We are fairly new to homeschooling, having started the journey just last November. Since we started nearly mid-year, I did not want to shell out a large amount of money for an out-of-the-box curriculum, especially since we were giving homeschooling a trial run and we weren’t sure how it would go.
I did my best to put together my own curriculum, from a variety of free or cheap sources, and switched gears as we explored the multitude of options — there are just so many out there!! I found it bewildering and overwhelming at times, so I wanted to share some insights I gained while I cobbled our curriculum together.
Where the Heck Do You Start??
Start with your child’s needs
How do they learn best? Do they prefer reading to learn, or listening to someone teach? Do they prefer hands-on activities and games, or doing worksheets? Do they enjoy creating projects? Do they prefer to work alone, or in a group? Do they have any special needs or learning difficulties? All of these have to be taken into consideration when choosing curriculum resources for your child. This is the beauty of home-school — you can customize it completely to best fit your child’s needs! But it also gives you a tremendous amount of options, which can be bewildering.
Find out your state’s requirements
As homeschooling gains popularity, legislation has arisen to ensure home-schools meet certain standards. Georgia is very home-school friendly. I simply have to file a Declaration of Intent once per year, which can be done online; I have to administer a nationally-recognized standardized test after 3rd, 6th, 9th, and 12th grade; and I have to record an annual progress report. The only document that is filed with the state is the Declaration of Intent, but I have to keep everything else on record. Once we reach high school, I’ll also need to assemble a transcript and GPA in a manner recognized by higher education institutions.
Cover the Basics
So, let’s get to the basics: math, science, social studies, and language arts. Depending on your state’s home-school laws, you may be required to teach these to a certain standard. Once you decide what topic you want to cover & what goals you want to accomplish for the basic subject, search for curriculum resources that support your child’s style of learning. I created a spreadsheet so I could keep track of what goals we wanted to accomplish and our progress.
- MATH — I found Math an easy subject to choose materials for. I simply ordered grade-level appropriate Spectrum workbooks that covered everything the kids needed to know for their grade. I used these workbooks as a stepping stone, and individually taught the concepts to each child. I also supplemented extra enrichment work from TeachersPayTeachers.
- SCIENCE — At first I struggled with finding a single (cheap) resource that effectively covered everything I wanted to cover, and offered lab activities that tied into the material. With science you have a lot of options! I choose to teach secular science but there are a lot of Creationist resources as well.
Besides my personal requirement for secular science (teaches evolution, etc), lab activities were a must, and the lab activities also had to be ones we could easily do at home, with readily available materials. This was a tall order to fill! But happily I found Mr. Q’s Science, and chose to cover the Life Science textbook with both of the kids. This online book was by no means perfect, but it covered the basics, and the labs were FUN. I also supplemented with extra units from TeachersPayTeachers. For example, my second grader did an age-appropriate unit on Weather, while my seventh grader had fun learning about Electromagnetism.
- SOCIAL STUDIES — Social Studies for us this year involved learning about American history from the first Peoples to the Revolution. I purchased used textbooks from Thriftbooks.com for just a few dollars each. We also did an in-depth study of Georgia state history, as we are newcomers to the state. I supplemented enrichment units covering additional historical topics and geography from TeachersPayTeachers, and each child also learned about different cultures from books from the library and completed projects relaying what they learned. PowerPoint presentations are a great way to show knowledge mastery and also practice speaking and computer skills, and both of my kids find them fun to create.
- LANGUAGE ARTS — Language Arts is comprised of reading comprehension, grammar, spelling, and writing. Spectrum Workbooks fit the bill for us for all these topics. We also read tons of books from the library. Both of my kids loathe grammar, spelling, and writing, so I am still struggling with a way to get them engaged in these topics. The end goal for Language Arts isn’t so that kids can recite the difference between an adjective and an adverb, it is to ensure that kids learn how to communicate effectively, so that is our goal!
OK, so you’ve got the basics covered! Time to add enrichment, and the options are limitless. Art, music, technology, theater, basic living skills, second language, gardening, sports, cooking/baking, and so on… For our enrichment activities, I picked some that were important to me for the kids to accomplish (art, music appreciation, basic living skills) and let the kids also select enrichment ideas of their own. My teenage son is very interested in engineering and technology and learning how to build his own video games, and my 8 year old daughter is learning gardening and animal husbandry. They both enjoy cooking & baking so we’re exploring that as well.
Don’t Forget They’ll Be Adults Someday
In a home-school environment, it’s so easy to become trapped in a little bubble, set aside from the world. To us it is really important to introduce our kids to outside-the-box thinking, other cultures, and so on. Also, learning how to properly socialize and how to work together in a group setting is critical! We accomplish this by participating in a wide variety of group activities near our home. Our public library offers a lot of enrichment activities, we also participate in 4-H clubs, and we just joined a home-school co-op that will give us structured class time twice a week.
The great thing about homeschooling is that your children do not have to fit inside a box. So if you’ve selected a curriculum resource that is just not working, it’s perfectly OK to stop and switch to something that does!
Don’t feel like you have to have a set schedule for everything. For a while we tried doing a little bit of each subject per day, but discovered that both our kids prefer to work in a single subject for long blocks of time. If this means doing a week’s worth of Math in a day, that’s great! For us it has really increased understanding of topics because we take the time to really dive into them, and we’re not switching gears throughout the day.
Also, don’t get tied to that desk! We go on lots of field trips. My kids love to work on school wherever feels comfortable. Reading a book while sitting on a swing, working out a math problem on a window with a dry erase marker, talking about Georgia state history while sitting in the shadow of Mt. Oglethorpe ~ it all works!
And there you have it folks! Hopefully this little guide gets you going in the right direction.
I’ve started working on our curriculum for the upcoming year and will post that once I’ve got everything finalized. Not that it’s ever really FINAL as we’re always changing things up here and there!