Wednesday, March 11, 2015

How Do I Choose Homeschool Curriculum Without Pulling My Hair Out?

How Do I Choose Curriculum For Homeschool?

I saw this question posed on a Facebook group, and I remember having the same question when I first started out homeschooling.  The answer is going to be different for every homeschool family you ask because every family has a different style of schooling, different goals, and different likes/dislikes.  I can show you my basic process for choosing curriculum though and give you reasons for why I choose what I do.  Hopefully it will help someone who is new or considering homeschooling.  If you've been afraid of choosing your own curriculum, take a big breath, because it's not that hard once you break it down into steps.  It does take a few days, but when you do it once you're going to feel like a pro the next time you have to do it.  Just remember, you have to figure out a way that works for you.

1) The first thing I do when choosing homeschool curriculum is to look at my goals for homeschooling my daughter, as well as look at our likes/dislikes for curriculum.

  • One of my goals is to give my daughter a well rounded education that is equal to or better than public/private schools in the state.  This means that at a minimum I need to cover the same subjects that schools are covering, and within those subjects we need to meet the state benchmarks or go higher.  I do this because starting in 3rd grade she has to take state tests every year, and if there is ever a time when she has to go back to public school, she'll at the very least be at the same level as her peers.
  • Another of my goals is to help my daughter become an independent learner.  I will always be there to teach her when we do school, but I want her to be able to work independently on at least a few subjects each year.
  • I also have the goal of wanting her to love learning.  In part this means not only choosing curriculum that I love, but that she loves as well.
Knowing our goals helps us to know our likes/dislikes for curriculum and helps me know what to look for in curriculum.  

Her Likes: Colorful workbooks, interactive curriculum, online curriculum, video lessons, interesting textbooks with a lot of pictures and colors.   

My Likes: The things mentioned in 'her likes', in depth curriculum, curriculum that starts at her current level of ability, curriculum with work books, curriculum that is easy to use and teach, curriculum where a teacher's textbook is not necessary because the student textbook/workbook has all necessary information, curriculum with accurate information.

It's not always possible to find a curriculum that meets all of my likes and her likes, but we try to find something in each subject that works for us in as many ways as possible.

2) I look online to find what subjects kids in her grade are learning, even if it's for another state.  She'll be starting 2nd grade soon and so I was able to find a list of things 2nd grade students in California learn.  The subjects include Math, English/Writing/Grammar, Science (specifically the human body, insects, plants, and animals), Spelling, History, Reading, and Social Studies.  To those subjects we add Art, Bible, and Music.  For PE we don't get a curriculum because she does it with a local home school group.

3) I start with curriculum that I already know we love.  I know from 1st grade that we love Horizon Math, so it's a no brainer for us to go with Horizon Math again for 2nd grade.  The same can be said for Mystery of History, Handwriting Without Tears, Daily Geography Practice, Voyages In English, and Fusion Science.  When we find a curriculum that really works well for us, we keep ordering it and using it for the next level up until we no longer like it or it no longer works for us.

4) I go in search of curriculum to fill the gaps.  We typically search for curriculum on but also sometimes on Amazon or other sites.  When I look for curriculum I look for our 'likes' mentioned above and try to read as many reviews as I can.  

Once I've found one or two curricula for a certain subject that I think we might order, I go online and ask on our local homeschool group on Facebook if anyone has had experience with these curricula, and what they like or don't like about them.  In doing this I am sometimes able to get together with someone to look through their copy of the curriculum to get a better feel for it.  
Sometimes websites have preview pages of the textbooks, teacher books, and workbooks, and sometimes not.  Occasionally when Rainbow Resource doesn't have a preview of the curriculum I'm looking at, I can find it on Amazon or Google search and see a preview.  The publishers website for that curriculum will also sometimes have previews and occasionally let you look at a full chapter.

About twice a year we get to go to a local curriculum swap or show and tell and I get to check out other curricula that I didn't know existed.  We have sometimes found really good curriculum this way.

5) We order the curriculum and try it out.  Sometimes no matter my best efforts at doing research, reading reviews, asking people online and looking at preview pages, we get a curriculum that stinks or just isn't what we expected it to be.  It happens to all of us at some point.  I usually try to make what we have work, but sometimes it just doesn't.  I'll give you two examples of this:

Example #1: We ordered Horizon Math and loved it, and also ordered Horizon Spelling.  We hated the Horizon spelling program.  It was rote memorization (a typical spelling program) and my daughter doesn't do well with that.  She was failing all of the spelling tests despite studying very hard to learn the spelling words.  This prompted me to ditch the Horizon Spelling (I showed it to a friend who has a child who does amazing with rote memorization of spelling words), and went in search of something new that would work for us.  We ended up getting Words Their Way which my daughter loves and is doing great with.

Example #2: The county pays for any curriculum we want provided it's not religious, art, or music.  For history this limited us to a secular curriculum (which I'm really fine with).  A lot of people we knew raved about Story of the World, a secular history curriculum that our program would allow us to order.  I thought since so many people liked it, that it would be great.  We ordered it, and for almost two months we struggled to use it.  I love history, but every time we went to do history, both my daughter and I would dread it.  I found it to be inaccurate and written strangely and we just weren't enjoying it.  So I went in search of another history curriculum and found Mystery of History.  It's not exactly secular because it starts at Creation and then parallels biblical history with world history.  We love it.  It's in depth, accurate, and it has activities that my daughter and I love to do along with a continuous timeline we put together after every three lessons.  Sometimes you just have to give up on a curriculum that isn't working for you and find something else.

