Few things cause homeschoolers as much anxiety as choosing curriculum. I understand that. Curriculum can cost us a lot of time and money, and it can be frightening to make the wrong choice.
I created a tool to help you in The Organized Homeschool Life book and planner. The Curriculum Challenge includes a form for rating curriculum on several criteria. You can download it for free at Psychowith6.com/TOHLPlanner.
#1 Determine your learning and teaching styles
The first consideration for choosing homeschool curriculum is to determine your learning and teaching styles. When I began homeschooling, I was attracted to curricula that was reading based. I love reading to my kids and my kids enjoyed being read to. A reading-based curriculum like Sonlight made sense to me. However, I had three young boys when I began homeschooling, so when I heard about the unit study curriculum Konos that would have my kids engaging in hands-on learning, I knew I had to check it out.
I honestly did not relish the idea of all the crafts and extra work required in using the hands-on curriculum, but what I wanted more than my own happiness was kids’ love of learning. I do not regret choosing Konos, even though I was sewing and painting and cooking while pregnant and chasing toddlers. My kids loved it and when we added co-op activities in our home once a week, we had found the perfect fit. I had friends to teach and spend time with. My kids made close friends and we all had a blast.
I am not saying that every homeschooler should learn using unit studies. I know homeschoolers who prefer textbooks. I know others who prefer all-in-one online learning. And still others who prefer in person or online classes in their homeschooling. What I do encourage you to do is to be honest about what you and your kids benefit from the most. There is no point in choosing a curriculum that is a good fit for friends or gets rave reviews on Facebook if it’s not your or your children’s style.
A big part of the consideration should be whether your child learns bast through reading, listening, watching, or doing. If you have no idea, take time now use materials that are in each of these modalities. Download free samples from publishers websites or use curriculum that you can borrow or get for free. I share free samples of Grammar Galaxy here.
#2 Determine your approach to homeschooling
Once you identify preferred learning styles, you are ready for the next question: What is you were approach to homeschooling? How do you believe that children learn best? Do you believe that the traditional textbook approach will prepare your children to go back to school? Do you like having everything laid out for you so you can check off the boxes and satisfy any educational requirements you have to meet? Do you believe that technology is the way of the future, and your children would benefit from learning digitally now? Or do you believe that classically trained students are superior? Do you want your children to be challenged to learn more than what is expected in traditional schools? Do you believe that children learn best by studying subjects from many different disciplines? If your kids are also hands-on learners, a unit study approach could be perfect.
Do you believe that children learn best with a gentle approach to learning that incorporates living books and nature study? A Charlotte Mason approach may be up your alley. Do you believe children’s studies should be interest-led and practical? An unschooling approach may be right for you.
There are numerous homeschooling approaches that you may want to adopt or sample from. I am an eclectic homeschooler and I recently wrote for IHomeschool network that I think every homeschooler should consider eclectic homeschooling and choose the best of any approach they like. If there are approaches that you aren’t interested in, you can eliminate them from your search list. Remember that you aren’t making a permanent choice but a choice to start with.
#3 Consider how much time you have
The third consideration for choosing curriculum is time. If you have a long list of reading and exercises and activities that are meant to be accomplished each day and you are going to be working full-time from home this year, be realistic about what you can accomplish. It is true that you do not have to do every prescribed activity. But if you routinely skip exercises, books, and activities, you may feel behind or just overwhelmed by the expectations. Your children may feel that way, too.
As with anything, you should choose curriculum that makes you feel like you’re not doing enough. How can I say to choose curriculum that makes you feel like you’re not doing enough? Because that way it will be easy to add activities and expand on what you’re doing. It’s much harder to decide what to eliminate. My elementary language arts curriculum, Grammar Galaxy, takes just 10 to 15 minutes three or four days a week, especially in the earlier levels. Some parents, especially those new to homeschooling, or anxious about lessons that don’t take more time. The reason I created the curriculum the way I did is because children engage in language arts study throughout the school day. They are reading and writing and talking. You want your curriculum to leave your children wanting more. In fact, this is one of the ways that we can motivate our children. I love it when I hear that kids beg to do more grammar galaxy and are upset when mom wants to take a break over the summer. That means I have done my job and mom has done her job by not overloading kids to the point that they hate their study.
Even classroom teachers reserve space in class time for current events, seasonal activities, and new ideas you have for teaching. Why wouldn’t we do the same? Unlike classroom teachers, we don’t have to keep our kids busy doing seatwork all day. I encourage you not to fall into the trap of babysitting by homework. I supply Grammar Galaxy subscribers a monthly calendar of fun, short language arts activities to add to the curriculum.
