S9 E4 | 5 Keys to Choosing Curriculum (Jeannie Fulbright)
As we head into the curriculum-choosing season, Jeannie shares five essential elements to consider when deciding on the books and materials you will use with your children next year. In this episode, Jeannie encourages you to contemplate God's purpose for your children and to how to align your curriculum choices to His ultimate will for your family. She also discusses how to assess whether a curriculum will encourage joy, excitement, curiosity, and love for learning in your children. Jeannie will conclude by infusing you with the faith to believe that God already knows which curriculum you should use for each of your children and that you can trust in Him to guide you.
Jeannie Fulbright, a 24-year veteran homeschooler, is the author of the #1 best-selling, multi award-winning Apologia Young Explorer science series: Exploring Creation with Astronomy, Chemistry and Physics, Botany, Zoology, and Anatomy & Physiology. She is also the author of the action-packed historical time travel book series Rumble Tumbles Through Time, as well as preschool science books and activity kits, the Charlotte Mason Heirloom Planner, and many high-quality Charlotte Mason based products. Jeannie and her husband Jeff became empty nesters in 2019. All four of their children all went to the University of Georgia on scholarship (homeschooling works!). For more than 20 years Jeannie has traveled around the country speaking to homeschoolers at conventions, covering a plethora of topics from Charlotte Mason to marriage and prayer.
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Jeannie Fulbright Welcome to the Charlotte Mason Show, a podcast that is all things Charlotte Mason and her tried and true philosophy of education designed to help you homeschool with more confidence, joy and success. It is our hope that you'll find golden nuggets that will transform the way you think and the way you homeschool. I'm your host, author of the bestselling Charlotte Mason science curriculum, Jeannie Fulbright, and I am so glad you joined me today.
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Hey, welcome back to the Charlotte Mason show. I'm so glad you're here. We are going to be talking about a very important topic, and that is choosing curriculum. Because we are all about to reach that next part of the year where we start thinking about what we're going to be using for our children's curriculum next year. And after over 20 years of both choosing and writing curriculum, I have some really important keys that I want you to keep in mind when you are making your curriculum decisions. So there are five keys that I'm going to share with you today that I really hope will help you, give you guidance, and more confidence when choosing curriculum. But before we get into those five keys for choosing curriculum, I want to encourage you to go to my website, jeanniefulbright.com, and sign up for my newsletter. Because I have so many amazing things coming out this spring and summer that I know you will want to get your hands on as a Charlotte Mason homeschooler, because they are really fun. I've got some great beta testers, and also, if you are a member of my newsletter, then when I have new products coming out that I'm ready to beta test, I give out those opportunities through my newsletter. There's also an opportunity for you to get to try out curriculum that I'm creating.
So the first key that I want to discuss with you is what I would consider the most important, the most important factor that you should consider when choosing curriculum for your children. And before I tell you what it is, I just want to ask you, why do you think God called you to homeschool your children? What do you think his purposes are in that? And what do you think his purposes for your children are? I have to say, it's pretty obvious to all of us that we are living in a culture right now that is truly oppositional to godliness, to goodness, to holiness, to righteousness. We are living in a culture that is oppositional to God. Isaiah 5:20 talks about this culture we're living in says, "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who turn darkness to light and light to darkness, who replace bitter with sweet and sweet with bitter." Proverbs 17:15 says, "They have quit the guilty and condemn the righteous. Both are detestable to the Lord." And that's the culture we're living in now, where it's really—you are considered bad if you believe in good. I would say the first key in choosing curriculum is to choose curriculum that glorifies God. I believe more than ever today, in this time period in the world we are living in biblical times, we are living in times that are talked about in the Bible. And during this time period, God has called us out of the world to give our children a foundation in Christ, to strengthen them. And every opportunity that we have to strengthen them during the school day, we should use. And we should be choosing curriculum that helps us to strengthen our children's faith. Because if we're not strengthening our children's faith, we're essentially weakening it. There is no neutral in today's world, Charlotte Mason says, "All of us who have to do with children should be able to give a reason for the hope that is in us, and such a reason as will satisfy the keen and critical young mind." We should be using science curriculum that teaches creation, that gives evidence for creation. We should be using history curriculum that gives glory to God. That helps children see how God's hand works in history, how the rising and falling of nations all depend on their attitude towards God. Charlotte Mason says, "A young person fortified with this kind of teaching, having such arguments by heart, will not be carried away by every wind of doctrine," she says, "The shame of having nothing to say for the faith they profess is the real cause of the falling away of many an ardent young soul, the shame of having nothing to say for their faith, the faith that they profess is the real cause of the falling away of many an ardent young soul." Charlotte Mason says, "We absolutely must face the questions that are in the air, however, much we elders choose to shut our eyes and say we see no danger, it is certain that no young person of education and intelligence will long escape the necessity of having to contend for or deny the faith. Surely education should make some provision for this necessity."
