347 | The Art of Choosing Curriculum (Janice Campbell with Cathy Duffy)
Join curriculum expert Cathy Duffy and me as we talk about the art of choosing homeschool curriculum. You'll learn about goals, learning styles, types of homeschooling, and more. I think you'll come away feeling much more comfortable about making choices that fit your family.
Cathy Duffy has been reviewing homeschool curriculum and resources since the 1980s, and is the author of several books, including her most recent volume, 103 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum.
Cathy began educating her three sons at home in 1982 and continued all the way through high school. In addition to teaching her own sons, she has taught numerous group classes for home-educated students and church groups. Her extensive research and experience have made Cathy a popular speaker at home education conferences around the world.
In addition, Cathy has taken a broader interest in educational issues, authoring the book Government Nannies: The Cradle-to-Grave Agenda of Goals 2000 and Outcome-Based Education to address problems with "educational reform." Concerns about government schooling prompted Cathy to get involved with the Children's Scholarship Fund in 1998, piloting a $15 million scholarship program in Los Angeles. That program helps children from low-income families attend private and homeschools.
Articles authored by Cathy Duffy on a wide range of topics have appeared in The Teaching Home, Practical Homeschooling, Homeschooling Today, Christian Retailing, The Parent Educator, ParentLife, Family Resources, The Canadian Home Educator, The Christian Conscience, Homefires, Christian Home Education News, Ideas on Liberty, and many other publications.
Janice Campbell, a lifelong reader and writer, loves to introduce students to great books and beautiful writing. She holds an English degree from Mary Baldwin College, and is the graduated homeschool mom of four sons. You’ll find more about reading, writing, planning, and education from a Charlotte Mason/Classical perspective at her websites, EverydayEducation.com, Excellence-in-Literature.com, and DoingWhatMatters.com.
103 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum by Cathy Duffy
Weapons of Mass Instruction by John Taylor Gatto
Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto
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Janice Campbell Hello and welcome to The Homeschool Solutions Show. My name is Janice Campbell and I'm one of the many hosts here on the podcast. Each week we bring you an encouraging conversation from this busy and blessed journey of educating our children at home. While the title of the show is Homeschool Solutions, we don't pretend to have all the answers to all the homeschooling questions. It is our hope that this podcast will point you to Jesus Christ that you may seek His counsel as you train your children in the way they should go. As you're well aware, it's open enrollment season. That means you're probably lost in a mountain of paperwork and doing Ph.D. level research to find a health care option. That's a good fit for you and your family. I have good news for you. My friends at Medi-Share are the most trusted name in healthcare sharing, and members save 50% or more per month on their healthcare costs. To learn more, go to GreatHomeschoolConventions.com/MediShare. That's GreatHomeschoolConventions.com/MediShare. Parents, here's a riddle for you. Homeschoolers love them. Enemies of freedom hate them. What are they? It's the Tuttle Twins books. With millions of copies sold, the Tuttle Twins series helps you teach your children about entrepreneurship, personal responsibility, the golden rule, and so much more. Get a discounted set of books with free workbooks today at TuttleTwins.com/homeschool. And now on today's show.
Janice Campbell Hi, I'm Janice Campbell. And today I'm here with Cathy Duffy to talk about the art of choosing curriculum. But first, welcome, Cathy.
Cathy Duffy Oh, Janice, it's good to be with you today.
Janice Campbell I think a lot of homeschoolers already know who you are, but for those who don't, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Cathy Duffy Well, I began homeschooling back in the dark ages of homeschooling, like in the early 80s. I have three sons, all grown up now. But we homeschooled them all the way through high school, and I got started looking for curriculum from the very beginning because we had nothing available to us. Publishers wouldn't talk to us, even the Christian publishers. Nobody would talk to us and sell to us. So it was very, very difficult to find resources. We were making things up ourselves, creating curriculum, doing whatever we could, scrounging old school books, whatever. And so I was always on a hunt for resources. I was interested in curriculum because of my background. I wasn't a teacher, but I had started a Sunday school program for a church, and in that process had really dug in to how children learn and the curriculum and curriculum process. So I had some background coming into it. Anyway, so it just kind of grew from there very organically with the homeschool movement. As there became more and more resources, I was writing more and more reviews and gradually put them into books and then in the 90s onto the internet. And so a long, long history of reviewing curriculum.
