The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling Curriculum
As a homeschooling parent, you’ll probably spend a great deal of time picking out the perfect homeschooling curriculum. However, if you’re a new homeschooler, you likely have a boatload of questions. Today, I hope to answer many of those questions by presenting you with The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling Curriculum. Here you’ll find answers to the most pressing questions and a bit of guidance towards finding the one that works best for you and your child.
How Do I Select a Homeschool Curriculum?
This is one of the most important questions in homeschooling, but one to which there is no single answer. In fact, if anyone tries to tell you that there is, you should be entirely skeptical. To oversimplify this very weighty issue is to risk your child’s academics and possibly even their desire for learning. Especially if the curriculum does not fit their learning style.
Here are some things you must keep in mind while addressing your curriculum options. Each one is very important; some more so than others. As you think through each of these, make notes that you can refer to when the time comes for actually choosing your curriculum.
Think About Your Child’s Learning Style
Understanding your child’s learning style is absolutely crucial in homeschooling. Every child learns differently and when you better understand that, you’re able to teach on a level that allows them to digest information much easier. In fact, it can mean the difference between success and failure.
Choosing a curriculum based on that learning style is of the utmost importance. For instance, if you have a kinesthetic learner, who doesn’t do well with lots of quiet time, choosing a curriculum that caters to the visual learner is a key to chaos. Instead, you’ll need a curriculum that allows for a lot of movement, hands-on activities, and field trips, to name a few. For more in-depth information about learning styles, how they affect your child, and how best to homeschool accordingly, CLICK HERE.
Although it is certainly possible to introduce other learning styles in order to strengthen them in your child, doing this every day could create great frustration and cause your child simply to shut down. Adding “something different” every week or so might work, but as always, use the trial and error approach and be prepared to change things that you can easily see aren’t working.
Think About Your Teaching Method
Your teaching method, also referred to in some circles as your homeschooling style, is just as important as your child’s learning style. In fact, your teaching style will greatly reflect that learning style so that you can easily work towards success. If you teach in a way that clashes with their learning style, again, it’s a recipe for failure.
There are several different teaching methods, each with specific characteristics that make it different from all the others. The beauty is that you can even combine these styles to create a more eclectic plan for a special-needs learner, or for a child who has a broader scope of learning styles. Combinations are a great way to stave off boredom, as well, for the energetic and quick-learning child. To find out more about the various teaching methods available to you, CLICK HERE, or simply check out the links below:
- The Traditional Teaching Style
- The Eclectic Teaching Style
- The Charlotte Mason Method
- The Classical Teaching Style
- The Unit Studies Teaching Style
- The Montessori Teaching Style
Think About Your Budget
Budgets vary widely among families for various reasons. Some spend extensive amounts of money per child, with some parents reporting roughly $9,000 per year. Other incredibly frugal parents will spend nothing at all, utilizing free internet resources, borrowed or gifted textbooks and materials, and public libraries.
Only you know what you are able and willing to spend on your homeschool year, but the curriculum is definitely one of the bigger expenses. Of course, the more supplies you need, the more you’re going to spend, which is why you should consider your budget prior to shopping for the curriculum.
If you need to spend as little as possible, make sure you find out whether the prepackaged materials you are purchasing have everything necessary already included. Many programs require supplemental materials, extra equipment, or travel expenses, which will all need to be factored in as a part of the actual cost of the curriculum.
If you’re piecing together your own curriculum instead of buying everything as one packaged deal, you’ll want to set a budget per subject. Again, amounts will greatly vary based on your child’s grade level and any extras you might be interested in adding to the plan.
Other expenditures that might need to be added to the curriculum price include:
- Teaching seminars or classes
- Private teachers or tutors for your child
- Music lessons
- Other lessons, such as dance, gymnastics, theatre, etc.
- Testing fees
- Homeschool co-op fees
- Educational app prices
- Technology or electronic device purchases
Some parents, as mentioned previously, can actually homeschool their child for free or nearly free. It can take much more time to search out all the necessary elements, but these parents swear it’s well worth it. If free homeschooling is something you’d like to consider, and you have the time to research, here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Search for free online curriculum options. A single Google search can give you tons of links to explore where you can find something suited for your child’s needs, as well as your own.
- Free curriculum options and many books can be found free of charge on Amazon, simply by typing in “free homeschool”. You’ll find some returns that have a price, but many that do not. If you have a Kindle, or access the free Amazon Cloud Reader, you can easily view these books at your leisure and can even download them for use when you’re not online. You can also type in “free classic books” for tons of literature, free of charge, including great authors e.g. John Bunyan, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Shakespeare, and many more. Classics like the McGuffey reader, at all grade levels, can also be found, free of charge, in electronic format.
