10 Tips for Choosing the Best Curriculum (& 6 Encouragements)

Photo credit: words added

Photo credit: words added

I was naive when I started to formally homeschool.

I followed 2 almost disastrous thoughts:

  1. To lay the best foundation, start the child in academics as early as possible.
  2. To properly educate a child, you must use a packaged curriculum.

So, I did both. And my poor daughter. She may be the firstborn, but she hasn’t any of the stereotypical “follow the rules,” “check all the boxes,” or “color in the lines” qualities in her. I look back on our time together those first few years, and I see her beaming at me for the engaged time together at the beginning of the “lesson” (at 2- and 3-years old for heaven’s sake). Then she would lose interest before the worksheet was finished – and I would panic. Oh goodness, how silly I was in feeling like a failure because an almost 3-year old didn’t want to trace all the circles.

I set aside a lot of workbooks in favor of saving my child’s spirit. Sure, I have felt like a failure more times than I can count because something we have committed to isn’t 100% finished.

I’m learning to compromise.

Now, she’s going into “3rd grade” by the age and educational standard so a lot more is expected of her – and me. I know I need to have a framework for our year in order to keep me accountable to explore, discover, and learn. If I let myself, I would pick the curriculum with all worksheets and DVDs so they could do their thing, and I could do mine. I’m not saying there’s anything innately wrong with these packages, but for me it would not be in line with my Parenting Purpose Statement.

I need to learn, to continue to grow, and to be teachable myself. In order to do these, I’ve written a list of things to look for when choosing from the thousands of educational options for curriculum.

10 Tips for Choosing the Best Curriculum:

  1. Consider the cost. Some companies are very expensive – this does not mean that the products guarantee success. The way I’ve observed the relationship between cost and curriculum is – the more it costs in dollars the more it will cost in time to accomplish. Set aside 30 minutes each day for 10 days, and just focus on learning the basics of one curriculum, company, or subject at a time – putting this investment in before you commit to a scope and sequence will give you confidence that you made an informed choice.
  2. Find out the educational theory of the curricula. Each theory promotes a certain learning style and teaching style. It’s important to first identify the strengths and weaknesses of how you operate and then find a curricula that compliments you. (I’m writing about each theory in this series, check it out if you want an overview of some of the most popular styles.)
  3. Map out the subjects appropriate for your child(ren). If it’s important to you for your child to remain nearly at the same academic level as children their age in the public school, then Google what the recommendations are – or better yet – call the local public school and ask for their standard. Then once you know the subjects and the goals, start looking for ways to overlap materials. Contrary to curricula companies – you do not need separate books, texts, or products to teach all the subjects.
  4. As the parent/teacher, the Instructor’s Guide needs to be easy to read and apply quickly. Most companies provide a “sample” of their curriculum for this reason. It’s so important to choose tools that you can easily and comfortably use – too much money goes to waste when the resources just don’t function the way you thought it would. Know in advance what will be required of you in terms of preparation, presentation, and processing the materials.
  5. Prioritize your relationship with your child. It’s important to maintain this bond as a positive focal point of everything you do. It’s about building this bond in the environment of learning. While academics, information, books, and resources are valuable – they can become so burdensome that natural learning is crushed under the pressure of it. Don’t choose a curriculum that sets your relationship up for failure. While one child may thrive on checklists, another’s spirit may be crushed simply by the thought. Be sensitive to their personalities.
  6. Notebooking, scrapbooking, and lap booking all create tangible evidence of the learning process. The best curriculum is one that makes memories that everyone can see and share.
  7. Just because it’s a new “school year” does not mean you are required to purchase a new grade level or curriculum package.
  8. If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. The best curriculum is the one you’re already using successfully. Even if you didn’t finish on time, and you stopped using it for the sake of summer break – by all means, pick it back up in September. Kids lean into familiar when learning; you don’t have to have something new each year.
  9. The best curriculum may not be something you buy, but rather a commitment to lay a foundation of good learning habits and to continually build upon it by supplying your child with as many of the resources necessary to satisfy their curiosity. “All you need to successfully homeschool is: a library card and a comfortable couch.” – Steve Lambert of Five in a Row
  10. Don’t think in terms of pass/fail when judging your choice in curricula. If you weren’t happy with your choice from last year, attempt to discern why. Learn from the experience and move on. And if this is your first year of formal homeschooling, then do not let the intimidating amount of information scare you away from your commitment to education of your children. Just take it one day, one layer at a time.

I know it can be core-rattlingly-scary to take responsibility of your child’s education, especially when it seems impossible to know what choice of curriculum will be best.

Consider these points of encouragement:

  1. From birth to 3rd grade, it is most important for your child to see you learning. Invest time and energy into your own education.
  2. Reading living books and classics aloud feeds your child’s brain and will help to form them into responsible, compassionate, observant, and curious kids.
  3. It just takes time. Hurrying the process of learning or fretting about which curricula to choose will not create a calm environment.
  4. It’s perfectly OK to start with only one subject and build from there. You do not have to begin the school year (whatever that looks like for you) with a full-on 8 subject day. The younger the child, the more important it is to ease into creating a habit of engaging with materials in order to learn. Remember the greater goal to lead them to love to learn, while it takes work and effort to get there – demanding that a child complete all 8 worksheets on the “first day” of school at your home isn’t a good experience for anyone. I think of subjects as layers – adding the next one when the first have become routine.
  5. The little things your child wants to know about today truly matter. You will never have this day to do-over. Use what you have and what you know to engage in learning along side your child. “A child who asks fewer questions at age 6 than they did at age 3 has learned that their desire to learn doesn’t matter. They will be harder to convince that curiosity is a good thing as they get older.” – Dr. Kathy Koch
  6. If you don’t know what they love, you won’t be able to engage their mind. Take time to study them as your primary curriculum. After a little careful observation, it may become clear what tools you need to build a curriculum for them that is the best.

Something stuck with me from the Great Homeschool Convention this year: a story Steve Lambert shared.

In 1981, when we started to homeschool it was much harder than it is today because companies wouldn’t sell textbooks to them. They found it difficult to piece together their options. So Jane prayed, and God revealed to her that she should read aloud to her kids. She obeyed, and Five in a Row was written in the wee hours of the night while Jane stayed on her knees in prayer. Now, Steve sees that it was easier back then because there weren’t hundreds of homeschool companies coming at them trying to sell them their child’s education. You can’t give an education, you can only fan the flame.

Articles for further reading:

Planners and Printables:

Resources:

Thank you for reading this post. If you've found it helpful, bookmark or share it for future reference. There are affiliate links in this post, because that's just good business - they are all marked by underlining. If you want to know more about affiliate links read my disclosure. As always, be sure to subscribe for more free content and to download your free guide to writing your own Parenting Purpose Statement.

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