Narrowing It Down - Tips For Picking Curriculum



So let’s say you’ve decided to homeschool in the upcoming school year, and you have started looking into curriculum.  How do you not get overwhelmed with the endless curriculum options out there?  Because seriously guys, there is so much.  I’ve heard from so many new homeschool moms that all the different curricula is overwhelming.  How do you start to narrow it down, how do you figure out what will work for you family?  I have a few thoughts and tips on where to start.



Figure Out Your Homeschooling Style (As Much As Possible Anyway)

Before you start to wade through curriculum, I think it’s helpful to think ahead to what you are hoping to get out of homeschooling, for yourself and your kids.  What exactly do you want your homeschool to look like?  What are your main goals for your kids?  How do you want to evaluate their learning? Do you want it to look like textbooks and quizzes? Do you want opportunities for learning through doing?  Do you want them to develop any particular skill really well?  

One thing that really helped me was doing a little research into different homeschooling educational philosophies - learning more about the possibilities really helped me figure out the specific things I wanted for my kids out of different subjects, and out of our homeschooling journey as a whole.  I wrote a summary of some popular homeschooling styles here, and I also highly recommend watching this video to give you an idea of the different homeschooling styles.  

Don’t get too bogged down in research, but once you know the types, I think you should think carefully about which style (or which aspects of different styles) appeal to you.  If you really like the idea of learning through interesting books (as opposed to textbooks) that will affect the curricula you pick. If you want your kids to have more input into what they learn (as in unschooling), that will guide your whole year.  If you love the idea of the trivium in classical homeschooling, you’ll want to look for a curriculum that incorporates some of that.

And if you look at all the different styles and you still have no idea where to go with it - don’t worry.  I’ve got more tips.

Attend A Curriculum Sale 

If there are any homeschool conferences or curriculum sales in your area, I highly recommend you attend (though I do realize that this may be hard to accomplish in 2020).  If you can’t find a curriculum sale, see if there are any physical bookstores in your area that carry homeschool curriculum (Mardel’s is one), or you can ask friends who are already homeschooling if you can come over to look through their curriculum.  It is so much easier to get an idea of what you like and don’t like in a curriculum if you have a chance to look through it.  

Even if it’s a curriculum you aren’t initially considering, take a look at it anyway.  Read through the parent notes at the beginning of the book and start thinking through what you agree or don’t agree with.  Look at a curriculum that has a lot of moving pieces, and see if you like that or not.  I think just looking through different curricula of different styles will help you start to decide which direction you want to go.

Choose A Curriculum That Appeals To YOU

I think it’s tempting to try to choose a curriculum that’s going to be perfect for your specific kid and their learning style.  But…as Pam Barnhill says in Plan Your Year, “the best homeschool curriculum is the one that will get done.”  And especially if your kids are young, the person who is driving the curriculum is you, as the mom.  You want to work with a curriculum that you are excited about, that you want to open up and start with your kids.  If you open up a book and feel excited to teach the subject to your kids, then your kids are most likely going to become more excited to learn it.

Consider Your Child’s Dislikes

As you are looking at curriculum, I think considering what your child hates to do may be more important than considering what they like.  One of my goals for homeschooling is that my children learn to love learning, so I don't want to make it harder on them than necessary, especially in the younger years.

If you kid really hates writing, you’re going to want to avoid a curriculum that’s mostly writing-based.  If they are still getting a handle on their reading, don’t choose a curriculum that expects the child to read huge chunks of text (unless you know you have time to read it to them).  If you know your child loves learning in a certain way, by all means incorporate those things!  But pay attention to the things that are difficult for them, or that they dislike, and find a curriculum that you can adapt to work around those things until their skills develop more.



Other Things To Consider:

Worldview

One of the most important things to me in picking curriculum is making sure that I choose a curriculum with a biblical worldview.  A major reason why I homeschool is so I can impart a knowledge and love for the Lord to my kids as an integral part of their education, so I try as much as possible to pick curriculum that fits with that (especially with subjects like science and history).  Before you pick curriculum, make sure you are okay with the worldview it has as its foundation, and also make sure you agree with how it presents differing worldviews.  Since this is such an important aspect to me, I've eliminated a lot of curricula on this point alone!


