As I spoke at a homeschool conference this past weekend, I seemed to get a similar question phrased in different ways: What curriculum should I use? The answer is both easy and complicated. The easy answer is that you should use the curriculum that fits your child best. But, of course, that can be complicated.
Here are a few tips to get you started with curriculum selection:
1. There is no perfect curriculum. No matter which approach, method, or program you choose, there will be times when it falls short. That’s OK. Nothing, including curriculum, is perfect, at least on this side of heaven. So you make adjustments. You compensate. Maybe you pull from various sources to come up with a compilation that works for you and your child.
2. Curriculum is a tool. View it as such. You are the master of the curriculum–not vice versa. You don’t have to do things exactly like the curriculum publisher suggests. You don’t have to do every problem, read every passage, fill in every blank, complete every exercise, and finish every page. You decide what to use and what to leave out. There is one exception to this: if it’s a research-based, direct instruction program designed for intervention purposes, you usually do need to implement it exactly as instructed by the publisher.
3. You may just need to pick something and try it out. Rather than stressing about the differences between a couple of well-respected curriculum publishers, you may simply need to choose one and get to work. Again, the one you choose isn’t going to be the perfect fit, but the other one wouldn’t be either.
4. You don’t have to have a pre-made curriculum. You can write or compile your own curriculum from the Internet, library, teacher-supply stores, and what you already own. Decide what you want or need to study and start getting things together. Discover everything you can about the subject alongside your children. This provides an excellent model of authentic learning for your child and it’s often more engaging and informative than pre-made curricula.
5. Sometimes it’s easiest for families to buy pre-packaged curricula, especially to start out. Using pre-made curricula generally instills confidence that you are giving your children all they need. You feel like you are on track and that you have a good framework for your homeschool. There is nothing wrong with that. But as you gain confidence as a homeschooler, you may decide that you want to make changes. Either way, remember that you are in charge of the curriculum. It is not in charge of you.
6. If you find that a curriculum isn’t the right fit, it’s OK to abandon it. Consider it a “buying error” and move on. Don’t stress yourself and your child out by insisting on seeing it through to the end. Your relationship and your child’s education are worth far more than the money you spent on that curriculum. Besides, you can resell it and recoup some of the money.
7. You might want to try an online program for some things. You may want to work with your child on the things you enjoy the most, but allow your child to use a research-based online curriculum for things you find tedious, that you don’t feel qualified to teach, or that you find yourself arguing with your child over. Online programs generally are engaging to students and many of them adjust to fit each student’s needs.
8. You are probably not going to mess up your child’s learning, no matter what curriculum you pick. In fact, your child is highly likely to be ahead of his public school peers just because he is getting much more individualized attention than they are. Even if you decide to unschool, this will likely be the case.
9. The best curriculum you can possibly give your child is discipleship. If you are teaching your child to follow in your footsteps and are investing a good deal of time and relational energy, your child is destined for success. Reading and discussing good literature (especially the Bible), serving the community together, talking about life, having fun–these are the things that make for the best curriculum you can provide. The monetary investment is minimal but the time and relational costs are significant. In the end, you’ll find that you won’t regret a second you spent investing in your children.