Homeschooling curriculum options are really, really plentiful. Parents have so many materials and approaches to choose from that it can sometimes be overwhelming! (Some materials have to be sourced from overseas, though).
In a previous post, I discussed how parents can shape their own “Homeschool Blueprint” and design their own homeschooling approach. Your blueprint, philosophy, approach or whatever you call “it” is unique to your family and the goals you have. For example, a more religious family can embed their beliefs and values into the curriculum, not just as a “religious studies” subject but into daily life. Some families have a high-tech approach and introduce coding and software development, some choose to be tech-free or have a Waldorf approach. There’s often no “right and wrong” (within reason), but it’s about what right for your child/children. Even what languages you choose to emphasize and use is up to you.
Meeting other homeschoolers and reading homeschooling websites and blogs can give you some idea, but it’s often good to have some ideas in mind already and to be familiar with your present needs. Otherwise it’s like going to IKEA ready to decorate a new apartment but without a concept or theme or clearly defined needs. If you know you’ll need a sofa bed or kitchen table for a specific purpose, then that’s what you’ll look for.
I wrote more about this in a previous post, but some of the things you can think about are:
- Family beliefs/philosophies
- Education goals/aims
- Children’s abilities and needs
- Children’s aptitude, learning styles and interests
These will shape your criteria. Next, these are some of the basic choices that can be made:
You can think about the learning areas/subjects you’d like to include in your homeschooling. Parents taking a child-led approach or unschooling approach may ask their children what their interests are and what they’d like to focus on or learn. Some families have a blended approach, where parents have some things they’d like children to learn and some things children choose for themselves.
You can choose to follow a curriculum like the English National Curriculum and use the subjects there. Or you could create your own general list of subjects. For example, in my family, we did the following subjects, some informally and some formally (with curriculum materials). These don’t include project learning and self-guided learning we did on our own.
- Art (informal)
- Music (formal)
- Life skills (informal)
- Outdoor activities and sports (informal)
- Swimming (classes)
- Religious studies (both formal and informal)
- Bahasa Malaysia (formal/informal)
- Mandarin (classes)
- Language arts (formal)
- Science (formal)
- Mathematics (formal)
- History and Geography, International ( formal)
- Malaysian Studies (informal/blended)
Nowadays, there’s a more away from formal subject boundaries such as in Finland. Whether you decide to have specific subjects, or have subject-based goals but informal/integrated learning activities, or however you decide to do it, it’s up to you!
I might add that a lot of families have a period of “deschooling” in which they take time to have a slower-paced learning style without a formal curriculum. This helps transition to being and learning at home and could work for some. My family didn’t “de-school” and it worked fine for us, but deschooling is something you may find interesting/helpful.
I might also add that you don’t have to think of subjects as being in specific periods of time and you definitely don’t have to do every single subject every day. Basically, homeschooling does not have to replicate traditional schooling to be successful. For me, personally, I preferred to work on one or two subjects and really concentrate on them rather than do a little of each subject on most days. There’s the freedom to self-regulate, especially for older homeschoolers, where you have goals and you can organise your schedule and plan your own strategies to fulfill these goals.
Some people have a specific approach. They are “Waldorf-inspired”, “Finnish-inspired”, “Montessori-inspired”, “Charlotte Mason-inspired”, etc. There are also “Unschoolers”, “Classical Homeschoolers” and “Project-Based Homeschoolers”. If any of these methods appeal to you, you can look up communities of homeschoolers that use them. Some people use a method 100%, some people incorporate some ideas from a method. Don’t feel like you absolutely need to be a pure, 100% follower of a method if that’s not what you want to do. Don’t let other people make you feel “guilty”, no matter how fantastically beneficial they make the method sound. If anyone says, “Thou shalt do it this way and only this way”, I’d be very cautious.
This will affect your choices if and when you do “curriculum shopping”. I think that every homeschooling family will have unstructured learning in some form, but there are some who have more unstructured learning than others. Some are almost 100% unstructured (unschooling).
There is a general pattern going from unstructured to structured and dependent to independent throughout the years. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but younger children need less structured materials and more play-based, hands-on learning. Therefore, parents’ involvement is higher in the earlier years. Later on, homeschool teens tend to (it’s not a rule!) become independent learners who can self-manage and don’t require, like, someone to sit next to them to explain things.
Do you want to get a curriculum from one source, or mix materials from different sources? An all-in-one curriculum or full curriculum package definitely takes the guesswork and stress out of choosing and compiling materials. For others, they want the freedom to make decisions along the way.
My mother is more of a “pick one curriculum and stick to it” type. She chose one that wouldn’t require lesson planning and preparation, that she wouldn’t have to do a lot of hands-on marking, teaching, exposition, explanation, etc. It just wouldn’t have been practical for us in the long term, because she’s not the “teacher type”. That worked for us.
I can see some homeschoolers use, for example, Singapore maths for mathematics and Cambridge curricula for English, Malaysian books for history, etc. They supplement a “curriculum” with different materials and maybe even blend with taking classes and having tutors. It’s basically up to you!
“Workbooks” or Living Books (or both?)
