Homeschool 101: Curriculum shopping

There are many homeschool curriculum choices.

It would be impossible to list every single option for homeschooling curriculum.  As homeschooling has grown, so have the amount of choices.  It’s very easy to get overwhelmed.  Which program is best? Which one gives me the best value for my money?  Are there free options and are they any good?  How do I pick???

Three different kinds of homeschool curriculum.

Homeschooling curriculum can be divided into 3 different types:  all-in-one, also known as a boxed curriculum; subject based curriculum; and supplements.

All-in-one “boxed” curriculum

All-in-one curricula are just what the name suggests. A company has done all the work of creating and matching up curriculum for every subject. They’ve created all the lesson plans and schedules for you. All you need to do is pick your grade, and purchase your kit. Then you make sure you have the craft and school supplies necessary, and away you go.  You can pick boxed curricula in many different methods.  There are both religious and secular options.

Popular ones include Abeka (religious, school-at-home), SonLight (religious, charlotte mason/literature), BookShark (secular, charlotte mason/literature), ACES/PACES (religious and secular options, school-at-home), Classical Conversations (religious and secular options, classical), and Khan Academy (online, secular, school-at-home).  Another option here is to check out a company like Timberdoodle, and select your boxed package yourself.

Subject-based curriculum

Subject-based curricula are plentiful. These are, obviously, individual curriculum options for each subject. So you would use one package for math, a different one for language arts, another one for history, etc. Often you can subdivide further by topic — pick one curriculum for spelling, another for studying plants, a third for learning how to draw animals, and so on.

Many programs here will be better for a certain style of learning over another. For example, Handwriting Without Tears is a penmanship program that helps even children with learning disabilities to learn how to form letters.  Not only does it have a workbook, but uses large wooden pieces, chalk and chalkboards, and rhymes and songs to teach children how to form their letters.

Mix and Match

You can mix and match easily with subject based curriculum.  That makes it much easier to tailor your child’s academics to his abilities. Say you have a child reading early reader books, but ready to learn multiplication and division.  It’s much easier to get two different levels of language arts programs and math curricula when they are separated. You do have to plan out your schedule yourself. But you get a greater variety and flexibility with subject based curriculum over a boxed curriculum.

Style of curriculum

One of the confusing things about choosing subject-based curriculum is figuring out what program will work best for you and your kids.  In math, for example, you can choose between a mastery-based program, or a spiral program. Mastery based means that the curriculum will cover a topic in depth, before moving on to the next one, and won’t review previous topics as often. An example would be Math U See.

Spiral means that the curriculum teaches a new concept, offers some practice, teaches a different concept, offers practice, goes back to review the first topic, with practice. Spiral programs continue around and around, switching back-and-forth with frequent review of previously introduced ideas. A typical spiral curriculum would be something like Singapore or Saxon math. Generally most public schools use spiral curriculum for math.

As a parent, you’ll need to choose which style of program works best for you before choosing which program suits you better.

Combination curriculum

Some curriculum choices may combine two or three subjects in one curriculum. For example, Tapestry of Grace is a religious-based unit-study-method history curriculum.  It offers religious studies, language arts, music, and art alongside the history.  If you were to use Tapestry of Grace, you wouldn’t need to get a separate language arts or art curriculum.  You would need to get a math curriculum though, for a well-rounded education. Similar options include Mystery of History, and Five in a Row/Come Sit by Me (Canadian version).

Language Arts Subject-based curriculums

In language arts, there are a number of choices. You can obtain an all-in-one language arts program, to cover everything necessary for that grade (ex. spelling, reading, writing, penmanship, grammar, etc for 4th grade), or you can use separate options for each area.  Some programs will offer stand-alone options for each area of language arts, with sister programs for the other areas.

For example, All About Spelling, a worktext style program, also has All About Reading and All about Grammar as well.

Some of the all-in-one programs will let you purchase just their language arts programs separately from the complete curriculum.  So you could get Abeka readers and language arts, and use Saxon for math, and a completely different publisher for science and history.

Science and History

With both science and history, you’ll find a difference in the secular and religious programs. The secular programs will teach science and history from the viewpoint of evolution, and the religious ones are mostly from the Christian worldview of special creation. When picking out your curriculum, do be aware of what the starting point is.

For religious science programs, check out Apologia or God’s Design.  For secular science programs, you can look at Pearson, Supercharged Science, Elemental Science, Building Foundations, Noeo Science.  Or use any topic specific kit found in your local Scholar’s Choice or Amazon.  We like Magic School bus science kits. They offer great topic choices for primary and middle school grades.

Homeschool curriculum on a budget

There are free and low-cost options for all your curriculum needs. Free and low-cost all-in-one curriculum often don’t include the actual novels or resource books, but instead will give you booklists.  You can purchase what you want separately or borrow from your local library.  Check out Ambleside or Easy Peasy Homeschool for options online.  Other options to find free and low-cost curricula (with just the cost of printing) include one of my favorite sites CurrClick and EduCents.

Where to find your curriculum?

One of the best ways to check out curricula choices is at a homeschool convention.  You can talk to the vendors and ask questions from the experts. You can handle the material and see for yourself if it really is the best fit.  And then you can purchase direct, or take advantage of the free shipping offers and order.

Buy used!

Another option is a used homeschool book sale. Here, homeschoolers and former homeschoolers offer used-but-still-usable curriculum at much discounted prices from brand new. Plus you get the option of asking questions from someone who used the curriculum.  You can find out first hand how it may work for you and your family.

Or, like me, you can shop around and get books online, either from homeschool used book sale groups, or from websites like Amazon.  A great homeschool book online store is Rainbow Resource.

For more information on all the various curricula choices, check out Cathy Duffy’s reviews.

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