Janice Campbell Oh, well, anybody that ever asks me about curriculum, I always say, "Have you seen Cathy Duffy's reviews?" In fact, I have in front of me a couple of books. Recognize these?
Cathy Duffy Yeah. We had grown. It started out with one skinny little book, and it grew and grew with each— every couple of years, I was doing a new edition because I wanted to put everything in the books because we didn't have the internet. So they grew to— I had a Christian Home Educator's Curriculum Manual for the elementary grades and then a separate one for junior and senior high. And each one was, I don't know, an inch thick. They were fat books, and I was running out of space. And I could see people glaze over when they opened them up because it was just too much information. So when the Internet came along, it was like a godsend because I could start putting the reviews up there, and that's when I switched over to doing my series, The Top Picks. I started with 100 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum back in the 90s. We've done 101, 102, and now the new book, 103 Top Picks. But I did it differently. I took the beginning of the book to walk people through how to choose curriculum, because I could see people were always just wanting to jump to the reviews. Wait, wait, wait, that's not your starting place. You've got to figure out what you're looking for before you start looking, because now there's way too much out there. And if you don't know what you're looking for, you will be so overwhelmed. It's just crazy. So that's the goal. You know, the first part of the book, I do that. And then I have the reviews of my top picks and I have charts to help you—kind of at a glance—see what's likely to work for your situation if you've read through those first five chapters.
Janice Campbell Well, let's talk about some of the things that you have in there and just how to choose curriculum. There's an art to choosing curriculum. And it doesn't start with, as you said, delving into just the reviews because you need to know a few other things first. And one of the things that I picked up—and I don't think I first encountered it in your books, but it might have been in your books—was the idea of learning preferences, learning styles, or modality.
Cathy Duffy Learning styles. Yeah.
Janice Campbell How do I learn and how does my child learn? Because I noticed I was pretty aware of how I learned. If I'm anything, I'm competent Carl. Independent. Want to kind of do it myself, and get impatient with waiting for everybody else to catch up, and those group things? Oh my word, don't give me a group project. But I immediately discovered my children were not that same thing necessarily. So, talk to us a little bit about those learning preferences.
Cathy Duffy Well, I had a rude awakening. When we started homeschooling, my oldest son, just a few weeks into teaching, I had gotten some workbooks. We were kind of doing a workbook school at home type thing. And I could see right away that was not working with him. And so we started making games and hands-on resources for math particularly, just really having to get out of the box there to do things that were effective for him. And so I was aware of this, again, from my background that such a thing existed that you addressed learning styles. So I ended up using a system of four learning styles in my book. Any system is a simplification, oversimplification, because people just don't fit into these neat little categories. We're messy; we overlap. But it does help you to get a sense of what learning style works best when you've got a subject where your child is struggling and you look at different methods that best suit their learning style and use them when they're struggling. You don't have to redo everything in terms of learning styles, but if you're teaching the first time around in a way that they can learn easily, they can grasp— math is probably the easiest example to use because so many of our children learn well with hands-on resources. And if you teach them with hands-on resources and they can see it, visualize it, move it with their hands, it gets into their brain in a way where just reading about it abstractly on the paper doesn't. Now the paper might work great for some other learners. A lot of competent Carls. Just give me— don't mess with the manipulatives. Don't waste my time.
Janice Campbell My boys always used to say about science experiments, "That's okay. We don't have to do that. We believe the book."
Cathy Duffy Where other kids would want to do the experiments and forget the book.
Janice Campbell Right.
Cathy Duffy So you have to figure this out. And this maybe sounds overwhelming to those who are newer to homeschooling because you don't always know how your children learn best, and that first year of homeschooling can often be a learning experience for both you and your children as you're watching and learning along with them and figuring out what works best for them and for you. And you need to give yourself lots of grace there to figure this out and maybe adapt. If you've got something and it's not working very well, try adapting, adding something else, doing something a little differently, doing—maybe you've got a book with lots of texts and questions—doing them orally. Just change it up a little bit and see if that doesn't work better.
