrs. Berquist outlines an entire homeschool curriculum you can use with your children or adjust to your liking. She includes suggestions for putting together your own curriculum and a grade by grade outline which includes recommended texts, sample weekly schedules, a number of study guides, lists of important dates and people, poetry suggestions and extensive lists of appropriate literature and history stories. I found her introduction very helpful in fine-tuning my educational goals for my children. Even parents who are happily using another curriculum will find this book a very valuable source of supplemental resources and tips for making homeschooling more interesting and more successful. Some homeschoolers consider her to be much stronger in the history, literature and religion areas and a little weaker on Science and Math. To learn more about the classical liberal arts curriculum as described in her book, you can also read Dorothy Sayers' "The Lost Tools of Learning."

Perspective: 
Catholic
Review Date: 
1999
Reviewed by: 

High School of Your Dreams

Author(s): 
Nancy Nicholson
Copyright: 
2006
Publisher: 
Catholic Heritage Curricula
Binding: 
Spiralbound
Number of pages: 
249 pages
Review: 

Nancy Nicholson has just finished High School of Your Dreams – a long-anticipated 200-plus spiral bound pages of information for your high schooler. Nicholson has created a curriculum that’s flexible and fits the needs of different kinds of students. In fact, based on the information and advice in this book, I have decided to build my own high schoolers’ curriculum rather than relying on a canned curriculum!

This volume is very liberating to a homeschooling mom who believes in adapting the coursework to the student, focusing on learning over just passing tests, and still getting the student a good "leg up" on post high school living.

The first third of the book discusses developing a record-keeping system so that at the end of the high school time, the student has a valid transcript that would be accepted at most school and work places. She shows you how to transfer volunteer, internship or work hours into credit hours applied to the transcript.

This is NOT a book for those who need everything clearly scheduled and organized. This is a book for those who like to do their own searching and finding the best resources. Nicholson gives lists of suggested books, websites, essay topics and Church teachings. But it’s all up to the student and her parents to develop the individual “High School of Your Dreams”.

This book teaches the parent and student how to look for and find options to traditional subjects and ways of doing high school. She stresses that the student should be doing this resource work WITH the parent. The student needs to have buy-in with the plan throughout.

I love the way it embraces Catholicism (which you can use or not depending on your own household) through links to Catholic teachings on the various subjects. I also really appreciate the way she encourages the student to LEARN, not just study for tests.

In the back of the book there are sample charts including lesson planning forms, monthly hours’ charts, transcripts and a sample diploma. I would like CHC to have these available on-line – so you could download them right into your computer.

There are a few downsides to this book. I think to fully benefit from this “program”, you need to buy it and digest it while your student is a 7th or early 8th grader – possibly much earlier than a parent is ready to start discussing! That said, I think there is still great value to this book even if your children are already in high school.

I also found that some of the subjects are a bit deficient in their coverage of what the student should do (lack of links or creative suggestions). But, again, she has given you so many great examples that the savvy parent and teen could easily ferret out the information they need.

There is a lack of emphasis on the standardized tests. Nicholson implies that the SATs and ACTs are not as important as the portfolio and transcript. While this may be true for some schools, I would have liked more explanation of prepping the kids to take these standardized tests. From all that I have read, the test scores are often the “first” cut for applicants to most colleges and universities.

Those deficiencies aside, I was amazed at the scope of the solutions that Nicholson and CHC have created here. This answers so many questions parents have trying to get their children through and beyond high school. It’s a wonderful resource and well-worth the purchase price. It opens so many doors and helps parents and students go beyond the traditional high school experience.

Catholic Heritage Curriculum publishes this high school resource – as well as many other excellent Catholic homeschooling products. CHC is available on the Web at: http://www.chcweb.com/catalog/index.html or by calling 1-800-490-7713.

