One of the main benefits of homeschooling is the ability to tailor educational materials to each individual child. Rather than fitting the child to the curriculum, homeschooling enables a parent to fit the curriculum to the child. It is not uncommon to find different children in the same family working in completely different materials for the same subject, because they have different learning styles and strengths. And while some homeschoolers use an all-in-one curriculum approach, which offers all subjects through the same curriculum/publisher (such as Sonlight or Abeka), others use a variety of different publishers and curricula for different subjects. Regardless of the approach you choose, there may come a time when a single curriculum for a particular subject does not seem to meet your needs.
What?! More than one curriculum for a subject? Are you kidding? I can’t even manage one for each subject!
If your reaction is something like that, hear me out.
This is not a requirement! There is no underwritten homeschooling rule that states “Thou shalt use more than one curriculum when…”. If what you’ve got is working well, then don’t rock the boat! Count your blessings and continue on in the blissful reassurance of having acquired the perfect resources for your child’s needs. But if you’re not completely satisfied with what you’re doing in a particular subject, or a certain subject area doesn’t seem to be going so well for your student, read on. You may also want to read "How to Choose the Best Homeschool Curriculum" before taking the plunge with anything new.
The following are situations in which you might want to consider more than one curriculum for the same subject:
- If you are unsure of your child’s learning style. Pick the curriculum you think best suits your child’s learning style, according to your best estimation of how he/she learns best. Then choose a less expensive topic-related curriculum which best reflects a different learning style to supplement. This can give you the opportunity to see how your child learns best. If your child is struggling in Math, you think he is a visual learner, and your main curriculum is visually oriented, (but you suspect he might also have some tendencies toward being a hands on or kinesthetic learner), then choose a supplemental curriculum that incorporates lots of manipulatives and a hands on approach. Doing just a few activities or exercises each day from the supplemental curriculum to see how your child responds to it can help you determine how he/she learns best.
- If you’ve already spent a lot of money on a curriculum but find it doesn’t seem to be working. We’ve all done it. We’ve coughed up $50, $100, or more on a wonderful curriculum that we thought would be just perfect, only to discover that it didn’t work at all with our particular child. Rather than throw the entire thing out, it can be helpful to purchase a less expensive curriculum (especially one that can be bought piece-meal according to specific areas of interest or topic) and use that alongside the original one. By supplementing, the child can do smaller portions of the less-desirable curriculum at a time, and still be learning the necessary information, without you having to forfeit the money spent on the original materials.
- If you like your primary curriculum, but want to go deeper in a certain area. Maybe your History program is excellent, and you are pleased with its scope and sequence. You feel like it covers the topics you want to cover adequately and your child is learning well. However, your student really enjoys History and wants to delve deeper into some areas more than your primary curriculum goes. This is a great time to supplement with resources that are more “mile deep and inch wide” rather than “inch wide and mile deep”. Choosing supplemental materials that specialize in a specific time period in history, for example, or biographies related to historical individuals being studied can be a great way to take a worthwhile educational detour from your regular curriculum.
- If you’ve got multiple children of different ages/levels learning the same subject. In this case, you might use a unit study approach such as Tapestry of Grace or Konos to coordinate the multiple subjects and levels of each child in an overall curriculum. This helps to keep everyone on the same page and helps to keep lesson plans manageable. However, if one child displays a particular affinity for a certain subject, (or struggles in that subject) such as Art, it can be helpful to purchase a separate art curriculum that specializes in that subject for that particular child. The unit study approach allows the parent to keep learning doable for multiple levels, but carefully chosen subject-based supplements can provide an additional level of individualization for children.
- If you are using more of a mastery based approach and want to be sure your child covers all of the topic areas upon which he/she will be standardized tested. Some curriculums, particularly in Math, use a mastery based approach, which focuses on a particular topic until that topic is fully learned, and only then moving the student on to a new topic. Others use more of a spiral based approach, which introduces a concept and provides some practice in that concept before moving on, but continues to review each learned concept progressively over multiple lessons as the student moves through the curriculum. While mastery based approaches can be excellent ways for children to learn information fully over the long term, sometimes it can mean in the short term the students do not cover certain topics that might be on standardized tests. For example, in a mastery based Math program, students might cover a broad base of addition and subtraction in a year (going from single digit to multiple digit with borrowing), as opposed to learning introductory concepts of addition and subtraction, geometry, telling time, money, etc. as they might in a spiral approach. Although the mastery based student might know the ins and outs of arithmetic fully, when tested, he might not understand some of the other Math concepts on the test that he has not yet covered. Supplementing with materials that address, even briefly, some of the other concepts can help prepare the child for doing well with problems on standardized tests.
- If you want to try a particular curriculum but are not sure you want to commit to it. It never fails, that just when you think you’ve got your curriculum choices down, you go to a homeschool convention, hear something online, or see some fabulous resource that a fellow homeschooler is using, and you think “Hmmmmm. Maybe I should use that instead!” By supplementing a subject with a second curriculum (especially an inexpensive one), you can try it out! Even if you just use parts of the “experimental” curriculum once or twice a week, it can give you a feel for whether or not you want to commit to using it full time. This way your child does not lose any educational time during the experimental process, because he/she is still moving forward in your original materials. Then if you choose to make the switch, you will be in a better place to determine just where to begin in the new curriculum to best dovetail with what you’ve already been doing.
When supplementing with additional curricula or materials, it is usually best to choose resources that are fairly inexpensive, and that are more topic-based. In other words, find curriculum that allows you to purchase just one piece of the whole subject at a time, such as “money” or “fractions” as opposed to “Grade 2 Math”. This will help you avoid spending lots of money on a second curriculum, and will also prevent you from feeling overwhelmed from trying to incorporate two distinct complete curricula. Materials that are printable are usually good options for supplemental curricula, because they tend to be more topic-based, inexpensive, and you don’t have to pay for shipping.
If you know when to use it, supplementing with more than one curricula for a subject can be a wonderful way to help your children get an education that is specifically tailored for their individual needs. While there is a lot of truth to the adage “less is more”, sometimes in homeschooling more can really be, well, more!