Janice Campbell Oh, we have changed up so much because I had four wiggly little boys. Because they're little boys, they are wiggly, whether they're the Wiggly Willy types or not.
Cathy Duffy Yeah.
Janice Campbell But for parents who are struggling to figure out which of those learning types are most like their child—if you have to try to figure it out; some of them are just evident from the very beginning—I have the sofa test. Sitting on the sofa and you're reading a book to your children. You've got the one who has to see it, has to be close to you, has to watch the words going by and all of that. That gives you a hint as to their proclivities. And then you have the one who can remember the entire book sitting at the other end of the sofa listening only, and then the one who's wallowing around on the floor with his feet in the air.
Cathy Duffy Yeah, yeah.
Janice Campbell So you've got different things like that.
Cathy Duffy What you're touching on are learning modalities. The person who learns best visually, auditorially, or kinestheticly—movement. And the learning styles is a little bit different. It includes some of that, but goes kind of beyond it. Still kind of simple but, you know— so I use Wiggly Willy is for that kinesthetic, hands-on— you know, the wiggly learner who is going to fall off the couch if you expect him to be there very long. Perfect Paula, the one who will sit and listen and do everything correctly because it's supposed to be done. Competent Carl, as you said, the one who wants to be in control, do it myself. And Sociable sue is the one who's more socially driven. What are her friends doing? What does she feel like doing? Not working alone. She wants to be doing the group project, not like the Competent Carl who'd rather do it by himself. So that's a very simple explanation.
Janice Campbell Yeah, I like those. I like those four learning styles. It just really makes a lot of sense and helps you pick the things the ways that you're going to homeschool, because there's many different ways of homeschooling. Well, not many, but there's a handful of different ways of homeschooling. And just figuring out where your family fits and where the curriculum you're looking at fits, you want to get a good match. And I noticed you have some wonderful charts in your books and stuff, but talk to us a little bit about the types of homeschooling there are.
Cathy Duffy Right. And maybe before that— because I start out in my book addressing goal setting. And I think setting your own goals even comes before looking at the different approaches to education, because we're so used to being told what to do, that school mentality of, well, here's what everybody else is doing, here's what the standards tell you to do, or here's what somebody looking over your shoulder expects you to do. And homeschooling parents really need to—as much as they've got the freedom—set goals that are right for their family and for their children. So if you've got a child who is struggling to learn how to read and maybe they're in second or third grade, maybe you need to be doing vision exercises, eye exercises. They're not tracking well or something. Maybe you need to be taking time out of your schooling to work on that rather than just keep pushing them through curriculum. Maybe you've got a child who has terrible study habits and you need to really work on that this year, especially if they're getting older. They need to develop good study habits. And so that might be a higher goal than other things that year. So you need to look at these things. For me, one of our most important goals was teaching a Christian worldview. And so that was always top of the list. And we created unit studies to do that. It helped guide the way I designed my curriculum, the way we taught things, the way we discussed things. So you have to know what it is that's important. Maybe it's music. You've got a very talented child and music is going to be a very important part of your curriculum, their spent practicing, learning, whatever. But those are the goals you set at the beginning and then focus on those as you're choosing curriculum. And then also when it comes to am I doing enough? You're evaluating part way through the end of the year. You look at your goals. Are we meeting the goals that I set at the beginning of the year? Rather than have I completed the textbook? I think parents forget—homeschooling parents forget—how many books, how few books you completed when you were in school. And yet then they try to get all the way through every book with their child. That's just not real. You just don't let that curriculum control what you're doing.
Janice Campbell That's one of the lessons I had to learn, too, starting off was— for example, with math I was having my— we did Saxon for a few years and some other things, but— everybody does a few years of Saxon, I think. But I was having them do the whole 30 problems.
Cathy Duffy Well it says in the beginning of the book don't skip a problem.
