Homeschool Planning 101: 9 Ways to Find Homeschool Curriculum
This is the 5th post in my Homeschool Planning 101 series. If this is your first time here, feel free to start at the beginning and read the previous posts:
- 5 Reasons to Plan Your School Year in Advance
- Values – Setting a Strong Foundation
- Methods – Finding Your Way
- Goals – Setting Your Path
Once you’ve set your goals for the year and know what subjects you’ll focus on, it’s time to pick curriculum. Here are 9 ways to find and choose curriculum. This list has been slightly revised from its original format as it appeared in my book Blueprint Homeschooling: How to Plan a Year of Home Education That Fits the Reality of Your Life.
Best places to find homeschool curriculum
If you aren’t using a boxed or pre-planned curriculum, you’ll need to find the supplies you need. Here are my favorite ways to get curriculum, starting with my all-time favorite:
1. Visit a used curriculum sale hosted by a local homeschool group.
I was lucky when I first started homeschooling. A local friend served as my mentor for the first few years, giving me her used curricula and talking me through the myriad of emotions that go along with the decision to homeschool. She also took me to my first used curriculum sale. Before that point, I had only heard rumors of the many types of curricula available. At that sale, I was able to look at many different types of curricula and talk to veteran homeschool parents about what they liked and disliked about them. I fondly call those sales “Curriculum Petting Zoos” and usually come home with a huge box full of adopted curriculum from them.
If you are a veteran homeschool parent, I encourage you to invite a new homeschooler to your favorite used curriculum sale. If you don’t know of any sales, ask around the local homeschool groups, or consider organizing your own. They’re a great way to get homeschoolers together to share ideas and resources, not to mention a great way to earn some cash on supplies you won’t need anymore.
2. Ask a local homeschool group.
If you have park days or field trips, ask the other homeschoolers there what they use. I’ve had many different conversations at local co-op events about curricula, usually started by someone saying, “I need to teach ______. What do you use?” You’ll probably hear half a dozen different suggestions and methods, but you might find something you’ll want to learn more about. Depending on how much you want to know, or what other people have, you might be able to borrow or look at particular curricula you’re interested in.
3. Visit a homeschool convention.
If you want to get an idea of what is available and meet some of the people behind certain curriculum types, spend a day or two at one of the homeschool conventions in your state. It might require a bit of travel, but if you go with other homeschool friends, you can share the expense (as well as the fun).
At a convention, you’ll be able to see setups from and purchase many of the items from the different catalog companies as well as curriculum writers and providers. You can look through all the different types of curricula and browse the books and games and puzzles and manipulatives available. The only difference between this and a used curriculum sale is the price. Buying new at a convention might not fit your budget, but if it does, this is a great way to get what you want.
4. Ask online.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of online groups and forums devoted to homeschooling. Every year during the fall, there are posts by new homeschoolers asking about curricula and how to teach different subjects. Join one of those forums, read the posts made by others, and see what kinds of things you might want to use. I’ve belonged to several different forums and Facebook groups over the years. Before finding a great local homeschool community, the online forums served as a lifeline to me and helped me connect to other homeschoolers going through the same things I was.
One of the benefits of asking in an online forum is that you can have a conversation about what you want, and others can make recommendations and compare and contrast their experiences. You can also ask more questions about anything that is mentioned. Often, parents who help with curriculum choices will list everything they use for a certain year to give you an idea of their style. This can be hugely beneficial if you’re just starting out and have no idea where to begin looking. You might ask about math curricula and end up with a long list of recommendations for every other subject under the sun, too.
You can often find curricula resale groups that are connected to online groups and forums, too. Take advantage of the significant discounts you can get by buying your curricula used.
5. Read Cathy Duffy’s 102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum.
Cathy Duffy has been reviewing homeschool curricula for thirty years. One of the things I like about her book, especially for new homeschoolers, is that she asks questions about your teaching and learning preferences and then recommends resources categorically for the different educational philosophies. Her book includes only her top recommendations for resources, so you won’t get any extras here, and often the best curricula can be the most expensive.
If you want an idea about everything that’s available, the website at cathyduffyreviews.com has links to reviews for almost any imaginable resource. It’s not listed by teaching or learning style, unfortunately, but it is still nice if you want to look for more information about anything that is recommended to you.
