Alabama does not require the use of a particular curriculum nor does it require certain subjects, so each family in Outlook Academy is responsible for the selection and purchase of curriculum and/or educational materials. All educational methods are considered equally valuable and viable; choose what is best for your child. A wide range of home schooling methods is used by our member families, from the unschooler approach to a very traditional style. We support the choices of all families who comply with state regulations.
Outlook Academy does not provide counseling services; if you need help, you will find a wealth of information on the Internet and at your local homeschool support group.
On this page below you will find tips and resources to help you select the curriculum that would be best for your child. Portions of this information have been excerpted from Homeschooling More Than One Child: A Practical Guide for Families by Carren W. Joye. For more information about the multiple award-winning book, go to www.carrenjoye.com.
If you think you may enroll your child in a private school in the future, investigate the curriculum that school uses. It will make the eventual transition easier on your child. Most of the private schools in the Montgomery area use A Beka; however, check your school to be sure.
Also, if you are pulling your child out of a private school, in most cases your tuition covered the books, so you should be able to take your child's books home. Make it easy on yourself and your child, and finish the year using that curriculum.
First Grade Through Junior High
Unless you feel more confident than most first-time homeschoolers, start with a packaged curriculum for your first year of homeschooling, especially if your child is in first grade or up. A packaged curriculum provides everything you will need, from textbooks and workbooks to lesson plans and teachers manuals. The ease and security of using a packaged curriculum will make your first year so much easier. Plus, it will give you time to figure out what you and your child would like in a curriculum.
As you gain confidence in your homeschooling abilities and as you learn the best way to teach your child, you may decide to search for materials that are better suited for your individual child. On the other hand, some homeschoolers hit on a favorite curriculum right away and use it until their children enter college, supplementing with educational games and software or materials from the library.
You can certainly design your own curriculum right from the start; it is not impossible. Plenty of resources are available from the Internet, library, and even WalMart. However, be prepared to spend extra time in preparation that would be unnecessary if you used a curriculum that already included materials and lesson plans.
You may be interested in joining a local co-op for those classes that are taught best in a group, such as P.E., or classes that you find difficult to teach at home, such as science. Outlook Academy offers Academy Days co-op to all homeschoolers in the area as a supplement to parents' homeschooling. Go to Academy Days for more information.
Similarly, with a high school student you may feel more comfortable with a packaged curriculum or with a more relaxed approach using the library and Internet. Do what is best for you and your high school student, keeping in mind if your child plans for college or not.
If your child plans to attend college, he will likely need four classes each in English, math, science and history. Most colleges require Algebra I and II as well as biology and chemistry. Also, most require one or two years of a foreign language and the ACT. However, you need to find out from the college your child wants to attend as to what it requires for enrollment.
There are a lot of books about homeschooling high schoolers as well as high school programs that will help parents keep track of the paperwork necessary for college entrance. Check out the homeschool catalogs! Even so, a portfolio (collection of work the student has done), along with a letter from the student to the admissions office describing what the student has been studying and what other activities he has been involved in (such as clubs, sports, volunteer work, etc.), is often more impressive than just a transcript with all the appropriate boxes filled in. The main thing colleges require and look at are the ACT or SAT scores.
If your child does not plan to attend college, then the subjects are entirely up to you and your child. You may want to include business math rather than higher mathematics, for example. Again, you will likely find plenty of resources from the library or on the Internet.
You may also want to consider an internship or apprenticeship in the field the student plans to enter. A part-time job in his chosen career field, in some cases, will be as important as academics, whether he plans for college or not.
As with your younger students, you may be interested in joining a local co-op for those classes that are taught best in a group or classes that you find difficult to teach at home. Outlook Academy offers Academy Days co-op to all homeschoolers in the area as a supplement to parents' homeschooling. Go to Academy Days for more information.
Neither the Alabama Exit Exam nor the GED are required by homeschoolers, but we do recommend taking the ACT and/or the SAT if a student plans to attend college.
Toddlers, Preschoolers and Kindergarteners
While you can certainly find packaged curriculums for preschoolers and kindergarteners – and even toddlers! – many homeschooling families have found that a more relaxed approach works much better for children that young. Even in the first year of homeschooling, when you really feel you have made this decision official, you can handle the relaxed approach with young children without feeling you may be forgetting something they need to learn. In these early years, you cannot go wrong. (Actually, you cannot go wrong in any year of homeschooling, but you will not believe that until you have been homeschooling at least a year yourself!)