Janice Campbell Right. Well, it dawned on me because I had some pretty gifted little boys, a couple of them, and it dawned on me that why are we taking so long to do 30 if we could do like all the even problems, and if they get them all right, that'll help them work carefully? And they don't have to do the rest. If they get them wrong, obviously, they need some more. And boy, it helped the work habits so much, but it also just gave them a way of feeling that they had some control over their school and could pace themselves and move at a pace that was more suitable for them.
Cathy Duffy Yeah, exactly. That's the sort of thing that we parents need to give ourselves permission to do. You come up with something that works, and yes, you can always go back and do more if you need to. But your children have an incentive if oh, well, if I get these right, I do less work. Wow. That's a good incentive.
Janice Campbell Yeah. Because you do want to foster that careful approach to working as opposed to just slopping through too much stuff. And plus, you also don't want to take up their whole life sitting at a desk. Half the point of homeschooling is that they have some time to interact with nature and become the little humans they're supposed to be.
Cathy Duffy Yeah. And I think time for developing hobbies, learning how to amuse themselves without electronic devices. Just so few of our children nowadays have hobbies because we take them to classes, we enroll them in things, they have things pushed at them, and they're performing, people are watching all the time. And I really think it's important to give kids time on their own without testing, evaluation, audience. If they want to show you what they've done, great. But to just experiment and try things, figure out what they're interested in, what they're not, that's so useful.
Janice Campbell It's such a freedom to have that solitude or private time in order to develop those things that you love. You never know yourself, I don't think, unless you do have some solitude, some downtime where nobody's directing and nobody's observing. Observing, oh my gosh. We have introverts a lot of times, at least I'm an introvert and we have a whole family of them, and they don't like being observed a lot of times if they're trying something new or whatever. And so you kinda learn your own kids and figure out— of course, you develop a tolerance for these things.
Cathy Duffy Yeah, well, you create other ways of holding them accountable. If they don't want to be observed, then how am I going to know you're doing what you're supposed to be doing? And talk about it. Come up with an agreement. What are you going to show me or demonstrate? And that's fine. Then you go off and do it on your own. But you know, we know you're going to turn this particular thing in or whatever. You figure out what will motivate them and be effective.
Janice Campbell It's freeing for you and freeing for them because when you are teaching more than one child, there's a certain art in spreading your time around between them. But I think a lot of people overestimate the amount of time it is actually going to take or it actually has to take because they do a lot of work independently eventually.
Cathy Duffy And that should be a goal, too. You know, schools don't seem to be quite as focused on that, but that should be a goal. I see it happen very commonly in homeschools. The children become independent learners much sooner and they just are able to do that. And I think that's one of the reasons why colleges often are recruiting homeschooled students, because they know they come in already knowing how to work independently, to be responsible for what they're doing and just to act like a grown-up in a college situation.
Janice Campbell Makes such a difference.
Cathy Duffy Yeah.
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Janice Campbell For our family, we kind of did a blended approach. I think a lot of families end up doing some sort of blend between styles, but we did kind of a blend between Charlotte Mason and classical education, and there were grades when we were heavier in one direction than the other, but talk about that a little bit.
Cathy Duffy Yeah, well, I think it sounds like a foreign language when people come in to homeschooling and people talk about, well, Charlotte Mason. Charlotte Mason? What on earth does that mean? Or even unit studies. The idea of a unit study, that's foreign. Classical education. What does that mean? You know, unschooling. These terms that we throw around that are so unfamiliar, but they are different ways of approaching education that are different than your typical classroom. We use the term traditional education. It applies to something that looks more like school. But like you said, a lot of families are very eclectic. They put it together over time using what works best for their situation. Often I think one of the more popular is to blend Charlotte Mason and classical education together. But people are doing lots of different things and it doesn't matter what other people are doing if something else works for you. I know there was an article in Practical Homeschooling Magazine a few months back that I just read more recently. I'm always late keeping up with getting through magazines. But this gal wrote in about their homeschooling and they had, I think, two of their own children, and they had been homeschooling with a Charlotte Mason approach where you're using real books, historical novels and fiction, and you're talking about things and it's a more informal type of education. And then they adopted children who were a little older and came from rough backgrounds, and those kids needed the tight structure of a much more traditional type curriculum. They were lost doing a Charlotte Mason type approach, and for them, they had to have something with a much tighter structure. And it was a good reminder for me that if I'm not crazy about traditional curriculum, it's still going to be the right choice for people in some situations, and sometimes it's the right choice for just one or two subjects. But you choose what works right? And no excuses to anybody else. Doesn't matter.
