Sunday, May 13, 2012

Creating Your Own Curriculum, Part 5-- Selecting Materials

(This is part of a series of posts on creating your own curriculum.  Please see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 for more information.)

If this were a do-it-yourself project for making a dress, we would have taken our measurements, bought a pattern, sketched a design (with our adaptations, of course!), and we are now ready to buy or scrounge the fabric.  Curriculum materials, like fabric, can be free, cheap, or expensive, and like any other purchase, you don’t always get what you pay for.  Curriculums tend to be tied to some method of instruction, so go back to your information gathering and recall what you know about your child’s learning style, need for structure, and so on.  Also, don’t be wooed by a curriculum that will take much more time than you have, unless it can be picked apart so that you can use what you want and ignore the rest.  In addition, we have a few materials we use in part because they generate good work samples, which you may need depending on your state laws or involvement in an independent study program.

Curriculum can be anything that helps meet your goals, from magazines and websites, to apprenticeships and volunteer opportunities.  For this post, I’ve limited myself to describing three major sources of ink and paper curriculum materials. I’ve included some examples of specific materials and/or vendors to get you started on your search.  Just remember to keep your goals and pacing in mind as you visit each source.

The Library and a Few Free Techniques

The library is the homeschooler’s best friend.  Books or videos on virtually any subject in science, social studies, or history can be found here as well as a complete selection of readers from very simple to graduate level texts.  Take advantage of your library’s online catalog and reservation system, if it has one, to pre-select books so they are waiting for you at the front desk.  Librarians are also very helpful in choosing books as well.

Once you get the books home, try one of these techniques:

Read and See What Happens:  Choose a different book to read each day and read it.  Does it spark interest, discussion, or project ideas?  Follow them!  Does it produce yawns?  Pick a different book or topic next time.  This is keeps-you-on-your-toes homeschooling at its best and great for those “Explore…” goals.

Narration:  Read a book or portion of one.  Ask your child to summarize what has been read by drawing a picture, telling you what she remembers while you write it down, writing down a summary of his own, and/or by making leading comments at the dinner table (i.e. “Tell dad what we read about today!”).  Expand this technique by thinking of some “I wonder…” questions that you hope will be answered next time.  If you produce written or illustrated summaries, collect them together in a book about the topic with a stapler and some construction paper covers.

Lapbooking:  A lapbook is basically a modified file folder with lots of clever mini-books inside that are collections of facts, timelines, summaries, and so on.  An excellent introduction to lapbooks can be found at  This is a great technique for comprehension, synthesis, and analysis verbs.  Make the mini-books as you read, then assemble the lapbook at the end.

Teacher’s Supply Companies

I know that a teacher’s supply store may seem like a crazy place to look.  After all, aren’t many of us homeschooling to avoid the pitfalls of traditional school?  It may be a surprise to discover that teacher resource books are often richer and more… well, interesting than textbooks.  We have found books full of alphabet activities, science experiments with lab sheets, ancient history, activities to go with our favorite picture books, and unit studies (called “thematic curriculum” in the teacher world).  A great book with a concept called “word ladders” in which you change or rearrange letters based on clues as you write successive words on the rungs of a ladder has become a spelling/vocabulary/cursive curriculum all in one for us.  Another find, Mathematics Their Way by Mary Baratta-Lorton was our math curriculum for two years.  Although some activities are clearly for large groups, many are perfect for individuals.  I’ve also found great books full of information on how children learn certain subjects, such as writing, that have informed my less structured approach in those areas.

Scholastic and Evan-Moor are two of my favorite publishing companies.  Both allow you to preview some or all of the pages of their publications online before you purchase.  Both also have online subscriptions where you have access to thousands of pages from their books for a monthly fee.

The teacher’s supply store also has math manipulatives, science kits, nifty art supplies, magnet sets for your fridge, and alphabet strips and number lines for your wall.  Unless you have many children or a way of sharing with other homeschoolers, I would avoid the subject specific board games.  They are often fun at first, but once the targeted skill is mastered, they are cast aside.

If there are no teacher supply stores in your area, don’t despair, you can still shop online or through catalogs.  In addition to the companies listed above, also check out Nasco, Lakeshore Learning Company, and Discount School SupplyReading A-Z and their associated sites Science A-Z and Writing A-Z are subscription sites which also have great resources.

Homeschooling Suppliers

The wonderful thing about curriculums made especially for homeschoolers is they are made especially for homeschoolers!  They usually don’t require adaptations for use with one or two children, because they were never intended for classroom use.  They often take advantage of the one-on-one teaching environment in novel ways.

Rainbow Resource Center has a 1200+ page catalog contains virtually every curriculum resource known to homeschooling and each one is described in more than average detail by someone on their staff.

CurrClick offers only pdf downloads of curriculum materials from an extensive list of companies.  They have previews of all their materials and an online review system.  We purchased Miquon Math from this source so the workbook materials can be reprinted as much as needed for our family.

No matter who you purchase from, know the return policy.  Many companies have some kind of policy that allows you to return “like new” items for a full refund.  Write on your calendar when the materials arrived and when they should be returned if they are not as expected.  Then take some time to seriously preview it.  Does this item match your child’s learning style?  Does it match your goals?  How much of it will you really use?  How labor intensive will it be to prepare for each lesson?  Don’t be afraid to return something that doesn’t look like it will work for you, especially if you will only lose the cost of shipping.

In the next post, I'll give you some final thoughts on curriculum and goals and tell about three pre-packaged curriculums that could get you started.

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