It’s not about the curriculum you buy.

Written by Jamie Martin, editor of Simple Homeschool and founder of Steady Mom

Last week I began a series called Secrets of a Successful Homeschool Mom. Seasoned homeschooling mamas (& papas!), don’t you ever wish you could go back in time and whisper a few well-chosen pieces of advice in your own inexperienced ear?

That’s what this series is about–reminding us of truths we likely already know or setting those newbies among us up for a strong and joyful beginning.

Last week we talked about the fact that school is not like home, and doesn’t have to be. What a relief when we finally realize we design our learning environment to work for us and our unique needs.

Today we tackle another common misconception in the homeschooling arena: curriculum.

Now you might be thinking, “Isn’t curriculum just a given?” We need to find one, don’t we, or maybe even several for a variety of different subjects.

Well, I have a secret to tell you:

It’s not about the curriculum you buy; it’s about the atmosphere you create.

Searching for the right curriculum is exactly what I did when I first began considering this educational path. Not only that, but I felt like I was doing a disservice to my kids and their future if didn’t look at every option…so I did. Which left me exhausted before I’d even started.

It’s all too easy to get consumed by the hunt for the “perfect” curriculum. Even if we find a resource that works well, we sometimes wrestle with a gnawing sense of anxiety…wondering if the grass is greener over on someone else’s bookshelf.

We are incredibly blessed to have so many homeschooling resources at our fingertips, but the limitless options can also become a distraction. I believe we’ll feel more relaxed as homeschooling parents when we realize that that the atmosphere we create in our homes is just as important as any curriculum we bring into it.

Of course this leads to the question, “What type of atmosphere do we want?”

The answer?

An atmosphere of inspiration.

Imagine the most inspiring place you’ve ever been. Maybe your memory will take you somewhere in nature, maybe just a cozy armchair where you read an amazing book, maybe a lecture hall where you heard someone speak.

When you were there, what did you want to do?

I believe that an inspiring location begs you to create.

Inspiration demands a response.

When we surround our kids with inspiration – in art, in books, in resources, in the peace we cultivate in our homes—we create the perfect conditions for learning to happen naturally.

Curriculum can of course be one part of that. But if we only progress through page after page of someone else’s resource day after day, soon we’re likely to find that we’ve made another conveyer belt in our homes. We may even find that we’ve lost the passion that made us want to homeschool in the first place.

We need to follow that life, that energy, that passion. We need to bring into our homes the resources we’re led to. We also need to be willing to let go of the ones that are no longer working for us or our children.

It’s not about the curriculum you buy; it’s about the atmosphere you create.

Have you ever found yourself consumed by the hunt for the perfect curriculum?

About Jamie Martin

Jamie is a mama to three cute kids born on three different continents. She is the co-founder and editor of Simple Homeschool, where she writes about mindful parenting, intentional education, and the joy found in a pile of books. Jamie is also the author of a handful of titles, including her newest release, Give Your Child the World.


  1. Thank you! All of this is extremely helpful and great food for thought as I think about homeschooling our 2.5 year old in the not so distant future. She is so eager to learn already and knows the alphabet in two languages! All because SHE WANTS to learn it, I never push her. I hope to keep it that way through the years and to keep her inspired as she gets older!
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  2. I so agree Jamie! As we are ready to venture in homeschooling our 12 yr old again, I am very aware of the atmosphere (relationship and passion) that I will be bringing to the table. I know if I am passionate about her studies then hopefully she will be as well. I know it’s not always possible especially for Math for me. But to keep the focus on the Joy of the seasons and the blessed opportunity to watch our children grow in their knowledge and character daily is as important as any curriculum. I wish I would’ve grasped that years ago. But I am grateful I get another chance!

    We will be doing a unit study that follows Missionaries to different countries and cultures! It’s something I’m passionate about and can’t wait to share this with my kiddos! I will be reading your posts like crazy to help keep the passion alive! Thank you!