Perspective: 
Catholic
Review Date: 
3-21-06
Reviewed by: 

The Core Knowledge Series

Author(s): 
E.D. Hirsch
Review: 

Titles in this series include What Your Kindergartner Should Know, What Your First Grader Should Know, etc. The series is written for parents of children in traditional schools to get an idea of how the schools are doing and to assist the parents in supplementing their child's education at home. The series amounts to an extensive "Scope and Sequence" which outlines the fundamental skills and concepts which should be understood in each grade and includes supplementary exercises, poems, stories and recommended resources to assist in fulfilling the stated goals. I know quite a few Catholic homeschoolers (particularly those who are "putting together their own program") who have found this series very helpful. It can also be a good choice for those who are temporarily homeschooling under circumstances that don't allow for a large quantity of books (such as those homeschooling away from home for various reasons). For others, it might be "one more thing" to make their lives more complicated. Please keep in mind that, although the perspective is in many ways positive (especially in comparison to the public school system) the series is still secular and contains some material which should be taken with a grain of salt.

Review Date: 
1-18-01
Reviewed by: 

The Educated Child

A Parent's Guide from Preschool Through Eighth Grade
Book cover: 'The Educated Child: A Parent's Guide from Preschool Through Eighth Grade'
Author(s): 
William J. Bennett
Chester E. Finn
John T.E. Cribb
Copyright: 
1999
Publisher: 
The Free Press
Binding: 
Softcover
Number of pages: 
666 pages
Review: 

This book is designed to assist parents in choosing and judging good schools and how well their children are doing there. Brief "scope and sequence" lists (based on the Core Knowledge Curriculum) and some suggested resources are included. Although it is not specifically aimed at homeschoolers, homeschoolers are favorably addressed in several portions and will find much useful advice and ideas in the book. It's a worthwhile read, but probably not a high priority to purchase (you might want to check it out from the library before buying it.) Like the Core Knowledge Curriculum, it does have the potential to overwhelm at the expense of learning.

Perspective: 
Judeo-Christian
Review Date: 
1-18-01
Reviewed by: 

The Well-Trained Mind

A Guide to Classical Education at Home
Book cover: 'The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home'
Author(s): 
Jessie Wise
Susan Wise Bauer
Copyright: 
1999
Publisher: 
W.W. Norton
Binding: 
Sewn Hardcover
Number of pages: 
764 pages
Review: 

Jessie Wise started homeschooling her daughter (and co-author Susan Wise Bauer) in 1973. In this book they elaborate ideas and resources for a complete classical curriculum from preschool through high school. From a Catholic standpoint, I think this book would be most useful for those who are already using Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum, but looking for additional ideas. I found the explanations of the stages of the Trivium very helpful as well as some of the ideas for types of writing assignments, lists of subject material and tidbits on scheduling and record-keeping. I also found the order in which certain materials are to be studied (particularly for History which they recommend studying in chronological fashion starting in first grade) to be more to my liking than the order proposed in Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum because I'd like to have my children studying the same topic in History at the same time. The authors had some important things to say about the problems with television and I really enjoyed (as a bit of a vindication of my own educational ideas I suppose) the story about Dr. Seuss and why he wrote The Cat in the Hat.

I would be reluctant to give this book to a mother who is already feeling overwhelmed with homeschooling or one who has just pulled her children out of a conventional school and is beginning to homeschool later in the game. Although it is not intended to be, I think it might be intimidating at this stage. Although the authors (who are not Catholic) don't fall into a number of "traps" regarding the Catholic Church that one might expect (as is clear from their segment on Religion), some of the resources (especially with regards to History) contain biases against the Catholic Church and should be used only with caution. A great deal of their recommended materials are those recommended by Greenleaf Press and/or published by Dorling Kindersley - I use materials from both of these sources, but many should be approached with caution if not avoided altogether.

I have not read the book in its entirety yet (I finished the Grammar segment and skimmed the rest). Overall, I found it worthwhile reading, but not "required reading", and some things should be taken with a grain of salt.

You can find out more about the book at the Well Trained Mind website run by co-author Susan Wise Bauer.

Perspective: 
Protestant
Review Date: 
2-26-2000
Reviewed by: