Starting Your Homeschool Journey and Choosing a Curriculum
Written by: SHN Mentor Mom, Denise Cockrell
So you’re new to homeschooling?
Welcome! Are you feeling nervous, worried about the venture you are setting on, not sure where to begin, feeling very uncertain in your decision? You ARE NOT alone. What you are feeling, every single other homeschool parent felt when they began their journey. It is completely normal to have those feelings, so put that behind you and don’t feel that you are incapable ;-).
You have been called for a purpose to do something for your children that no other person in the world can do with more concern, focus and effort than you as a parent. Congratulations for your decision! Being part of a homeschool group is the first step toward building your community. Like-minded parents that are on the same journey as you, perhaps for different reasons, at different seasons of life, but all with the singular purpose of educating their children to the best of their ability.
You will find comradery with others just starting on their journey and will make friends with those that are a few steps or many years ahead of you; people that remember what it was like to start out, people who have learned from mistakes and become better for it. So, again, welcome and let’s begin this journey!
What are the state law requirements for homeschoolers in Arkansas?
Arkansas is a homeschooler friendly state when it comes to legal requirements. The only requirement for homeschoolers is that they fill out a Notice of Intent once a year online (or create their own that includes the required information) by August 15th. There are no grade reporting/testing requirements in the state for homeschoolers. You can find the Notice of Intent at this link with the AR Dept. of Education: https://noihs.ade.arkansas.gov/ You will need to create an account and then you will login to this account in future years to continue submitting your Notice.
The Education Alliance is a fantastic resource for homeschoolers in Arkansas. This is a lobbying group that protects our rights and provides information and resources for our state’s homeschoolers. This link will answer nearly all of your questions as you begin homeschooling (follow the tabs at the top of the website’s page for ease of navigation) https://arkansashomeschool.org/
Home School Legal Defense Aid (aka HSLDA) is a homeschooler’s friend at the national level. In addition to watching legislation being proposed against homeschoolers in each state, they also provide legal counsel for homeschoolers. To have this added protection as a homeschooler, there is a fee (think of it as insurance policy for your school). You can receive a discount by using the following information: GROUP# 210383 / AFFILIATE # 5685939
In the event there are accusations made against you, child welfare comes knocking on your door or you feel your homeschool rights are being denied, HSLDA provides an immediate attorney to defend you. You can even call them while someone is at your door and let the person at the door know that they will need to speak with your attorney and hand them the phone. The attorney will let the accuser know clearly what the state law is and how they are in possible violation of it at that moment in coming to your house with accusations.
Often times, such visitations are done in error with offices that are not completely familiar with the state’s law. This isn’t usually much of an issue in Arkansas, but you never know when a disgruntled family member or neighbor makes a false accusation against you because your children are playing in the yard at 10 in the morning on a school day! For more information on HSLDA, you can visit this site: https://hslda.org/content/ There is also an abundance of free information on their website available to homeschoolers.
Now that you are familiar with the requirements for homeschooling in Arkansas, it is time to choose a curriculum.
Where do I begin in choosing a curriculum?
Every homeschool looks different. There is no “correct” style or method of homeschooling. Do what works best for you and your family. Avoid comparing yourself to others. Once you have selected your curriculum and are enjoying it, don’t give in to self-doubt.
A few precautions before beginning your journey…Often in the homeschool community, if someone mentions the latest, greatest math, grammar or science curriculum, moms begin to doubt their own choices and feel the need to follow the pack and change what they are doing. If you learn anything else from this file information, remember this…“If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it”!! If what you have selected for your children (once you have selected your curriculum) is working for them, DO NOT go and change it. Constantly changing to the latest/greatest trend can be extremely stressful on not only the teacher, but also the students. Enjoy the comfort zone you and your students have established.
- a common trap for new homeschoolers is the fear of not providing enough for their children. Often new homeschool parents go “amazon-crazy” searching out book after book, making purchase after purchase, sometimes never even cracking the new book, often left with piles of things they never had time to get to. Use your library if you are seeking “more”. Borrow from friends before purchasing. Ask if anyone in your homeschool community uses a certain book that you can borrow for a week to look at.