  3. Wow – did you ever hit the nail on the head with this one! When I was first starting out, I would spend hours pouring over the catalog to find the “perfect” curriculum – but, now we have so much more fun just starting the material with what we have from the library and seeing where it takes us. Thanks for another great reminder!
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  4. “But if we only progress through page after page of someone else’s resource day after day, soon we’re likely to find that we’ve made another conveyer belt in our homes. ”

    Brilliantly stated. I think all of us, at one time or another, have been consumed by the hunt to find the perfect curriculum. But then we figure out we’re missing the point of “being home”. It really is about the atmosphere, and creating one of inspiration just adds that much more to whatever “curriculum” you end up using – be it something you’ve hunted down and purchased, or something you’ve made up yourself. 🙂 Great post!
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  5. I so agree with your post! Although I’ve always maintained that homeschool is not about information, but rather an opportunity to grow in character.
    I think curriculums are more for the parent, especially for new homeschoolers, who want to make sure they “cover everything”. I am so grateful for all the thinking and planning and selection of books that make make up my earlier bought curriculums, but they are tools I use as guidelines.
    I no longer follow their schedules, but look for opportunities to light a spark and then spend as much time fanning the flame in my child’s heart and mind. My great leap of courage to create my own ecclectic curriculum provided the best and most enjoyable homeschooling year ever!

    • That’s a great point, Nadene. Those curriculum packages can be such a great starting out point, especially when we are just starting out ourselves. Then as we go on we gain confidence to branch out on our own!

  6. Yes! After months of researching I finally just bought what I thought was best for my kids. I thought if after a month the curriculum wasn’t working we’d try something else. It’s nice having so many options to pick from now.
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  7. Wow. Great post. I totally agree and needed to be remInded of this. My seven year old needs more stimulation right now and I started to stress out wondering what curriculum would “fix” this. I finally came to the conclusion that I needed to focus on bringing some extra intention into our/his day, but this really hit home.

    Thanks Jamie for saying it so eloquently.
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  8. I agree with your sentiments, but one way I’ve been able to persevere for 25+ years of homeschooling (with at least 6 more to go!) is to find curriculum that is easy for me to use, does not take much planning, and that inspires ME. I occasionally think about what my children need, too 🙂 You’re right that’s it not about the curriculum because, as I always tell new Hsing moms who are nervous about choosing ‘just the right program’ – “Anything works, if the teacher works.”

    Your picture makes me want to take my kids on a nature walk. Beautiful!
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  9. So true! As a former teacher and now a homeschooling mom, I have learned that curriculum is only a piece of the puzzle. Every mom is different, and if you don’t like the curriculum you are using (or you don’t understand it or find it difficult to work with), you will be less effective at teaching your child and inspiring him/her to learn. And every child is different, and so one curriculum might work well for one child but not another. There are also many good curriculums out there….but no perfect one. And as you write so often, school is not just about accumulating facts, but passing on to your children a love for learning and and helping them to
    see the benefits and joys found in life long learning.

  10. wow, did you write this for me? For some reason this year I am consumed, and I mean consumed by the curriculum hunt. I have a fear of not doing this well. I don’t know why. It’s silly. I know it’s about their character and the environment…so why this panic, this worry?

    we are going to try and enter this organically tomorrow. and see where the path leads!
    lisa @thebeadgirl’s latest post: One last birthday giveaway and a thank you!

    • I know just what you mean, Lisa, I’ve had so many moments like that myself. The path often appears one day at a time, doesn’t it?

    • I feel the same type of panic and worry too!! I pulled my 7 year old out of public school last spring (1st grade) because I didn’t feel like she was learning as much as she could be and it became a daily struggle to get her to go. I want to do what’s best for her, but sometimes I fear not doing this well too!! And I worry about homeschooling an only child. Most of the other hs moms I know have at least 2 or more children. I love reading posts from other moms, though! They always inspire me to keep going and learning together as we go!!

  11. I <3 the way you put this!

  12. This is so good…thank you for affirming what I felt was true for us! People always ask “What curriculum are you using?” As a first time home educator of a five year old (and a one year old) my answer is usually “none.” But the truth is that I’ve perused everything as thoroughly as you have and just decided that I’d prefer to do it my way in our own time. Especially in Kindergarten. Follow your instincts, mamas and papas! As a result we have an eclectic approach (most home educating families do) and I’m sure it will change and evolve over the years.
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  13. about atmosphere: although I don’t really ‘do’ Montessori, I really appreciate her ideas about the prepared environment for the children- it sets them up for success
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  14. oh you knew this post would be needed! 🙂 as we embark on our first year (i remember emailing you a few years ago as we began to really navigate where we were heading, thank you again for all of your encouragement!) i can’t help but notice i’m getting caught up in what so & so does and what so & so doesn’t like. i have noticed myself making certain choices based upon “what is on someone elses shelf” when actually my boys are unique and we will need to work to find out what will fit them best.

    again, brilliant words for us fellow HSing mamas! xo
    angie’s latest post: coming together & a few great finds.