All-In-One Or Piecing It Together

Is it really important to you to choose an all-in-one curriculum, or are you okay with piecing together different curricula for different subjects?  A lot of moms like the ease of an all-in-one curriculum, and the fact that a lot of the subjects can be integrated and connected in an all-in-one, because someone else already thought it out for you.  Other moms (like me) have specific ideas about how they want to teach different subjects, and it’s easier to choose curriculum for subjects individually in order to get exactly what they want.  

Learning Styles

What about learning styles, you may ask?  How do you figure out if your kid is an auditory, visual, or kinesthetic learner, and how do you find a curriculum that fits with that?

This is just my opinion about learning styles in my experience so far, so take it with a grain of salt…but I don’t think kids’ learning styles are quite as important as people sometimes think.  Learning styles are still being researched, but it's my understanding that there is no hard evidence to support the learning styles theory, or the idea that we must teach to specific learning styles.

In my very unprofessional opinion, I suspect that most people probably work within a combination of learning styles - some people may lean more toward one style than another, but most people are served well through a combination of hearing, sight, doing, etc.  

And if your child really does appear to lean heavily toward one learning style, you can probably adapt most curricula to fit within that.  For example, if your child retains more by hearing, consider the audio version of a textbook if it’s available, or just plan to read it aloud to them (or have them read aloud to themselves).  But where a curriculum doesn’t quite fit, your child can also get practice in other learning skills too.  Maybe your child is a big visual learner, but practicing listening skills through audiobooks would also be a good thing for them, for example.  You don’t necessarily have to pick a curriculum that focuses on one learning style just because your child might lean that way.  

However, I do think it’s important to consider your child’s skill areas and areas of struggle when choosing a curricula - this is less about an innate "learning style", and more about being aware of where they are excelling or still growing. To me, it’s more important to consider my child’s current skill level in order to not overwhelm them in that area too quickly, as I explained under “Consider Your Child’s Dislikes”.  If my child is a weak writer, I want to gradually stretch them in that area, but I don’t want to make them drink from a fire hose by choosing a really writing-heavy curriculum either.  That would just be a recipe for a miserable year for everyone.

Subjects To Do Together

If you have multiple kids it is very easy to combine different age groups for certain subjects.  You don’t have to do this - you can choose grade-specific curriculum for each child in your house if you would like.  But if you have a bunch of kids (like I do) doing some subjects all together will make for an easier and shorter homeschool day, so that may be something to consider when you are looking at curriculum.  

For example, we do history, science, and Bible all together as much as possible in our house.  I read the book to all my kids, and then I might give my older kids a couple extra tasks to reinforce the lesson.  We are able to do subjects that way because I chose a history and science curriculum in which we could all participate together.  If I had chosen a curriculum that was more grade-specific, or an all-in-one that had different books for different grades, this might be harder to do.



So to sum up, here are some questions to ask yourself, and these will help inform what kind of curricula you should be looking at:

-What is my preferred homeschooling philosophy and teaching style?  Does the philosophy of the curriculum I’m looking at fit with that?
-Does the curriculum I'm looking at support or undermine the worldview I am trying to pass on to my children?
-Do I want an all-in-one curriculum, or do I want to hand-pick each subject?
-Do I want to combine multiple age levels for certain subjects?  Is the curriculum I’m looking at conducive to that?
-Have I looked inside the curriculum and read the teacher’s notes?  Does the philosophy of the curriculum make sense to me?
-Am I excited about this curriculum?  Would I have liked it as a kid?
-Is this curriculum a good fit for my child’s current skills and abilities?  Will it stretch them without overwhelming them?  Does it include too much of any elements my child struggles with? 

I hope this post has been a little helpful if you are still struggling with choosing amongst the sea of curricula!  And if you have any questions or additional tips, please add them in the comments!

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