I talk to many homeschool parents, and the common concern I get is that they don’t have the money to buy a curriculum. This was me two years ago. I was in a place where I wanted to homeschool my kids, but couldn’t rub two dimes together. It was a year of serious transition for our family. In a nutshell, I had to make the decision whether I would spend our disposable income on curricula or experiences.
If you’ve ever visited my Instagram page, then you know I chose to invest in experiences. As the mother of two small boys, I wanted them to have fun learning and experiencing new things. Not having the money to fund those experiences was NOT an option, so I forwent curriculum purchases. Instead, I invested my time in developing a customized curriculum that suited their interests and learning needs.
Of course, I must mention that I studied curriculum development in my Master’s program, but that did not mean I knew what I was doing. However, my background did give me the confidence to try developing a curriculum on my own. You do not need any degrees, but I do suggest reading up on curriculum development to gain some insight—and confidence!
There are a variety of ways to create a curriculum, but I chose what I like to call the Break-Down Method. That is, taking something overwhelming and breaking it down into sizable chunks. This method made curriculum planning less intimidating. If you’re looking to create your own curriculum and don’t know where to start, perhaps this method can help you, too. Here are ten easy steps to a do-it-yourself curriculum, using the core subject, science, as an example.
10 Easy Steps to a DIY Curriculum
1. Be responsible.
Read the legal requirements for your state. Every state has their own requirements for homeschool families. Please take the time to read these requirements to ensure you are operating within the law for your state of residence. These guidelines can also be very helpful, as they usually entail what subjects you are required to teach your children.
EXAMPLE: By law, I was required to teach my kindergartner language arts, mathematics, social studies, and science in the state of Georgia.
2. Borrow a skeleton.
For your curriculum, that is. During my first year of homeschool, I used the Georgia Standards of Excellence (GSE) for my skeleton. This allowed me to kill two birds with one stone because I knew using this framework for my curriculum also meant I’d be honoring state requirements. The following year, I used books from the “What Your Kindergartner Needs to Know” series. I borrowed this series from the library. The series covers all elementary grade levels.
How did I use these resources, exactly? For each core subject, I wrote down everything my child should know for their grade-level, and then I found the resources to execute those goals. For example, if in kindergarten my child should learn about animals and habitats for science, I would borrow books from the library, look for free courses and activity ideas, and download free practice worksheets for those particular topics.
EXAMPLE: Take a look at the list I generated for kindergarten science topics from GSE
Earth and Space Science
- Time Patterns (day to night and night to day) and objects (sun, moon, stars) in the day and night sky
- Earth Materials (soil, rocks, water, and air)
- Physical Attributes of Objects
- Types of Motion
- Living & Nonliving Things
- Classification of Organisms
- Five Senses
3. Add some bones of your own.
You may have borrowed the skeleton, but it’s important to make it yours! You know how much I preach here about developing a vision and mission statement for your homeschool that outlines your educational philosophy and goals. Keep your goals in mind while adding some bones to the skeleton of your curriculum.
How can you make it yours? By knowing how your children learn best, what they enjoy learning, and a method of education that works best for your family. If you have a techy child, try free virtual classes, educational computer games, and video lessons to fulfill your curriculum goals.
EXAMPLE: Our vision for homeschool includes making room for academic freedom by incorporating some form of self-directed learning. That means I give my boys a say in what they’d like to learn. When I developed their science curriculum, we incorporated geography into our life-science lessons. We also learned about the solar system because that was what they were into.
As a note, I only incorporated these topics into our formal lessons because my boys were too young to research them on their own. As my oldest became more fluent in reading, he could then read up on any topic of interest, which is self-directed learning in its truest form.
4. Finalize your topics for each subject.
What topics will you cover for Language Arts? Math? Science? Other subjects you’ll be covering? List all your topics for each subject on a spreadsheet, table, or journal to refer to later on.
EXAMPLE: From the science list of topics I generated from GSE, I decided to teach the five senses, animal classification, parents and offspring, habitats, weather, and planets. Other topics, such as those in physical science, were taught the following year with The Magic School Bus curriculum.
5. Breakdown your topics by term.
How will you breakdown your topics? By quarter? Semester? Whatever you choose, assign your topics to a given term for each subject. This makes it easier to administer evaluations, tests, and other assessments.
EXAMPLE: We assigned our topics by semester. For science, we studied the five senses and life science topics during our first semester. During the second semester, we took on weather and astronomy, as well as got more hands on with science related fieldtrips and experiments.
6. Breakdown topics into months.
Assign topics for each month in all your subjects. This should be relatively easy if you’ve already written down all the topics you’ll cover for the year. You’ll have to adjust this throughout the school year depending on how long it takes your child to master the information. No worries, do this step anyway.