Janice Campbell Right. Isn't that the most wonderful thing? We use textbooks for math most of the time because math is not one of my strong suits and I wanted to go through in an orderly fashion. And I know just the adaptability of all of it was such a blessing for us.
Cathy Duffy Yeah. Okay. So I kind of jumped off on specific examples there. But yeah, the different approaches, they vary a lot. And rather than spend an hour here talking about how each approach works, that's where I've got a chart with questions in the book where you can— it's a two-page chart walking you through how you feel about different situations. Do you like to use what they call real books, living books? Or would you rather use a more traditional type curriculum? Do you want your children to work independently or not? Those kinds of questions, answering those and then at the end, you can kind of see how you're weighted in your preference for the different approaches. And again, then you can go to the charts in the book and see which of my top picks then best reflect the different approaches. So it helps you a lot. And there's a feature on my website— this is important: it's free. If you've read through those first five chapters in the book, and you've got a good idea of what you're looking for, the advanced search tool on my website lets you go in and filter for a lot of different factors, including learning styles and approaches to education so that you can limit the world. Because I've got, I don't know, a few thousand reviews, at least, on the website. So it'll then pick out, you know, you want fourth grade United States history and you want a Charlotte Mason or classical approach, and you can choose your religious preference or whatever. So that will help you, too, if you want to sort through the whole wide world of curriculum out there.
Janice Campbell That is a tremendous help. I've used it myself—your advanced search tool—when I was looking for a particular curriculum I remembered but couldn't remember the name of, wanted to recommend to someone else. Okay. So once a family has gone through and thought about their philosophy of education, their goals, the types of learning that, you know, their children have, the types of learning styles their children have and things like that. They've picked everything. They've started schooling. Do they need to keep up with public schools or the schools in their neighborhood or the schools in their state? Whatever. Does it matter if kids stay on grade?
Cathy Duffy Well, sometimes it depends what state you live in, how much accountability. Some people are enrolled in public school programs, charter schools, virtual schools, where they are answerable to their public school. And you lose a lot of freedom when you do that. So the more freedom you can have in your homeschooling, the better. So I encourage homeschoolers to work independently, work under programs that give them the freedom to do what's best for their family as much as possible. Because our children are not created in factories. They're not all the same. They learn different things at different rates. We know some children are ready to learn to read when they're four or five years old, and others need to wait a couple of years before they really can learn. And we see this across the board with all different kinds of things. My oldest son, we finished Saxon Algebra seven six—kind of a pre-pre-algebra—and at that time, they didn't have the eight seven, and so we moved into Algebra one, and he just took a nosedive, and I just had to back off entirely. In fact, we went over to Key to Geometry, workbooks with geometry that was just perfect for him. Just fit his learning style and was a whole break from the failure of algebra. We came back to it a year or so later, and he did much better. We used a different resource. We didn't keep with Saxon. Something that fit him better. But being able to do that is really important. You just don't know what's going to happen, when you're going to hit those road bumps where your child seems to stall out on a subject for whatever reason. It just happens from time to time.
