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How to choose the best homeschool curriculum

What are the different homeschool curriculums available? What you need to know before you choose a curriculum and how to choose the right one.

For many families, figuring out how to choose the best homeschool curriculum is at the core of their homeschooling journey. Whether the mission is to ensure academic success, cultivate a love of books, or introduce unique ideas, your curriculum should reflect your family’s goals and values.

But what do you do when there are so many options available?

As more families seek alternative educational opportunities, more homeschool curriculums have become available. With abundant curriculum choices, figuring out which is best for your family can feel overwhelming. Understandably, there are a lot of questions running through your mind:

  • What does “curriculum” mean to you?

  • What do you need to consider before choosing a curriculum?

  • Are there any legal state requirements you should follow regarding curriculums?

  • What different curriculums are available, and how will they meet my child's needs?

To help you jumpstart your exciting homeschool journey, let's dive deeper into these questions.

What does a homeschool curriculum mean to you?

One of the greatest benefits of homeschooling is that there are no “rules” to how you put together your curriculum. As long as you’re following your state’s requirements, which usually include four core subjects and a set number of days each year, which curriculum you choose is entirely up to you.

But the curriculum doesn’t have to come in one box from one company. For some families, especially those with multiple children or varying learning abilities, one size does not fit all. Instead, you have the opportunity to pick and choose what works best for your family. It may mean that every single subject is taught from a different text. It could mean that some subjects are taught from textbooks, and others are learned from online resources.

A comprehensive curriculum is not the only valid approach. So, if you’re new to homeschooling, it’s okay to look for other options. It’s also okay if that curriculum you thought was amazing falls flat, and you need to switch.

That’s one of the many reasons families pull from multiple sources and supplement with tools like Outschool.

Things you need to know and do before choosing a homeschool curriculum

Thanks to the homeschooling boom over the past couple of years, the options for homeschool curricula have grown significantly. Below are guidelines to help you review, compare, and select the right curricula for your family.

1. Consider what subjects you want to cover in your homeschooling curriculum

Depending on your country or state, certain subjects must be included in a traditional schooling and homeschooling environment. When choosing a curriculum, make these required subjects the priority, but know that how you present the material is up to you.

However, the beauty of homeschooling is that you, the parent, can tap into your child’s unique interests and align passion with learning.

Since many states require the four core subjects, math, science, social studies, and English in the United States, look at one subject at a time and consider what that means to you.

For example, there are several ways you could meet science requirements. You can learn from a textbook, create edible experiments in the kitchen, or study the ecology around your home. Homeschooling is all about trying new things and thinking outside the four walls of a traditional classroom.

You don't have to mimic the brick-and-mortar school schedule, especially since there are many types of homeschooling styles out there. It’s okay if your curriculum doesn't look like someone else's.

The best curriculum is not the one with the busiest work, pretty pictures, or weekly quizzes (although that is still an option). Instead, you’ll know the curriculum is right when you can teach the required subjects in a way that allows your child to love learning and explore their interests.

Unsure about which subjects you need to include in your homeschool? If you live in the USA, you can refer to this article for specific guidelines in each state.

2. Decide the number of hours you'll spend homeschooling

One of the many perks of homeschooling is having control over how many hours your child should spend learning. In some states, there are requirements for a minimum number of hours per day for a set number of days. But how you break those hours and days up depends on what fits your family's lifestyle.

Some homeschooled children begin their day early in the morning. Other families, especially those with other commitments or parents who work full-time, homeschool in the evening. Some families even homeschool on the weekend or in shifts throughout the day. Again, there is no right or wrong way to homeschool!

If you're new to homeschooling, you might wonder how to schedule your homeschool days…It all depends on your child’s age, interests, amount of required subjects, and what style of homeschooling your family will use. That said, how you homeschool will directly affect the curriculum you'll choose.

For example, following a curriculum centered on arts and crafts for a 5-year-old while holding down a full-time job can be daunting and stressful for you and your child. However, an older child who can follow directions and safely work on crafts may greatly enjoy getting to build a paper mache castle to match the Medieval History lesson for the day while you take that conference call.

Don’t forget that everything around you is an opportunity to teach your child. A trip to the grocery store can be an economics lesson about supply and demand for your high schooler. Going to the park offers a chance to discover new plants or experiment with Newton’s second law of motion on the slide, the swing, or the seesaw. You can take a field trip to tour a historical home and learn about the people who lived there or read about it in a book on the living room floor. Almost anything can become a learning experience.

As a guide, check your local laws for suggestions on how many hours you need to spend homeschooling your children. In certain states, it's required to track your homeschool hours and submit the report to your state at the end of the year. Completing standardized testing may also be required. You can use a simple excel file to track the hours, or you can use a template.

3. How the age of your children affects your homeschooling

Unlike traditional schooling, your child’s age is only a baseline for what you want to include in each day’s learning.

Preschool & Kindergarten

For some homeschoolers, this is an age of learning through play. As a parent, you already know how hard it is to get a small child to sit for a set amount of time, so the focus in this age group is less about formal schooling and more about teaching your child to love learning.

Even if your state has required hours for each day, they can be filled with making numbers in pans of shaving cream, collecting rocks, and reading together as a family. If you want to add learning to read and foundational math to the mix, go for it! Remember that almost anything is more enjoyable at this age when associated with music, singing, movement, and games.

Elementary

These early years are some of the most fun for many homeschooling families. In only a couple of years, your child may progress from learning their ABCs and 123s to developing a curiosity about the world around them. While many states require specific subjects, there is also an opportunity to lean into your child’s interests.