6. Read catalogs.
I may be a little abnormal, but I go crazy for homeschool and teacher catalogs. Sometime in July, I start getting stacks of catalogs in my mailbox from different providers. The Rainbow Resource catalog is by far my favorite. Even though they cut it in half this year, it’s still the size of a large phone book. I lug that thing to the park and the beach every summer and highlight things I want to look into or purchase. When I need games and manipulatives, I look at the catalog from Timberdoodle first, and most of my science supplies come from Home Science Tools. When I’m looking for good literature for upcoming studies, I like to browse the Sonlight catalog, or the catalogs from Veritas Press, Beautiful Feet Books, or Classical Conversations. There are many catalogs available, and they often contain good information about and reviews of each product.
Some of my favorite teacher catalogs are those from Evan-Moor and Learning Resources. I can get a lot of ideas from those catalogs, and often use resources from curriculum providers like Evan-Moor and Scholastic during my school years. The only difference between homeschool catalogs and teaching catalogs is that the homeschool catalogs usually cater to the particular needs of homeschoolers rather than to the needs of a teacher in a large classroom setting. Teaching catalogs often contain products for classroom management and decoration that I have no use for. The curriculum is often written for classroom settings and large groups as well, and may need to be adapted if you’re using it for only one or two children.
Looking through catalogs can be a great way to familiarize yourself with the many options available and help you narrow down your own choices.
7. Run a Google search.
I love the Internet. I am so glad I live in the current day and age, when everything I ever wanted to know (and didn’t want to know) is available with a few keystrokes.
When in doubt, Google it. This should probably be much higher on this list, except that I find great value in the experiences of others when it comes to curriculum. If you don’t have a local group to chat with, or you’re just not finding what you want, run a Google search.
If you aren’t a confident Internet researcher, let me give you a few tips. First of all, make sure you use several different search terms together to narrow down your results. You don’t want to do a search for “spelling” or you’ll get too many results that have nothing to do with what you’re looking for. I recommend adding the word “homeschool” to anything you search for, and possibly the word “curriculum” for good measure. Running a search for “homeschool spelling curriculum” will get you several review sites, as well as a few spelling curricula providers, like All About Spelling and Sequential Spelling.
Depending on your preferences, you might want to try some different search terms when searching for science curricula. Science can be a polarizing subject. Depending on where you are on the spectrum of origins, you’ll have to be clever to find what you need for science. If you want creation-based science, you can use search terms like “faith-based,” “creation,” or “Christian” to narrow down your choices. If you want evolutionary science in particular, you can add terms like “secular” or “non-Christian.” It seems to me that many of the curricula written for homeschool science tend to be overtly Christian and creation-based, but you might have the opposite impression. Either way, I find that curriculum writers spend a lot of energy trying to prove or disprove a side rather than devoting themselves to the type of science projects an elementary-grade child might be interested in. If you’re looking for a curriculum that doesn’t have a dog in the fight either way, you’ll need to do some serious hunting. My best bet has been to find one or two book publishers I know and like and purchase most of my products from them.
8. Visit a local teachers’ supply store.
Depending on your needs as a homeschool parent, you might be able to find many of the things you need at your local teachers’ supply store. I get many great ideas by wandering around and looking at the items in those stores, and it also gives me a renewed sense of gratitude that I don’t have to teach in a large classroom full of kids.
Teachers’ supply stores will have all of your traditional subjects from the publishers that teachers use in schools. Evan-Moor and Scholastic will be a common sight. I use and enjoy many different books by Evan-Moor and Scholastic, so that’s not a bad thing. However, if you’re looking for Apologia Science or Sequential Spelling or the Life of Fred series, you’re most likely going to strike out here.
9. Build your own.
If you’re like me, and you have a particular idea about how you want to teach a particular subject, you might do all of the above things and still not find what you’re looking for. Or maybe you found something you like but it’s too far out of your price range. In that case, it might be time to branch out and do it yourself.
In Blueprint Homeschooling, I devote a large section to giving you a step-by-step guide to creating your own curriculum for subjects such as history and science. I recently built my own 36-week plan for teaching world history in the middle ages using only library resources. I have a list of 131 books I’ll check out during the school year, as well as planned projects for each major history topic. If you’re interested in this kind of DIY curriculum, check it out.
I hope this post has given you some new ideas about how to find the curriculum you need for the year! What are some of your favorite places to find out about curriculum and then purchase what you need?