Some parents of young children surf the Internet for activities for their two- to five-year-olds and design their own lesson plans. You can find web sites for art and craft ideas, activities for fine and gross motor skills, songs and music, fingerplays and stories, recipes for little ones, coloring pages, activity pages, Bible lessons, and so much more.
While this method will save considerable money, it may cost you considerable time in searching and preparing. Do not spend so much time looking that it becomes a lot of work. What your young child really needs right now is for you to read to him a lot and for him to play. After all, play is children’s work.
If you are interested, the Academy Days co-op is open to homeschoolers as young as preschool. Go to Academy Days for more information.
Some curriculum companies provide an entire package covering all the subjects you will need for each grade; you can buy the full program or you can select just the subjects you want from that company. Other companies focus on one subject, such as Bible studies or math or foreign languages. Also, some are more structured than others.
Click here for a list of some of the most popular curriculum companies and their web sites, although this is not nearly all of them. Check out their web sites and see what you think.
You can find more information about these companies and many others in Mary Pride’s Big Book of Home Learning and Cathy Duffy’s The Christian Home Educator's Curriculum Manual. They go into detail about the various curricula you can buy, including descriptions, advantages and disadvantages, costs and ordering information.
Making a Curriculum Decision
Whether you plan to purchase a packaged curriculum or design your own, consider the following issues before making any decisions:
Research the Curriculum
- Set down your educational goals. Generally, your goals will have something to do with why you are homeschooling your child rather than sending him to school. This is the time to consider what you want to accomplish this year as well. For example, if you want him to read by the end of the year or to improve his reading skills up to his current grade level, you will need a curriculum that has that goal in mind for the student.
- Think about what you want your child to learn. For example, this is the time to decide if you want a Christian-based curriculum and if you want to incorporate life skills in addition to academics.
- Determine how much money you want to spend. A packaged curriculum can be expensive, so you may want to consider customizing your own to save money, particularly for preschoolers and kindergarteners.
- Decide how much time you want to invest. Some curricula require a lot of preparation and involvement from the parent, while others allow students to work independently. Also, customizing your own curriculum will require more preparation than purchasing one with materials and lesson plans already included.
- Consider your child’s learning style and current interests. One child may do well with a packaged curriculum, while another needs a more hands-on style of learning. In addition, if your child is currently fascinated by bugs, for example, you may want to find a science curriculum that covers the study of insects.
Because curricula can be expensive, do some research before ordering anything. If possible, take a look at samples through:
Saving Money on Curriculum
- Home school conventions or fairs. Curriculum companies will usually have booths set up for you to view samples, ask questions and even order the materials without charging shipping. Keep in mind, however, that these salesmen will present their products in the best possible light.
- Homeschool support groups. Large groups often have a supply of sample curriculum materials and catalogs and will organize annual curriculum fairs. Sometimes small groups will have their members bring samples to the meetings so others can look over them. (Click on Support Groups on the menu for information on local home school support groups.)
- Friends or other experienced homeschooling families. Ask what they like or dislike about the curriculum they use and how much it cost them.
- Curriculum companies’ web sites. Most companies are online and will have descriptions and photos of their materials.
- WalMart, school and office supply stores, and grocery stores. At these stores, you can find an assortment of workbooks on a variety of subjects, from numbers and letters to colors and shapes, from pre-reading skills to multiplication. They are very reasonably priced, and they are all the formal instruction kindergarteners and younger really need. Take your child with you to pick them out.
- Homeschool message boards. Read and ask questions about what other homeschoolers are using.
- Catalogs. Call or write the companies to order their catalogs.
- Other homeschool books. Some books go into detail about the various curricula you can buy, including descriptions, advantages and disadvantages, costs and ordering information. Check out Mary Pride’s Big Book of Home Learning and Cathy Duffy’s The Christian Home Educator’s Curriculum Manual. Also try How To Homeschool Your Child for Free by LauraMaery Gold and Joan M. Zielinski for a great resource on using the Internet for free lesson plans and worksheets.
