Friday, July 14, 2023

Before You Buy That Expensive Curriculum...

If you’re looking into homeschooling, you’ll probably find discussion of pre-packaged curriculums. Many of the most widely-recommended ones are expensive, costing several hundred dollars per school grade. And given that some kids are at different grade levels in different subjects, and a given curriculum may or may not prove to be a good fit with your child’s learning style and your teaching style, many parents who go this route end up buying multiple pre-packaged curriculums including material they don’t end up using. All in all, it’s easy to waste a lot of money that way.

Of course, if it’s an expense you can afford and you’re happy with, go ahead. It’s certainly not as frivolous as many things you spend money on. But I run into so many prospective homeschooling parents who don’t really want to spend hundreds of dollars on homeschooling, but are afraid that they have to in order to get their child a good education. For those parents, I’m going to point out several free resources that can take the place of an expensive pre-packaged curriculum.

Khan Academy

Khan Academy has free online lessons accessible through an internet browser as well as an app for Android, iPhone and Amazon devices. Each lesson includes a mix of descriptive text, videos explaining the concepts of the lesson, and little games to practice the concepts and test your mastery. If you have an account with them (which is free) it will track the completion of these lessons.

Khan Academy has resources for all the major school subjects and more, ranging from Pre-K to early college level courses. For the youngest kids (2-8 years old), there’s also a companion app called Khan Academy kids, which presents learning activities in a game format with entertaining little mascot characters and music by Super Simple Songs.

Even though she’s below the target age, my 1 year old daughter is a big fan of this app. She can’t really do much with it yet, but she likes to poke at things and watch as I play with it and talk about it with her. I’m sure a year from now she’ll actually be doing the activities herself. I have also used Khan Academy myself to brush up on stuff I missed out in school while I was busy dissociating to avoid the bullies.

You could teach a child from Pre-K to preparing for college just through Khan Academy, if it’s a good fit. However, the lessons can be boring sometimes (in Khan Academy - Khan Academy Kids doesn’t have this problem) and the fact that it’s entirely electronic might not be a good fit for everyone, especially kinesthetic learners. The electronic format also limits adaptability - you can change a lesson you’re delivering yourself, but you can’t change a lesson delivered by their app.

Super Simple

In addition to partnering with Khan Academy, Super Simple also has a lot of educational activities on their own site. In addition to their Youtube music videos (which are frequently available in multiple languages including English, Spanish and Japanese - I’ve been using them to help me and my child learn Japanese) and other educational videos, they have guidelines for educational activities based around each song, printables, and even a calendar with suggested activities for each day.

Super Simple’s educational materials seem to focus mainly on teaching early reading skills and basic math, as well as life skills. They don’t say exactly what age range their materials are intended for, but I’d estimate roughly 2-8 years old, like Khan Academy Kids.

Some of the videos talk about school, and they’re very much based on the assumption that the viewer either goes to school or will be going to school soon, so you’ll need to either skip some videos or explain to your child how their educational experience is different from what the videos expect. However, the activities are all suitable for one-on-one instruction. There’s a lot of crafts, which need some materials, but generally not expensive ones.


Nzmaths is a New Zealand website full of lesson plans for teaching mathematics concepts to meet New Zealand curriculum goals. In addition to their core content aimed at teachers, they released weekly plans for math activities to do during Covid lockdown. Some of the activities require resources only available through the New Zealand school system, but most are available to homeschoolers. The teacher content assumes that you’re teaching a group, but most of the activities can be adapted for one-on-one learning, and the weekly plans are designed for one-on-one education.

The activities in this curriculum are mostly hands-on, interactive activities. They have material for years 1-10 (equivalent of Pre-K to grade 9), and teach only mathematics. However, this looks to me to be an excellent mathematics curriculum, focusing on exploring and understanding mathematical concepts instead of just doing rote procedures. New Zealand students tend to especially excel in statistical understanding, and this curriculum makes it easy for me to see why.

The weakest point of the weekly curriculum in my opinion is the e-akos. They’re online lessons, similar in format to Khan Academy but less well-designed and less engaging. However, you can easily swap them out for more interactive offline activities, especially in the early grades. And the learning objects are pretty good.

This website contains detailed lesson plans designed for both one-on-one and small group instruction. Whereas nzmaths’ weekly plans have more general descriptions,’s lesson plans are very specific, including scripts for what to say to the student - whether this is good or bad depends on your and your child’s preferences. Since it's lesson plans for you to teach your child, you can readily adapt them if you'd like. has three curriculum resources - a phonological awareness curriculum, a counting curriculum, and a learning plan for teaching sight words. The phonological awareness and counting curriculums are designed for ages 3-5 years old (although they say some 2 year olds could do the earliest activities). Their sight words learning resources include pre-made flashcards for Dolch Pre-K to grade 3 word lists, ten Fry lists for the most common 1,000 words, as well as an interactive program for making custom sight word flashcards, which means you could potentially use it as long as you have spelling words you want your child to memorize and they're still receptive to the teaching strategies it lays out.

The biggest weakness of this curriculum in my opinion is that it's very adult-directed, and could be annoying to a child who really wants to do their own thing. It also emphasizes extensive practice of the same concept, which could be very beneficial for struggling kids and counterproductive for kids who learn more quickly. They also present a fairly rigid view of "prerequisite skills" that could be harmful to a child who is learning atypically - for example, a visual learner with CAPD would probably get bogged down on hard tasks that they view as "prerequisite" to tasks that child might find easier.

However, all of these issues can be adapted for if you know what you're doing, and for many kids, this curriculum would be an excellent solid introduction to basic learning concepts. They also have the benefit of focusing on building true understanding of underlying concepts as opposed to just rote performance.

World History For Us All

World History For Us All is a free world history curriculum. The website contains a bunch of lesson plans written by various different teachers, which vary considerably in both style and quality, but most are at least decent. However, they are all written for school teachers and therefore would need some adaptation for one-on-one education.

They don't outright say what ages/grades these lesson plans are intended for, but I'd say they'd be useable as-is anywhere from grades 5-12. Some of the activities could potentially be adapted for younger children as well. The materials are organized into "Big Eras", with each era having one "panorama" lesson plan, several "landscape" plans and several "closeup" plans, with each level narrowing down the focus.

One big weakness is the variation in quality I mentioned above. In particular, as someone with an intense interest in human evolution and in comparative psychology, I wasn't very pleased with some of the materials in Big Eras 1 and 2 which overstate human uniqueness and underestimate the abilities of other species.

In addition, although they seem to have made an effort to be more inclusive of different cultures, they do still disproportionately focus on European and European-descended people's history. However, they're less Eurocentric than most English-language history curriculums I've found, so this is a strength relative to a lot of their competition. Another strength is their emphasis on asking students thought-provoking questions, including encouraging students to formulate and communicate evidence-based opinions.

Lastly, while some of the lessons aren't as good as others, the variety of authors means that some units encourage a very different teaching style from other units, which could be very helpful in figuring out what suits your child's learning style best. For someone who doesn't have an education degree, reading through these lesson plans also introduces a lot of different upper-level teaching strategies you can adapt to other subjects, such as making a graphic organizer or a KWL chart.


These aren’t the only free curriculums out there, and you can also find many free lesson plans for specific subjects if you look around. However, these are all curriculums I’m planning to use with my own kid, and they’re all free and high-quality. I recommend checking them out and trying them out with your own children, and hopefully you can avoid spending money you don’t have to spare or would rather use on other things on your child’s homeschooling curriculum. I especially encourage you to mix & match materials from multiple curriculums, or use more than one of these together.



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