What a curriculum consultant wishes homeschoolers knew

Curriculum expert shares key tips for homeschoolers. Including comparing, overcoming gaps, and ensuring your curriculum is culturally relevant.

Jennifer Wolfe is a curriculum expert and a working mom of three kids. I was excited to have Jennifer share her wisdom as a Curriculum Consultant with our Outschool community. Our interview explored the most important information she wishes homeschoolers knew. Especially families who are just starting their homeschool journeys, and those looking to change and evaluate their curriculum.

Jennifer also shared her advice for how homeschoolers can supplement their curriculum and fill any gaps with an array of fun and culturally relevant resources. 

Meet Jennifer Wolfe

To kick things off, Jennifer shared the basics of being a curriculum consultant and how her expertise can help homeschooling families. 

My specialty is evaluating the quality of curriculum. Primarily, I’ve worked with traditional brick-and-mortar schools, but also in the homeschooling context. I love helping people understand what to look for to find a quality homeschool curriculum.

Particularly one that meets your children's needs, has rigor, and is engaging. I also care deeply about cultural relevance and ensuring multiple perspectives are presented.

We recently tapped Jennifer’s expertise to create the Outschool Checklist to see if your homeschool curriculum is culturally relevant. Check yours now.

What every homeschooler should know about curriculum

When I heard what Jennifer did for a living, I knew that she would have invaluable advice for homeschoolers. Here’s what she said she wished families knew about selecting a curriculum. 

One thing that can help make the process feel less overwhelming is starting by thinking about your own family. Map out what you want your kids to learn, what your children love and their learning preferences, and your priorities for homeschooling. 

Then, consider your state’s homeschool laws. Understanding your legal requirements and baking those into your curriculum is essential.

What’s so unique about homeschooling is there is no one best option. Homeschooling gives you the flexibility to choose what works best for your family and meet the needs of your unique children.

Another kernel of wisdom Jennifer suggests for new homeschooling families is to collaborate with your kids as you plan. Because we all know that if you are included in a decision-making process, you tend to be more engaged and excited about the path ahead. 

If your kids are old enough, Jennifer suggests talking to them about what they are interested in and passionate about learning. Show them you’re listening by ensuring your curriculum includes the topics your kids mention. 

Identifying your learner outcomes and discussing them with your children first will be a huge help and filter for sorting through your curriculum choices. Different curriculums address and prioritize things differently, and it will help you find one that matches what you want to focus on. 

By engaging your children as collaborators in creating your homeschool, you will all benefit, have more fun, and likely improve their learning and skill building.

How to choose your homeschooling approach and goals

What do you do when you don’t have defined homeschooling goals yet? How do you decide what they should be? This might be especially true for families who need to transition quickly to homeschooling due to issues at traditional schools, illnesses, etc. Here’s Jennifer’s advice.

If a student rapidly transitioned from a traditional school, for example, from a 4th-grade classroom, you can look up the 4th-grade standards for your local district. If your child liked some of the materials they were using in school, you could continue them from home, allowing you to have some continuity of experience.

Looking at grade-level standards can be helpful, even if your kids might learn differently or are ready to go above their grade. Likewise, some kids need additional support because they aren’t quite at grade level. The bottom line is the grade isn’t an end-all or catch-all, but I think it's a helpful guide in terms of what students are expected to know.

The other thing you can think about is what kind of approach you want to take. The beauty of homeschooling is you can have an un-school flexible system. You can create an environment that feels a little more like a traditional school. There are many different pedagogical styles. 

Some people love the classics, so they use Greek and Latin as their base. You have a lot more choice than you do in a traditional school. Understanding the different homeschooling styles can help you decide what’s right for your family.

This advice resonated with me. I have family members who use the Classical approach because they love teaching their kids Latin and have a deep passion for the classics. Personally, I lean toward the Montessori style, since I am a bit of an independent free-range parent.

Remember, you can always change your goals and practices if they aren’t working for you as a teacher or for your children.

How to overcome homeschool curriculum gaps 

How do homeschooling parents overcome curriculum gaps? What do they do if their curriculum doesn’t provide everything they need? Curricula gaps are common, especially around including diverse perspectives, known as cultural relevance or cultural competency. To combat this, Jennifer recently put together a checklist for Outschool, which parents can use to assess their curriculum. She explained:

Sometimes we are happy with our curriculum, but we want our children exposed to more culturally diverse experiences. There are some great places where you can supplement or fill gaps.

For example, there’s a wonderful organization called CommonLit. They offer reading passages for all grade levels that are free to use, culturally relevant, and representative of different races, family types, and neuro-diverse learners. 

It’s a great supplemental resource. You can also use primary sources, like newspaper articles or things going on in current events, to provide some diversity. There are also other interesting subscription options where you can get a diverse set of books mailed to you monthly. For example, one I like a lot is OurShelves.

What Jennifer loves about Outschool

For more than two years, we’ve been fortunate to have Jennifer working with our team at Outschool. I asked her what brought her to Outschool and what intrigues her about our platform. 

I love Outschool as a resource for homeschooling parents to supplement their curriculum and fill gaps. Outschool offers so many classes, and I particularly recommend this curated set on Black joy and Black excellence as a way to expand the perspectives your children are learning from.

Outschool aligns well with my interest in student-centered learning and fostering passions. It’s so amazing to see kids having a voice and choice over what and how they learn.

It’s so fun and inspiring to see this in action. It’s incredible that children can meet teachers and peers from across the globe and connect in new ways virtually. 

Outschool also has amazing Groups (like clubs), a vibrant Learner Community, and so much more for kids to engage and build community. It’s such a pleasure to be part of the team working to create these opportunities for all learners.

If you have other ideas for ways to fill curriculum gaps or recommended culturally relevant materials, please share them with us in our Homeschooling with Outschool parent group on Facebook or in our Parent Hub

Homeschool curriculum elevator pitch 

To wrap up our conversation, I asked Jennifer for her one key curriclum takeaway for homeschoolers. 

First, I would just say, take a deep breath.

There are so many choices that it can be overwhelming. First, ask yourself who you want to be as a teacher and how your kids like to learn. Then consider what you’d like to tackle in a specific time frame, like a year or a semester. 

Breaking it down will help you filter your options to what matches your family’s goals and interests. Then, once you have your shortlist, I encourage you to sample the curriculum.

Finally, talk to your kids about your options and make a collaborative decision. If I had 2 minutes to give you advice, my curriculum pitch, that’s what it would be.

Thank you to Jennifer Wolfe for your expertise and generosity. Your authentic passion for learning and empowering families is inspiring. 

Anna DuinAnna is a Content Strategist at Outschool. She's also a mother to two pretty-awesome little boys. Nothing makes her happier than rising to a challenge or making something new.

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