Janice Campbell It even happens in traditional schools. I remember being in— just getting started in pre-algebra in school, and there was just a period of time when I was completely at sea. And then all of a sudden, it all clicked. But I was at sea for way longer than I'd ever been confused or disturbed about anything. And it was so disorienting. And so for a homeschooled student to be able to do a sideways jump into something like geometry or whatever, that would have been such a help to me because, coming back then, I would have had another ground. And I like that. And one of the— I've written about that a lot or I've thought about that a lot. The whole idea of staying on grade. And a book that I read when I was young was Understood Betsy. And I don't know if you've read it. It's a story about a young girl who's sent to the country to be with her other relatives. And when she goes into school, the teacher just kind of sees where she's at and she's way ahead in one subject, a little bit behind in another. And she was so confused, she was so disoriented by the fact that she didn't have to be. But she was also happy about it because then she could help with the subjects that she was ahead in. And that was one thing that we had in our homeschool was our ones who were very good in a subject would pair with one of the little boys and help with that. And that was helpful. And it was a relationship, too.
Cathy Duffy Yeah, and it's good for our children to see that they have different strengths and weaknesses. You don't have to be good at everything. It's fine if if you're not good at math or if you're not good at— I don't know, whatever. Anyways, we see those differences and it doesn't have to be something where, "Well, you get an F and you get an A," we have to treat our children individually. So yeah, getting off that idea that you need to stick with what schools are doing is a tough one, especially for new homeschoolers. They worry so much, "Well, what if I have to put my kids back in school next year?" And I understand that, and so I'm sympathetic to the approach of, "Well, we're going to try and keep them on grade level this year just in case." So, okay, pay attention to what's happening and think about what you might be doing differently and stick it out for the second year and then give yourself more freedom. That's just— it's so critical. And then the other part of that, too, is just efficiency in homeschooling. So many homeschooling families have more than one child and you want to try and teach some of your children together as much as possible just to not lose your mind trying to do everything separately. And so trying to combine for science, arts, field trips, of course, history, religion, Bible time, whatever you're doing there, try to combine as much as you can. So that might mean that you're doing United States history with all of your children one year and world history with all your children the next year. Whatever their grade level would be doing is irrelevant because you're trying to keep everybody together. We have lots of resources that are created to give you ways to differentiate the assignments for the different levels—for the younger kids, for the older kids—so that they can be studying the same courses at the same time. But that's one way to to just make your homeschooling so much more efficient. Save time. Mom, you know, save your sanity.
Janice Campbell And it's more fun to do it together because the big ones contribute and the little ones have other questions. And it's more like a one room schoolhouse experience in a sense where everybody's engaged in the same topic. And a lot of times what would happen in our home—and I don't know about yours, but you had boys too—we'd finish our lesson, especially history or something from literature, finish the lesson, and they'd head out the door and they'd be talk, talk, talk, talking about whatever we just read. And they were going to go and reenact the Battle of Gettysburg, or they were going to go and reenact Hector's Trail or whatever. Such fun things.
Cathy Duffy Yeah. It becomes the culture of the family that you're talking about these things. You have this in common.
Janice Campbell Oh, yeah.
Cathy Duffy And as they get older— we use the newspaper a lot, newspaper articles, current events, just reading about what's going on and talking about it and everybody's on the same page. That was, I think, one of the most important facets of our homeschooling. That's why we really got into critical thinking, analysis, worldview. Here's what's happening. How does it relate? What do we think about that? And everybody can speak up, give your opinion. Very interesting.
Janice Campbell And it helps them to develop those critical thinking skills about what is going on in the world right now because if you pull up a newspaper now— and I'm old fashioned. I still prefer a paper newspaper because it's not assaulting me with all sorts of things popping up and feeding me just what I want to read. I'm kind of getting a cross section of things. And so anyway, you pull up something out of the newspaper and your children will surprise you sometimes with the depth of their insights, but then they'll also surprise you sometimes with how far off the mark they can be. Just being able to talk around the dinner table or whatever is super helpful.
Cathy Duffy Yeah. And it's interesting because if you've given your children freedom to explore subjects on their own, and then they start coming out with things, where did you learn that? Because they know things, and oftentimes they— well, they do reach a point where they know more than you about certain subjects. And that is when it gets really fun when they start teaching you something they've learned. So yeah, you've got to give them freedom and encourage the conversation. Not plugging into those school books and just sticking with that.
Janice Campbell Oh, children are people too. And that, to me, was one of the main reasons we homeschooled was I saw my little boys and they were people and they were not cogs in a machine, they were not widgets for an assembly line. And I just couldn't bear to send them off and put them through that.
