What is the best homeschool curriculum?

Here are some guidelines to help sift through the infinite options.

Prisma Staff
• 
November 8, 2022

Every family’s homeschooling journey is unique. After deciding the pros out-weigh the cons, new homeschoolers have another major issue to tackle: which one of the infinite curriculum choices is best?

While it might feel like drinking from a fire hose, the good news is: once you understand your goals and your child’s needs, the choice of how to homeschool becomes much simpler.

In order to narrow down the seemingly infinite possibilities, we’ve got guidelines to get you started: first, general characteristics of homeschool curricula that we believe help children grow into lifelong learners, regardless of your specific circumstances; second, questions to help your family think through the various approaches to homeschooling and how they might align with your needs, goals and expectations.


What makes a good homeschool program?

The ultimate blank canvas, homeschool lets you paint your child’s education any way you wish. Look for these characteristics in any potential homeschool curriculum review and you’ll be taking a step towards ensuring your child can thrive.

1. It’s flexible

Without the constraints of a traditional school schedule, homeschooling offers an unparalleled opportunity to let your child pursue their passions as far as they want to take them (and discover new ones along the way). If kids are excited about learning, they really do their best work, so look for a curriculum that allows kids to go in the direction they choose, with plenty of time for deep dives. This works well in a “unit studies” approach, in which kids focus on a single topic/project for a given length of time (like we do with our six-week, thematic, project-based cycles at Prisma).

2. It’s self-paced

While traditional school (whether public or private school) is all about keeping kids together according to grade level, homeschooling allows your child to move at their own pace. Don’t assume a fifth grader needs a fifth grade math curriculum. Maybe they need to get a true understanding of fourth grade materials before they continue; or maybe they can do sixth and seventh grade math in a single school year. Homeschool families should start with an assessment (standardized testing options available may depend on your state) and be sure that whatever program you choose will allow your child to learn where they are, whenever they get there.

3. It’s suited to their learning style

We all have preferences when it comes to learning. Some kids love doing math with pen and paper. Others light up when they get an adaptive math app in their hands. Some kids excel when they use manipulatives. You may have three different kids who each do better with a different curriculum. Trial and error will be a big part in getting it right.

4. It’s core-skills-first

At Prisma, we believe that the best curriculum emphasizes core skills rather than specific content. A great social studies curriculum shows kids how to apply the lessons of history to today, how to evaluate primary sources and how to research the questions that get them interested. A great language arts curriculum will teach kids how to think critically about the books they read, while developing their own sense of taste as a reader. A great science curriculum will teach the scientific method and instill an appreciation for evidence-based practices. With those core skills, they’ll be able to dive into whatever excites them most, and the lessons will last longer than if they were simply memorizing facts and figures.

5. It’s hands on

You can learn how to calculate profit and loss in a textbook, but you also can do it by building your own business — and pick up life skills along the way. We believe that a curriculum that enables kids to learn in a real-world way is by far more engaging. A project-based curriculum that applies learning to solving real world problems helps kids see the relevance of what they’re learning, enabling them to internalize it.

Questions to help determine what is the best homeschool curriculum for your family

Once you have the foundations, you’ll want to think about the nuts and bolts of your experience: What will it look like to homeschool on a day-to-day basis? These questions will help you vet your top picks:

  • How comfortable do you feel teaching certain subjects and grade levels? Homeschool parents of prek and elementary school children should think about their comfort in teaching subjects like phonics, while high school parents should consider their ability to cover more advanced subject material (and even college prep for 11th and 12th grade).
  • If your child has any special needs, how do the various curriculum options accommodate them?
  • Do you have interest in religious education? Among the box curricula available for purchase, several are Christian homeschool programs (Sonlight, Charlotte Mason and School House). Others, like Moving Beyond the Page, are secular.
  • How much time do you want to dedicate to homeschooling? Each of the approaches will require a different level and type of parental involvement.
  • All-in-one curricula: Purchasing a box curriculum (or using free homeschool curriculum available online) will save time in developing personalized homeschooling resources (lesson plans, worksheets, workbooks, quizzes and tests). However, you’ll still have to put in the time to teach the lessons, grade the material and keep the day flowing.  
  • A piecemeal approach: Families who want a fully customizable option can choose a la carte options, incorporating local and online programs. They might enroll their kids in a community college course, take online classes, supplement with resources like time4learning, join homeschooling groups, and do independent study. This approach may lighten parents’ load in some areas — but requires them to stay on top of scheduling, transportation and coordination.
  • A small co-op that brings together local families allows parents to pool their resources and share the responsibilities. Some co-ops hire instructors, while others draw on the parents of the enrolled students to share in the teaching. The setup of yours will determine the extent of your investment of time and money.
  • Online homeschool: Home-based, online learning, with a full-service program like Prisma, provides students academic and social support. Parents won’t have to do any heavy lifting in terms of instruction or planning, but they will be more involved with their child’s education than in a traditional public school setting. At Prisma, we offer two pathways for homeschooling: our full-service model, where your learner is matched with a teacher who serves as a 1:1 mentor, giving feedback on their work; and a parent-as-coach model, where for a lower cost your learner has access to our comprehensive curriculum, live workshops, and peer community, but where you as the parent continue to provide feedback and support to your child. Many devoted homeschool parents choose to do Prisma with the parent-as-coach model.
  • Unschooling: This approach, in which kids have complete freedom to dictate how they spend their time, is perhaps the least involved in terms of planning and dedicated instructional time. However, the whole family needs to be on board with this totally unstructured approach.

If you come from a traditional school background, homeschooling is such a major life change it can be hard to imagine. Sometimes, the only way to figure out what’s best, is to jump in, try it, and then make changes based on what you learn.

We’ve written these resources to help you get started:

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