Lastly, new homeschoolers fear the lack of having the extracurricular activities that are offered in the public schools and quickly sign their kids up for every art, gymnastics, ballet, basketball or football team they can find. This leaves the new homeschooler overwhelmed, burned out and unable to even get schoolwork done. There is peace in simplicity and that is what you need your first years out of the gate. After a year or two, you learn what you can handle and what works for your family that is balanced.
Constantly letting your kids try every option out there for a brief period, only to pull them when it isn’t working, can lead to feelings of inadequacy or lack of accomplishment for kids. Find where their passion lies and focus on that singularly. There is no rule that a child needs to be active in an extracurricular activity every season of the school year and summer. Monitor your time when you first start homeschooling. Look at how long the school day takes to get done what you have scheduled. Will adding an afternoon, morning or evening activity lead to burnout? If so, say “no” ;-) Everyone will be much happier for it!
With these precautions behind you…let’s move onto selecting your curriculum.
A mission statement can often be a good starting point. Determine your goals in homeschooling your children, writing them down and prioritizing them. Use this statement as a springboard for assessing the direction you want to go with your curriculum. This statement should declare what your needs/desires are for homeschooling.
Do I desire a secular or a belief-based curriculum? This will eliminate several options and help you to narrow down your search population. There are very good curriculum options for both secular or Christian based (or other faith-based) studies.
What are the grades that I will be teaching? Some curriculums specialize or are geared toward elementary, some are focused more on the jr. high/high schooler. Some enable the teacher to teach both age ranges from the same curriculum at the same time (especially in the subjects of science and history)-keeping discussion on a lower level with the whole family in attendance, then enabling the older student to delve deeper, have additional reading/lesson exercises.
What do I want my homeschooling style to be? Are you and your family free spirited, enjoying a more relaxed environment or do you crave structure, specific directions to follow, a created curriculum.
Some homeschoolers are eclectic in nature. They enjoy pulling their books from many different sources or online resources. Generally not following a select curriculum, but rather a mixture of many curriculums or books, sometimes creating their own path for a subject based on several elements they like from different resources.
Some homeschoolers are “unschoolers”. This means that they prefer for their children to learn through life experiences, focusing more on life skills and gaining their education in math, language, history through reading, taking care of a home or farm, cooking, repairing, helping with younger children. Unschoolers generally do not follow a set curriculum or school day.
Then there are homeschoolers who prefer a “school at home” environment. This is the homeschooler that prefers a set curriculum, even if using a different selected curriculum for each subject. They prefer teacher lesson plans that tell them when to do what and how to do it. They prefer a scheduled day, perhaps a schedule for each subject.
Some homeschoolers are a little bit of all three styles. Think about what you want your school to look like before deciding on a curriculum.
- are my financial resources available for schooling my children? Some are blessed with resources to purchase as they please. In that case, this question doesn’t really impact your decision. Others need to be more creative in obtaining their curriculum due to limited finances. Libraries are great resources for using unit studies (a comprehensive study of a specific thing like planets, frogs or medieval knights), often gathered together in bundles by the library. Library databases are great for searching a subject in juvenile non-fiction or adolescent non-fiction to get several books on a subject for a specific age range.
An online search for a scope and sequence for your students’ grade levels can be helpful if you are trying to determine what they need to learn as say a 5th grader for mathematics or an 8th grader for science. Based on those scope and sequences, you can economically plan for purchasing used curriculum, searching used book sales, garage sales or again, the library, to gather your resources for the coming school year. There are also many free online resources for doing specific unit studies or for an entire year’s curriculum. All of these options do take more effort than buying a packaged book-seller curriculum, but it is a fantastic option for those with tight budgets.