Cathy Duffy Yeah. And back when we were homeschooling, Dr. Raymond Moore hade encouraged homeschooling back in the eighties and he had said, "Well of course you'll put them back into school for high school." But we hit high school and I thought, "We're having so much fun. They are such a delight to be around. Why on earth would I put them back in school now?" So it was just a no brainer. No, we're going to keep doing this.
Janice Campbell Yeah, we did. And we did some early college and things like that. But it just— back when we were coming up, well, my first book was Transcripts Made Easy because there was nothing about doing high school at the time. And people kept asking me about it and I was like, "Wait, I'm not an expert yet." So I learned.
Cathy Duffy Yeah, but we had to because you do have to start paying attention. When you hit the high school years, you have to pay attention in a different way to credits and making sure you're doing things that qualify for assigning a credit because that's going to go to college and it has to be credible. You can't just make this up out of thin air. It has to be credible.
Janice Campbell Yeah. Don't put it on your Donald Duck stationery.
Cathy Duffy But you can do it. There are creative ways of teaching, though, and providing credits. And I'll give one good example of what we did for high school science. You're supposed to do a life science lab— chemistry and physical science. But for the life science, my oldest son was interested in plants and not so much in all the rest of biology. And so we created a study on botany. Instead of doing all of biology, we focused in on botany. And there was a Boy Scout merit badge for botany that was quite challenging. And Boy Scout merit badges do a nice mix of field work, hands on stuff and book learning. And then we used the first one third of the Abeka textbook the son bought me and created our own study there. And then we had a field counselor—Boy Scout merit badge counselor—who knew botany who went out on field trips with us. And we just had a great time. They made collections. We did dissections of plants and flowers, made collections, did all— you know. So there was field and lab work to go with it. So it really did qualify as a college prep course. And we're so used to thinking in terms of biology and chemistry, but the requirement is life science and physical science lab courses. So looking at these things and coming up with ways that suit your children, and you do it.
Janice Campbell Personalization, that's the best part of homeschooling, I think. Well, there's lots of best parts. Lots of parts I like, anyway.
Cathy Duffy Yeah, one of the best parts is when you get through and your kids, you have relationships with them that you wouldn't have probably had otherwise. You just have much closer relationships because you spend a lot of time. You really know each other.
Janice Campbell Yes. And I really like my boys. I just like them as people. And it's just so nice.
Cathy Duffy Yes. Yeah. I really enjoy being around them. They're just great people.
Janice Campbell And of course, then they have nice children, too. And we get to have grandchildren. This is a plus. So your latest book, we mentioned that briefly, The Top Pick. Top Picks is 103 now. Anything else you'd like to tell us about that book? Where can people find that?
Cathy Duffy I've done it only as a PDF this time. This is the first time I've just really— because the book is loaded with links and it just doesn't make— you can take and print it out yourself, but it just makes sense as a PDF. So yes, it's available on my website. We're looking at having it carried by a few distributors, but it's new. We're just working that out. But for right now, you just go to my website and you can order it there. And then don't forget you've got the advanced search tool there that's available for free. All the other reviews are available for free and you can keep your own list on my site. We don't track any of that. You can create a list and we're not looking at any of that or using any of that information. But you can keep track. If you find things that are interesting, just put it up there and hang on to it for future reference.
Janice Campbell That's nice. You know, and I was looking at the PDF of the new book, and I think if I were a new homeschooling parent, I'd probably print out the first sections that are more like how-to's and the philosophical before the reviews because the reviews are where the links and things mostly are and just have those for reference because, especially if you're just beginning, having something like that to refer to is super valuable. That's why I've kept your books hanging around.
Cathy Duffy Yeah.
Janice Campbell Well past homeschooling...
Cathy Duffy And there are pages where I've got lines for you to write your own notes in those early chapters too. And then the questionnaire where you really do need to print that out.
Janice Campbell But yeah. And things like that are— and it's just kind of a super handy thing just to keep on your shelf. So what a great resource though. So as a last question, as we're winding up here, do you have a favorite book that you would just recommend to others? It doesn't have to be about homeschooling or a book that particularly influenced you, maybe.
