How to Choose a Homeschool Curriculum
Let’s be honest, no one could have anticipated the direction 2020 would take. Suddenly, overnight, parents found themselves home all day with kids suddenly “distance learning”. For some, it was a dream come true, for some a nightmare, and for some, just a minor glitch. More families than ever are looking into homeschooling, so I have put this post together on how to choose a homeschool curriculum that will work with your family.
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What Type of Homeschooler Are You?
Before you can sit down and choose the right curriculum for your kids, you need to decide how you want to homeschool and how much time you want to spend. I’m going to go over the basic options before delving into how to choose the right curriculum.
When choosing a homeschool curriculum, take into consideration how many children you have, their ages, their learning styles, how much time you have to teach and correct work, and your personality type. If you are high-strung, Type A, project-based learning probably isn’t going to work for you. If you are like me, scatterbrained and creative, a traditional school-at-home approach may not be a good fit either.
A Quick Review of Types of Homeschooling
A quick review to help you choose a homeschool curriculum that fits your family and lifestyle.
Online Learning and Distance Learning is best for parents who want their kids to work as independently as possible.
This is essentially a traditional school done online. In most cases, kids will watch videos and do their work online. Teachers (or a computer program) grades the work. A good option for working parents, but you will need to have a good internet connection and devices for your kids. There are both free and paid options for this type of learning.
With this option, you choose an all-in-one curriculum that has books and plans for each subject. Your child will read a text or watch a video, then complete the work through textbooks and workbooks. This is a good option for parents who are nervous about homeschooling and don’t feel able to strike out on their own.
Parent Partnership Programs
This is when you partner, in some way, with your school district. This will vary so much from state to state and district to district that I am not going to go into details here. We have been involved with these in the past. You can read about it in my post How Do You Afford to Homeschool a Large Family?
This type of homeschooling is when you pick and choose books and curriculums from a variety of sources and put together your own learning program.
FREE Online and Distance Learning Curriculums
Here is a summary of some of the most popular online and distance learning curriculums.
This curriculum not only has everything laid out for you but is completely free! It covers every topic you can imagine. One of the best features of Easy Peasy is you can choose a topic or track and have all of your children studying it at different levels. This program is faith-based, but since you are choosing your classes and tracks, you could easily alter that to fit yoru family.
Two reviews from families who have used Easy-Peasy:
“I love the completeness of it, how easily it is all laid out and how easy it is to pick and choose one subject or multiple subjects. The independent aspect was also an asset. However, it was a challenge to grade/keep grades. Only used for 1 year of high school.”
“Easy Peasy a great All in One Curriculum. It can be used online for free or buy the extremely reasonably priced workbooks to go offline. Great for use with multiple children. It only takes 2-3 hours to complete a day. It is a great all-around program and the first and only all-inclusive curriculum I have found. Also, be aware that it is an advanced curriculum so be sure to take placements tests. “
Pros: Free, online, daily-lessons plans
Cons: Much of the child’s time will be spent online.
Khan Academy is a totally free educational resource that was founded in 2008 with the goal to offer a free, quality, education to anyone, anywhere. Khan Academy has been working hard during the school closures to make it as simple as possible for parents and kids to dive into the world of home education. They have a daily schedule as well as parent and teacher resources. Khan Academy has also put together a step-by-step guide for homeschooling with Khan Academy.
Khan Academy is what Hezekiah and Tucker have been using to homeschool this year.
Pros: Free, kids can do the work on their own, program tracks grades and records work for you.
Cons: All work is done online. You will need to do a bit of planning (choosing classes and assigning them).
Two families who have used Khan Academy said this:
” Khan Academy has been great for me to re-learn material, and new material, before my high schoolers, get to it. Step by step explanations. “
“When my kids were taking classes at BTC (technical school), their math instructor had them using Kahn Academy much of the time. It was nice that they had already been using it for higher-level math and were familiar with the structure. They all made honor roll grades at BTC.”
K-12– Online public school
“K12, founded in 1999, is the nation’s largest full-time virtual school, providing online curricula and other educational services for students in pre-kindergarten through high school” –from Washington Post
Pros: Can combine online and in-person learning. K-5 only does 20-30% of work online. State-certified teachers. Follows state guidelines, follows state school year, diploma issued on graduation.
Cons: It is public school, so can be inflexible.
