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how to go about choosing a curriculum


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I'm sure this topic has been discussed ad nauseum, but not so far in this new forum so I'm going to ask anyway. :laugh:


I don't have a clue how to pick a curriculum. I really thought by now I would have some clue as to what to use, but I honestly don't. :( My DD is technically only in pre-school and this fall she'll be a "kindergartener." I've been on this board for quite some time and have seen all the different names of all the different curricula thrown around on here and it hasn't helped me. I've tried looking online for a curriculum that fits my teaching style and (from what I can gather is) her learning style, but that hasn't helped either.


What I need is a bookstore that has all the different curricula that I can physically browse through, but obviously that isn't a possibility. I've looked at other homeschooling moms' stuff, but that hasn't helped either.


Right now we're doing work out of a lot of workbooks and worksheets that I get offline. She also does some online learning. I need help. :( I'm feeling anxious because I don't know where to start. I've love a complete "boxed" curriculum, but I don't want to invest hundreds of dollars on something that I'm not happy with. I'd also like a secular curriculum.


Any suggestions or advice? How did you start? How did you pick something? I don't expect to love everything that I purchase and realize we'll make changes along the way, but if I can't get past the first step I don't know how I'm going to proceed!


Help! :)

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A friend shared with me a very helpful book from Cathy Duffy called 101 Top Picks for Homeschooling Curriculum. The great part about it is the first few chapters have you reflect on, write down, and figure out your goals for your homeschool, the best or most natural style/philosophy of education and curriculum for you, and your children's learning styles. Then she helps you identify curricula that may work well with all of those.


As far as getting my hands on things to see them in person, I found used curriculum sales and homeschool conventions to be very helpful. Many popular curriculum companies have booths at conventions, and you can actually hold and thumb through their materials - yay! :) It usually costs a bit to get in, but sometimes you can get a discounted rate if you are just coming to go through the vendor booths. And I think it's worth it.


Also, these forums are terrifically helpful, when you've narrowed down your choices some - you can usually ask questions about a particular curriculum and get a ton of answers from people who have used them and can tell you how they really work in practice.


Hope that helps some! :)

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My dirty little secret: price is my main factor to narrow down materials. If I can find something very inexpensive or free that is "good enough," I am more than happy to supplement any shortcomings on my own. My children and I are very flexible in terms of learning styles.


We use MEP (free) and an inexpensive traditional school cast-off text for math. We use Funnix (free once a year) and McGuffey readers (public domain) for reading instruction. We do copywork from stories we are reading. We use CNED (free) materials for French.


I pick something, then I stop looking at other things. For me, first part of that is easy. The second isn't as easy.

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I try to choose things that are very bare-bones, yet complete. I don't want flashy, I want information in a streamlined fashion that is thought provoking. That's one reason I like Peace Hill Press and Memoria Press stuff so much. I can teach it with or without the script, but it has all the information I need to impart to my children in an incremental, step-by-step basis. Part of the reason I like things like this is that I have three children in stairsteps, if I have the information I need to teach, I can teach it the way each child needs it taught. I can personalize information; I can't personalize non-reproducible worksheets (Memoria Press' one big downfall).


For skills, I like curriculum where we "do the next thing." Even if we do it that same day.


For content (History or Science), I like curriculum that gives me some suggestions for activities and filling it out. Story of the World fits the bill. We can have other books, we can do some map work. We can incorporate writing very easily.


I like curriculum that is going somewhere ... but I want to know where it's going. We started off with Prima Latina from Memoria Press. I adore Prima. It's exactly what I like; straightforward, no cartoons, basic. As I researched, I found that it goes toward Henle, which is not the Latin text I want, but that Classical Academic Press' Latin For Children, Latin Alive sequence leads more in the direction I want to go. So I choose that despite the fact that it's designed to be "entertaining."


Usually, I can find enough samples online to determine if it fits with my Educational Philosophy and practical needs (not a lot of planning), but I definitely take the time to go to conferences, listen to speakers, sit at booths and read through curricula so I can put my hands on things.

