How to choose homeschool curriculum that’s perfect for you!

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There are a million things to consider when homeschooling. How to choose homeschool curriculum can be one of the most stressful decisions of all. It doesn’t have to be. The first rule of homeschooling is this: There is no wrong way to homeschool!

Why are you homeschooling?

I imagine your reason for homeschooling is as unique as your family. I find though, the CORE reason is universal: To customize education to your child. When you keep this key reason for homeschooling as your focus as you seek to fill your home with curriculum, the decisions become easier.

HOW are you homeschooling?

As a Homeschool Curriculum Strategist, I think it’s important to be sure BEFORE you climb the curriculum mountain, you are at least familiar with the different methods of homeschooling. In THIS POST I outline the 6 major homeschooling methods and give you a peek into what we did throughout my years as an in the trenches homeschool mom and coach. Once you have a sense of your general homeschool style, you’ll have a foundation to better understand how to choose homeschool curriculum.

If you’re all set and solid with your homeschool type – then let’s get some curriculum questions answered!

dictionary page showing the word curriculum
Let Happy Hive Homeschooling help take the worry out of choosing the right homeschool curriculum.

What is Curriculum?

Curriculum is defined as: lessons and academic content. Simply stated, it is the TOPICS you are covering, the LESSONS you are learning. It is not as many believe those big books teachers use.

So where do you get the TOPICS…? In our homeschool curriculum is as simple as living life. Life gives us the topics naturally…For others, we spiral back to those big books often used in schools. The books provide the topics in a nice neat little package, one after another.

This is why it is important to understand your Homeschooling Style BEFORE attempting to decide on curriculum.

For example, In some methods, if you plan to homeschool and never send your children to school, family time is the best curriculum. The learning just comes naturally. Laundry, chores, and play were a major facet of our curriculum.

Additionally, if you have just removed your children from school, spending time together without the pressure of “school” is just what they will need. Be sure you are ready for curriculum in the traditional sense of the word …you might want to consider decompressing first.

Using State or National Standards

Using the state or national standards can also provide you with a clear picture of how to choose homeschool curriculum. As a classroom teacher, I was required to use the state standards to guide what I taught my students. Standards have their place, but in my state, as a private school (That’s how you homeschool in California, by establishing your own private school) you are not required to use the standards. You certainly CAN – they can offer SOMETHING if you are feeling lost. The standards offer topics and you can go from there! Topics are a good thing.- remember TOPICS are curriculum!

If you homeschool with a Charter, or independent study program the requirements on how to choose curriculum may be different. You will want to work closely with the school in which you have enrolled, as you are still functioning as part of the public school system. These methods of school-at-home offer many benefits, having state-aligned textbooks to choose from is one of them.

My focus is going to be on how to choose homeschool curriculum without the overarching component of required standards. My focus is as I said – on the interests and needs of the children I am serving.

Be sure you are compliant within your area.

Subjects to cover

The first questions to answer when deciding how to choose homeschool curriculum are: What are the subjects I am required or want to teach? Are there state regulations I need to meet? What is my homeschooling style?

Using a classroom model the common subjects are:

  • READING/LITERATURE
  • ENGLISH
  • SPELLING
  • MATH
  • SCIENCE
  • SOCIAL STUDIES / HISTORY
  • MUSIC
  • ART
  • PHYSICAL EDUCATION
  • COMPUTERS/ TECHNOLOGY
  • FOREIGN LANGUAGE

Many homeschoolers add:

  • NATURE STUDIES
  • LIFE SKILLS
  • FREE CHOICE TOPIC/PASSION PROJECT
  • RELIGION

After you select SUBJECTS that answer your first series of questions best. Now it’s time to actually decide HOW to Homeschool! Most importantly, ask yourself HOW you want your curriculum (THE TOPICS) to address these subjects. For example, do you want to arrange topics INDIVIDUALLY (SUBJECT BY SUBJECT), or GROUPED BY THEME?

SUBJECT BY SUBJECT CURRICULUM

WITH A SUBJECT BY SUBJECT CURRICULUM: Each child needs books/activities/goals for each subject that aligns with their age/ability level.

This sounds overwhelming but it isn’t.

Because you are selecting each subject individually, it’s easy to use materials from multiple levels. For Example, if you have a child advanced in math, but still working on their reading/language arts skills – your books don’t all have to be “second-grade” books.

Be sure to get recommendations from trusted homeschoolers and look for used book sales over the summer!

In order to help you choose your subject by subject curriculum I have put together my tried and true recommendations for each subject. This is the list I give all my clients!

The recommendations are for K-6th grades.

