Pauline's Guide to Homeschooling in PA

Homeschooling Curriculum

One of the strengths of homeschooling is that the parent gets to decide what to teach and when.  If you are new at this, you’ll soon realize that there are many different approaches and philosophies regarding home education.  New homeschoolers can be overwhelmed at the choices available.  Take some time to figure out what approach might work for you and your child.  There are many homeschooling books on the market, and most libraries carry a selection of them.  If one style doesn’t sound like it’s a good fit, keep looking! Here are some resources I’ve found useful to help me decide what (and how) to teach my kids.  Remember, though -- a good education does not mean the same thing for each child – do what is best for your child and your family.

Homeschooling Materials, Supplies, Curricula, etc.

As far as materials, it's not necessary to spend a lot of money.  In fact, your most valuable resource is your library card.  Nonetheless, most homeschoolers do buy some "school" stuff -- everything from a book or two to complete curriculum packages.  There are many companies providing curriculum materials and other resources to homeschoolers.  Some materials are also available at local teacher supply stores. If you're starting out, though, don't spend a whole lot of money at first – many people change curriculum in their first year.  In addition, home educators in PA can borrow textbooks from their local school district. 

There also are many classes and activities arranged by homeschoolers, for homeschoolers. In PA, school districts must also home educated students access to public school sports, clubs, and classes. (To learn more, see my page on Homeschoolers in the Public Schools - Sports, Clubs, & Classes - Why & How)

What To Teach:  Scope and Sequence

“Scope and Sequence” means what you are going to teach and when.  Some homeschoolers use a packaged curriculum, like Calvert or Oak Meadow, which tells you exactly what to teach at each grade level.  Others prefer to put together their own plan each year, taking into account their child’s interests, strengths, and needs, combined with opportunities such as family travel, local classes for homeschoolers, and so on.  If you lean towards creating your own curriculum, it can help to get familiar with a typical scope-and-sequence.  No need to follow one slavishly, rather, you can look to these resources to get ideas.  For example, you can get ideas for science “unit studies”, or see what math skills you can integrate into daily life, or find literature topics to discuss while reading aloud.  Again - these resources should be used as suggestions – not directives set in stone.

       Typical Course of Study, (from World Book) – a good place to start, to get an idea of what a typical course of study might look like.

       Home Learning Year by Year : How to Design a Homeschool Curriculum from Preschool Through High School – This is my favorite resource – Rebecca Rupp lists ideas of what kinds of things you might want to teach at each grade level, and suggests resources to use.  It’s a great resource for choosing topics for a science co-op, etc.  If you’re a unit-studies, relaxed homeschooling, eclectic type of person, you’ll love this book.

       The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home – This book gives a rigorous plan for teaching from a classical perspective in a more traditional academic, school-at-home way.  The author’s plan is strong on history and English, not so strong on science.

       Catalogs – Order a ton of homeschooling catalogs – you’ll find many of them are packed with resources and guidance. A very comprehensive one is Rainbow Resource.

PA School District must lend textbooks

"The school district of residence shall, at the request of the supervisor, lend to the home education program copies of the school district's planned courses, textbooks and other curriculum materials appropriate to the student's age and grade level."

Many home educators in PA do not bother with borrowing textbooks. Some families find it useful to borrow them to see what kids in public school are doing.  You may also find them useful if your child will be returning to school, if your child is coming out of high school and would like to continue using the same texts, or if you want to use textbooks and cannot afford to purchase them.  Some families find the math textbooks particularly useful.   

Keep in mind that schools do not always use textbooks, and therefore may not be able to lend them. For example, elementary classes often do not use textbooks for science or social studies.

Those who request textbooks have found that districts sometimes take quite a while to come up with them.  The PDE's previous FAQ page said "The law does not require that the requested materials be provided within a particular period of time. However, PDE encourages school districts to work cooperatively with their homeschooling families in this regard in order to assist these families in providing a good educational experience to their children, and to provide the texts and materials within a week of the request if possible." If you are having problems in this regard, contact the PDE to see if they can help.

If you do borrow books, do not feel that you must be a slave to the textbook.  Remember that classroom teachers rarely use the entire textbook; rather they pick and choose based on the time available and the needs of their students, and supplement with activities and possibly field trips.  You can do the same.

Use the Library!

Remember, your most important homeschooling resource is your library card. 

If you use the library a lot, and especially if you use multiple libraries, you might want to subscribe to Library Elf, a great service that keeps track of the books you've checked out and sends you reminder emails before the books are overdue. There is a small fee for the service, but if you find it helpful, it may save you quite a bit in library fines.

Where to Buy Curriculum:

There are tons of mail-order catalogs and websites full of homeschooling supplies. Rather than try to keep an up-to-date list, i will just mention my favorite vendor, and my favorite place to learn about curriculum. As always, you must decide what's right for you and your family. Use the information here that works for you, and ignore the rest.

       Rainbow Resources Center
This is my favorite homeschooling supplier. They carry most of the popular homeschool books and curriculum materials, along with a bunch of fun educational stuff. Everyone I've given their catalog to loves it, regardless of their approach to homeschooling. Don't even attempt to go through it all online, though, their catalog is huge. Get them to send you a catalog, so you can circle things that look interesting, turn down the corners of pages, etc.

(Pro Tip:   Look through homeschool catalogs at Christmas time. There are all kinds of educational things that make great gifts! Puzzles, games, historical paper dolls, science kits, art supplies and books of all kinds - you can even get ideas for the adults on your list!)

Ø       The Well Trained Mind Forums

This site, run by the author of several popular homeschooling books, includes active forums where homeschoolind parents discuss curricula and other topics.

Where to Buy Used Curriculum:

Homeschoolers can't keep everything - there's just not enough room! So often you can find the stuff you want second hand. Local groups often hold curriculum "flea markets" in the spring and fall.These are also great for browsing and getting familiar with different resources.

If you're looking for a specific book or other item, the internet is probably your best bet. eBay and Amazon are obvious choices, but I also like BookFinder.com Bookfinder lets you search thousands of small second-hand bookstores, and often offers the lowest prices - plus you are supporting local small businesses.