Thinking of buying an all in one curriculum? What you need to know.

After ‘How do I register’, ‘Should I use (insert the name of any well advertised homeschool product here)’, is the question I see most in different Facebook groups these days. 

It’s most commonly asked by parents who are moving to home education from school because of a precipitating event, School Can’t or because their child is disengaged. When compared to home education, schools are very much ‘one size fits all’, so parents asking the question tend to give the child’s age or grade, but seldom provide much background about the child’s interests, learning style, level of engagement or diagnoses.

The home ed community is so supportive, that even though this question comes up so frequently, a good cross section of parents will respond. I’ve seen this play out hundreds of times, and overall the most common result is for the parent to decide to go ahead and try the product, despite often acknowledging its drawbacks and the fact they will probably only use some elements.

So what’s the problem? In theory, nothing. As home educators and parents, that’s what we do. We try things, and adapt/change when necessary. However, new families are often under extreme stress, and the way they make the decision is skewed by certain factors.

They often see adverts and website information from companies before they connect to the community, or before finding unbiased advice. That means the first information they receive reinforces the ideas most of us have before we home educate. As a result, they are likely to think that a purchased product covering all subjects will be easier to use, ensure a ‘good’ education, make it easier to register/report, and save time. They are also likely to doubt their ability to teach their child, have had a terrible time of remote learning, and/or have other children or commitments which mean they will not always be available to interact with their child.

We all have a tendency towards confirmation bias, so when people’s comments support purchasing the product, parents become more and more likely to do so. But all opinions are not equal, and without a good understanding of the situation, some advice is less helpful. The best advice comes from people who were in a similar situation, and are at least a year into their home education journey. The advice from another person who is also at the start of their journey and researching the same product is problematic, because it leads to the perception that if others are doing the same, it’s likely to be the right choice.

Understandably, new parents often don’t know how home education really works. They have underlying concerns about academic success, social opportunities and tertiary study, and feel they are being pushed into making a decision because of the need to register and remove their child from school as soon as possible. The only kind of education they know is school, and if schools function a certain way, it’s a reasonable expectation that they do so for a reason. However, the reason is based more on management, class sizes, the wide variety of abilities within the group and the potential career paths of the entire cohort, than on pedagogical evidence about the best ways to learn.

HEN has been supporting home educators for 40 years. It’s a NFP organisation entirely run by volunteers who advise hundreds of parents every year. Not only to those at the start of their journey, but those who are struggling or are moving on to a new phase (such as transitioning to further education) and require help and support. So here’s the HEN perspective on this kind of product. 

All in one products seldom suit kids who:

  • Have School Can’t
  • Are disengaged 
  • Were struggling (or excelling) academically at school
  • Are neurodivergent
  • Are time poor due to other commitments (work, sport, travel)
  • Are in upper high school, and keen to transition to work or tertiary study in the near future

And it’s not just that they may not be a good fit, they can actually cause problems. For a child with School Can’t, home is a safe space, and the parent a safe person. Creating a school at home type of situation, takes away the feeling of safety. Jumping into a program without deschooling can make a child even more disengaged, and can also reinforce the idea that they are ‘stupid’, or ‘no good at learning’ – not only at school, but also now at home.  

Kids who are likely to do well with an all-in-one product:

  • Loved doing homework 
  • Enjoy reading (even if they can’t choose the topic) and writing (to show knowledge, not just for fun).

To understand why, we have to address misconceptions about home education and education generally: 

  • School does not = education. It works for some, but not for others. 
  • The school curriculum is designed to prepare all children for any Y11-12 subject. This means that much of it is at the wrong level, or irrelevant, to any individual child. Many topics and skills are excluded from the curriculum.
  • Reading, repeating and regurgitating in written form is not the optimum way to learn, it’s just the way that works best when you have one adult for 20 to 30 students.
  • Following a school-like program does not lead to better results. Thousands of home educated kids have jobs, university degrees, or businesses. The majority of home educating parents don’t use a single program, and many use no program.