What is my time availability? Do you have multiple little ones in your household that are into everything? Then you may have limited time for older students. A curriculum that doesn’t require as much teacher intensive time may be a better option for you. Some curriculums require significant teacher time, such as ones that emphasize teacher read-alouds of many, many books or curriculums that involve many games/activities/hands-on, teacher-driven activities. Look at what is required of your time for the curriculums that you are narrowing down to. Ask others on social media that use that particular curriculum what their time requirements are as a teacher or if all the teacher steps are required to be done to have successful learning (can some be eliminated?). Review the curriculum website to determine how the teaching resources work, what schedule they recommend for that curriculum, etc. Often, the younger the student, the more hands-on teacher time is required.
What are the curriculum options available?
You are very blessed to be homeschooling in this day and age. The resources available for teaching our children are unlimited! Unfortunately, it makes for trickier curriculum selection because so many options can be overwhelming!
First, start by answering the questions above. That can eliminate over half your options to begin looking through. Sometimes it is easier to begin with one curriculum brand for all subjects, then the following year branch out into changing subjects that you really didn’t care for by that curriculum dealer.
- you are starting out in early elementary, perhaps the first year focus merely on phonics, math and handwriting. For science and history, read little books you find at garage sales or perhaps already own that teach about America or butterflies or space ships! Everything in the subjects of science and history will be repeated in late Jr. high and through the high school years and often what was taught in elementary school regarding, say “planets”, is no longer remembered by the time they are in high school anyway. Focus on what interests your elementary student at the time. it is growing plants, plant flowers or a garden. If it is princesses, read children’s books on the life of a real historical princess or how to become a knight. your high school-aged student is very interested in animals, select zoology as one of their sciences. (see file document on “High School and Transcripts” for determining the direction to take with high school subjects)
Below are some of the recommendations made by current SHN members and what curriculum they are using. This is not a comprehensive list. It is based on responses received from current members.
Handwriting without Tears (secular, elementary, workbook)
Pentime Cursive (secular, all ages, workbook)
A Reason for Handwriting (Christian, all ages, print and cursive available, Scripture copywork, workbooks, 8 levels, PreK through late elementary)
Language Smarts (secular, book, elementary)
Easy Grammar (secular, book, all grades)
Grammar Island and Grammar Town series by Michael Clay Thomas (unique way of explaining grammar, includes vocab, creative writing and poetry)
Well-Ordered Language (written to the student, clear, plenty of diagramming
Rod and Staff (Christian, book form, all grades)
English Lessons through Literature (secular, all grades, PDF or workbook form,
Accelerated Christian Education (methodical, repetitive, mastery based
Abeka Grammar and Composition (Christian, great phonics program for new readers, transitions to grammar, spelling, composition around 3rd grade, book form, all ages)
Writing Strands (all grades, secular, book form)
Writing and Rhetoric (short, fun assignments based on literature)
Notgrass English Comp/Literature
Institute for Excellence in Writing (all grades, if you are not wanting to do the entire writing curriculum, they have a smaller version called The Student Writing Intensive for all ages)
All about Spelling (secular, book, 7 levels)
Apples and Pears (all ages, secular, workbooks)
SpellingCity.com (online, secular, free version or annual subscription option with more features, can type in your spelling and/or vocabulary words and it feeds them into games, practice tests and weekly graded tests, can import lists for specific curriculum that others have already input, all ages, also includes subjects other than Spelling)
All about Reading (secular, elementary, books)
Thegreatbooks.com (literature/worldview for high school level)
Honey for a Child’s Heart and Honey for a Teen’s Heart (book, Christian, recommended readings and descriptions of books for selecting reading material)
Teaching Textbooks (secular, book/CD or online form. All ages. TT is better for those struggling with math-not recommended for one pursuing a math or science field of study in college, curriculum is generally 1 yr behind the grade it is labeled)
Mathseeds.com (elementary, secular, online)
Math-U-See (all ages, secular, book/dvd –utilizes all of the learning styles-visual, kinesthetic, oral with repetition)