One family who has used K-12 said this:
“K-12 is barely homeschooling. Everything is done by a virtual teacher and the parents only supervise. It should be considered a virtual school instead of homeschooling. It was nice that everything was given to us for free, but because of the incredible time requirements coupled with the lack of control, we quickly dropped out. It might be good for a parent who lacks confidence in their ability to homeschool.“
How to Choose a Homeschool Curriculum: PAID Online Learning Programs
Elephant Learning ages 2-16 This is a math-only program that I have used with both Avi and Apollo. Elephant Learning guarantees “your child will learn at least 1 year of math in 3 months when they use our system 30 minutes per week”.
Cost: $35 per month
Pros: Fun, engaging, guaranteed improvement
Cons: Math only, all online
ABC Mouse Early Learning Academy
Game based learning for kids ages 2-8
Cost: $59.99 per year
Pros: Fun, easy to use on an ipad or tablet
Cons: All computer based
Game-based learning for ages 8-13. Adventure Academy includes math, reading, science, social studies, and more. Full of fun games and videos.
Cost $59.99 per year
Pros: Fun, game-based, engaging, covers a variety of subjects
Cons: All online, not a full currilulum, best used as a supplement
Monarch Homeschool Curriculum*
Monarch is a faith-based curriculum for grades 3rd- 12th grade
Price: $359.96 for an individual or $629.96 for family access.
Pros: All online, no need to download software or install on the computer. Automatic grading.
Cons: Very little flexibility, a significant amount of time spent on the computer, even in lower grades.
*Monarch contains the same information as Switched-on-Schoolhouse, LifePac, and Horizions. Only the delivery method and price are different.
Abeka is a faith-based curriculum available for grades Prek- 12th grade.
Price: Pre-K $350 up to 12th grade which costs $1219.00
Pros: Online or DVD options, full schedule laid out for you, full curriculum, provide official transcripts.
Cons: Expensive, very little flexibility
This is a fully accredited, private online school for students in kindergarten through 12th grade.
Price: Starts at $625 for K up to $2300 for project-based curriculum. High school ranges from $1,100- $1,700. Or up to $13,000 for gifted/talented program.
Pros: Offers project-based learning in elementary school. Offers gifted/talented resources. Students can access lessons at any time.
Cons: This is literally the most expensive online option I’ve found…and the reviews I have found (see below) are not good.
All-in-One Traditional “School at Home” Style Learning
These programs are school-at-home type curriculums. Your child sits at a desk and works their way through textbooks, or perhaps a computer time. Occasional writing, art, or other projects are thrown in, but this is closest to public schools.
Calvert Education is a secular all-in-one traditional teaching program. It offers programs for grades K-12.
Price: Online curriculum plan starts at $399.95, Print curriculum for grades K-2 start at $159.95 up to $399.95.
Pros: Free 30-day trial. Fully laid out curriculum plans. Accredited school, which means a diploma can be earned through Calvert.
Cons: Much of your child’s time will be spent on the computer.
“My mom used Calvert with me. They just called it “correspondence school” then if I remember correctly. Of course that was a few years ago (slightly after the end of the last ice age).” – My dad…just for reference he was born in 1949!
SOS is a faith-based all-in-one homeschooling curriculum that is done on the computer. We used this the year we took Apollo to Texas for heart surgery. I knew I needed something that was totally contained that the kids could do on their own. This certainly isn’t my favorite way of homeschooling but it worked for us during a very challenging time in our family.
Here is one mom’s view, and I definitely agree with her.
“There was some modification available and content was typical of “public school at home” style of learning, with Christian aspect woven in. In the end, it caused more gaps in education (fractions on a computer?! Ick!) and frustration on everyone’s part. The bonus was them learning to pace their schoolwork and see what was needed to be completed each day. A lot was graded automatically and I only needed to grade essays or paragraphs. Overall… if this is your preferred style of learning or fits your specific family’s needs, its a solid program. Personally, our preference is much more hands-on and reading living books together.”
– A faith-based curriculum that can be purchased as an entire curriculum or subject-by-subject. We used this a time or two just for math.
Pros: Lessons and lesson plans laid out. Time is not spent on the computer. Children can work at their own pace. Small booklets often offer a feeling of progress as they are finished.
Cons: Parents need to grade work. Very “in-the-box” read and regurgitate type learning.
