Hi all! I posted this as a reply to my own question about curriculum help and thought it may be helpful as a stand alone. It was my process to finding curriculum for next year. Hope it helps!
I decided that I really needed to look things over in person, so I took the day and traveled over to Greenville for the SEHC (South Eastern Homeschool Convention). It was WELL worth it and I'm so glad I went! My advice to any new Homeschooling mom would be to go to an Expo/Convention before choosing curriculum. Of course, my time on this forum, researching online and having at between 1-3 choices for each subject was very helpful before attending. Otherwise, I think it's too overwhelming to get your bearings while there. If you'd like to know the process I went through to find our curriculum for next year, it's all detailed below!
Before: Once I decided to Homeschool for next school year (August 2017) (It is now March 2016, however I was fully committed in February), I began researching online for help. I think you can purchase some wonderful books... Homeschooling 101 got great reviews. I was able to figure it out without needing one, although I still may purchase before the school year starts. Here's the order I think I would've preferred to see it all in, but I didn't! (I'll explain why below)
Homeschool Approaches I found homeschool.com helpful Which teaching style is for you?...this is how you want to homeschool
Once you decide the Approach you like, remember it, but don't worry about choosing a curriculum that MUST follow it (This was stressful for me. I realized later that having a general idea of how I wanted to homeschool was important, but curriculum that worked for my kids was more important...I still think you should know your favorite approach first- for clarity- many of the curriculums you'll be choosing from will use these terms, such as Charlotte Mason, or Classical, etc.)
Curriculum Search in Homeschool Forums: I COAH forum, just search at the top for "curriculum" or "curriculum choices" The most helpful for me were the posts where people posted their entire subject list for the year, along with supplements. It gave me brands to look at and a peek into which ones were popular. There are other forums online that are helpful too. My belief is always to garner the wisdom of others who have more experience and forums are the best places to get it. There's an anonymity to it, where I believe most are really honest about what they like and don't like.
Seek Out Friends: I only have one friend that homeschools, but if you have a few (or many!), go and observe. My friend has a wonderful espresso machine, so I brought pastries and we made a fun morning of my "observation." After watching her "in action," I was able to get a better grasp of "a day in the life of..." I did not choose her curriculum, but it was a very detailed view of all materials. If you have many friends, you may want to choose ones that have curriculum that looks interesting to you as a bonus.
Website, Reviews, and YouTube, Oh My!: This part took the longest. Once I had a list of all the brands I was interested in, I dug deeper to narrow my list to 2-3 of my favorites for each subject AND also a few of the "All in One" brands. Don't discount one or the other! (I'll explain why in the big reveal at the end) I can't direct you to any of the specific brands websites, as you'll have to Google them, however, after everything, most of the brands I liked were part of Cathy Duffy's 102 Top Picks, so it's a good place to start. You can buy the book, but they are also listed with an under each subject. She gives a very detailed review of each. I found the most "user reviews" on TheHomeschoolMom.
Write or Print Your List: Erica (this site) has forms that come with her book for Homeschool Planning. They look amazing! I was in a rush (see #7) and had to use this free form.
7. Go to a Homeschool Convention or Expo Near You: By the time I got to researching this step, I realized the one closest to me (Atlanta) was July 27th--well that was WAY too late for me! The next closest location (2 hrs from me) was in two days! All the rest were very far and/or I had schedule conflicts. So I decided to GO FOR IT! I worked it out so I could leave early in the morning, go for the day and be back by dinner. I know not everyone can do that, so plan accordingly! I'll go into detail in #8, but Erica's video was great for planning before I left. I saw moms dragging tired, sad kiddos around and was thankful for her tip about signing your kids up for activities there or leaving them at home with someone.
8.. Homeschool Convention or Expo Path of Action: These events are usually multi-day, with many speakers, seminars, etc. if you've never homeschooled before, they could be very helpful. Or very overwhelming! You should decide if you'd like to attend the entire event, or just visit the Exhibition Hall, where all the Curriculum Vendors are located. I was only able to go for the day and my mission was to look at curriculum ONLY, so that was my choice. Typically, the entire event is a certain amount and there is an option for just paying to see vendors. For this one is was $18 online or $20 at the door. I paid $20 and it was well worth it.
I decided I had all day, so no rush and it worked well. I wore a backpack with my curriculum brand favorites, a pencil, my phone, water and a few snacks. You should bring cash, check and cards, but all items I bought took cards. I think best order is: 1. Subject Brands you're interested in 2. All in One's 3.Brands you did NOT have one your list 4. Fun extras!
9.. Talk to Vendors in Depth: Talk to each brand's representatives. They are excited to show you everything! Have them show you how a typical day/lesson works, how long it takes to use their products, examples of kids work associated with it (many had this), look over all materials, how do you know which level/s?, cost, are there any convention specials?(most have free shipping and some have a % discount if you buy there) DON'T BUY ANYTHING YET! Make sure you visit all you're interested in and then look at some you haven't heard of some you thought would not be for you...just wait for my big reveal below! Don't look at fun stuff yet. After this step, leave. Yes, I said leave. Important: Leave the Expo Hall..NOT the convention! Just go into a quiet hallway outside the room, outside or even in your car, maybe during lunch? You need to digest everything you saw, heard, read.
