- Choosing Curriculum: “Where Do I Get the Books?”
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Choosing Curriculum: “Where Do I Get the Books?”
An essential element of homeschooling is parents’ taking direct personal responsibility for their children’s education. One important homeschooling freedom is parents’ deciding what curriculum will be used in their homeschool. A curriculum is defined as a plan of study. It can be an outline of topics to be covered and resources to be used. It can be similar to those used in conventional schools or it can be different from those. It’s easy to understand why parents sometimes wish someone would just hand them a set curriculum so all they had to do was follow it. But in the long run, the opportunity and the challenge of choosing our own curriculum are valuable parts of homeschooling.
Parents who are planning to send their children to a conventional school at some point in the future sometimes think they need to follow a conventional curriculum. However, many former homeschoolers have entered or re-entered grades 1 through 9 in a conventional schools without much difficulty even though they had not strictly followed a conventional curriculum. Entering or re-entering grades 10 through 12 is often more complicated because conventional schools are reluctant to grant former homeschoolers high school credits that count toward graduation for specific subjects they learned while homeschooling.
Homeschoolers choose from three basic approaches to curriculum, often combining parts of two or all three of them to come up with their own specific approach that is consistent with their principles and beliefs, works well for their family, and changes as children grow and learn and their needs change.
(1) Some families purchase a complete curriculum from a curriculum company that publishes curriculums. A major advantage to this approach is that plans for the year are all laid out, often books and other materials are provided. It’s easy to get started quickly. Disadvantages include the cost (generally $500 to $1,500 per grade per year) and the lack of flexibility. When you come to a topic that conflicts with your principles and beliefs, that your children already know or aren’t ready to learn, or that doesn’t interest you, you can skip it. But if you skip a lot, you end up developing your own curriculum after all.
If you are interested in purchasing a curriculum, there are many options available, both secular and religious. One list of Christian curriculums can be found at ChristianHomeschoolers.com. Some families find it helpful to ask experienced homeschoolers what they liked and didn’t like about curriculums they have used.
For secular curriculums, you can do an Internet search for “homeschool curriculum,” visit general web sites on homeschooling, ask homeschoolers you meet, etc.
(2) Some families develop their own curriculum, based on conventional school subjects, or using unit studies, or with some other approach. At first this is more work than just purchasing a curriculum, but it gives you a plan of study that’s well suited to your family. You save a lot of money, especially if you rely primarily on the public library and other free and low cost resources. For specific suggestions on how to find materials and develop your own curriculum and on how to do unit studies, see the WPA handbook.
(3) Some families choose for their curriculum learning from life experience and pursuing their interests. For more information, see the WPA handbook.
Whichever approach you choose, you may find some of the resources listed below helpful.
Given all these possibilities, how do you decide which curriculum is right for your family? There’s no simple answer. There’s no one best curriculum, or, put another way, each of these curriculums is best under the right circumstances. Most homeschoolers use more than one approach. A family using a complete curriculum package may get interested in ancient Egypt and develop their own unit study. Families focusing on unit studies may take a break and just do “stuff” for a month or so. A teen learning mostly from life experience may decide to purchase an algebra course from a curriculum provider or take a correspondence course on American history. Feel free to mix and match. Try not to label your family as “unschooling,” “doing unit studies,” or “doing school at home” and restrict yourself to what you think is allowed under that approach. Kids (and adults) learn all the time in many different ways.
The WPA handbook also has detailed information on what Wisconsin law requires, how to choose a curriculum, etc.
There are more good books on homeschooling and learning than anyone needs or has time to read, so be selective. An excellent starting place for homeschoolers in Wisconsin is WPA's 286-page handbook, Homeschooling in Wisconsin: At Home With Learning. It provides everything you need to know to homeschool and is an invaluable resource you'll refer to again and again. It also includes suggestions for other books, learning resources, curriculum providers, etc.
Home Education Magazine's web site is one good place to start. It will lead you to other sites and offers a wide range of resources and reviews, networking and discussion lists, free newsletters, and more, plus archives from the magazine.
Librarians' Internet Index: Websites You Can Trust has links to many, many sites that have been reviewed by librarians. (There will undoubtedly be sites you are not interested in or do not agree with.)
Scholastic Lesson Plans offers ideas for lots of activities and lessons organized by grade level and subject. You can look here for materials on specific topics or scan the site until you find something that looks interesting. If you want to try following someone else's plans and ideas, this is a good way to get started and get a feel for the kind of things that are available online.
There are also far more homeschooling resources than any family could possibly need or find time to use. Experienced homeschoolers suggest buying only what you absolutely need. (Actually, there's nothing you absolutely need except perhaps a library card, which, of course, is free.) You will undoubtedly need fewer resources than you expect. Also, remember that children learn a great deal from the world around them, from things that are not labeled “educational” and that you don't have to buy to be learning materials.
Here is one of the best resources available to homeschoolers. Make an appointment to meet with a librarian, explain that you are homeschooling, and ask them to show you how to find materials. Explore possibilities in addition to books: magazines, DVDs, CDs, and more. Find out how to use interlibrary loan, which gives you access to many more materials than your local library owns.
Contact your Regional Coordinator for information about homeschooling in your area and local support groups. If possible, you may want to visit more than one group before you decide which to join. If no groups are currently available in your area, consider starting your own group. Ask your Regional Coordinator for suggestions and see the WPA handbook.
Wisdom from Experienced Homeschoolers
Since 1999, very experienced homeschoolers have been sharing some of their wisdom in moving statements during the general session at WPA's annual conference. We recommend them to you highly and thank the speakers for what they have given us all. See: Understanding Homeschooling.
Did you know that spelling “homeschool” as one word announces that homeschooling is more than just doing what conventional schools do in a different location? See “Homeschool v. Home School: What’s In a Name?”