How to choose the perfect homeschool curriculum

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 the 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 former Homeschool Curriculum Coach, 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 align better with curriculum.

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

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.

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.

If you have 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

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. (But you certainly CAN – they can offer SOMETHING if you are feeling lost. They can offer topics and you can go from there! Topics are a good thing.- remember TOPICS are the curriculum!)

If you homeschool with a Charter, or independent study program the requirements may be different and 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.

My focus is going to be on choosing 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 question to answer is what are the subjects you are required or want to teach based on your state’s regulations, and 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

The second question to answer is HOW you want your curriculum to address these subjects. INDIVIDUALLY, or GROUPED BY TOPIC

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.

Each subject is addressed individually

Get recommendations from trusted friends

Look for “family plans”

If you are sailing your own ship – Happy Hive Homeschooling is here to help!

I have put together my tried and true recommendations for each subject. This is the list I gave all my clients! The list can be YOURS too!  The recommendations are for K-6th grades.

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



Topic Based Curriculum

I prefer the latter. By having a TOPIC  driven curriculum, I have 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 Choosing Curriculum, and I talk about 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.

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”.

What do I need to plan a topic based curriculum?

The first thing you need are 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 onto the next topic:-) Structuring time is okay.

Next gather books relating to your topic. 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.

You want to find your books before planning activities.  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.

After I had my books, I figured out activities/craftivities to go with the books. I looked for videos, hands on activities, printables and always looked for a possible Field Trip.  

Gathering the books first  also allows you to target your 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 Polocco 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.

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!

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.

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.

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 Teachers Pay Teachers store.

You can also search Pinterest & Teachers Pay Teachers to help find other resources that go with your topic. Both have plenty of free resources.

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

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

How the Happy Hive Implemented a Topic Based Curriculum

We were a 1 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)  My oldest was very into Pirates, and the Magic Tree House books. We 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.

You might not be so inclined to create a curriculum like this on your own, but never fear… Take the first book for example. The topic is Dinosaurs. A quick internet search for dinosaur curriculum and you will be inundated! Over 10 years have passed since I was inventing this stuff on my own. The amount of free resources available is significant.  Go to the local library and check out as many books on the topic as they will let you. Read them, discuss them. The learning from that activity alone is mind boggling each week.

Our next TOPIC based learning isn’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 lead 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.

If you would like to see the Happy Hive 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 beyond paying for toys with their allowance. 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. 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.

Whatever curriculum you decide to use I hope you will consider incorporating some of the easy to use activities we offer! Be sure to check out our Teachers Pay Teachers store as well as Amped Up Learning! Both have our valuable curriculum as well as free printables you can use for everyday learning and holiday learning!

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