August 13, 2014

Back to Homeschool Blog Hop: Day 3~ 7 Steps to Pick a Curriculum

Welcome back to Day 3 of the Back to Homeschool Blog Hop! So far, I've discussed Homeschool Essentials and shared my favorite online resources. Today we are going to get a bit more meaty and discuss one of the hardest aspects of homeschooling---picking a curriculum!

The links on this blog and in the posts may be affiliate links. 

Let's face it. When it comes to having to pick curriculum for homeschool, the choices are endless and can rapidly become overwhelming. And that's if you only have ONE child...much less eight! There is just SOOOOOOOOOO much out there that it's hard to know where to begin. It doesn't matter if you are a newbie getting ready to dive into a brand new homeschooling adventure or if you are a pro who is planning out a new year---finding the right curriculum can be a chore and rather intimidating. 

So where do you start? Is there a way you can keep it from getting overwhelming? An "easy" way out might be to go with a boxed all-in-one curriculum. These eliminate a bis hassle of sorting through subjects...but there are a LOT of boxed curriculum out there too! Trust me. I know. LOL. With the 7 steps I'm going to suggest, you should be able to tackle this curriculum mountain and find just what you need, without too much hair pulling!

Note: These are obviously just guidelines--steps that I have used for my own curriculum adventures. They might not work for you, but from what I've heard in discussions with others, I think they are a basic 7 steps for everyone to follow.

1. Make Lists

In a recent post, I talked about how I am learning the benefits of serious list making. While I don't do it enough (yet!) in my daily life, I am a HUGE list maker when it comes to homeschooling and particularly homeschooling curriculum. I have a notebook (or two!) devoted to all things homeschooling, where I write down my thoughts, ideas, things I want to remember for later, and where I list items of curriculum I want to check out for later. 

I suggest you use something like this from the very beginning of your curriculum search. So what could you list?

*list the kind of things you'd like to do in your homeschooling experience...field trips, experiments, studies. Write them down. This will help you pick curriculum that lets you match those things.

*list the subjects you want to teach in your homeschool...for each child. Not all children will do the same subjects each year. You can list the ones that you want to be done as a group subject.

*make a list of your current curriculum would be surprised at how many moms I hear say "Well I was going through my cabinet and I had totally forgotten I had this curriculum in there!" A list of current inventory will help make sure this doesn't happen!

*make a list of any curriculum or resources you want to check out

*make a list of homeschool curriculum company names you have heard and want to research 

Keep these lists handy because as you continue your curriculum search you will be adjusting this list...a lot!

2. Make a Budget

Before you start your curriculum search you need to know what you are willing to spend. Curriculum is all across the board when it comes to cost, so you need to be prepared and have yourself a homeschool budget to work inside of. Every year I ask my husband what my budget is and I make sure that I keep it all within those boundaries. There is always curriculum I'd love to try out and use, but I don't have a budget to make it happen. 

As part of your budget, make sure you include the cost of supplies, books, apps for iPads or Kindles...these little expenses can add up quickly. Another thing to consider is whether or not you will be using materials for more than one student--do you have a budget per student? Or just as a family? 

Are you willing to search out free product online and print it off for your use? If you are going to need to print things, make sure you include the cost of ink and paper. 

With a budget laid out, this will help you move on to the next step.

3. Get Product Catalogs

Let me tell you. I have an addiction to curriculum catalogs. You should have seen me at the 2013 homeschool convention. If a booth had a catalog, I snagged it. By the time I was done my wheeled bag weighed a crazy poundage and I had a stack of catalogs at LEAST 12" high. I am a physical book kind of person, so I like having actual catalogs that I can thumb through and mark up. Some of them (like Sonlight) are more of a wishbook, but I still love looking through them.
My current catalog stash...
Once you have your lists of what you are looking for, and you have your budget so you can start writing down prices, catalogs will be your best friend! Most companies have them to mail out (visit their websites to request one) and those who don't usually have a pdf version for you to look through. Once you get the catalogs, sit down with a highlighter and a pen and just start going through them and marking or taking notes on what looks interesting. Use your lists to help you and take note of the pricing for budget purposes!

4. Take Advantage of Reviews

Now that you've had chance to look around at product and you've got a nice list of possibilities, it's time to take advantage of reviews. Most companies send product out to be tried and tested by homeschooling families. I am on a curriculum review team that does just that! We are sent products and curriculum from major and minor players in the homeschool world and we use them in our homes with our families for 6-8 weeks and then write about them. I have a Curriculum and Product Review page on my blog where I add any reviews that I do. Feel free to check it out!

Where can you find reviews?
* Schoolhouse Review Crew
A division of The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, this team reviews products from companies great and small in the curriculum world. This allows you to see what this curriculum looks like in action and to find out what homeshcool families think are the pros and cons. This will save YOU time and money in the long run having someone else checking it out for you!