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I would make a list of what your goals are for K. What are your educational goals? Is your daughter ready to learn to read? I would start there. For us, K and 1st grade is all about learning to read.


Booklists are great points to start from. Are there any specific books you would like to read to your daughter? The House at Pooh Corner...The Llama Who Had No Pajama... :tongue_smilie: We don't use Sonlight, but we've read a majority of the Sonlight K books this year (and most of them were at the library).


Are you interested in unit studies like Five in a Row?


Here are some things we've liked for K (that are secular):


Ordinary Parents' Guide to Reading

BOB Books

Hooked on Phonics (we have the old version - I taught my son to read with HOP)

More Mudpies and Magnets (an awesome book of easy science projects)

Alphabet Art

Kumon Kindergarten workbooks (my youngest daughter is a workbook nut)

Explode the Code (teaches phonics)

Lots of read-alouds


You could even teach without a curriculum. Those were just a few ideas. Do you have a homeschool store where you live?

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I've been working on a seminar about that, so here's what I would suggest for someone considering homeschooling or considering making a change in how they do it. I always begin with them trying to figure out what they really want (Analyzing Your Education) before they explore the different options out there (Eight Approaches to Education.) I'm open to suggestions and additions to these recommendations-feel free to speak up.


Analyzing Your Education


1. List/discuss the parts of your education that were useful and/or important to preparing your for life as an adult.



2. List/discuss the parts if your education that were not useful and/or important to preparing your for life as an adult.



3. List/discuss anything you think should have been included in your education to prepare you for life as an adult, but was not.



4. List/discuss the parts of your education that were detrimental to preparing your for life as an adult.



5. Summarize as best you can what you think an ideal education is that prepares a child for life as an adult.



Eight Different Approaches to Education in the Homeschool Community

Most homeschoolers use a combination of two or more of these approaches. None of these approaches or classifications is set in stone, so you may hear other ways of describing or classifying them. Homeschooling is inherently flexible, so these approaches can be adapted and modified in any way the parent chooses. This is a bird's eye view making very broad generalizations. Popular curricula, websites, and authors detailing these approaches are listed. Let me know of others and I will gladly add them to the lists.


===Traditional School Approach ===

Typically uses prepackaged curriculum with a Scope and Sequence educational philosophy. Their daily and yearly schedules usually follow the 6 hour days of institutional settings and a 180 day school year with the summer off, but many allow their children to work at their own pace and finish early. Grading systems like those used in traditional school settings are the norm and aged grades mimic schools. Textbooks and workbooks are their primary texts. Fill in the blank and multiple choice answers are characteristic of this crowd. Children are generally taught the same information around the same age and proceed along the same path, although some may do so faster or slower.


Think institutional school.




Alpha Omega


Christian Liberty Press



=== Unschooling Approaches A and B===

This is a broad term that applies to two distinct groups.


Group A


Generally believes children are wired for learning, and their job as teachers is to avoid interfering with the learning process. Their job is also to provide access to learning (books, lab equipment, etc.) guided by the child’s interests. They do not necessarily think children need to be “taught†outside of answering a child's questions. Real life, hands-on projects and applied learning experiences are strongly preferred to other methods of instruction. Some will allow children to take classes of interest in an institutional setting-usually college.


Think Thomas Edison and John Holt.


Christian Unschooling (website)

Learning without Schooling Magazine

John Holt’s Books

Free Child Project (lots of links and resources)



Group B


These parents design every learning experience to answer the question, “When am I going to use this in real life?†by actually using almost exclusively real life, hands on, applied situations and projects. Only the real world here. They tend to be systematic and adult directed but are very careful to take additional time to follow a child’s interests some too.


No known packaged curriculum, websites, or magazines that address only this approach to homeschooling.



===Unit Study Approach ===

Typically these people integrate studies based on an era, historical event, person, character trait, technological development, or historical person. For example, if the Depression is the core of the unit study, Math (if possible), Literature, Science (if possible), History, Economics, and Writing will hinge on different elements of the Great Depression. This gives the student a multidimensional understanding. Each child in the family is given different assignments based on ability, but all study the same core theme.


