If the array of choices in homeschooling curricula seems daunting, it’s likely that the idea of constructing your own seems even more so. The problem with purchasing “third grade in a box” from “pick a curriculum provider” is that it is very unlikely that your child is going to fit in that box.
If you’re opting your child out of public or private school, it is likely because you wish to provide a specific kind of education. Why, then, would you purchase a boxed curriculum that attempts to replicate an institutional experience in your living room? The beauty of home education is its tutorial method, and the ability to tailor a curriculum to the particular educational needs of each child. That’s not as daunting as it sounds.
Creating your own curriculum is doable for any interested parent, and it doesn’t require you to have a degree in education or know how to teach every single subject. You just need to know your child, do your homework, and not be afraid to try things and ask for help. You can do that, right?
Setting Up the Framework
The first step is considering which overarching subjects you plan to teach: English, math, foreign language, geography, history, literature, science, music, art, or other electives may form the spine of your curriculum. There is no need to do everything at once.
The other beauty of homeschooling is the flexibility it affords. If your children are very young, it may be enough to make structured plans for math and English, and spin the other subjects around that core in a hands-on, interest-driven way.
If you have high school students who are college-bound, an easy way to determine which subjects they need to take is to look at the basic admissions requirements for universities and let this information drive your decision-making. Each college has its own priorities when it comes to what it looks for in applicants, so be sure to check with a range of schools your child is interested in to get a sense of what she should be focusing on.
You can get the lowdown of what each state requires in our article How Do States Support Homeschooling?
Many people are under the mistaken impression that parents who homeschool teach every single subject, which often prompts questions about qualifications for things like higher-level math and sciences.
This assumption is incorrect. Choosing to homeschool your child simply means that you’ve taken responsibility for the process of her education and the curricular and class choices. There are many options in every subject and at every level.
This is where some research will come in:
Google the options: Do a quick search of “homeschooling option” and your district or state to get a sense of what is out there.
Read reviews: Read what other parents or educators have to say about the different resources so you can get a sense of what to expect before making a decision.
Be creative: Think outside the box for high school and consider options like The Great Courses.
Feel free to pick and choose. It’s okay to purchase just a few books from a big box–curriculum provider and fill in the gaps with other independent resources.
Make use of local resources. There are likely to be homeschool co-ops in your area, and people offering classes in a variety of topics. Teachers can be found online as well, for just about any subject you’re looking for.
Putting It All Together
Once you’ve made your choices and have a big pile of books (or online classes!) lined up, it’s a matter of breaking that down in a way that will move your student through the materials in a timely manner.
Putting together a simple spreadsheet is often the path of least resistance. One row per subject, one column per day, and one sheet per week for the number of weeks in your school year. Break down each book for each subject, and slot them in according to the time you have.
If I have seven biographies for my child to read for history, in addition to an overarching textbook, I break those books down to one a month and the appropriate number of chapters per day in order to get through the content. Textbooks often have 32 or 36 chapters, corresponding to the typical number of weeks in a traditional school year, which makes things easy.
Spend a few days carefully planning and laying out your resources in advance, and you’ll find that the school year goes much more smoothly and your day-to-day planning is reduced to almost nothing.
Take the time to note the resources you will need to acquire and have prepared at the beginning of each week as well. This will help you to have an at-a-glance weekly check up to make sure everything your child needs is ready for her.
Here is a sample of a one week–plan for a middle school student:
As you can see, this forms the spine for the basic core of her educational requirements and the many layers of enrichment, art, music, in-person language classes, and electives are tracked through a learning journal. (What's that? Keep reading!)
If you opt out of a traditional curriculum, even those designed for homeschoolers, then you’re going to need to be sure you’re keeping track of your child’s progress for end-of-year evaluations if they are required by your state, as well as for eventual college admissions.
The obvious solution to this is to keep track of all test scores, if you have them, and save a couple of work samples per subject, per year, that show growth. In addition to test scores and work samples, be sure to keep track of all of your child’s extracurricular activities.
One great tracking tool is known as a learning journal. You simply write down each day, or each week, the learning adventures your child had, anything new or noteworthy, as well as volunteer work, outside classes, and field trips. Ask any teachers or mentors for summaries of your child’s progress at the end of the term of classes.
Now you have a quick and easy roadmap to provide “outside the box” learning to your homeschooler — enjoy the adventure!