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Monday, November 4, 2013

Ever Feel Like Flinging Your Curriculum Out the Window?

I love books.  My husband loves books.  My kids love books. 

One glance at the bookshelves groaning under the weight of the thousands (yes, many thousands) of volumes tucked away into the room we lovingly call “the library” in our home will confirm that. 

And that’s not counting the thousands of books on my husband’s shelves at work, our current “school” books (housed in the kitchen), the books that didn’t fit in the library so they are in the living room (or stacked on any available horizontal surface around the house), the books from the public library, or the books the kids keep in their rooms.

Books are a part of our everyday existence.

Learning is a part of our everyday existence, too.  We love to read.  We love to gain new knowledge and talk about it.

But I’ll tell you something. 

I have become seriously disenchanted with most homeschool curriculum I’ve paged through or used.  And after 6 years of excitedly starting new things only to abandon them (or grow to loathe them), it finally dawned on me what the problem really was.

I used to think the problem was me. 

That I lacked the stick-to-it-tiveness and discipline to stick to it. 

That I was flighty and undecided (ok, sometimes I definitely am flighty and undecided, but not always).

That my joy came from the research and the dreaming up of how our future studies would look and not actually in the doing of it all.

But I love to learn.  I love to share learning with my kids.

And when something is really working, I totally will stick with it. 

What if the problem is the curricula and not you?  Ever want to throw it away and see what happens?

I loved our first year of homeschooling.

The year we didn’t use a curriculum.

Yes, we used a math book.  Yes, we used all sorts of books.  But nothing was “laid out” for me.  There was no schedule to follow.  There were no pre-planned cutesy crafts or preselected links to online resources (preselected broken links, ahem).  There were no predesigned lapbook pieces to print out and fill in.

But I’m not going to romanticize it. either.  Much as I loved it, I burned out before that first year was over.  I thought it was because I was trying to do it all myself.  Maybe it just required too much planning. 

But it turns out I love researching resources and fitting them together. 

It was because I was trying to accomplish too much in such a short time.

Studying the ancient world expanded beyond a year to a year and a half, because I couldn’t fit it all in.

And I felt inadequate.  Like I was a slacker and not accomplishing what I needed to accomplish with my…2nd grader!

We very reluctantly moved on, because there’s so much great stuff out there. 

And imagine.  This was back before you could find anything and everything you wanted on the internet.  It was before Netflix and mobile tablets.  It was before e-books.  Shoot, it was before DSL (in my area, anyway).

The amount of stuff has simply multiplied beyond what I ever could have imagined back then.

At some point I started to worry. 

I know a lot of homeschooler in real life and online.  There are as many different ways of learning at home as there are people who do it. 

I generally don’t have any opinion on how other people are educating their kids, because I assume that they know what’s what since they are in the situation.  I only know my own situation.

It’s funny how while I don’t generally judge other people’s homeschool choices based upon mine, but I very easily judge my own homeschool choices based on the choices of others.

I got “the grass is always greener” envy.  I began reviewing homeschool products and networking more. 

I looked over the curriculum that other moms were using.

And I started to wonder if my kids were missing out because of my “this, that, and the other thing” way of covering content subjects like history and science.

Maybe my organic approach to writing wasn’t structured enough.

Maybe I wasn’t being rigorous enough. 

Maybe you really do need to cover grammar every year ad nauseam.

Maybe their portfolios are too thin and don’t show their brilliant minds---maybe we need more…I dunno…paper in there.

Maybe there would be big gaping gaps in their knowledge base (more on the importance of a knowledge base some other time).

Maybe I needed a plan outlined by someone else with all the books to go with it lined up neatly on a shelf.  Because it’s not like I’m an expert or anything.

Doubt filled me. 

It didn’t take long.  The burnout definitely contributed to it.  I mean, why re-invent the wheel if there are plenty of perfectly adequate wheels already available that you can just buy?

