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Choosing a homeschool curriculum

I'm going to start by saying this: No perfect homeschool curriculum exists.

Sure, you can buy a lot of great material. You can even find some pretty awesome material for free. But, what works wonders for one family may be a total dud for yours.

So, how do you wade through literally thousands of curricular choices? Well, do not start by asking other homeschoolers for their opinion.

To Thine Own Self Be True

One of the things that I like about Sonlight, a Christian literature-based homeschool curriculum, is that they actually give you a list of reasons why you should NOT buy their product. It might sound like a counter-intuitive business model, but I actually find it thoughtful towards families with a limited budget. Why spend money on something you'll hate - and then tell other people that they shouldn't use it?

Before you even crack open a homeschool catalog, answer a few questions about yourself and your kids first. Jot down some notes and keep them handy so you'll know what you want to look for when you start your actual curricula search.

  • What is your Homeschool Philosophy?
    What is it that drives your passion to homeschool? It's okay to like the traditional school model of using textbooks and worksheets. But, If you're still trying to put your finger on how homeschooling can be different, check out our article on different types of homeschool philosophies.

    Truth is, most families have a primary homeschool philosophy that they blend with a secondary philosophy. Whether you're a purist with your Classical approach or you're a sneaky unschooler because you secretly keep a scope and sequence checklist, knowing your own homeschool philosophy is the first step in pruning your list of curricular options to a manageable level.

  • What is your family lifestyle?
    Secular or religious is the most obvious question to start off with. Some secular families are fine with certain Christian material, because they know they'll either skip over parts they don't want to cover or they'll use it as a discussion point. If you're looking for Jewish or Muslim material, you may have fewer options, but material is out there. Other lifestyle questions to consider are the number of children you'll be homeschooling and how much of an on-the-go type family are you? If you're busy with lots of outside activities for multiple children, finding time to do textbook seatwork is going to take some creative planning on your part.
  • Will you use co-op or outside classes?
    Homeschool co-ops run the gamut, in terms of what they offer. Some co-ops are entirely parent-led volunteers. Others basically run as non-registered non-public schools with some pretty strict class requirements. If you add enrichment type classes, you'll still get to pick the core curriculum you want to use with your kids at home. If you go with a more formal co-op, chances are you'll be told which material to buy and what part you'll be responsible for teaching at home.
  • What is your budget?
    You can easily spend thousands of dollars unschooling your child. But then, you can also homeschool your kids for free, but it will take a lot of scouring time by you on the internet to piece together your curriculum. Even if you have a small budget, you can oftentimes find used homeschool material for sale on Ebay and Amazon.
  • Do you need help with staying organized?
    Different curricula offers different amounts of instructional support. Some companies offer teacher guides for an extra cost. Those guides might give you much needed ideas on pacing instruction and how to teach certain concepts. Others will give you an actual script you can use with your kids or even videos you can watch together. It's not unusual for first-year homeschool parents to want extra support as they build their confidence with teaching their kids.
  • Does your child have any special learning needs?
    Whether or not your child has a formal learning disability diagnosis, you probably already know if they learn in unique ways - or if they're behind in a subject. Knowing your child's strengths and weaknesses will help you pick material that will be the right fit. Kid hates to write? Chances are copywork (a mainstay of the Classical approach) is not going to be your best bet your first year homeschooling. Beind in math? Look for a spiral approach. Still having trouble sounding out words? Look for Wilson or Orton-Gillingham inspired reading material.
  • Does your child have a preferred (or hated) learning style?
    It's easy to get caught up in the Pinterest craze and think, "I should do that craft project with the kids!" Fact is, if your kid would rather play Minecraft than paper mache, then you'll probably not going to have a very joyful learning journey. Same goes for the child who has an extra (ten) ounce(s) of energy. Doing 60 Saxon math problems is not going to help them practice their multiplication facts, as much as going outside and jumping down a number line, saying their facts out loud.

Once you've had a chance to mull over these questions, go ahead and check in with other homeschoolers. Give them a sense of what you're looking for. Let them know what you don't think will be a good fit. And then have fun sorting through your short list of curricular options.

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April 07, 2020


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