No one tells you how to choose a curriculum. Genny’s going to be 4 this Fall, making this our “official” preschool year. That said, I thought I might use some curriculums for certain subjects, like maybe math and reading. Five minutes and two Google searches later, I had a throbbing headache.
There is a ridiculous amount of products, services, kits, books, manuals, guides, journals, etc. out there. It’s difficult to make a decision – especially when you’re given a month to decide what you and your kids are doing for school this school year…
That’s why I came up with these easy-to-use brainstorm worksheets. Using research-based standards and your own personal preferences, you can come up with your own plan for vetting curriculums.
On the first page, you’ll find a space to explore your own motives and abilities, the learning preferences of your students, and any monetary and time constraints. The second page leaves 5 slots to hone in on different subjects. Once both pages are complete, you’ll have your map for navigating the world of choosing a curriculum.
Each state has its own requirements for education, be it public, private, or homeschool. You can easily find your state’s requirements at hslda.org, look them over, and jot down any notes you want to remember.
There are so many ways to school! The internet will be your friend as you learn more about each type, but I have provided a brief explanation for the ones that are most popular right now. Of course, there are countless ways to educate, and you don’t have to pick just one, but it’s good to be educated – no pun intended! – on what options are available.
It’s also worth noting that each of these types of education are not mutually-exclusive, and some may overlap in philosophies. Some curriculums may even combine elements from different types.
You choose everything! Because I generally think I know better than everyone else, I usually opt for this route. The only thing is it takes a LOT more work for the teacher!
This could mean you are piece-mealing each subject: a little bit here, a little bit there. Or it could mean you don’t use a curriculum at all, you just pull activities, lessons, games, and resources from all over to put together your extremely-personalized education. I did this with Genny last year, and while I really loved a lot of what we ended up doing, I got burned out some days having to come up with every single thing we did. It also took hours and hours and hours and hours and hours of planning.
One huge benefit to this type of education is that it can easily be adapted to meet the needs of each and every student. Growing up, this is how we did our homeschool, and I was able to go with whatever curriculums suited me best. I wasn’t stuck with an English course I hated through all of high school, or a math publisher that I didn’t understand. Honestly, this is the heart of homeschooling: being able to choose!
This is when someone hands you everything you will ever need for the whole year in a huge packet. Teacher’s guides, lesson plans, lessons, workbooks, even manipulatives and digital resources in some cases. Most all-inclusive curriculums will provide everything in every subject your student will need in all school year! When you stick with a particular all-inclusive curriculum from grade to grade, a great benefit is the seemlessness of the content. Each area is thoroughly addressed and built upon from lesson to lesson, subject to subject, year to year. Some all-inclusive curriculums are My Father’s World and Abeka, which both range from preschool-12th grade. Oftentimes, these will have a religious aspect or strong moral component as well.
Charlotte Mason Method
Charlotte Mason was a British teacher in the early 1900’s who created the philosophy that “Education is an Atmosphere, a Discipline, a Life.” To that end, this type of education takes a whole-child approach centered around nature and classical literature. By creating a healthy atmosphere for organic learning, teaching disciplined habits, and providing meaningful academic content, the Charlotte Mason Method is a hands-on, experiential route.
In a classical education, a child’s life is broken into three stages – the Grammar Stage, the Logic Stage, and Rhetoric Stage. The first stage lasts until about 5th grade, and during this time, students are taught systematic foundations for studying. This includes memorization of facts and rules upon which further academics will build. Next, the “middle school” age students learn how to think through arguments and provide evidence-based answers. Lastly, high school students are taught to form and defend conclusions with clarity.
Like the Charlotte Mason Method, the Classical Education also heavily relies on classical literature, but it has a much more structured framework for exploration and the formulation of ideas. The main focus throughout this entire type of education is language, both written and spoken.
Developed by Italian educator Doctor Maria Montessori, this philosophy of educating children is termed “child-led”. As students explore and develop questions about the world, teachers facilitate, providing more or less information where needed. This approach uses the interests of each child in a guided manner that encourages cognitive, emotional, social and physical development.
Where Charlotte Mason and Classical education styles contain more rules and memorization, the Montessori child learns to follow his own curiosity to acquire answers and to ask for help when needed. This is a very independent, hands-off style designed to create confident, self-motivated learners.
In contrast to a test-focused education, a Waldorf education follows the process of thinking, feeling, and doing. Similar to a Classical education, the Waldorf method follows the student through three stages of learning: early childhood, middle childhood, and adolescents. From birth, a child is considered to be a part of the first stage, which is centered around tactile learning driven by the five senses and copying behavior observed from adults and other children. Until age 7, this stage contains mainly sensory exploration and exploring relationships. From 7-14, the “middle childhood” speaks strongly to emotions and imagination. Art and self-expression is heavily encouraged at this time and is used to lead moral and social development. In the last stage, students are guided towards critical, outside-the-box thinking and are encouraged to follow a more specialized route under the apprenticeship of experts. This method is designed to create autonomy and ownership of learning.
What are my strongest subjects?
What do you get excited about? What did you enjoy in school? These are the subjects that you’re going to be really good at teaching or walking through with your students. It doesn’t matter if you have a 4-year degree in how to write lesson plans, your enthusiasm will bleed into your instruction, and your students will be that much more invested.