    • Yes, I’ve gone through that too, Angie. Especially when it happens to be friends you respect and love! But just because something works for her kids doesn’t mean it’s best for yours.

      I know you’re doing a great job!

  15. Interesting that you’d blog about this now. This year, more than ever before, I have hunted, searched and purchased curriculum. Celine has hit the junior high/transition to scholar year and boy oh boy I am scrambling to keep up with her intellect, desire and interest. That girl is insatiable. So I’m hunting for curriculum to help. And also I’ve been looking for reading/language curriculum to help Laurent learn to read.

    But you know how I feel in general about curriculum.

    This post rocks. I just love this series.
    Renee’s latest post: Season of Change

  16. Jamie, DO I know what it is to be consumed by the hunt for the “perfect” curriculum?!? That has been my LIFE! I’m currently in recovery…I think. (When I read Cynthia Tobias’ book on learning styles, I found out that there ARE other people like me in this world — it was rather comforting.) It helped to realize (Lisa mentioned this above) that if the root of the obsession is FEAR (that there’s something better out there), then we can make the choice not to live in fear. For me, it’s a matter of faith, believing “God has not given us a spirit of fear,” and that when I lack wisdom, I can ask God, “who gives…liberally without finding fault.” I find it also helps to distinguish between the things that we CHOOSE and the things that COMPEL us. We embrace the things that we choose as long as they fit with our needs & goals…but if they become burdensome, I can “unchoose” them, rather than feeling compelled to continue with them even though they obviously don’t work!

  17. Very well said as usual! I have often told people that your children might not remember what they studied on a given day, but they WILL remember how their mom treated them. Who cares if you get through all the curriculum if your children hate learning or even hate being around their mom… Curriculum is our tool not our master.
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  18. I knew this series would be great!!!! And I am so not disappointed!!! I have found that as time passes I “need” my curriculum structure less and less it has become a skeleton on which we hang all our interests… Make no mistake I love our curriculum and wouldn’t want to school without it, it keeps us going forward but we are certainly not limited by it in any way!!! And just like a comfortable chair needs a new cushion sometimes… the things we hang on our curriculum need to be tweaked and adjusted to keep me dying to learn… As long as I am learning my kids are following behind eager and curious.
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  19. This is such a timely post! As we begin our school year tomorrow I was just reflecting on the gifts that emerge from life’s unpredictability and things left unplanned – this coming from a woman who loves order second only to her husband and children.

    Thanks for your thoughts.

  20. Every time I hunt for curriculum, I end up a conveyor belt style of atmosphere in my home, and then I have to go back to my core books and start over to get centered again. I agree wholeheartedly with this post. Thank you!
    Karina Palmer’s latest post: “I’ll call you…”

  21. of course! it sounds so easy…until that nagging sense of, “are they getting enough?” “am i doing enough” “are they on par with their peers in case they ever need to return to school” gets into my head. at those moments i breathe and remember that in the grand scheme of things, they will learn what they need to learn to live a good life. to follow their passions. and most of all they will learn that their passions matter, even if those passions aren’t in reading, writing, and arithmetic.

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  22. Sarah in GA says:

    i think the curriculum hunt comes out of fear that i won’t do this whole schooling thing “right.” especially since i had never planned to homeschool, don’t know much about the different “philosophies” or “styles,” and sometimes feel judged by others who question our choices.
    it was important for me to find a curriculum that was interesting for all of us, kept us stimulated, and was easy for me to use to i felt like we were keeping on track. we found one that works well for us, but i feel free to deviate from it when the kids get interested in a topic, or we just need a little break. but i do like having it for us as a framework, or a guide. gives me some peace of mind. 🙂

  23. THis is very true. I wish we didn’t have to search for curriculum of any kind, at all, ever. LOL. I am on the hunt for something that fits for my daughter for a certain area and its so hard. I am trying not to stress.