Some new homeschoolers have the idea that they will be able to put a stack of books next to their students and the student will dutifully complete the day’s work without any help from them. This fantasy, and it is a fantasy, is honestly not what you want. Completely independent learning is something reserved for mature students. It is not homeschooling and lacks the best part of homeschooling, in my opinion, which is the relationship that we enjoy with our kids. If your child is coming from a school background and is new to homeschooling, he or she will be wanting that time with you. Read with your children, go over the math problems with your child, and do the activities with your kids during the time you reserved for teaching. Certainly we should be spending that time until we know our child knows what to do. If you’re doing this right, your child will eventually say “I’ve got it” and will send you on your way. Obviously, that’s dependent upon your child’s age.
Because homeschooling doesn’t take seven hours a day typically, you will want your child to find other ways to stay occupied. If you are going to be an unschooler, you will want to provide activities, materials, and freedom for your child to pursue her own interests. Your child will need time to get bored. Otherwise, your child will need guidance as to how to occupy the rest of their time during the day. Sports and music practice and a variety of games have been useful to us in this regard. You may also want to make a list of things you want your child to do before having screen time.
#4 Consider Curriculum Cost
The fourth consideration when choosing curriculum is cost. New homeschoolers are often surprised by the expense of materials that were once provided to them through their tax dollars or private tuition. Homeschool curriculum can come from the homeschooling arm of a school publisher, but it often comes from a small publisher like myself. Because we don’t produce millions of copies of our books and we don’t have a corporation to spread out expenses, our prices tend to be higher than what you’d expect for a mass-market books. But having been a longtime customer of curriculum homeschooling curriculum, I can tell you that the materials are worth every penny. Classroom teachers who have visited homeschooling exhibit halls and have been in awe of the choices available to us. They don’t have the options that you and I have. Because we’re speaking of money here, I just want to note that homeschooling publishers depend on your integrity not to share digital materials or make copies of printed ones.
If a more expensive curriculum is on your wish list and money is tight, look for copies you can borrow or purchase used. My homeschooling support group has a lending library from which you may borrow curriculum for an entire year. If your support group does not have a similar lending library, suggest starting one. The other thing to consider is that you will be able to recoup some of your costs by selling your print curriculum when you’re finished with it. You can sell it at a used curriculum sale in your area or online. If you are afraid of choosing curriculum that doesn’t work for your family, remember that you are not going to be out the full amount if you resell the used curriculum.
#5 Look for curriculum that is high quality and well reviewed
After considering learning styles, a homeschool approach, time, and cost, you’ll want to find curriculum that is high-quality and well reviewed. Searching for this can take an incredible amount of time. I like to look at Rainbow Resource and Cathy Duffy reviews to help me, but even these resources can prove to be overwhelming. That’s why I created a list of the best curriculum in three categories. You won’t have to search for the teaching approach, the cost, or the best reviews. I have a list with all of this information for language arts, science, and math that I’m happy to send you for free.
While I know that Grammar Galaxy, now available through sixth grade, isn’t for everyone, I think it’s a great fit for many homeschoolers. It can be used as your core language arts curriculum, to which you will want to add reading and writing assignments either from the free monthly calendars I send out or from other subjects you’re studying. But you can also use Grammar Galaxy in your morning basket or for Fun Fridays. Some families use Grammar Galaxy at bedtime, which makes me smile. Reading to my kids at bedtime was always a joy. If you’re interested in trying Grammar Galaxy for free, go to GrammarGalaxyBooks.com/samples. If you love it, I have created a special discount for podcast listeners only. Save 15% on any Grammar Galaxy order with code PODCAST through September 15th.
#6 Share your curriculum plan with veteran homeschoolers
My final tip for choosing sane curriculum is to ask about your plans in relevant homeschooling groups. In my Grammar Galaxy users group on Facebook, many homeschoolers come and ask about their curriculum plans. If your plan is overly ambitious, veterans will tell you. I also have the Homeschool Sanity Circle group on Facebook that can address many different styles and approaches to homeschooling and will help you determine if your plan is a good one or not.
You can develop a sane curriculum plan for your homeschool. But if you don’t exactly listen to me and you over plan and try to do too much, or if you make a poor choice for your family, you are like every other homeschooler I know, including me. It takes time to develop your own style. And even when you think you have it down, your kids grow and your circumstances change, and you are starting over. Give yourself lots of grace, and don’t forget to pray. I brought a used Five in a Row curriculum to a book sale and I felt a little silly bringing it because the book had some water damage. A woman came up to me and was elated because she had been praying to find the curriculum inexpensively. God knows your needs and He will supply them.
Have a happy homeschool week!