What are your student’s strongest subjects?
Likewise, what do your kids love to talk about? Is it Roblox? Bubbleguppies? Star Wars? Princesses? Whatever they enjoy, you can use that. Genny is art-obsessed, so our schooling is always very heavy in that kind of thing. By contrast, I was definitely not an “artsy” kid. If your student has a favorite school subject already, then make a note of it. These are areas where they’re going to automatically be more motivated.
I’m sure there are different ways to grade, but I only included two: mastery and graded. They’re fairly self-explanatory. Mastery implies that any errors made will need to be corrected to ensure the student has a comprehensive understanding of the lesson’s goal. Graded means the use of grades, usually letter grades associated with a tier of number from 0-100. When I was homeschooled, my parents exclusively used mastery grading until high school when we received actual grades (in order to prepare us for college). Unless it doesn’t work for our kids, that’s how I plan to do it as well.
If you have multiple students (or kids of different ages), you may want to get curriculums that you can reuse with each kid. Many curriculums have the option of only purchasing student workbooks so you don’t have to re-buy the entire thing over and over.
Another way to “reuse” curriculums is to combine students of different ages into a single lesson. This is excellent for teaching collaboration and cooperation, and it gives more advanced students the chance to teach younger ones. An example might be specialized math and reading routes for each student but combined social studies and science lessons. It’s also easy to vary the difficulty of many topics to suite each learner (i.e. write an essay, draw a picture, or narrate a story).
How does my learner learn?
You can break down this topic further, but I have chosen to only include the main three types of acquiring new information: visual (seeing), auditory (hearing), and kinesthetic (movement and touch). If you want to delve deeper, check out Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences. The answer to what type of learner you have will reveal the areas where your student feels most and least confident. This might mean you need a certain type of education, more or less manipulatives, a variety of digital resources, or a strong movement component. With small children, a fairly even combination of the three is a great way to start, but if you already suspect how your student prefers media, make a note of it.
What digital components do I want?
Does an instructional DVD or computer software sound appealing to you? Jot down anything that comes to mind, and consider when exploring different curriculums’ components.
What types of manipulatives do I want?
Montessori is big on wooden toys, Charlotte Mason is huge on getting your hands dirty in nature… The type of education you’re most interested in may lend itself to an easy answer to this question. Depending on the age of your students, you may want to have more manipulatives that develop fine-motors (geoboards, unifix cubes, building blocks, lacing cards), while older students may benefit from models, diagrams, and tools.
Time to school each day
The amount of time you have available is extremely important, especially if you’re dividing your day amongst different students, a job, or other responsibilities. It’s likely that you are doing at least one of those things (and much more likely all of those things). Don’t fret though, it’s still possible to homeschool and to do so well! If you are severely limited on time, however, you might opt for an all-inclusive education type that contains a virtual teacher, classroom, or lessons that can be accomplished at a flexible pace. With more time, you might want to go the eclectic route and pick and choose each and every aspect of learning for your kids. Whatever you have to work with, make an honest note, and work within your own limits. Biting off more than you can chew is not the way to start this journey.
Curriculums can get very, very expensive! Have a ballpark figure in your mind, trying to overshoot rather than cut corners from the beginning. An eclectic education is likely to be the least expensive, while the most time consuming, because you can go with an assortment of affordable (while still valuable) resources. Classical curriculums could become more expensive if there is required literature to be purchased. However, whatever way you want to teach, you CAN find a way to do it on a budget. There are countless bloggers and homeschool moms out there who have tried and succeeded. Reach out to Facebook groups and YouTubers for advice!
Keywords to describe your homeschooling style
This is where you forget about everything you already know about curriculums, and you just swim around in your own ideas. What sounds fun and exciting to you? What kind of learning environment do you want for your students? What kind of experiences do you want them to have? What methods have you tried and liked? Is there anything you really want to avoid? There are no wrong answers. This is a great place for brainstorming keywords that you will later look for in comparing different curriculums.
Each grade level has a different expectation for subjects, topics, and goals covered. At this point in the worksheet, you will already have a good sketch of your learner, your own abilities, your legal requirements, and your own preferences. Now, write down up to 5 different subjects (for more, just print page 4 however many times you need) for your student to cover this school year, mark your comfort level teaching each one, and list any specific topics or areas of interest that you definitely want to be included.
This is my favorite part! I like to sit down with Genny and ask her what she wants to learn about. Today, she said pretzels. Does that fall under math…? This is when all the thinking and comparing becomes real. You start to visualize actual lessons and activities!!
Sorry, I’m a nerd, I love this stuff.
Choosing a Curriculum
Finally, you have your roadmap. You know what you want. You know what your students want. Grab that computer, and this time you won’t be bested by the overwhelming Internet searches. Using your keywords, learning styles, media preferences, and comfortability, you can accurately pinpoint the perfect resources for you and your learners.
If you get stuck and start to sweat again, don’t worry. It happens. That’s called being a teacher. In this case, find a friend who knows what they’re talking about. Teachers love to teach, so it won’t be hard to find one who can help show you how to navigate around your roadblock. Again, Facebook and blogs are two great resources for finding community!
Now get out there! Happy planning!
What is your favorite subject to teach? Share with me by commenting below!
Love, Emily XOXO