Whether you are just starting your homeschool journey or simply looking for something new to use, a common question that homeschoolers have is “What curriculum should we use?” A quick search usually leads to the realization that this task is a lot bigger, with WAY more options, than expected. So – now what? How do you choose which homeschool curriculum to use with your child?
Step One: Observe Your Child’s Learning Needs
No matter how wonderful a curriculum can seem at first glance, if it doesn’t fit your child’s needs, it’s going to fail. Your first step is to study your child.
One popular idea is to look at your child’s learning style. Do they learn best by seeing, hearing, doing, or some combination thereof? Many kids seem to lean towards one of these styles more than the others. Keep in mind that even if you child is a heavy hands-on learner, that you will still want to include other methods to help them grow and develop more skills in all areas of learning.
There are some other questions to consider too, when thinking about your child. Here are some ideas:
- Do they love to read or avoid it at any cost?
- Do they love watching videos?
- Are they good with technology?
- Are they able to work independently or will they need your support and participation in their work?
- Do they need to be moving while they do work?
- Do they need structure or freedom?
- Does everything turn into an art project?
- Do they want to ponder things in silence for a while or talk things out?
- Do they come alive when they get outside?
- Do they need special adaptations in order to be successful in their learning adventures?
- What areas are they strong in and what areas are they weak in?
Take some time to observe your child and how they best interact with the world, and don’t forget to ask them for their input. Children can be incredibly insightful.
Step Two: Consider Your Teaching Needs and Desires
Next, you need to think about what you need and what will work for you.
One thing to research are different homeschool methods. There are so many different ways to approach education. Here are a few common methods:
- Traditional – This is basically doing school at home, typically with textbooks and workbooks. Sometimes this might also involve a teacher-led program.
- Classical – This method, based on education models of ancient Greece and Rome, focuses on the child’s natural development of understanding for learning with stages known as the Trivium. Typically, this method of homeschooling involves reading rich literature, studying classical languages such as Greek or Latin, and encourages the development of logic and rhetoric.
- Charlotte Mason – Developed around the teachings of an early 1900’s teacher, this method uses a gentle approach that focuses on areas such as nature study, habit training, encouraging conversations, as well as lots of reading. The use of “living books” – quality literature that typically teaches through stories and experiences – plays an important role in this method.
- Unschooling – Unlike most other methods, unschooling takes a child-led learning approach. Kids learn through life experience and their own curiosity-fueled explorations. Often, there is no use of official curriculum, instead using a plethora of resources and interactions to provide learning and growth.
- Montessori – Based on the model created by Dr. Maria Montessori in the early 1900s, this method sets up self-directed opportunities for children to learn from with hands-on, play-based activities.
- Unit Studies – Taking a single, overarching topic and using it as the central focus in all areas of learning, unit studies allow for a deep dive exploration into whatever you want to learn.
- Waldorf – This approach aims to support the whole child (head, heart, and hands) with focuses on art, folklore/mythology, and handicrafts. The early years use a very gentle and relaxed introduction to learning that increases in challenge each year.
- Eclectic – Taking bits and pieces from any other style or method, an eclectic approach is kind of an anti-method – picking resources and ideas from whatever will work best for their child and/or situation.
Finding a homeschool method that resonates with you will help you narrow down your curriculum choices as well as give you a starting point for your homeschooling experience. It’s important to understand that you don’t have to choose a method and stay with it forever. It’s just a handy tool to bring the kind of experience you want for your child’s education.
Now, there are some questions that you need to ask yourself.
- How involved in the teaching role do you want to be? Do you want to encourage more of an independent experience or will you be actively involved?
- Are you homeschooling alongside working or other responsibilities that require a lot of time and effort of you – and if so, how will you need to adapt your homeschool experience to work with those?
- What are your weaknesses and strengths in the education experience? If you find math challenging, for example, you might want to find a program that will outsource that subject so you don’t have to struggle while teaching your child.
Step Three: More Questions To Help Choose Homeschool Curriculum
- Do you need or want to follow the government’s learning expectations or curriculum outcomes for your state / province?
- Are you wanting faith-based, secular, or neutral resources?
