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Curriculum Choices

By Susan K. Stewart

“What curriculum do you use?” is probably the most common question at any gathering of home educators. Ask that question and you’ll get a barrage of glowing reports about what is the best to use and each parent is using something different.

How do you select what is best for your child and your family? Before you even look at a catalog, there is other homework you need to do. (Do your homework before asking what others are using as well.)

The first question you should be asking is “What is it you want to teach?” This question is really “Why are you homeschooling?” (See Why Am I Doing This?) <link to article “Why Am I Doning This?>The answer to this question will determine what learning and teaching material you’ll need.

A good place to begin is to write down why you are doing this. If you don’t know why you’re homeschooling, you may end up jumping from curriculum to curriculum, method to method, and may even end up quitting.

  • If you are homeschooling because you want to instill Biblical character into your children, that will determine your choices.
  • If you are homeschooling for academic excellence, that will determine you choices.
  • If you are homeschooling for a career goal, that will be the determiner.

The answer to the why question will even determine the way you teach each subject: Are you teaching history because it is required or because you want your child to know God’s story from beginning to end?

But, don’t head to the catalog, exhibit hall yet? You have some more homework to do. Assess your needs. What do your really need to teach your children? As with everything, what you need is strikingly different from what you want or what you’ve been told you need.


I've seen parents spend $300 on preschool curriculum. With the pressure to have your preschooler “ready to learn” before the age of five, many new home educators are setting up preschools in their homes. Don’t buy anything if you already have blocks, books, craft supplies. Your preschooler is learning all the time, just get out of the way, and let it happen.

Early Elementary

In the beginning, you will primarily be teaching numbers and their related functions, and letters and their related functions. Traditional schools do have science and history at this level to fill the hours the students are in attendance. At home you are not required to do that. Simply, what you need is material to teach counting, adding, subtracting, letters and sounds, writing. Many home educators do this without buying textbooks or teacher’s guides. It will depend on your learner’s style and your teaching style.

Late Elementary

As your children progresses, their learning needs will be greater. In the later elementary years, you will be expanding on numbers and letters. After learning the basic math facts, your student will begin to use these facts in mathematic operations. Once the fundamentals of reading and writing are learned, there will be more reading and expanded writing. The details of writing mechanics will now need to be learned. It’s likely you’ll be adding history and science now.

For some of you, this will be the time that you are adding some textbooks, maybe in math and grammar, while still using other resource books for reading, history, and science.

As with the other stages, the question is need, not want. Nor does your need have to be based on your own educational experience. Just because you had a textbook for every subject in the fifth grade, doesn’t mean that your child does.

Secondary (Jr & Sr High)

This is the time when your student will be starting more advanced and in-depth studies. You may need more outside resources as well as more comprehensive learning and teaching materials. You may even need to consider tutors for specific areas.

O.K., now you can look at the catalog and talk to your friends. Now you have some idea of what you, your student, and your family can handle. There several basic types of curriculum materials to choose from.

Packaged Curriculum or Textbooks

In this category I put those curriculums that are based on traditional textbooks. The most well known are Bob Jones University Press and A Beka. These are very structured and are often geared for classroom use. Many include day to day instructions. High school materials assume that you are knowledgeable in the subject area. Although the books are expensive, they are durable to use year after year. The lessons are usually based on 180 school days with a lot of repeating at the beginning and end.

Packet Materials

There are two major publishers of this style of material, Alpha Omega and Accelerated Christian Education. Each subject is divided into ten booklets that the student can work through independently. Before moving on to the next level a booklet test must be passed. Both have computer based options as well.

Compared to textbooks, these materials are inexpensive. You can purchase one booklet and see if it works for your student and family.

Unit Study

Unit studies are based on teaching all subjects are one area such as character trait or a book. Even within the unit study category are differences in learning and teaching styles. Some are very active requiring building things and putting on little plays. Others are quieter with a lot of reading and writing.

Although some unit study curriculums can be expensive upfront, they can be used year after year. There are few unit study materials for high school. Most do use supplemental material for math.

On line or computer aided

More and more computer based curriculum is now available. Some is strictly using the computer offline, others are internet based. Still, other electronic curriculums are a combination of computer-aided, textbook, and online. Some of the computer packages are so detailed that little teacher invention is needed, including scoring of test. Others are basic lesson plans with the learner seek resources elsewhere.

No curriculum

Gasp! No curriculum? How can I manage to teach anything? What I mean is not buying a “program” that details everything for you. You may be comfortable making your own plan and finding the resources to do it. This doesn’t mean that you won’t use textbooks or teacher’s guide materials. It just means that you won’t be purchasing one particular package of materials.

A word of wisdom: Don’t buy something just because it was written by a homeschoolers. There is now a dearth of material written for homeschoolers by homeschoolers. Look as carefully at this material as you would something from a major textbook publisher. Some of it is wonderful. Some of it was written because it worked so well in one family. It may not work in yours. And, quite honestly, some of it is junk.

Don’t rush to buy something just because you think you need a “curriculum” on the first day of school. Carefully consider why you are teaching at home, what you want your children to learn, what are your needs, and what is your style? Once you have your homework done, the task of selecting curriculum will not be such a chore.

Copyright 2004.Susan K. Stewart. Reprinted by CHEA of California with permission of the author.

Susan K. Stewart and husband Bob began homeschooling in 1981, have graduated all three of their children, and are now helping homeschool their grandchildren. Susan has served as the membership director for Christian Home Educators Association of California and is author of "Science in the Kitchen: Fearless Science At Home for All Ages".


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