Even Charlotte Mason, in the early 1900s, knew the importance of giving children such a strong foundation in their faith that they could give a reason for the hope that was with them. Help them to be able to contend with others with truth. Having a foundation in truth. If you're using neutral science curriculum or a history that doesn't acknowledge God, your children are not learning to contend for their faith. They're not given the answer for the faith they profess. The reasons for the faith they profess, and we can do that. We have an opportunity. There's so much great curriculum out there, but we need to be choosing curriculum that truly does ground our children in the Word of God. In the truth of the Bible. In their faith. God is the author of science. He's the author of history, geography, he's even the author of math. We should be giving glory to God every time we understand math and pointing our children to the Lord when they need to understand math or anything in their education, they should be continually looking upward in their hearts to God, who is the supreme educator of our children. They should know that everything they learn, everything they grasp, comes from Him and is through Him and for Him, for all things were created through Him and for Him. Everything we do with our children is for Him. God must be a central, daily, hourly focus in our homeschool. We can't be lukewarm. The best and the easiest way to do that is if you're choosing curriculum that helps you move your children to greater faith. Because there is too much out there. There is too much media that they are going to be exposed to. They're going to be consuming on a regular basis that is vying for their hearts. That's attempting to neutralize faith in the Word of God. Is attempting to make them believe that which is not okay in God's economy. That's totally fine. If we fail to regularly give our children a biblical foundation, a biblical worldview, someone else will give them the prince of this world's worldview. Which is what everybody is being exposed to, and everybody is being compromised if they are not actively working to stand firm in the Word of God.
And I believe there has never, never been more urgency to give our children a strong foundation in their faith, because in their lifetime, I believe, they are going to have to make hard choices. I believe we are living in end times. And I don't know if the end times will happen in our lifetime, but I would be very much surprised if it didn't happen in our children's lifetime, or in our grandchildren's lifetime. And it is up to us to give them the tools to stand strong. There are so many biblical prophecies that never before in history, until now are—they so evidently have come true. They're talking about in Daniel 12—It talks about the rapid increase of knowledge. Never before have we all had access to so much knowledge. I remember in the late 90's when the internet came out, I thought that was where we were all going to be exposed to knowledge, but now we have in our pockets access to such a vast array of knowledge. Never before in history has there been such a rapid increase in knowledge. The rise of false cults, which it talks about in Matthew 25, there's over 10,000 cults in America. It talks about in Daniel 12 it says, "Many shall go to and fro." That didn't seem like people always went to and fro, but never before in history have people been able to get in a car and get in a plane and be in a totally different country so quickly. It's incredible how these things are so evident now. And the sign of the fig tree of Israel becoming a nation. The increase in number and diversity of earthquakes they talk about in Luke 21. In the 18th century, there were 640 major earthquakes, in the 19th century there were 2,119 major earthquakes, in the 20th century there were an excess of over 900,000 earthquakes. That's equivalent to one earthquake every hour. And of course, we know that because of the increase in knowledge, which is truly amazing, it's astonishing. It talks about the apostasy in the church, where in 1 Timothy says, "Now the spirit speaks expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils." We are aware of how so many churches have compromised on the message of truth, the message of Christ. Matthew 24 talks about wars and rumors of wars. America is a war machine and there are so many wars, not just in America all over the world.
