A great homeschooling curriculum can take any shape, size, look or feel. Everybody’s creative and has their own ideas, including curriculum designers. All sorts of new stuff is always coming out, and that’s pretty darn cool. Yay for innovation!!
BUT. Every educational curriculum should have several key features or it doesn't work well. That’s my professional opinion. I’ve been teaching since 1996, so I may know a thing or two.
I’m going to tell you what I look for when I review a curriculum.
You should look for the same things when you shop for your homeschool. Whether it’s in the form of a textbook, workbook, online class, or live group class, a curriculum should have these features.
First, a Guarantee
A homeschooling curriculum must have a money back guarantee or give you an opportunity to sample the course. Preferably both.
You never know how you and your kids are going to like it until you actually give it a test run, even if your best friend swears by it. I’d be suspicious if it didn’t!
Check How the Lessons Are Written
Say you’ve got your new homeschool curriculum in the mail or you’ve registered for an online program. What do you look for inside?
Learning goals. What should kids know and be able to do by the time they’re done with a lesson? These should be written clearly at the beginning of each lesson or unit.
Step-by-step lesson directions written at your kids’ grade level language. These should be as clear and simple as assembly directions for an IKEA cabinet. (IKEA gives great assembly directions, if you aren't familiar.)
Rubrics or scoring tools. You need direction on how to grade or assess your kids finished work. There’s lots of subjects with no clear right or wrong answer. The curriculum should guide you.
Samples of finished assignments or projects. If a homeschooling curriculum has some of these, that’s a good sign. Visual samples are fantastic. They give kids a point of reference and ideas on how to get started. Some curriculum will give several samples that show outstanding work, above average work, and below average work. This way kids get a visual on what to go for and what to avoid. That’s even better!
A quick note about online programs. For every online program, the layout of their online system will look and feel different. Don’t let that throw you. Give yourself a little time to orient yourself with their online classroom layout.
Do the Curriculum Writers Have Practical Teaching or Homeschooling Experience?
Beware of accomplished “educators” who haven’t homeschooled or worked as classroom teachers. These folks tend to write like college professors. They use language and instructions that are abstract and opaque. Often, it hasn’t been tested out on kids in a live setting either.
It’s going to be a ton of work for you to rewrite each lesson in a way that your kids will be able to understand it.
Back when I taught history in public school, a new county history head rewrote all the 7th grade curriculum. Marty was smart and super nice, and he didn’t have any classroom teaching experience at all. He was a young man who got hired for his smarts straight out of grad school.
Half the time the directions and objectives for his lessons were so hard to follow that neither I nor my kids could figure out how to do the lesson. In the end, I’d throw his curriculum binder over my shoulder and do my own thing.
Is There a Help Line or Somebody You Can Call When You Have a Question?
Is there someone familiar with the curriculum that you can call and ask for help? At some point you’ll get stuck, especially if you’re teaching your kids a subject that’s not your favorite.
I don’t think a lot of homeschooling curricula have this feature, but the ones that do are a blessing!
And When You’re Looking at Online Classes, a Few More Things to Consider
Will your kids interact with a human? There should always be a human teacher on the other end of the online classroom interface. Even foreign language applications like Duolingo should only be a supplement to a course taught by a real human being.
How the content delivery system works. In a traditional setting, kids have a textbook or workbook. Online, the curriculum content might be delivered in a variety of ways. You might see pre-recorded videos, written text, live online meetings with an instructor, you name it. That kind of variety can all be super fun for your kids, but it could get confusing for them too. Sample the content delivery system and make sure you're comfortable with it.
Well, that’s about it for now. Do you have any questions about curriculum you’re interested in?
Post a comment and tell me all about it!