- Your children. Discuss with your children what they want to do. Perhaps they are interested in plants or the American Revolution. Perhaps they would rather read the information or perhaps they enjoy doing science experiments. Also, how do they learn best? One child may need the structure of a packaged curriculum while another may learn best with hands-on activities.
- Private schools. If you plan for your child to go to a private school eventually, find out what curriculum it uses. Using the same curriculum as the school will make the adjustment easier for your child when the time comes. Alternatively, if you have withdrawn your child from school, you may want to finish the year with the curriculum the school has been using.
You can spend as much or as little as your budget will allow. Basically, the materials and resources you decide to use and the number of children you will homeschool will determine the amount you will spend. Packaged curricula and materials vary so much in cost that there is no way to give a ballpark figure per child per year. You can spend a small fortune or you can get by for free.
For books on inexpensive ways to homeschool, consider LauraMaery Gold and Joan M. Zielinski's How To Homeschool Your Child for Free, Mary Potter Kenyon’s Home Schooling From Scratch, Borg Hendrickson’s How To Write a Low-Cost, No-Cost Curriculum, or Dorian & Tyler’s Anyone Can Homeschool.
Remember, you do not have to buy curriculum to provide a quality education for your child; price does not determine quality. Books and supplies can come from various sources besides or in addition to a packaged curriculum.
Tips for Using a Curriculum
- The public library is a valuable resource. Through inter-library loan, the number of books available to you is practically limitless. In addition, librarians can be very helpful.
- Office and teacher supply stores sell a variety of materials. You can even get an idea of what you may need, such as math manipulatives or flash cards, then collect or make the items yourself at home.
- Supermarkets have an assortment of workbooks on a variety of subjects, from numbers and letters to colors and shapes, from pre-reading skills to multiplication. They are very reasonably priced, and they are all the formal instruction kindergarteners and younger really need.
- Used curriculum sales, garage sales and thrift stores are excellent locations to find items such as books, microscopes or chemistry sets.
- Many Internet sites list books and supplies for sale. Simply do a search on "homeschool supplies" or "homeschool curriculum" on any of the search engines.
- Some Internet sites offer educational games and study materials online. Again, do a search on a search engine to find links to several web sites.
- Birthdays and holidays are excellent opportunities to give gifts such as microscopes and chemistry sets.
- You will likely find some items already in your home, such as simple lab equipment in your kitchen.
- Other free resources and learning opportunities can be found in your community, such as museums, historical sites and even businesses.
No matter what curriculum or method you use, your homeschooling will become less structured and more relaxed each year that you homeschool your child. Indeed, your ideas will change over time, and sometimes your choices will not work out. That’s okay! If something doesn’t work, don’t stop homeschooling, just change your curriculum.
No matter what curriculum you use to teach your child or what grade he is in, introduce a new concept or skill as the child shows interest. Remember, one of the advantages of home schooling is that your student can go as slow or as fast as he wants. He does not have to answer every question or do every problem. If he already knows it, move on.
At the same time, there is no need to reduce your child to tears over math or grammar. If he is not ready, set it aside for a while and then come back later. The passage of just one month may make a big difference in learning readiness, and suddenly the concept will just click in your child’s mind.
At the same time, do not hold your child back if he wants to surge ahead. Indeed, once a child realizes that homeschooling provides the freedom to learn anything, he will want to learn everything he is interested in! Encourage him and guide him to the resources he needs.
That is exactly what you are – a guide for your child. You do not have to know everything, or even anything at all, about a subject. Simply guide your child to the resources that will provide the answers, such as a library, local expert or the Internet.
If you have pulled your child from a public or private school, don’t just jump into academics right away. Give him some decompression time. He will need this time to unwind, to let his mind wander, and to “unlearn” what school means. It may take a couple of weeks to a few months for your child to realize he does not need to sit in a desk to get his work done, to wait for a bell to tell him it’s lunchtime, to raise his hand to ask a question, or to wait for his teacher to tell him what he’s supposed to learn. You may want to just cover the basics such as language arts and math for the first few months, or start out with one or two subjects and gradually add more.
This decompression time will also give you a chance to feel your way and adjust to homeschooling as well. No more 6 a.m. alarm clocks! No more waiting in car pool lines or catching the bus! No more homework! No more wondering if – and what – your child is learning!