How Do I Choose Curriculum?

We homeschooling moms soon discover that each of our children learns differently and that even our home has a flavor all its own!  In many ways, we are all unique. The ability for homeschool parents to individualize the education to each child is a major reason that homeschoolers do so well. It’s also why the curriculum that works so well for one family may not be ideal for another.  Various learning styles and family differences call for a variety of curriculum choices.

To help you with an overview of curriculum options, we’ve assembled a brief description of each major curriculum type or style.

Types of Curriculum

This is what you know so well if you went to public school yourself. It separates subjects (e.g. math, science, English) into set class periods throughout the day, each using a different textbook or workbook. Students are annually divided into grade levels based on age. Examples include A Beka, BJU Press, and Seton. Familiar and comprehensive, one of the challenges can be that of keeping up with several children in several grades. Plus it can be inefficient since it is based on filling up 50-minute time slots as if in a traditional classroom setting. Lastly, it’s usually book-oriented with little kinesthetic learning and more visual than auditory. However, it remains a popular choice and might be a good fit for the first year or two if not longer. Many families are able to thrive well with the “tradition” method of homeschooling as long as they are able to “let go” of their own public school expectations of “filling the time.”
Based on the ideas of late 19th/early 20th century British educator Charlotte Mason, this method has been called “the gentle art of learning.” Charlotte Mason taught that children learn from their environment, from establishing good habits, and from “living books” instead of dumbed-down “twaddle.” She emphasized educating the whole child and naturally utilizing nature study, art & music appreciation, and physical activity - along with the usual academic subjects. An easy way to become familiar with Charlotte Mason ideas is to visit simplycharlottemason.com or amblesideonline.com. The latter also offers free curriculum. You’ll find that many literature-based curriculum approaches such as Tapestry of Grace, My Father’s World, and Sonlight, would allow you to incorporate Charlotte Mason’s wonderful philosophy of home educating. We also recommend Karen Andreola’s book, A Charlotte Mason Companion: Personal Reflections on the Gentle Art of Learning.
Many companies provide pre-selected texts for each subject, boxed together for each grade or year. The “boxed” approach makes sense when a parent feels overwhelmed with making the choices. We’ve all been there! Examples include My Father’s World, Sonlight, Tapestry of Grace and Heart of Dakota. Christian Liberty Academy is similar since they also choose the texts for each subject. Boxed curriculum can often be used across grade levels, enabling you to homeschool children of multiple ages in areas of history, nature and Bible, with individual grade-level options for math, science and grammar.
Unit study is taking one topic over a period of time and studying every subject in relation to it. For instance, a study of the Egyptian Empire might include reading historical fiction set in that time period, studying the geographical features of the Nile, making a salt map of Egypt, practicing hieroglyphics, studying the science of embalming, researching the Pharoahs, taking a field trip to a museum, and doing a Bible study on Exodus. Families usually supplement with math and grammar studies. And, many veteran homeschool families find that, today, aided by the strength of Google and the local library, they’re able to create their own unit studies very successfully.
Classical education is based on the Trivium. Three stages of learning/cognitive development are recognized. The Grammar Stage (early grade school) centers on concrete learning - memorizing facts. The Dialectic Stage (late grade school/junior high years) applies logic and critical thinking to those facts, while the Rhetoric Stage (high school) centers on communicating through verbal and written skills. Perhaps the “bible” of classical education is The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer and Jesse Wise. Curriculum examples include Veritas Press, Classical Conversations and Tapestry of Grace. Criticisms include the rigor and difficulty for some kinesthetic learners.
Not to be confused with “Public School at Home” programs, many companies provide computer or DVD teaching options. For instance, both A Beka and Bob Jones University Press (see traditional above) have virtual classroom options. Teaching Textbooks offers DVD teachers for each math lesson. And, Switched On Schoolhouse is an example of a computer-based program that covers every subject. Easy Peasy offers an online free curriculum for each year utilizing many online resources and easily found library items. We do encourage you to be careful that you don’t park your child in front of a computer screen and lose the one-on-one tutoring that establishes rich relationships and worldview training. Along that vein, you might review this article.
As the name implies, eclectic homeschoolers take an idea here and an idea there - whatever resonates with a particular mom or dad - to build a personalized learning path for their family. Perhaps they use the unit study idea to mix history and writing, use Charlotte Mason “living books” for literature, choose a traditional math course, but use online virtual tools for anatomy. They may borrow classical ideas to emphasize fact-learning in the early years while adding critical thinking to later grade school. If one size education does not fit every child, one educational style may not fit every parent!

This list is certainly not exhaustive. We haven’t included unschooling, Montesorri-based, or the Principle Approach. A more exhaustive list of resources for each of these styles can be found at Cathy Duffy Reviews. Also, the Amazon Smile link on the right sidebar is a great way to purchase some resources and help support CHEWV financially!

If you want to read a sweet conversation by moms (and homeschooled students) about the differing ways to home educate, hop on over to the Pioneer Woman’s blog to read the comment section of this post.

And one last thing. Allow yourself time to learn! Most homeschooling moms change and adapt as they go along. Eventually you’ll see that as a major advantage as you establish what works best for your own family. One size really doesn’t fit all, and the size that fits this year may be outgrown the next. The adventure awaits!

Does CHEWV provide curriculum?
No, we don’t provide a curriculum. Instead, we focus our efforts on defending and preserving the rights of homeschooling in West Virginia.
Should my husband help with homeschooling?
It’s wonderful if he is able to help, but it is certainly not a requirement. We encourage you to welcome your husband’s participation, without demanding it. As you homeschool, you’ll begin to identify areas where your husband fits in naturally in a way that blesses your entire family, and honors him without pressuring him to take on another task.
What if I can’t afford curriculum?
It is possible, with advance planning and an eager spirit, to homeschool on a shoestring. You’ll find used curriculum sales at homeschool events/conventions as well as places such as eBay and half.com. You’ll also find that your local library will be a great option. And, most often, homeschool families love helping each other by loaning resources. If you are not a member of a local support group, we highly encourage that you join one, and partner with other homeschool families.
Where can I find encouragement for my heart? I admit I get weary at times.
There are different stages of homeschooling. And, some years are much more difficult and demanding than others. Thankfully, the internet is full of excellent sources of encouragement and you can “virtually” invite other moms into your life. We suggest you consider the ministries of Titus 2, The Homeschool Mom and Doorposts. Titus 2 and FamilyMan also offer great encouragement for Dad.