How to Choose a Homeschool CurriculumWritten by Alicia Betz, reviewed by the EducationCorner.com Team
Some parents and caregivers know from the start they want to homeschool, but for others it takes months of weighing the pros and cons. For others, homeschool is thrust upon them due to their circumstances, and they find themselves suddenly in charge of their child’s education.
No matter where you land on the “how I decided to homeschool” spectrum, there is another tough decision that lies ahead of you: which curriculum to choose. There are a lot of factors that you can weigh in order to decide, so first and foremost, decide what is important to you. For example, if a faith-based curriculum is a non-negotiable, then that already weeds out many options.
While it’s important to think about what you want for your child, don’t leave your child out of the decision, either. Even young children can provide input, and the more involved they are, the more likely they are to want to learn. As you continue reading, we’ll give you different factors to consider that will help you weed out your options and find a curriculum that will be the best fit for your family.
Determine What Subjects You Want to Teach
As you start researching curricula, you’ll realize that they’re not all one and done. Some programs only offer reading, writing, and arithmetic, while others have it all and then some. Some types of programs don’t even offer your traditional subjects, and instead rely on more natural and student-guided learning. You also have the option of patching things together: choose a few subjects from one program and a few from another.
For older kids, you also need to think about electives like foreign language or accounting, for example. Many high schoolers also want to take AP exams, so you’ll need to determine if a curriculum can adequately prepare your child for those exams.
Decide on your level of involvement
When people think of homeschooling, they often picture a parent teaching their children all day long, which can be the case but it doesn’t have to be.
Some programs do it all for you, and you only need to supervise. Other programs give you a general curriculum that outlines certain concepts your kids should master, and then they let you run with it. And of course, there are many programs that fall somewhere in between.
When determining how much you want to be involved, take your own level of education and your confidence in teaching your child into account. Also think about how much time you have to devote to homeschooling. If you also work or have multiple kids to teach and take care of, you might want to look for a program that offers more flexibility in your involvement.
Think About Schedules and How Much Time You Want to Spend on School Each Day
Even if you decide that you want to be extremely involved and teach your child every lesson, your school day will be shorter than that of a traditional school. Remember that schools have free periods and transition time. As a homeschooling parent, you won’t have to take time to settle down a whole class or have other students wait while you help just one student. You also can teach directly to your child, and as you get to know your child’s learning type, this will become even quicker and more efficient.
That being said, there can still be a lot of variation from one family to another regarding how much time is spent on school. Do you want school to take up a large portion of your day, or do you want to just spend a couple hours per day and move on? Do you want to only focus on school 3-4 days a week? Remember, one of the benefits of homeschool is that you and your child get to create your own schedule. When looking for a program, find out the average time it takes to complete a day or unit of study.
Determine What Type of Learning You Would Prefer
No matter what curriculum you choose, you are in charge of how you deliver the content to your children, but different programs are more conducive to different types of learning.
Do you want your kids to sit down, get to work, and learn mainly at a desk, as they would in a traditional classroom? This is a more traditional learning style and though it can get a bad rap today, it works well for many students and families. If you have other household duties or if you need to work from home while your child learns, this might be ideal for you.
Are you interested in homeschooling because you don’t like the thought of having your child sit at a desk all day? If that’s the case, you might want to look for a program that allows for more experiences. This might involve a lot of “field trips” to museums, parks, hiking trails, etc. It also might require you to include your child in a lot of everyday tasks, for example learning about fractions while measuring ingredients for dinner or learning about math and reading while making a grocery list and going to the store. This type of learning is ideal for parents who have the time and energy to focus on school for the majority of the day.
Are you interested in something more in-between? Project based learning (PBL) is an increasingly popular type of learning, both in schools and in homeschooling. With this type of learning, students learn mainly through solving problems and completing projects. PBL often engages students because it allows them to create their own projects based on their interests. For example, if your child is interested in writing and journalism, he or she might create a project interviewing local townspeople about a problem in the community. To take it a step further, your child might then develop a plan to address the problem.
Of course, no matter what type of learning you choose, you’ll likely see elements of all three from time to time, but it’s a good idea to know which you would prefer.
Choose a Homeschool Method
There are a variety of different homeschooling methods; some of the most popular methods are described below.
The Charlotte Mason method covers a wide range of subjects, with a large focus on liberal arts. It’s a popular method that strives for balance between education and normal life.
Classical homeschooling emphasises the trivium: grammar, logic, and rhetoric. It’s designed to help students think critically and for themselves, and it often focuses largely on art, language, literature, and culture.
This method is most similar to what your kids would experience in a regular classroom. It’s a very structured approach that includes your traditional tests, worksheets, and grading methods.
