Buffet-Style Homeschooling (2012 Curriculum Fair)

One of the most common complaints I hear from new-to-homeschooling moms is, “There are so many choices! I just need somebody to tell me what to do and I’ll do it.”

Well, I’ve got news for you, Mamas. Choosing a curriculum is just the beginning.

Several curricula actually offer choices within their content. They provide a myriad of activities, books, and assignments on a topic and allow you, the teacher, to choose what works best for your kids.

It’s a veritable smorgasbord of learning! With these “buffet-style” curricula homeschooling is like a “choose your own adventure” novel in living color!

In preparation for using a buffet-style curriculum when my children got older, I used Before Five In A Row for preschool. Each week we read one book and then had several different activities to choose from that related to that book.  This gave me a chance to practice picking and choosing before I felt all the stress of “What if I pick wrong and they never learn the date of the Battle of Hastings and I ruin them forever????”

I loved the flexibility this type of curriculum offered. I’d read all of the options and decide what we were in the mood for that week. If I thought I could handle a craft without my head or the glitter exploding, we’d do that. If the science option looked more fun, we’d choose that. Anything I chose centered around our book of the week so it all tied together for my kids. I couldn’t make a WRONG choice.

The same held true when we did Five in a Row the next year, and as we’ve done Tapestry of Grace for the last two years. There are no WRONG choices. Just different choices. The curricula are designed with the understanding that you will not be able to do it all.

I found great freedom in knowing the curriculum I held in my hands was open to whimsy, to a crazy week, or to appealing to my children’s varying skills and talents. And knowing that I would never do it all gave me the freedom to do exactly what we needed.

Tips For Using Buffet Style Curriculum:

1. Prioritize.

I begin each year with a specific goal in mind. I decide what skill or character quality I’m looking to build in my kids for that year. For example, our first year of Tapestry (first grade for my twins), I set a simple goal of just “following and functioning within a set routine.” If they retained nothing about the ancient Egyptians, I wanted my boys to be able to follow the routine for school.

Use these goals to help you narrow down your choices for each week. When you start to feel overwhelmed or indecisive, return to your goals to help you focus on what YOUR children’s needs are. Since I knew my focus was mostly on routine, I only chose the most basic of options and didn’t stray from it much.

2. Know your curriculum.

Once you know your goals for the year, spend some time getting to know the ins and outs of your curriculum. Buffet-style curricula tend to LOOK overwhelming even though they are generally well-organized. I spent a weekend just reading the introductions and playing with the columns and the lay-outs until I understood the way it was set up and had a better idea how to make it work for me.

3. Play to strengths.

Photo by jimmiehomeschoolmom

You know the things you are good at. I know I stink at crafts. I’m much less likely to pick a project that involves knitting on a loom or making things out of felt. I like writing, though, so I will often steer my children toward the activities that have more writing since I am most qualified to help them in that area.

However, your children have strengths that are not your own. My son is excellent at art. I see a cereal box, he sees a Viking long-house. Sometimes I pick projects or activities that I know my children are strong in and I watch them excel and grow in confidence.

4. Let your kids pick.

My children love to have a voice in how we spend our days. At the beginning of our week, I present them with one or two options for their weekly project. (I usually don’t give them every single option because I know I don’t have all of the supplies or the time for some of them. But I narrow it down to two or three that are doable.) They get to pick which direction to follow for the week. They get excited about their learning and are much more motivated to finish projects and activities when they choose for themselves.

How do you like your curriculum? Is buffet style more your thing or do you prefer a la carte? How do you decide how to use your time each week?

About Lora

Lora Lynn Fanning blogged for 11 years about her family life with seven kids at Vitafamiliae. These days, she homeschools her growing brood, teaches writing both in person for co-ops and online for Brave Writer, and writes at her new site, LoraLynnFanning.com.


  1. I’m not one for crafts either. I like the idea of letting your kids pick an option.
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  2. This has been a hard lesson for me. When I first knew I wanted to homeschool my kids, I imagined (in my 16-year-old mind) that I would teach my kids *everything* about *everything*. That’s the benefit of homeschooling, right?


    I became very discouraged when I realized that was impossible, and how would I ever choose which things to teach them?!

