Simplifying our Homeschool by Using a Curriculum

Written by contributor Heather Bruggeman of Beauty That Moves

Deciding to use a formal curriculum isn’t always a popular choice.

Admittedly, I felt like I was cheating a little bit. But I’m going to be honest and tell you, I’ve added hours to my day by handing over the task of coordinating learning materials for my middle school daughter to somebody else.

Dare I say… to the experts.

I’m inspired by the homeschool parents who plan dreamy, fresh, quality experiences day after day for their children, all in the name of learning.  A part of me wishes I could do the same, but my daughter actually prefers a more predictable approach.

As homeschoolers, fostering individual learning styles is what we strive for. It’s one of our greatest opportunities. For us, curriculum it is!

The simplicity has grown on me.

There was a time when I created most of our plans and lessons. We homeschooled once before, during her fourth grade year. At the time, I purchased math curriculum only. The remainder of our learning was created by me, my girl, or the world before us.

It worked for us then, but it was fourth grade.

Middle school gets down to business.

I am not a physics, history, civics, math, or English teacher. If my child were to go to a middle school or high school, none of her teachers would be all of those things either.

Why would I assume I should be?

As children get older, their studies increase in depth and meaning with each passing year. The introduction or exposure to a concept that felt complete during the younger years, suddenly feels watered down to a preteen that is developing their analytical mind.

If I created the quality of lessons and activities my daughter is currently exposed to daily, I would be up late each night planning them, missing precious family and personal time. I’d also be left too exhausted the next day to enjoy the process of learning at home.

In a perfect world, I could do it all. Well, we all know perfection is unattainable, and trust me when I say, the process of me designing curriculum would be a slow one.

Curriculum is an efficient use of time.

Though incredible opportunities for learning happen at any given hour of the day, we hold a window of time daily for our formal studies. My daughter craves the rhythm of this routine. She knows each morning there will be a fresh daily schedule waiting for her in the school room, somewhat different from the day before, while still feeling familiar and somewhat predictable.

Throughout our work time, I find pockets here and there to go over her work from the day before, and prepare lessons from her texts and my teacher’s manuals for the following day.

Around 3:00 each afternoon, I close my planner and my school day is done. I can go about my evening confident I’ll pick things up with ease in the morning.

Endless opportunities are available to us.

Homeschooled, unschooled, or public schooled families who supplement at home – we’re all in this together. The choices for academic materials available today, in any price range, are as vast and diverse as you would ever need them to be.

It’s an amazing time to be teaching our children at home.

Personally, I have found educating a middle school child to be a rewarding full time job.  As much as I love this choice we’ve made, heading into overtime each night to reinvent the wheel would be a perfect recipe for this mama to quickly burnout. And you can imagine, that would not be a simple thing for anyone in the family.

What is your best tip for keeping the teacher’s job simple? Has curriculum simplified or complicated your homeschool experience?

About Heather

Heather follows the mantra “a life that is led simply and deliberately is a life fulfilled.” She is a dedicated yoga teacher, artist, holistic health coach, mother and wife. Heather’s blog Beauty That Moves is enjoyed by readers for its kind honesty, shared beauty, and simple guidance.

Comments

  1. I talk briefly about the ways my mom and I used curriculums when I was home-schooled for high-school in the post link below. The first two years we moreso followed a curriculum and then we began to blend it so it was catered to me. That’s how she schooled all my siblings. Part curriculum, part other-ness.

    http://sheenalashay.com/2010/08/becase-the-dumb-ones-go-to-school/
    Sheena LaShay’s latest post: Oyin Handmade &amp the Body Shop Giveaway

  2. hi kooky says:

    I’m a first-year homeschooling mom, and I couldn’t do it without a curriculum (Sonlight). We tailor things for language arts and math, but we do enjoy the structure of the core lesson plans. Sometimes when I try and veer off for some less-structured learning, my boys ask, “Can we please get back to doing school?” Ha. I guess we’re the types who like a plan for the most part. :)
    hi kooky’s latest post: Uh oh

  3. Melissa says:

    Interesting perspective. I think much depends on the child. I have a 13yr old who loves routine and enjoys a schedule of work. A full curriculum might work well for her. My 11yr old is a different story :) She is a hands on learner who needs to mix it up and spend a lot of time learning out in the world and in group activities. There isn’t a curriculum for that!

    On a side note, secular homeschoolers sometimes do find it difficult to find suitable curricula.

  4. Kristen says:

    I haven’t even started homeschooling yet (kids ages 4 and 3) and am really still deciding the best option for my family. I am a certified K-8 teacher and taught first grade prior to motherhood. If we decide to homeschool, we will absolutely be using a curriculum for the backbone of our program-probably Sonlight, although I will have to adapt as we are not Evangical Christians. I think the scope and sequence is important for me to feel I am covering everything my children need to learn. Homeschooling is a huge responsibility and I want to feel I have given my very best to my children. A set curriculum frees up time to explore areas of interest, as well as keep us focus on end goal.