Learning through History Magazine


Let the Author’s Speak

Timetables of History


===Living Books Approach ===

Only the best literature and writings on each subject are used. Think of it this way, instead of reading from a distilled over simplified textbook on the Civil War, these parents have their students read several of the books about the Civil War that an author of a textbook would read preparing to write the textbook. Now, think of doing that for Science, History, Economics, Literature, Art, etc. This crowd is also known for

nature studies, narration, and dictation.


Charlotte Mason

Karen Andreola

My Father’s World


Greenleaf Press

Let The Author’s Speak

Robinson’s Curriculum



===Classical Education===

Classical education has at least three distinct camps. They can be integrated as much as the parent prefers. They all have a strong preference for first source materials and use primarily Western Classics (Also called the Western Canon, or the Common Book of the Western World.) Some can include the study of "dead" languages (Hebrew, Classical or Biblical Greek, and Latin) although some are content with good English translations of Classic works while others opt for studies of Latin and Greek Roots in English.


Group A


Characterized by the Trivium. The 3 stages have many terms:

  1. Stage 1 Grammar (facts)
  2. Stage 2 Logic (cause and effect) All stages of formal Logic inductive, deductive, material, etc.
  3. Stage 3 Rhetoric (application and persuasion) Formal argumentation is studied.

Formal Logic and Rhetoric are studied specifically. History is usually studied chronologically. Logic is studied formally, and Science is studied with experimentation, biographies, and original writings of the greatest minds. Classic works from masters throughout Western Civilization in all eras are studied. Some integrate History, Geography, Science and Literature into a more unit study approach.


Think Dorothy Sayers.


Tapestry of Grace

Classical Conversations

Memoria Press

Veritas Press

Teaching the Trivium

The Well Trained Mind


Group B


Characterized by the Mentor Model and sometimes called a "Statesmen" education. Morals, virtue, and character are emphasized above all.

  1. In the early years children are allowed to follow their interests and learn good moral character while developing a strong work ethic.
  2. The middle years are when the parent begins inspiring students by reading classic works by the best minds on the subjects and entering into apprenticeship situations with masters of certain skills.
  3. The later years the students are mentored in apprenticeships in entrepreneurial situations for their future leadership roles and professional pursuits.

Think Thomas Jefferson.


A Thomas Jefferson education by DeMille

A Thomas Jefferson Companion


Group C


Also known as the Principle Approach. This is a method often attributed to how many of the Founders were educated.

  1. Research the topic by looking up ideas

a. first source materials (original writings, documents, autobiographies, first hand historical accounts, etc.)


b. look up terms in dictionary (keeping in mind dictionaries that are specific to the era)


c. look up terms in your sacred writings or other sources related to your beliefs (Christians-Bible)

  1. Reason through the material looking for the underlying principles.
  2. Relate the information you have found through research and reason and apply it to your life.
  3. Record your findings in a logical, systematic, and persuasive format.

Think James Madison.



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For kindergarten I don't think curriculum is super-important; a child needs to learn to read and appreciate books and learn basic math. I would agree that you make a list of goals you want to meet for kindy. For me that was something like start learning to read, get into good chore routines, learn to enjoy/problem-solve with math, establish a good teacher-pupil relationship and get tons of fresh air. I am also highly dubious of spending a lot of money for a 5 year old. So I bought OPGTR & c-rods...Life of Fred.. a small whiteboard and markers....I bought MUS primer used (it's okay, I'm not continuing w/ MUS)...plus lined paper for practicing handwriting....minimal investment, maximum impact (I hope). I checked several phonics books (100EZ lessons, Phonics Pathways, OPGTR) until I found what resonated with me.


I figure things will evolve and change a lot over the coming years, and my goal for the early years is to establish our relationship, do lots of chores/outside time (although not in the cold weather now, alas!), get a strong reader and get rock-solid math skills. Everything else is gravy. (To me ;))

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I would suggest that you attend a homeschool conference this spring/summer if you get the chance. They offer the greatest opportunity to put your hands on many different materials...so very fun. :)


You're at the right place. I learned so much from just reading and researching here when dd was a preschooler. Have you read the book, The Well-Trained Mind? Reading it gave me a lot of confidence in piecing together my own curriculum. I didn't/don't follow it exclusively, but reading it helped me get started. Be prepared that even if you buy a boxed set you will likely find yourself tweaking parts of it.