Cathy Duffy I think there are too many books to narrow it down to one. So, so many. I don't think I'd even begin to go there. I think reading the right book at the right time— some of those most influential books you had on your shelf for a couple of years and then didn't get into it when you first got it, just didn't hit you. And then a couple of years later, it struck you as, wow, this is just changing my life. I'm thinking about things in an entirely different way. But maybe for homeschoolers, it's worth reading one to shake up your preconceptions about education. And I would say any of John Taylor Gatto's books will do that for you. Weapons of Mass Instruction was the last one, I think, he wrote. It's just good to know the history of education and how it got to be the messed up that it is. And it helps you free yourself from the constraints of school, knowing what's behind the scenes.
Janice Campbell It does. Dumbing us down was the first one of his that I read. And it was absolutely profound. I've recommended that for years. I think for someone who's just considering homeschooling and just wondering, have schools changed from what they remember? Oh, boy. Have they ever.
Cathy Duffy Yeah. But even understanding back to why we even have government running schools. That is really important to know and makes you really step back from the whole thing and say, "Why are we doing this?"
Janice Campbell Oh, it does. So yeah, that's a great recommendation. And I hope that listeners—if they haven't read any of his books, John Taylor Gatto—will be visiting the library because he's usually in the library, too. A lot of his most radical books perhaps.
Cathy Duffy Yeah.
Janice Campbell Is there anything else you'd like to add before we wrap this up?
Cathy Duffy No. Maybe just that parents need to trust themselves. I think I say this frequently, but parents need to trust themselves to be in control of their children's education. They know their children better than anyone else. And expecting somebody else to tell you what's going to work with your child is kind of foolish. You need to spend the time getting to know your children and then make decisions that work for them rather than for other people.
Janice Campbell Good thoughts, and I completely agree. So, okay, as always, I've loved talking with you.
Cathy Duffy It's a pleasure.
Janice Campbell I do hope that we can talk again at some point on another podcast, perhaps. Maybe your next book.
Cathy Duffy That'll be a while.
Janice Campbell Yes.
Cathy Duffy But there are lots of topics to cover.
Janice Campbell Yes. Oh, definitely. And you also have a presence—aside from CathyDuffyReviews.com—you have a presence on Facebook and elsewhere on the web and we will put those things in the show notes for you.
Cathy Duffy Thank you.
Janice Campbell Thanks so much for being here. And for our listeners, I hope you've enjoyed learning more about the art of choosing curriculum, and you can connect with Cathy, again, at CathyDuffyReviews.com and with me, Janice Campbell, at EverydayEducation.com. We both wish you joy in the journey. Thank you for listening. And goodbye for now.
Janice Campbell Thank you for joining us this week on the Homeschool Solutions Show. You can find show notes and links to all the resources mentioned at Homeschooling.mom. Don't forget to check out my friends at Medi-Share because you deserve healthcare you can trust. To learn more about Medi-Share and why over 400,000 Christians have made the switch, go to GreatHomeschoolConventions.com/MediShare. That's GreatHomeschoolConventions.com/MediShare. If you haven't already, please subscribe to the podcast and while you're there, leave us a review. Tell us what you love about the show. This will help other homeschooling parents like you get connected to our community. And finally tag us on Instagram @HomeschoolingDotMom to let us know what you thought of today's episode. Have you joined us at one of the Great Homeschool Conventions? The Great Homeschool Conventions are the homeschooling events of the year, offering outstanding speakers, hundreds of workshops covering today's top parenting and homeschooling topics, and the largest homeschool curriculum exhibit halls in the U.S. Find out more at GreatHomeschoolConventions.com. I hope to see you there. Finally you can connect with me, Janice Campbell, at EverydayEducation.com where you'll find my Excellence in Literature curriculum, Transcripts Made Easy, and more, as well as at my blog DoingWhatMatters.com and my literature resource site, Excellence-in-Literature.com. I wish you peace and joy in your homeschooling journey.