Download this comprehensive guide to getting started with Homeschooling. You get a play-by-play, subject-by-subject list of books I used over the 15 years I homeschooled my 3 children, provided families with educational consulting, and ran a successful private school satellite program in California. It also has a Summary of the 6 different methods for homeschooling and links to resources for each!

Click the image above and you visit the Happy Hive Homeschooling Shop where you can download the FREE PDF outlining the 6 major Homeschooling methods as well as the Tried and True Happy Hive Curriculum!

Remember, don’t spend the college funds on the elementary curriculum. You want to leave yourself the flexibility to change if something isn’t working.

THEME Based Curriculum

I used BOTH a subject-by-subject curriculum as well as a THEME-driven curriculum. I preferred the THEME BASED curriculum. A THEME-driven curriculum, lends itself to engaged learners. Each child learns about what they are most interested in, or you learn as a family about the topics and rotate them.

Below is a video I created about how to choose homeschool curriculum and I talk about USING THEMES to create A Topic Driven Curriculum!

I talk a lot about Topic Based Curriculum in my video Choosing Homeschool Curriculum.

 What IS Topic Based Curriculum?

Topic-based curriculum is also known as a unit study, or a “thematic unit” – you can incorporate every subject in your unit or as many as are reasonable. Your length and depth of study can be easy-going or elaborate. My mantra is: There is no wrong way to homeschool! It is far better to go for it than to do nothing because your curriculum doesn’t quite measure up to the latest Pinterest board. This can be a little confusing because the TOPICS, by definition are considered curriculum, and you’ll be using these big topics as your foundation vs packaged textbooks. So Theme and Topic are going to be used as synonyms and refer to WHAT your children will learn.

How topic based curriculum works

In a topic-based curriculum, everyone in your homeschool studies the same topic, and the level of study and the depth of the work produced is adapted to the child.

You can also have individual children choose to study their own topics – but when doing this, I encourage my clients to work it into their day as a “free choice learning” subject vs every child learning a different topic all day long. Think of a family with 5 children learning 5 topics… planning for that might get overwhelming. It’s far easier to fit it into your Subject by Subject Curriculum plan as “genius hour”, “special studies”, or my coined term “free-choice learning”.

If you like the idea of FREE CHOICE LEARNING, Be sure to read our post: FREE CHOICE LEARNING IDEAS FOR YOUR HOMESCHOOL

What do I need to plan a topic based curriculum?

The first thing you need is the topics. How many topics you need will depend on how you want to divide your time. I find the best approach to topic-based curriculum is to put the topics into time slots. Decide if you want to do one topic per month, one per week, 2 weeks, etc. If you just work on a topic until you are “done” you may never move on to the next topic:-) Structuring time is okay.

gather materials to support topics

It’s common to have books, crafts, and field trips for each topic. Begin with books, followed by activities, and add field trips last.

Gathering books

When gathering books, don’t be afraid to use books for all age levels. Big kids learn from picture books and young ones can be read to from longer fact-filled chapter books.

Use the library, what you have on hand, order from Amazon, and borrow from others you know. This way you know exactly what facet of each topic you have available. For example, if your topic is pirates, but you don’t have any books on pirate ships, you don’t need to plan any activities about ships and rigging, etc. OR this lets you know to FIND a book where there is a major gap in the theme. Perhaps your young one loves ships and not having a book to fit in this theme is going to put a damper on the learning, you can do your best to find it.

The books went into the BOOK BASKET and were always available for free exploration for the duration of the topic.

Planning crafts and activities

After I had my books, I figured out activities/crafts to go with the books. I looked for videos, hands-on activities, printables, and even recipes we could make to experience life during the time period.

Because I had my books first, I was able to target my activities to the books. Let’s say for example you are compiling a unit on weather. If you happen to have the book Thunder Cake by Patricia Polacco on hand, now you can look for activities that coordinate with THIS book. The Figurative Language element onomatopoeia (words that make sounds)  happens to be one example I have used with this book. You can also bake the cake using the recipe found in the book!

Lesson planning a topic based curriculum

There is no need to gather books/activities for every topic all at once. Simply gather materials topic by topic or a few topics at a time. One strategy is to gather as much as you can over the summer to be ready for the entire school year, and another is to gather materials each weekend for the week.

My advice is to plan at least 1 month in advance to allow time to gather materials. That way when you find out you are missing an essential piece, you have time for that Amazon order!

setting your calendar to accomodate thematic planning

Some families do a year-round homeschool schedule that accommodates this type of planning. They school for 4 or 5 weeks, then take a week off. You can work on your next set of plans during that week. You just need to be mindful of major holidays when establishing your year plan.

