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How to Choose Curriculum that Works for Your Family

Recently a new homeschooling mom contacted me with one of the usual new mom questions. What curriculum should we use?

The young mom who was talking to me had some exposure to one curriculum and wasn’t satisfied with it. Her husband had heard of another that sounded good, and they weren’t sure what to do next. So they asked me which of the two should they use, fully assuming that I would be able to help them choose one or the other. But things don’t work that way.

Actually, experienced homeschoolers often ask themselves the same question every summer; even I am doing that, and we have been homeschooling for over two decades!

Other people, also, have asked me similar questions and often the question isn’t about only two curricula but about everything in the vendor hall as well as everything discussed by their friends. There isn’t enough time in the world to go through all these options even if you know what you were looking for and, let’s face it, often there’s barely time to get supper on the table each evening, let alone to study all sorts of curricula. The choices can be overwhelming to the point of tears, and there seems to be no way out.

But there is a way out. It involves two steps:

  • First you need to understand what kind of curriculum would suit your family. Your family, not your friend’s or the nice lady in the vendor hall’s family. This step is by far the most important.
  • After that you need to choose specific curriculum to match those criteria.  Or, if you are confident and have lots of time and energy, you can design one.

What Kind of Curriculum Would Suit Your Family?

You and your husband need to consider your values, what education means to you, your educational priorities and goals, how much time and energy you have, each child’s personality, and your own personality.

The simplest way of going through this is to follow the process outlined in one of Cathy Duffy’s books. The most recent one is How to Choose Homeschool Curriculum which is apparently identical to the first chapters in her three earlier Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum books. (She has written three editions, 100 Top Picks, 101 Top Picks, and 102 Top Picks and this vital section is identical in each of them. Note that these links are to my reviews.)

What you will need to do is study the first section of one of these books, ponder the questions, actually write down the answers, and fill in the tables. (I highly recommend not writing in the book itself but photocopying those pages since you may want to reuse the book. I go through this process every few years, filling out the worksheets as I go, because our education style changes as the children grow.) If you do this carefully and thoughtfully—beware that it may not be easy to think so deeply and that it will take some time—you will have a good idea of what kind of homeschooling family you are or perhaps what kind you are not.

Going through this process diligently will save your family an enormous amount of frustration, second-guessing, time, and money in the long run. Yes, it is so tempting to skip ahead to the curriculum reviews, but that often leads to disaster. As I’ve said a few times already and will repeat because it is so important: You need to know exactly what you are looking for before you start looking for it.

Making Curriculum Choices

After this, you can begin to look at curricula. Here again, Cathy Duffy’s books and website will help, because they analyse top quality curricula according to the different kinds of homeschooling families’ needs. Once you have studied the review section of the Top Picks books, you will also be better able to make decisions about other curricula that are not in the books. There are many more than 102 great homeschooling curricula out there, and Cathy Duffy reviews many of them on her website.

If you wish a different viewpoint, you could look at all my homeschooling reviews. To find them easily, click on the ‘Reviews for Homeschool’ tab at the top of the screen, above the sunflowers. Or you can click on the desired topic in the word cloud in the right side bar. You can also see some of our annual curriculum choices for various ages if you click on the ‘Our Curriculum’ tab at the top of the page. Finally, there is one article in which my five children share their favorite resources: “Our Children’s Top 30 Homeschool Resources.”  

The Curriculum Choice is also full of excellent reviews from a variety of viewpoints.

As you consider the options, remember that an enormous amount can be learned from hands on activities, play, library books, and volunteer work. You do not need curriculum for everything.  Also remember that the most expensive option may not be the best one for your family; price and effectiveness are not always related.

After all this thought you will need to make your decisions. Now you will be able to do this confidently since you will know what you are looking for. You won’t have to second guess your choices or worry that you are wasting your money.

And then, once your decisions are made, stick with them for the year at least. One of the grandmothers of homeschooling, Ruth Beechick, apparently said that any curriculum will work if the teacher does, and she is right.

If you’ve followed Cathy Duffy’s advice, you will have picked something that should work for your family. You will still need to put in effort yourself, though, and so will your children. It might not feel right or easy immediately, but perseverance is important. Learning how a curriculum works can take time, but putting in that time will almost certainly pay back handsomely for both learners and teachers.

One more thing. Just because everyone gets sick of a curriculum in the winter doesn’t mean you should get rid of it; perhaps you just need a break. Try a reading week or an art week. Go on field trips or ski trips. Visit a warm pool. Winter is hard and it is not a good time to make expensive curriculum changes that will involve weeks of adjustment when the only problem may be cabin fever.

May God bless us all as we put in the effort to teach the children he has given us.

Related Articles

“Our Children’s Top 30 Homeschool Resources”

“Oops! Minimizing Planning Blind Spots”

“33 Reminders for Homeschoolers”

“Quotations from 102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum

“One of the Best Homeschooling Books: 100 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum”

Review of 101 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum

Review of 102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum

Disclosure:  I recommend Cathy Duffy’s resources wholeheartedly but am not compensated for doing so.

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