6) My advice: Stay away from boxed curriculum.  I notice that there's a trend that new homeschool parents are afraid of choosing their own curriculum so they go with a 'boxed' or 'all-in-one' curriculum.  The thing is, I have known a lot of people who have done this, and have not yet heard of one that liked it.  A lot of times I end up hearing how they struggled with it all year long and hated it, but couldn't afford to get anything else because of how expensive the boxed curricula is.  A company may do one subject really well, but do others really bad.  Refer to example 1 above.  Horizon has an excellent math program that we love, but their spelling program just didn't work for us.  It may work for other students but didn't do anything at all for us.  If we were to shell out the big money for a Horizon boxed curriculum we'd be stuck with it.  Boxed curricula usually plays off of each other and is integrated, so it's really hard to take out the spelling portion without messing up other portions of the curriculum like writing or grammar.  There may be some families out there that like boxed curriculum, but I haven't met any yet.  I think you'll be happier taking the steps to choose your own for each subject instead of struggling through a year of an all-in-one that you hate.

Please note, there is a difference between boxed/all-in-one curriculums and a curriculum kit.  Boxed/all-in-one curriculums have all subjects... math, science, history, spelling, etc etc.  A curriculum kit is typically everything you need to teach one subject, say math.  For instance, a math curriculum kit may come with the student work book, teacher's book, flash cards, a ruler, pattern blocks, etc etc.

But What If I Want To Make My Own Curriculum For A Subject?

You can do that so long as your state allows it.  We do it for science.  I have this thing with science in public and private schools... it's an annoyance really.  I dislike how they teach the same exact subjects year after year all through grade and middle school and just add a little more information each year.  I feel like students never really get a mastery of any science subject that way.  So what we do for science is we use Fusion Science for one half of the year just to be sure we're meeting state benchmarks (it's great because it has interactive online lessons along with a workbook), and then we do our own thing for the other half of the year.  Each year we choose 3-4 science subjects we can really sink our teeth into.  For second grade I read that students in California learn about the human Body, insects, plants, and animals for science, so those are the subjects we'll make our own curriculum for.  For each of these four subjects I think about what my goal is and how in depth we want to go.  

For example, I know for the human body I want to go in depth and teach her as much as she can take in, so we actually found three really awesome human body curricula and will get those along with several supplemental books and two human body DVD's (one of which is Magic School Bus... she thinks she's just watching cartoons but she's actually learning).  Keep in mind you can do things like using a video to introduce a subject and also use storybooks to introduce subjects.

For animals I didn't want to go terribly in depth like a biology course, but I did want to introduce my daughter to different concepts such as: extinction, camouflage, mammals, the food chain, bird migration, reptiles, amphibians, veterinarians, animal babies, and a few other things.  You must be thinking, "Whoa whoa whoa!  Wait a minute, that's a lot to teach a second grader!"  It might be.  But for the subject of animals I decided not to do an actual curriculum.  Instead I found a number of level readers, Dr. Seuss books, and other kids science books in story format that teach about these concepts.  (Click image to make larger)
If we spend 1-3 days on each concept with these books and some videos and I can ask her questions or have her journal about these things, I know she'll have a better grasp on this subject than other kids who are just doing a tiny bit about animals year after year.  Some kids learn really well through stories because they are auditory learners, some do well with videos because they are visual learners.  You have to figure out what works best for you and your child.  Remember, making a curriculum doesn't mean you have to make worksheets or give tests.  You could order science lab kits, have kids journal, ask questions, have them give a report, go on a hunt for animals or signs of animals, go to the zoo, or have them do some other kind of project to get them involved and remembering information.

When deciding what to do to learn about plants we decided on a curriculum that wasn't as in depth and chose to supplement that with a lot of lab kits where she can grow her own snap dragons, tomatoes, and other plants and really see the different plant parts, and learn how pollination works etc.

When all is said and done, what does your curriculum list look like?

Ok, so maybe you didn't have this question, but I'll answer it anyway.  I made up a Google Doc with our entire second grade curriculum and prices because I had several people ask to see what we were doing for 2nd grade.  You can view it HERE, keeping in mind that the state pays for almost all of the things in that list.  If I had to pay for things myself my list would probably look different because I would be using a lot more library books and free resources.  Typically I don't do it in a spreadsheet but in a Word document.  I keep track of subject, curriculum names, prices, and where I am going to purchase it from.  I like lists if you can't tell already, because it helps me keep track of what I still need to research or find and I feel like I'm not done with something of this magnitude unless I can see it in a list.

So how do you choose curriculum for a year without pulling your hair out?  Take a breath, relax, grab a cup of coffee or tea (or several) and take your time over the course of a few days or even weeks (don't wait until the last minute).  Work out what your goals are, what you know that you like and dislike for curriculum, figure out what your child needs to learn that year, and start doing research and keeping a list of things you want, prices, and where you are going to buy them.  Don't forget to read reviews, ask questions, and look at previews.  Also don't be afraid to change your mind about a curriculum before you order if you find something you think will be better, and don't be afraid to ditch something that's not working for you part way through the year.  Also, don't feel like you have to use what everybody else is using (unless your state says you have to), and remember that it's ok to not like curriculum that a lot of other people love.  We're all different and our students learn differently, and that's one of the joys of homeschooling to be able to do things your own way and find what works best for you.

See, it's not so scary, is it?

Have questions or comments?  Let us know in a comment below.

Best way to homeschool.


  1. There is so much more information then when I started homeschooling my 23 year old. I'm totally changing up my approach to curriculum with my younger kids.

  2. I am all over the place with teaching curriculum, so many sites, I just look it up and print!!!!