Luke 17 talks about the return of the days of Noah, "As in the days of Noah so it shall be in the end times"and the things that were going on in the days of Noah. The Book of Enoch, which is not canon and is not reliable Scripture, does have some historical data about what was going on in the world during the days of Noah. And they were essentially tampering with the human genome, DNA tampering. And we know they're tampering with DNA now, so much so. And we don't even understand the depths of the DNA tampering that they're doing in science, because they're not even releasing a lot of that data, but you can access it if you look for it. And it's pretty dark. And then, of course, Luke 21 talks about great and fearful sights and great signs in the heavens. What have we noticed lately they keep talking about on the news signs in the heaven? Of course, UFO. The History Channel has had that Ancient Aliens documentary, supposed documentary, on for 18 consecutive seasons, and people are believing in this great deception. The strong delusion of these UFOs being aliens when we know that they are nothing but satanic. They are essentially Satan's tools, and they are not aliens from another planet, but that's going to be a strong delusion. People are going to believe signs in the heavens. And then, of course, in Matthew 24 it talks about the rise of pestilences, the pestilence. And honestly, if you think about it, that's not just pandemics. We are living in the sickest time in history. There's more disease than ever before. Most everyone you know is on some kind of medication, whether it's cancer, diabetes or autoimmune or dementia. There's so many things that are happening in our bodies that it is a pestilence because of the American industrial food complex, which is basically feeding us poison. And it's not just in our junk food. It's also in our regular food, in our vegetables, and our meats. It's just, I believe, it's no coincidence that there's a rise in organic and natural foods and a desire for that. And I don't believe it's a coincidence that there's a rise in homeschooling, because God is calling out a people unto himself. And our job as cooperators with God, as children of God, is to strengthen our children's faith in God. And faith in the accuracy and validity of the truth of God's Word.
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And so when we're choosing curriculum, look for curriculum that's going to be a partner with you and bringing your children to a strong faith. Because there are a lot of ideologies in this world which are opposing the Bible, which are oppositional to our children's faith. Charlotte Mason says, "There are ideas, both evil and good, both moral and intellectual, which strike us, possess us, carry us away, absorb all our powers and body and mind so that we may come to live, for better or for worse, as the instrument of a single idea. How necessary, then, that we should keep watch at the door of ideas, and that we should become adept in the use of the simple means of repelling ideas we would not willingly entertain." I believe it's a great privilege that God chose us to be born during this time period. It's amazing. We were born during a time period that's talked about 2,000 years ago, and the Bible even further back than that. God chose our families to be the ones that will endure through these challenging times. So our focus, above all things, should be our children's walk with the Lord, and it should be over and above memorizing math facts and understanding anything else in academia. All that stuff is good and important, but nothing is more important than bringing our children into a strong walk with the Lord. Because God has called us out of the world, let's not waste any opportunity. We need to choose curriculum that builds our children's faith. So that is the first key in choosing curriculum. The G—I actually have the acronym GIFT for it to help you remember all of these points.
