Several years ago as I was thinking about homeschooling my son, I sat down with my mom and mother-in-law a few different times to pick their brains about all things homeschool. My mom homeschooled my brother and me, and my mother-in-law homeschooled five, yes, five boys! One of my top questions–because it’s one thing to be homeschooled, it’s another story to homeschool–was “how did you decide what curriculum to use?” Their answer was somewhat disheartening to me–they both said basically there weren’t a lot of options to choose from if you were homeschooling in the 80s. In one sense, I kind of envied the simplicity of picking one curriculum from a handful of options. On the other hand, I am extremely grateful for all the amazing options available to home educators. If you are new to homeschooling, you may have encountered the lists and lists and lists of homeschool resources and become somewhat overwhelmed. There are numerous curriculum companies, websites, catalogs, etc. all dedicated to curriculum for home education. How does one pick?
1. Ask ask ask.
First, I would start by asking friends who currently home educate which ones they have chosen. What do they like about their curriculum? What would they change about their curriculum? How user friendly is their curriculum? Some curriculum is scripted for you as the educator to easily teach the concepts, while some curriculum is more of a guide, and it’s your responsibility to fill in the information necessary to teach the lesson. If you are homeschooling for the first time this year and aren’t sure if this is a “homeschool because of COVID” year or the beginning of many years of homeschooling, I would suggest finding out if any homeschooling friends have any curriculum you could borrow for this year.
If you don’t know anyone currently homeschooling, you can call the curriculum company and ask them all your questions. Many companies have curriculum consultants that are extremely happy to help you figure out if their curriculum is a fit for you and your child. Look at what the curriculum companies are offering on their websites as many of them will offer webinars and classes to help you use their curriculum well. During this pandemic, curriculum companies are eager to help parents successfully educate their children and often have some resources for free. A quick search on many curriculum websites will lead to many resources you can print and use. I was recently able to download a free guide to learning about elections in America and it was free! (link)
2. Familiarize yourself with popular curriculum models.
While it’s not necessary for you to become an expert in various philosophies of education, it is helpful for you to know that curricula tend to fit in broad categories. Several that are popular in home education currently are classical education, Charlotte Mason-based, literature-based and traditional-based. Again, if you are brand new to home education, you shouldn’t feel that you have to pick a model to follow in this first year of home education, but just be aware of the terms.
3. Don’t buy everything new.
Homeschooling can be expensive, and if you can afford to buy all new curriculum that’s great, but it doesn’t have to be a break the bank experience if you can’t afford to pay for all new curriculum. Some items you have to purchase new, like a math workbook, but the teacher’s manual can be purchased used. Places like Facebook Marketplace, Ebay.com and Thriftbooks.com can be useful places to buy used curriculum.
4. Use your local library.
While some places may not have libraries open yet, if you are able to use your library, it’s a wonderful resource to be able to find books, audiobooks, DVDs, and streaming options to use in your teaching. If you are able to purchase whole curriculum sets that include all the books you will need, that’s great, but the library often has many of the books you will use, and utilizing this resource keeps your costs lower.
5. Look for free resources.
I have mentioned how many curriculum companies have free resources on their websites–and often they will give you a sample lesson to download so you can preview what they offer before you make a purchase. There are also many free resources like ChompChomp and Purdue Owl, which Christie has mentioned in her grammar posts, that are helpful to you as the parent or for older students needing help with grammar. Another wonderful free site is one like Khan Academy . It’s also helpful to check out reputable museums and see what kinds of online/free resources they have for parents and students. I did a quick search of the Arizona Science Museum to see what options they had, and there is a wonderful list full of videos and activities for budding scientists.
6. Nothing is perfect.
As I was beginning my research for our kids to find THE BEST curriculum to use, an older, wiser veteraned homeschooling mom reminded me that there is no perfect curriculum. There is no perfect education. Everyone, no matter how thorough and rigorous his or her education, has gaps of knowledge. It should have been obvious to me, but it was SO helpful to hear her say so. I have the privilege and responsibility to make an informed choice as to what curriculum to use in my home education, but I can’t be paralyzed by fear of choosing a curriculum that might miss something. Rather, I show my children the joy of learning, using some really amazing curriculum, but fundamentally teaching my children to love learning is more important than if I found the perfect curriculum.
While none of us at Cottage School Life work for a curriculum company, we have some experience with several different types of curriculum. If you need help thinking through what curriculum might work for your homeschool, we offer consulting services and would be happy to talk with you!