Choosing a Homeschool Curriculum Can Be Daunting—Here’s Some Help!
Besides making sure you are following your local homeschooling laws, deciding on a homeschool curriculum may be the most stressful part of homeschooling. As a new homeschooler, you may simply be lost, or if you try to do research or attend a homeschooling convention, you may feel bombarded with options. The truth is that you do have a lot of options, but you also do have the flexibility to change to new curriculums, take parts of curriculums you like while abandoning other parts, or even scrap them all and create one of your own. Therefore, while the choice of curriculum is important, it is not irreversible. Knowing this should help to reduce your anxiety.
Curriculum, in general, refers to a planned scope (listing of all topics) and sequence (the order) of academic content taught through a particular program. A curriculum can include textbooks, online texts, activities, worksheets, videos, website links or other online resources, assignments and projects, quizzes/tests, or any other educational materials that help to provide instruction in the desired content. Essentially, it can be the backbone to what you are teaching. Alternatively, if your state laws allow, you may decide not to use a purchased or structured curriculum at all. Ultimately, the choice is yours!
By planning ahead, and following a few simple guidelines, you can make good curriculum choices. Try starting with these steps as a guide to your decision making:
|#2: Establish the Purpose and Goals of Your Homeschool||#3: Consider Your Homeschooling Philosophies|
|Additional Resources on How to Choose a Homeschooling Curriculum||
Download the FREE Choosing A Homeschool Curriculum Workbook to work through each of these steps along with the resources below!
#1: Understand Your Homeschooling Laws
Homeschooling can be different depending on where you are located. Any advice for new homeschoolers should include a first step of knowing your rights and responsibilities as a homeschooler in your state. Make sure you read and understand your national or state homeschooling laws, particularly with respect to which subject areas you need to cover for particular grade levels. In the US, not all states regulate homeschooling content, but you want to be sure that any homeschool curriculum or alternate plan you choose meets or exceeds any legal requirements.
#2: Establish the Purpose and Goals of Your Homeschool
You may have started homeschooling for any number of reasons, and that may drive how you set up your homeschool. Maybe you wanted to focus more on your faith, avoid bullying or a health/safety concern, provide individual attention to a child who struggles in school, or travel the world. Regardless of your original intention, you likely have goals and situations that can affect the type of homeschooling curriculum your family needs. Here are some questions to consider right away:
- How many children will be homeschooling? Some curriculums are geared toward homeschooling more than one child. There may be grade level or age group options, and there may be portions of the curriculum that involve independent work. The possibility may also exist that you can base homeschooling on certain themes so that your children of different ages/grades can interact around a topic.
- How rigorous and structured do you want the academics to be? Some curriculums are more rigorous with standards-based content and structured sequences of information. Others are working more on whole-child development and can provide a lot of flexibility.
- Do you want a secular homeschool or a non-secular (faith-based) homeschool? If your faith is a primary reason for beginning homeschooling, then you may want to look for curriculum materials that directly support religious teachings. However, even if you are religious, you may choose to use a secular homeschool curriculum and then provide religious teaching and practice outside of the homeschool day.
- Do you want a comprehensive curriculum or some combination of subject-specific curriculums? Many new homeschoolers choose a comprehensive curriculum to start, but you can decide at any point to take parts of curriculums and other educational resources to combine them in a unique way. Then you would be considered an “eclectic homeschooler”!
- Do you want a print curriculum or online curriculum or some mixture of print and online materials (i.e., a hybrid homeschool)? Some families prefer to have print resources that are more in line with traditional schooling and reduce screen time. On the other hand, those families who do not have a lot of space for materials or who may be traveling, for example, may prefer online curriculums that require minimal materials and are very portable.
- What is your budget for curriculum purchases? New homeschoolers can be known to spend way too much on curriculum. Think about what makes sense for your family and stick to it.
- What kind of curriculum can you actually implement? If a curriculum requires extensive time or materials (beyond what you are willing to provide), it won’t get used. Think about your own capacity as your child’s teacher (e.g., which subjects are you comfortable with?), time and effort you have available for lesson planning or other preparation, and all the circumstances surrounding your homeschool.
- What are your children’s post-graduation goals? If you have a child in middle or high school especially, you will want to consider post-graduation goals when choosing a curriculum. Do you need to make sure that your children have college preparatory courses, or are you preparing them for the workforce or a particular field? Do you want to include electives that support hobbies or other goals outside of academics?/a>
#3: Consider Your Homeschooling Philosophies
When you decide to become a homeschooling family, you—as the homeschool teacher—develop as an educator. With that development comes an awareness of different methods and styles of teaching, and you may determine that you support one particular teaching method or philosophy.
