How to put together a homeschooling curriculum for the first time
Tips on managing lesson lengths, playing to your family's strengths, and getting support when you need it.
Should a homeschooling curriculum reproduce a traditional school program, or should you try something different?
Every parent taking on the homeschooling challenge will have many questions. Fortunately, with a bit of research, putting together a homeschooling curriculum can be a lot of fun and not just hard work. Here’s where to start.
Research school curricula
If you’ve never put together a homeschooling curriculum before, you may struggle to create a teaching plan that’s appropriate for your child’s grade or age level. So, it’s always a good idea to browse example lesson plans by grade or age. You don’t have to follow them exactly, but it’ll give you a good grounding in how school lessons are structured, how much material is typically covered for a specific age group, what language is used, and so on.
You may find over time that your kid is a fast learner, and you’ll be able to introduce concepts and exercises intended for more advanced learners, but it’s always a good idea to start age-appropriate and then move up as you need to.
We have some great how-to curricula resources to get you going:
Brush up on the subjects you’re planning to teach
Let’s face it: for many of us, remembering what we learned in school in a subject we didn’t study in college can be challenging, at least at first. It’s a really good idea to read a book (or two) on the subject you’re about to teach, preferably one written with your age group in mind.
Have a teacher in your subject area in your family or friend group? Ask them what their favorite textbooks or lesson aids are and what they would recommend you read to understand the subject better.
Even if you don’t have professional educators in your subject area at hand, putting together a short teacher’s reading list for yourself will make organizing a curriculum much easier.
Even if it’s just something from the ‘For Dummies’ series or a short introduction how-to series, you’ll refresh your subject knowledge and get yourself into a better frame of mind to teach.
But remember, just because you are homeschooling doesn’t mean you have to teach every subject. You can outsource whole areas of your homeschooling program, including:
Getting another set of eyes is helpful for any homeschooling parent. It’s also inspiring to see how other families homeschool and how they use or don’t use, the curriculum.
Putting together your first lesson? Less is more
Cramming as much information as possible into each lesson can be very tempting. However, you’ll find that no matter how brilliant your kids are, they’ll completely shut down and stop following the lesson if they feel overwhelmed.
As a general rule, two or three concepts per lesson is the maximum, and if the concept or idea is complex, then just one may be enough. Illustrate each idea with as many examples as you can find, and your student will be much more likely to remember the concept you’re teaching.
Learn from other homeschoolers and play to your family’s strengths
Whether you chat in person or virtually, learning from other homeschoolers is really helpful. What did they wish they knew when they started? What’s their homeschooling style, approach, methodology, and philosophy, and how has it changed?
Hearing these stories will give you insight and solidarity as nothing else can.
You might find that you’re Type A, and writing detailed lesson plans help make you feel on top of your game. Or you might find that your kids don’t respond and just want to learn through play. Focusing on how your unique kids learn and what approach best fits you as an instructor is critical.
It might help to overprepare and start with a set lesson “script” so you know you have a plan and then adapt as you gain confidence and see what works for you and your family.
Take advantage of multimedia teaching aids
Whether this is audio or video clips or pictures, the more senses your lesson stimulates, the more likely it’s to be effective. Salem State University has a great list, including dedicated websites with audio-visual teaching aids, like Open Culture, relevant Ted Talks, virtual field trips to online museums, or even showing something relevant on YouTube works.
Case in point: this writer once tried explaining the concept of rhetoric to a child with learning difficulties. We were getting nowhere. However, once I showed her a recording of a passionate speech about feminism, she was hooked: she got it, just like that.
Experiment with lesson lengths
Did you know that a child’s attention span varies depending on their age?
It’s helpful to remember this when putting together your first homeschooling curriculum. It’s not just younger children that may benefit from shorter lessons: teenagers often have trouble concentrating for all sorts of reasons, and you may find that they get more out of the class if you give them a 10-minute break in the middle.
Choose an interesting topic – and support it with real-life examples
One of the reasons this writer passionately hated Physics at school was that it seemed like the most boring subject with no relevance to real life. If only she had had a fascinating NASA physicist for a teacher…
Of course, different kids will have different preferences, and sometimes a kid just won’t like a specific subject. If you hear that ‘math is boring,’ even though you’ve tried your hardest to convince them otherwise, they may be into other topics more.
In many cases, kids find a subject interesting based on how it’s presented to them. Try to research relevant news articles about things that interest your kid. For example, it’s a lot easier to teach biology when you know your kid is obsessed with dolphins/tigers allowing you to build a lesson around that interest.
And if you don’t know what they’re interested in, ask them!
Get outdoors every once in a while
Tapping into your child’s interests doesn’t just apply to teaching sciences, either. From poetry walks to teaching physics and biology using nature and material objects, the great outdoors is a resource that traditional schooling often doesn’t leverage enough.
Depending on your kid’s temperament, you may find that they’re better able to concentrate on challenging subjects or lessons while walking or working on the patio.
Again, teaching outdoors can work equally well for younger and older children. It’s a good idea to make outdoor lessons a regular and scheduled part of your curriculum, so your child knows when it’s coming.
Incorporate ways to test their knowledge
No one likes tests, but there are ways to make them engaging and rewarding. From research projects to presentations and even handmade objects to represent what they’ve learned, there are many ways to test your kids on their knowledge without feeling like they’re sitting stressful exams.
At this point in your teaching journey, you may want to ask your child what they enjoy doing the most: do they like writing, presenting, or making stuff? Let them lead on this: let them choose their way of demonstrating their knowledge to help them stay engaged.
Ideally, testing little and often is better than leaving it all for one big project at the end of your course. You can also combine many smaller tests with one bigger one at the end to emulate the school curriculum more.
Know when to look for more support
Building and delivering a teaching curriculum can be a challenge, but just because you’re homeschooling doesn’t mean you, or your kids have to learn on your own.
Whether you want a full curriculum, have some gaps you need filled, or have certain subjects you want to outsource, Outschool is here to help. Our mission is to create a place where kids can learn on their own terms and explore their passions.