10.. FUN Stuff!: Once you've digested it all and best case scenario, maybe, fingers crossed, have a clearer idea of what brand/s you want to go with (or at least don't like!).. go back in for fun! We all love to come home with a few fun things, right? Note here: if you are solid and plan on 100% going with your selected brand/s, and think this is close to the best pricing, you could purchase first and then look at fun stuff. I was not purchasing, just viewing, so this didn't apply to me I bought an Usborne Cookbook for Kids, a fun art book, some morning work "busy time" activity books and signed up for an Odyssey Kids Club Online subscription. They had amazing bonus items for signing up (3 free books, audio cd set, magazine and dvd, handed to me right there!) and it's month to month, so no worries if we don't like it! (No, I don't work for them or get paid, haven;t even tried it yet...it was just pretty unbelievable!)
11.. Typical Day, Planners, School Rooms, etc: Remember at the very tippy top where I said, I'll explain why I didn't do it in this order, but I wish I did ?? Here's why: This is one of those things that's great in theory but I probably won't get to you in time! In any case, during my research phase and in between, I got consumed by all the other stuff...planning my day, what our schedule would look like, organizers, school room layouts, storage, school hauls, etc...I could go on and on. It was a real time suck. I WISH I had saved all that for now, when I KNOW what curriculum we're doing and that is all "gravy" so to speak. (Can you tell I'm a Southerner?) Now I'm excited to look at all that! Try not to get pulled in while you are figuring out approaches and curriculums!
12..BIG REVELATION: At the end of the day, with all my research, approaches, etc. it all came down to what worked for my family. (Which is what all these amazing mom's on COAH forums told me!) But, like Dorothy, I had to find it for myself. If you've been kind enough to follow this whole story, you'd probably like an ending...I'll give you one with the caveat that it works for ME and you have to find what works for YOU.
I was going with an eclectic biblical based approach. I thought I wanted to use a different brand for each subject to best tailor to my two kids, for each of their needs. Using a singular brand if possible for a few subjects to teach both. I had choices I loved before going to the Expo (a few that were not there)...but when I got my choices in my hands and talked to the reps, I realized they weren't for us.
Example: Apologia Science. So many people love it and even looking at the materials, it was beautiful, easy to use and loved it. I loved that it was K-5/6 too, so both my kiddos could use it. However, I really wanted to incorporate some Earth Science this year. My youngest LOVES geology. It is not included in their current elementary series. For the Earth book, they focus on Botany. Yes, I could've added supplements and that was my plan...until the writing brand I loved... I'll skip the brand name, but it's fabulous and I think I might try or add it next year. This year it was too complicated for me. The rep had to explain it twice and the books were not intuitive for me.
And on and on...I'd fine one thing worked and not another. There were brands I totally discounted before going..but when I looked at them, I really liked them. Not a perfect fit, but so glad I was able to see them in person. My Father's World was one of these. I'd also never heard of a few that I loved: Notgrass History! We are not old enough for it. The materials and prices were outstanding. In fact, I don't know how they sell it so low for all the beautiful, color pictures. I checked out individual subjects and "all in ones". I wasn't set on doing one or the other, but was leaning towards different brands because finding an all in one that worked was proving tough.
Getting ready to leave when I made a last stop at a brand I had heard of, (It's on Cathy Duffy's Top 102 list) but it wasn't on my list. Trail Guide to Learning. I won't go into the details, but the more I looked through it, the more I realized THIS IS IT. I couldn't believe I was choosing an all in one!! It worked BEST for us. I liked the approach (CM) but mostly the style (I could understand it and it looked fun), schedule, both my kids could use it (extensions avail for older and younger) there is a bible component you can add, and the only thing separate was Math (I really like Math Mammoth & Beast Academy) For extra morning or afternoon time, I may add some extra handwriting, art, music, science fun, etc. (these are already included) but I am SO HAPPY with my choice and I hope this path leads you to the same result. I decided my first year of HS (for my kids and myself) needed to be rigorous enough that I felt they were learning and challenging themselves, but not boring and complicated for both of us. You will know too. Go with your feelings.
I hope this helps in the process of new homeschoolers choosing a curriculum. My sincere appreciation to all the moms on here who helped me with this process. I still plan to go to the Atlanta Convention in July to go to the workshops. If time and budget allowed, I think it's the perfect situation. An Expo in the spring for curriculum and and one in the summer for learning, support, ideas, etc. and maybe more fun buys too!
*These are my personal ideas. They won't work of everyone. Certainly time and money are factors. I didn't want to go through the headache of buying used this year, but may consider it next year. Go with what works for you. Good Luck!