Others do their planning over the summer for the following school year, outlining the basic topics by week or month for the whole year so the “map” of plans exists to help you stay on track.

woman working on laptop looking at calendar.
Investing time in your homeschool calendar makes planning for a topic-based curriculum go smoothly.

Some would say you should establish learning goals for each topic…you are indeed welcome to do this, especially if you are working with a charter school or in a state that requires work samples. However, I find pre-established goals set expectations that can be limiting to kids. Kids always far exceed anything I could ever outline for them.

Using Lapbooks to organize learning

In our homeschool each topic had a Lapbook – these were the place we stored all the “evidence” of learning. After reading a book, watching a video, etc we put our facts onto an appropriate lapbook template and added it to our lapbook.

Because my topics were 2-week topics we used 2 file folders stapled together for each topic. You can see my lapbook video tutorial HERE.

The Happy Hive is proud to provide Lapbook templates for FREE as well as in our Happy Hive Shop

If you would like to read more about Lapbooking, I invite you to read: WHAT IS LAPBOOKING & HOW CAN IT HELP MY HOMESCHOOL STAY ORGANIZED

cover image shows sample lapbooking templates
Visit the Happy Hive Homeschooling store or your favorite teacher marketplace for your templates for lapbooks.

How the Happy Hive Implemented a Topic Based Curriculum

I know once you dive in you will get the hang of it. Remember – even studying the Holidays can be your theme!

We were a one income homeschool family. I had no charter funding for the curriculum. (Many families use charter schools because they provide funding for the curriculum- we did not want to homeschool via that route.) Would you believe when I started I had no idea how to choose homeschool curriculum? It’s true. I planned to use textbooks as I did in my classroom, until I saw the price tag!

 I had to make adjustments quickly because I was out of Dollar Tree workbooks. My oldest was very into Pirates and the Magic Tree House books.

Literature lead topics

I decided to use that series as the basis of our entire curriculum and everything we did each week surrounded the theme of the book. There were more books than we could fit into a year, even though we homeschool year-round! If you dive into these topics fully This series could easily last 2 years! Each child completed the learning at their level. I read the book first thing Monday. We discussed vocabulary words (I chose them) and then we did activities that I *invented* for each book.

three children dressed as pirates with homemade hooks and fake funny teeth
Having a topic to explore fully means you can get creative, including creating costumes.

That is how I learned how to choose homeschool curriculum. I used my children and their interests!

Our next TOPIC-based learning wasn’t as nicely packaged but was based on individual works of literature. We simply used what one considers the classics to guide our learning. Each month one of us chose the book and we went from there. Charlotte’s Web led to a deeper study of farming and animals. Journey to the Center of the Earth led us down a very scientific study of what the earth is ACTUALLY made of.

In fact, if you would like to see our Homeschool Book List you can find that HERE

We used a great series called Story of the World to explore history. It allowed a deep dive into the time periods most interesting to each of the children. Then, we could breeze through other less interesting periods.

Pictured here – Story of the World Volume 1 (There are 4 volumes)

As the bugs (my name for my kids) got older, they dove deeper into math concepts naturally beyond paying for toys with their allowance. To this end mastering their multiplication tables, and beginning to use their first textbooks was exciting. There was no pressure. They continued to learn through experiences of cooking and paying for things themselves. Additionally, games were a fundamental element of our math curriculum.

Topics are endless!

As I have shared before, the inspiration for this website was our year of holiday-based curriculum. Everything we did each day was based on the quirky holiday celebration of the day. There is so much you can do with a topic-driven curriculum!

When choosing curriculum be sure to follow your heart. Trust your instincts. If it’s not working, change it. Ultimately, that’s what homeschooling is…the ability to completely customize education for the individual who is receiving it.

Thanks for stopping by Happy Hive Homeschooling to discover how to choose homeschool curriculum.

Whatever curriculum you decide to use I hope you will consider incorporating some of the easy-to-use activities we offer!

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I’d love to chat with you each week about the methods I used to organize, schedule, and lesson plan in my homeschool with the hopes it will help you have a happy hive too. In the meantime, “Bee” sure to check out the different methods of homeschooling as well as our 3 easy strategies for burnout.

Christy of Happy Hive Homeschooling giving readers information how to celebrate the holiday of the day, as well as efficiently run their own happy hive!

Happy Hive Homeschooling

Providing homeschoolers with quality holiday themed resources and methods for their own efficient, smooth running, happy hives!

Be sure to visit the Homeschool Holiday Shop for memorable holiday based experiences your kids will be buzzing about!