The most common method for new homeschoolers is School-at-Home Homeschooling, which brings typical traditional schooling methods into the home. This is a perfectly acceptable method of homeschooling, but if you are interested in homeschooling in a way that differs even more from public/private school, investigate other homeschooling methods to see if they are right for your family. Here are some of the most popular:
- Charlotte Mason – Charlotte Mason is an approach to homeschooling that focuses on the education of the whole child. The approach was developed by British-born educator, Charlotte Mason, and uses methods such as use of living books, copywork, and narration, while avoiding non-quality books that Mason referred to as twaddle.
- Classical – Classical homeschooling is an approach to homeschooling that teaches students through classical texts. Students learn and think through three stages of learning, known as the trivium (from the ancient Greek and Romans): The grammar stage focuses on memorization and repetition of concrete facts. The logic/dialectic stage builds on the prior stage by developing analytical thinking through questioning and logic. Finally, the rhetoric stage requires students to apply their knowledge of facts and analysis skills to express themselves.
- Eclectic – Eclectic homeschooling is an approach to homeschooling that involves parents designing a highly individualized education for their child. Rather than purchasing a full curriculum set (i.e., a boxed curriculum or online curriculum), they pick and choose the best pieces from a variety of homeschool resources. If you choose the Eclectic method of homeschooling, be sure to get familiar with our Explore pages, which share free resources for building lesson plans and unit studies on a variety of topics in language arts, math, social studies, science, fine arts, health & fitness, languages, computer literacy, and even drivers education and holidays.
- Montessori – Montessori is an approach to homeschooling that was developed by Maria Montessori and uses child-directed methods such as discovery and exploration. Although guided by you, the Montessori method allows your child to direct learning at your child’s pace. Learning is typically multi-sensory and based on your child’s curiosity and interests and moves toward individualized learning goals. Montessori is often used with young children but can be applied to students of any age!
- Unit Studies – Unit studies are groups of learning activities that are tied to the same theme and can be used as a whole or partial approach to homeschooling. Families choose to include unit studies in their homeschooling in order to make connections between subjects in a hands-on way, and they are popular for those who are homeschooling more than one child across different grade levels. Using unit studies can allow all children in the household to be learning a particular theme while using materials appropriate for each child’s grade/ability levels. One benefit of using unit studies with multiple children is that theme topics can be discussed and debated, enhancing social learning within the household. Remember you can create your own unit studies using our free Explore pages!
- Unschooling – Unschooling is an approach to homeschooling that does not use academic subjects as the basis for instruction. Instead, Unschooling uses student interests and motivations to guide learning, with a focus on doing real activities all day long in a trusting and supportive environment. Homeschool activities can include everything from play and household tasks to books and elective classes to internships and travel. Unschooling does not follow standard curriculums, traditional forms of assessment, and other features of typical public/private school education.
- Waldorf – Waldorf is an approach to homeschooling that was popularized by Rudolf Steiner in the late 19th-early 20th centuries and which focuses on age-appropriate learning through three developmental periods: early childhood (birth to age 7), middle childhood (7 to 14), and adolescence (14 to 21). The Waldorf approach does not separate learning into traditional subjects, nor does it include competitive testing and rewards. Rather, it stresses the experience of academics and the arts and building intellectual, physical, emotional, and spiritual capacities.
New to homeschooling and want to learn more homeschooling lingo like the terms above? Check out our Homeschooling Terms and Definitions from A2Z!
#4: Identify Your Child’s Learning Profile
One of the biggest benefits of homeschooling is being able to individualize instruction to your child. If you don’t take the time to figure out where your child is (i.e., by grade level or by subject/skills) and how your child learns best, then finding the right homeschool curriculum will be difficult. This process should be done with your child, so your child becomes more self-aware and can make strategy choices in the future. There are many resources that can help you learn more about your child’s learning. Here are just a few:
Math assessment can come in many forms. Here are some ways to find out just what your child has mastered in math and determine what math should be next.
Online Learning Styles Quiz
Knowing your child’s strengths can help you individualize your child’s education–one of the benefits of homeschooling. This short quiz from Homeschool.com can get you started!
Reading Level Assessment Tools
When teaching reading, you really need to know where to start. Here are some free reading assessment tools and resources.
