Homeschool Series: Choosing a Curriculum for Your Child

Article two in a series

By Skye Bowman, Macaroni Kid Guest Writer and Homeschool Veteran August 11, 2020

Homeschooling can trace its roots back for centuries. Modern homeschooling came about in the 1970s, during which time there was a demand for a liberal reformation of the education system. The 1980s saw an uptick in families choosing to home educate for religious or spiritual reasons. And by the '90s, homeschooling was legalized in all 50 states.

Laws are mostly regulated at state level, which is why it is important to familiarize yourself with your own state guidelines.

Homeschooling is all about options, and this is the main reason it can feel so overwhelming to initially dive in. But the options, once you’ve waded in and gained some perspective, are really what it’s all about. 

Whether you are an accidental homeschooler, a short-term homeschooler, or someone who has always planned to take this academic path, the process is mostly the same. In a “normal” world there are public conventions, stores, swap groups, and more that cater to helping you find the perfect curriculum but many of our resources are currently limited by a pandemic.

Below is a quick breakdown of what to expect when planning a new-to-homeschooling journey.

First stop: learning preferences. The best way to get a handle on curriculum is to figure out your child’s learning style. 

It’s important to know how your child learns. It will help to narrow down what your student needs from an academic standpoint. This understanding is invaluable when sifting through an abundance of curriculum choices. It can make the difference between merely covering a subject or concept to actually grasping it.

There are multiple guides and quizzes across the internet, but Home School Legal Defense Association website helps to break down the information: What's My Child's Learning Preference? If you're still unsure, The Learning Style Quiz from Homeschool On can help.

Most homeschool curriculum falls into one of two categories: Secular or Non-Secular (religious/spiritual). This decision is completely up to your family’s discretion. When it comes to state law, Colorado law only dictates that students should be educated in the following subjects: mathematics, reading, writing, literature, speaking, history, civics, the United States Constitution, and science.

Once you’ve settled on an overtone, consider whether you’re interested in a digital/online or workbook-based curriculum. A hybrid of both can also work well. Your child’s learning preferences are paramount, but this decision should also be heavily influenced by what works well for your family dynamic.

Some families work well having everything in front of them on a desktop computer in an all-in-one program. Others prefer having the portability of tangible workbooks and time away from screens. Others still, prefer a hybrid of the options and might pick various parts of multiple curriculum. It’s really just a personal preference.

Teaching style can also come into play here. Half of the homeschool equation is the parent who takes on the responsibility of becoming educator, so their needs must be considered as well. 

Once you ascertain learning and teaching styles, the next best step is to figure out what you want from homeschooling. What are your academic goals?

This is not as scary as it sounds. Every parent wants to see their child learning, progressing, and developing into a successful student. But there can be individual ambitions that set your journey apart from others. For example, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) is a large proponent in my own journey, so I look for curriculum, projects, groups, and activities that support that path. 

Sometimes the best curriculum is not having one at all. The truth is, having a set academic map is not always necessary. Unschooling is a popular alternative and has many benefits.

It’s not as wild as one may think. Unschooling is just student-led learning and the following of their interests rather than the re-creating of a traditional classroom in the home. Unschooling can be a valuable tool in keeping kids interested in learning. It removes some of the pressure and time constraints of an ill-fitting curriculum. 

There are many benefits to this direction if you are a temporary homeschooler. You may not want to sink a lot of money into a curriculum you’re not certain about. Unschooling can often — though not always — necessitate the involvement of an active parent and some amount of structure, regardless of having a textbook or program schedule to follow.

There is a lot of pressure to keep up with traditional school standards. And make no mistake, it is sometimes necessary because some states — including Colorado — require standardized testing for particular grade levels.

Homeschooling parents do have some flexibility here too. Colorado accepts evaluations from certified teachers that are meant to show progress rather than aptitude. Alternatively, umbrella schools are popular among the homeschool community because it allows exemption from certain laws and mandates that home educators are required to follow. 

Once you’ve reviewed homeschooling laws, assessed teaching and learning preferences, and set some educational goals, you are ready to begin your curriculum search. An indispensable resource — for me and many other homeschooling families — is Cathy Duffy Reviews

I’d also encourage you to reach out and find a contact or support group within your community. In current times, face-to-face gatherings may not be readily available, but Facebook offers multiple groups to connect you with peers. The rest is whatever you want to make it.

Good luck!