If you’re new to homeschooling, then whatever you do, don’t do an internet search for “homeschool curriculum.”
I’m only half joking.
Homeschoolers today have a huge advantage over those of thirty or even twenty years ago. Today there are far more publishers creating quality resources specifically for homeschool use. The variety of materials available is larger, and It's much easier to find resources for students with different learning styles or learning challenges, like dyslexia, or curriculum written from a secular viewpoint.
There are even homeschooling families that create materials, classes, and full curriculums for other homeschoolers.
The downside to all this is that now homeschoolers have roughly eleventy billion options to sift through. How in the world does one search through that haystack while looking for just the right needle?
We’ve come up with a three-step approach to help you filter through the myriad possibilities so you are more likely to find the right program at the start and not waste a lot of time, effort, and especially money on programs that aren’t a good fit. Read on to learn more!
Filter #1: What’s your educational philosophy?
Stay with me here. I know this might sound heavy, but it doesn’t have to be. It's also an important concept to think through when you begin homeschooling. Knowing what your own thoughts are on education will keep you on the right path.
Your educational philosophy doesn't have to be a big fancy document with a lot of impressive words and ideas. It’s just your thoughts about what education should look like. Even simply answering these questions will get you off to a good start:
There’s one important step you should take that can have a huge impact on your educational philosophy – in fact, it will have a huge (positive!) impact on your entire homeschooling journey: deschooling. In fact, I consider deschooling to be the single most important thing parents (and kids!) can do to unlock their true homeschooling potential and put them on the path to long-term homeschooling success. Before you choose any curriculum, spend some time deschooling! I have three different resources to help you with this step. Start with my article on deschooling, then download the free guide available through that article, and then, if at all possible, join me in the Deschooling Bootcamp.
Filter #2: What is your child’s learning style?
Schools don’t use workbooks and textbooks because they’re the best way for kids to learn. They use them because that's one of the best way to teach a lot of people at once in a uniform fashion. The problem is, not every child learns well with that approach. If your child is one of them, feel free to ditch workbooks and textbooks altogether. The freedom to choose curriculum that works well for your child is one of the best things about homeschooling!
But what do you use if you don’t use workbooks and textbooks? Believe it or not, you have a LOT of alternatives.
Think about the way your child likes to learn and the kinds of things they like to do in their free time. Then try to identify some ways you can combine their learning style and interests to teach them the standard academic subjects.
Then think about all the things that can be educational in and of themselves. Novels. Board games. Documentaries. Museums. Local theater. Non-fiction books. DIY projects. Online courses. (Not online classes - the kinds of courses you find on sites like Udemy.com.) Movies. Legos. The library. Encyclopedias. (The hardbound kind. Yes, they still make those.) The list goes on and on. Imagine all the learning you could do without once cracking open a textbook or sitting in on a conventionally-styled class!
Now, you may be wondering,"How do I know what kinds of materials to look for if I don't know how my child is wired to learn?" Good question! This is one of the reasons that a period of deschooling is a good idea if your child has spent any time in a conventional school environment.
And now you're asking, "What the heck is deschooling?!"
Deschooling is a deprogramming period. It's a process that gives children the chance to fully shed the constraints and expectations of the conventional approach to school. They don't have to worry about being forced to learn anything they don't want to learn. Instead, they can do whatever sounds interesting to them, be it reading, sleeping (a HUGE need for most students), or even watching TV or playing video games (within your family's boundaries, whatever those may be). Think of it as summer break without the specter of the next school year hanging over you.(Admit it – it sounds awesome, right?)
School told them what they had to learn and how and when they had to learn it. Deschooling allows them to figure out what they want to learn and lets them learn however and whenever they want.
Maybe that means finding websites that teach how to code mods for their favorite video game. Or watching YouTube videos to learn how to sew a dress for a doll (or themselves). Or learning how to use a stop motion video app to make their own Lego movie by just diving in and figuring it out on their own. Or reading books about...well, anything!
But, just as importantly, deschooling allows you to observe them and figure out how they like to learn so you can then figure out what kind of curriculum or teaching method will dovetail with their natural bent.
Filter #3: What methodology fits you best?
“Methodology” is just a fancy word for “approach.” It’s the "how" that matches up with your "why" (the reasons you decided to homeschool) and with your personal educational philosophy.
We have an entire article devoted to the different educational methodologies that will help you better understand them. I’ll include a very basic overview here, but I highly recommend popping over to the other article when you’re done.