Math Lessons for a Living Education (Charlotte Mason inspired math program, Christian)
Right Start Math (secular, good for mental math, little spiraling (i.e. repetition of past lessons daily along with new concept), has math games, manipulatives-very teacher intensive)
Beast Academy (good for those that do not like spiraling math and can work mostly independently)
Saxon (secular, all levels, book form, teacher CD-Rom available for older grades, grade labels can be confusing- 4/5 means 4th grade math or a slower 5th grader)
Life of Fred (math in an entertaining reading book form, secular)
Math Mammoth (all grades, PDF or workbooks, secular)
Singapore Math (all grades, secular)
Chalkdust (recommended for upper level math, DVD driven, can be pricey, students able to work independently)
Alpha Omega Publications Horizons (Christian, workbooks, K-Algebra 1)
Story of the World (secular, book/cd- elem through middle school, chronological, story format)
Notgrass History (all ages, Christian, book form)
Mystery of History (Christian, 4 volumes, audio also available, from Creation to Modern-merges Bible History and World History into one chronological timeline in text, available for all ages)
Creation to Now (Christian, easy for student to do on their own, includes optional Bible, literature, writing assignments. Map book and timeline also available)
K12 Human Odyssey (secular, book form, 5th – 8th)
Curiosity Chronicles (secular, all ages, PDF and books/audiobook)
Sonlight (Christian, book form, all ages)
Abeka History (recommended for their high school levels, Christian based, book form)
Legends and Leagues series from Veritas Press (Christian publisher but not much within the text)
R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey (secular)
The “Focus On” Series (all grades, secular, book form… “Focus on Biology, Focus on Chemistry, etc.)
Apologia Exploring Creation Science (Christian, book form with lab journals available, all ages-teaches what one needs to know from both a secular and Christian defense perspective.)
Mystery Science (secular, K-6th+, online)
Sassafrass (secular, all ages, books/audiobooks/PDF)
Bible Study Guide for All Ages (different level worksheets available for each lesson for multiple ages, 4 years available,
The Answers Books for Kids by Answers in Genesis (8 book series, covers apologetics for kids 6-12 or older if just starting out in apologetics)
Typing Instructor Platinum for Kids (CD Rom, secular, ages 6-12)
Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing (CD Rom, secular, ages 7 and up, includes fun games)
More consolidated curriculums:
My Father’s World (Christian based, unit studies)-good for teaching to several age levels at once. A comprehensive curriculum that combines several subjects all at the same time. Combines science, geography, social studies, history and Bible. Supplement with a math and language curriculum.)
Power Homeschool-(secular, online-based, all subjects (incl foreign language and finance), but may want to supplement creative writing since it is online based)
Christian Light Education (Christian-based, light units, inexpensive, comprehensive, many subjects)
Christian Liberty Press (Christian, affordable, book)
The Good and the Beautiful (Christian, Lang Arts/Art Apprec/Geography all in one course-but just rolling out their math curriculum, K-6th with extensions for higher grades, can print or online PDF form, inexpensive, levels 1-5 can be downloaded for free as PDFs, Charlotte Mason inspired, has 6 levels of handwriting curriculum which can be printed or PDF with daily drawing or coloring/grammar rules and positive sayings for copywork, can be used as group study for all ages)
Khan Academy (online, free, secular, all ages, many subjects available, good supplement if you are piece-mealing books from the library and would like exercises to go with them, keeps track of student’s progress)
Moving Beyond the Page (comprehensive Language Arts/History/Science, reading books draw in teachings about history, science, and Language Arts exercises based on the topic read-from several different books-much like a unit study, early grades are teacher intensive, gradually moving to independent student study by middle school years, secular, PreK-High School-company is completing final years now, book or online, lots of hands-on projects, will need to purchase supplies for projects for items not located in the home)
Links to other curriculum options:
This link lists several curriculum websites (both Christian and secular) and includes links to school supply companies and used book dealers as well…
The following list can be overwhelming, but great resource if you are looking for many options and are not faint at heart!
This link polled homeschoolers to determine the top 10 and 100 most popular curriculums. Results are sorted by subject which is great if you are down to one or two specific subjects you can’t make a decision on!