The second key in choosing curriculum is ensuring that we're choosing curriculum that is inviting to our children, inviting meaning that they are interesting, intriguing lessons. Charlotte Mason says, "Every lesson has its own living way. We should be giving our children lessons that bring education and knowledge to life. Charlotte Mason says, "Let the lessons be of the right sort and the children will learn them with delight." We want our children to delight in learning because they've always delighted in learning since they were little kids growing up. They've always been excited about anything they've learned, whether it's a skill or understanding something. They've always loved learning. And we can keep that learning and that love for learning alive by choosing living books, by ensuring that we are using short lessons. We're using narration 90% of the time to help our children remember what they've learned, and then any assignment we give them is not busywork, but it's engaging and ignites creativity and brings them joy in creating and completing the assignment. I won't belabor the need to use interesting books and living books that breathe life into the subject. As I've already shared, I've done a whole podcast on how to choose living books or how to identify living books, and that was in season six, episode three if you want to listen to that about living books, so I won't expound on that any more. Just remember that your children will love learning if they're learning from materials that bring delight to their learning, that make it fun and interesting—short lessons.
I've talked about that before as well, and it's so important that we don't teach beyond our children's attention span. Leave them wanting more rather than keeping going with the lesson until they're tired of it. We want to shorten the lesson; stop before their attention span runs out, because then if we continue the lesson beyond their attention span, then their last memory of the lesson, that's going to be a little bit more drudgery. But if we stop the lesson, "but I want to learn more. I want to know more." Well, we're going to come back to it tomorrow or the next time. So this is helpful in getting and keeping our children excited and interested in learning short lessons. We do not want the lessons to go beyond their attention span. And again, narration. Charlotte Mason tells us, "Knowledge is not assimilated unless it's reproduced. And she talks about using narration as a way for our children to reproduce, in their own words, the things they have learned. And what this does is it causes the knowledge and the information they have gained, which when they look, when you're learning something, there's a chemical change going on in the brain. But unless there's a physical change going on in the brain, that chemical change dissipates and they don't remember what they've learned. But a physical change happens when they actually have to think it through, and then reproduce it by telling you what they've learned. And once they've explained it to you, they have actually created neural pathways. And that is a physical change in the brain. You're growing bigger brains when you use narration. So when choosing curriculum, choose curriculum that encourages narration over a lot of busywork or assignments or activities.
Now when they do have assignments, let them not be too numerous. When I give my notebooking talk, I often tell people, at the very most, they should notebook once a week for each subject, once a week. Not every day, not every time. They learn once a week for each subject, sometimes once every two weeks, with my science curriculum. When my children did it, they did their notebooking assignments after two weeks of learning. And that was—I still have hundreds, hundreds of pages of notebooking pages for my children. And we didn't notebooking all that often. We did mostly narration, and then they engaged in a creative assignments and activities such as notebooking. Just remember, if you overdo it, you'd rub the joy out of the lesson by having them do too much written work when narration is effective enough. And when they have assignments, make sure that they are creative and bring joy. Albert Einstein says, "It is the supreme power of the teacher to awaken joy and creative expression and knowledge, where children should be experiencing joy when they're engaging in an assignment or activity". And I've talked a lot about notebooking in several different seasons of this, The Charlotte Mason Show, I also have a lot on my website, on my blog. You can just do a search on my blog for notebooking and you will see I have written so much about it, and given so much advice on that. But we want to choose, when you're looking at curriculum, are there too many assignments? Are they too long? Do they bring—do they look like they'll be joyful for your children to do? Or do they look like drudgery? Are they fill in the blank worksheets? We do not want to use those. Now, if the curriculum is well-written and interesting and engaging, but they have too many busy-work type assignments, throw those out and create your own way of having your children express the learning. Ask them to narrate what they've learned. And then once a week or once every other week, have them create something from what they've learned. So that's not so much choosing curriculum, but altering your curriculum to be the most effective way of educating children and bringing joy into learning, and keeping them motivated and interested. If the lessons are too long in the curriculum that you're looking at, see if there's a way for you to break it up. Is there parts of it that you can skip? Are there chapters that you can skip? Let me tell you, you don't have to finish the curriculum, is it going to be okay for you to go to the next year without finishing this curriculum? And you know what? Usually it is. In public school and in private school, teachers usually only finish about 70% of the curriculum, and they skip around. They skip lessons, they skip chapters all the time. So we have the authority to do that as well. Do not feel like you have to use the curriculum as written. You know your family. You know your children. You know what their interests are. You know what you, in your heart, feel is important and not important. Go with your instincts on that because God is leading and guiding you. He is again the supreme educator of your family, and he's also leading and guiding you as you teach your children.
