The homeschool curriculum market can easily overwhelm newbies just starting their first year! From all-in-one curriculum packages, to specific subject lessons, to extracurricular activities – what’s a parent to choose?
The good news is, it probably doesn’t matter as much as you may think! Curriculum is meant to be just a tool, and definitely shouldn’t be the heart and soul of your homeschool.
Many families will switch quite easily from one curriculum option to another, based on their children’s ever-changing academic needs (see more about the ages and stages of homeschooling here).
Based on our experience and survey of KC-area homeschoolers, here are the top 5 most important things to consider when choosing a curriculum for your unique homeschool:
1) What are my children’s learning styles?
Learning styles involve 3 basic categories:
- Visual and spatial learners, or “lookers.” They process information best when they see it.
- Auditory learners, or “listeners.” They are most efficient when they can hear information.
- Kinesthetic or tactile learners, or “movers.” They function best when they can physically interact with information in a hands-on way.
This helps you make decisions on curriculum, like if the curriculum is based on YOUR learning style, or your children’s?
If you’re a visual learner, but your child is an auditory or kinesthetic learner, the curriculum that makes sense to you may not really appeal to them.
Another way that learning styles are important is that many newbie homeschoolers think they can buy one type of curriculum – like a phonics or math program – that will work for EVERY member of their family.
Then surprise! Their next child has a completely different learning style, and so, what worked for the first child doesn’t really work for the others.
2) Does my child have special needs?
If your child has special needs that make a typical “education” extra challenging or just impossible – at least in terms of the 8-hour day typical in most private or public schools – this may affect your curriculum choices.
Jean Wetherilt, our special needs coordinator and occupational therapist who founded PossAbilities Children’s Therapy Group, has discussed several ways to adapt your curriculum to fit special needs. For example, you can help block out distracting elements on an overly colorful curriculum page to help your child focus more easily.
A number of curriculum options have enjoyed great success with students who have special needs. For example, Math-U-See was developed by a family who had children with Down Syndrome. Additionally, you might check to see whether your language arts curriculum uses an Orton-Gillingham multisensory approach to teaching.
3) What is my homeschool style/approach?
In addition to your children’s learning styles, you may also want to consider your own “homeschool” style, or approach to learning.
Common homeschool styles include a traditional classroom approach, minimalist approach, unschooling approach, Charlotte Mason approach, classical approach, or eclectic – a mix and match of many approaches.
(For a more comprehensive look at these, check out Sonya Shafer’s 5 flavors of homeschooling guest blog post.)
For example, if you’re unschooling, you may not need any formal curriculum at all. Your local library will probably be your best resource as you research and read up on books already available.
4) What are my time/schedule constraints as a teacher?
This is important, especially if you’re balancing other outside commitments in addition to homeschooling.
How much time can you reasonably set aside just for homeschooling, and when? Maybe you work a night shift instead of a day shift. Don’t worry, we have many families who don’t fit the typical 40-hour workweek!
(See more tips from working homeschool moms and dads.)
On one side of the spectrum is the time it takes to create your own unit studies, lesson scheduling, and so forth, creating everything from scratch.
On the other side of the spectrum is just getting the curriculum prepackaged and in a box, or taking an online course.
Your family will probably end somewhere in-between these extremes, based on your unique homeschool and the time you have each week to prepare the lessons.
If you do have outside commitments, many homeschool families in the same situation have found help by joining an area co-op or enrichment program.
These typically involve 1-2 days a week, or several days a month, where the children meet with other homeschool families and do academic work together. They often have suggested or required curriculum resources for your consideration.
5) What is my curriculum budget?
The good news is that it can be extremely affordable to homeschool in virtually any budget range.
Homeschool families spend an average of $600 per student annually for their education, according to the National Home Education Research Institute, but that average varies widely by family. (Especially in the preschool years, you probably won’t be spending that much.)
As a general rule, the more expensive the curriculum, the more subjects and planning they do for you. However, more expensive does not necessarily mean more effective. Many families can mix and match subjects from a range of curriculum companies, depending on their children’s needs and learning styles.
We also recommend the following strategies to help keep your curriculum costs low: