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Choosing Curriculum
Last Revised: January 1, 2009
How do I know which curriculum to choose?

Short Answer
Since there is no set way to educate a child and there is no set way to homeschool, there is no set curriculum. There are a variety of curriculum types and formats, and each of these has its strengths and weaknesses. The different types fit different situations and conditions. The key is to choose whatever materials fit your educational goals and your child’s learning style.

There are a variety of curriculum types available.
  • On one end of the continuum are the structured curriculum programs. These use standard textbooks or workbooks with daily lessons and student exercises. They offer extensive teacher guides that give learning objectives, scripted lessons, teaching tips, and the answers to the exercises. Most also offer structured tests and test answer keys. They require little planning. There is less flexibility; they tend to be “one size fits all.” They’re usually more expensive because they include so much material and are comprehensive.
  • At the other end of the continuum are real books or “living books” and real-life experiences. Living books are books that are written by someone who is passionate about the topic. Hopefully that passion comes through the book and excites the reader more than a dry textbook written by a committee. The topic comes alive to the student. Obviously, there is no structure here. No tests. No study guides. It’s a much more relaxed form of homeschooling. It is very flexible, but it requires a lot of planning.
  • In between these two are all sorts of variations. There are structured programs that use less intensive workbooks. There are “real book” programs that incorporate study guides to evaluate learning. There are hands-on kits and activity books that can supplement the real books or guide learning through exploration. Which method you choose will depend on your view of education, your family’s educational goals, and your child’s learning style.
Finding the Perfect Curriculum
There is no perfect curriculum. What works for one family may not work for your family. And you don’t have to use the same program for every subject. You can draw from a variety of programs, publishers, resources, and activities. That’s why it is important to spend some time researching what is available, rather than just picking a curriculum by price or name only.

There are many curriculum providers and the choices can be overwhelming.

  • Be sure you know who you are buying from. Not all providers are equal!
  • Curriculum providers should be able to give you a detailed listing of the products they offer by title and publisher, particularly in their curriculum packages. Product descriptions should give complete information and not just “sales copy.”
  • Ideally, you should be able to search by grade level, subject, publisher, and product.
  • You also want to find a provider that offers materials that fit your education goals, the method you want to use, and learning style.
  • If your student is already struggling in school using the textbook approach, then you may want to consider other options. To continue with a structured program often leads to “burn out.”
  • It’s a good idea to spend some time researching curriculum. Don’t just search on the Internet. Hook up with a local support group and talk with veteran homeschoolers about what they use. But don’t use something just because that’s what they use. You may want to attend a curriculum convention and gather catalogs from various suppliers and publishers. A word of warning! Research can be overwhelming and intimidating. A lot of materials can look really good at first glance, particularly when you hear the designer’s sales pitch.
  • Chances are, somewhere along your homeschooling journey, you will select a curriculum that doesn’t fit. If it’s not working for your situation, then try something else; at the very least you will know what doesn’t work! You can always get some of your money out of it by selling it used.
  • You can use just about any type of curriculum with just about any student, with a few exceptions. Generally, everyone makes adjustments to the program, using other supplemental resources, skipping some review exercises, not doing certain types of exercises, or perhaps using the curriculum as a reference only to design a unique program.
  • Most curriculum programs cover the same basic material. It’s usually possible to switch programs, even mid-year if necessary. There are exceptions, particularly if you choose a math program that presents the material in a new or different way.
  • It’s possible to develop your own program and write your own materials, but it obviously takes more time to plan and pull together. It can be easier to do when your children are young since much of what they need to learn can be incorporated into playtime and daily activities. During the primary years (generally PreK-2nd grade), when you are introducing basic skills and exploring topics, it’s better to respond to the child’s readiness and interests. Learning can be less structured.
  • The value of homeschooling is the flexibility it offers to design a program that fits your child. That’s why most families use a variety of different curriculum programs and methods over the years.
Using Curriculum
One important point to remember is that the curriculum is your tool, not your master. The word curriculum literally means a track or course, as in a race track. It provides the general track to follow, to keep you on course with your educational goals. As you work with your child, you will come to know what he or she is learning, and you can adjust your program accordingly.

If you are new to homeschooling and have no idea what approach to take, you will probably want to use some sort of structured curriculum. Here’s why: (1) it will look familiar to you; (2) you will have enough to do just learning how to work with your child; (3) you can focus more on how your child is responding rather than worrying about coming up with something to teach; and (4) since you won’t be working from “scratch,” it will be easier to make adjustments as you learn together with your child. As you get more comfortable with homeschooling, you can consider other options and experiment with other approaches.

The Type of Curriculum Available
Parents have been educating their children at home throughout history, using a mixture of “real books” and primers such as the McGuffey Readers. As homeschooling became more widely accepted, curriculum publishers started to pay attention. At first, the only publishers who would sell to individuals tended to be Christian publishers who provided curriculum for private schools. The same books that were used in the private classrooms were sold to homeschoolers, with varied results. Eventually, these publishers responded to the needs of parents and modified the materials to fit the home setting.

The major Christian curriculum providers include Bob Jones University Press, Alpha Omega, Christian Liberty Press, Bright Ideas Press, Apologia Educational Ministries, Answers in Genesis, and Master Books/New Leaf Press. Christian book publishers also market materials to homeschoolers, including Broadman & Holman, Cook Communications, Mott Media, Thomas Nelson, Tyndale, and Zondervan.

In the early days, most homeschoolers put together their own programs using library books, educational toys and games, real books, and supplemental workbooks available through department stores. Most of these items were from secular publishers, and they, too, started to take notice. Before long, they were offering their workbooks and supplemental materials to homeschoolers. Eventually, some of them even allowed individuals to purchase their textbooks.

The available resources increased geometrically, to the point where the number of choices can be overwhelming. That’s why it is helpful to have a written Purpose Statement and Goals so that you can look for a curriculum that matches your needs and vision.

Things to Keep in Mind
  • Generally speaking, the more structured the curriculum, the more extensive it will be. It will go into more detail and cover more topics. This is both its strength and weakness. The comprehensive nature of the curriculum makes it more recognizable to “outsiders.” But it can also lead to “overkill” with all the details and exercises included in the program.
  • If you are homeschooling for a short time, then you will want to use a structured program that is similar to what your school system is using.
  • If your student is planning on attending a four-year college or university, then it is easier to use structured curriculum programs that fit into the sequence of courses, help students with college entrance exams, have enough depth to prepare students for college-level courses, and can be recorded on a transcript easily.
  • Every publisher writes curriculum based on their worldview. That worldview determines what is included, what is emphasized, and what is considered important for the test. You will probably want to choose a curriculum that is similar to your own worldview and vision for homeschooling.
  • Besides the obvious differences in worldview, the major distinction between Christian and secular publishers is in the areas of science and history. Science curriculum programs from Christian publishers present both creationism (and/or Intelligent Design) and evolution as theories. Since no human was present when the world began, the best we can do is examine the evidence and come up with plausible explanations. This is what the scientific method is all about. Unfortunately, secular publishers ignore this when they reject any references to the biblical account of creation and present evolution as fact. Likewise, history curriculum programs from Christian publishers present the facts about America’s Christian heritage and the nature of our republic. These publishers are not afraid of presenting the truth, and have not given in to the special interest groups who are intent on rewriting our history. In both subjects, the goal is not to proselytize or make converts, but to present the facts and principles as good scholarship.
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