One of the most overwhelming tasks facing the beginning homeschooler is selecting curricula. There are more options than one person can research! How do you begin to narrow it down and find the best choice?
It’s great if you can get your hands on a curriculum to really look at what you are getting. Ask any homeschooling friends you have to show you what they use. Attend a homeschool convention and allow yourself plenty of time to peruse. Occasionally you may be able to find some homeschool materials at your library. In Minnesota, we have a great resource in Heppner’s Legacy Homeschool Resources, a brick and mortar homeschool shop. Perhaps there is a similar business near you?
You will also want to read curriculum reviews. The Consortium for Classical Lutheran Education (LCMS) has published a resource guide with suggested curricula listed by subject; their brief descriptions include helpful caveats, some noting doctrinal issues and some purely practical. Another great place to start is Cathy Duffy Reviews. She gives a great description and general overview of the materials, what they cover, and how they are meant to be used.
As you look at different curricula, you will want to consider a few things:
- Educational philosophy: If you are interested in homeschooling classically, you will want to consider curricula that support that philosophy. If you lean more toward a Charlotte Mason approach, you will want to seek out materials that follow her method. There are several publishing companies that support specific homeschool methods. For example, Memoria Press and Well-Trained Mind Press both provide materials for classical education, while Ambleside Online and My Father’s World follow a Charlotte Mason approach.
- What works for your family: If you are homeschooling one 7 year old, your needs are different from those of the mom whose kids are 11, 8, and 6. Different still are the needs of the mom with a 6 year old, a 4 year old and twin 2 year olds! Consider your family’s particular needs. The number of children you have, their ages, and any unique needs that your children have will be important factors to keep in mind. Some curricula require greater parental time investment than others, both in terms of planning time and teaching time. Some will accommodate the teaching of students at multiple levels together, and some will not. Some curricula are designed with specific learning styles or learning difficulties in mind.
- Cost: Homeschooling curricula fall on a wide spectrum of cost. On one end of the spectrum, several companies offer curriculum packages that include everything you need for a year of homeschooling; they are pricey, but they save you the work of choosing and they are comprehensive, ensuring you have no gaps. On the other end of the spectrum, you can find resources online to help you educate your children for free. Most of us operate in the middle, making our choices a la carte and doing what we can to find quality materials and keep our costs low. It is good to consider whether materials are reusable. Workbooks can be made to be reusable by having your students write their answers on notebook paper, or by using dry erase marker on a transparent sleeve over the workbook page. Sometimes a copywrite will even allow families to make photocopies for use inside their household. Some companies offer curricula in both print and .pdf form. If you don’t mind reading from your computer or tablet, .pdfs are usually cheaper than printed books; they are also reusable and don’t take up space on your bookshelf. Don’t forget to check for used books when you are curriculum shopping as well! Some states offer partial reimbursement for some homeschooling materials (Minnesota is one that does). Check if yours does, note the requirements, and make sure you file any necessary forms at the beginning of the year if you wish to take advantage of this program.
- A curriculum serves you, you don’t the serve the curriculum. Once you have selected curricula and begun using them, you may find things about them that you wish were different. If they are minor things and you can tweak the curriculum to fit your needs, feel free to do so. You are the teacher, and this curriculum is a tool you are using to teach your child. If they are major things and the curriculum is unusable for you, don’t feel bad about ditching it. This doesn’t mean you or your child failed; it just wasn’t a good fit for you. Find something else that better suits your needs.
Keep in mind that there is no one perfect curriculum. In a given subject there are most likely several good options that will work well for you, so try not to stress about finding the BEST one. Twenty years ago, homeschoolers had nowhere near the choices we have available to us today. We are incredibly fortunate to have such a wealth of resources to choose from!
Amanda Moldstad is a co-founder of the Lutheran Homeschool Association. She and her husband, John, homeschool their five children in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota.