Choosing a Homeschool Curriculum
Blog by Schoolio Co-Founder, Lindsey Casselman.
As a homeschool mentor, one of the most common questions people ask me is about choosing a homeschool curriculum. If the pandemic has shown me one thing, it’s that people have a significant misunderstanding of what curriculum is used in public schools and where it comes from.
Let’s clear that up first:
In Canadian public schools, there is no pre-fabricated, standard curriculum that the government provides and teachers use. What the government has, and you can access online via each province’s website, are what is usually called “Learning Outcomes” or “Curriculum Expectations”. These are, exactly as the name states, the outcomes of the curriculum that is taught. The government lists the concepts they expect students to know by the end of their grade year. The level of support for teaching these concepts varies by province. But the commonality is that every teacher creates or sources their own curriculum content to use in order to teach your child. And help your child reach those outcomes. There are no lessons or units that the government provides to teachers, this is part of their job.
So, the answer to everyone’s first question is no.
No, you cannot get access to the government curriculum, because there is no such thing. You can get access to the government’s expectations of learning outcomes and use them as a list to help aid you in deciding what to teach your own child. That is if it’s important to you to follow those expectations.
This leads us to how to choose a homeschool curriculum out of the many, many options out there. Obviously, having a lot of choices is always great, but it can feel so overwhelming when you’re brand new to the homeschool world.
Whenever I mentor someone on choosing a homeschool curriculum, I start with these four questions to help us narrow it down:
1. What type of homeschool curriculum do you want? Are you wanting secular (no religious affiliation), or faith-based? If you want secular material your choices will narrow down considerably. Some people want faith-based learning, some don’t really care and will use faith-based material and just “leave out the religious bits”, and others want truly secular programming. The choice is completely yours!
2. Do you want Canadian, US, or another country-based material? Most parents want material from their home country, especially for the history and geography units, but you can certainly source material from other places as well. I know one homeschool family that only uses old USSR educational learning material. I know many Canadian parents who use US material (as this is the overwhelming majority of products available). There’s no right or wrong answer.
The only thing to be aware of is that if you’re a Canadian and you use US material.
You will need to swap out the math parts that use units of measurement and money. Also, you will have to source some Canadian social studies if you want them included in your learning journey. None of that is too difficult, but it’s worth bearing in mind. Especially if you’re paying a hefty price tag for a math curriculum, for example, you will still need to source and purchase or create replacements for some components of the program.
3. Are you wanting to follow any specific learning outcomes or expectations? Similar to #2, this is about the style and expectations you want to adhere to when choosing a homeschool curriculum. Some parents want to follow their home province/state’s learning outcomes. Regardless of where they live, some people want to follow the guidelines of certain countries. I know Canadians who follow American Common Core guidelines. And families in Dubai who want a Canadian education for their children. There’s no right or wrong, better or worse, it’s whatever you want for your family. You’re also not obligated in most areas to follow any standards. Work on familiarizing yourself with your local provincial/state homeschooling laws to be absolutely certain.
4. Do you want to get all your subjects from one company? (This is called an all-in-one curriculum) or are you fine with (or prefer) to source different subjects from different companies when choosing a homeschool curriculum? There are pros and cons to both of these options and as with everything in home learning, the choice is yours!
The pros to an all-in-one homeschool curriculum are:
- Ease of sourcing and use. If you like a company’s product and can get every subject from them, your curriculum hunt just got immensely easier.
- Similarity across subjects. An all-in-one curriculum is going to mean you have all your content together in one place, it’s all the same “voice”, and it’s all the same instructional style. Every subject follows the same structure. This can be helpful for kids with unique learning needs if the instructional style suits them. And for any child who thrives with sameness and routine.
- Easy planning. Some all-in-one programs will come with a schedule, or scheduling recommendations, and will often have all subjects laid out to be used in the same time frame. Letting you start and end your year at the same time across subjects.
Not always, but generally speaking in my experience, it has always been more affordable to buy an all-in-one curriculum than to buy subjects separately.
The pros to sourcing material from a variety of providers when choosing a homeschool curriculum:
- When a company specializes in one subject area, they are more likely to employ experts in that sole area. For typical learners, this isn’t really necessary (for example, a fourth-grade public school teacher is at best an expert in one subject area, but not all). So, having top-of-line expert attention in every subject matter may be overkill for the price you will pay for it. But again that’s entirely up to you. If money isn’t an object and you want the best of the best in every subject, you can 100% achieve this through sourcing each subject area from that subject area’s leading experts.
- Unique needs learners. There are curriculums out there developed specially for various unique learning needs. You can source a language arts program for dyslexic/dysgraphic children. There are different homeschool curriculum companies that offer math programs for gifted learners. And, you can source a writing program for reluctant writers, the list goes on. By choosing subject-by-subject, you can tailor each subject’s instructional strategy to your unique learner’s needs in each area. This is great for kids who excel in one or more areas while simultaneously struggling in other areas.
Are your children special needs?
This goes along with the last point, in that if your child has any special learning needs, you may be able to find a curriculum designed to meet those needs. If there isn’t a specific curriculum to meet your needs, (for example, there are curriculums for giftedness and dyslexia, but there are not, to my knowledge, curriculums specifically designed for ADHD children). Then your next best option is to consider your child’s needs before you start looking at the curriculum. Do you need something with an audio option for lessons? Do you need screen-free? Do you need a lot of hands-on and movement-based learning vs. seat work? These are all things to consider when you start your hunt for choosing a homeschool curriculum.
Choosing Homeschool Curriculum can be overwhelming.
Maybe you’re feeling more overwhelmed than ever before. I recommend actually sitting with these four questions and making a few notes on paper about each one. Do you have hard and fast requirements in any, all, or none of the above four? What are they? Does this feel daunting? It might, but it will really help you focus your direction when researching the homeschool curriculum.
Once you have a solid direction and wish list, you can start to research. You’ll be able to quickly weed certain programs out when they don’t meet an expectation you set out in your search. This will help you spend more time on the programs that do fit your student’s needs.
Recommendations and Reviews for Choosing Homeschool Curriculum:
Recommendations from people are great and can help you become aware of companies you may not have known existed. Remember though, that for any curriculum out there, you will find folks who LOVED it and folks who HATED it. The reason for this is because the curriculum, and what works for each family, are unique to the family and their needs. It’s going to be very personal for each person, and you’ll often find that people are very passionate about their love for the program they have found works best for them.
Just remember that there is no right or wrong, there is no “best” curriculum. Because families and learners are diverse, so is the homeschool curriculum. Try to find companies that have samples and reviews that actually show you the program materials, either in photo or video. You can take the reviews with a grain of salt while intensely inspecting the sample materials being shown to see if you think the program will work for you and your learner(s).
Is cost an issue when choosing a homeschool curriculum?
If cost is an issue, I recommend not even looking at programs that are out of your budget. Check the price first, if you can’t afford it, don’t torture yourself by falling in love. It’ll just make you inclined to be unhappy with whatever you end up “settling” for. I promise you, you can absolutely 100% provide an amazing education to your child without spending a lot of money or getting that really expensive curriculum package. All your child needs is your love and patience, and you will learn together regardless of your materials! So, please don’t sweat it if you’re on a tight budget for materials!
That about wraps it up.
Hopefully, you’ll find a program that really clicks for you and your child. Keep in mind that you are not married to whatever you choose the first time around. You can always try something new next year, or resell what you have in one of the many homeschools buy/sell groups (search for one local to you). Then switch gears mid-year. Some curriculum companies let you purchase mini units, so you can try out the content. This gives you a really good feel for the program before committing financially to the whole year.
And, if finances are an issue, being able to purchase a few units at a time throughout the year, rather than everything up front may be an important feature when choosing for you. Just remember that what you pick today may not work and that’s ok. There’s no failure in throwing in the towel on something that you tried and didn’t work. What works brilliantly this year, or for two years, or for five, might stop working one year as your children change and grow. Your teaching style, homeschool philosophy, or family structure also changes and grows. Aim for flexibility, patience, and maintaining an open mind.
Enjoy the process and have a great year!
Learn more about Schoolio’s Homeschool Curriculum.