There are also problems specific to some all-in-one programs that make them problematic for new HE families. Issues include:

  • No free trial or significant samples available, short refund periods
  • Rigid expectations about how much work should be done
  • Incorrect answers
  • Too much reading and writing – much of it unnecessary
  • Too much craft – because it’s easier than more meaningful hands on activities
  • All multiple choice or fill the gap exercises, longer responses require self marking

So if the first step is not to purchase a program, what should you do? Four things:

1.  Deschool 

Again, this is counterintuitive. If your child is ‘behind’, don’t you need to ‘get them up to speed’? And don’t you need to jump into formal learning to ensure that they get a good education? Home educated kids are known to be self motivated, with a mature attitude to learning. This comes from ownership of their own learning during their formative years, but in order to get there, they need to deschool, and be given time and freedom to lead their learning.

2.  Connect

Join Facebook groups for your state and local area, go along to local meet ups. If your child is not able to attend a group, you may still be able to go. Chat to people online, arrange to meet up with a single family locally, explore what co-ops and learning opportunities are available. And connect with your child, talk, support their mental and physical health needs, with support from specialists as required. These needs are a priority, learning can come later and will often happen alongside all these activities, once anxiety has started to abate.

3.  Research. Choose sources that are independent, the HEN website is a great place to start:

4.  Aim for Interest led learning

How do you learn? If you want to learn to crochet, program, or drive a forklift, do you purchase a curriculum and work through it? Or do you look things up, watch videos, experiment, learn from someone who is an expert, practice, get feedback, ask questions…? Kids learn the same way, and just as you supported them to walk and talk, you are equipped to assist their learning all the way to adulthood. Not by creating lesson plans and setting ‘work’, but by facilitating, suggesting resources, and finding help where needed. 

All home educating requires effort. However, supporting your child to follow their interests and learn the skills that are relevant to them is not only easier, it’s more enjoyable and less work than pushing them through unengaging workbooks or curriculum. The ideal is to help your child become a self-directed, enthusiastic, lifelong learner. Children who have deschooled, move naturally into interest-based learning. This may take the form of unschooling, or may mean that a disengaged child becomes receptive to suggestions for excursions, projects and discussions, and that the parent continues to build on these by finding opportunities and resources, connecting with other families or mentors, and offering a variety of options that will increase both the breadth and depth of learning. 

This approach avoids the most common frustrations expressed by parents who have been home educating for a while: kids who ‘won’t do the work’, ‘don’t have any interests’, or ‘are not thriving’.  It doesn’t mean you don’t use any books or curricula. It just means that the ones you use have been selected based on your child’s interests, needs or level (once they have had a period of deschooling to give you both time to work out what these are, and to understand the breadth of options available to you).

So how do you register and meet the requirements for your state if you don’t choose a program and use that as a basis for your plan? 

In some states it’s easy, you just put together a list of things your child likes to do (bouncing on the trampoline, gaming, cooking, going to the zoo), and gain exemptions from areas if needed – particularly for kids with School Can’t, or with complex needs. In others it’s best to get advice from experienced home educators about how to work within the rules. As every state has different rules, it’s important to ask in the right place.

We recommend:









Check out the files section of the group, or any pinned links as these may answer many of your questions. When you post, share your child’s age and general situation, additional needs or challenges, your desire to deschool/base learning on interests, and future plans (for older teens). If you know how they learn best, share that, along with their interests (fashion, manga, photography, fixing motorbikes). Then ask for advice on how you can meet the requirements for registration. 

Take a deep breath, and try to put your preconceptions and concerns aside for a moment. By accepting and building on the knowledge accumulated by generations of home educators, you give yourself and your child the best possible start on their home education journey. A relatively small amount of time spent now will save you countless hours (or even years) of work, arguments and unhappiness in the future. By reading this article, you have already taken the first step, and when you falter (as we all do), remember that the best place to get advice is from people who have been where you are, and succeeded. People who have no vested interest in selling you anything. People who make a conscious choice to share their experience, because they know what it’s like, and want you to receive the same level of support that they have on their home education journey. 

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