How to Choose Homeschool Curriculum
Choosing curriculum stymies most new homeschoolers, just so you don’t feel alone if you’re in that boat. There are so many curriculum publishers vying for your attention, and you’re so new to this you aren’t even sure what questions to ask.
When I started homeschooling, there were fewer choices, which I almost think was easier. Still, I remember feeling like I was on an impossible, never ending quest to find the best curriculum.
Let me share a secret with you that took me awhile to learn. There is no best curriculum.
Rather, you should be searching for the curriculum that is the best fit for your children.
Are You Ready to Do This?
I know the urge to jump in with both feet and get going. That’s how I work!
But when you purchase homeschool curriculum without understanding your children’s learning styles or your homeschool style, or researching your state’s laws or even really having outlined your homeschool goals, your purchases are pretty much guaranteed to result in buyer’s remorse. Blah!
Many homeschoolers don’t use any curriculum at all. Others just borrow books and resources from the library.
There are also homeschoolers who use an entire, pre-packaged, boxed homeschool curriculum that includes all items for all subjects. That may sound easier, but it’s a lot of work to get through and it might squash a love of learning. It’s also the most expensive way to homeschool.
Most homeschoolers fall somewhere in between no curriculum and all the curriculum. In my homeschool, we use Saxon math curriculum, and I pick and choose resources for other subjects, but the only specific curriculum we use is our math.
Let’s talk about a few things you should keep in mind when choosing homeschool curriculum. Then read all the way to the bottom for some used homeschool curriculum sources to help you save money.
What to Look for When You Choose Homeschool Curriculum
There are three main things to consider when choosing a homeschool curriculum: the content, the approach to learning and the delivery. Let’s talk about what that means.
Content. What does the curriculum contain? An Algebra textbook ought to contain Algebra, but ask yourself whether it’s sufficiently thorough (read the reviews and ask homeschoolers) or whether it’s rigorous or whether it’s even readable. I’ve paid good money for textbooks that were actually unreadable.
Another good question to ask is whether the curriculum contains objectionable content. Secular homeschoolers might object to a science textbook taught from a Christian worldview.
Approach. This has a lot to do with your preferred homeschool method. For example, the Reggio Emilia homeschool method is very project-based and embraces unit studies as an educational approach. The Charlotte Mason homeschool method, on the other hand, approaches education through living books and nature study.
Delivery. How is the content delivered? Is it exclusively online? If it’s online, is it synchronous and live, or is it asynchronous? Do you mind your children being online for hours at a time, or would you prefer they learned from textbooks?
This has a lot to do with your child’s learning style and their ages as well as your preferences. My older children (middle school and up) can handle online classes, but my younger kiddos aren’t self-directed enough.
Other Considerations When Choosing Homeschool Curriculum:
1. Keep your children’s learning styles, ages and interests in mind.
You probably already have a good idea about what type learners you have. This short learning style quiz can give you more information, too.
One of the most beautiful things about homeschooling is that you can cater to your child’s interests when choosing homeschool curriculum, instead of being required to stick with a set learning schedule and arbitrary standards. Another beautiful thing about homeschooling is that your children can progress at their own pace, so they can work ahead of grade level in math and behind and grade level in writing without being labeled “bright” or “slow”.
2. Consider your own abilities and preferences.
How much time can you devote to homeschooling? Do you work outside the home, or even from home? Do you have multiple children of varying ages? Do you have health challenges or relationship concerns?
All of those things affect your ability to devote the mental bandwidth required for homeschooling. There are ways to outsource homeschooling with online classes and tutoring, but then you have to consider financial costs and whether your child is self-motivated.
You might consider a blend of curriculum, some independent (or outsourced) and some parent led so as not to overwhelm yourself. In my homeschool, nearly all of our curriculum is mostly independent (but I help my children make corrections), because that was the only way to stay sane with eight children.
As I work one-on-one with children correcting missed math problems, my other kiddos continue to work independently. Also remember to take into consideration the time it will take you to prepare lessons, in addition to any teaching time.
Just remember, a curriculum might look great, but if it takes up too much time and energy on your part, you probably won’t get very far with it.
3. What are your family dynamics?
When I began homeschooling my oldest was almost five, plus I had a 4-year-old, a 2-year-old and an infant. Luckily, homeschooling a kindergartner takes all of twenty minutes a day and my oldest was so eager to learn she made sure it happened ever day.
