The big picture:
Curriculum should invite your child to pick it up and explore it. Learning should not feel like a duty, task or chore. What you choose to surround your child with in regards to items of educational value does not have to necessarily look like school stuff. Children learn best, when their minds are free to explore, examine how things work, use their imagination, experience cause and effect, can think about what will happen next and most importantly of all, they can feel free to be happy about learning. Start your adventure by asking your child what they would like to learn. If they are young and need some help with this, ask them what they have questions about as you tuck them into bed, and jot their answers down in a journal. When you watch them throughout the day, notice what captures their attention. Do they seem fascinated with animals, or sports, buildings, people of different cultures? When they draw pictures, what do they usually draw? Older children can articulate better what interests them. The more a child is involved in picking out what they will be learning and what tools they will be learning with; the more likely they are to use them.
Curriculum can take many forms. Traditional forms are books, art and craft supplies, musical instruments, maps, videos, DVD's, cd's, talking globes, chalk boards, felt boards, software and computer. The not so traditional can be anything from a bowl, spoon, measuring cups ingredients and a recipe, to a walk through a nature center. Your local library has a vast array of learning media to choose from and most items are free to borrow. Your local library also has reference material that although you can not take it out of the library, spending an afternoon exploring different reference materials can open up new frontiers for your child without taking up space in your home and without cost, well, except for an afternoon of quiet exploring.
Features of good curriculum and what to look for:
The items you chose should be age appropriate for your child. Most items will have the ages they are designed for right on the packaging. Ask the clerk if you are purchasing from a store if you are unsure if a product is age appropriate. If you are purchasing online, most items are in grade or age categories and if not, there should be a contact link for you to ask questions. Purchasing curriculum in person allows you to investigate by handling, exploring the contents of a book, or reading features on the packaging. You do still have ways of finding out about a product online; you just have to do your homework before purchasing. Sites like Barnes and Noble (barnesandnoble.com), and Amazon (amazon.com) will have reviews that you can read product opinions before purchasing. You may also find rating from sites about the item you are considering by placing the item name in a search box on your favorite search engine – mine is Google (google.com).
When purchasing items for young children look for durability, ability to wash the surface, or clean up if a craft is involved; for instance, washable and non-toxic paints, and markers, glue and crayons.
Good curriculum should be not only sturdy, in good shape, but be attractive to the child. Color and pictures are attention grabbers for the young child especially; but will also keep the middle age child from being bored by too much print. Make sure that learning tools are easy for your child to handle and operate. The less supervision needed, the better. Items that are made to allow the child to evaluate how they are grasping a subject will build confidence and pride.
My personal shopping tips on how to choose what will work best for each child:
Know your child's learning style – do they learn best by having hands on experience, or are they visual learners? Are they self-motivators or do they need you to guide their learning? Keep a journal of what has worked well before and let that guide you in finding out your child's learning style. Understand that just as children grow physically, so they change from year to year mentally and emotionally. These changes can make a difference in your choice of curriculum. Listen when your child tells you about items they use when playing with other children. What type of items seems to excite them the most? Are they interested in reading more than working with their hands? Do they know how to use a computer? If they have not already used a computer are they interested in learning? Most local libraries have computers for public use. Choose software programs in the same manner you would a book. Most software manufacturers have a Website with demos that you can explore before making a buying decision. Let your child try the demo after you have explored it.
Encourage your child to share what they have learned each day, during a meal, or while sitting around in the evening, or at bedtime. Sharing will allow you to hear and see your child's progress and you will see clues about what curriculum is really grabbing your child's interest and then make a mental note or journal entry for future reference. Take this journal with you on shopping trips or when browsing online.
When shopping locally, take your child along with you, so they can explore the choices too. Check your local library to see if they have what you are thinking of purchasing; if they do, you can borrow it and let your child try it out, before spending any money. There are some good educational distributors that are catalog or home party sales. Buying thru this venue allows you to see and explore before purchasing. A few that come to mind are:
There are other sources of free curriculum to keep in mind, besides libraries. Homeschool networks, lending libraries, and nature centers are all good sources of free or low cost classes or resources. Your local school may also have used material available to residents. Used curriculum can be found at homeschool meetings or library sales.
Many publishing houses have curriculum fairs and will advertise these events in local newspapers, homeschool newsletters and email notifications. Once you purchase items from a publisher, they usually will ask you if they can notify you of events or specials.
Take advantage of coupons. To locate savings coupons for different stores or publishes put the store name, or publisher and the word coupon or savings, in a search box of your favorite search engine.
Have a list of what items you are thinking of purchasing and your budget BEFORE you start to shop.
Know what your state requirements are ahead of time for each grade level, so this can guide you when selecting material. You can locate your state's guidelines for U.S.A. states and territories by going to:
Above all do not panic or feel like you have to somehow duplicate a public school classroom. You are homeschooling, not duplicating public school at home. Your home should not look like a classroom, but rather, it should look like a space for a child to explore the world around him/her with tools you provide that are safe, durable, fun and educational. Educational in the sence that they encourage your child to ask questions, find answers and think about what is going on with any given subject.
Educating your child should be about giving your child the tools to explore, safely and with confidence. Kids naturally want to know how things work, how things relate to other things and how he/she fits into his/her world. It is natural for them to ask questions and to want to find out why, how, when and who did things. You are selecting material that will aid them in answering questions they have and doing so from the comfort of their home. You are their guide; their resource and most of all you are interested in learning along with them. We find that homeschooling is a lifestyle that all members of our family participate in every day of the year, year after year.
When choosing curriculum, especially books, look for teacher's guides, or aids, or workbooks that may come separately. You can sometimes receive a price break when purchasing in a pack or bundle; but beware, if you would be buying items that you may not otherwise be purchasing, the package or bundle may not really be economical for you. Always break a package or bundle down into individual cost and add up the total price of just the items you need, then compare to the total of the package or bundle to see if you really are getting a deal.
There are some excellent online sites for worksheets, spelling lists and the like. Some of these sites are free, some for a minimal yearly charge. One site we have used for the past few years is edhelper.com this site has age/grade topics, worksheets and quizzes. All subject areas and grade levels are available as well as reading lists for each grade level and book reports. There are several payment options and this site is a very good value.
Homeschool does not have to cost a lot, there are plenty of free resources available both online and offline. Use keyword searches online, ask your librarian to help you locate homeschool resources.
Join a local homeschool group for a source of advice, and a place to meet with other families who homeschool in your neighborhood. Most groups have activity days, field trips and used curriculum sales. Some groups even have co-op classes that you can take part in.
Selecting the right curriculum for your child should not be intimidating. This should be an adventure that you and your child will look forward to each year. Remember to involve your child in the process as much as possible. Mix both traditional with non-traditional items including books, arts and craft, music, videos, DVD's, and software, daily tasks like cooking, field trips, and the library. Take in consideration your child's learning style. Explore online sites, educational home parties, and traditional stores. Locate homeschool groups for tips, activity days and possible co-op classes. Plan in advance what curriculum you are interested in, the topics, subjects and price range. Most of all enjoy the experience of selecting the learning tools that will be your child's key to adventure.