One of the number one questions I see being asked about homeschooling is “What curriculum should I use???” This is a pretty loaded question. The truth of it is, there is not a right or wrong answer. So many options are out there in the homeschool market and just like anything… some are great… some are … meh!
As a homeschool parent, you have the flexibility and freedom to put together curriculum, learning goals, etc. I know in North Carolina, there are no checklists of what your child has to accomplish in each grade. That is truly up to you as the parent. Public schools operate on standards… the standards were mandated by the state when I was teaching. I believe most schools now use the common core standards. Most homeschool curriculum do not even refer to such standards. You do not have to be bound by standards when you are homeschooling. Even in a more regulated state like Massachusets where parents have to have their curriculum, assessment plan, and intended of hours of instruction approved by their school district, there seems to be some flexibility in how those things can be accomplished.
To get started, you’ll want to ask yourself these questions:
- Do you want a curriculum that is all inclusive? Meaning… do you want a box to show up at your house with everything you need for all the subjects, including a daily schedule and checklists?
- Do you want to piece your curriculum together?
- What type of homeschooler are you? Read THIS POST to understand a little more about different homeschool philosphies and methods.
- Continuing with # 3… what type of teaching style do you have? What type of learning style do your children have? Do you prefer a more traditional teacher led environment where you are in charge and present all the intruction, etc. Are your children auditory, visual, or kinesthetic learners. Are they more independent and self motivated or do they require more attention?
- What is your budget? You can homeschool on a shoe string budget… I promise you this. So many free and inexpensive resources exist. I have spent most of my homeschool career scouring the internet for resources, bartering my skills and time with other homeschool moms for help, networking at conferences to do curriculum reviews. If you are on a strict budget, never fear… you will be ok! If you have a large budget… congrats! The homeschool curriculum world is at your fingertips!
- What’s your worldview? Are you wanting a curriculum that teaches from a Christian worldview or a Secular worldview?
When choosing curriculum, consider how much time you are wanting to go into your homeschool week. How much planning time are you budgeting? How much instruction? How much free learning? Creative play? Park time? Extra curriculuars? You want your curriculum to work for you. You’ll want to pick a curriculum that is in line with your time needs.
Structure and Freedom
Do you want to have everything laid out for you? Or do you want to have some freedom to develop your own resources? When I was a young mom, always pregnant or nursing… I wanted a boxed curriculum that told me what to do. My brain’s bandwidth was limited and I just did not have the creative energy to come up with my own learning goals or resources. We used My Father’s World for the first 3 years of our homeschooling journey. It was fantastic and affordable. My kids really enjoyed it!
Now that I am a little more seasoned and have been at this a while, I have learned my children. I have learned myself. We are a more ecclectic kind of crew. We are a more relaxed kind of crew and don’t like busy work. My children are highly invested in picking and choosing what they will be learning through the school year. One of our primary resources is Schoolhouse Teachers (dot) Com. This is a company that offers over 400 courses, written by a myriad of individuals. The courses cover preschool through highschool and include a TON of resources for parents. Read more about Schoolhouse Teachers HERE and HERE.
Schooling Multiple Ages
You will likely need to consider multiple ages and stages in your homeschool. Never fear… many curriculum are geared toward multi-age learning. There is no need to buy an individual curriculum for each child. Many people will teach the same social studies, science, history, etc. to all of their children while providing age/ level appropriate material for math and language arts.
You teach the same information, but allowing for various ages. Here is an example of how this has worked in our homeschool. One year, we chose to use the Christian Hero Then and Now books from YWAM as our spine… the thing from which everything else was built on. When we read the book about David Bussau, an entrepreneur from Australia who used his skills to teach business to people in South East Asia, I was able to create activities for my children at their level (at the time, they were 9, 7, 5, and 3). When we created a map of Australia, all four children had their own paper, but I expected more from the nine year old than from the three year old. I wanted the nine year old’s map to have landmarks and cities while I was fine with the three year old just coloring. We did family projects like Aboriginal style painting and writing a letter to Mr. Bussau. We did individual projects like creating a tourist brochure, doing a report on Australian animals, and more. Are you tracking with me?
Your youngest child will absorb more than you realize when you include them in the family work.
Strengths and Weaknesses
When choosing a curriculum, consider your own strengths and weaknesses. I don’t know anyone who is strong in all the subjects, all the time. I am strong in Language Arts and Arts, in general. Math and Science are not subjects where I thrive. I didn’t do well with them as a student and am struggling to provide solid and consistent instruction for my own kids in those areas now.
Because I struggle with math, I know that I need a solid math curriculum. I know that I cannot provide what my children need in that area without help. We have used Math U See the whole way through. My oldest started struggling when he hit Algebra and I will be getting him a private tutor in the fall.
