Given the season we're in, you've probably attended at least one conference this summer where the curriculum vendors come close to outnumbering the conference participants. I am often intrigued as I read magazines of publishing veterans who recall the days when a conference curriculum fair meant that a few parents were selling their wares and sharing stories with anxious, excited parents. Now, I'm often reminded of my corporate days and attending job fairs at colleges–I see slick suits, brochures, and salesmen who may or may not actually homeschool. For a parent new to homeschooling, it can be quite overwhelming. Add to it the pressure, almost the obsession,with buying the perfect product, and walking into a conference/ curriculum fair can be like walking into a supermall.
One of the immediate benefits of a Charlotte Mason approach is the ability to use real books rather than textbooks, therefore not a lot of curriculum to purchase. I've heard other CM homeschoolers say that all you need to educate your child is a Bible, a math book, and a library card. Though we buy some formal curriculum, I have found this statement to be one that I repeatedly use as a test for what to buy. I was amazed when my son began more formal lessons in grammar and could immediately write in full sentences, or the children's ability to name the major continents of the world on an unlabeled map. In the latter case, it wasn't because they learned it from our geography curriculum. Our choice of readers takes us all over the earth, and we talk about and use other reference books to learn about different cultures. Over the years, our children have picked up through reading more than a year of formal geography might have taught them, and they have real interest by learning this land through interesting characters with “meaty” adventures. Am I saying that you shouldn't teach formal geography? Absolutely not. I am saying in modern-day English what Charlotte Mason said many years ago: don't underestimate the power of a good book.
Here's another thought I was blessed to hear recently: the mark of homeschooling success is not a completed curriculum, but a spiritually prepared, mature Christian who is ready to battle the devil for the salvation of souls. My personal focus this year is to get back to the basics with which we started: journaling, reading, and what Charlotte Mason calls “masterly inactivity”. I know that I personally struggle with completion of whatever we're doing, and those last three science lessons that we didn't finish have been nagging at me all summer long. Yet I also know that we all need rest and a break from what has been our routine for the past 9-1/2 months. Is it that important that I finish the book, or is it more important that we use our break to grow, to talk, and to learn from each other? Anyone who homeschools for more than 5 minutes quickly learns that this journey is more about home than it is about school.
I'll conclude with this: before you spend hundreds of dollars on any particular vendor, think about what you expect to get out of what you're buying. Is this something you could teach yourself? Is this something you could research and find the right resources to awaken your kids' interest in the subject? Curriculum can be convenient; the work is already done for you. But in this day of Internet technology, including the use of newsgroups and blogging, you can easily access other parents who can suggest books that are “high bank for the buck”. Use the time to teach your children how to think and reason, how to be curious, and then to go out and seek on their own. Don't let the textbooks, or your obsession to complete them, weigh you down spiritually or financially. God bless.