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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Homeschool Curriculum: How to Choose?

I was contacted by two different ladies recently that are thinking about homeschooling their children next year, who will be in Kindergarten.  The first lady said, "How in the world can you afford to homeschool?  I tried looking online for curriculum for Kindergarten and it was over $500!!"  The second lady said she had many good books, workbooks, and educational apps and wondered if that was "enough" for homeschooling or should she look into an online subscription program.  I googled "homeschool curriculum" and got 6,460,000 possible answers.  With so many choices available, how do you choose?

First you have to understand that there are a ton of different options for homeschooling!  Cost will depend on what you are looking for.  With a little bit of effort, a library card, a computer, and some real life experiences, you can homeschool for next to nothing.  You can spend several hundred, or thousands of dollars on what I call "curriculum in a box" that will come with every single thing you need to use that curriculum for an entire year down to the smallest detail.  There are also online academies that you can enroll your child in that they complete all of their work and a teacher grades them.   There are many options in between.  What type of curriculum are you looking for?

How does your child learn best?  What kind of learning style do they have? Some children do great with online stuff, others do not.  Some students like to learn independently, others need you to be more involved (especially in the younger years!)  Some are auditory learners who learn better by hearing, or kinesthetic learners who learn by doing.  Some do learn better by reading on their own.  If you are homeschooling for the first time and panicking because you do not know how your child learns best, don't worry, you will.

Cost certainly is a big factor in choosing homeschool curriculum.  More expensive does NOT mean it is better though, just as homeschooling with little or no budget does not mean your child will get "less" of an education.  Generally speaking, homeschooling can be less expensive in the younger grades and gets a little more costly into the high school grades, but even them there are many inexpensive and even free options you can utilize.  Cost will factor into your decision on homeschool curriculum.  You need to get an idea of what you can spend on your homeschool.  I set aside a certain amount a money per month for expenses like field trips, art supplies, printer ink, etc..and an amount to buy curriculum with.

You also need to decide what subjects you want to teach and/or what your child want to learn.  That will help you narrow down the choices.  What are the regulations for homeschooling in your state?  Are there subjects you are required to teach?  Do you want a Christian curriculum?  There are many that are not, so you need to be aware of the worldview of the company.  Does your child have a particular interest in a topic of science or history?  My first year of homeschooling, my oldest was going into 3rd grade.  She LOVED the Little House on the Prairie Books.  I found a unit study curriculum called the Prairie Primer that covered all subjects based on those books (I did use a separate Math curriculum )  We had a wonderful time learning through what she loved!  When my next oldest was in Kindergarten, he was fascinated with Knights and Castles, so we spent a whole year learning about those.

Keep in mind too that there are a lot of curriculum companies are designed to be able to use with a wide range of age ranges.  So if you have a child in 2 and 5th grade, you do not need to teach things like bible, history, and science twice.  You can choose one that will fit them both.


My list of Do's and Don't's of Buying Curriculum

Do's

1.  If you can, go to a homeschooling convention so you can see things in person before buying.
2.  Read reviews!  There are a ton of them out there.  When reading don't focus on whether someone did or didn't like a product but instead focus on what they did or did not like.
3.  Ask opinions from homeschooling friends again paying attention to what they did/did not like.
4.  Set a budget.
5.  Search for used curriculum to save money being mindful that it is something that is allowed to be resold (most computer software cannot), and paying attention to the condition of the product and the price.  I have seen used curricula on Ebay go for more than you can buy it new!
6.  Watch for discounts and sales in the spring and early summer.  Even free shipping discounts can save you a lot of money!  Most curriculum companies end out an email newsletter you can sign up for an/or have a facebook page that they post sales and specials, helpful tips, and answer questions on.
7.  Request catalogs from homeschooling companies (I probably should have put this as #1)  Many offer their catalogs free.  Sometimes looking at catalogs is easier than looking online.
8. Check out the return policy of the company.  Many companies will allow for returns under certain conditions if you are not satisfied or the curriculum does not work for you.


Don't's

1. Don't feel like you have to spend a lot of money to give your child a great education!
2.  Don't think that because you have bought something you are stuck with it.  If you or your child don't like it, you can switch to something else.
3.  Don't fall into "the grass is greener" thought.  If you like a curriculum and it is working for your child, don't feel like you have to change because someone else says something is better.
4.  Don't buy too far ahead.  I have known many people the first year or so that they start homeschooling that buy enough curricula to last until their child graduates.  That is usually not a good idea.  You may change, you child may change, or other children in the family may have different learning styles and that curriculum won't work for them.  Also, just because you really like one book in a series doesn't mean you will like them all.  And, companies change/add to their curriculum all the time.  Especially with the increasing number of digital products being developed, you may not want to buy curricula 18 years in advance!
5.  Don't believe you have to do it all!

There are a TON of good curriculum companies out there.  In case you are looking for a place to start,here are some of my all time favorite curriculum companies ever:

Regular Curriculum
Apologia-science, worldview, bible, homeschooling encouragement and resources
Bright Ideas Press- history (Mystery of History, All American History), science (Christian Kids Explore), geography (Wondermaps) and Illuminations
Math U See- K-12 math
All About Learning Press- the best spelling/reading programs!
Compass Classroom- economics, bible, latin, history
Handwriting Without Tears-
Classical Academic Press- latin, bible, logic, poetry, and more!
Institute For Excellence In Writing
Excellence In Literature- High School Literature

Online Curriculum
Time For Learning/Writing
The Reading Kingdom

Curriculum In A Box
Sonlight

Unit Studies/Lapbooks
A Journey Through Learning

Have fun!



*Bright Ideas Press, Compass Classroom, All About Learning, A Journey Through Learning are my affiliate links.  I only form affiliate relationships with companies whose products I actually use and can recommend.






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