*Cathy Duffy
If you are looking for a great way to sort through a lot of the top curriculum in book form, make sure you check out this book by Cathy Duffy. Ms. Duffy does the hard work for you and narrows down the list of curriculum out there to just 101 choices. She also guides you in how to determine whether or not her picks will even work for you. I own this book and I love it.

Ms. Duffy also has a website full of the same information plus new reviews on other products far beyond the 101 products she mentions in this book. I love getting emails notifying me of any of new reviews she's done.

Homeschool magazines are another great place to see reviews on products.

Most of them review at least 1 product per issue. Some have special issues devoted to curriculum--like the 2014 Annual Print Edition from The Old Schoolhouse Magazine. In this issue they have their curriculum award list which lists the top two winners in all the curriculum categories. This is a great thing to consider as these were all voted on by the readers--who have been using the product!

Word of mouth. You will get some of the best reviews from your friends who have used the curriculum. Once you have made your list and narrowed it down, ask your friends if any of them has used any of the curriculum you are interested in. You might be surprised at the quantity of material that has been used and some might even offer to let you borrow it---freeing up your budget for something else! I ask a LOT of questions about curriculum choices to my friends before I ever reach my final decision. I trust them to give me a good idea on how it all works and the pros/cons of everything. 

I have mentioned Pinterest three days in a row now...but I did say it was an essential, remember? When it comes to reviews...use Pinterest! If you type in keywords like "Moving beyond the page review" you are going to get links to actual reviews. So save yourself time searching on Google...use Pinterest instead.

5. Ask your Children

Now I know that you aren't going to be inclined to ask your toddlers whether or not they will like a curriculum, but once your child is older--I highly recommend asking your child for their imput on the curriculum. It is going to be THEIR curriculum. Show them your lists and let them add their own ideas. 
This year I let my son guide our choice for math as he told me (upon being asked) what math he preferred and why. The same thing with our Science. I let him flip through the Apologia catalog and decide which science book he'd like to use this year. He was excited to be involved and really thought about it hard before making his decision. He is looking forward to getting started this year because he had a hand in making some of the decisions.

I will note that he didn't get to choose everything. Sometimes you have to choose for them on subjects they aren't interested in doing. But if you let them be a part in other ways, this won't be a problem.

6. Meditate and Pray

Once you've reached this point, you should have a good idea about what you are going to be doing...but before you make the final move and purchase, take time to meditate on it. Let it sit and simmer for awhile. As a Christian, I highly recommend praying about it. I will pray before I start looking for curriculum and then I typically pray the night before I make purchases. I especially will pray if I'm stuck on curriculum. I will ask God to make it clear to me what I need to do. God is a major part of our homeschooling and we believe He gets a "say" in it too. 

There have been days where after time for meditation and prayer I just throw a curriculum out. And it's always been a good choice in the long run! So make sure you take time to think and listen to God about the curriculum you are choosing.

7. Take a deep breath and go!

It is so hard to push that "process order" button. I'm always second guessing myself. What if he doesn't like this program? Am I really brave enough to teach this? What if it doesn't work for us? I've learned to just take a deep breath and go. 

I've discovered that some of my curriculum choices ARE going to be flops. But that's okay. I can shelve them to try with another child or I can sell it to someone else looking for curriculum. That's the thing about can't completely predict the outcome. So you just have to take a deep breath and go for it.

Once you've started buying curriculum, it will get easier...sometimes. LOL! There is always that moment before pushing the "process order" button that never seems to go away for me. But it's getting easier.
I hope that these seven steps will help you realize that picking a curriculum isn't so scary. If you remember at the very least to make lots of lists and take advantage of catalogs, you will find the process much easier. Good luck with your curriculum planning---once you successfully get that out of the way, it's going to be time for the next thing homeschool moms dread...Lesson Planning! I am going to talk about that tomorrow, so make sure you check back in!
Back to Homeschool Blog Hop
There are 50+ bloggers more bloggers in this blog hop---here are a few to to get you started! I've seen some of what is being blogged about and it's going to be a great week!

Marcy @ Ben and Me
Jacquelin @ A Stable Beginning
And don't forget about the INCREDIBLE (and I do mean that in every sense of the word) giveaway that is going on this week--there are two HUGE prizes that are sure to bless two homeschool families for the new school year. You can get the details about the giveaway--and get entered to win here:
Back to Homeschool Giveaway

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Gena at said...

What a helpful list! I do all these!

Rebekah Teague said...

Love the Lists! Your advice for just doing it is priceless. It took me a while to come to terms with that I could make mistakes with curriculum and it wouldn't be the end of the world :<)

Marcy Crabtree said...

5 and 6 are my favorites :)