As we noted in our introduction to curriculum and standards, home educators take a variety of different approaches to curriculum. While some home educators buy a complete curriculum for their child’s grade from a single provider, others create their own curriculum using a variety of different materials, or take a mix-and-match approach, selecting different curricula for different subjects, or for different children.
Choosing curricular materials for your homeschool can be intimidating, particularly because there are so many options available. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, that’s okay! Many home educators try out a variety of different curricula before finding what works best for them and their children. Finding what works is a process. Sometimes, learning what does not work can be as important as learning what does work.
Remember, your curriculum is simply the collection of texts, media, activities, and assignments that you use to build learning. If you use a math workbook and base ten blocks, these are both part of your curriculum. Everything you teach, or that your child learns — whether it’s a textbook purchased from a publisher or a learning experience you put together yourself — is part of your curriculum. If you find a bug on your back porch and help your child identify it, that, too, is part of your curriculum!
Curriculum can look like a lot of different things. There are thousands of different curricular resources available for purchase, in a variety of formats, aligned to every possible educational philosophy, grade level, and family need. Some programs and materials are designed with homeschooling in mind; others are created for educators more generally, but can be adapted and used by homeschooling parents. Some materials are designed to serve as your full curriculum; others are supplemental.
While some homeschooling parents may prefer to buy a complete curriculum, we recommend choosing several different curricular materials for any given subject. This way, if you find that one curricular resource is not working well for you or for your child, you have the others to fall back on. For example, for math you might choose to purchase a textbook with a workbook; sign up for an online program that allows your child to practice the concepts they are learning; and use a book of math puzzles at roughly your child’s grade level. Supplemental materials can provide continuity if you need to look for a program to replace one you find isn’t a good fit.
Don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees. Keep in mind that the purpose of a curriculum is to create learning. If a curricular resource is not a good fit, you can discontinue using it and look for something else. Similarly, implementing a curriculum as-written is not as important as creating the desired learning; you don’t have to use an entire program if your children have already mastered the learning outcomes being covered. Your curriculum should work for you, not the other way around.
Here are some types of curricular materials you might consider selecting:
Most curricular materials are available for purchase online, either new or used. But here are a few other places you may want to look before purchasing curriculum online.
Your School District
Your school district may be willing to loan you copies of the textbooks and other curricular materials that are used in your local school system. They may also be able to sell you textbooks at a discount due to bulk purchasing. In a few states, school districts are required by law to make textbooks available to families who homeschool.
Your Public Library
Your public library may have curricular materials that you can borrow for free. Some libraries have a policy against carrying textbooks, and libraries have limits on the length of time you can check out a book; this means your public library is probably not the best place to check out textbooks. However, libraries have a wealth of both fiction and nonfiction books, as well as activity kits, instructional technology, and other resources, which makes them an indispensable resource for homeschooling families.
Many home educators draw on their local public libraries regularly for curricular and supplemental materials, and homeschooling families frequently visit their local library at least once a week. Your librarian may also be able to give you recommendations for curricular materials that fit your child’s needs and your educational philosophy.
Local used bookstores may carry discounted curricular materials in their education section. They will also likely carry nonfiction children’s books that may supplement your home library and serve as additional curricular materials.
University K-12 Curriculum Collections
Many colleges and universities that offer teacher training programs employ a librarian whose expertise is in educational materials and maintain large collections of K-12 curriculum materials which can be checked out or viewed. You may need to establish a community borrower account to access them.
Many local homeschool groups host curriculum fairs, or can point you to local used curriculum vendors (in some cases, local homeschooling parents set up consignment curriculum stores in their garages or a spare room). They may also be able to advise you on additional local curriculum or textbook resources.
Not all curricular materials are created equal. A curriculum one homeschooling parent loves and praises may not fit another parent’s instructional style or educational philosophy. Additionally, some curricular materials are created from a specific religious or philosophical viewpoint that you may or may not share. Even outside of these considerations, the curricular materials marketed to homeschooling parents today range in quality. There is so much out there that you may feel overwhelmed!
Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind:
As much as possible, you should try to view a curriculum before you make a decision. As noted earlier, you may be able to review curricular materials at used bookstores, homeschool curriculum fairs, or your local university’s collections. Online curriculum retailers or publishers may let you view samples, or try out a software for free.
Curriculum review should not happen only when you are looking for materials to purchase; it is something that should happen all year long.
Many home educators start with one curriculum and find as they go along that it does not work as well as they had hoped; they may switch to a new curriculum partway through the year or change curriculum providers when selecting curriculum materials the following year. Using a curriculum that is aligned to state standards can make the transition from one curriculum to another easier, if you find you need a change.
Parents should also check in regularly with their child about how they are experiencing the curriculum. Sitting down with your child at the beginning of the year to look over and review the materials will help your child understand what they will be learning and how the materials are structured, and will give them the opportunity to ask questions. Sitting down with your child periodically through the rest of the year will allow them to provide feedback on how they feel the curriculum is working for them and critique the curriculum in ways that will inform your future curriculum selection.
Homeschooling allows you to tailor the curriculum to your child’s abilities and needs. Inviting them to participate in curricular review is part of that process. Remember, a curriculum that worked well for one child may not work as well for another child. Listen to your child, and stay flexible. Don’t force something that is not working.
Don’t forget to read the other articles in this section!
Return to our main Home Educator page!