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Choosing Curriculum

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This post contains affiliate links. See my affiliate disclosure for details.


I originally planned on piecing together my own kindergarten program with free resources and a library card, but with two littles underfoot I started looking for some ready-made curriculum and materials to make life easier.

It’s a trade off. Do I spiral down the Pinterest Black Hole or make it rain on Amazon?

Before researching, I took the advice from some online homeschooling moms to think about what our goals are and what we want… instead of buying the most sparkly, shiny, expensive curriculum that came by. Oh but it’s so pretty!

Defining Our Homeschool Goals

It took a lot of time and thought. I thoroughly researched curriculum, asked for a lot of advice, and completely wore out my Google account. For months. Ultimately it came down to answering five questions:

Who am I teaching?
What do we want to learn?
How will our days look?
Why am I teaching this?
What is my budget and top priority purchases?

The time spent was worth it. The first quarter is coming to a close. We have really enjoyed it and had time to enjoy each other. The oldest is excited about learning, and I’m so thrilled to see him grow.

Who am I teaching?

IMG_5552I began to realize early on (and must keep reminding myself) is that my style of teaching and my kids’ way of learning are different. I’ll admit that I’d love an open-and-go curriculum right out of a box. Easy!

However, my oldest has never been one to go page-by-page. When he likes something he devours it – reads the whole textbook, completes all the projects, finishes every activity page… When he’s not interested, there’s no amount of arm twisting that’s going to get him there. I’m not really into arm twisting anyway.

Thinking about strengths: he loves to move, sing, read, count and work out math problems orally, and he could listen to me read all day. Challenges: fine motor, hates to color, and wants to be the one to decide what we are doing and when. I knew I needed a variety of engaging materials with meaningful activities and projects. 

What do we want to learn?

We did a few fun preschool units, but I felt like I was living and breathing the topic. Spiders? It was spiders 24/7. Spiders everywhere. Spider books, spider projects, spider crafts, spider songs, the itsy-bitsy spider. I don’t even like spiders. Gave me the heebies for months. I knew I wanted broader topics than a series of weekly unit studies. 

Most homeschool kindergarten curricula follow an annual theme. There are a few dominant themes: Nature Studies, Seasons, Animals, and Around the World.  Any of these themes would have been just fine for the oldest. He loves exploring the world and diving deep into a subject.

How will our days look?

I found it easier to check off the things we don’t want. This eliminated a good deal of the curricula written for homeschoolers.

No thanks
Long table-work and complicated workbooks
Forced writing or coloring
App or computer based learning
Repetitive lessons
Restrictive schedules
Religious curricula
Reading the same book five days in a row

How do I want our days to look? I want to sing songs, read real books on the couch, work on projects in short spurts, play games, go on adventures, learn side-by-side, and have flexibility in our days rather than pressure to complete a long list of tasks.

Why am I teaching this?

A lot of homeschool materials are anti-standards, specifically anti-common core. Most are written as if your child has never been and never will go to public school. Some take a slower, more gentle approach to the primary years. Some introduce what is commonly thought of as more advanced topics starting in first grade. There are vastly different schools of thought.

I do want my kids to be “on-level” with public school kids. That is a priority for me.  Honestly, I don’t know what will happen in five years, ten years, next year. I don’t want them to be behind if we have to make a transition at some point.

I also want them to have a well-rounded education. The arts, history, all types of sciences, learning a second language, playing an instrument, and more are left out of public school education or, sadly, not taught until it is needed for a test. I want to incorporate these into my homeschool (don’t worry, not all at once in kindergarten). This is as much of a priority as keeping up in math and reading.

I knew I needed to find a way to make these goals work together. Materials that will allow us to keep up with the basics of the grade level while providing a rich, well-rounded education.

A note about public school curriculum (which is also available for purchase):

Going from teaching with public school materials to homeschool curricula has been interesting. Public school is standards driven, slick, bright, continually updated, and loaded with resources meant to address a wide range of learners – with everything from remedial materials to enrichment and a million activities in between. 

The homeschool curricula I picked through just had a lot less. Less pretty packaging and bright colors. Less slick editing and design. Less likely to be up-to-date with links and books still in publication. Less activities to choose from. It’s challenging to get used to using materials that are of inferior printed quality. However, I feel the products we chose are far superior in educational value.

What is my budget and top priority purchase?

It was tempting to just pick something free from the internet for kinder, but I could see it wasn’t going to work. Some curricula seemed very repetitive – like the writer/parent designed one week and applied the same template for the following 35 weeks. Yawn.

I knew it was going to cost some money, but where did I want to spend it? Not on pricey TE’s, expensive one-time-use workbooks, bags upon bags of manipulatives, or a big, expensive program that we don’t want to commit to long-term. I would rather spend money on literature, texts, and materials that I can reuse for all of my kids.  Quality over quantity.