I group educational methodologies into three basic categories:
Examples: Charlotte Mason, Classical
The overarching philosophy of this category is to expose children to a wide variety of subjects and skills while also moving them into deeper and deeper levels of understanding and reasoning. The end goal is for children to become well-rounded adults with well thought-out values and opinions, a firm grasp of logical thinking, and a strong work ethic. Parents teach children directly in both the academic subjects and subjects outside the typical academic scope, such as handicraft, fine arts, rhetoric, and Latin. Narration and discussion is often used to gauge comprehension instead of written tests, and high-quality, “living” literature is often used to teach history, philosophy, religion, and even some areas of math and science. Families often follow a daily school schedule and learning is somewhat structured.
Examples: Unit Studies, Montessori, Waldorf, Simplified Homeschooling, Project Based, Unschooling
The overarching philosophy of this category is to leverage children's natural curiosity and interests and to provide an organic, authentic education. The end goal is for children to become adults whose natural curiosity is still intact and who are experienced in doing whatever they need to do in order to pursue what interests them. Children direct some, most, or all of their own learning, commonly pursuing their own specific interests and passions, while parents provide guidance, exposure to new ideas, and occasional direct instruction when requested. Children learn skills and concepts as the need arises or when they express interest in learning them, rather than on a schedule or "because this is what you learn at this age." Academic subjects are integrated together, rather than being taught in isolation. In approaches on the less-structured end of the spectrum, a distinction is rarely made between real life and “school” time, because real life facilitates the education. Conventional academic materials may or may not be used depending on the parents' philosophy and the children's desires, and hands-on, real world opportunities and experiences are valued and engaged in regularly.
Examples: Online/Virtual School, “public school at home” programs
The overarching philosophy of this category is to provide a conventional educational experience in a home environment. The end goal is for children to have gained the same type of education they would have gained in a conventional school setting. Children study concepts assigned to their age-based grade level, regularly submit homework assignments, and take conventional assessments. Attendance is often tracked, with penalties given for missed days, and children enrolled in online programs may be expected to engage in the program for a certain number of hours each day or week. Academic subjects are usually taught in isolation, with quizzes and tests assigned to determine mastery. While parents may occasionally do the teaching, instruction typically comes through videos or textbooks, with parents overseeing the completion of the work and keeping children accountable for fulfilling their daily or weekly time requirements. Flexibility in the pace and schedule varies greatly, with programs tied to public schools usually adhering to stricter schedules and allowing for less flexibility. Programs are rarely customizable.
Still not sure which of these options would suit you best? Take our methodology quiz! It’s an easy way to figure out which of those categories you fall into and where you should start your research. Then you can read the methodologies article to learn more about the approaches that fall into your category and get access to even more resources that will help you select one.
But, don’t expect that you’ll follow any one methodology exactly to the letter. The best part of homeschooling is that you can customize it – and you will, over time, taking ideas from here and there and grafting them in to your own practices. So if you aren’t crazy about every aspect of a particular methodology, never fear – just ditch the ones you don’t like and adopt the ones you do!
Now that you’ve thought through these three ideas, narrowing down your curriculum options should be much easier.
I still don’t recommend doing a straight-up internet search for curriculum, however, even with search terms that should narrow down the results. Instead of eleventy billion options you’ll get a few hundred, and that’s still too many to wade through without having an idea of exactly what you’re looking for.
Join some Facebook groups for the methodologies you are most interested in. Then do a search in those groups for curriculum recommendations. The added benefit here is that you’ll also see lots of feedback from other users and can also ask for recommendations that suit your child’s learning style.
Another option is to check out The Homeschool Mom’s reviews. There are reviews for hundreds of programs and resources, and they’re all submitted by other homeschoolers who have actually used them, so you’ll get lots of opinions and experiences to judge by. (The downside is that not all of the reviews will be in-depth or well-rounded.)
Cathy Duffy’s curriculum review site is another excellent resource. Her reviews (particularly those in her “Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum” books) go into great detail and are very well-rounded. Unfortunately, since her children are all grown, her reviews are not based on actual experience. But she did homeschool them when they were younger, so she analyzes the resources through the filter of an experienced homeschooling parent. (Another excellent reason to get your hands on her "Top Picks" book is that she charts all resources based on method and learning style. This makes it much easier to hone your search.)
There are a lot of factors that contribute to whether curriculum suits any given child well.
You may love it, but your child may hate it – or vise versa. You may both love it but find it doesn’t give you the results you were hoping for. It may be more complicated than you expected – or too simple. For any number of reasons, you may find sooner or later that the curriculum that looked online like a perfect fit simply isn’t. In that case, it is perfectly okay to ditch it and try something new.
Nothing about homeschooling is ever set in stone. Change it up – be it schedule, method, or curriculum – until it's what you want it to be. So when you hit that “complete purchase” button or fork over that credit card, don’t panic at the idea of being married to that program or those books for the next ten months. Between return policies and used curriculum websites where you can unload what you don’t use, you’ll be able to refund, resell, and replace that curriculum until you do find the perfect program.
And it's my hope that this list of considerations will get you to that perfect program sooner rather than later.