EXAMPLE: During the first month of school, we studied phonics and word families for language arts, simple addition for math, the seven continents for social studies, and the five senses and physical attributes for science. Here’s an example of our science breakdown for kindergarten.
7. Breakdown topics into weeks.
Breaking down topics ensures you cover good ground, and makes it easier to control the pace. If I try to cram too much information in each week, and my child isn’t retaining it, slowing down throws off my entire curriculum. However, if I allow for some wiggle room by spacing out my topics, we can jump ahead if we need to. I’d rather jump ahead than have to slow down. Both are inevitable, though.
EXAMPLE: When we learned the five senses for kindergarten science, assigning one sense per week was ideal because it gave the information enough time to sink in. This wasn’t the original plan, but I later found it to be the better plan.
8. Breakdown topics into days.
If it’s possible to break your topics down even further, do so. I found that breaking my topics down into days by charting them made me feel better prepared. This meant having an objective for that day, jotting down relevant questions to ask your student, and anything else that’ll keep you from asking ‘what next?’ during your school day.
EXAMPLE: Keeping with our science theme, this would be the following breakdown for Week One of studying the five senses, concentrating on the sense of hearing. This breakdown is based on thirty-minute lessons.
9. Gather your resources.
Once you’ve decided on a schedule that works, now it’s time to gather your resources for the topics you’ll be teaching. I’ve got a great list of FREE homeschool resources, here! You can also visit my shop, Nike Anderson’s Classroom, for free and low-cost educational resources.
Remember to think beyond the internet. In addition to free books, your local library may offer free classes, workshops, and STEM kits that may tie into your curriculum. You can also check out your local zoo or museum. Many of these places offer classes to homeschool families. Ask them for a schedule of these classes and see if any of the topics fit in with your curriculum.
Lastly, don’t forget to snatch up any free informational brochures, pamphlets, or flyers located at your local dentist or doctor’s office, museum, zoo, library, grocery store, computer store, etc. Some of these informational texts can tie in nicely with your curriculum. For example, if you’re studying the human body, the doctor’s office is a great place to get free information. Just make sure it’s okay to take the pamphlets home.
EXAMPLE: For Week One of studying the five senses, I may need the following resources:
10. Decide how you’ll test knowledge.
With any curriculum, it’s a great idea to implement some form of assessment. Assessments are a fantastic way of knowing when to move on or slow down. Decide how and when you will test your child. Will it be weekly? Monthly? Quarterly? Annually? Remember that the more frequently you assess your child, the quicker you’ll catch on to any problems they might be having.
A test doesn’t necessarily have to be taken in a quiet room with a fill-in-the-blank worksheet. You don’t even have to subject your child to a grading system. There are so many ways to find out whether your child is mastering the material being taught. We do oral quizzes all the time in our homeschool, and my boys don’t even realize they’re taking a “quiz.” You can also have them do a project, an oral presentation, or write a report on what they’ve learned. In fact, you can let them decide how they’d like to demonstrate their knowledge.
EXAMPLE: I already mentioned that we like oral quizzes, but we’ve also had our fair share of fill-in-the-blank quizzes. Another fun way we assessed mastery of the material was through making books. During our kindergarten year, my son would draw pictures in his “book” about what he learned, and then he “read” his book to me. By the end of his kindergarten year, he could start incorporating simple words in his books. I scheduled some sort of assessment every week.
Other things to consider.
- Plan your curriculum around events if possible. For instance, in spring our local museum hosts STEM classes. The week that these classes take place are a great time to cover stem related topics
- You don’t have to plan all at once. Once you have an overview for the school year, you can breakdown your topics into detail on the monthly or even weekly basis. I personally planned the details every week. But I also tried monthly planning as well. If you want to get the planning over with, plan the year out in detail before the start of the school year.
- Will you need help? For subjects you don’t feel well versed in, will you sign your child up for outside classes? Hire a tutor? Have a friend or relative teach the subject? Make sure you factor all this in.
- Will you supplement? I purchased workbooks and other materials to supplement curricula for certain subject areas. Think about what you may need to supplement your curriculum.
- Fieldtrips. It’s helpful to have a good idea of the fieldtrips you’d like to take during the school year. Decide the best time of year to take these fieldtrips and plan your curriculum accordingly. For instance, you probably don’t want to go to the zoo during the cold winter season, so planning life science curricula and subsequent activities during warmer months is ideal.
- Give yourself some wiggle room. Things are probably not going to go as planned. That’s okay. Even families using a boxed curriculum fall behind or get bumped ahead of the curriculum. Give yourself some grace.
Lastly, I want to mention there’s no such thing as a perfect curriculum. Every curriculum has gaps—even the most elite curriculum. Therefore, I can’t say this is an all comprehensive planning guide. I can attest, however, that this method helped me tremendously during my first homeschool year. I hope it helps you, too.
YOUR TURN! Anything you want to add? Help other parents and let them know your tips down below!