Keeping up with memberships and classes is also a priority for us. I would rather spend, say, $150 on a museum membership each year than on one set of math workbooks. That is the main reason I’m leaning toward reusable books and texts. With three kids I’ll either be dividing the price of one text by three or buying three new sets for each subject every year. Yikes.

The Final Decision

Looking for curricula with the following qualifications:

√  A variety of engaging materials
√  Broad themes to dive deep
√  Flexible guides
√  Covering the basics and beyond
√  Quality, reusable materials

I decided that when I was done choosing I would be finished looking. It’s easy to second guess and shop around, but I don’t want to spend all my non-homeschool time thinking about curriculum. What I chose gives us enough flexibility to change direction if we need to, but this is it. We are done for the year. Good!

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Kindergarten Picks

(Curriculum Reviews Coming Soon! I will link pages when they are complete.)

Build Your Library – Kindergarten, Around the World (Language Arts Spine)
A literature based program with a fantastic book list that covers reading, geography, science (animal studies), tales, cooking, and crafts. The curriculum is inexpensive, and I found most of the books used online.

What Your Kindergartner Needs to Know
51Xki7CmWvL._AC_US160_.jpgA cross between a textbook and a teacher’s guide, this book is my main go-to to make sure I’m covering everything to “keep up” with his same-age-peers.
Language Arts – Expanding on BYL’s themes with folk tales, fables, tall tales, and children’s poetry.
Science and Social Studies – Using this as a text and jumping off point to make sure we cover all of our kindergarten topics.
Math – Hands-on math activities that are age appropriate and can be done with a variety of materials that we have on hand (no $300 pack of manipulatives to buy).

Materials for Learning to Read
Explode the Code is what I decided on for phonics, but we are waiting to start until he is more confident with his handwriting.
Easy ReadersMo Willems and Dr. Seuss are my best friends right now, but the oldest can pick out and read any books he wants at the library (hello, dinosaurs). We are really learning by practicing together right now. I will share more about how we learned to read in a separate post. Link to come!

Math
We are using a big variety of materials: Life of Fred, Strayer-Upton Practical Arithmetics, math literature, games, and worksheets I’ve found free online. We have been using a Daily Math Basket, post and link to come!

 

Handwriting Without Tears
Recommended by the oldest’s Occupational Therapist, I purchased the kindergarten TE and workbook and created a multi-sensory program around it.


Workbooks

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Brainquest
Kindergarten Workbook covers every subject. We’ve also picked up a few $1 Target Workbooks – United States of America, Dinosaurs, and Subtraction. He does these independently for the most part. These have been great for the late afternoons or weekends when he is bugging me to do school, but I’m d.o.n.e.

Media
I purposefully incorporate a variety of different media resources – YouTube playlists, Amazon Prime, and NetflixStarfall is the only app I’m planning to purchase for the year. It covers many kindergarten topics in a fun way, and my 3-year-old enjoys it, too.

IMG_1163.JPGMemberships
You could really go nuts on memberships. We chose a nature center and a local children’s museum. These two places are the ones we could go to a few times a month and always have new things to explore.

Classes
Gymnastics weekly, swimming in eight week sessions throughout the year, and once-per-month science class at the museum, classes at the library monthly. We will also participate in guided nature walks and homeschool classes at the nature center.

All the Rest
We are fortunate to live in an area with great parks and playgrounds, a community pool open year-round, farmer’s markets to explore, farms to pick fruit and veggies, and events for children throughout the year. We will have opportunities for field trips to the fire station, the landfill, and a farm just in the first few months. I’m looking forward to field trip weeks – a break from the norm where we can take some time to explore and get out into our community!

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Goals

“Think about what you want” or “set some goals” is a typical recommendation for new homeschoolers looking into curriculum. It took me a while to figure out what that really meant for our family. Our goals go beyond increasing reading speed or mastering math facts.

I hope this rundown gives you a vision of our homeschool goals and how pinpointing them gave me a direction for choosing curriculum. Maybe this will be helpful for you, too.

After I worked out the vision of our homeschool, I started my research. I pulled from a lot of resources – blogs, YouTube tutorials and reviews, Cathy Duffy’s curriculum review site, but my main resource was a homeschool forum with experienced and helpful homeschool moms (and, like, two dads). There are all sorts of homeschooling communities online. Advice from those that have been there/done that has been so valuable. 

I just love reading other people’s curriculum lists.  Almost as much as daily schedules and homeschool room tours!

What is the biggest influence on your curriculum choices? Post your comments below. Follow all of our adventures on Facebook and Instagram. Thanks for stopping by!

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