Why indeed?  Assuming that you can afford them, of course  (yet another topic for another discussion).

Maybe the perfect “wheel” (curriculum) really was out there and I just hadn’t looked hard enough.  Maybe my oldest son wouldn’t struggle with x, y, or z if I had just stuck with a pre-navigated plan.

Maybe.  Maybe?

Over the past few years, as my number of active learners grew (as well as my need to simplify my life), I gravitated more and more towards pre-planned curricula. 

I started following other people’s plans. 

But over and over and over again those plans somehow fell short of what we were trying to do. 

Over and over the discussion questions got ignored in favor of a natural discussion.  The books selections got tossed in favor of a better book we already had.  The schedule got rearranged.  Activities were skipped.

Now, I expect a certain amount of “tweaking” with anything put together by someone else.  I mean, everyone’s situation is at least a little unique.  Part of the reason we homeschool is so that we can tailor our kids’ education rather than give them the prepackaged deal. 

But in most cases I was finding that I wasn’t really tweaking, but rewriting.  Throwing out.  Using it as a loose outline.

And more and more I was finding that I simply wasn’t impressed with “homeschool curricula” in general.

This year my oldest is using a popular homeschool science textbook.  I worried about his ability to learn from a textbook.  I needn’t have.  His ability to understand the information hasn’t been an issue at all.

What has been an issue is that he’s done virtually none of the “experiments” (many are actually more like demonstrations),  because he’s either done them before (he has done most of them on his own) or the results are so obvious that with his prior knowledge he can readily reason what will happen. 

And this has been his first “real” science curriculum.  Up to this point we’ve done this and that, read, and observed the real world.

The good news is that his scientific knowledge is more substantial than I realized (though not as substantial as he might like to think).

But this is just another instance where the curricula that everyone speaks so highly of has let me down.  It hasn’t exactly failed (although, truth be told, the study guides and tests leave a lot to be desired as well), it just isn’t “all that.”

This isn’t an isolated circumstance.

I’m not got to run through and give you a whole catalog.  My point is not to pick apart homeschool products.

But I can’t tell you the amount of money that I’ve spent on curricula duds the past few years.  Each and every program was something that was spoken highly of.

I’ve finally come to the realization that the problem isn’t me or my unique situation.

The problem is that the products themselves are academically lacking.  I think there’s a hesitancy in the homeschool community to say as much.  Instead we say that this or that wasn’t right for our family.  To some extent that’s true, it really is a subjective judgment.

And to be fair, this hasn’t been an issue solely with products designed for the homeschool market---the professional educational world has plenty of duds as well.

But what if what we need for a truly exceptional educational experience is a lot less curricula?

This is a topic I’ve been pondering.  I have a lot of thoughts to share.  Some of it is theoretical, but much more of it is based on real life experience teaching my children.  More to come in the coming weeks.

So tell me…ever want to fling your curriculum out the window?

Assuming the window was open and you wouldn’t need a glazier afterwards, of course.


  1. A giant, big, old "I hear ya!" coming from this mom. I've started using high school texts with my late elementary schooler for the academic rigor involved. Do we read all of it, no. Will he get all of it, no. But at least I know that many seeds of knowledge are being planted so we can actually cover something with a joy and depth as he grows. We have our standby curriculum for little things like spelling and grammar refreshers, but even with math it seems that the text is more about providing a basis for us to begin exploring than the end-all-be-all that so many people seem to be touting.

    Thank you so much for this reminder. In the end, I can do my best to find something that seems like a good fit, however, it is really through exploring that my son is going to be educated. I need to stop obsessing.

  2. I think part of the obsession and anxiety comes from the feeling that there are certain things you "have to do," and fie on you if you don't. ;)

    I've already put aside 2 different spelling programs THIS YEAR---because we were not seeing results. For the past 4-5 weeks we've been doing something that requires no purchased materials and it's working (and it's not some mysterious thing, either, but I'm going to blog about soon because it's a little more than I can put in a comment).


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