I think it would have been harder, actually, if I’d had older kids who needed more time. Once my children hit high school, I ended up completely outsourcing their educations to a local university because they needed more than I could provide. Probably the hardest years of homeschooling for me have been having kids spread from Pre-K through high school.
Finances are another part of your family dynamic. Budgeting can be stressful already. Will homeschooling contribute to the stress? Fortunately, more expensive is not always better. You can find terrific resources for free or cheap.
If your budge is limited, be sure to keep in mind whether you’ll be able to reuse curriculum for subsequent children. I’ve saved a bundle by purchasing our math curriculum once and then passing it down from child to child. This isn’t possible with consumable curricula or subscription-based curricula.
State requirements, depending on whether you are in a low regulation state or a high regulation state, can impact your family dynamic as well. Oversight by the state can require a larger input of time and organization.
One more way your family dynamic can impact your homeschooling is expectations. What are your expectations for your children’s future? If both you and your husband graduated college, you’ll probably want your child to graduate college as well. If you’re entrepreneurially minded, you might have an alternative route in mind for your children. Either way, it’s wise to homeschool with the end goals in mind.
4. Remember that homeschooling is not school.
As you choose your homeschool curriculum, keep in mind that public schools are dealing with children as a whole, in groups and as averages — not as individuals. Teachers have classrooms of 20-30 kids and have to worry about discipline, meeting the core standards, keeping the class together and catering to the slowest learners.
You are teaching one unique individual, so you have a lot of beautiful flexibility. Your child’s needs can be your singular focus.
Furthermore, you can wholeheartedly embrace your child’s learning style. The majority of kids learn best through a combination of styles, but especially kinesthetic, where public schools, of necessity, primarily utilize auditory and visual learning because kinesthetic learning is more work.
Teachers lecture and kids read books. Above all in a classroom setting, kids must participate in silence so as not to cause distractions.
We nicknamed my second child monkey boy for awhile, because he could (and would) circumnavigate our entire home without ever touching the floor.
I kid you not, I had to regularly clean footprints off of my ceilings.
He would go to the ends of the Earth to figure out things that captured his interest — and to avoid things that didn’t. Luckily, I was able to find science experiments and field trips that got him asking questions and I created my own math games to help him practice concepts when he refused worksheets.
I’m pretty sure that in a school setting his teachers would have required that he be medicated in order to attend, and that medication would have dampened his enthusiasm for learning. In our homeschool setting we embraced it.
5. Keep it simple.
This piece of advice should be shouted from the rooftops — it’s that important! Homeschooling will work best for your family if you can integrate it into your regular daily life instead of keeping it separate.
In fact, I tried for years to homeschool in the adorable room I created, complete with a reading tree painted up the wall and across the ceiling. In the end, the place that works best for us is the kitchen table, because that’s the place I can best access the laundry and the kitchen and all of my own daily responsibilities. No worried, because the school room (we still call it that) became a fantastic play room.
Another thing to keep simple is the content. Your kids really don’t need to study all of the subjects, and that will lead to major overwhelm for you and for them.
What subjects do we really need?
I had grand visions of exploring Latin, Hebrew, Spanish, Physics, Chemistry, American History and every single other subject with my newly minted kindergartner and my 4-year-old when I first began homeschooling. I let that crazy amount of curriculum give me hives for three years before I finally realized it was ridiculous.
Pre-K and Kindergarten
Prek-K is completely unnecessary, in my opinion. I feel like 4-year-old kiddos learn all they need to by just being a part of their mother’s world, talking and working together. Just have intentional conversations about colors and shapes and animals, visit the library weekly and save your preschool tuition for a museum pass or an interesting vacation.
Kindergartners only need phonics and math — and a holy ton of read-aloud literature to widen their horizons and introduce them to big ideas. Their math curriculum will include concepts like days, months, calendars, seasons and all the little things they need to know. Honestly, if you can spend 20 minutes per day between phonics and math, 4 days a week, your little person will be way ahead of his public schooled peers by the end of the year.
First Grade – Fifth Grade
Replace phonics with language arts, continue math and add some basic science and history, and you’ve got a solid schedule for the rest of elementary school. It shouldn’t take your child any more than 2-3 hours per day, 4 days a week, up through middle school.