    As it turns out, that’s one of my very favorite things about classical education — the focus is not on the breadth of information we’ll cover but on mastering the basics and giving my kids the tools to learn anything they want later on. That has been a huge relief and now I don’t feel nearly as much pressure to try to do it all!
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  3. Well said! I find so much lack of confidence in homeschool moms. We have been brainwashed to think that only “experts” can teach our children. Parents need to realize how much they have already taught their children and go on with confidence from there!
    Heidi’s latest post: Socialization for Homeschoolers

  4. Maggie says:

    Sorry off topic here, but where did you get you Native American paper cut outs from? Would love to find something like this for next years curriculum.

    • Maggie says:

      Oops, forgot to reply in regards tot he curriculum.
      So far, for the lower grades I make/ write our own curriculum,…..I guess that is also a way to avoid all that choice haha.
      No seriously, I know which direction I want to go with the curriculum and since we are Waldorfers we do not have that much choice anyway, you have to write parts of your curriculum anyway, which I think is good. We get grade guidelines so to speak for each year and we write our own curriculum, it does involve going through a lot of material, by my own choice, but it allows me to customize it towards my children’s needs.
      I love this curriculum, so I guess I am lucky to have found it.

  5. I couldn’t help but laugh at what you mentioned about “the Battle of Hastings” – I have those freak out moments…until I try to remember, myself, major historical dates. What can I actually recall from my years in public school history class? Only the things I was actually interested in at the time.

    So we’re not stressing anymore. I’ve got a solid math curriculum, but honestly? Everything else has been a la carte, especially science, english, and art. I’m fortunate in that my son loves to read, so a lot of times we’re just busy answering questions that crop up from what he’s been finding out on his own – nature, history, science, et cetera. And that seems to work perfectly for the age of kindergarten/first grade.

    One big thing I incorporated recently are nature walks. We go outside and just stroll for as long as he’s interested. With all the different flowers blooming and animals coming out of their winter hiding places, there’s been so much to see!

    Somewhere along the way he’s fallen in love with learning, and that’s teaching *me* to love it right back. Homeschooling has been such a wonderful surprise that way 🙂
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  6. I guess we are pretty “a la carte” people. We have two basics, math and music (I know, not what you expected.) Everyone loves to read and my kids were very early readers (3 and 4,) so we read constantly and follow up on what we read. I have used an English curriculum before, but it is so frustrating when you want to learn more on one subject and the curriculum wants to move on! I love learning in depth, and know that if my kids know how to learn, they can learn anything they desire.
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  7. I have been creating our own preschool curriculum at our home for about a year now, and wanted to say about the last part that I find it so true. For awhile, telling my daughter what the activities were was fine. She loved it and did her “work” without challenge. However we hit a slump and school was a battle, so We stopped cold turkey for about two months. When I resumed I put new routines into place and one of those is a choice board. I put every activity I hope we accomplish that week on the board. Each day she chooses which ones we do. It doesn’t bother her that the options decrease and I know we’ll eventually get it done. And if something does interfere and we don’t get it done, then I can choose to forget about it or, if I decided it is important enough, leave it up as a choice for the following week. She loves this system, and having a little more ownership in preschool has really helped. Now we are both enjoying our structured activity time again!
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  8. My mom was so good at picking and choosing our curriculum to fit our needs. Now as I begin to educate my own little ones I really want to do the same, because I think you can tailor the child’s education best this way. I’d also love to be able to use a lot of the older classic resources that are free online now to avoid spending a lot, especially for the younger years. However, I can totally see why so many people buy an all in one curriculum, it makes planing so much easier.

  9. I love the way your framed this sort of curriculum – rather than attempting to cover it all relaxing into the notion that there are a slew of good options to pick from. Great advice.

    I admire that you’re able to pull this off at all. I have two girls – six years apart and I find myself puzzled at times as to how to bridge this gap.
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  10. Judith Dant says:

    I’m very much new to the whole homeschooling thing. I hope you can give me tips on whether it’s far better than sending my kid to a normal school and what if he won’t be able to join a prom or make friends like a normal high schooler because he’s home schooled?
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  11. I can’t tell you how much this post influences me in a positive way to keep the interest and enthusiasm for learning alive in my life and for my kids. Thank you for post!
    Cara Thompson’s latest post: Interest Led Learning: Educational Theories Defined Part 4

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