Homeschool 101: Choosing Curriculum the Simple Way

I’m trying to answer some questions I get asked as I get to visit with moms around the country.  Last week I answered the question, “How do you get it all done?” in this post. Today, I’ll pull back the curtain on how I choose curriculum for our kids each year. Hopefully after 17 years of homeschooling, I’ve got a few ideas that will help you avoid some of the ditches I stumbled into!

Little Tip:  Whatever your choose needs to be good for both your child and you.
If you don’ t love it, you’ll struggle to teach it.

If you have homeschooled for more than five minutes or done even one internet search in your consideration of homeschooling, you know there is a very long list of curricula out there for you to try.  It can be overwhelming. It’s easy to spend too much money in a panic to find just the right program.  Here’s the thing: a good homeschool education doesn’t have to be expensive. It shouldn’t break the bank, either.

If you’re just starting your homeschool journey—DON’T PANIC. You don’t need a lot of curriculum. If your kids are very young, you don’t need more than one or two books. We love simple in our home. Our lives are very busy by definition and so when it comes to schooling,

Little Tip: Choose curriculum that will compliment your lifestyle, not compete with it.
Try not to overthink it.

Are you still curious? Here are a few of my favorite things:

Beginning Reading:

Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons – I’ve used this for years and years and all our children are excellent readers. You don’t need anything but pencil and paper to go with this book. I’d suggest doing the writing assignments that go with each lesson. Don’t spend too much time on any lesson in this book. No more than 30 minutes including writing time.

Bob Books for Early Readers – Bob books are our favorite transition from 100 Easy Lessons. We try and do one booklet each day and write a little, too.


We’ve tried every math program out there. I hesitate to tell you which one we landed on but I do love Teaching Textbooks for grades 7 and up.  I also love a little handheld math quizzer called “Flash Master.” It does all the basic math facts in several different formats. We’ve had ours for years and it was well worth the investment.

Life of Fred has literally made our eight year old enjoy math. ‘nuf said.


3-8th grade: I love the Apologia Young Explorer series. You can use them in so many ways and they read like a great story. And yes, I’ve used them with several of our kids through the 8th grade. We simply give more challenging assignments as they get older.

*note: I have a friend who has homeschooled her kids forever w/out picking up a formal science book until they were in high school. Of her three kids, one is a doctor, one an attorney and one a teacher. They did just fine.

High school writing

I’m a fan of IEW – Institute in Excellence for Writing. Check it out. I don’t do this for our younger kids because they love to write already and I do too—but as they get into high school, we do IEW and love it. (The link is to the author’s page.)

Unit Studies

For grades 3 and up, you can’t beat YWAM Christian Heroes Series. They are my favorite tool for teaching geography, history and social studies. One six dollar book not only gives your kids a window into another culture, but teaches them about people who followed God in the most incredible ways.  I love them!

Five in a Row takes wonderful children’s literature and makes a unit study out of it. It’s brilliantly written, inexpensive and easy to use for preschoolers through about 6th grade. If you love learning with your children while you snuggle up on the couch, this is for you!

Check these resources out too:

Pocketful of Pinecones by Karen Andreola is a great reminder of what education can look like. She also wrote A Charlotte Mason Companion which I loved.

I suppose I could go on and on about this, so if you have a specific question please let me know. I’d love to hear what’s working for you.

At the end of the day and regardless of what curricula you land on, keep in mind that the curriculum is there to help you, not to take over for you. You are the teacher—and you can do it!



No curriculum can be a substitute for God’s gentle leadership in your homeschool.

So before you spend hundreds of dollars thinking you have found the miracle curriculum that will make homeschooling simple, remember the promise God makes in Matthew 11:28 –

My yoke is easy and My burden is light.

Homeschooling should be a joy. It should not run you over and leave you for dead. If you’re already overwhelmed by the curriculum or program you chose, it may be time to prayerfully consider another way. ♥

You can do this, busy mom! Enjoy your kids!


