How to Create Your Own Curriculum

Design a Personalized Teaching Plan that Fits Your Family's Needs

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Many homeschooling parents -- even those who start out using a pre-packaged curriculum -- decide somewhere along the way to take advantage of the freedom homeschooling allows by creating their own course of study.

If you've never created your own teaching plan, it can sound daunting. But taking the time to put together a customized curriculum for your family can save you money and make your homeschooling experience much more meaningful.

Here are some general steps to follow to help you write a curriculum for any subject:

1. Do your research.

If you're already well-versed in the subject you want to teach, that's great. But part of the fun of homeschooling for me has always been learning new material along with my kids.

To create a teaching plan for a subject you're not familiar with, the first step is to get a good idea of what it's about.

My favorite way to get a quick overview of a new subject? Read a well-written book on the topic aimed at middle schoolers! Books for that level will tell you everything you need to know to cover the topic for younger students, but still be comprehensive enough to get you started on a high school level.

Other resources you can use include:

  • Popular nonfiction young adult books;
  • Websites about a subject for students (the BBC's Learning site is a good start);
  • Review books written for high school students;
  • Self-help books for adults (such as the "For Dummies" series);
  • Textbooks, particularly ones that are recommended by other homeschoolers.
  • About.com's subject sites, such as Chemistry, Women's History, or Classic Literature.

As you read, make notes on key concepts and topics you may want to cover.

2. Identify topics you would like to cover.

Once you've gotten a broad view of the subject, start thinking about what concepts you want your children to learn.

Don't feel you have to cover everything -- many educators today feel that digging deep into a few core areas is more useful than skimming over many topics briefly.

It helps if you organize related topics into units. That gives you more flexibility and cuts down on work. (See below for more work-saving tips.)

3. Create a timetable.

Figure out how long you would like to spend on the subject. You can take a year, a semester, or a few weeks. Then decide how much time you want to devote to each topic you want to cover.

I recommend creating a schedule around units instead of individual topics. Within that time period, you can list all the topics you think your family would like to learn about. But don't worry about individual topics until you get there. That way, if you decide to drop a topic, you'll avoid doing extra work.

For instance, you may want to devote three months to the Civil War. But you don't need to plan out how to cover each battle until you dive in and see how it goes.

4. Select high-quality resources.

One big plus of homeschooling is that it lets you use choose the very best resources available, whether they are textbooks or alternatives to textbooks.

That includes picture books and comics, movies, videos, and toys and games, as well as online resources and apps.

Fiction and narrative nonfiction (true stories about inventions and discoveries, biographies, and so on) can also be useful learning tools.

Other recommended resources can be found in the links below:

  • Social Studies Books (That Aren't Textbooks)
  • Math Textbooks With a Sense of Playfulness
  • Science Resources for Homeschoolers

5. Schedule in activities.

There's more to learning a topic than accumulating facts. Help your kids put the topics you cover into context by scheduling in field trips, classes, and community events that relate to the subject you are studying.

Search out museum exhibits or programs in your region. Find experts (college professors, craftspeople, hobbyists) who might be willing to talk to your family or homeschool group.

And be sure to include lots of hands-on projects. You don't have to put them together from scratch -- there are lots of well-made science kits and arts and crafts kits, as well as activity books that give you step-by-step directions. Don't forget activities like cooking, making costumes, or building models.

6. Find ways to demonstrate what your kids have learned.

Written tests are just one way to see how much your children have learned about a subject. You can have them put together a research project that includes an essay, charts, timelines, and written or visual presentations.

Kids can also reinforce what they've learned by making artwork, writing stories or plays, or creating music inspired by the subject.

Bonus Tip: How to make writing your own curriculum quicker and easier:

1. Start small. When you're writing your own curriculum for the first time, it helps to start with one Unit Study or one subject.

2. Keep it flexible. The more detailed your teaching plan, the less likely you are to stick to it. Within your subject, pick a few general topics you want to touch on. Don't worry if you come up with more topics than you can possibly cover in one year. If one topic doesn't work for your family, you'll have options to move on to. And nothing says you can't continue on with a subject for more than a year.

3. Choose topics that interest you and/or your kids. Enthusiasm is contagious. If you child is fascinated with a subject, chances are you will pick up some factoids about it as well. The same goes for you: Teachers who love their topic can make anything sound interesting. Don't worry about gaps: If your kids are truly drawn to a subject,