#5: Research Homeschooling Curriculums
Once you’ve figured out your homeschool goals and philosophies, you need to do your research. Find the curriculum websites and look around. Read about the organization and its educational theories and check out descriptions of the materials. Some curriculum companies offer free demo lessons (like Time4Learning’s Demo Videos) right on their websites. Note that not all curriculums are upfront with religious or philosophical slants, so be sure to contact the curriculum company if you have specific questions. Then check testimonials and reviews and ask if you can contact families who are using the curriculum now.
Check out our reviews on some popular homeschool curriculums.
#6: Ask Homeschooling Networks for Reviews and Suggestions
When you’ve narrowed your choices to a few possible curriculums, or if you want to get ideas before doing research, check with local or online homeschool support groups for advice and suggestions. If you don’t know anyone, attending a homeschool convention or conference may be a good idea. Just don’t bring lots of money because you will be tempted to spend it all! As a new homeschooler, connections with other homeschoolers—especially veteran homeschoolers who have experience navigating the process—can be valuable. Who knows, you may even make some friends and be able to share resources or co-plan field trips and social outings!
Additional Resources on How to Choose a Homeschool Curriculum
Still not sure how to pick a homeschool curriculum? Here are some informational and opinion-based resources that may be able to help you further:
Big Chains, Big Savings?
“Okay, I’m biased. As a small independent bookseller, I don’t like what the big chains are doing to the bookselling business, but at least they save you money . . . don’t they?” Check out this perspective on booksellers and see what you think!
Buying Used Curriculum
Homeschool curriculums can be expensive, so buying a used curriculum may be a good option for you. Check out three articles exploring the “behind the scenes” of homeschool authors and suppliers.
One way to see a lot of curriculum choices in a short time is to attend a homeschool conference or convention. Some may say that it is too overwhelming for a new homeschooler, but if you go with the thought of not spending thousands of dollars, you may benefit. Here are some guidelines for making the most of your experience.
Don’t Panic–How to Choose a Curriculum
“So you’ve got junior at home now. And then it hits you–what am I supposed to teach him–how am I going to teach him–I don’t know how to teach him–WHAT HAVE I DONE!?” This is a short piece that may calm your worries about choosing a homeschool curriculum.
This organization provides information and opinions about education and is based on these four beliefs: “1) We appreciate learners of all types, regardless of their abilities; 2) Learning doesn’t occur on a computer, television or smartphone; 3) Learning is at its best when you’re focusing on the things you have a passion for; and 4) Great learning is messy.” You can find information on curriculum here, as well as background on educational theories, brain-based and socio-emotional learning, and more.
The Great American Textbook Scandal
Read why you may want to consider not using science textbooks that are used in schools. What can you do? You can use hands-on materials or primary sources instead.
How to Choose a Homeschool Curriculum
Education Corner provides an extensive list of suggestions for you as you navigate this process. Worth reading!
How to Create a Dynamic Learning Environment in Your Home
“After nearly two years of reading, browsing through catalogs, cruising the web, and talking to many homeschoolers in search of the “right” curriculum, I have come to the conclusion that educating myself about teaching, the learning process, etc. is a higher priority than purchasing a curriculum package.” See what you think about this unique perspective!
One Stop Shopping, or Eclectic Education?
“The homeschool shopping season has begun. Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you select materials.” These suggestions, from Design-A-Study, may help you on your search for the best homeschool curriculum for your family.
Reflecting on the Value of Materials and Classes
Here is a perspective on homeschooling curriculum and materials from a homeschooler whose son is now in college.
A Textbook Example of What’s Wrong with Education
This article expresses the opinions of a former schoolbook editor on the status of educational publishing. If nothing else, this can be food for thought as you consider the curriculum material choices you have in front of you.
What curriculum should I choose?
In this piece, provided by the California Homeschool Network, read about two opposing ends of the spectrum when it comes to choosing a homeschool curriculum.
What is the best homeschool curriculum?
This is an analogy that can clarify what should drive your homeschool curriculum decisions.
Choosing a homeschool curriculum, or deciding not to, doesn’t have to be traumatic, but your decision can be important to the success of your homeschool. Relax, think about the needs of your family, and do your research. Have fun shopping!
If you are new to homeschooling, be sure to check out How to Start Homeschooling and our A2Z blogs, with information on everything from how to help your child develop writing skills to building an Ice Cream Unit Study.
Do you have advice on how to pick a homeschool curriculum? Have you found a homeschool curriculum that your family loves? Help a new homeschooler by sharing your thoughts in the comments below….