The curriculum minefield

In the UK, many home educating families don’t use any curriculum at all. They might choose regular text books from big educational bookshops if they want to study academics, and follow their children’s interests. They don’t worry about grade levels and there is no testing, unless teens want to study for and take the public ‘GCSE’ exams which are usually done at age 15-16. The National Curriculum, required in state schools, is not necessary for private schools, nor for home educators.

But if you want to use a curriculum of some sort, how do you know which one is going to be best for your child? There are dozens available from the US, but most are Christian, and many are quite formal. There are also a small number available in the UK, which follow the National Curriculum. That may be useful if you think your children might go to school at some point.

Find out as much as you can about the various options. Many of them have web sites where you can find out about the philosophy and pricing. You can usually register and order online. Some of those are linked in this article. Before making any decisions, do talk to other parents who have used them, if possible.

If you don’t know anyone who has used the curriculum you are interested in, ask if you can see some samples. It is important to look at the style of material, and discuss with your children whether the courses look inspiring and interesting. What appeals to one child will not necessarily appeal to another.

Children’s interests and learning styles

Take note of your children’s interests and learning styles. A child who learns through his hands, for instance, is unlikely to be inspired by a curriculum with a lot of reading and writing. A child who is advanced in some areas and slower in others (for instance a child with dyslexia who has excellent understanding of maths) will not want to be limited by a curriculum that has rigid ‘grade level’ expectations.

Then, before you order, do look at second-hand shops, or find out of any local home educators have used material in good condition which they might sell you. There are some second-hand curriculum suppliers on the Internet – and don’t forget to browse second-hand book sites such as Abebooks and Awesomebooks.

British home education curriculum

InterHigh is for secondary age students, 11-16. It offers 2-3 hours per day online tuition in various subjects. It also includes the possibility of GCSEs in the final year.

Briteschool is for primary and secondary age students. It is particularly aimed at home educated and expatriate children.

Wolsey Hall is distance learning course provider. They supply courses for home educators around the world. English, maths and science are  offered at primary level; each child has a tutor and a lot of support.  They offer a wider range of courses at secondary level, including GCSE and A-level studies.

We started using ACE (the European version) for our teenage sons starting when they were about 12 and 14, so they could get certification equivalent to GCSE and A-level exams. This is an American curriculum with some parts adapted for European usage. We chose ACE because it was the only curriculum at the time which provided a distance-learning certificate programme (the National Christian Schools Certificate) without exams which is acceptable at British universities.

American homeschool curriculum

If you want a traditional, Bible-based curriculum then Abeka might appeal – this is used in schools as well as homes, and uses bright and colourful text books, appealing particularly well to younger children. Rather than registering for an entire year’s curriculum, many people choose just a few of Abeka’s books appropriate to their child’s ability rather than ‘grade level’ and progress at their own pace.

Alpha Omega is another popular American Christian curriculum, which features workbooks (called ‘lifepacs’) rather than text books. These are excellently produced, and move progressively through the grades covering core topics with some electives, and plenty of flexibility. They have a fairly recent innovation, the ‘Switched On Schoolhouse’ curriculum, where students register with an online school, and do all their work on the computer, communicating with teachers via email each day. This is popular with parents who do not have much time to spend helping their children or preparing lessons, and for children who enjoy working via the computer rather than on paper. However it is considerably more expensive than the basic Alpha Omega curriculum.

Five in a Row – a relaxed, literature-based programme currently available for children aged 4-8. The scheme is based on quality children’s books that are read aloud every day for a week, and then provide the basics of study in all subjects, related to the book. Parents are encouraged to be flexible, choosing from the suggested ideas, or developing their own. There are further programmes available for older chldren.

If your family enjoys literature and extensive reading together – particularly historic novels – you might be interested in the Sonlight curriculum. It offers a choice of several maths programmes produced by other companies. However the majority of the curriculum is literature-based. It is more demanding than Five in a Row, but much less rigid than many others. Sonlight is fairly time-consuming for parents, if you follow all the guidelines. But it’s possible to be flexible and concentrate on the reading only. For students who enjoy reading, their catalogue lists many excellent books for different age groups. These can be ordered fairly inexpensively from Sonlight without using the curriculum as such.

The Konos curriculum is a little different from the majority, in that it offers projects intended for a group of like-minded families to work together. If you have a local support group who would like to do educational work together, you might like to investigate this – perhaps as a supplement to what you do at home. For children who are hands-on learners, and dislike extensive reading or writing, Konos may well be a good choice if you want to use an official curriculum.

If we had our time over again, we would probably have used some of the ideas from Ambleside Online – a totally free curriculum based on Charlotte Mason’s ideas, with activities that can be used or adapted alongside an extensive reading list.

Maths curriculum

Since many parents seem to struggle with maths concepts, there are extra maths curricula of all varieties, from old-fashioned and rigid through to more modern and flexible. Here are a few available ones:

Singapore maths, English and science – an increasingly popular curriculum covering these basic subjects, with most available currently for maths. This curriculum originated in Singapore, so has the advantage of metric rather than imperial measurements! It uses manipulatives and is recommended by Sonlight as an alternative to their other maths programmes.  Singapore maths is now available to order from the UK, from the site Maths – no problem.

A highly recommended maths curriculum is Mathusee – a manipulatives-based programme with levels for all ages, teaching videos and a manual. This is ideal for kinaesthetic and visual learners, or indeed anyone who struggles to understand maths concepts on paper. It can be used alongside other home education programmes such as Sonlight, or used by itself for parents who feel comfortable with autonomous style education in everything other than maths.

Another interesting maths programme is Miquon maths. This is more similar to the way maths is taught in UK schools than the US. It involves concepts such as early algebra and geometry from the early levels, rather than focussing primarily on arithmetic. Again, this can be used in conjunction with other curricula, or by itself.

Flexibility in home education

Children will learn some things very fast and may take longer with others. It doesn’t matter! There are no rules, unless you’re in a country or US State that happens to impose some. But even then they’re likely to be minimal. Children who have never had any formal teaching or any curriculum can still go to college – and often do. Certainly until they are 13 or 14 there is no need to do anything formal, unless your children want it.

If it’s important to your children to have high school accreditation, and they don’t want to work at local colleges or adult education classes, it may be worth following more formal courses such as those available at Northstar (UK) and/or registering at an umbrella school such as Clonlara (USA), although these are expensive options. For more ideas about how children in the UK can gain qualifications needed for college or university courses, see my GCSE page.

Further reading: Educating eclectically, Learning styles, Multiple intelligences, Temperament theory