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5 Questions to Ask When You’re Curriculum Shopping

Five important questions to ask yourself when you’re shopping for curriculum. Advice from a former homeschool curriculum burnout.

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I’ve always been a paperwork DIY sorta girl. When I was teaching public school I would scoff at spending my precious $120 annual allowance on something I could make myself for $6. Give me construction paper, a glue stick, markers and a laminator, and I can create anything. When we started homeschooling, I was the same way.

When I put together my kindergarten materials I looked for curriculum for a few subjects, but I wanted to create the rest myself. My vision was a child-led homeschool, and I didn’t mind scouring Pinterest for creative ideas about art, music, and science – or coming up with my own.

I found some pitfalls, though. Creating my own curriculum was very time consuming (expected), we missed a lot of subjects because my son just wasn’t all that interested (not expected), and I found that it was hard for me to follow through with creating units and lessons – especially toward the end of the year when I felt like I was just D-O-N-E (completely unexpected).

I burnt out.

Homeschool Meme Curriculum Aint Nobody Got Time For That

After a humbling end of kindergarten, I realized that I need to give myself a break. As a work-at-home, homeschool mom of three, I just don’t have time to do-it-all and make-it-all. However, as much as I’d like to have the huge, fun box delivered right to my door, I know this opposite (and expensive) extreme won’t work for us, either. I cannot find a single program customizable enough that will allow for the flexibility in levels and interest-led studies that my son needs.

So I went shopping.

Choosing curriculum is even more fun than shopping for purses. I swear. I am over the moon about our choices. I want to share a few tips with you so you can be as excited about your new materials as I am. The following questions are what I ask myself when I’m looking at a program. They’re in no particular order. Each carries weight in my decision. I hope these questions help guide you to the very best choices for your homeschool!


5 Questions to Ask When You’re Curriculum Shopping

What topics excite my child?

Creating a child-led homeschool is a priority, but we are talking about picking curriculum. How can I have both?

Each summer since preschool, my son and I have sat down and made a list of all the things he wants to learn in the upcoming year. This is not the end-all, be-all of lists. His interests shift over the course of a year as he discovers new ideas and we follow rabbit trails away from our main topics.

Simply asking what he’d like to learn gives me a sense of direction.

No matter how well I think I know this child, no matter how involved with homeschool I am, no matter how much time we spend together (24/7), every year he surprises me with his answers. I really encourage you to just ASK. Ask your child what he wants to learn. What is he excited about?

Ideas for first grade homeschool curriculum

Ancient History was one of his ideas. I’ll admit, I planted that seed last year when we were studying Greece. It stuck. I’m so pleased it did because I can feel confident sticking with our Language Arts curriculum, Build Your Library. This program works for us because it addresses his interests and my need for flexible, secular materials.

Read our Build Your Library Kindergarten Curriculum review here

What am I excited to teach?

The biggest carry over from public school teaching to homeschool: It’s all about how you spin it. You can make anything interesting if you are excited about teaching it. Your enthusiasm is contagious!

What do YOU want to teach this year? What is something YOU are passionate about?

I am so excited to really get into writing this year. I love to write – journaling just about everything and, ahem, I’ve made it my job. Last year we had so many challenges just with the physical mechanics of writing. We spent a good portion of the year just working on letter formation rather than writing words and sentences.

Then I was introduced to Brave Writer. The BW philosophy distinguishes between writing and handwriting. It takes away the pressure to get your child physically writing early on – which was difficult for us but also a real struggle for many of the first and second graders I taught in the past.

I’ve been slowly getting into Brave Writer throughout kindergarten. The approach is gentle. I’ll be honest, you could cobble together your own Brave Writer curriculum – implementing material from the blog, podcasts, and free resources from the website. However, I just don’t have the time or patience for that this year!

I’m excited to start Jot It Down for first grade. I am excited.  Me. I’m excited for poetry tea times and writing projects. I’m excited to start implementing the strategies that Julie from Brave Writer teaches. There are other reasons I love this program. It is flexible, secular, and the projects will also align with my son’s interests. But above all, I didn’t want to miss out on this one.

Download free samples and check out all of Brave Writer’s programs here.

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What is working?

There has been plenty of time to reflect on our homeschool year this summer. It’s one of the reasons I like to take a break. Well, that and to shake off the feeling of burnout… I’ve thought a lot about what worked and what flopped in kindergarten – for him and for me.

