What to Consider in Choosing a Homeschooling Curriculum

I’ve gotten a reader request to write up my thoughts on choosing a curriculum, so I’m jumping ahead to the end of the series, and then I’ll come back and revisit Math and Religion.

Can you afford it?  With a very few exceptions, I don’t ever recommend pursuing education you can’t afford.  End of story.  Kolbe and the like are not cheap (though Kolbe is less expensive than some of the other alternatives), and as with many good or convenient things, when you are short on cash, you have to find another way.  Sometimes the other way is in fact a better way, so don’t panic.

–> Don’t spend your whole book budget at the beginning of the year. Save some money for mid-year changes, because you aren’t omniscient, so there’s a decent chance you’ll pick one or two flops.  It’s okay.  Set aside the cash so you have it when you need it.

Does is fit with your real life?  That’s how we ended up with Kolbe, FYI.  I’m perfectly capable of writing and teaching from my own curriculum, and enjoyed doing it. But I’m not at all above outsourcing cleaning help, buying prepared foods, paying some other mom to drive the carpool to dance class . . . whatever it takes to make real life work. [I once started to ask my daughter to pray my rosary for me, then remembered, “No, that’s not something you’re supposed to delegate.”]  When I was at a point where something (else) had to give, on the long list of things I do, writing up weekly course plans was one I learned I could outsource.  So we did.  It’s been good.

–> My point here is to encourage parents to look closely at the time and energy and involvement different curricula require.  Don’t pick Math Made Easy By 60 Minutes of Absolute Silence if you just gave birth to quadruplets. It’s okay to pick the cheesy, low-intensity, lowest-common-denominator program, if that’s the one you’ll actually do.  Doing all (or most) of the work from a cushy program is better than doing little or none of the work from that majestic High Standards Because We Are Achievers program.

Do you like it?  You.  The parent.  When you read about the curriculum, or thumb through the book, does it make you smile?  If it makes you groan, or you think, “I guess I have to do this because these smart people say you have to, but how on earth . . .” that’s your warning.  Back away.  If you hate it, it’s not going to work.

Do you believe it matters?  If the student finds it fun, the student will do it.  Unfortunately, there’s a 95% chance you are going to try to teach your child something the child doesn’t think is fun.  Which means your willpower is the only thing that will make the learning happen.  Don’t spend a lot of money and space and guilt on a product you don’t actually think matters.

–> I am increasingly convinced that the reason Living Books or Nature Study or Memorization Of Everything or Latin First English Second or Name That Approach, Written About With Fervor And You’re Ruining Your Child If You Neglect This One Thing . . . I’m convinced they work, and work well, because of the teacher’s enthusiasm.  There are bad teaching methods, don’t mistake me.  And I have methods I love and firmly believe in, and that I think make for sound teaching and real education.  But ultimately some part of my success as a teacher isn’t about having found The One True Way, it’s about having found a way that I can run with, that matches who I am and how I teach and the way my brain works and helps me connect to my students.*

As you learn about curricula, look for choices that just seem so right.  They just seem to fit.  They make you smile and go, “Yes!”.  That’s your ideal.

Do you scruple?  Kolbe is very intent on subsidiarity, and I love that.  As the parent-teacher, I blackline some assignments, I add to others, some things I trade out wholesale.  I have a friend who nearly died of heart failure using Seton, not because Seton is a money-maker for cardiologists, but because she wasn’t comfortable with paring down the curriculum as she needed to do (and as her advisers at Seton said she should).  She does everything 100%.   Seton proposes a tremendous curriculum, and she didn’t know how to say No to the parts that were too much.  She needed a lighter program that she could plow through from start to finish, and rest knowing she had Done The Whole Thing.


Those are my main thoughts.  I know we have a number of other homeschoolers reading here. What else would you add?



*This, I believe, is why Math books are like a religion unto themselves.




12 thoughts on “What to Consider in Choosing a Homeschooling Curriculum

  1. I think you did well. I might add that it’s essential to remember that the goal is learning, and not logging hours. If you must fill hours, let go of the idea that it must be book-hours, PLEASE. Make cookies. Take a walk. Play a board game (or, heaven forbid- a video game.) Do housework! (an even larger horror!)

    I have resisted programs like Kolbe for a long time, but I can see that as I pile on more kids, and higher grades, it could have some benefit. I appreciate your series of posts, because it makes it look less regimented and scary.

  2. Anna, that is a great point. I haven’t had to think in terms of “hours” (We count days – 180), so that didn’t occur. For me one trick is balancing our ambition with the reality of how much kids can really learn in a day.

    From a learning and teaching perspective, what you say is dead-on accurate: After the intensity of filling their brains with so much academic work, students of any age need some time to back up and process it all before they go in for another round.

    A big difference between homeschooling and going to school, is that your lessons are full of pauses while the teacher explains something to the other thirty kids. HS days are like school-concentrate.

    (Psst – I’m not the least trying to sell the whole formal-curriculum approach. Did you see — maybe not — that Amy Welborn is taking up unschooling? Oh I was so jealous. Until I saw that nah, she’s not really unschooling . . . still. That’s my fantasy life right there.)

    1. Our laws state 4 hours a day, 180 days a year. I hadn’t even thought of HS being school-concentrate! I will have to remember that for my hour-counting friends.
      I am not subscribed to Amy Welborn, but I’ll read a bit if it is passed along.

  3. I don’t know that I have anything important to add, but I thought I’d comment anyway. =)

    This will be our first year of what I think of as formal homeschooling; starting first grade in the fall. I am just now finalizing our curriculum for next year. As I was gathering ideas and materials I was beginning to stress a bit. But now, I’ve put down a little more foundation and I do find myself smiling just thinking about the year ahead. So maybe I am on the right track?

  4. Hi Jennifer,
    We have decided to start homeschooling mid year for our son who is in 10th grade. He previously attended a private high school.
    I am a newby and i am looking for structure without stress.
    Any ideas?

    1. Adding: If Kolbe appeals to you, it would certainly be a good option. You can go subject-by-subject to match up with where your son is. I’d phone them and ask for advice. BUT, only if it appeals to you, and/or you want the level of support they offer. Not trying to push a program — I like it because it approximately matches us, but that doesn’t mean it matches everybody.

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