Heidi St John Homeschooling Guide to Daylight

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Heidi St. John
Heidi St. John has been married to her husband Jay since 1989. Together they have seven children from toddler to adult and have homeschooled all the way through high school. A favorite conference and radio speaker, Heidi approaches marriage and parenting with humor and grace. Her passion to encourage moms and set them free to be who God has created them to be will bless and encourage you.
Heidi St. John
Heidi St. John
Heidi St. John

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54 Responses to Homeschool 101: Choosing Curriculum the Simple Way

  1. CRA says:

    I love gathering and sharing good curriculum ideas! My oldest son learned to read using Teach Your …in 100 Easy Lessons when he went to private school for Kindergarten prior to us homeschooling and he read like a champ. When I began using it with our middle son it was not clicking for him or for me teaching it. I think your point that it has to work for both teacher and student is excellent! We switched to another very simple book, Phonics Pathways by Dolores Hiskes, and we both thrived with this book! I can’t say enough about it and here again, simple and inexpensive. I fretted over all kinds of formal, expensive programs with lots of bells and whistles but we didn’t need them. We also added in the BOB books and other readers.

    We love Horizons Math. Easy to teach and not too much “busy” work for the student. Around 5th grade I switch from Horizons to Teaching Textbooks because Math is not my strongest subject. I have read and learned myself that Teaching Textbooks may be a year behind Saxon and Horizon so when I switched, my son would have gone into 5th grade Horizons, but Teaching Textbooks equivalent was Math 6.

    I love to mix and match from different curricula so that if something isn’t working in a particular subject we can change without having to replace a whole expensive curriculum set.

    Thanks for the tips Heidi!

  2. Jessica says:

    Thank you so much for writing this! I have homeschooled my children for five years now. We have went thru an academy that was very good for me in the beginning. However as I added more children to the academy not only did it get expensive but took up every bit of time that we had. The math program is not working for my 4th grader or myself. So this coming year I have decided to make up my own curriculum and to make it fit our lives not us fit the curriculum. At first I wasn’t sure if I could do it but I think I will be fine. Thanks for your encouragment!

  3. Rhea says:

    Thank you so much for writing this. I’m not ready to do Apologia General Science. I tried last year with my 7th grader and he wasn’t ready and I didn’t want to try again this year so knowing you still did the Young Explorers till 8th gave me total peace!!! (I was getting very anxious over it) Thank you so much!!!

  4. Tabitha says:

    Heidi, what kinda spelling curriculum do you recommend? What has worked for you and what hasn’t? I’ve got two totally different learners, and so am looking for something a bit more hands on right now, but we also do a lot of sit on the couch learning 😉 as you put it I guess. Thanks for advice.

    • Heidi says:

      Hi Tabitha! You know, I have “theory” about spelling—and here it is: kids are either born spellers or they’re not… because … most good spellers are VISUAL learners! So, I work with my kids on phonics when they’re K-3 quite a bit. I don’t “do” spelling curriculums—instead I focus on having them read a lot and doing copywork. It has worked out great for our kids so far!

      • Tamara says:

        Awesome response! I have done the same with my kids (let them learn through phonics, reading and copy work), but I know so many people who make sure that they do a “spelling” class for their kids (which my kids and I hate doing) and I wondered if I was going to mess up my kids by not doing that. This just totally made my day! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!! Bring on the next school year!

  5. I love your posts. They always come when I most need them. Thank you for all your uplifting and encouraging words.

  6. I needed this so much today! My husband had surgery for cancer this week & I started back to school w/ my dyslexic senior. I feel that I just don’t have the energy to make it through these hard subjects.

  7. Penny Godwin says:

    Jennifer Godwin Lancaster

  8. Thank you! I needed this hug today and the reminder to keep it simple and fun! I did not do that last year and we were all exhausted! This year will be different! More laughing, creating, and enjoying the process! By God’s grace!

  9. just what I needed today! Thanks!

  10. I sometimes sit and wonder how i will make it through another day with all four kids in different grades, needing different help all the time and I have to step back, give myself a pep talk and say a quick prayer and get back to it. Definitely not the easiest thing to do but it is where God has put me so I’ll keep doing my best. Praying for you!

  11. Dankie Nolene Harper! Marelize Van Der Merwe

  12. Niki Alford says:

    Great inspiration for this homeschooling momma in the making! My husband has concerns about our daughter knowing what “the other kids are being taught” I think he is referring to unit studies. Would you recommend any unit studies for younger kids. So far we have just been introducing themes that she is interested in and are expanding it as far as she wants to take it. Thank you!

  13. Tammy Hanley says:

    You have my utmost respect. I’m only schooling one and I find myself counting down the years while simultaneously looking forward to our first day.

