10 Questions to Help You Choose Your Homeschool Curriculum
One of the great blessings in the growth of homeschooling over the last decade has been the increase in available curricula. There are a lot of sound homeschool curriculum choices, but how do you choose the right one?! Having lots of options is great, but it can also be overwhelming! Whether you are new to homeschooling or planning your eighth year, here are 10 questions (and a bonus!) to help take the overwhelm out of choosing the best curriculum for your student(s). You may want to write down your answers to these 10 questions or make notes on your phone so that you can remind yourself of your answers. We also have a FREE PDF Worksheet at the end to help you keep track of information as you look at curricula.
1. Big Picture: What do you want your days to look like?
Dream about what you want your school year to look like. Even if only Mom or Dad is the main homeschool teacher, we suggest parents take time to pray and dream together. Here are some questions to get you started. Your answers to these questions may be especially important to write down so that you can remind yourself of what you really would like your homeschooling experience to be like.
Do you want each day to be super structured, relaxed, or somewhere in the middle?
Do you want to have time to play outside in the afternoon?
Do you want to work on projects together?
Do you want to read lots of books?
Do you want to go on field trips often or travel to see what you are learning about?
Do you want plenty of downtime for your children to reflect and explore their interests, or do you want the days to be full of planned activities?
Does the idea of your multi-age children learning about the same things together make you smile?
When choosing a homeschool curriculum ask, “Does this curriculum fit with what we want our days to look like?”
2. Family Scenario: What will work best with your family’s life?
Secondly, thinking about your family scenario helps narrow down what kind of curriculum you need. And don’t make the mistake of thinking about a different family’s life or neglecting the realities of your family’s story; be real about YOUR family’s situation! If your family travels often and takes school with you or has limited space, a curriculum that requires many big books and piles of supplies probably isn’t the best. But if those books can be eBooks, it might work great! If both parents are working full time, if you are a single parent or if you are grandparents raising your grandchildren, having a homeschool curriculum that helps students be self-sufficient, allows for co-op opportunities and doesn’t require a lot of prep work could be especially helpful. These are all examples of situations that may help narrow down what kind of curriculum you need.
When you explore your options, ask, “Does this curriculum work well with my family’s REAL life?”
3. Beliefs: What worldview do you want your children to learn?
Another point to help you select curriculum for the coming year is looking at which one best aligns with what you want your children to learn about God and the world. For many families making the decision to homeschool, this is perhaps the most important factor. Your family will be spending a fair amount of time with the curriculum you select over the next year, and what it teaches is more-or-less supposed to rub off on the students who use it.
Ask yourself, “Does this curriculum fit with what we believe and want our children to learn about God and the world?”
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4. Requirements: Which curriculum best fits the requirements I need to fulfill?
Early on in your curriculum search, find out about state and/or local requirements for homeschooling since you may find this narrows your options. For example, you may be required to teach certain subjects and include certain topics (e.g. health, including CPR), and you may be required to provide a certain number of hours of instruction. If you live in the US, check out the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) website for state-specific guidelines. For high school students who are heading to technical school or college, make sure your curriculum choice meets not only your local requirements but also any higher education entrance requirements.
Ask yourself, “Does this curriculum meet the local (and higher education entrance) requirements?”
5. Special Needs of the Student: What special needs does your child have?
A fifth facet to look at is any special needs of your children. Being able to customize your student’s education is one of the powerful advantages of homeschooling. Does your child have a visual impairment? If your child is able to use print books, choosing a curriculum with good-sized print and high-quality paper (so print from other pages doesn’t show through, making it harder to read) will help with readability. If many reading books are required, consider checking to see if some of them are available as audio books. If you go the video curriculum route, check if graphics and text in the videos are large enough to read without too much struggle. Is your child active or a hands-on learner? A curriculum that requires sitting in front of a TV or computer for six hours a day followed by a couple hours of sitting-still for homework may not be the best. If you would like help figuring out how best to homeschool your child with special needs, visit the HSLDA Special Needs Consultant page to see the resources they offer.