We use Memoria Press K as a base. I've chosen to focus on the three r's, and we add in extra things in those areas. I like that MP K and 1st have recitation guides that help you make sure to cover all the necessary memory work.

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I also prefer a more secular approach - that being said, if it works, we'll use it, even if it's not secular. I'm more interested in something working for us all than I am in strictly being secular (though I do try to steer away from certain things.) Like we don't want something that is impossible to make as secular as possible or something that isn't easily discussed, costs a small mint, needs way too much prep or that jumps too much nor that stays too long on one thing.


My son is special needs so that makes it nice and tricky. He's actually ranging from prek to first, depending on what you're doing. And sometimes he regresses a bit and other things end up needing to be focused on.


I look for things that are going to be easy to teach (I work full time from home so hours of prep isn't going to cut it) and that I know are going to catch his eye. Something hands on, visual, and auditory is awesome. If not, then I'll try to tweak to make it that way. There are going to be things eventually he'll just have to do but at this stage whatever works, be it a workbook (he loves them because he can show them off and does), stickers, the white board, or whatever.


I go to the reviews. I search Google for reviews on whatever interests me, I search these boards, wherever I can search. I paw through catalogs and blogs. Seeing what other people have used with success, how they have tweaked things, or what they saw as weaknesses or failures can be a huge help. I actually wrote down my top three for science, math, etc and how they compared to each other. Then price plays a part, naturally.


I agree boxed is tempting but when I really look at boxes it doesn't seem like there is enough. Like I'd still need to add or supplement to keep him challenged enough that he'll be interested. Price usually turns me off those too. I have found the best help hanging out at online groups and forums that are designed for secular homeschoolers when looking for things that fit that bill.


Narrow your choices - what weaknesses do you see? What strengths? Is it too time consuming for you to prep or use? Etc. It seems to really help.


Didn't read all the replies so if I repeated something, sorry! :)

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I agree boxed is tempting but when I really look at boxes it doesn't seem like there is enough. Like I'd still need to add or supplement to keep him challenged enough that he'll be interested. Price usually turns me off those too.



I agree with that. I loooove some of the Timberdoodle sets, but then I realize that they don't include any of the work I plan on us doing!

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I think a lot of people suddenly get stressed by the "officialness" of starting kindergarten, but if your child is in preschool you have probably already taught her a lot. What have you done this year for her? Generally you should move on from there and adjust your goals, but not the entire way you homeschool as you move into kindergarten. This means that while boxed curricula look great, they often have to be tweaked a lot to make them fit - not always, but often.


My DD is kindergarten age now though doing much at first grade level. Here is how we proceeded over the years and some of the curriculum choices I used that fitted where we were at the time.

Age 2: she was in a nursery school 4 mornings a week where she did crafts, cutting and pasting and play. I read Sonlight P3/4 books to her in the afternoons, phonics and sight words, puzzles and games

Age 3: preschool at home, we did unit studies mostly by playing outside and reading lots of books, maths by counting and one to one correspondence with word sums using home items, identification of numbers by reading them on houses round the block, began early reading and phonics (OPGTR) at age 3.5 as she had started sight reading books, puzzles and games, some crafts

Age 4: early readers from library and bought some of Sonlight's Grade 1 and 2 readers, continued OPGTR, began handwriting with letter formation (did this myself, but would have bought HWT if I felt I needed it) - did NOT use lined paper at this stage, started SOTW1, many books on all subjects, started Horizons K and Singapore 1a, tried MEP but stopped it, own copywork from books she had read

Age 5: started BFSU, will buy some of Sonlight's readers Grade 3 and 4, started looking for reader activities (comprehension etc) free from the internet, began spelling using OPGTR for the phonics involved - she does spelling by dictation, started Horizons 1 and Singapore 1b, moving to writing in lines, continue SOTW1 more regularly now, started including geography by pointing out places on a map when reading stories, read alouds are now mostly chapter books though she still listens to picture books that I am reading to her sister, copywork - she has now started writing her own things down though, am using her readers for some creative writing exercises with her if she seems keen.