- Free record-keeping materials and planners are also extensively available through a simple Google search. You’ll find attendance and grade charts, daily/weekly/monthly planners, lesson plan templates, reading logs, field trip logs, community service records, and so much more. Most of these can be found in pdf file formats, but .doc and .docx files are also available. If you have no way to open the .docx files, consider Google Drive, as files can be uploaded, opened, and edited easily and for free.
- There is no lack of free worksheets available by doing a web search. In fact, you’ll find days or weeks’ worth of sites to research with extensive options for grade level, subject, and style. You can also find special papers for free, including primary paper, wide and college ruled paper, staff paper for music writing, graph paper for math, and even origami and paper doll templates you need only to print off to utilize.
- Be sure to consider searching for and attending free events at locations such as museums, zoos, state parks, and many other educational attractions. Free presentations and lectures are also available and can be found with just a bit of time and research.
A note about printing: If you do not have a printer, or are unable to print large amounts of resources, consider sending your documents to a printing specialist such as Staples. You can go on their website, email the files you need to be printed along with any special instructions, and simply pick them up at your convenience. As of this writing, prices average about five cents per black and white page, with color pages costing a bit more. Special papers will also add a bit to the final price, so be sure you consider this before actually committing to the print job. You can also call around and get pricing from your local printers, who might offer special pricing for homeschoolers or bulk printing. And, of course, consider buying your own printer.
Christian or Secular Homeschool Curriculum?
There is an abundance of curriculum options for both Christian and secular homeschoolers. Your particular moral leanings will most likely dictate which of the two you choose. If you’re not sure which to pursue, consider asking around and talking to those who have used both, and find out the inner workings of each. You’re likely to find out more in this way than by simply doing a web search.
You can also get a lot of great advice and tips from attending a Great Homeschool Convention. There, you can sit on workshops, events, and special speakers, as well as browse the curriculum vendors from whom you can purchase on-site. It really comes down to what you want for your child, and the overall world view you want to present to them from an academic standpoint. Specific subjects that will play into your decision include science, where you’ll come across the “Creation vs. Evolution” standpoint, and history, where you’ll find many secular materials that leave out Christian-based speeches by some of the Founding Fathers. This is also another very important reason to truly examine all the curriculum options and resources you intend to use.
Can I Build My Own Homeschool Curriculum?
Building your very own, personalized homeschool curriculum is definitely a great option. This is the choice many parents make when facing the task of teaching special-needs children, to include those that are extremely gifted. Other reasons to build your own curriculum could include the need to travel extensively, as when one parent works a job that demands this, or if a family lives an RV-travel lifestyle. You might have a sick family member that means you have to have maximum flexibility in your schedule. The reasons vary widely, but whatever your reason, it’s certainly possible.
Review the steps above for choosing a homeschool curriculum and be sure to include lots of resources that cater to specific family needs. If travel is a big part of your homeschooling lifestyle, perhaps field trips could be correlated to your travels, in order to get the most out of lessons. Electronic devices can also be utilized for learning, with specific precautions taken in order to avoid misuse or abuse of these things during lesson times.
Speak Directly With a Homeschool Vendor or Vendors
The opportunity to speak with a homeschool curriculum vendor personally is an exceptional advantage. It allows you to ask some important questions in order to get to know the resources more personally. This gives you a better idea about how it will fit in your own homeschool plans and how your child might react to it as it’s being taught.
Aside from calling the curriculum company directly, one of the best opportunities to speak with curriculum vendors is to attend a Great Homeschool Convention. At each of their seven regional conventions, you’ll get the chance to browse a large exhibit hall where hundreds of homeschool curriculum vendors will be set up. Here, you can browse the resources at your leisure, examine the curriculum live and in person, and ask all the questions you need to in order to make an informed decision.
But what should you be prepared to ask? Here are some questions you want to be sure to ask curriculum vendors once you have the opportunity to speak with them.
- What factors make your curriculum unique? Knowing the “crowning achievements” of each curriculum can be important. These vendors, as a form of professional courtesy, will not speak ill of other companies. However, they enjoy the opportunity to tell you all about the strong points of their own.
- Which specific subjects are covered in this curriculum? Not all homeschool curriculum options include an entire pre-packaged year for every subject, whereas others do. What’s more, not all options make it clear and you sometimes find that out yourself, only after the resources have been purchased. Be clear about the information you want, and make sure they are clear in answering.
