Selecting the perfect curriculum is a yearly hurdle every homeschool parent must face. Which publisher? What grade level? Do we continue to use the same one as last year, or do we change it up? Not only is it a challenge to find the right one that fits your child, you also have to fit your budget! My goal is to help you make the right decision, considering all those variables.
There are a few things to consider, and a few steps to take before selecting your curriculum. Note: This is information is geared towards elementary grades. For higher grades, look for my article on selecting high school level curricula if you.
1. Set your goals and content areas. Know what skills your student needs to master this year, and what content you are going to cover in each subject. Involve your student in this process and value their input. The higher interest they have in the content, the more they will learn, and the fewer power struggles you will encounter.
2. Know your student’s learning style. The teaching method the curriculum uses will greatly affect what your student learns and their retention of the material they are covering.
3. Consider their grade level in each subject area. Very few students are in the same level in every subject across the board. Reading, writing, and math are the areas to consider. They may be reading above or below the average for their age/grade; they may be struggling in writing, or they love a good challenge!
4. If you read my article on integrating subjects, you know I highly recommend this method, rather than study each one individually. If you are in Washington State there are eleven core subjects that must be covered for all students eight years old and above (compulsory school age): Reading, writing, spelling, language, history, social studies, science, health, occupational education, math, art and music appreciation. Can you imagine trying to teach each of these subjects individually? Not only would the student be bogged down in endless work, but also the subjects would be disconnected.
5. The pace and depth of the curriculum have a lot to do with your ability to complete the program in your determined amount of time. Some have a very rigorous schedule and are too demanding for your student’s ability and interest. Feel free to adapt a program to suit your schedule and student’s learning pace, if you like the content and activities is uses.
One of the most popular options I see parents select is the “big box” curriculum, where every subject is included. There are many great publishers that offer these programs, but the problem is that they don’t fit every student’s learning style, reading level, or interest. I see a lot of parents go this route so they can use it for the subsequent children. But again, you run into the same problem. What works for one student, may not work for the next. Often you wind up spending a lot of money on curriculum, and then find that it requires supplemental or different materials altogether to meet your student’s needs.
I encourage parents to create an a la carte program based on each subject. Some subjects can be combined, and some of the big box publishers have fantastic curriculum that can be purchased separately. Here’s my guide for selecting curriculum for each subject.
Math is a stand-alone subject most of the time. Choose your curriculum based on your student’s learning style and grade level. There are many great programs out there that approach math from many different angles.
Spelling is also a subject that is based largely on skill (grade) level. Considering learning style is important, but adaptations can be made or creativity added to a solid program. Spelling should be practiced across all subject areas, but should be intentionally taught through curriculum.
History and Social studies are often the core subjects taught throughout the year. It is important that the content is chosen based on the student’s interest. In the elementary years, there are no mandatory content areas, so feel free to tailor it to what captivates your child’s interest. Consider, also, your student’s learning style. This, combined with interest level, will make a program that excites your learner!
Writing should be incorporated into your main subject areas. You will want to find a program that guides you in helping your student develop their writing skills. The genres they are writing in should coincide with what is required in the main subjects (history, social studies, and science). Multiple genres should be explored every year, as should the writing process.
Reading is a multi-faceted subject largely determined by the student’s reading level. This is easily integrated into the main subject areas, but the student should also be allowed to pick books for their own enjoyment. In the lower elementary years, decoding skills are a large focus, as is comprehension. As they become more proficient in their decoding, comprehension will increase. The higher levels of reading programs should introduce deeper reading skills and strategies, such as inference, predictions and making connections. Reading responses should be included, as well as reading a variety of genres. Do not assign work to every book they read, or your student may come to dread reading.
Language includes grammar and vocabulary studies. These can be easily worked into your writing program, and should draw practical applications from writing assignments. Grammar does not need to be a large portion of the day, this is one of those subjects that builds on itself; and requires consistency but not large amounts of time. Vocabulary can be drawn from the science and history, or can be studied through root words, or more traditional word studies. It should have practical application in writing, and does not require a large time commitment.
Occupational education does not necessarily require a curriculum. Occupations can be studied through books, videos, and hands-on experiences. It also includes practical skills such as typing, business skills (running their own babysitting or gardening business), money management, etc.
Art and music appreciation do not require a large time commitment through the year. This can include studies of artists and musicians during the time period covered in history class. It can also tie into science if your student is interested in how musical instruments are made, or how various art mediums are created. This subject has no requirements and can be made an entirely fun and engaging subject.
Science is a broad subject. You can cover biology, zoology, botany, astronomy, physiology, physics, chemistry; you name it! Find an area of interest for your student and get creative! Science should include hands-on activities, and should not simply come from reading a book. Your curriculum should be selected based on interest, age level, and learning style.
Health is an exploration into nutrition, exercise, and healthy living. This doesn’t require a curriculum on its own if you are comfortable creating a collection of books and resources on your own. Again, this should be determined by your student’s interest, age level, and learning style. This can be a very hands-on and active subject.
Selecting curriculum for the year is a really important process! It takes time and energy, but when done well can make your year smooth and enjoyable. One of the best resources is Cathy Duffy Reviews. There is a wealth of information available on her website and in her books. Facebook groups for homeschoolers are a great place to ask questions, and there are a plethora of blogs and reviews out there that can be utilized. When you find something that works, stick with it! Don’t be afraid to make adjustments to curriculum to meet your student’s needs. Get creative and have some fun!