Overview: Are you in the thick of curriculum planning? Get a list of criteria to help you choose. With a free printable to keep track of your research!
Textbook or online or self-made — oh my!
The possibilities for curriculum for any subject seem endless. So. many. choices! Multiply that by how many subjects your teen has to do, and you can easily feel too overwhelmed to make a confident decision.
Especially when you are on social media and hearing about what everyone else is doing. Sheesh! Talk about intimidating!
What you need is a list of criteria for how to choose curriculum that is right for YOUR teen and/or for YOUR family. Then you can more quickly (I’m not gonna say “you can quickly” cuz I’m not gonna promise more than I can deliver, y’all. This stuff does take time, and there’s no way around that) and with less stress eliminate what doesn’t align as well as have better confidence that what you choose will in fact work. Basically, your curriculum planning process will go much more smoothly!
Doesn’t that sound amazing?
Also, it’s helpful to have a place to record your research, so as you narrow down your options, you can easily refer to what you know about each one. I’ve gotchu covered! Keep reading to find out about a free download that will help with that!
I do need to take a second right here to say that all of this curriculum planning information, plus everything else you need to know to research and plan your teen’s high school coursework, is in my book called Cure the Fear of Homeschooling High School. It guides you step-by-step through every decision you need to make, with forms to fill out each step of the way (including the one you can get at the bottom of this article). It’s definitely worth taking a look at! Click here: Cure the Fear of Homeschooling High School: A Step-by-Step Handbook for Research & Planning.
Here are criteria I have always used when in the throes of curriculum planning:
I have several things that I look for in a curriculum. These qualifications are what work best for our family — and my sanity level, lol. Hopefully they can help you develop your own!
First and foremost, a curriculum has to jive with my WHY for homeschooling.
Do you have a WHY, otherwise known as a mission statement? This is a crucial piece of the homeschool pie — and especially when it comes to homeschooling high school. If you haven’t developed your WHY yet, then read this: Why Should YOU Homeschool High School? Crafting Your Mission Statement.
For us, we are most concerned about our kids’ character development, and therefore any curriculum we choose must align with our values. If it doesn’t, we need to be aware of that and realize that we will need to superintend and dialogue more as our kid uses it.
Your WHY will immediately help you cross many curricula off the list of possibles. It makes ALL of your decision-making easier!
Not too much teacher involvement or preparation.
Even in the younger years, there were only certain subjects I was willing to be very involved in — such as math and reading. The others, I felt, could be done fairly independently. When kids are in middle and high school, I look for curriculum that can be done almost completely by the student. In the early years I looked for independent learning curriculum because there was only so much of me to go around; at the high school level I think they are ready to work on their own.
As easy on the budget as possible.
Because of our somewhat large family, buying new curriculum each year for every student (as in consumable workbooks, for example) would be expensive. I look for curriculum that is packaged as a hardbound textbook or some other non-consumable format, so that it can be used again and again as the years go by.
A lot of people talk about customizing for each student, but that was not practical for us. It’s OK, y’all, to do what is best for the entire family. There are plenty of ways to customize curriculum you already own, such as by doing oral work instead of written, adapting reading assignments, etc. Don’t be intimidated by what everyone else does.
And for that matter, textbooks are often a very valid choice, regardless of what others say about “doing school at home” as if that’s the “wrong” way to homeschool. I wrote a guest post about that here: In Defense of School at Home.
Usually of a fairly challenging difficulty level.
If a curriculum is known to be pretty easy, I generally avoid it. I’d rather take a challenging curriculum and have to omit parts and scale back on it than have a curriculum that is too easy that I now have to find things to supplement with. That’s just too much work for me!
But here’s a caveat about this: This was MY criteria, and notice I said “usually.” If you need an easier option for whatever reason, that is totally fine. In fact, with some subjects we DID choose curriculum that we could get through easily and quickly, such as PAC Economics or World History.
Gets good reviews from those that have used it.
I always try to read lots of reviews for any product I am considering. Usually the user reviews will have more detailed information than the sales material from the publisher. I like to know the nuts and bolts of how a curriculum works before I decide to purchase. I will usually look in these places to find reviews:
- The Well-Trained Mind forum — I use the High School and Self-Education Board frequently to search and find out what others think about a specific curriculum. Sometimes I’ll ask a question myself. There is also a K-8 Curriculum Board, although I’ve not been on there.
- Rainbow Resource Center — Their catalog every year is always larger than phone book size, and it is chock full of lengthy descriptions and reviews of the products they sell. All that same information is available at their website.
- Christian Book Distributors — They have user reviews at the bottom of the page, after the usual write-up about a product. They might also have sample pages and/or lessons that you can download.
- The website of the publisher or author of the curriculum — Here, too, you might find sample pages and/or lessons. You might also be able to email or call them if you have any questions that are not answered elsewhere.
- Cathy Duffy Reviews — Back in the day, Cathy Duffy started by writing an actual book of curriculum reviews for homeschoolers. Now, her thorough reviews and explanations for about a gazillion different products can be read online. She also does have an updated version of her book; it not only includes reviews but also information about how to determine your homeschool philosophy and your children’s learning styles, and other helpful information to guide you in choosing curriculum.
- The It’s Not that Hard to Homeschool High School Facebook group which I founded almost 5 years ago. It has become an amazing place for asking about curriculum options. Try the search function first, then if you don’t find enough info, ask a question for yourself.
- For earlier grade levels, the It’s Not that Hard to Homeschool K-8 Facebook group is also a great place to get real reviews from real people.
- Also, Amazon has sure come a long way when it comes to selling homeschool curriculum. You can find reviews on there, too, though be careful of whether or not they are from legit users or just someone who received compensation for writing one (often in the form of free product).
I know my own curriculum planning preferences are not for everyone. One of the beauties of homeschooling these days is that there are so many options out there, and each family can decide what works best for them! Don’t ya just love that?? :-)
But do use this list as a springboard for developing your own criteria for curriculum planning. It will help as you face this admittedly daunting task each year.
Also, I hope this will reassure some of you that we don’t have to go looking for the most advanced or complicated curriculum all the time, or even at all. It’s OK to choose what will work easily for your family.
In our homeschool we ended up with a lot of textbooks and workbooks that could be done mostly at home — even for high school. We had very few online classes, and we did no dual enrollment, AP, or honors courses AT ALL. And yet those of my kids who have graduated have all gotten into college just fine and received merit scholarships to boot. So don’t stress over doing all. the. stuff, ok?
My book Save Your Sanity While Homeschooling High School has chapters about everything you do and don’t have to do to homeschool high school and get your kids into college, plus lotsa other information that will ease your mind! Take a look here: Save Your Sanity While Homeschooling High School: Practical Principles for a Firm Foundation.
But wait, there’s more help for your curriculum planning! And it’s not a Ginsu knife! LOL!
Hey, while you’re doing the curriculum planning thing, would you like a way to record all your findings about a particular curriculum — what people say about it, where it can be purchased, pricing, etc.? I’ve made a printable form to help you do just that!
It’s purple and pretty and has space to write down all your notes as you decide what to use for next year. You can print multiple copies and use it for every subject. And if you hang onto them, then if something doesn’t work with a curriculum you’ve chosen, you can go back to your completed forms to pick out a Plan B!
Happy researching! You’ve got this now! I have confidence in you! HUGS!