With thousands of homeschool curriculum options out there, how can you decide which
one is right for your family? Tune in now to Homeschool Heartbeat as Stacey
Wolking walks you through the process of choosing a curriculum for your homeschool.
Mike Smith: Our guest today is Stacey Wolking. She’s a
former homeschooling mom of four. She’s a Toddlers to Tweens and High School
educational consultant for HSLDA. Stacey, welcome to the program!
Stacey Wolking: Thanks, Mike! It’s great to be here.
Curriculum 101 [0:29]
Mike: Stacey, what are some important questions that parents
need to ask themselves before looking for curriculum?
Stacey: “What curriculum should I use?” is probably
one of the most overwhelming questions that parents have to deal with.
We can lighten the load by using the analogy of going on a trip. The first thing you
want to do is figure out where your child is academically and in maturity and where you
want to go from here. If you aren’t sure where your child is academically, we
have lots of great resources on our website for testing, evaluations, assessments, and
checklists for evaluating progress. Placement tests are generally curriculum-specific,
but they can also be a helpful tool for determining where to start.
Speaking of placement tests, do keep in mind that just because a workbook says
3rd grade doesn’t necessarily make it the right level for your
3rd grade child. Curriculum can vary a lot. What one says is right for a
2nd grader another will say is for 4th grade. There are general standards, but
they are certainly not absolute.
Next, you are going to want to think about what to pack for your trip. This is the
critical question: What works best for you and your child? Textbooks? Workbooks? Real
living books? Project-based learning? Unit-based learning? Are you catching up or are
you leisurely learning?
Of course, you also want to be sure to check the academic requirements for your
state. And you can do that on our website at hslda.org/laws.
Meeting your child’s needs [1:50]
Mike: Stacey, what practical steps can parents take to figure
out what types of curriculum will work best for your family?
Stacey: Well Mike, there are several things. It helps to take
teaching and learning styles into consideration, and [to] know you and your
child’s limitations. If you’re not a natural teacher or researcher type, you
might want to avoid programs that require lots of teacher
preparation. If your child likes lots of
projects and hands-on activities, then a textbook probably wouldn’t be a good fit.
If you love to read, then you might want to check out one of the many literature-based
programs. Do you have young ones? Especially boys under 8 can have a hard time sitting,
so some activity based learning would be good for him. Visual learners tend to do well
with workbooks, while auditory learners do well with spoken instruction and fun learning
songs. Look for something that meets your child’s needs!
And lastly, do lots of research. Online reviews can be really
helpful. There are lots of great review websites: Homeschool Reviews, Cathy Duffy Reviews, Curriculum Choice, just to name a few.
Mike: Well, let’s say a parent buys a curriculum but
realizes half-way through the semester that it just isn’t working for their child.
What should they do?
Stacey: Don’t be too quick to assume that the curriculum
is the problem; it could be the presentation or the application. Often with some tweaks,
you will find that you don’t need to ditch it after all. If it’s too much,
you can skip assignments or problems. Or you could add in activities, games, projects,
or read-alouds. If they aren’t getting a concept, present it to them in a
different way—possibly with hands-on experiments, videos, or documentaries. Or use
a free online supplement like Khan Academy.
And if you still determine it’s the wrong curriculum, there is no shame in
ditching it and moving on to something else.
Curriculum tryouts [3:34]
Mike: Stacey, homeschooling parents have a lot of freedom to
choose the curriculum that works best for their children. But that freedom
results in many, many options—and sometimes they can feel overwhelmed. How
can parents keep themselves from going crazy when faced with this vast array of
Stacey: I always suggest that parents attend a conference or
curriculum fair so that they can look at the curriculum and ask questions. But I will
warn you, curriculum fairs can be overwhelming. It’s important to do
some research to establish what you are looking for and make a list of
specific curriculum you want to check out. Otherwise you might end up with
that deer-in-the-headlights, “I have no idea where to start” experience.
Also, don’t overbuy. Even with the best of intentions, you won’t be able
to do all the extra subjects all in the same year (like foreign language, music lessons,
art history, nature journals, lapbooks, science experiments).
And be careful not to jump into a certain curriculum because it’s popular or
all your friends are using it. Your family is unique, so you need to find what is best
for you. But do be sure to ask your friends what they have used, including
what they have tried and disliked, and most importantly, why. Since every family is
different, it could be that the very thing your friend hated will be the thing that
Also, ask your friends and acquaintances if you can come over and look at their
curriculum or possibly even borrow it and try it out for a couple weeks, which is often
all it takes to see if it’s the right fit for your family.
And lastly, ask your spouse. Even if they’re not super involved, they will
often have some good insights because they do know you.
Saving money on curriculum [5:09]
Mike: Stacey, what is the number 1 curriculum question you get
from parents, and how do you answer it?
Stacey: Well Mike, lots of parents want to know how to
homeschool on a tight budget.
I tell them to utilize the library, especially the inter-library loans, which allow
you to request items from other participating libraries. You might be
surprised at what you have access to. They have loads of educational resources for
teachers and parents like phonics programs, educational packages with manipulatives,
lesson plans, audiobooks, educational videos, and so much more. And up to high school,
you can pretty much cover all of science and history, and sometimes even foreign
language, just with a library card.
And there’s an even larger free library right at our fingertips. Of course
I’m talking about the internet. You will find instructional and
scientific videos, educational games, printable worksheets, and more to supplement your
Multi-level teaching is another great way to save money. Teaching several kids
together will not only save you money but countless hours of planning and teaching as
well! Science and history are especially good for this.
There are many great websites for buying used curriculum without any fees like
Homeschool Classifieds and Homeschool Trader. The website HomeschoolFree.org offers used curriculum for just
the cost of shipping.
You also save money when you buy non-consumables. If your children don’t
write in the books, you will be able to reuse them or sell them.
There are also free complete curriculums online, like Easy Peasy and Old-Fashioned Education. And for you classical
or Charlotte Mason lovers, there is Ambleside Online, and from a Catholic
perspective, Mater Amabilis.
Perfect curriculum? Doesn’t exist [6:46]
Mike: Stacey, what are the most important things that parents
should remember when they’re choosing a curriculum?
Stacey: More than anything, I would say, relax!
As the parent, you know your child better than anyone and therefore you have the
ability to find the curriculum that is the best fit for you and your
child. Obviously curriculum is an important part of your child’s education,
but it’s not the end-all. Don’t agonize over these choices, because even if
it ends up not being the best fit, your kids will still learn. The wrong curriculum
will not ruin your children, so stop looking for that perfect curriculum; it
doesn’t exist. You can, however, try to find the best fit for you and your
Interestingly, according to the many surveys of homeschooling families, curriculum
choice is never given as a reason for homeschool failure, because homeschooling is about
so much more than the curriculum. Even if all you have is a dry textbook, you can make
your homeschool experience come alive by adding in supplements, hands-on projects,
read-alouds, music, nature study, field trips, videos, family hobbies, community
service, and so much more.
We’ve all heard the saying, “If momma ain’t happy, nobody’s
happy.” The truth is, when you love your curriculum, you will be more motivated to
do it, so try to find something that works for you. But remember, no matter the
curriculum, your kids will love to learn if you are excited about it too.
And lastly, I’d like to remind our listeners that HSLDA members can call me or
any of our other educational consultants if you have questions about curriculum or
anything else. So if you’re not a member, please join today!
Mike: Stacey, thank you so much for joining us this week and
sharing your insights in choosing curriculum. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by all
the options, but I believe your advice will help parents to make informed, effective
decisions in the best interests of their children. And until next time, I’m Mike