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When we started homeschooling my oldest son, we had just pulled him out of public school first grade halfway through the year. Since the year was half over, I wasn’t willing to invest in a year-long boxed curriculum. So I picked up a copy of What Your First Grader Needs to Know as a reference and starting point, and hit the internet to find lesson ideas. That year we used a lot of Magic Tree House books because I was able to find free lessons to go along with the books.
The beginning of our homeschool life was rather impromptu, and I will admit that putting together lessons was stressful and a lot of work. I don’t have a teaching background either, so I was always second-guessing my choices.
We managed that first half-year, rather successfully I would say, but I swore that next year I would be purchasing a bright, shiny, all-in-one curriculum.
How did that work out? Well, while it was easier, it wasn’t perfect. We chose the 2nd grade curriculum from Bookshark, and while it was lovely to just open the teacher’s guide and have everything laid out before me, we definitely didn’t love everything.
Now after 3 years of a boxed curriculum, I am planning to go back to putting my own together next year, as my current “boxed” year has fallen apart a bit and I’m already dropping pieces of it for other things.
UPDATE 2020: Thanks to COVID-19 restrictions, the closure of libraries hit my lesson planning hard. I wasn’t able to finish up my history or literature programs the way I wanted to this year because I couldn’t get the books I needed. Seeing as how we are starting school again in August 2020 and our libraries have closed down AGAIN, I’m not risking it. I’m going back to Bookshark this year so I have all of my supplies and books on hand and I don’t have to rely on access to libraries.
Which curriculum is right for you? Consider these pros and cons when making your decision:
Pros of a Packaged Curriculum
A packaged “all-in-one” homeschool curriculum will come with 36 weeks of lesson plans all laid out for you. Usually very little advance prep is needed, maybe just gathering a few supplies for science experiments. For working Moms, new homeschoolers, or those of us without the teaching background, these can be a lifesaver. Not only is a lot of the work done for you but you can rest assured that what you are teaching is at grade level and thorough.
Books and Supplies Included
Boxed curricula also usually come with all the books and supplies that you will need to teach that year. Imagine not having to track down your books from the library, ebay, Amazon, used book stores, etc. Even if you can’t use the books again for a younger child, consider the fact that you can re-sell a lot of these books and recoup some of your expenses. If you plan to use the books again for another child, most times you can just purchase the consumable items like worksheets the next time around.
One of the things I have always found enjoyable is how my curriculum will integrate history, language arts, and science. For example, if we are studying the Civil War in history, our readers are stories about what life was like at that time, and science will be exploring scientists, inventions, and discoveries from that era.
Most all-in-one packages can be customized to meet the needs of your child. For example, when I purchased the Bookshark curriculum for second grade, I was able to choose the level of readers we would be using. I chose the advanced readers because my son excels in this area. If you are unsure of what level to choose, most companies will offer you a “level test” you can use to assess your child’s appropriate level.
With Bookshark we were also able to choose which math program we wanted to use, and whether to purchase a handwriting program or not. They also offered optional vocabulary and phonics programs.
As I mentioned earlier, packaged plans can be great if you are buying it for an older student and plan to use it again (and again) with your younger children. All you have to do is purchase the consumable items and you’re all set to go again.
I’ll be honest, boxed curricula can be quite expensive. But, if you consider the value of the time you will spend putting together your own lessons and tracking down all the books and supplies on your own, it may be worth it for you. The way I look at it, it’s less than the cost of a year of private school. Plus, I have been able to sell what I know I won’t use again, and put that money towards the cost of the next year.
Can Be Inflexible
I struggled with how to define this issue, but it’s one that we’ve experienced. During our second grade year, there were at least two readers that were just plain boring. Now I don’t let my son determine this, but since I also read his books so that I can discuss them with him, if we agree that we can’t stand the book anymore then we stop. The problem is, the rest of the language arts program is using this reader as a guide, so you either have to just make do or find some alternate assignments. And then you’re thinking, wait, I thought I wasn’t supposed to have to make my own lessons!
While that may seem minor, this year we hit a bigger wall while studying history. We started the year learning about westward expansion — Oregon Trail, Gold Rush, etc. It was fun and interesting too. Then on to the Civil War, which had a lot of great reading. But then as we pushed into the development of the government, establishment of cities and laws, it just wasn’t interesting anymore. It was a lot of dry reading, and my kids were just not interested. By December, I had scrapped our planned history curriculum and chose to do a month of “Christmas Around the World” instead. They loved that, and facing the new year studying the World Wars if we continued with the BookShark curriculum, I decided to drop it and study the U.S. States instead. So there went my nice planned history lessons, and I found myself developing my own lesson plans.
A boxed curriculum will usually be specific to one grade level. Now while I have used the history and science to teach both my boys (who are 2 years apart grade-wise), you definitely will need to teach language arts and math separately. If you are going to teach the math and science to more than one child, you’ll want to make sure that it is appropriate for both. Last year it was fine because science was mostly the study of plants and animals, but this year I think our studies are a little over the head of my second grader. Then again, at least he is gaining exposure to the ideas, and based of the absolute lack of science instruction that seems to exist in public elementary schools in our state, I feel like I’m doing ok!
Whew! Well that was a lot of information but I hope that I have helped you make your decision! What are your experiences with using a boxed curriculum?