Materials and curriculum are the heart of a homeschool. They need not be fancy or expensive. Some unschooling families don’t have formal materials or curriculum and just go with the child’s interest, an internet connection, and a library card. Others purchase all-in-one kits (school in a box). These can be either textbook or literature based. However, many homeschoolers are like me and use a combination of different things. No matter what approach you use, careful planning should go into your choice.
Many of the state-run homeschool programs in Alaska give families a generous yearly allotment of money to spend on school related expenses. Some programs allow more freedom than others on how funds are to be spent. Most do not allow funds to be spent on church/Christian publishers or subjects. Some programs may allow one publisher while another may not. The biggest thing is to research materials before you buy them. This is a bit time consuming but will make it much easier when it comes time to use them if you get things that suit both you are the kids.
Also, don’t feel you must purchase everything from the same company. I use separate companies for different subjects and even use more than one company for the same subject sometimes. Get what it takes for you to feel you’ll cover the subject(s) thoroughly.
Combining subjects from the same company may save a bit on shipping. Shipping rates to Alaska are often 10% higher than the lower 48 (continental US) and frequently don’t qualify for those free shipping offers. However, I rarely have let the cost of shipping count as a factor when considering an order. I’d rather pay a little more for shipping from separate companies to get just what I want than compromise on what I use to teach.
There are many options available for just about every subject and grade. Don’t limit yourself to one style if it isn’t working. If textbooks are dull, try a literature approach. On the other hand if so many books are overwhelming, try a textbook, workbooks, or activities. Or use a combination of textbooks and real books like I have been doing. Workbooks don’t have to be used just with textbooks. They can be used with literature or even by themselves depending upon content. Don’t frustrate your child by forcing them to learn with a style they can’t handle just because you like it. They are the ones who need to do the learning and (most) of the work. You’ve already done school.
Curriculum companies try to keep you coming back every year. However, this shouldn’t be automatic. Evaluate what has and hasn’t worked at the end of the school year (or semester if you’re frustrated). Then decide if you want to keep the same company or switch and try something different. By all means, if you’re satisfied with the work and your child’s progress then consider continuing with the same thing. But if you or especially the child is frustrated with the work at least consider other options. Discuss with the child what went wrong and why. It may just be they didn’t like the subject but it was required (such as high school chemistry). In that case I would probably continue. However, if the child had trouble with the workload, the textbook or material’s style, or other basic factor to a program, you should consider switching especially if it’s an ongoing subject such as language arts or math.
Be willing to change. This is the great thing about homeschool, the flexibility. If something really isn’t working out, feel free to tweak it or get rid of it if need be. Perhaps just changing the schedule or adjusting the amount of work will make a difference. However, if you’ve tried tweaking and nothing seems to help, get rid of it. Don’t feel you must “finish the book”. This is frustrating and pointless. Yes, you’ve spent good money on it but chalk it up to experience and start something different.
One of my favorite ways to evaluate curriculum is to attend the curriculum fair. Here you can talk to dealers and frequently get “hands on” with the books and materials in their programs. Even if they don’t have everything for every grade on display, at least you can get a feel for their style. You can ask questions before you buy. Sometimes they have deals and discounts if you order at the fair. Beware of impulse shopping though! You can discuss the options with other homeschoolers. They may even recommend something new to you which would work great or talk you out of buying a mistake.
So you can see there are many different factors to consider when choosing curriculum for a homeschool. Take the time to research the pros and cons of each choice you are considering. In the end, you will be glad you did. The proper curriculum can make the difference between a good year and a great year.