"Home schooling looked like a great option," says Pam, a mother concerned about her youngest girl's high school education. "But when I started looking into curricula, I felt like a guppy thrown into the ocean. There was so much out there to pick from, and it was absolutely overwhelming."
Like Pam, many parents feel out of their depth with the seemingly endless supply of home schooling resources available. But if you're stepping into the home-school arena, you don't have to be intimidated. With a little preparation, you can find the curriculum that is a perfect fit for your family.
Don't forget the obvious
The best curriculum for your children will be the one that aligns with your family's purpose for home schooling. Perhaps your worldview, schedule or school district has played a significant role in your decision. One of the best ways to avoid getting sidetracked from your initial purpose is to write an academic mission statement that you can reference as you're reviewing curricula.
Writing this mission statement is easier than you may think. Briefly explain why you decided to home school and define your desired outcome. Your outcome is characterized by what a successful home-school year looks like to you. The goal may be to complete a workbook, score well on a standardized test, meet the state standards or see children integrating their knowledge in day-to-day situations. Your measurement of success is important in your evaluation of curriculum materials.
Then consider your influencing factors, such as the role your faith will play in your children's curriculum and how you intend to achieve your state's educational standards. Some states require home-school students to adhere to detailed grade-level requirements. Others do not. Contact your state's board of education. The government has indexed each state's contact information at ed.gov/about/contacts/state/index.html. From there, get information about what your child is supposed learn at each grade level. Understanding your state's standards can help you narrow curriculum options.
A final variable in choosing a curriculum is your finances. What's your budget for home-school curricula, and how expensive are they? Will you need a computer at home, and can you afford to buy one right now? Are there registration fees in the program, and what do you get for your money? Home-school costs can vary depending on your curriculum choices. Figure out how much you intend to spend, and then adjust curricula to fit your budget, perhaps being creative with some subjects, such as using the library for literature books, to make home schooling work for your family.
Once you have created a mission statement, consider the educational model that best fits your academic teaching method.
Choose a teaching method
In addition to the many ways that curriculum is offered — video lectures, computer programs, distance classrooms, books, workbooks and projects — each curriculum rests on the tenets of a single teaching model. To better understand how you want to teach your children, explore these six popular teaching methods:
British educator Charlotte Mason saw learning as a lifestyle, not a means for passing tests and doing a set amount of assignments. She thought that part of the process should include a realization of who each child is in the world and before God. Instead of being empty sacks that needed to be filled with knowledge, children are seen as capable of contemplating ideas.
Based on a patterned concept called Trivium, the classical model sits on pillars of grammar (early elementary study), logic (middle school study) and rhetoric (high school study). This Socratic method has been used for centuries to raise leaders and includes memorization, training in public speaking and critical thinking.
The eclectic method allows parents to use different teaching models with different subjects. They may prefer one method for English and another for science, mixing and matching the ways subjects are taught to fit a student's unique talents and learning style, often on a set budget. So they may purchase home-school curriculum from a variety of home-school vendors or may get it from sites such as TeachersPayTeachers.com.
The Principle Approach
God's Word is at the center of this educational model. Biblical principles are explored in every subject, and a biblical worldview is taught. Research, purpose and reasoning play key roles, and children capture this individualized training in a notebook.
Lectures, reading, memorization, tests and writing are key to the traditional method. Curricula in this model may be self-directed, probably include workbooks, and inevitably strive to meet state and national education standards. In addition, good citizenship and character values are taught.
Unit studies are lessons that center on a single theme, subject or time in history. Children of different ages can be taught the same lesson at varying degrees of difficulty. This allows parents to teach multiple age groups as they instill the value of learning in the lives of their children.
For curriculum examples of each teaching method, download Curricula Categorized by Teaching Methods. Once you determine which teaching method best fits your personality and the manner in which your children learn, eliminate the curricula that don't fall into that teaching method.
Understand your family
Curriculum is a tool to help your children gain the knowledge they need to advance to the next grade level. To find one that works for your family, consider these four keys to a home school routine:
- How much time will you spend working one-on-one with your children? Estimate the hours, or download the Available One-on-One Time worksheet to better understand both your free time and your time constraints.
- How motivated are you and your children? In subject areas where you are strong or your children are highly motivated, consider purchasing curricula that allow for more interaction. In areas where you are weak or your children don't like the subjects, consider a fuller program that offers self-teaching or video lectures. If you need help realizing what motivates you and your children, complete the Motivation Worksheet.
- How much curriculum will you need to purchase? Most states require a specific number of instructional days and hours in an academic year; confirm your state's requirements. Perhaps you will need 36 weeks of curricula if your state requires 180 days per year. Consider creating a daily schedule, budgeting the amount of time necessary for each subject. Review subject programs that contain the necessary hours (per home school week) to complete state requirements, keeping in mind that you can always combine shorter programs if necessary. If you need help figuring this out, download a Yearly Planning Sheet.
- How can you determine what each curriculum is really like? Reviewing curricula first-hand is important, and many curriculum publishers have online placement tests and Web sample lessons for parental assessment.
Without a doubt, the best place to explore curriculum is still with other home-school parents and in online home-school communities. These men and women can help you understand what a product will look like after it's been used, detailing what they feel were the strengths and weaknesses of the program.
Another excellent resource is a home-school fair or convention. When looking at curricula, keep an ongoing record about the information you find. You can do this on your own or use our Curricula Comparison Worksheet.
Once you understand your family's constraints, pinpoint your varied learning styles and personalities and define a compatible teaching method, you will quickly eliminate some curricula and find that you want to explore others.Sheila Seifert is the editorial director of parenting content at Focus on the Family and a former home-school mom.