- Are supplements, extras, or additional books necessary with this curriculum? Again, there isn’t always great clarity about the recommendations for “extras” when you purchase a curriculum. Some homeschoolers purchase what they think is a full year’s curriculum, only to be in the midst of a lesson that calls for a specific extra supplement that you didn’t know about and didn’t purchase. On the other hand, you might purchase supplements that aren’t actually necessary. Speaking with a vendor personally can help flesh out these important differences.
- Is it flexible? In homeschool, schedules can change, and they can change quickly. With some curriculum choices, it’s easy to tweak the suggested schedule, if one were included. Others make it nearly impossible. If you know ahead of time that your schedule is going to get crazy sometimes, you’ll want a curriculum that gives you the option to change things around a bit. If the curriculum you’re looking for doesn’t include any type of schedule, don’t be afraid to ask the vendor what his or her suggestions would be for such.
- Is the curriculum planning-laden? Among your most important questions, be sure to ask this one! Some programs are ready to go, with little to no planning necessary, right out of the box. You don’t have to spend any time at all prepping materials, making copies, or cutting out pieces. Others have heavy requirements that cut into your schedule a great deal. You need to know the difference, especially if you run a busy household and homeschool too.
- Does the program come with support from the company? There will be times when support is absolutely crucial and knowing that a company is willing to provide this service can be a determining factor in whether you purchase their product. Some offer email and phone support whereas others might have webinars or training videos to get you ready to teach. Knowing which options are available helps to give you a foundation on which you can build.
- Can portions of the curriculum be reused? If you know ahead of time that you’re going to need the same curriculum for a younger child, reusable products can really give you more bang for your buck! Many curriculum programs are consumable and cannot be reused, and it’s important to know what you’re getting.
Important Facts to Remember Concerning Curriculum
Even the best-laid plans are often far from perfect. In fact, some parents choose a curriculum, even after grueling search protocols, only to find it doesn’t work out when actually put into play. They get into it and, for some reason or another, it simply doesn’t produce the expected results. And so many first-year homeschoolers think they have failed. At times like this, it’s important to remember a few key facts about homeschool curriculum choices and what they mean for you and your family.
You are in control of the curriculum, not the other way around. For those just starting out, it’s easy to think that we should elevate the curriculum itself to some special pedestal and work at all costs to cater to it and all that it asks from us. We try hard to keep up with all the schedules and lesson plans, as well as the quizzes, and we maybe put a little too much emphasis on tests and test scores. The truth is, instead of a traditional “school-at-home” program, you have all the freedom you need to customize the curriculum to fit your own needs. You can skip a day or an entire lesson, and it’s okay to move things around to fit in where it works best. Which leads us to our next point.
There are no “perfect” curriculum choices. After just a few short years, you’ll quickly come to the same conclusion at which all homeschoolers arrive eventually. Like building a house, every homeschool curriculum needs some kind of modification as you progress, whether it be dividing a lesson into more workable segments or teaching in such a way that information is more easily digestible. The truth is, every child is different. This is especially true if you happen to be teaching a special-needs child, as modifications will be necessary for all curriculum. It’s best to get comfortable with that idea, and the earlier the better.
Trial and error are normal parts of choosing a curriculum. As previously mentioned, there might be times when a homeschool curriculum looks like it’s going to be the perfect solution for your upcoming homeschool year. The problem is, you’re only partway through the first lesson when you realize it simply isn’t going to work the way you thought it would. So, what do you do? Well, many homeschoolers attempt to suffer through it. After all, they think to themselves, it’s a legitimate curriculum, so it must be ME that’s doing it wrong. Most of the time, however, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Never feel guilty about simply switching your curriculum for something that fits better, is easier to teach, or better adapts to your child’s understanding. After all, that is the most important thing.
Every child learns differently. Knowing about learning styles, as we spoke about earlier, is important when homeschooling your child. It helps to be able to get on their level and teach them in a way that allows them truly to benefit from the materials taught. This means that a curriculum that works perfectly for your best friend’s child may be horrible for yours, no matter how close they are in age or how alike they may be. There’s no need to force a curriculum on any child who does not do well with the style presented.
Remember, the most important take-away from this article should be that you must find and utilize the homeschool curriculum that works best for you, your child, your family, and your lifestyle. Yes, that’s a lot to think about, and yes, there is much research to do, especially if you’re just starting out. But as any homeschooler who has already done these things will tell you, your children are worth it.
And last but not least, never underestimate the value of extensive research, product reviews, and attending a Great Homeschool Convention where you can get the best of all your options, live and in person!