Ten things parents want in a homeschooling curriculum
If you’ve arrived here because you’re looking for a freelance editor or proofreader for the homeschooling curriculum you’ve written, you probably have some experience as a homeschooling parent; that’s the origin behind most homeschooling curriculum.
(Technically the plural of curriculum is curricula but that is so infrequently used that I'm choosing to ignore it.)
Chances are, though, that you’ve been working on this project for years and by now you may be struggling to see the forest for the trees. The list here is a gentle reminder of what most moms would give their right arms to have in their homeschooling curriculum. (And yes, it is mostly moms. You likely know that!)
If you wrote your curriculum without having been a homeschooling parent, please, read on. Without having approached a product like yours from the other side, so to speak, some of these elements may not have even occurred to you.
What does every parent want to see in a homeschooling curriculum?
1. It's easy to use right out of the box.
Most homeschooling moms have multiple children and a home to take care of. We will weep with joy if we can pull the new curriculum out of the box on Monday and put it to use on Tuesday.
Don’t make me access four different appendices. Don’t make me photocopy until I run out of ink. And, especially at the high school level, don’t make me understand the material before I can hand it to my teenager; I shouldn’t have to BE a physicist to have my child complete a physics course.
Don’t assume I have an encyclopedic knowledge of grammar, or frog specimens and spare petri dishes in the pantry. Do assume I’m reading the “Introduction for Teachers” while cooking dinner and chasing a toddler and craft your words and set-up accordingly.
(For the exception that proves the rule, though, I offer the Institute for Excellence in Writing. Getting set up to effectively teach that can be, literally, a course unto itself for the parent. However, it’s hands-down the best writing curriculum out there and well worth the effort, or even half the effort.)
2. It's organized. Very organized.
Not only should your curriculum be easy to use right out of the box, it should be easy to use all semester or year. Present not just the content in an organized fashion, but also the assignments, and supplements, and answer keys.
The entire shebang, soup to nuts, should be organized with military precision. Your users are often in a hurry and usually pretty organized themselves – there’s no such thing as “too organized” for your audience.
3. Grading is easy to do and track.
Although not all homeschooling families use letter or number grades, particularly in the K-8 years, some do. And certainly quite a few do in the high school years, especially if the students are college-bound.
As I said before, I should not have to learn and understand the content in order to grade it. Provide a clear and complete answer key, both on paper and online. Ideally, you’ve provided an answer key I can hand to my student so she can grade her own work (yes, homeschooling parents do that). If the curriculum itself is online, grading should be automatic but must also include explanations.
The only exception to this requirement might be for a high-school-level writing class, since the judgement for that is more subjective. But you should at least take a stab at it by providing a rubric.
If quizzes and tests are part of the package, help mom out by setting up a grade recording page that gives suggestions on how much to weigh each assignment.
Yes, I have used curriculum without answer keys. But not for very long!
And families that don’t grade? They can just ignore this part. No harm done.
4. It works across multiple age groups.
Again, exceptions can be made for high school level study, but in the K-8 realm, I want curriculum that works for most if not all of my kids. Pre-readers can be read aloud to and do a coloring page. Older kids can have extra and more complex map labeling or literature to read and write about.
Most homeschooling families have more than one child; many homeschool families have more than the average number of kids. There are only so many hours in a day for mom to teach so a curriculum that only works for one of them is quickly discarded.
5. It works at home and in a co-op setting.
Curriculum that doesn’t lend itself to use in a co-op setting hinders its likelihood of being used anywhere, although by the same token curriculum that only works with a group isn’t helpful, either. In the same way I want to be able to use it across multiple age groups, I want to be able to use it in multiple settings.
I’ve used – and been frustrated by - curriculum that has “in class group activities” that can’t really be used outside of a co-op. More often I’ve struggled to make activities or assignments translate from home to co-op.
As a co-op teacher, I also have to keep in mind the quantity and complexity of student output I can reasonably evaluate in a timely fashion.
6. It provides an easy way to distribute homework.
Don’t make mom do the work of dreaming up ways to help the kids synthesize and retain the information. Include homework, quizzes, project ideas, extra reading, and outing suggestions. The more options you can include, the better!
You should also think about granting some permission for photocopying, or offering extra/supplemental workbooks sold separately from the main text.
7. It also provides a syllabus.
This is part of “make it easy to use right out of the box.” As the writer of the curriculum, you are in an excellent position to divide the content into circa 180 days/36 weeks/9 months of schooling. Please don’t just supply a text book with no indication of how much the kids should be tackling each day or week. Many homeschoolers don’t finish individual curriculums each year but we at least like to know what we’re aiming for.
8. It offers activities across learning modes – hands on, copying, listening, etc. – something for every style of learner.
Some kids love to be read to, some can’t stand it. Some are happy to fill out worksheets, or write essays, and others loathe both. Some kids – and it’s often the young boys – need something to build or do with their hands, not just as homework but during the intake of information. If you’re writing for littles, give them a chance to put their natural wiggles to work while learning.
Accommodating a variety of learning styles keeps both students and mom engaged, plus it enhances absorption of the material. And try not to offer the exact same things every week. Yes, that makes it predictable, but that also makes it…predictable.
9. It's accurate. The facts must be accurate, of course, but also things like the index, table of contents, and other references.
Please don’t tell me I can find the homework for chapter 6 on page 147 and then on page 147 is the suggested additional reading for chapter 9. This also falls under the category of “make it easy for mom.” And it should go without saying that your content had better be true and accurate.
10. It address a need in a home’s educational plan.
How can you do this without knowing everyone’s educational plan? You can’t. But there are quite literally millions of kids being homeschooled in the United States and I guarantee those kids would be happy to learn almost anything. Whittling? My kids have asked for that. A history of South America? My kids have asked for that. Sword-making? My kids have asked for that. Any expertise you have will be welcome in some corner of the homeschooling world.
One last thing you DON’T need to be: unique.
Reluctant to move forward with a curriculum idea or publication because it isn’t the first of its kind? Doesn’t matter. Moms are always on the lookout for new curriculum. Moms and kids alike just get tired of the same old same old. What was once exciting to teach five years ago has become boring for mom; the teacher needs to be engaged with the material, too.
Look around – there are dozens of successful math and history curriculums and only one of them came to market first. You don’t need to write the first book on underwater basket-weaving to make a worthwhile contribution to the curriculum marketplace.
When you think you're ready for an editor or proofreader for the curriculum you've written (congratulations!), I'd be honored to read your work. My goal as a freelance editor is to help you craft an engaging, compelling, easy-to-use homeschooling curriculum for your target audience.