At my house, we only study math daily, plus everyone reads constantly and I’m careful to sneak educational (especially historical nonfiction) content into the library bag. Science only happens a couple of times each semester, but when we study science we really study science and we go deep and accomplish a semester’s worth of learning at a time.
We play grammar games occasionally and my kids work on a few things, like coding and foreign languages independently, plus my kiddos each have a couple of instruments they are learning. But all of that is on their own — I don’t oversee it.
The only subject I do oversee and that we study daily around the kitchen table is math. That kind of simple is exactly my language and it works for us.
Middle school students should probably spend about 3 hours a day on school and my high school students study probably 5+ hours per day, but mine attend university classes at that point and work completely independently. Middle schoolers tend to need a more social experience outside of the home, so it’s a great time to find extracurricular classes within your homeschool community.
My opinion is that there is no need to learn a subject during high school and then again during college, so we’ve just decided high school is a great time to enroll in college. My ability to go that many directions (infants through teenagers) and my children’s desires for increased socialization have also factored into that decision.
It’s actually worked great for my children. They’ve all (so far) earned at least associates degrees during high school, but have still been able to apply to university as freshmen (better scholarship opportunities) but using their college GPA (since universities tend to discount grades given by parents) alongside their ACT and AP scores.
Where do I purchase homeschool curriculum?
If your budget is limitless, Rainbow Resource is like Disneyland for a homeschool mom. Not that they’re expensive — they actually have great prices!
But because they have everything you could possibly want and more. While you’re shopping for the things you need, you’ll invariably find a couple dozen more things you just can’t live without.
My budget is way down the road in the other direction, unfortunately. I just have too many things I want to spend money on, like traveling and private music lessons and more traveling. That means I have to keep my curriculum purchases very small.
So after making my lists and narrowing them down from wants to needs, I always search all of my favorite online used bookstores first. If they don’t have what I need and I need it right away, I usually purchase from Rainbow Resource. If I don’t need the item immediately, I’ll usually check back with the used bookstores a couple of times.
Thriftbooks is my best friend. They send my coupons for free books and free shipping all the time, because they know once I’m on their site I can’t just buy one book. Get on their mailing list for really great coupons.
BetterWorldBooks, Alibris, Biblio, AbeBooks and Ebay are a few other sites for used books. Amazon is another great place to look for used books. Just check the ‘other sellers’ link for the used choices. Just make sure to factor the cost of shipping into the overall price. Occasionally, the new price at Rainbow Resource beats a used price once you factor in shipping.
BookMooch and BooksFreeSwap are great places to trade books, if you have things you want to get rid of. Each works a little differently, but you basically only pay for the shipping of books when you trade your own.
Home Science Tools is a super fun place to shop for science curriculum, tools and lab supplies. It’s also a fun place to shop for educational birthday and Christmas gifts!
How to Choose Homeschool Curriculum
Aaand we’re back to where we started. I don’t know about you, but when I feel paralyzed over a decision, I just want someone to hand me a list of what I need and some instructions for how to put it all together.
I’m sorry I couldn’t give you a list of exactly what you needed to purchase and for whom and from where. I just hope these suggestions help you feel empowered to be able to make those decisions on your own.
Here is my last piece of advice, and it’s what I tell all of my dear friends. If you’re having trouble choosing all of the things — just don’t. Instead, choose one subject that really speaks to you.
For me, that’s math. Besides being my favorite subject, I feel like it’s the most critical subject to study daily. Grammar, writing, history, science, tech and foreign language are all things my children can read about, or have a need to figure out on their own. Wild horses couldn’t keep my kiddos from excellent literature.
They don’t dislike math. In fact, they typically enjoy it. But it wouldn’t come up on it’s own, and besides basic arithmetic they wouldn’t have a need to figure it out during the course of daily life. That’s why I suggest math as a jumping off point.
You could use your child’s favorite subject as a jumping off point, though. Just find one piece of curriculum for one subject and dive in. Figure out how to fit an hour of that one subject into your daily schedule and make it a habit.
Once you’re really good at completing that one subject every day, add a second subject. Add a third when you’re good and ready, and then maybe a fourth if you feel like your child needs it.
Doing it like that might take some of the pressure off. It will give you time to research curriculum possibilities so you can make better decisions. It also allows your children to adjust to homeschooling.
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