As the name implies, this method bases much of the learning around literature. For example, rather than learning about history through a textbook, kids might learn about an event or time period through a work of historical nonfiction.
The basis behind this method is that learning should be driven largely by the child and his or her innate interests. Children are given autonomy to choose what they want to focus on and how long they want to spend with it.
The Waldorf method places particular importance on educating the child as a whole person. While teaching core subjects, it also places a strong focus on the arts.
Unschooling is a rather unstructured method where kids learn mainly through everyday experiences, such as household chores or social interactions. Unschooling doesn’t typically follow a formal curriculum.
With a unit study method, you’ll help your child learn various concepts within the lens of one unit or theme at a time. A unit focused on kindness, for example, would teach concepts through that lens. You might choose to teach all subjects through one theme or have different themes for each subject.
This isn’t one single homeschooling method, but rather a term to describe a combination of methods, and it’s what many families end up choosing. You may choose a Charlotte Mason curriculum, for example, but incorporate facets of Montessori and unschooling in your daily lessons.
Consider an Online Portion
Some parents prefer to keep screens and online courses completely away from their homeschooled students, while others like to use online courses to help supplement subjects. As kids get older, including an online portion might become more appealing when students start to learn about more complex topics. An online portion can also give you some time to yourself while you let a virtual teacher take care of a class or two. Maybe you have your child take their math class online, for example, if you don’t feel confident in your own math abilities.
On the other hand, some parents want to homeschool because they want complete control of their child’s education; they don’t want any other influences. Staying away from online options also reduces the amount of screen time your child gets each day.
Don’t forget about money
Many parents believe that a more expensive curriculum is worth it if it truly is the best for their family. Before you begin your search, create a budget and outline the most you are willing to pay. Prices for curricula vary, but you can’t just see the base cost of one and think that’s all you’ll pay.
You also need to find out what additional materials the curriculum requires and how much it costs to actually complete one year. For example, you might need to buy calculators, crayons, maps, and other basic supplies. If your child needs access to a computer, do you have an extra, or will that be an additional piece of equipment you’ll need to buy? If you are choosing a more experiential approach, think about the cost of admission to museums or the cost of travel to take multiple field trips.
Take it one year at a time
It can cause a lot of anxiety if you think you need to choose your child’s entire education when he or she is only five years old. Your child and his or her needs will change as they grow; the curriculum that works when they’re in first grade might not be the best choice when they’re in high school. There’s no rule that says you have to stick with a program all the way through, so focus on what will be best right now, and you can reevaluate at the end of each school year.
Try Out a Program Before Taking the Leap
Choosing a curriculum is a big decision; your child’s education is extremely important. It can be hard to get a feel for what a curriculum is actually like until you’ve seen it or gotten to try a few lessons. Once you’ve narrowed it down to a few programs, ask the publishers if there are free previews available.
If you aren’t able to get a preview, try to find independent reviews of the curriculum, and even connect with the people who wrote the reviews. You can also try to find parents in your area who have homeschooled and might be able to show you some sample lessons from their old curriculum.
Talk to Other Homeschooling Parents
It’s easy to fall victim to the marketing of any one homeschool curriculum, so it’s essential to talk to parents who have used different homeschool curricula. If you don’t know any homeschooling parents, search for message boards and homeschooling support groups online. You might also be able to connect with other parents at local classes, playgroups, MOPS meetings, or youth sports clubs.
Take your state’s requirements into account
You might want to provide a very relaxed homeschooling experience for your child, but some states make that difficult, requiring homeschool students to take standardized tests or show proof of meeting standards and benchmarks. Knowing these requirements can help you pick a program that is a good balance between what you want and what your state requires.
Making the Final Decision: Decide What’s Most Important to You
Now that you’ve learned about many of the different components that make up a homeschool curriculum, you can decide what is most important to you. You might not get everything you want in one single homeschool curriculum, but if you make note of what your non-negotiables are, that can help you decide.
For example, if you know you want something with limited structure and a lot of freedom for your child, you can immediately eliminate programs that are more traditional and instead focus on programs that allow you and your child to get out and experience the world.
Think about why you decided to start homeschooling in the first place. That purpose can help you determine what curriculum might be best for you and your family’s lifestyle and goals.
Another factor to consider that is extremely important for some families is if your child has a learning disability. The best type of curriculum in that case will vary based on your child’s disability. A special education teacher can help you narrow down what might work best for your child.
Homeschooling your children can be a wonderful experience, especially if you take the time to find a curriculum that matches up with your values and lifestyle. Take the time to research and try out programs, and don’t forget to talk to your children about what they would like to see in a curriculum as well. Giving children agency in their learning can lead to higher motivation, thus better learning outcomes.