  5. Kelly says:

    Thank you for your perspective Heather! My children are very young so I’m definitely in the phase of learning all I can about homeschooling for the journey ahead. I’m the kind of person who likes to have a lot of resources and reading materials on hand, so I can foresee having curriculum on hand, along with lots of books of course! I think the extent to which the kids use any curriculum will have a lot to do with their personalities and learning styles, and I appreciate your point that their need for structure can change as they get older.
    Kelly’s latest post: Remembering to play

  6. Thank-you for this perspective. I usually hear from those homeschooling youngers, and it’s helpful to hear from someone with a middle schooler! Just thinking ahead…
    Rachel at Stitched in Color’s latest post: High Society Fabric Giveaway!

  7. My son has ADHD and so far we’ve had no luck at all using a curriculum. He hates being told what to learn and following a curriculum and fights me tooth and nail so we’ve dumped ours and now we’re kind of Montessori/unschooling. I set out lots of different hands on lessons and activities and books for him to choose from and he either chooses one of those or often comes up with an idea of his own of what he’d like to learn. Maybe in the future when he matures more (he’s 9) a curriculum will work for us, but for now it’s not really an option except as a guide for me to get an idea of what topics to try and nudge him towards.
    Mothering From The Maelstrom’s latest post: Were Heeeere!

  8. This is our third year of formal homeschooling, and I’m finding that every year I move to a more structured approach. I actually use a lot of materials and curriculum designed for classroom use (much to the horror of many homeschoolers who are convinced that anything made for traditional schools is inherently evil). I find that classroom curriculums are easy to use and don’t expect me to fill in the blanks. Sometimes I have to adjust activities that call for 5 or 10 kids.
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  9. Welcome Heather! This was good to read. We are still in the elementary years, my oldest is grade 6 so we only use a curriculum for math and handwriting practice (typing for my oldest). I have no desire to be designing curriculum and making lesson plans. I never have done this and don’t plan to as they get older either.

    We are eclectic/interest-led learning in our perspective and if our kids want to study something in their middle school years beyond what I can find at the library (highly likely) I have no problem using a curriculum for them to learn it. Science, government/civics, compositional writing are a few things I can think of that we’ll need to pull in the resources at the right time.

    My best tip for keeping it simple is to do what works best for your unique family situation. What complicates my life most is when I try to do something because so-and-so does and not follow our own path. My default is to keep my home life simple and if I follow our family goals and purposes, and not compare myself to other people, it’s fairly easy to achieve that.

  10. PsychMamma says:

    Thanks for the post! I absolutely agree that flexibility and fostering individual learning styles is what it’s all about! I’m curious about what curriculum you use. Would you mind leaving a reply here or sending me a quick email?
    PsychMamma’s latest post: DuoSpoon Review

  11. I do not use a curriculum but each year I look at Sonlight, Tapestry of Grace, and my Father’s World and think about it at least. :) I do buy things that are easy to use though. I do know now when I look at something or read something if it has too many steps or lots to do to prepare, it will not get done so don’t buy it. My curruculum is simple and easy and I can pull anything into it as we go along.
    My thoughts are if you do not use a curriculum, keep it simple still.
    Amy @ Missional Mama’s latest post: Thanksgiving Gifts

  12. As long as the curriculum is made to fit the learner and not the other way around, I think it works. I have done it both ways. But after 18 years of homeschooling, I have found what I like for each subject area and it works really well for us. (http://iliveinanantbed.blogspot.com/p/our-homeschooling-schedule.html)
    I Live in an Antbed’s latest post: Asking the Lords Blessing on Your Thanksgiving

  13. Mouseprints says:

    A good option for non-religious homeschoolers is Calvert School, the father of boxed curriclums. My siblings and I grew up in Africa (not to missionary parents, but to contractors of USAID.) We loved getting our school boxes every year. Everything you need for the year comes in your box. The teaching manuals are very well done and clear. You have the option of doing everything yourself or having a live teacher assigned to you who grades the student’s work, gives them feedback, etc. With this option, it also makes it easy to transition them to public school SHOULD you decide to do so, because Calvert School is fully accredited in all 50 states. (Calvert doesn’t pay me to endorse them. I just love their curriculum: it’s well-rounded, knowledge-solid, and non-religious.) The only downside is that they are only K-8. Their website is http://www.calvertschool.org

  14. Kika says:

    Our kids are spread out in ages/grades: 5(K), 10 (gd.6) and 14 (gd.9/10). At this stage I don’t ever necessarily find that our homeschooling is “simple”. All three kids have rather varied needs/interests/personalities & learning styles so I do change things up a bit for each one. I have a strong aversion to curriculum {I don’t think its ‘bad’ just hate using it}, the exception being for math, until about gd.8. At that point I have found that a good science curriculum is useful – also one for second language. For other areas I still prefer to pull together resources/learning opportunites on my own. My oldest likes structure and a clear plan laid out in his agenda…as long as he still has plenty of time leftover in life to pursure his own main interests. He will attend a local high school next year (first time in a regular school setting !?!). My middle child withers and wilts with too much structure. She is highly creative and project oriented and I suspect her older years will look different from her big brother’s.