Here are what two moms who used LifPacs had to say:
“My husband used it exclusively growing up. It left him with many holes in his education and he struggled in college because of it. I would never recommend it to anyone.”
“Great for open and go. Just know the answers are all found in the readings, verbatim. So if kids pick up on that, they may not actually have done the readings, and just answer questions to be done.“
We used this for a short time after our children first came home from Liberia. I am not a fan of this type of learning, but our children had been using ACE Paces in Liberia, so they were able to pick up right where they left off.
Price: Starts at $390 for first grade
Pros: Kids work independently through a series of booklets
Cons: This is simply a method of kids reading/learning/regurgitating material. It does not teach kids to think criticially. It is overpriced for what you get.
Abeka is a faith-based complete homeschool curriculum that covers all subects. Abeka has both online and traditional textbook options.
Price: First grade starts around $300 and 12th grades starts at $586
Pros: Covers all subjects.
Cons: Can be time-consuming with textbooks (parents teach and grade) or much of the time is spent online.
Here are two moms perspectives:
“My mom used Abeka with me probably 20+ years ago and I have nothing but positive memories of it. I love that it is still around!”
A Beka Academy is what we used for 10 years. It consumed us. Took 8 hours or so for our high schoolers to finish every day. And the paperwork I needed to grade for 5 children was over 50 pages a day. I was scared to leave, though. Finally, we just couldn’t afford it and switched away. It was good we switched in the long run, although I was scared of teaching 5 grades at first ( we have 7 grades now).
Price: Preschool is going to run you around $300 and upper grades run about $90 per subject.
Pros: This has the same faith-based curriculum as Monarch and SOS but it is done with textbooks and workbooks.
Cons: You also need teacher’s books, you will be grading your children’s work. Time-consuming for both parent and child.
Hands-On, Project-Based Learning
This is hands-down, my favorite way of homeschooling. This way of learning is also sometimes called child-led learning. In our homeschool, we would choose a topic we were interested in and dive deep. We might spend a week, a month, or a year, chasing every rabbit trail that comes our way, until we’re ready to move on to something new.
Some people are intimidated by this style of homeschooling. It can feel a bit like a leap of faith. As long as you have a solid math curriculum and your kids can read will, this style of learning can be incredibly freeing.
Price: however much you want to spend
Pros: Follow your kids dreams, no limit to what you learn, completely flexible
Cons: Can be time-consuming for parents. Parents will need to gather resources for kids.
I will be writing a follow-up post to this soon. But I can’t resist sharing a few resources with you now.
My Favorite Hands-on, Project-Based Learning Resources
Timberdoodle– a family-run business here in Washington. We have been ordering from them since 1999!
Supercharged Science– Real, hands-on science taught by a former NASA rocket scientist! She is a homeschool mom and you won’t be disappointed in her classes. We used this program for years.
Guest Hollow– Yes, their website is old and dated looking, but don’t let that scare you off. I bought their High School Chemistry in the Kitchen curriculum to use with Hezekiah and Tucker and we loved it. Their site is full of great courses.
Teachers Pay Teachers You probably already know I have a store on Teachers Pay Teachers, but what you might not know is that TPT is also full of free resources. In fact, every seller has to upload a free product before selling. All you need to do is search free and you will find hundreds, if not thousands, of great resources.
But What if I Miss Something?
Guess what? You will miss stuff, but so will your teachers if your kids go to school. It is easy enough to look up your state standards or Common Core standards if you are worried about it.
How Will My Child Earn a High School Diploma?
This was honestly my biggest concern as my children grew older. I knew I didn’t want them to have a homeschool diploma that I made myself. As it turned out, our children have begun at Running Start in 11th grade and recieved both their high school diploma and AA degree through there.
Some of the accredited schools mentioned above offer high school diplmoas. The down side to that is, you need to be enrolled for several years (or all of high school) which is a significant financial commitment.
What About College?
I will keep is short and say, my two sons who applied to Central Washington University were both accepted with no issues. Judah graduated magna cum laud at age 19 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice and a minor in Spanish.
Enoch, my son who refused to homeschool, just graduated, at age 20, in the 1% of graduates from the business school at CWU. He earned a Bachelor of Science in Business with a focus on Leadership.
So, no, getting into college has not been an issue.