Five Steps to Evaluate a Homeschool Curriculum
One consequence of homeschooling’s growing popularity is the rich variety of homeschooling curricula available today. Curricula have been produced for every conceivable subject so that today’s homeschooling parent lacks nothing when it comes to the availability of resources.
This is a blessing and a curse—so many curricula are available that it can be difficult to choose. Ultimately, what works for you will depend upon your homeschooling goals and your dynamic in your family homeschool. Every curriculum has pros and cons, so making blanket prescriptions is impossible. There are, however, a few ways to evaluate curricula to guide you in making a sound judgment.
Price is a very basic, common-sense consideration, but still worth mentioning. The pricing for curricula is all over the map. Sometimes, you can get a solid curriculum for $30, while others may be $199 or more. When considering what you are willing to spend, there are things to consider:
- Can the curriculum be reused with subsequent children, or is it single-use?
- Are the materials durable and of good quality?
- Does the company producing the curriculum offer support services for those using the curriculum?
- What is unique about this particular curriculum that sets it apart from others in the same subject area?
Life is hard, and homeschoolers are always looking to pinch some pennies, so asking these questions can help you determine whether the product is worth the price tag.
When considering the comprehensiveness of a curriculum, we ask whether it comes with everything needed to cover a subject adequately or if it needs to be fleshed out with the purchase of supplemental materials. For example, you may have a logic curriculum that comes with a student textbook, a workbook with daily exercises and quarterly quizzes, an answer key, a parent-teacher guidebook, access to streaming lectures or other online components, and practice flashcards. It also has stellar customer support you can reach out to if you get muddled, and it offers a grading service as an added feature. This curriculum would be considered very comprehensive because you would unlikely need to scramble for additional resources.
Other curricula are less comprehensive—for example, you may have a solid history book, but it doesn’t come with any writing components, and maybe you want to add some literature as well. So, you may want to add some writing assignments and shop around for good historical fiction to pair with it. This would be an example of a less comprehensive curriculum because you must work a bit to flesh it out.
Remember that one is not better than the other; some parents prefer a less comprehensive curriculum because it allows more space for customization, creativity, and blending with other subjects. Consider how a curriculum’s comprehensiveness fits your goals and budget, and choose accordingly.
3. Organization & Structure
Curricula vary tremendously in their overall organization. When considering organization and structure, you want to consider whether the curriculum tells you what your child should be doing daily or if there is a great degree of flexibility in how and when work is completed. Some curricula are extremely structured—You will see a very organized breakdown of assignments along the lines of “Week 1, Day 1, you should be doing this,” etc. Others are much less structured, allowing for a more flexible and self-paced approach. Most curriculum providers usually allow you to view samples of a Table of Contents or syllabus to help you understand the program’s structure.
In evaluating what amount of structure is good for you, you want to ask yourself the following questions:
- Is my child good at sticking with a scheduled routine?
- Do I consider myself an organized person or more chaotic?
- How strong is my child in this particular subject?
- Is my child likely to need extra help above and beyond what the curriculum offers?
- How flexible is my daily schedule? How important is flexibility?
- How much does it throw me off when my day doesn’t go according to plan?
As you can see, various factors come into play. Your child, your own methods of time management, and the type of schedule you keep all need to be considered. You will want a more organized curriculum if you thrive on structure, predictability, and orderliness. A less structured approach is better if you require flexibility and room for nuance.
Reading reviews from people who have used the curriculum is a great way to assess its value. You can read Amazon reviews and other customer write-ups freely available online, but it is also helpful to ask around in the homeschooling community.
If you are part of a homeschooling Facebook group or email group, ask for other people’s experiences. This is where you can get vital feedback that you won’t be able to find elsewhere—for example, comments like, “The binding glue is weak, and the pages started falling out after a week,” or “The assignments only took half as long to complete as advertised.” Obviously, take reviews with a grain of salt (because a review is about the user’s subjective expectations as much as it is about the objective quality of the product), but still do a bit of homework to gauge other people’s experiences.
5. Do You Even Need a Curriculum?
Finally, it should be mentioned that you don’t always require a curriculum. Many parents—especially those new to homeschooling—tend to think in terms of boxed curricula. They ask questions like, “Which program do I use?” but don’t often stop to consider whether a program, any program, really suits their needs.
One of the beauties of homeschooling is the capacity for customization. Curricula can be entirely dispensed with in favor of an à la carte approach, where educational components are picked from various sources and cobbled together. Remember, homeschooling does not need to mimic the structure and content of public school, so you don’t necessarily need a “program” or curriculum.
If you feel comfortable forging your own history or literature program from scratch, by all means, do so! Prepackaged curricula offer you something you can implement easily. An “out of the box” approach that lets you hit the ground running with minimal prior work. For many people, that’s the chief benefit of buying a curriculum—they are efficient. But don’t feel bound by efficiency; leave room for creativity and originality. Sometimes, that’s where the greatest rewards in homeschooling are found!
Of course, I recommend Homeschool Connections. We offer online classes for 3rd to 12th grade. Our classes are affordably priced and get great reviews. Homeschool Connections offers ala carte courses so that you can supplement another program, local co-op, or your own curriculum. However, many parents also use Homeschool Connections as their full program, so that is an option too. Whether you use it to teach complex subjects, explore out-of-the-box courses, or lighten your course-planning load, it’s a good option to explore.
Evaluating homeschooling resources can be overwhelming due to the sheer variety of products available these days. The considerations we have covered should help take some of the hassle out of the process, allowing a more targeted approach to your efforts. Happy browsing!