Choosing Homeschool Curriculum
Curriculum choices can be soooo overwhelming. There are a million options out there with more popping up every moment.
So instead of focusing on any one particular curriculum, or even trying to give a summary of a few different options, let’s consider some of the broad categories of curriculum and what you should consider when trying to pick one for your child.
Consider the usability in the homeschool setting
Not all curricula are designed for the homeschool setting. Many “mainstream” publishers focus their materials on classroom settings. They make references to “Big Books” or other supplementary materials that are hard to get (expensive, not usable for homeschool, etc.). They may spend time devoting the material to students who are considered ELLs (English Language Learners) or students with special needs (below/above grade level, students who process in certain ways), etc. The material could reference a lot of cooperative learning activities. When looking at a curricula, consider the “meat” of the program – is it something that you could see yourself using “as is?” Would it take a lot of adjustment to make it make sense for a homeschooler?
Consider the level of support for the parent-teacher
Some curricula is highly scripted. You say “x,” the student does “y.” There isn’t a lot of outside research you will have to do. If you are brand new, someone who likes to be told what to do, or have a student who is very Type A, a highly scripted curriculum might be an excellent choice. If you like a lot of flexibility, or if you are more experienced, you may look for curriculum with more freedom and wiggle room.
Many curricula are highly supportive, even if they are not scripted. For example, consider if the curriculum has detailed instructions (such as what to do before starting a lesson, lists of supplies to prepare beforehand, how to extend the activities in the lesson, etc.). For some people, more explanation truly is better. Someone with a teaching background or a lot of experience may already have techniques to use and may not require them to be listed inside of their materials.
Consider the learning style of the student
When choosing curriculum, you should always consider the child’s needs over your own Why? Children learn best when they are taught the way THEY learn best. For some kids, this means having a lot of colors and visuals. Other kids might need less distractions and more black-and-white work. Some kids need that hands-on, kinesthetic piece. Some kids are highly auditory and do well with lecture and/or audio-books. When you evaluate a piece of curriculum, don’t think about how much YOU like the look or feel. Think about whether or not it would be a good fit for your child.
Consider if the curriculum aligns with your homeschool philosophy
Now if you are a brand new homeschooler, or an “accidental” homeschooler, you might not have a homeschool philosophy, and that’s okay. Think about what you want for your child. Is it important to you that your child become an excellent critical thinker? Make sure you choose a curriculum that provides thought-provoking questions or project-based learning. Do you want to make sure that your child is formally assessed at regular intervals? Be sure to pick a program that includes quizzes, tests, or other formal assessments (along with answer keys, rubrics, grading guidelines, etc.). The key here is to make sure that the work your children are doing fits with what you want for them, educationally.
Consider the level of technology involved, and whether or not you are okay with that
There are many homeschoolers who love technology – online programs, interactive websites, games, YouTube videos, etc. But there are many other homeschoolers who do not want technology as a large part (or any part) of their homeschool day. So before diving into a curriculum, consider the amount of technology that is involved, whether or not you would use it, how much “screen time” you want during your homeschool day, and how much YOU want to be instructing your kids (vs. an instructor on the Internet, an adaptive online program, etc.). I think this is a good time to consider the pros and cons of technology in education. Add more here or LINK
Consider the cost and the re-usability of the resource
If you are going to be purchasing your own curriculum, cost may be a serious consideration. Is there a way to borrow the material, or coordinate with a school/library to get the resource on a temporary basis? If you make a one-time purchase, can you use the material for multiple years, or with multiple children? Can you sell the curriculum after you have used it? Is the material available through a homeschool co-op or used book store? Which parts of the curriculum are consumable? Are there free trials available? Make sure you know your budget before you start purchasing curriculum. It’s definitely possible to go a little crazy with so many great options out there.
And if you don’t have a choice?
Let’s say that you don’t have a choice as to the materials you receive for homeschooling. This may be the case if you work with a private homeschool program or an online program, but there are certainly other scenarios where options may be limited.
First off, take a deep breath. Classroom teachers are often given one set of fourth grade social studies textbooks, for example. This doesn’t mean that all of their students are sitting in their seats, reading from page 242. It means that the teacher has to learn to be resourceful. Sure they may crack open that textbook from time to time. But they may also find a great Gold Rush unit on Teachers Pay Teachers, or they make check out some great trade books from their local library, or they may find an awesome video on Discovery Education. Supplementing a “standard curriculum” is what teachers do. And with that…
Remember, no curriculum is perfect
Kids are different. Homeschool parents are different. There are going to be materials that fit you and your child better than other materials. That doesn’t mean the curriculum you choose is going to be perfect. You will need to modify, adapt, add and delete components, and possibly even abandon curriculum in your search to find the best fit. It doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with your teaching or your student’s learning, or even the curriculum itself.