New to Homeschooling? Here's Everything You Need to Know About Planning a Curriculum

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, many parents are making the tough decision to keep their kids out of the classroom this year. While distance learning is an option for some families, others are opting out of traditional schooling and into homeschooling.

Requirements for withdrawing your child from school and enrolling in homeschool vary by state, but once you've made it official, you'll need to build out a curriculum to follow throughout the school year. POPSUGAR spoke with four parent-experts who've been there to understand how they plan their lessons, how they stay organized, and what a typical day of homeschooling looks like for their family.

What Are the Best Resources For Planning a Homeschool Curriculum?

Even if you are new to homeschooling, you won't have to start from scratch when planning a curriculum for the year. The experts we spoke with pointed us to a number of helpful resources that provide lessons and activities for homeschooling parents. Sally Kim, a Southern California mom and former elementary school teacher who shares her homeschool adventures on her website, Lovestalgia, is part of a homeschool charter.

Not all states have homeschool charter schools, but being a part of one means that Kim has a homeschool teacher who can suggest curriculum choices and send over resources. "I personally like picking a homeschool curriculum that is all-encompassing and has day-to-day lessons written out. I will use that to guide my teaching and supplement with other activities or resources I look for throughout the year," Kim told POPSUGAR.

Kim often turns to The Moffatt Girls for worksheets, Cathy Duffy Reviews to review curriculums before purchasing, and other homeschooling parents or local Facebook groups for ideas. She has a whole list of homeschool resources – from printables to podcasts – on her own site, as well.

Lauren Rowello, a writer, homeschooling parent, and homeschool co-op leader in Moorestown, New Jersey, also utilizes pre-planned curriculums through Khan Academy, Reading Eggs, and Oak Meadow, but prefers to use current events to build her own lessons on social studies, modern justice movements, and history lessons. "I prefer to do a lot of that teaching with my kids in front of a newspaper or while listening to podcasts for the most updated information that helps us think critically about the topics," she said. "My kids pick what they want to explore in reading and I introduce books that have a lot to do with the justice topics we're exploring as a family."

How Do You Plan Out a Homeschool Schedule?

With so many curriculum options available, it's easy to mix-and-match to find a schedule and organization style that works best for your family. All of the parent experts we spoke with allot time for the basics like math, reading, social studies, art, science, and writing, but how they choose to execute that is entirely up to them.

Rowello's schooling checklists include a "weeklong suggested schedule that my kids can play around with to complete all the activities they want to pursue for learning. The goal is to check off all the things on the list, so it helps us plan how they'll do that." Instead of telling them what to do when, this method gives her kids an active role in developing important time management skills.

She's also not afraid to go with the flow and let her kids take the lead. "It's a lot of piecing things together and paying attention to their wants and needs, and shifting when appropriate. For us, that means less pre-planning for the whole year and instead focusing month-by-month." A typical day may look like "three hours of reading or research, then lunch, an hour and a half of a documentary, and an afternoon riding bikes before dinner where we discuss protests and the pandemic," Rowello said.

Carly Anderson, a Southern California mom, former elementary school teacher, and body positive style influencer who is using homeschool principles to supplement the distance learning option being provided by her daughter's school this year, has found that alternating between independent and supervised activities works best in her home. "For instance, we'll start each day with some journaling time which is more independent and then we'll read together. After that we'll go for a walk and listen to an audiobook, then do some math," she said.

Pre pandemic, Kim would usually do school work in the mornings and then head out for field trips (sometimes at Disneyland!) and outings with other homeschooling families in the afternoon. Now that she is spending most of her time at home, she does more cooking and baking with her daughter, tidying up, or running errands and using that as an an opportunity to learn about money. She also incorporates an hour to an hour and a half of "quiet time" for independent play.

What Types of Hands-On Educational Activities Can You Incorporate?

Just as most classroom instruction incorporates hands-on and outdoor activities, homeschooling does not mean spending the day behind a desk with your child. There are plenty of opportunities to get outside and incorporate the natural world into your lessons.

Ruby McConnell, a writer, geologist, mom, and author of the middle grade book A Girl's Guide to the Wild: Be an Adventure-Seeking Outdoor Explorer! is an expert in taking education into the great outdoors. All you need is a yard, a local park, or even a window to peer out of.

She loves time-based observational work, such as studying habitats in trees, star mapping, or indicators of the changing seasons. An example that she gave that works for families with kids in different grade levels is building an at-home weather station (instructions are available in the companion journal to McConnell's book).

"You can set this up with stuff you have around the house, a rain gauge, some sort of indicator for the wind and what direction it blows, a little $3 outdoor thermometer, and you can even make a balloon-based barometer," she said. Younger kids can help with measurements and making observations about clouds, wind direction, and the color of the sky, and older kids can go as far as forecasting, cloud science, and climate change. "As they collect data, you can even get into statistics, how to take an average, and graphing. It opens up a lot of different things."

When you just need a break from being inside or your child is getting antsy, McConnell recommends dropping everything and heading outside for a scavenger hunt. Because you know those days are going to happen, print some out or create your own now so you have them at the ready. "At the very least, you're teaching them to be outside, to be curious, and to be in a mindful state so it's a win," McConnell said.

How Do You Keep Your Homeschool Materials and Plans Organized?

No matter which curriculum you choose (or piece together), you are going to need a solid method for staying organized and keeping your child on track. Anderson's inner teacher drew her to developing a color-coded bin system. She fills each bin with worksheets and materials for each school subject so everything is easy to find. "This allows my daughter to feel more in control of her own experience, and helps me to stay organized and set up for the next day without taking over our whole house."

Kim writes down lessons in a lesson plan book (like a planner, but for teachers). "I try to plan for the week on Sundays by having a general idea of things we want to accomplish and having those worksheets or workbooks ready either in a book shelf or bin/container on her table or in a tiered cart. I also use a color-coded drawer with Monday-Friday labeled on it and put the worksheets we have planned for the week according to the day."

How Do You Measure Your Child's Progress Throughout the Year?

Because Kim is involved with a homeschool charter, she meets with her homeschool teacher once a month to review her daughter's progress and set goals for the upcoming month. She also uses annual math and reading assessments to measure growth and guide her planning for the following school year. "The curriculum I've chosen for my daughter comes with tests after each unit so we can gauge whether she has mastered that skill or subject matter. Also, because you are working with your child one on one, you will know if your child understands a concept or not," she said.

In Rowello's home state of New Jersey, there are no state-mandated assessments, so she prefers to pay attention to how her children are moving through their study materials. "Are they struggling and maybe need something less challenging? Are they bored or moving through quickly? Then they might need something more challenging. Kids often learn asynchronously," she said. "I think as long as they're practicing skills and finding ways to feel encouraged about the work they're completing, they'll be empowered to make progress. If they find subjects they're passionate about, they'll dig deep with affirmation and encouragement and don't need formal assessments."

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