So basically at the start except for Sonlight P3/4 we bought very little curriculum, but that has gradually increased. I decided based on what I thought needed to be covered next and then found a product that seemed to fit both my teaching and my daughter's learning style. Last year when I started Maths curricula I wasn't sure how long it would take to get through it so I mostly stuck to doing what was in the workbooks, but now that I know I am happy to try something new - using living books or doing activities that relate to books we have read even if it is new Math for her. When you are deciding on a kindergarten curriculum you are not deciding on a curriculum for her whole school career so its ok to make mistakes even if it is an entire boxed curriculum - usually even if you do not use the entire box, you can get enough out of one to justify the expense and you can always re-sell it

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  • 2 weeks later...

I'm probably the worst help ever, but I was right where you are. My problem on top of what you listed is that I actually purchase(d) everything I could in hopes of de-stressing myself. My kids are 14 months, 2 1/2, 5 and #4 is on the way. These ages really don't require curriculum, and everyone told me that, including my husband. But I needed curriculum, mainly for me. I would spend hours and hours searching for our lessons each week to where I was on overload and completely worn out. So, I felt a purchased curriculum would help. I can't tell you how much money I've spent on various curriculums.....it far exceeds what I even realize. The problem is (was)..,,I am the teacher and I so desperately want them to learn what they're supposed to, plus more. I made the decision to homeschool them, it's my duty to make sure everything is covered. I haven't found an actual checklist showing me exactly what they need to know so I desperately buy this and that in hopes that it will teach them what the other won't. Luckily, they love school. But I'm burnt out. I need a list stating what to cover because I haven't found the perfect fit yet. Just to give you an idea of what has been purchased...if I can even remember it all...here goes:

Beautiful feet primary jumbo set plus character set

Sonlight 3/4

Sonlight 4/5

Sonlight k multi-set

Horizons preschool

Horizons K math and LA

Lifepac K math and LA

Lifepac 1st grade -all 5 subjects

AAS preK

AAS K (both reading and spelling)

Story of the world set 1

Mudpies and magnets, plus every other book suggested in the well trained mind book(seriously...)

Singapore math

Everything available to purchase at confessions of a homeschooler

Everything available to purchase at 1+1+1=1

Grapevine bible studies

Various kumon books

Loads of games and educational supplies from lakeshore learning

Before five in a row complete set

Five in a row vol. 1 complete set

Everything available to purchase at the Moffatt Girls


The list seriously goes on and on...I just decided to quit listing....don't make the same mistake I have...I've been sucked into the pressure of being the perfect homeschooling teacher.....the pressure had caused me to cave. We have so much school stuff and its too overwhelming to be enjoyed. These are just for K and below.......there's absolutely no way everything will be used....


The shocking thing is, I'm not a huge pencil pusher. You would think with everything we have, I'd be making them sit for hours learning. But the problem is, we do 1 or 2 lessons and realize its not a good fit so we try something else the next day. So frustrating!


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When I started out, I followed TWTM exclusively. She recommended Phonics Pathways, so I used Phonics Pathways... so on and so forth. It gave me a starting point. The second is that I discovered the library has some curriculua. The library actually HAD PP so I checked it out and gave it a whirl before purchasing it. I've been able to find books the library doesn't have through interlibrary loan. Usually I had to pay a couple dollars of shipping, but it save me the investment or confirmed it. Do you have any homeschooling friends nearby? Most are more than happy to let you take a look at their books. I only loan books to close friends, and books I'm willing to live without, but I'm more than happy to bring a curriculum to a gathering to show people. Another option are the homeschool conferences that occur in spring and early summer. It's like a huge homeschool store, and you can chat with people who use the program. Lastly many curriculum providers offer a sample or an excellent return policy. You can make use of those to give a curriculum a test run before investing.



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