How to Choose a Home School Curriculum

For a beginner, getting started with home schooling can be an arduous process that is neither fun nor inexpensive.  But, a large part of the battle can be made easier by learning how to pick your curriculum correctly the first time.  

Starting with the right curriculum will not only save you the cost of  replacing it midyear, but will also bring enjoyment to your family as you work through a system that matches your family’s personalities and needs.

Before even beginning to shop, take some time to determine what your family looks like as a unit.  How big is your family?  How many children will you be home schooling and at what ages are they?  Do you have babies or toddlers that you will need to work around?  Are any of your children older and able to help with some of the more basic tasks?  Getting a snapshot of your family unit will enable you to pick a curriculum that will meet your needs and be better suited to where you are in life.

Next, consider the current flow of your daily routine.   Perhaps you are highly organized and have every minute accounted or maybe you fly by the seat of your pants.  Which feels more comforting to you?  Think about your typical day.  Home schooling is a big change but the right curriculum can make the adjustment easier.

An important aspect of home schooling is your “why?”  Why are you planning to home school?  What is crucial for you regarding the education your children will receive?  Plan out a list of non-negotiable goals and posted it somewhere to remind yourself daily.  What do you want your children to learn?  In an ideal world, what would their experience look like? 

Some people prefer lots of crafts and activities; others lean toward high literature content.  Some want to go wherever the child’s interest is for the day; others find that structure is an important part of their day.

After you have a fairly well rounded picture of your family unit and your goals, the next step is to consider any state guidelines.  These vary state to state so it is important to check and see what the expectations and restrictions are for where you live. 

This is also a great time to research a home school co-op in your area.  They are invaluable in pointing you to the right path and to give you a wealth of information.  Co-op members are also very willing to share with you what curriculum they are using and why.  Listen carefully and evaluate how well it matches your needs.

Finally, you are ready to look at curriculum options.  There are many different options for curriculums.  Some are very loose and allow you to plan many things yourself.  This would not be ideal if your time is limited or if you have many children.  Others are very structured and have all the leg work done for you.  While all the lessons have been planned and all the materials are put together in a box for you, it shouldn’t limit you to feel free to add your own touch.

Consider the following questions when making your decision:

*  Would you like a religious program or a secular? Some religious programs also allow secular materials which allow good conversation starters with your children. Be sure which type you’d like.

*  Are you willing to purchase from multiple suppliers or would you prefer to buy from just one?  In some cases, piecing your own curriculum together may be too much for a beginner with no prior teaching experience.  You can always start with one and then tailor it to your needs when you feel more comfortable.

*  How much effort do you want to do in the planning? How much time do you have?  Does having everything planned for you daily seem restrictive or is it a relief?

*  What would you like the focus to be?  Children learn in different ways.  If in doubt, test your children to find out if they are visual, auditory or kinesthetic learners.  Find a curriculum that will best suit their needs while challenging them to grow as well.  Some curriculums are very hands on, activity rich and active.  Other curriculums are more structured with occasional activities which can be better for children that need boundaries and guidelines.  Both have value.

*  Look at how much time you have to spend with each child.  How much teacher directed instruction is required by the curriculum?  Also for multiple children, consider a curriculum has allows for an age range.  It will not only save you money but time as well.

*  Consider assessment of your progress.  How will you determine if you are on track? Does the curriculum provide for this?  If not, you will need to do this yourself.  Determine your yearly goals and how you will measure whether they have been met.

Now that you have an idea of what you are looking for in curriculum, I recommend “100 Top Picks for Home School Curriculum: Choosing the Right Curriculum and Approach for Your Child’s Learning Style” by Cathy Duffy.  She does an excellent job of showing what is available and giving a full critique. It is available on Amazon.com for less than $15 and is a great investment in your child’s education.