Once you start diving into the different subjects, such as math, science, history, and language arts, you may find that your child wants to know more about a particular topic. Take this time to include enrichment opportunities through field trips and documentaries, or find an Outschool class that offers more in-depth learning.

Remember that early elementary is also the age at which many families are obligated by their states to begin some kind of schooling, so check your local state laws to meet this requirement.

Middle School

Whether your child is in a traditional school system or homeschooling, it's a transitional time. During these years, you will begin to balance the fun, curious aspects of learning along with preparing for high school.

Subject matter often becomes more rigorous as math and language arts requirements increase, but you can always infuse your child’s school day with fun. Children are going through a lot emotionally at this age, so bear that in mind as you plan your homeschool strategy. Don’t be afraid to recruit teaching help. Online classes are a convenient and affordable option.

High School

Homeschooling high school is not for the weak! Many kids, yes, even homeschoolers, are ready for some independence in their day. It may mean getting a tutor for those subjects that need additional attention or getting advice on what to do after high school.

As they become young adults, it is important to find a curriculum that aligns with their long-term goals. Some kids have their sights set on college, while others are thinking about trade schools, apprenticeship programs, joining the military, or going straight into the workforce.

Talk with your high schooler to get an idea of what they hope to accomplish in the future. Helping them develop their life skills is a good idea regardless of what the future holds.

Remember, no two homeschools look the same. If the above information seems too rigorous or traditional, you may find that unschooling is a better fit for your child. Unschooling is a learning style intended to replace formal teaching with child-led learning at their own pace focusing on the things that interest them most.

For more information on how to start homeschooling, no matter the age, check out these seven tips to get started.

4. The cost of homeschooling and your curriculum

Price is also a factor to consider when choosing a homeschool curriculum, but it does not have to be the determining factor. Thankfully, many types of curricula fit different budgets. Just because a curriculum is on the more expensive side doesn't mean it's a better choice.

A budget is helpful to keep you from spending too much at the beginning of the “school year,” and you may want to reserve some money for later in the year in case you change curricula, need to hire a tutor, or come across an amazing video game coding class.

Instead, focus on how you want to spend the money. If your family prefers traveling and field trips, budget for those things first and then decide how you will allocate the rest of your budget. Maybe you hope to incorporate more hands-on learning with crafts and science experiments. If that’s the case, be sure to take into account any materials you'll need.

Keep in mind that you can also resell homeschool materials that you don’t use or are lightly used – especially books. Reselling is a common practice in the homeschool community, and there are several places online where you can resell (or buy!) used homeschool curricula, including:

  • Facebook – with a large online marketplace and a plethora of virtual homeschool communities and groups, Facebook has multiple options on where you can resell or swap your books. For example, the Homeschool Buy Sell Trade 

    group, Homeschool Free for Shipping, and many more!

  • Local homeschool curriculum sales – these are usually found through co-ops or local homeschool groups.

  • Homeschool Classified - If you’re looking specifically for used curricula, this is a great place to start! With new and used curricula updated often, the site connects homeschoolers looking to sell their books with families looking to buy at a discounted price.

Don’t forget to comparison shop! If you are using textbooks or novels, check out second-hand stores such as thriftbooks.com or tap into the resources at your local library. Homeschooling doesn’t have to be expensive.

5. Identify your child’s learning style

Just as each child is unique, so are their learning styles – even between siblings. When choosing a curriculum, it is also essential to take into account how your child learns:

  • Visually: graphic elements like maps, charts, and diagrams can help visual learners absorb information.

  • Aurally: auditory learners process via conversation. It could be a spoken conversation or email, or text chat. They're also likely to repeat elements of a lesson or ask questions as they process.

  • Reading and writing: reading and writing learners prefer books, lists, articles, reports, essays—anything they can digest in written form—so textbooks and writing assignments are their happy places.

  • Kinesthetic: kinesthetic learners learn by doing, or even watching someone else do, as in a real-life demonstration or YouTube tutorial, or anything that allows them to have an experience.

Think about how your child learns best. Do they prefer to sit and listen to you read a story aloud or get dirty outdoors? If you’re unsure, try them all! (One at a time, of course.) Some kids have a mix of learning styles that work for them. If that’s the case, mix and match your curriculum to meet all their learning needs.

For more about learning styles, check out our complete guide to the four learning preferences and eight intelligences.

How do you choose the right homeschool curriculum for your kids?

Of all the choices you have for curriculums, how do you choose the right one? When looking at a curriculum, it helps to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does this fit your teaching style?

  • Does this fit your schedule?

  • Does this fit your budget?

  • Does it fit your child's style of learning?

  • Does the provider offer you the support you need?

  • Is it possible to resell it if it doesn't work out?

Unsure where to start looking for homeschool curriculums? Check out homeschool review blogs, ask friends and family, or join homeschooling groups online or locally. One suggestion for new families is Cathy Duffy’s Homeschool Curriculum Review site.

You can find out everything you need to know about various curricula. Including whether it is secular or non-secular, the price, the age level, and much more! Plus, there are great advanced filter options.

These homeschool curriculums are a guide, not a blueprint

No matter what curriculum you choose, remember that they are a guide. This flexibility means you are free to tweak a curriculum or work with a few to make it fit your children's unique needs.

At the end of the day, you’re the teacher, principal, curriculum developer, and most importantly, the parent. Try something new, use a good ol’ resource that has been used for many years, or build your own curriculum. At the end of the day, what’s most important is your family’s priorities and goals.

And remember, no curriculum is perfect. If you start using one and it doesn’t work for your child, that’s okay. You can always find another!

Outschool Staff

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