Step 5: Choose Your Curriculum
As a first-time homeschooler, you're probably asking yourself, "How do I know which curriculum is best?" Many parents mistakenly choose a curriculum simply based on its cost or the perceived grade level of their child. However, there are many other important considerations and questions to ask.
What is my teaching style?
Know your passions and evaluate your abilities. Depending on your skill set and time constraints, you can determine what teaching materials to use with your child. For instance, do you like the thought of creating your own ways to explore, or would you prefer taking another person's ideas and customizing them to work with your child? Are you an orderly person who needs structure, or would you enjoy impromptu teaching, using whatever the day brings? Would you like getting your hands dirty when teaching projects, or are you the type of person who wants a more organized schedule with time for preparing materials? Do you want to be actively involved in teaching each lesson, or do you want your child to be more self-directed when homeschooling?
What is my child's learning style?
As a parent, you have a preferred way of teaching, but your child also has a preferred way of learning. Not only does this learning style determine how he best processes information, but it also helps him with retention and the ability to perform better on academic tests. After observing your child, which of these learning styles best describes the way your child likes to learn?
Curriculum is only a resource, not a rule book. After you choose it, use it wisely.
Don't let it use you!
Kinesthetic - Does your child have a need to touch everything? If you have a tactile learner, he won't be content to learn with worksheets or listen to lectures. Rather, this child needs to manipulate his environment in order to learn by feeling textures, weight, and shapes. To help this child better absorb what is being taught, homeschool parents need to take lessons off the page and bring them to life!
- Are good at sports
- Can't sit still for long
- Aren't great at spelling
- Don't have great handwriting
- Like science labs
- Study with loud music
- Like adventure books and movies
- Like role playing or pantomime
- Need breaks when studying
- Build models and love construction
- Are involved in martial arts or dance
- Are fidgety during lectures
- Struggle with reading for information
Curriculum should allow for
- Shorter study periods
- Lab classes
- Role playing
- Field trips and visits to museums
- Study with others
- Use of memory games
- Use of flash cards for memorization
Worst Test Type: Long tests, essays
Best Test Type: Short definitions, fill-in-the- blanks, and multiple choice.
Encouragement Method: Responds best to a pat on the back
Auditory - Listening is key for auditory learners. Whether you put facts to music, assign books on CDs, or just read lessons out loud, an auditory learner needs to have his ears energized to retain information in the brain. Asking your child to verbally restate what you have just read to him along with lesson repetition are great techniques to help this type of learner.
- Like to read out loud to self
- Are not afraid to speak in class
- Like oral reports
- Are good at explaining
- Remember names
- Notice sound effects in movies
- Enjoy music
- Are good at grammar and foreign language
- Read slowly
- Follow spoken directions well
- Can't keep quiet for long periods
- Enjoy acting and being on stage
- Are good in study groups
Curriculum should allow for
- Word association for remembering facts and lines
- Music, rhymes, rhythm instruments, and echo games
- Watching videos
- Repeating facts with eyes closed
- Participation in group discussions
- Using audiotapes for language practice
- Taping notes after writing them
Worst test type: Timed reading passages with written answers
Best test type: Oral exams
Encouragement Method: Responds best to verbal praise
Visual - For a child who learns visually, to see is to understand. Preferring to process information using pictures and images, spatial learners easily remember where things are and need to have everything in its place. They flourish best when demonstrated the skill to be learned ("show me") and find written directions, well-defined assignments, and workbooks most appealing.
- Are good at spelling, but forget names
- Need quiet study time
- Have to think awhile before understanding a lecture
- Are observant of details and visually organized
- Have a large reading vocabulary at an early age
- Doodle on note paper when talking
- Are easily distracted by visual stimuli
- Are aware of spatial relationships
- Function best when they "see" what's expected
- Like colors and fashion
- Dream in color
- Understand/like charts, diagrams, puzzles
- Are good with sign language
Curriculum should allow for
- Drawing maps of history events or scientific processes
- Making outlines of everything
- Diagramming sentences
- Taking notes, making lists
- Watching videos
- Color coding words, researching notes
- Outline reading
- Using flashcards
- Using highlighters, circling words, underlining
Worst test type: Listen and respond tests
Best Test Type: Diagramming, reading maps, essays, showing a process
Encouragement Method: Responds best to visible rewards like stickers, stars, etc.
What subjects should I teach?
When planning your homeschool year, you should first consider any required subjects included in your state's homeschooling laws. Some states are more stringent and require specific subjects like health, state history, or traffic safety for certain grade levels. Other states only list a general set of subjects that should be taught each year, such as math, science, history and geography, and English. The good news is that most state requirements are only for basic subject areas, so you get to decide how you want to teach it and which homeschool curriculum you want to use.
A sample of subjects for an elementary third grade student might look something like this:
- Bible - (Parables of Jesus)
- Math - (Advanced operations and fractions)
- Science - (Basic life science - plants and animals)
- History - (Regions of Earth)
- Phys. Ed. - (Tennis and swimming)
- Art - (Piano lessons and basic music theory)
If your state doesn't require particular subject areas, then you are free to customize your child's education with topics that develop his unique skills and abilities.
Note: Because most colleges require a certain number years of study in English, math, and science for admission, read Countdown to College for more examples of subjects to include when homeschooling your child during his high school years.
Where do I find homeschool curriculum?
Resist the temptation to buy everything at once!
After you've considered teaching and learning styles and the subjects you want to teach, it's time to look for curriculum that meet your homeschool family's needs. A handy way to touch and examine curriculum hands-on is to attend a homeschool convention in your area. With hundreds of vendors displaying their products, you can save the time and energy you'd spend researching online or browsing through catalogs. Plus, many homeschool conventions also host a used book fair, which adds up to substantial savings on curriculum costs.
Finding the right homeschool curriculum is also easier with consumer report websites, informative books, such as Cathy Duffy's 100 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum, and helpful advice from veteran homeschool moms and dads.
When you're finally ready to make your purchase, stop and ask yourself these questions:
- Is this an impulse purchase?
- Have I compared and researched this product, asked other homeschool parents to rate it, and read reviews?
- Can this curriculum be used with more than one child?
- What is the curriculum's resale value?
- Have I prayed about it?
How do I know what grade level is right for my child?
Whether transitioning your child from a traditional school or starting his homeschooling journey in kindergarten, it's important to first test your child's academic abilities. Not only can you avoid the possibility of learning gaps (a problem that occurs because concepts are not uniformly presented at the same time within all curriculum), you can also determine if your child is being challenged too little or too much. For instance, your 5th grade homeschooler may be at his grade level for science and history in a particular curriculum, but need a 3rd grade level for English and/or a 6th grade level for math.
To avoid return headaches with extra shipping expenses and a frustrated homeschool student using curriculum that's too easy or too hard, determine your child's placement level in a homeschool curriculum with that curriculum's diagnostic tests.
- Visit a homeschool co-op in your area and ask parents for feedback on the pros and cons of the curriculum they use.
- Get your children involved and research Christian homeschool curriculum catalogs and websites together.
- View hands-on homeschool curriculum training webinars like the ones available for Monarch and Switched-On Schoolhouse.
Let others know how to get started with homeschooling!