We may think of special needs as only medical or emotional conditions, but for curriculum-choosing purposes we can also include things like a need for beauty or a need to be around other people. Therefore, another way we could ask this question is, “Does this curriculum work with how my child is wired?” If your student is an artist and loves making the world a little more beautiful, using a curriculum that your student thinks is ugly could be a tough sell. Does your child need social interaction? A curriculum that allows for co-ops and group projects may be your best fit!
Before choosing your curriculum ask, “Does this curriculum fit with how my child is wired?”
6. Special Needs of the Parent(s): What special needs do you (parent) have?
That’s right – if you are going to be using the curriculum along with your child, think not only about any special needs your child has but also about any special needs that you have. For example, a parent with a mild visual impairment might not want to choose a homeschool curriculum with tiny print and poor-quality paper, especially for early grades, which will make it difficult to read to/along with a child. Maybe you are the one in your family with dyslexia – find something that works for you! Do you struggle with organization? Choose a curriculum that helps you be strong in this area instead of burdening you.
Ask yourself, “Does this curriculum fit with how I am wired?”
7. Goals: What does your child aspire to be?
This question is probably most important for the high school years, but even young children can show a “bent” to certain things. Fostering those interests can be beautiful and help them grow into the people God made them to be. If your child wants to go into a medical field, it will be important to choose strong science and math curricula. On the other hand, if your child wants to run their own non-science business, intensive biology and calculus may not be so important while a curricula that teach skills in business, accounting, and communication (including writing skills) could really help lay a foundation for success. Tailoring the learning experience to each of your students might take extra time and creativity, but it is another valuable benefit of homeschooling. Don’t let it go to waste!
When choosing your curriculum, ask, “Will this curriculum help my child become who they aspire to be?”
8. Cost: What is your budget and which curriculum fits?
Ah, yes, the budget. Setting a budget for your curriculum will help narrow your options and set you up for a successful year. Is your favorite curriculum out of your price range? Consider waiting for the next holiday or convention to see if it goes on sale. Or check out sellers like ebay, secondhand book shops or even thrift shops and resellers at homeschool conventions. Also, putting the word out to your local homeschool community that you are interested in such-and-such used curriculum may turn into a win-win for you and a fellow homeschooling family. Lastly, if you are a missionary or military family, curriculum companies may offer discounts especially for you.
As you choose your curriculum, don’t forget to ask, “Does this curriculum fit in my budget?”
9. Reusability: Do you want to be able to reuse your curriculum with younger children?
If your answer is “Yes!” you’ll want to choose a curriculum that is re-using friendly. You can have your students write answers in a notebook instead of in the workbook, for example. Or, perhaps a video-based curriculum offers lifetime online access or DVDs you can keep.
If you plan to reuse a curriculum, you will want to look for something that gives you a suitable answer to “Does this curriculum meet my reusability needs?”
10. Likeability: Do you (and your student) like the curriculum?
Last but not least, consider whether you and your student actually like the curriculum you might buy. Even if it meets all the other criteria, if you and/or your student despise it, using it every day for a school year could cause a case of daily grumpies or the curriculum may even end up sitting on your shelf untouched! Of course, it’s worth keeping in mind that we can at least to some extent choose what we like or choose to cheerfully do something because it is good for us even if we don’t love it. That said, it would be great if you can find a curriculum that meets your other criteria and makes you and your student smile when you use it.
It’s also helpful to remember that if you LOVE the idea of using a specific curriculum but it doesn’t actually fit with many of the other questions on this list (e.g. budget, state requirements, your real life and how your child is wired), you’ll probably be happier in the long run if you find a different curriculum that you like and that meets at least more of the other criteria!
Still, ask yourself, “Do I and my student like this curriculum?”
Bonus! Is “Made in the USA” important to you?
While this question probably won’t affect your daily homeschool routine, it’s an important consideration to a lot of people, including us. Which is why all Science Shepherd material is printed in the United States!
Consider, “Is ‘Made in the USA’ important to me?”
We hope these thoughts have been helpful! If you would like to receive a FREE PDF Worksheet to help you keep track of which homeschool curriculum options are the best fit for your family simply submit the form below and we'll email you the PDF.
At Science Shepherd we seek to provide curriculum that fits the everyday needs of homeschooling families. If you are wondering where to get started with our material, check out our recommended course progression.
Until next time! Science Shepherd
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