One of the most overwhelming parts when we first started homeschooling, was choosing what materials to use. “Where do I even start to find my options?” “Which one is the best though!?” Maybe you’re not like me, but I can sometimes get a lot of anxiety over making the one, single, obviously perfect choice with big decisions. (Because you know, there always is such a thing.)
I can’t tell you what specific curriculum is going to be the best fit for your family, but I can suggest some guidelines to consider as you navigate all the options.
Where Do You Start?
When we decided to start homeschooling I was already familiar with two popular options: Bob Jones & Abeka. These two curriculums are geared more towards private school classroom use, but are common for homeschool use as well. I used a variety of things for preschool and kindergarten (shout out to ReadingEggs,) but once Hayden hit 1st grade I primarily used Abeka because it was what I was familiar with. Over time I started to explore other options to find what worked best for us.
Things that can help in getting started:
- Cathy Duffy Reviews has an amazing breakdown of tons of curricula and books. This can give you a good idea of what a curriculum you’re considering might be like in real use.
- If you have Facebook, join some homeschool groups! There are SO many: some for homeschooling in general, some for your specific curriculum, and most likely local groups for your area. One word of caution with these groups, is that some can tend to openly censor opinions they don’t agree with (aka admins not allow discussion on a curriculum option at all!) However, most of them are pretty helpful!
- Don’t feel like you have to use the same curriculum for every topic or for every child. In fact, reading comments in my homeschool groups has shown me it’s pretty rare for parents to have one single thing they use across to board! We actually do use a single curriculum for most of our school now, but there are other things we bring in and parts we cut out.
- Keep it Simple. One of the reasons I decided to do Abeka our first year (after kindergarten) was because I could simply order the workbooks for each subject at Hayden’s grade level and do whatever they instructed. Even though Hayden only uses their math now, choosing something that was very clearly and simply laid out was incredibly helpful for sticking with our homeschool routine and starting to understand our schooling preferences and learning styles.
You Don’t Have to Get it Right the First Time
Or any time. In fact, chances are there is no one curriculum that will perfectly meet your needs and match your learning style(s). I think it’s pretty common in the homeschool world to often change up what you are doing as you learn what works best and/or your needs change. We now use The Good and The Beautiful for almost everything, but it took me 5+ years of homeschooling to know what I was even looking for or why it was a great fit for us.
Consider Your Children’s Learning Style and Preferences
Just like adults, kids have different preferences, subject strengths, and ways of learning that work best for them. Hayden has always been very internally motivated to learn, and works well with straightforward, down to the point teaching material. Audriana is less inclined to worry about school and generally doesn’t like to focus for long periods of time. With Audri, using a slower more circular based approach fits her attention span and learning style better. We also have to break her day up more than I ever had to do with Hayden. The math Hayden uses would probably make Audri cry because it’s just a group of problems to work through once you learn the lesson. In contrast Hayden would probably get annoyed at how much story-telling and extra “real life” examples are in Audri’s math. You probably won’t know how your child learns best from the beginning, but as you learn don’t be afraid to adjust to something that might work better!
Consider Your Teaching Preferences and Lifestyle
I know some homeschool parents that enjoy personally crafting every aspect of their own homeschool curriculum. They plan out every subject from materials they gather themselves… even math! In this way they are able to get a totally customized homeschool plan form the very start. That’s amazing! I personally have no issues with choosing curriculum that’s mostly been planned for me, and making the modifications where I see they are needed. I also plan my own course here and there (like our government class we’ll be doing over the fall,) but I don’t want to spend a significant amount of time *needing* to plan for every detail of our entire homeschool. Some parents are cautious of being the main teacher, even though they know homeschooling is a good fit, and have chosen to use online based programs for an even more guided approach. I recently discovered a company that offers online Spanish lessons with real instructors, so we’re looking at that for ourselves too! Find the balance of what works best for how you want to teach and realistically how much time you have to plan and prep.
Remember That Homeschool Doesn’t Have to Look Like Traditional School
I remember buying one of those teacher’s schedule charts early on in our homeschool journey so I could meticulously start our day at 8:00 in the morning, and we could do each of the traditional subjects (including gym time, art, lunch period, etc) as they were scheduled. It took me some time to come around to the idea that I wasn’t doing anything wrong if our day didn’t start at 8:00 am and included every subject every day. Now if that type of scheduling works well for you, then great! But for us starting later, and breaking some of the subjects into different days has been a better fit. This also has to do with the physical set up: you don’t need a dedicated room with school desks and a chalkboard to do school. Of course we just so happen to have those things, but most of our actual school time happens on the couch, at the kitchen table, and on adventures we take through our daily life. We also only need a few hours to do cover everything we need to learn for the day!
What if I Don’t Like Everything About The Curriculum I Chose or Am Considering?
Change it. One of the beauties of homeschooling, is getting to modify anything you want to fit the needs of you and your kids. I see a surprising number of stressed out parents in my homeschool support groups that struggle with feeling like they have to follow whatever the curriculum dictates down to the letter or their child will fail. This is not the case! (For the record, I’m not talking about skipping things that are hard, but rather finding the best way to approach them.)
Here’s a simple example we come across: The curriculum we use has “suggested reading” to go along with and supplement their history & science courses. They have a pretty narrow view on what counts as acceptable literature. That’s ok. Fun fact: I often choose books that are not on their approved list to supplement our school! They’re on topic of course, but they are books I know will be a better fit for keeping my kids interest.
Another example is the workload. We use Abeka math for Hayden, but they often have SO many problems per lesson. I typically cut the amount of problems she needs to do in half and assess how she handles them as we go. I’ve noticed her workbook for this fall actually now has color coded about half the problems to now be “supplemental,” so maybe they’ve received enough feedback that they modified it themselves moving forward! In other cases, I’ve actually to supplement the same math to make sure Hayden understood things before moving forward: we used some online games and Musical Multiplication to be sure she knew her times tables before moving on to a lot of the problems that needed you to know the multiplication facts.
Overall, homeschool tends to be trial and error over time. You learn what works better and you keep making adjustments. People will have totally differing opinions on curricula choices because what works amazingly well for one family, might be a terrible fit for another. Don’t be afraid of getting it wrong, just use every step as a learning process. That’s the beauty of homeschooling!
What criteria do you use when looking at a homeschool curriculum? How has that changed over time?