Curriculum Choices Without the Headache

By Stephanie

Okay- I guess I cannot guarantee that you will not get a headache when choosing your curriculum. If you are like many parents, though, you will have a lot of fun looking at your options and feel empowered as you realize that you and your family can design your own education experience. Pretty cool stuff.

When it comes to choosing the curriculum you want for your family it helps to think about why you even want to homeschool in the first place. I focus on this a ton in my free downloads How to Thrive as a Homeschool Family and Homeschool Scheduling Magic. (You can get those by signing up for our email.) Now that you are a homeschooler - you will want to choose your homeschool "style".

Just as you may try on different styles of outfits to see what fits best - you may find that you want to try several different homeschool styles and see what fits best. I have found summers are a great time to try different styles before our official school schedule starts. I actually tried out homeschooling the summer before I started officially doing homeschool, to see if I felt I could even do it. Many homeschoolers start out with a specific style or curriculum and then as they become more experienced and confident as a homeschool teacher become more eclectic and adventurous in their schooling choices.

One of the most helpful ways to find great curriculum is to ask your friends about what they use. You often have similar lifestyles and priorities as your friends, so this is a great place to start. ​Many families who are very new to homeschooling like to start out with a complete curriculum. Others have a strong philosophy about how they want their children to learn. Others are fine with being eclectic right away. Just as there are different types of public, charter, and private schools all over- the same goes for homeschools. You find what works best for you and your family. So here is an overview of popular homeschool styles. Please chime in below in the comments and tell us what styles you use. 

Caution! While you are choosing your curriculum remember to be real. Can you really do all of those amazing and time-intensive projects while having an infant? Can your child actually sit for a 20 minute reading? ​Does the curriculum of your dreams fit your budget? Remember that you may learn differently than your children, so keep that in mind.

All-in-one Curriculum

Many parents who are new to homeschooling like to start out with a program that has it all. You simply choose your grade and get to work. The curriculum creators give you the schedule and supplies and you fit the school schedule into your family schedule.​

A popular free all-in-one curriculum is Easy Peasy Homeschool at www.allinonehomeschool.com. The creator, Lee Giles, also has a paid curriculum titled Genesis Curriculum and high school at  www.allinonehighschool.com  There are many fantastic all-in-one curriculums. You may have heard of K12.com, Connections Academy, and other online and distance homeschools that are free through your state. A great Christian offline all-in-one program is Sonlight Curriculum. 

Unit Studies

Unit studies are a lot of fun when you want to dive really deep into subjects. Amanda Bennett from UnitStudy.com describes unity studies like this:

​"A good unit study involves learning about one topic in an interesting and engaging way that will captivate the student and make them want to learn more and continue to think about the things that they are learning. From cell phones to Ethiopia to catapults and elephants, unit studies can open up the world to your child, one topic at a time."  www.unitstudy.com

​I have found unit studies very helpful when my boys like the subject. One year each of my boys got to choose a few topics and we studied them. It was very interesting and I learned so much. When you are interested in the topics you are studying, learning sticks a lot easier and is a lot more fun. To help our unit studies we created lap books. Lap books are folders that have a lot of creative paper books, flaps, charts, etc. that are all about the subject. If you have kids who like crafting, this could be an excellent way to introduce unit studies or just add to the mix. There are a lot of lapbooks out there or you can create your own. One great place to find them is lapbooklessons.com.

You can also use scouts to introduce unit studies. We use Quest Clubs, Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. Each badge can be a separate unit study. ​

​Montessori

Montessori education was founded by the first female Italian physician Maria Montessori. She was also an educator and helped create an education model that treats the whole child. Montessori education is an educational approach characterized by an emphasis on independence, freedom within limits, and respect for a child’s natural psychological, physical, and social development. Her method includes:

  • Mixed age classrooms
  • Student choice of activity from within a prescribed range of options
  • Uninterrupted blocks of work time, ideally three hours
  • A  constructivist "discovery" model, where students learn concepts from working with materials, rather than by direct instruction
  • Specialized educational materials developed by Montessori and her collaborators
  • Freedom of movement within the classroom
  • A trained Montessori teacher

​I love Montessori education. My oldest son actually went to a Montessori school for kindergarten before we decided to homeschool. I use a lot of Montessori methods and resources when teaching my sons to read. There are a ton of printable montessori resources online. I also use a Montessori-influenced math curriculum called Shiller Math.

What I love about the Montessori approach is that it is hands-on and encourages independence. I feel like it is very well planned out and strategic, yet very nurturing to the child. I learned a lot about doing Montessori at home from a very old, yet helpful book Teaching Montessori in the Home from Amazon.

I had a houseful of young boys at the time, so I was not able to get myself organized enough to create all of the math materials. This is when I found the Montessori-influenced math program Shiller Math, which was created by a math professor who wanted to make a math program that his daughter would enjoy. 

Classical Education

​When you think of the word "classic", you probably think of things that stand the test of time. Classical education is an educational method that has stood the test of time. Classical education uses classic books and methods. Susan Wise says, "classical education depends on a three-part process of training the mind. The early years of school are spent in absorbing facts, systematically laying the foundations for advanced study. In the middle grades, students learn to think through arguments. In the high school years, they learn to express themselves. This classical pattern is called the trivium." http://www.welltrainedmind.com/classical-education/​

Susan Wise is one of the most popular classical education writers today. She is amazing and has written wonderful history books for children titled Story of the World. There are four books. They are very engaging and perfect for reading to children. She has many other wonderful books to help any parent who wants to teach using the classical method. The Well-Trained Mind is a fantastic resource for anyone wanting to have a classical education at home.