So feel the freedom to listen to the Holy Spirit, to the guidance and leadership of the Holy Spirit as you're educating your children. Do not feel like you have to check everything off in the curriculum that somebody else wrote. And when you're choosing curriculum, it's often easier to find curriculum that aligns with the Charlotte Mason model of narration, notebooking and short lessons, then it is to have to alter a whole curriculum. So consider that when you're looking through the pages of a curriculum, how easy will this be to implement in my homeschool? Is it straightforward? Is it easy to understand? Can my children do it on their own? Always look through the sample lessons. Or if you're at a conference, look through. Spend time going from page to page. If you're at a conference, do not feel bad about standing in one spot and going and reading from—don't feel bad about spending 30 minutes reading one curriculum and making a decision then and there. Well read it. Look at exactly how the lessons were laid out. See if this is going to work for you and your children. Is it engaging? Is it interesting? Can I complete a lesson in 20 minutes? Are the activities fun? Is there narration? Will my children learn this with delight? Okay, so we've got the "G" and "I" give glory to God, choose curriculum that glorifies God. I choose curriculum that's intriguing, inviting, and interesting. It's a lot of "I's" there. And the next one, the next key for choosing curriculum is "F", that is for family style learning. We want to, as much as possible, combine subjects that our family can do together. Now of course, independent learning is our goal. That's where our children are moving towards that more as they get older. But as much as possible, and for as long as possible, you want your children to do most subjects together. There's no reason for your children all to be in a separate history, or in a separate science, or doing a separate Bible. All of this stuff can be combined, our language arts curriculum, Living Verse Language Arts Through Poetry, and the new ones with scripture can be done with all of your elementary through middle school kids together. And they will all learn and absorb and write at their own level. But they will all be gradually increasing in their writing and language communication skills as they're learning together. You don't have to buy a separate language arts for all of your children.
You can choose a language arts that's geared to the oldest child, and then all the younger children can also learn alongside. Definitely your children should be doing science together. History, of course, so fun for your children to do history together and then to go out and in their play time—in that time period they've studied. I remember my children in the backyard, they were Lewis and Clark and Sacagawea as they were trekking through the backyard on their way to the Pacific Northwest. And they would act out what they've learned when they, as a family, unified family unit, are learning together. And that is the most beautiful thing that you'll see as a homeschool family is when your children all have the same knowledge together, and then you go to a science museum or somewhere where they're seeing something that they've learned about, and they all know what that is, and they all can discuss it because they've all learned about the Milky Way or insects or dinosaurs and these sorts of things they've learned together. And they can talk about it when they see it out in the world. And it just is part of education, making education a joy and a unified family activity. And again, we are moving towards independence as they get older. And I have had many people tell me that their child wanted to do a different science than the rest of the family, so they did do a different science than the rest of the family. And also, if your child has a special interest in a certain time period of history—I knew one family who had one son who was obsessed with the Titanic. He spent the entire year—his only history was Titanic. The rest of the family did their history together. But this one child he researched, he wrote, he created; he figured out so much stuff about the Titanic, he was literally an expert on it. So that's okay. When your child has these special interests, there's this divine curiosity that God leads them. Yes, you want to let them go, let them run with that.
But again, we want to, as much as possible, family integrated learning. We want the family style learning balanced with self-directed learning. So choose curriculum that isn't dumbed down for younger students, but also isn't complicated with a lot of busy work for older students. Choose curriculum that supports family style learning. And the last key that I feel is as important as the first key is the "T" to GIFT. "T"is trust in the Lord to guide you. I know that may sound trite, but truly, God called you to homeschool and he doesn't plan on just letting you figure it out on your own. He called you to homeschool because he has a purpose and a plan for your specific children, for your unique family, and he wants to lead you and guide you into the curriculum that he wants you to use. And every one of us is unique and different. What works for one person may not work for another. I know that a lot of times, I would have friends that would just go on and on and on about how wonderful a curriculum they were using was, that I would feel convinced that I should use that curriculum, too. And then when I would try to use it, it wouldn't work at all because we were so different. Our personalities were so different. And so you have to really think about that also. But trust in the Lord to lead you and guide you. I love this quote by Ian Bounce, he says, "No learning can make up for the failure to pray. No earnestness, no diligence, no study, no gifts will supply it's lack." And that is so true. Nothing we know, no matter how much we study, no matter how much we research, no how much we spend time looking it up and figuring it out and trying everything.
Though failure to pray is the worst thing we can do when choosing curriculum, because God does want us to pray and be led and guided by him, and he will lead us. He will lead us through his peace. James 1 says, "If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault." Psalm 32:8 says, "I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go. I will counsel you with my eye upon you." God wants to give us direction. He wants to be our leader and our guide, even in the small things like how we're going to use that curriculum today, but also in the big things like which curriculum to even choose. God wants to show you. He wants to give you direction. He wants to open the doors. And he will do that as you pray and you seek him. Psalm 48:4 says, "For this God is our God forever and ever. He will be our guide even to the end." And He guides us with his peace. If you feel anxious, if you feel concern, if you don't feel a peace about it, then it's probably not the time to buy that or the time to go with that particular curriculum, because Jesus promised in John 14 he says, "Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. Do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid. God is with you." He's got a plan and purpose for your children, "for I know the plans I have for you," He says, "plans to prosper you." And your children were created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand. He prepared in advance for them to walk in, and he's going to help you; to guide them in the direction that he already has planned for them to go. And so that would be my last piece of advice on choosing curriculum is truly seek the Lord. Seek his direction. Seek his leading, and trust that you hear his voice, because He tells us in His word that my sheep hear my voice, and we will hear him. He will speak to our spirits. Deep inside will just be led to look up something. Or when we talk to somebody, something will come up. There will be times when it's just a surprising way that he leads us to the right books or curriculum or manner of teaching. And I know that God is going to be faithful to give you direction as you seek out the curriculum for your children for next year. Thanks again for listening. I hope this was helpful for you. Please feel free to contact me. Mail at Genie fulbright.com. I would love to hear from you if you have any questions. I am available and ready to help you along your homeschool journey, and we'll talk to you next time.
Hey, a couple more things: Do you wish you had a Charlotte Mason mentor? Someone to keep you focused on the things that matter--the Lord, His word, and prayer, and habit-training, and living books, nature study, and, of course, the most neglected thing of all, self-care? Well, I have the perfect mentor for you: the Charlotte Mason heirloom planner. It is much more than a planner. It's a guide and a mentor and a place to chronicle your treasured moments and memories. All the things you want to remember and keep sacred and special from this homeschool journey. Check it out on my website at JeannieFulbright.com, and learn about that and so many of the other Charlotte Mason curriculum and tools that I have created to make your homeschool journey the richest and most fulfilling experience of your life. Thanks again for listening to the Charlotte Mason Show.
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Have you joined us at one of the Great Homeschool Conventions? I would love for you to come. On my website I have a special coupon code that you can use when you register. The Great Homeschool Conventions are the homeschooling events of the year with amazing speakers, hundreds of workshops to help you homeschool well, and the largest curriculum exhibit halls in the United States. People travel from all over the United States to Missouri, South Carolina, Ohio, California, and Texas to find encouragement, friendship, and curriculum. Be sure to go to my website JeannieFulbright.com for your coupon code. And when you're at the convention, please come by my booth and say "hello" because I love meeting homeschoolers in real life. It's always fun to have new homeschool friends. So thank you so much for listening and I do hope to see you at the convention. Have a blessed rest of the week.