  24. Love it!
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  25. But please, would love more ideas for setting up an inspiring environment!!

  26. I’m coming late, but thanks for the post. We don’t buy any curriculum at all yet (7 and 5 year olds). Over the past 9 years we’ve collected chapter books, classics, kids learning books, history books, coffee table books on various cultures, etc. I used picture books to teach my kids to read – any book can work! And now I send my 7 year old off with assignments – pick a book and spend a half hour writing down what you learn. To me buying a set package of curriculum would undo part of homeschooling – learning is life, life is learning, and not filling out someone else’s worksheets!

    This might change when my kids are older though. 🙂
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  27. Thanks for the post I love reading your daily messages! I always end up some where else on your site! That’s a good thing because I sometimes end up feeling better than I did about something, I”m a first time homeschooling mom. My computer recently broke and I had to log on to computer in safe mode w/ networking just so I could get to abcteach and print. Only to find out my printer wont work in safe mode either…….. ugh……….. but I did what I had to and hand wrote the next 6 spelling lessons, thankfully I already printed the next several months of math and some other things. I didn’t rush in to the whole schooling when my son was younger, I let my son be who he is until about 7 years old when the law here says he should be in a PS, then I enrolled in cover school and we slowly started. He is my sweetie and my only child. I couldn’t put him in PS, I have been there before and it was bad when I went, I cant imagine it now. I enjoy this site though very much thank you for the very nice emails that keep me reading!! My son loves being home schooled, because he does more of what he is comfortable doing and learns at his own pace, he loves cooking, building, drawing, math, and learning to read, he enjoys but its not his favorite and outings of any kind as most kids do. I love sharing on his site I take videos and pictures, he loves it. We do home work any were in the house as long as we are both comfy, we are good to go. I’m so glad to be a home schooling mom!!!!
    Shannon’s latest post: Uhohh Computer needs fixed, I hand wrote next 6 spelling lessons

  28. Ok I understand it about the atmosphere. But how do you create the atmosphere.
    I am 29 and a mom of 3 children plus my 16 year old nephew. He is in 10th grade, then my children are in 2,4,and 6th grade. Our homeschool routine is to homeschool in the evening. None of us are morning people so we spend our morning/afternoons playing games and bible study. Around 8pm we begin homeschooling and homeschool until around 11pm.
    Our routine is grab a book such as math, english, reading, history, science, spelling….etc.. Then we work on the curriculum until we have one lesson of each done. I use different curriculums for each child. Bob jones, rod and staff, alpha omega, and my nephew is in several different types.
    Homeschooling has been kinda boring. Can anyone give me tips to create a fun, inspiring atmosphere. We live in a small house to we homeschool in the dining room. I need help. My kids are all very productive but you can see the boredom on their faces. I want them to be excited about school

  29. This post is so timely. One week into our first year of homeschooling our 2 first graders I realize the curriculum package I bought is just not going to work. So I was on the hunt again until my teacher instincts kicked in (I used to teach 1st, 2nd, & 3rd grades). It’s not about the perfect curriculum because it isn’t out there! Like you said, it’s about creating inspiring learning experiences. And I found that if I trust in that, it will guide my decisions on what to teach and when. So…I’ve abandoned the “all-in-one” and have gone for a more “eclectic” approach by choosing things that work for us. And for US, that is (right now anyway) “school at home”. It’s what they seem to crave and what feels natural to me. In my search for the perfect “homeschool” experience I ignored what my kids asked for and what came natural to me as an educator. But not anymore. Thank you again for reminding me that I actually do know what I am doing. 🙂

  30. I just realized something, as you were talking about inspiration through books and art, etc. Kids are such great natural learners because when they catch that spark of whatever it is that they see, they want to do it right now. So being flexible to go research and for my 7 year old, go play that thing, it sinks in better than curriculum anyway.

  31. Yes! Yes! Yes! This is another of your posts I absolutely must share. Thanks for all the wisdom Jamie.
    Laura Grace Weldon’s latest post: 34 Ways to Raise Nature-Loving Kids

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