Leadership Education (a.k.a. Thomas Jefferson Education)

Thomas Jefferson Education is an educational approach based on seven principles. Thomas Jefferson educators feel that when these principles are applied, learning occurs for any learning style or interests. When they are ignored or rejected, Thomas Jefferson educators feel the quantity and quality of education decreases.​ Here are the principles:

  1. Classics, Not Textbooks
  2. Mentors, Not Professors
  3. Inspire, Not Require
  4. Structure Time, Not Content
  5. Simplicity, Not Complexity
  6. Quality, Not Conformity
  7. You, Not Them

Thomas Jefferson Education also focuses on learning phases. The four learning phases are :

  1. Core
  2. Love of Learning
  3. Transition to Scholar
  4. Scholar​

I have loved learning about leadership education and have applied many of their principles in our homeschool. Leadership education has helped me focus on principles more than stressing out about completing curriculum books and worksheets. You can learn more about Leadership Education at TJED.com

Waldorf

The Waldorf approach was created by Austrian Rudolph Steiner in the 1900's. Waldorf education focuses on the role of imagination in learning and teaching the whole child. Waldorf education strives to integrate the intellectual, practical, and artistic development of the child. Waldorf education uses no textbooks until sixth grade. Instead, they keep journals to write down what they have learned and experienced. Reading is not taught at age 5 and 6. Writing is taught first as a way to communicate through pictures. You can learn more about the Waldorf teaching method at WaldorfHomeschoolers.com

Charlotte Mason

Charlotte Mason was a British educator in the late 1800's. Like Waldorf and Montessori, she focused on teaching the whole child. She felt that a child should spend several hours per day outside exploring and playing. She encouraged "living books" instead of dry text books. "Living books", as defined by Charlotte Mason educators, are books written by someone who is very passionate about their subject, written in a narrative and conversational style. She taught handwriting and spelling by introducing great books with powerful ideas to bring them alive- rather than just a list of words. She encouraged poetry recitation and memorization. Charlotte Mason said, "Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life."

I feel like homeschooling allows your kids large amounts of time to play and explore nature as Charlotte Mason recommends. I have loved learning about living books. I simply search for a list of living books online and check them out at my library. Did you know there are fun living books about math? Yep! You can learn more at SimplyCharlotteMason.com

Unschooling

Unschooling is a passionate approach to education that advocates learner-chosen activities as the primary means of learning. This method focuses on the fact that you are more engaged and receptive to learning when you are interested in your subject. Unschooling gives the child ownership over their learning. Unschooling also encourages interdependence. "In partnership with their parents, other adults, friendships, acquaintances, groups, communities and others, they learn to navigate the world, resource their interests, discover their vital roles and responsibilities in their own as well as other’s lives." - unschooling.com

To learn more about unschooling click on over to Unschooling.com

Eclectic

Eclectic homeschooling is just like it sounds- it combines resources from all over. Most homeschoolers I know end up in this category. As you can probably tell from my comments above- I love incorporating lots of different methods in our homeschool education. When you are creating your own eclectic homeschool you may want to mix up a bunch of the above teaching methods or just get a book or program for each of the following subjects:

  • ​Reading
  • Writing / Grammar / Spelling
  • Math
  • History / Social Studies / Geography
  • Science
  • Electives (scouts, religion, foreign language, art, sports, dance, music, special interests, etc.)

Don't have any idea what your child should be learning right now? There are websites and books such as Home Learning Year by Year that give you a good idea about what your child "should" be learning this year. This of course is to be taken with a grain of salt. You are the parent and you know your child more than anyone. As the parent you have special insights and intuition that can guide you as you search for the right schooling options for your family. 

Note to parents of multiple children: Think about whether you want to teach your children as a group, individually, or both. You can often teach history, science, and electives as a group. You usually need to teach math, reading, and writing individually. This is important to think about because it could change what books or curriculum you use. You only have so much patience and energy, so choose what is best for the whole family.

Which Method is Right for Your Family?

As you can see- there are MANY ways to homeschool your child! Do not get overwhelmed by all of the choices! As you have likely noticed, many teaching methods are quite similar and overlap in their philosophies. Think of homeschooling as a large, delicious buffet. Take the things that are most appetizing for you and your family and give them a try! The most important thing is that you eat! Decide how much you want to spend on education. Consider your family's personalities and learning styles. Talk with other homeschoolers. Explore. Pray. Find what works for you. In my experience there will be no perfect curriculum or method. Children are growing and learning and there will always be ups and downs. Each child is unique.

The key ingredient to your homeschool is you! Having a teacher who loves you more than everything else in the world is awesome! The beauty of homeschooling is that you have the power to find the best solutions for your family. As a homeschooler you design your life. You are the creator of your family's education AND lifestyle.  Homeschooling is an empowering way to raise a family! It is a powerful way to create your future! 

Your turn! What homeschool methods and tools do you use? Is there anything you want to add to what I discussed above? Please let us know in the comments below!​