  14. Stay strong, don’t give up. You are doing what’s best for your children. It’s much to soon after surgery. Keeping you in my prayers. :)

  15. Loural Flynt says:

    Love this. This is my 1st year and I am using some of the curriculum you posted about. Thank you for the encouragement.

  16. Lynelle says:

    Hi, I’m wondering if you have suggestions for curriculum for grade 9 and up boys. It is overwhelming to find things for each and every subject they are taking. Some of what we do is online (math) but the rest is up to me. If you can make suggestions or have links to good reviews please let me know. Love your posts….

  17. ….at least you have recently had surgery!! What’s my reason for really just “not feeling like it” after homeschooling since 1996? 😉 I have 1 ‘student’ left, who is entering 6th grade (11 years old) this year, so I have a few years to go yet. Others have all graduated!!

  18. Hilarious! It says “choosing curriculum the easy way – the bus”. LOL

  19. Emily says:

    What do you like for middle & high school when it comes to history? Thanks for your input!

    • Heidi says:

      I love Joy Hakim (sp?) “History of the United States,” and I’ll see if I can link to it on my Facebook page. :) Reads like a story and is NOT revisionist as far as I can tell. Look back through my posts on homeschooling and you can find my faves. xoxo!

  20. Sarah Slater says:

    Sara Clark Lester Kathie Bell McKeown thought of both of you when reading this! I admire what you do. :)

  21. Heidi Jasper says:

    sometimes a METHOD or TECHNIQUE is more important than purchasing a curriculum.

    • Heidi says:

      I think it’s almost always more important. :) If your curriculum is awesome but you can’t teach it properly it’s not going to help much. Keep trying until it works for you. Hugs, Heidi! I like your name. It’s cool.

  22. I go to bed every night ready to send them all to school the next day. God works on me while I sleep and I wake up refreshed and ready for another day each an every morning. Homeschooling isn’t for the faint of heart!

  23. Susan Follis says:

    When I began homeschooling over 27 years ago, I didn’t know you could buy a curriculum….☺ We purchased workbooks at the local grocery store for a couple of years. I soon found some curriculum but could not afford most of them. I bought used or went to our local small town schools when they had book sales. I always kept the cost down low for all six of my blessings and they have all graduated and moved on (married, college, military, etc.) and they are all educated quite well. We reused books, borrowed books, and printed our own worksheets many times to fill in the gaps. I did have a nice selection of hardbacks that I slowly purchased that we used time and time again. Went through a lot of paper; ha! I didn’t even have Internet for must of those years. Homeschooling is a journey and everyone’s is special and unique in their own way. Happy homeschooling!!

  24. Today was out second day of kinder. And seemed every two seconds something else came up to get in the way of our school. But we got thru it and still had fun! :)

  25. Carolyn says:

    I’ve about to start my tenth year homeschooling. My first “baby” will be a freshman — aaahhhh! HOW did that happen? The most freeing day in my journey was when a friend reminded me that they never finish the end of the math, science or history books in most public/private schools. She also gave me the freedom to — gasp! — cross out pages that were too repetitive of a concept my child already grasped. Ohm what a happy day THAT was!! We all need to remember WE are the teachers and the masters of the curriculum, not the other way around!

    • Heidi says:

      Those same words were spoken to me, Carolyn! FREEEEEEEEDOM! Can you hear me in my best Mel Gibson/Braveheart voice? FREEEEEEEDDDOOOOOMMMM! Thanks for posting.

  26. Carolyn says:

    Oops, typos there, well, y’all get the idea!

  27. Thank you for sharing your journey with us. It’s very encouraging to know we aren’t alone.

  28. That’s why I’m an unschooler! I hate curriculum it does not fit our lifestyle.for us,just living is a learning experience.

  29. Kayla Gonser says:

    Thank you. Needed this today after organizing our school stuff and getting curriculum ready. Uff. September 1st start date…2 kids this year! 😉

  30. God bless you, and may He continue to strengthen you as you continue on your homeschool journey. <3

  31. Hugs and high fives to Stephanie Nicholson xXxX

  32. Please advise!!!! Home schooling is new to me. I am a teacher, but that doesn’t make me wonder less if I’m cut out to be a home schooling mom. How do you know??? Also, what curriculum can you recommend from Gr1-7?