I would encourage you to look into your local homeschool community. Are there groups that offer classes? Do you have friends who could join you in co-teaching? Maybe you offer to teach math and they offer to teach history?
It is also important to know your child’s strengths and weaknesses when choosing a curriculum. How do they learn well? If you have a very wiggly child, choosing an online program that requires sitting for long periods of time may not be the best option. If you have an easily distracted child, choosing a curriculum with a lot of frills and extra pictures, etc. may not provide the best environment to concentrate. If you have a self-motivated child, a curriculum with boxes to check and clear lessons may be best.
I don’t know many homeschool moms who experience true love with the first curriculum they choose. You are not married to it and you don’t have to keep using it if it turns out not to be the match made in heaven you had hoped for. You can research all day long, look at curriculum pieces, borrow from a friend, read reviews, etc. .. but until you actually start using something with your children, you won’t really know if it is the right fit.
If you are worried about wasting all that money you just spent when you realize the curriculum doesn’t work, take to ebay or local buy/ sell/ trade groups. Someone will more than likely gladly take it off your hands!!!
Also… don’t abandon ship right away if you find the curriculum you chose isn’t working. There is something to be said about stick to it-ness. You could try using it less often, modifying your pace, supplementing with other things.
As will all things homeschooling, I would encourage you to do your due diligence. You do not have to blindly choose a curriculum. You can find reviews galore on the interwebs!
I am part of the Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Review Crew. I regularly receive products to review in our homeschool. The crew that reviews the products is comprised of real life homeschoolers… a variety of styles, philosophies, and methods.
Cathy Duffy is a HUGE NAME in the Homeschool World! You can learn about all things homeschool through her reviews!
If you have an opportunity to go to a curriculum sale or a homeschool conference, you can get a hands on look at what you might be interested in.
Here is a list to get you started of some solid curriculum that either myself or my friends have found.
Veritas Press– Classical Education from a Christian Worldview
Classical Conversations– A Classical Co-Op that is active nationwide
The Good and The Beautiful: Literature heavy. The Language Arts for levels 1-5 are available for FREE DOWNLOAD.
Ambleside Online: Free, but you have to buy the books.
Simply Charlotte Mason: Utilizes nature, composer, and art study. Heavy on “living” books.
School At Home (More Traditional/ Conventional in approach)
Abeka: Christian worldview, guided lessons, textbooks
Sonlight: Christian worldview, all subject packages, guided lessons
Bookshark: Secular worldview, all subject packaged, guided lessons
Homeschool In the Woods: History units- hands on learning
Homeschool Legacy: Once a Week Unit Studies covering a variety of topics
UnitStudy.com: Downloadable content for a variety of subjects
Easy Peasy: Online, complete FREE Christian curriculum. Preschool- Highschool. Great for self-motivated, box checking kids.
Power Homeschool: “Power Homeschool is a program intended to aid parents in homeschooling their student. Parents may choose up to 7 courses at a time from numerous courses (grades PreK-12). Students are able to learn at their own pace under the supervision and assistance of their parent.”
Time for Learning: online, secular homeschool for preK-12th grade. Easy grading, student focused, and flexible with tools for parents.
Want to know a secret???
Some families don’t use curriculum at all! Say what?!?! It’s true. Some people piece together their learning materials based on interests and learning styles.
For us, it is a year by year process. I evaluate what my children need and try to buy or find resources that will best help them. Some year that looks like buying curriculum pieces and sometimes it looks like unit studies and field trips.
I keep open conversation with my children to help determine what their goals are. We build our year to meet both their interests and my goals for them.
Some companies and resources that I personally enjoy are:
SchoolhouseTeachers.Com : We can pick and choose courses from the large menu of options. The classes are self-paced.
Institute for Excellence in Writing: I was very, very hesitant to incorporate this into our homeschool life, but I heard the founder of the company speak at a conference last year and was so impressed with his philosophy of education. My son used the Student Writing Intensive Level C this year and really enjoyed it. CLICK HERE for THREE FREE WEEKS of Instruction from IEW.
Teachers Pay Teachers: This is a market place filled with resources made by teachers. Pro tip- every Teachers Pay Teachers store has to offer something for FREE!!! Check out MY STORE with tons of No-Prep Printables!
Beyond the Stick Figure: This is a complete drawing, painting, 3D art course for the whole family!
Reading Eggs: This online program has been great for my elementary and middle school kids. It is a wonderful supplement to any reading and math program. CLICK HERE for a 4 Week FREE TRIAL.
Other topics I’ll be covering in this “Getting Started Homeschooling Series” are: