Choosing Curriculum

After seven years of homeschooling I still don’t this curriculum thing down. I’m always asking myself, “Is this the right thing?” However, it’s the first thing new homeschoolers ask me, so I thought I’d pin down some concrete ideas to help make choosing curriculum easier.

Many homeschoolers like to use a set curriculum in a box, but I am not one of them. I like to mix and match. Unfortunately, this causes a lot of my problems. Since I’m always looking for something, I’m always wondering if I should get this history curriculum or that one? But I don’t think I could ever stay with a box curriculum and I always urge new homeschoolers to break out of that box, even just a little bit. So this article is focused more on those who enjoy some structure in their day and like to use workbooks and textbooks as well as supplement items such as videos and literature to correspond to what is learned.

So, naturally, the first step is to ask yourself the following questions:

What kind of homeschooling parent are you?
Do you desire structure? If so, a lot of structure or a little structure?
Are you a first time homeschooler?
Do you prefer to have lesson plans laid out for you?

Ask yourself these questions and Google homeschooling terms like unschooling, school at home, relaxed homeschooler, eclectic homeschooler, unit studies, classical homeschooling, literature based homeschooling and whatever other name you can think of. Read about these definitions. You will find that many people don’t stick to one definition of their homeschooling style, but by reading about these different types you will be more apt to discover what you are comfortable with as far as curriculum choices.

You also need to ask yourself What kind of learner is your child? Do they learn better if they hear something over and over? What about visualizing the subject in detail? Do they learn more by doing something, such as building a castle out of legos instead of just seeing it in a book? If your child is very young you may not know the answer to this question yet, so what are you to do? The answer to that is coming up. For others, there are some online tests to determine your child’s learning type. Just Google “learning styles” for more information.

Next, ask what are your goals for your children, for education and for life? These goals are based on the age of your child, their strengths and their weaknesses. What do you want to improve? If writing is poor, you may want to strengthen writing but not with a curriculum heavy in writing. If reading is slow and difficult, a literature based curriculum may not be right for your child.

What do you want to focus on during their studies for the upcoming year? Most parents not using a set curriculum get worried at this point. Remember, there is no such thing as a perfect curriculum. Even public schools teach different topics at different times of the year. They also change curriculum almost constantly. Usually the only subjects that build upon each other is math and English grammar. The various topics that cover science and social studies can by taught in any order during the elementary / middle school grade levels. It’s not until high school that the subjects are split into U.S. Literature, Grammar, British Literature, Physical Science, Chemistry and Biology. It doesn’t matter if your 5 year old learns about frogs before dogs or flowers before sea creatures, so relax as you begin to browse through homeschool catalogs and websites and thinking about all the possibilities.

So, now you have your goals. You know what type of learner your child is and you’ve taken into consideration your child’s strengths and weaknesses. You have an idea of a possible sequence you would like to follow. Now it’s time to look at curriculum.

There is so much out there and it’s amazing to think of all the material available. There are a lot of factors to choosing curriculum, such as religious or secular? What is the cost? Is it complete or do you need to purchase other items? How much parental time is needed for planning and teaching the material? Is the language easy or hard to understand? If your child is old enough, have your child look at the material with you if you can get some sample pages or see the curriculum at a book fair. Can they read and understand the instructions? Do they find it interesting? Do they like the format?

The biggest factor of curriculum seems to be the cost. When at all possible buy used, especially if it’s a new item you’ve never used before. If it’s a complete curriculum, see if you can buy just 1 subject to try out. If you love it, you can buy the entire set the following year. Most homeschool conferences and book fairs are around the end of the school year, usually in April or May. Have your top picks chosen before you go, or at least an idea of what you need with you before you go along with your budget. Don’t let the salespeople or frilly packaging make you spend more than intended. If you can’t find what you want used, then buy it at the cheapest new price you can find. Some online searching can dig up some great small homeschool bookstores that offer great programs at reasonable prices. If you are able to do so, keep the books clean and in good shape, then resell them to get money for the following year’s curriculum.

I also read homeschooling blogs to get ideas for William. Everyone is so creative. Sometimes I’ll read a blog where a mom explains how she helped her child understand a topic. I’ll hooray a bit to myself and let the mom know that my son was having the same problem and I’ll try her idea to see if it helps. This sharing of information is one of the best things about the Internet. If you read about a curriculum that helped one child improve a weakness, then find the website, check it out and see if it may help your child overcome the same weakness. Get involved in a homeschool group in the local area as well and find out what members are using for their children. Browse their books if possible so that you can really see what the curriculum is like before you buy.

While homeschooling is a lot of fun, remember don’t try to do too much. I loved the idea of a classical education, but that was my idea of fun, not William’s. Other stuff can be added in with time. When school time gets to be frustrating for everyone that’s when it’s time to cut some things back – whether it’s the extra activities outside the home or extra subjects that just aren’t working.

And the final thought about choosing a curriculum – everything changes. What you pick now may not be
right next year. But don’t choose curriculum out of desperation. Even if you withdraw your child in the middle of a school year in order to homeschool you don’t need to buy something quickly. You can take some time to let your child depress from school while you research and learn yourself. You never want to make a purchase in a rush.