    • Heidi says:

      Hello new homeschool mom. I’m Heidi, and I’ve been at this for 187 years. :) Here’s my “opinion” … but take it with a grain of salt, because homeschooling is a very personal journey to your family. Honestly, I think being a certified teacher is going to make this a *teensy* bit more because you’ve been trained for a traditional classroom and homeschooling is not that. THAT SAID, let me encourage you :) If you have the desire (the calling) to teach your kids, you’ll do great. I have some CD’s of my workshops for newbies that would help you a lot. Check out my store at this site. Also, I say lay off too many books early on. I use a hodgepodge of things. I’m not sure I can link to them here so check out my posts on homeschooling and you’ll find my recommendations. Keep it SIMPLE. Explore. Read. Use your library. Relax. You can do this. xoxo h.

  33. I needed this today! We are starting kindergarten next week and have a 10 old who will not stop crying!!! I was getting very discouraged today so thank you!!

  34. suzanne says:

    No curriculum can be a substitute for God’s gentle leadership in your homeschool.

    thank you Jesus (and Heidi!) I really needed to read this :)

  35. Lisa says:

    In the beginning of our homeschooling journey, I was so afraid of doing it wrong. I leaned on a friend to help me get started. We are in our eighth year of homeschooling now, and looking back, I think that first year may have been the best. It was simple. We used Five in a Row and loved it!!! But, the following year we joined a co-op. Feelings of inadequacy settled inside me. I began comparing our homeschool to that of others. We purchased a box curriculum that year, and have purchased or borrowed one every year since, until this year. Oh, to turn back the wheels of time! I’m not saying the boxed curriculum was bad or ineffective. But it did make me feel tied down. I felt like I had to check off everything on the list, and if I didn’t, I was failing.

    Back in the Spring, I spoke with you for just a few moments at a homeschool convention. Simplicity is what I took away from our conversation. It was then when I finally realized that our boxed curriculum was anything but simple. I needed freedom! So this year, I’m trying to simplify. Next year, we will simplify even more. It’s a process that is slowly releasing the grips of complexity into the arms of freedom.

    Thank you, Busy Mom, for taking those few moments to speak with me.

  36. Anne Gregor says:

    In homeschooling, you can choose to work through their curriculum as quickly or slowly as you feel comfortable doing, establishing your own pace. A child who struggle in one or more areas academically should consider homeschooling as an excellent one-to-one environment to learn the skills necessary to catch up.


  37. Monica Duckett says:

    Hey Heidi, What do you think about accreditation in the high school years? I am a teacher and am trying to become a stay at home mom to homeschool my 8th grader. I am so used to so much structure with curriculum, that I’m overwhelmed and excited of the freedom of it all. At the same time, I don’t want to mess up chances of my daughter wanting to go to a certain college. I would love to know your thoughts about this. Thanks!!

    • Heidi says:

      Accreditation is not an issue. Colleges are seeking out homeschool grads. If your daughter knows what college she wants to attend, you can contact them to find out what she will need—but the key is to keep good records. Find out what the state requires for graduation and follow those guidelines. We have done a lot of “delight directed” learning with our kids with great success. Homeschooling will allow you both the freedom to pursue your/her passions! You can do it. :)

  38. LizD says:

    Hi there, I have a 3 year old and am considering homeschooling him in light of all the “fun” things they’re teaching our kids with or without permission… It already seems like a daunting task. How do you start a 5 year old on school? Do they actually want to sit and learn? Do you take a lot of breaks at first? What if they don’t want to do it? I feel like I should send him to school for a year or two to get him into a good routine… Help!

    • Heidi says:

      Hi Liz! I can relate. I felt much the same way when I started so let me encourage you: START SIMPLE. Start researching. Attend a local homeschooling convention. You can do this :) I have written much about this topic. Search “homeschool” in the search bar, or just google Heidi St. John and homeschooling and a bunch of links should come up.

  39. Nickie Miranda says:

    HI Heidi!
    Not certain if this is a valid site anymore but I am VERY NEW to homeschooling. Looking to start my 4 1/2 year old grandson and already overwhelmed. :)
    Can you recommend what would be a good choice for his age? He’s active, enjoys experimentation, loves the outdoors, still needs focus on numbers and letters but truly enjoys books. He’s involved in Catechesis of the Good Shepherd [which I could not recommend more!!}but would like a good backdrop for that.
    Thank you!!
    Yours in Christ, Nickie

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