Homeschooling: Choosing Curricula

Third in a series of articles about Homeschooling in Massachusetts

By Emily Classon, Contributing Writer July 25, 2020

Third in our series on homeschooling.  

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Families who are new to homeschooling often worry about what to teach their children.  One of the joys of homeschooling is having the opportunity to figure this out together as you learn your child’s learning style and your own teaching style.  You don’t have to have it all figured out on day one and can add or change materials as you go through the year.  This article will give you some tips and things to consider as you begin your homeschooling journey for the year or longer.

Massachusetts Frameworks

Many families facing an uncertain new school year are considering homeschooling during the COVID-19 crisis.  If you are thinking that your children will return to school for the following year, you may want to review the state frameworks outlined by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).  These frameworks guide the standards and expectations covered by public schools in Massachusetts.  Homeschoolers are not required to follow these frameworks, but some families refer to them for ideas.  If your child will be returning to public school in the near future, you may want to keep an eye on specific topics that the schools will be covering so you can include them in your planning.  

Tips for Choosing Curricula

Every homeschooling family is different, and there is no perfect curriculum that works for everyone.  Some homeschoolers use curricula; some homeschoolers use life experiences to guide the way.  Here are a few tips to consider before purchasing any materials:

  • Homeschooling: Which Model Is Right for You?”: Learn about some of the popular approaches to homeschooling to find a style that best suits your family’s needs.  This article also includes links to selected sites with materials for each style.
  • Think about how your kids learn.  Do they prefer to read, create, or explore outdoors?  Do they learn best by focusing on one subject at a time or digging in and thoroughly exploring a topic in an interdisciplinary way?  Are they visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learners?  Take a quick quiz to find your child’s learning style to help you figure out the best ways to help them learn.  
  • Curriculum vs. Child-led: Do you want to find a variety of materials to help your children learn, or would you prefer to let your child find their own topics to explore in their own ways?  If the latter appeals to you, check out this list of Unschooling Blogs and Websites from John Holt GWS.
  • Time: Do you have the time to research materials to use, or would you prefer to use something that has already been developed?  
  • All-in-One vs. Piecemeal: Many first time homeschoolers look for an all-in-one curriculum to try to recreate school at home.  All-in-ones can be helpful because everything is laid out for you, and you don’t have to spend a lot of time researching and planning what to teach.  The drawback is that there isn’t much flexibility if your child is at different levels in some subjects or is interested in learning particular topics that aren’t covered.  An all-in-one program can be more expensive too.  A piecemeal approach allows you to research each subject area to find the materials that you like best.  It may be more complicated to piece together, but this approach allows you to have more flexibility and to change things that aren’t working because you’re not locked in to a set curriculum.  Even if your goal is for your children to return to school, it can be fun to find different resources that work best for your family.
  • Cost: How much do you want to spend?  Homeschooling resources range from free to very expensive.  You can start with some free resources and then purchase items after you’ve had time to explore a bit.
  • Secular vs. Religious: Do you want materials with a religious component, or do you prefer to follow a secular approach?
  • Siblings: If you’re teaching kids of different ages and abilities, can you teach everyone the same lesson but add supplemental or self-directed sources for older siblings?  Unit studies are often a helpful approach for multiple learners.

Whatever you choose, your plan for homeschooling should equal “in thoroughness and efficiency” that of the school (G.L. c. 76 Section 1).  This means that homeschoolers should be providing an education with the depth and breadth of what is covered in public school.  You do not have to recreate the same curriculum, and teaching methods do not need to be the same.  

Finding Curricula

Once you’ve figured out your style or how you’d like to approach homeschooling, where do you go to find the materials that are best for your family?  Many products include a free sample lesson or chapter on their websites to help you find materials that might work for your family.  There are many ways to research curricula including the following:

Free/Low-Cost Sources

Here are some free or low-cost curricula resources if budget is a major concern:

Don’t forget your local libraries for books, movies, music, online resources, and downloadable e-books and audiobooks too!

Popular Curricula

Below is a list of commonly mentioned materials in homeschool groups:

High School Tips

If you’re afraid that homeschooling during the high school years will be harder or that you’ll have to remember calculus, you might not need to worry.  Many homeschoolers find that high school is easier because students can explore topics on their own and be self-directed.  Here are a few things to consider:  

For upcoming online presentations related to homeschooling, please check out the following:

  • Advocates for Home Education in Massachusetts, Inc. (AHEM) presentations
  • Massachusetts Home Learners Association (MHLA) presentations 

For more information on homeschooling, see our full Article Series:

Emily Classon is a homeschooling mom in Tyngsboro.  She and her daughter have homeschooled for the last five years.  She has a Masters in Information and Library Studies degree and worked in public libraries for over 20 years.  Emily also teaches Zentangle®, a meditative art form.

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