Step 6: Managing Materials ~ Choosing Curriculum

Step 6: Managing Materials

If you don’t have a goal, you can never reach it! Hopefully, you have already given some thought to what type of environment you want to establish. You have investigated the various educational methods and selected from each the best parts to fit your environment and framework. You have a general idea about what you want to cover and in what order, at least in skill areas.

As tempting as it is to jump right in and start scouring the suppliers’ catalogs, if you don’t know what you are looking for, you may never find it. Laying the groundwork for a curriculum search may take you more time now — but save you time and money later!

Here are a few other things to keep in mind:

Curriculum is a Tool

Like any other tool — paper, scissors, computer, library, etc. — our curriculum is merely a tool to help us reach the goals we have already set. Be careful when choosing any educational materials to ensure that they will achieve the desired results.

Will it Fit?

It is easy to be attracted to new concepts, new choices, and — let’s face it — flashy products. But before spending the money, ask yourself a few questions, such as:

  • Will it fit the child I intend it for?
  • Will it fit my method of educating?
  • Will it fit my environment?
  • Will it fit my schedule?
  • Can I see my family using it for an entire year? Or longer?

More Expensive Does Not Necessarily Mean Better

I know the marketing competition out there sets many people on a search for the best curriculum or the right method. People seem to want to follow a guru, living or dead. They want to fit themselves into a slot with a label…. So lower your expectation of what curriculums will do for you. Don’t be a slave to any, even if you primarily follow one. You can use parts, and skip parts. You can switch. You can combine and mix in any order or any proportion.

Ruth Beechick, Dr. Beechick’s Homeschool Answer Book

There tends to be a point of diminishing returns when it comes to educational materials. Some of the more expensive products might work great in a classroom setting — but will you really use the fancy “extras?”

On the other hand, there are wonderful, well-thought-out, and particularly effective materials (some produced by homeschoolers who have “been there”) that are simple in nature and come with a more moderate price tag!

Avoid the Bandwagon Effect

It may be popular, but before you jump on that bandwagon make sure it’s going in your direction! As you have no doubt mentioned to your children — just because everyone else is doing it, doesn’t mean you have to. Besides, you probably wouldn’t be homeschooling if you were one to “follow the crowd!”

Keep it Simple

Curriculum materials are less important than we tend to think. They do not make or break your homeschool — unless you try to use too much. That might break a few things.

Ruth Beechick, A Biblical Home Education

Some of the best products out there are the simplest. They may have black-and-white print, a simple design, or a less polished look. The key is what’s inside. Will these materials provide you with an effective way to accomplish your purpose?

The Point of View

Every product promotes a philosophy — even those that claim none. Does your curriculum reflect your beliefs?

Written for or by Those That Teach One-on-One

Who knows better than home educators what works in a homeschool environment? Many veterans and tutors are putting their experience and talents to work producing products aimed at helping others who educate in a one-on-one setting. While their initial product offerings might lack the professional polish of the big curriculum publishers, many have made impressive improvements in their second and subsequent editions.


In a homeschool environment, a child can work at his own level and pace. Ungraded products are “grade-level free”; thus, a student masters a concept and moves on — no “beat the concept to death” once he has caught on, and no moving on before he is ready.

With ungraded products we can determine where our child is, teach him what he needs to learn, ensure that he has gotten it, and move on to the next concept.

Flexible and Adaptable

Have you ever had one of those days when nothing goes the way you planned? Being tied down to a inflexible curriculum will only lead to frustration. Make sure the materials you choose will be flexible enough to allow for the unplanned.

The materials you choose should also be adaptable to your schedule and family needs. We don’t want to lose those teachable moments, which often fall into the “unscheduled” category!

Teaching to Learn (Not to Test)

The best products are those that help us teach our children how to learn rather than those that require a recitation of basic knowledge (soon to be forgotten).

Look for products that encourage higher levels of learning — comprehension, applying knowledge, classification, creativity, making judgments, etc. What our children will remember the most are those things they have learned for themselves.


Nothing tastes worse than leftovers. OK, maybe you like leftovers, but the flavor is never the same as the first bite you took of the original. Reconstituted material is no better; for example, any materials that are dumbed down, sliced up, artificial, repetitious, or dry. Instead feed your child the best — the original, unabridged, real, and beautiful.

This is particularly well illustrated with the subject of history where the life has been taken out of most history texts. While we may use a text as a framework for our studies, we can then provide a rich history experience by reading well-written biographies, studying primary source documents, viewing the beautiful art, and listening to the music of the period.

Further Reading
Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum

102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum by Cathy Duffy
By focusing in on the best choices in any particular category of learning, 102 Top Picks makes our decisions easier. Read our entire review.

11 Tips: Choose Curriculum Without Becoming Overwhelmed!
Are you planning for the next school year and finding yourself overwhelmed with choices? Then here is some good news. The curriculum choices you make will not determine the success or failure of your homeschool!

Additional Resources

Curriculum: Tool or Tyrant?
“The Curriculum Tyrant is unbalanced and relentless. He wants to take over your entire family life. Should your children slog through school work just because it’s in the book? If your daughter readily knows her multiplication tables, why are you wasting time with endless drills? If you son excitedly rushes into give you a blow-by-blow description of the book he is reading, why are you saddling him with a laborious book report? If Mary is bored with a textbook-dictated writing assignment, why not let her write about something she likes? If the chemistry text is covering the same math as the math textbook, does Johnny really need to do the same material again? Anxiety and chaos are the price you pay for obeying The Curriculum Tyrant.” Holly Sheen encourages us to keep curriculum in its place!

How to Select the Right Curriculum
“[L]ook at your children as individuals and select experiences, methods, and materials based on their individual needs.”  Seven tips and sage advice from Dr. Mary Hood.

Is There a Perfect Curriculum?
“The ability to tailor-make a curriculum—a program of instruction—for our children is one of the most compelling reasons to home school, and yet this process of choosing curriculum is one of the most intimidating tasks parents face. We think there is a perfect curriculum somewhere, and if we fail to find it, our children will suffer academically for it the rest of their lives—so we engage in that relentless pursuit of the perfect curriculum.” Article by Zan Tyler.