- Are you okay with digital or online resources or would you prefer print?
- If you have multiple children, do you want to learn together in a group in any subjects or do you want each child to do their own thing?
- Would you prefer a program that includes everything for the year in one box or would you like to look for resources for each subject to find the best fit for your child?
The more you know about what you would like, the easier it is to narrow down your choices to something that might be best for your homeschooling experience.
Step Four: Figure Out The Topics / Subjects You Will Study This Year
What do you want to cover topic wise for the year? Remember not to add too many things to the list because you don’t want to overwhelm yourself or your child with a unrealistic plan.
Many homeschools base their years around a few core subjects and then build from there. Those cores usually consist of mathematics, language arts, science, and history/geography. Other popular subjects many people add in are things like art/music, a second language, and health – although there are many options for anything you might want to add.
Step Five: Decide on a Budget
One common question asked is, “How much does homeschooling cost?” The answer to that varies from free to expensive. Instead of figuring out how much it will cost, consider how much you can afford. What, realistically, is the budget that you can put out for your homeschooling curriculum this year? Then, when that is in place, make sure the resources you research will allow you to fit within that budget.
Step Six: Start Researching
Once you have all these answers figured out, you are ready to start looking at curriculum options. Knowing what you are looking for seriously narrows down the wide variety of options in a way that takes much of the stress out of the search. Use what you’ve learned over the last five steps to look for what options are available and which might cover what you will need for the year.
Here are some suggestions:
- Check out reviews from other people who have used the resource in their homeschool. Websites such as this one offer insight from those on the ground and how things worked for them. Also look at various blog and video reviews, although take into consideration that they might not be completely unbiased in their opinions.
- Visit the publisher’s website and see if they offer samples or flip-throughs of their program so that you can look at exactly what to expect. Sometimes, you can even download or access a free trial to test it out and see if it will work for you.
- Talk to other homeschoolers and see what they use and recommend. It’s better to do this with a small group of friends or connections because asking in a large homeschooling group can end up with a wide range of responses which can be overwhelming.
- Don’t limit yourself to the common or popular homeschool curricula.
- If you have access to an in-person homeschool conference or curriculum sale, take the opportunity to look through vendor booths and flip through their resources. Talk to the vendor / publisher in person and ask any questions that you have.
Write down anything you find that seems like it might be a good fit for your needs. Remember that it’s okay to have multiple options and that you can narrow it down from there. Right now, you are just figuring out resource ideas.
Step Seven: Narrow it Down & Choose Your Homeschool Curriculum
Once you have figured out one or more option for the subjects or goals that you set for your child in the year, it’s time to narrow them down to the one that you think might be best. It’s time to actually choose your homeschool curriculum. Consider things like:
- how it fits into your budget
- is it reusable with younger children (if applicable)
- what’s its resale value, (if applicable)
- how much work is required from you to prepare each lesson
- shipping times and expense
Once you know what you are going to use – it’s time to go ahead and buy it or get it all set up.
Some Last Words of Advice
- Don’t fall prey to the classic blunder of buying too much curriculum. Many a homeschooler have collections of books and resources on their shelves that are collecting more dust than they’d care to admit. Don’t buy everything new and shiny because it promises to be the “ONE” that will solve all your struggles. Nothing is perfect.
- As you choose your homeschool curriculum, remember that no matter how much time, effort, money, or planning you’ve done for the year, that there’s always the chance that it won’t quite turn out to be as great as you thought it might. You might discover that it just isn’t a great fit after all and that’s okay. You have choices from there – either adapting the curriculum to work for you, sticking with it anyway, or dumping it and starting with something new. Don’t feel like a failure because a homeschool curriculum didn’t work. It’s part of the process.
- Children, life, learning needs, and interests change. Know that what works for one year or season might not work the next. Be prepared that the curriculum you’ve been using might need to be changed in the future. Again – part of the learning experience.
Most importantly – remember that homeschool curriculum is simply a tool. You are not obligated to follow every word or lesson or activity included on the pages or program. Homeschooling is about freedom, about creating a love of learning, and enjoying the journey together. Make it work for you.