One of the most common questions asked by new homeschooling families is “What’s the best curriculum? The short answer is, the ‘best’ curriculum does not exist. There is no one-size-fits-all curriculum because homeschooling just can’t be categorized that way. An infinite number of factors make each household’s homeschooling experience unique. Homeschooling parents who work outside the home will have different curriculum needs compared to a parent who is able to stay at home. A mother caring for a new baby may not be able to give the detailed attention some curriculums require until the baby is much older. A child with strong independent study skills may find success in a program that might cause another child to struggle. A single program cannot meet the needs of a infinite range of situations. So now what? How do you choose?
Instead of the one question, ask a series of questions. Not to others, but to yourself. The answers to these questions will help you to wade through the myriad of choices available to you and begin eliminating options that don’t meet your needs.
A crucial question to ask yourself is, What your homeschooling philosophy? Are you looking to replicate a traditional classroom in a ‘school-at-home’ approach, desiring a very relaxed learning environment or a variation along that continuum? Also think about your personal family standards. These considerations will immediately put quite a few programs in the ‘not for our family’ pile.
Take some time to study your child and evaluate how he or she learns. A highly visual child might struggle with listening as the sole method of instruction. Your child with the wiggly fingers will likely learn more from a hands-on activity as opposed to just watching someone else do something. A musical child will enjoy learning the months of the year via song while another child may find the activity quite silly and annoying. Understanding the learning style of your child will help you to narrow your options to choices that complement your child strengths.
How much structure or flexibility does your child need? Do you want your child to stick to the subject at hand or are you willing to go down rabbit trails as teachable moments arise? Does a computer-based program sound appealing to you or do you prefer to avoid large amounts of screen time? What are your needs as a parent-teacher? Can you handle a program that requires extensive preparation before a lesson can be taught? Do you have access to good library or the budget for a literature-based curriculum? Thoughtful questions like these will help you make thoughtful decisions concerning your child’s education.
If you are not sure what thoughtful questions to ask yourself, it helps to seek the advice and recommendations of others. Listen carefully to the reasons that parents give for liking or loathing a particular curriculum. How do those reasons fit with your philosophy, standards and child’s learning style? What another family finds a poor fit may be a perfect fit for yours.
Sometimes it boils down to trial and error. You may find yourself switching materials mid-year. That’s okay. Don’t torture yourself or your child with a curriculum that doesn’t work for you. Also, as your children mature and your family needs change, be ready to revisit your questions and curriculum choices. Sometimes what worked well when your child was 9 years old turns into an exercise in futility at age 14.
A time of parental reflection before evaluating curriculum will help you to wade through the overwhelming amount of homeschooling materials available. Considering your philosophy and family standards, in addition to looking to complement your child’s learning style, will set you on a path for an enjoyable homeschool journey.