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Choosing A Homeschooling Curriculum

Twenty years ago, homeschooling families were lucky to find a handful of curriculum options. Today, though, you can find hundreds of commercial homeschooling packages. If you’ve visited a homeschooling convention, you know how inspiring—and overwhelming—the choices are.

Of course, as a homeschooling parent, you don’t have to use a boxed curriculum program. You can design your own by putting different materials together. However, most homeschooling families use some sort of general curriculum or philosophy to stay organized and on track. Read on to learn more about the basic types of curriculum options on the market today.

Online Learning

Several companies offer online curriculums, many of which are free. K12, for example, offers tuition-based private school curriculums, as well as public school curriculums tied to your state’s public school system. Children complete the curriculum online and receive feedback from certified teachers. These programs are usually secular and teach content similar to what you’d find in a public school. Online learning works best for older children who want a fast-paced, independent approach. As a parent, you don’t program the curriculum, but act as a support person, ensuring your child completes the assignments. Online assignments can be completed quickly, but the program doesn’t offer a lot of flexibility. One downside is that some homeschooling parents resent the intrusion of public school officials.

Character-Based Learning

Character-based programs combine lessons on morals with traditional academic learning. Curriculums typically offer lessons using scripture verses or stories about American heroes, as well as lessons on reading, writing, science, and math. KONOS offers one of the most well-known character-based curriculums. This program uses a thematic approach with weekly lesson plans and hands-on activities. Many parents also like the Wisdom Booklets from Advanced Training Institute.

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Traditional Curriculum

A traditional curriculum is similar to the curriculums used by many public schools. These curriculums cover a variety of subjects, including math, science, reading, writing, and social studies, and rely on textbooks, workbooks, and tests. They’re a good option for the beginning homeschooling family just trying out homeschooling because they’re simple to administer and easy to understand. Oak Meadow Curriculum and School is one company that offers a complete traditional curriculum, along with support from certified teachers. Price is the main disadvantage to using a boxed traditional curriculum. Costs typically start at around $500 and can go up to as much as $1,200.

Classical Curriculum

Classical curriculum emphasizes the concept of learning to think through three stages known as the trivium. Young children memorize and learn facts, including spelling, the rules of grammar, poems, stories, mathematical rules, and plant and animal names. Older children are able to understand more abstract concepts and analyze their learning. Children at this age make inquiries into learning, asking questions and researching to find solutions. Finally, in high school, children have the mental capacity to make original arguments and delve into topics at a deep level. The Well-Trained Mind, by Susan Wise Baker and Jessie Wise, is an excellent introduction to this interesting approach.

Project-Based Or Child-Directed Curriculum

Proponents of the project-based approach believe that children learn best through doing. As a result, the curriculum is based on children’s learning styles and interests. The project-based approach is fun and engaging—ideal for a child who struggles with more traditional approaches. Out of all the approaches, it requires the most effort from parents. Because the approach has a fairly loose structure, parents must pay special attention to documentation and record-keeping to ensure kids are progressing.

What To Consider

You’ve looked at several types of curriculum models, but how do you decide which one is right for your family?

Consider your children’s learning style. Howard Gardner of Harvard University first introduced the idea of multiple intelligences. According to Gardner, children (and adults) learn differently. Some of us learn through music, while others are inspired by nature, movement, or sensory activities. Visual learners are the kids who learn easily through traditional textbook methods. The curriculum you choose for your family should reflect your children’s learning styles. Watch your children at play and at school work. What types of experiences inspire them? What activities frustrate them? If you’ve got several children, you may have to mix and match curriculums a bit to get a program that works for everyone.

Consider your family’s budget and lifestyle. A project-based curriculum, for example, is engaging, interesting, and hands-on. On the other hand, it takes more time than a textbook approach and can also cost more money. If you’ve got several young children, you might not have the resources to tackle this approach at the moment. Choose something that works for you now so you’re not stressed out and overwhelmed. You can always change curriculums in the future.

Look into state requirements. The curriculum you choose must meet the requirements of your state. Some states, such as Idaho, have almost no requirements and allow a lot of freedom. Other states, including New York, have very stringent requirements, including using an approved curriculum and submitting yearly evaluations and test scores. If your state requires annual testing, you may want to choose a curriculum that provides easy documentation and assessment methods.

Combine approaches. One of the great things about homeschooling is its flexibility. All the curriculum models have potential benefits and drawbacks, but you can combine curriculums to get the very best program for your children. For example, spend the morning using a traditional or classical approach to introduce academic or religious topics. In the afternoon, opt for a fun, engaging project or go on a field trip to reinforce your learning through hands-on activities.

Combine resources. Rather than spending the money for boxed curriculum kits, many parents use curriculum guides instead. These guides are very inexpensive and provide an overview of curriculum objectives, rather than individual lesson plans. Parents must spend time planning and researching curriculum, but the benefit is that you can customize plans to your child’s interests.

Keep it fun. Finally, when choosing a curriculum, remember the original reasons you chose homeschooling. You probably wanted to spend more time with your children, teach gospel principles, or provide a challenging educational environment. But if homeschooling lessons are boring or tedious, your children will balk and you’ll feel stressed and overwhelmed. Choose a curriculum that’s fun, engaging, and enjoyable for your family.

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