Homeschool Planning Series: Choosing Curriculum and Materials

Planning

So now that I know what I want to teach and how I’m going to structure my year. It’s time for me to choose the curriculum, books, and other materials I will use to facilitate our learning this year.

For a detailed list of the subjects and goals I’ve identified for each of my kids, see this post.

A detailed list of the books and curriculum I’m using will be in a future post.

This post is about the process I use to decide what materials I will use to teach the subjects and meet the goals I have planned for the year.

I will admit that I got stuck here for awhile. I am a big picture kind of girl. I love dreaming and I hate implementing. Because, as I mentioned before, I want to do it all. It is in this step that I start to face the reality of having to say no to some awesome things. I hate that.

As you know, there are an overwhelming number of curriculum options available to homeschoolers these days. Catalogs, websites, blogs, Pinterest, curriculum fairs, friend’s recommendations. They can leave me feeling like I’ll never find the perfect curriculum. Like I’m missing out on all kinds of great things. Like I’ll never teach everything I want to teach. Guess what? I won’t. There’s no such thing as the perfect curriculum, and I can’t possibly teach my kids everything I want to teach them. I don’t know if that makes you feel better or worse, but it’s the truth. And it’s true for you too.

So how do I narrow down the limitless possibilities to the few things I can realistically use?

Consider what I find appealing

When I start looking for resources to teach something, the first question I ask is “what appeals to me?” That’s right, me. I don’t first consider my kids’ preferences or learning styles or anything like that. I’ve learned that if I don’t like using the material,  I won’t. If the curriculum never comes off the shelf, it’s not helping anyone learn anything.

Being able to identify material that is definitely not my style has been a huge help in getting clear about what will work best for me and my kids.

Consider what has (and hasn’t) worked in the past

Some of the best homeschooling advice I’ve received is this: When you find something that works, don’t change it! Every time a friend or a blogger or, yes, even an advertisement raves about how incredible a curriculum is I’m tempted to scrap what I’m doing and try something new. But each time I try something new I begin a new learning curve – for me and the kids. I’ve found that if something is working well enough, it’s best to just keep going with it. Again, there’s no such thing as perfect and I’ll make myself (and my kids) crazy looking for it. So I’ve learned to stick with what has worked well in the past.

By the same token, if something really was a bad fit for us, I will abandon it with no qualms.

Consider what is available for free or cheap

I start with my own bookshelves. I’m a homeschooler.  I have loads of cool books and games and kits and manipulatives that I’ve collected at garage sales and thrift stores and used book sales over the years in the hopes that someday they’ll be just what I need to teach somebody something. I go through all of these resources and pull out the things that will meet the goals and subjects I’ve planned for this year. I also use this time to clean out stuff I’ve learned will most likely never get used.

Another source of free curriculum for us is our public school enrichment program. We are allowed (but not required) to borrow curriculum to use with our children each year. They have a wide variety of material to choose from. This is how I found Book Shark. This has been a huge blessing for us. I have always been drawn to a “living books” curriculum, and the folks at Book Shark have done a really good job of choosing great books and providing a schedule and format that feels really good to me.

I will add one caveat here. Sometimes it’s worth spending money on quality curricula and materials. I won’t  use something just because it’s free or cheap. But I do consider those free and cheap resources before I shell out money for something I think I have to have. I’ve wasted a lot of money on curriculum that now gathers dust on my shelves.

Find out what others like

Once I’ve gotten clear about what I like, identified what’s worked in the past, and gone through what’s available free or cheap, I figure out what I still need to buy. This is when I start googling, searching blogs, and asking friends both online and “in real life.”

I have to be very careful here, because I can get sent back to Teach All The Things mode if I don’t practice extreme self control. I can easily get sidetracked by all of the wonderful things other people are doing. I have to work super hard to stay focused at this point. I remind myself that I’ve followed a solid process to select our goals for this year, and there’s always next year.

When it comes to choosing material, I’ve found that going with what’s popular is often a good choice. If it seems everyone is using it, it’s often because it’s high quality and user friendly. Not always, but often. If there seem to be a lot of good choices,  I try to choose one that someone like me loves. So even if someone is absolutely raving about program, if it’s a curriculum that requires a ton of hands-on time or prep time or craft time I know it’s not the program for us.

Buy what I need

Once I’ve gone through the above process, I make a good list of what I need. I try to have this done before the annual conference I attend with an amazing used curriculum sale. What I can’t get there, I generally buy on Amazon or straight from the publisher. I also fill in with picture books from the library.

Whew. Once I finish this step I am finally ready to start planning lessons. I’ll talk about how I do that in an upcoming post. But first, I’m going to share the curriculum we’ll be using this year. I’m getting pretty excited about it!

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