Choosing what curriculum to use in your homeschool can seem very daunting. It seems like everyone has an opinion on which curriculum is the best. But how do you choose? Should you use a boxed curriculum or should you pick and choose from a variety of options?
As a mom who has used both, I am going to do my best to give you an unbiased look at the pros and cons of both options. There is no “one size fits all” approach to homeschooling. In my experience, there are benefits to both and you are the lucky one who gets to decide which one is best for your family at the moment.
It has been said that choosing a curriculum is making an educated guess. You never know what obstacles or challenges the next school year will bring. Whatever you choose, please know that you aren’t stuck with that decision and that it’s ok to change from one to the other if you need to.
Is a Boxed Curriculum right for you?
A boxed curriculum might be right for you if you want to save time in the planning stages. An all-in-one boxed curriculum often has ready-made lesson plans, activities, tests, and some even provide transcripts and diplomas.
If you are looking for structure and want to save yourself the stress of having to choose what to teach next, a boxed curriculum might work well for you. The lesson plans conveniently lay out the days and weeks in a way that you never have to guess what comes next.
If you buy from the same company year after year, you don’t have to worry about filling gaps that might otherwise occur. Another advantage is that the subjects often interweave with each other. The period of history often corresponds to several other subjects such as reading, art, and music.
Most of the choices are made for you, but oftentimes there is some flexibility to choose a different math or reading curriculum. You just have to choose the grade levels, possible substitutions, and electives, and all of the books and plans are sent to you for the whole year. Depending on the provider, you can get everything down to the colored pencils and the science kits.
We have had some good and some not-so-great experiences using a boxed curriculum. Some of the different ones we’ve tried include:
- Seton Home Study School
- Catholic Heritage Curricula
- The Good and The Beautiful
The problem that we’ve had with some boxed curriculums is that some subjects weren’t a good fit for one child or another. It is important to do your research and see if it will be a good fit before shelling over the money. In the early years, I based my choices on what worked for others and what was popular and didn’t even consider my child’s needs.
It is really helpful to know what type of learner your child is. A visual learner, an auditory learner, and a kinesthetic learner are all going to have different needs and challenges. I could have saved myself a lot of money and stress had I known to consider these first.
Some boxed curriculums are really expensive and others require you to enroll in order to get the lesson plans. This is really important to find out. You may not need the lesson plans, but sometimes they contain the answer key and if you get stuck, you are out of luck.
Some boxed curriculums can feel like school at home. If this is something you are trying to avoid, stay away from those that look like school at home. Chances are pretty high that if it looks like school at home, it will feel like it.
Although a boxed curriculum can save you time researching and writing plans, you will likely have fewer options for child-led learning and going down rabbit trails. I know this is something that we struggled with a lot. If you are trying to stay on track with the lesson plans, you might feel conflicted if your children have sparked an interest in something that is worth learning about BUT isn’t in the weekly lesson plan.
Some boxed curriculum providers have a team of advisors that can help you put together a curriculum that is tailored to your family’s unique needs. This can be a great way to check if a boxed curriculum approach meets your needs and expectations and save you a lot of headaches in the future.
Should you choose an eclectic approach to homeschooling?
If you are new to homeschooling, this can feel like the scarier option. I know, because it can be overwhelming to look at all of the options and wonder how you are going to make this work for your family as an inexperienced homeschool mom. I’ve been there.
A lot of families start with a boxed curriculum and move away from it when it doesn’t meet the needs of one or all of their children. No decision is final and you can always change your mind.
If you want some flexibility, but aren’t ready to make all of the decisions, you can always start with the boxed curriculum and swap out subjects or specific books to better fit your needs. The lesson plans might need a little adjusting BUT at least you won’t have to write everything out on your own.
Choosing an eclectic style can be more cost-effective. You can use a free curriculum and resources such as Easy Peasy All-in-One Homeschool in combination with your library card. This can be a great option if you are on a tight budget.
We like to think of ourselves as a life schooling family. A lot of learning in our home is taught by doing everyday things and exploring interests, and that means not everything is learned from a book. We live on a farm, so animal husbandry is one of our subjects. Sometimes, we will do a unit study that corresponds to something that we are learning on the farm, but not always.
With an eclectic approach, you have the freedom to be much more flexible in terms of how and what you study. A co-op or group learning experience is easier to do when you aren’t using a full boxed curriculum. You can also choose to read more books or take your homeschool on the road and be a road schooling family.
Initially, it will take more time and research to find all of the options that you want to try with your children. Cathy Duffy’s Homeschool Reviews Website is an invaluable resource.
An eclectic approach can involve more time spent outdoors and involve more child-led learning. Wild Schooling and Forest Schooling are homeschool approaches that involve time outdoors in a very different learning environment.
There is less pressure to keep up with the lesson plans in an eclectic approach. Depending on your personality type, this can be a good or a bad thing.
Struggling students and neurodiverse children often do better using a more eclectic approach as their needs can be specifically met through a wide variety of resources.
It is also easier to choose courses that might not be offered in a boxed curriculum. However, it is worth it to check with your boxed curriculum provider if they offer support for your student’s needs before you rule out this option.
In our home, my children have taken a number of alternative courses which include Auto Upkeep, photography & videography, stop-motion animation, writing historical fiction, and online piano lessons. Using logic games, coding, and exploring different interests and hobbies can also be an integral part of an eclectic approach.
Some things to consider when choosing
Before you choose to use a boxed curriculum or a more eclectic approach, you need to know the laws and requirements for your area. This might be a deciding factor when making your choice.
Sometimes it takes a bit of trial and error to find your sweet spot. There is no one right way to homeschool. There are also seasons where you might choose one method over another, such as during pregnancy, or prolonged illness.
Also, consider the time you need to take care of your needs and wants. You need to choose based on what works for you and your personality. What makes you feel more confident? What aligns with your values? Are you working outside or in the home? Do you have help?
Pray about it. I know this may sound cliché to some people, BUT this is a great place to start if you are a believer. In prayer, you can discover what your heart needs. God is the giver of wisdom. Let him guide you and show you the path.
No matter what you choose, you are doing the best you can for your child. Let me know in the comments below what type of homeschooler you are. Do you prefer a boxed curriculum or a more eclectic approach?