If you can’t really pin point what worked for you, start with what did not work. Were there times that you felt stuck? Activities that you swore you would never do again? If you keep your plans on paper or digitally, look back through them. What were the best parts of last year? What do you want to repeat? What would you eliminate if you could?

Unit studies work for us. They work for my son; he likes to dig deep into a topic. I spent kindergarten creating our own units directed by my son’s interests, but this year – ain’t nobody got time for that.

Enter Online Unit Studies by Techie Homeschool Mom. I am so happy to have found this wealth of resources. We are starting with Famous Artists, Volume 1 and adding throughout the year. These units are online units, which will be fantastic for my son. He loves using the computer, and I’ve been using all sorts of media resources to supplement our lessons – something else that is working!

5 free lessons for you to try out here.

How will this fit into our schedule?

Homeschool moms are busy moms. It’s a full time job. Plus many of us throw in more kids who have to be clothed and fed… every day, and some of us have a job on top of our main homeschool gig.

How are you going to fit in instruction for every subject? Do you need short lessons to teach each day? Do you prefer longer units interspersed throughout the year? What’s a good balance of independent and guided work? How much media or computer time do you want to integrate into your daily routines, if any? How much instruction do you want to outsource?

If my energy was unlimited I would continue making custom units for every subject. It is not unlimited. I realized that too late last year. Around mid-year I reflected on our homeschool adventures; we were chugging along splendidly. The following is an excerpt from December:

“Last week I asked him a few questions about how he felt kindergarten was going…

What do you want to do more of? Everything. What do you want to do less of? Nothing. Do you like it when we learn together at home? Yes, let’s do more of that. Do you like taking classes with other kids? Yes, let’s do more of that. …and on it went.

In his own true style, he just wants MORE. More activities. More math. More reading. More science. More geography. More art. More field trips. The kid has an insatiable urge to learn.

Insatiable urge to learn. At the time I was so pleased. Come March I’d had it. Fast forward to our conversation about what he wants to learn in 1st grade. He tells me he wants to learn 12 languages and how to play the violin… I nodded and smiled. Inside I felt exhausted. At times homeschool is straight up exhausting. I knew I needed to find something to relieve the pressure to create and teach yet another subject.

I’m not sure if he even knows what a violin is, but let’s start there.

Remember, your initial list is a jumping off point. Take what your child’s interestes and turn them into something that will fit into your school and life.

I found this great little program, SQUILT. It stands for Super Quiet Uninterrupted Listening Time. Sounds amazing already, right? Can I take this class? Their course Meet the Instruments offers cards, media, games, and activities that can be explored over time or all at once. It’s flexible. It’s secular. It’s exactly what I need to introduce him to instruments before I invest eleventy thousand dollars into a violin, piano, drum, and flute lessons and instruments – because that’s just the kind of kid I have. If this music study catches his attention, SQUILT Music offers units by composer, era, and holiday lessons, too. It’s enough for us to dig into but not too much that I feel pressure to fit one more thing in.

Download a sample lesson here.

What is my budget?

Perhaps this should have been my top question. For many of us, budget is the determining factor for what we can and can’t purchase. For others it is more important to balance time and money. Either way, you are spending something. The curricula I’ve chosen and shared above are reasonably priced, solid materials created by homeschoolers who also provide guidance, advice, and free downloads for parents on their websites.

I cannot stress it enough: If you are on a budget, use your library as as your main resource. I bought too many books last year. I bought a year of math curriculum and only used the first half – grudgingly at that. This year, I am making more purposeful purchases and using our library to try out the rest.

The languages, for example. My son is very serious about learning another language – all 12 of them! This week we found excellent resources at our library in a variety of languages. Enough that we can try out as many as we’d like this year before he has to choose one. Even then, we will likely be flush with material for years.

How does a six-year-old child become interested in 12 languages? I have no clue. I’d never even heard of some of them…

If your child is interested in learning a foreign language, check out your library’s children’s foreign language section and your cd or dvd kits for titles like Muzzy, the For Children series, and Rosetta Stone.

Ask your librarian about other free resources and curricula offered at the library:
Printables or copy-friendly activity books
Learn-to-Read programs like Hooked on Phonics and Bob Books
Math Literature and Activity Books
and activities by subject by Janice VanCleave

I hope these questions help you find the perfect curriculum for your family. What are you using this year? Comment below or join the discussion on Facebook. Be sure to follow all of our adventures through first grade and beyond on Instagram. Happy shopping!
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