This is an interesting choice linked to the Charlotte Mason approach. Some homeschoolers prefer to use books written about the subject rather than specific “textbooks” and “workbooks”. These are called “living books” because they bring topics to life. The idea is that you don’t learn from specifically “school” or “education” materials. There are a lot of great materials out there that aren’t specifically made for “school”, that aren’t graded or have tests, quizzes and exercises. But, they do develop a genuine interest in the subject material. “A Children’s Book of Malaysian History” is, for example, written like a storybook. It’s an exciting narrative and conveys a lot of information about Malaysian history.
Well-written educational textbooks are interesting. They capture reader’s interests and make remembering information easy. I still remember the things I read in third grade science and the pictures in my GCSE Geography textbook for a reason – they were very well presented and genuinely fed a thirst for knowledge.
So this is an interesting thing to consider.
National Curricula or Homeschool Curricula
There are Malaysian homeschoolers who use public or international school materials or follow the Malaysian/Singaporean/British/American/Australian/Finnish syllabi. This is quite common. This means that you can find materials in bookstores and school bookstores and that children can quite easily take school leaving/university entrance exams such as SPM, O-Levels, iGCSEs, A-Levels, AUSMAT, etc.
There are also materials created specifically for homeschooling. Most originate in the US. The advantage is that they are usually created to be used for self-directed or independent learning, more so than national-school materials. However, the big choice to make is to use religious (usually Christian) homeschooling materials or secular.
Secular vs. Religious
In the United States, homeschooling is very popular with what’s called the “Christian Right”, a political-religious movement. Such homeschooling materials often make their way overseas. However, they aren’t just “Christian” in general but specifically “American Christian Right-Wing”. There are varying levels of ethno-religious centrism. The contextual relevant and appropriateness of such materials differs from family to family.
I’m personally a Christian and I was homeschooled with Christian materials and many of my homeschooled friends were as well. I would say that some are more political/ideological than others but that the influence is there in a cultural/historical way. I think Malaysians who choose homeschooling need to be aware of this so they can make the choice whether to use these materials or not. Like I said, some are very religious and some are less so.
Additionally, the quality of science and mathematics education may not be up to the same standards as, say, Malaysian, Singaporean, or British schooling materials because the whole education system is different as well.
On the flip side, there’s a growing awareness that homeschoolers are diverse and have diverse needs, so there’s “Afro-centred homeschooling”, “Islamic homeschooling”, “secular homeschooling” and the like. All these materials are also out there in various amounts, so if you want to source secular or religiously neutral homeschooling materials, you can check out various sites online. “SEA Homeschoolers” is a site with resources for secular, eclectic and academic homeschooling. It has an FB group for secular homeschooling families as well.
Digital or Physical
This is a very interesting development. There are CD-ROM based homeschooling curricula as well as online, web-based materials. Khan Academy, while not a complete curriculum, springs to mind. There are new ones popping up every day!
It’s up to you whether you choose to use a digital, physical (book-based) or blended materials. You may choose not to use any specific “schooling” materials at all if unschooling.
I will have this to say – back in 2003, my family choose to use a computer-based CD-ROM curriculum. This was unheard-of at the time. Daring to something different is not easy, as everyone will throw up their hands and complain, “Your children won’t get a proper education” or “Your children will never learn basic life skills like writing”. Personally, I feel that there are benefits to use digital materials, especially for older children (10+) in the 21st century. There are benefits to being adaptable to being able to type quickly and use the internet for research.
There’s often the idea that you must choose between two good options. I’m a firm believer in the fact that you can have the best of both worlds and that it’s not a dichotomy. One can have good writing skills and good computer skills. One can be an independent learner and also be sociable. One can be good at practical life skills and be good academically. One can be creative and think out-of-the-box and also do well traditional learning environments/career. One can be a fluent English speaker and speak your own national language well! Don’t feel like doing one thing differently means you will lose out – that’s not necessarily true!
So these are some of the choices available out there. Choice, choice, choice… there’s no one perfect to homeschool or educate children. There are millions of unique, individual children in unique, individual families who can homeschool in unique, individual ways.
I would like to conclude by discussing the difference between unproductive stress and productive responsibility. You will be facing a lot of negative stress when you choose to homeschool. A lot of people will have a lot of things to say, and even other homeschooling families may not be helpful. Stress is unproductive when it causes you to doubt everything you do and lose your confidence. It isn’t healthy and it isn’t helpful because it can be paralyzing and inhibit what you’re trying to do. The feeling of not being good enough, or worrying about being as “successful” as other homeschooling families does not create a conducive homeschooling environment. It’s best to find a supportive community that doesn’t try to impose their own version of what homeschooling must be on your family.
On the other hand, there’s productive responsibility. Homeschooling is a big commitment not to be done halfheartedly or reluctantly. It is telling your child that you will be the one providing for their education and future. If that motivates and excites you and gets you going, then that’s healthy! That being said, homeschooling parents are generally very involved committed and passionate – definitely not the “don’t care” and “couldn’t be bothered” type. They want to do the best for their children and give them the best chance in life.