  15. Nadene says:

    When I started out homeschooling all 3 children, I purchased a full out-the-box curriculum and worked hard to keep to the schedule for all 3 kids. As I’ve gained confidence over the years, we used 1 curriculum for all the kids and branched off on interesting tangents and stretched our year program to almost 18 months and we all had a blast! This past year was my first eclectic curriculum and I loved the simplicity of our own program. I think the hardest part is chosing what to do and what to use! My advice when it comes to buying or creating a curriculum is to try teach as many of your children together when you do read alouds and discovery studies. (Of course they should each learn reading & maths on their own level.)
    Nadene’s latest post: Conclusions- Closure and Congratulations!

  16. Erin says:

    I’m a fan of using whatever works best. I am a project-oriented person but my 5-year-old is structured with a capital S! So we have use materials that meet both of our needs. I wouldn’t do well teaching a super formal curriculum, but he craves routine and structure. So we have some materials we use that are structured and we do our work in the same order every day. While our art time is generally on the fly, he knows that it happens at the same time every day even though the materials he’ll be using are different.

    As far as curriculum we are using Explode the Code to work on phonics and handwriting, and I’m currently looking through math texts to use next year.
    Erin’s latest post: Love Much

  17. Alicia says:

    I agree that it really should fit the child (and the parent). In our case, curricula would never simplify things. The times I have tried to use curricula, we have always gotten distracted by field trips, projects, impromptu experiments and the rest of life and then quickly fallen behind. I felt like a failure, I felt stressed that we were “behind” and to be perfectly honest, my kids and I have always found it dull.

    I concede that most of us are not experts in every subject our older children need to learn, but I actually enjoy learning along with them. But then, I’m not the type to stay up all night with lesson plans either. We tend towards nontraditional schooling — living books, field trips, experiments, classes, DVD’s, games, etc.

    It sounds like curricula is the perfect answer for you and your daughter. The nice thing about HSing is there is no right answer, and as long as our kids are happy and learning then we’re on the right path. :)
    Alicia’s latest post: Five fun ways to sneak in math this week

  18. erika says:

    We use a loose curriculum so I have a framework, but I create ALOT of the lessons to fit with our lives. My oldest is six (the others are still outside of the school age at 4, 3, and 8 mos) so it’s alot easier than middle school I’m sure, but we lean toward the Waldorf philosophy so it’s not just a sit here and do this workbook kind of thing. We paint, model, cook, bake, draw, have field trips, and do main lesson work (not all in one day obviously). There is a rhythm and flow to our day. I’d say that rhythm keeps things simple or at least as simple as possible with four littles!

  19. I love your comment about not re-inventing the wheel! For me, that is what using curriculum is all about. I learned from my years in public school that there is no perfect curriculum, everything has to be tweaked. But I love using it as a starting point because it really does simplify things for us!
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  20. Thanks for this! I am one who has really been wrestling with this over the past year. I have always done my own thing for the most part, but with the addition of a baby and an out-of-state move, I had a lot of trouble staying on top of things!

    I’m trying out a curriculum right now :)
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  21. I like curriculum; I hate curriculum. Love the freedom to decide how each of my children learn best.

    Great conversation!

    m

  22. Pam says:

    I’m getting ready to (maybe!) homeschool my daughters for next year’s school year. They’ve been attending a wonderful private school since Kindergarten and are currently in 2nd and 5th grade. Unfortunately, it looks like I won’t be able to afford to keep paying tuition next year. So I’m looking into home school as an alternative. I’m scared but also hopeful, because my daughters are great learners with strong basic skills. Any links anyone would like to send would be appreciated (3rd and 6th grade.)

  23. Samantha says:

    Thank you for visiting my blog. I was reading a bunch of your lovely posts from December and found my way over here. I’ve been homeschooling for 8 years now and have always used a structured textbook math curriculum. For the other subjects, though, we’ve done a wide variety of things – using some curriculum and putting together some of my own lesson including the use of unit studies in science and history. For the first time this year, I’m using Winter Promise for history and my daughter is using Apologia Biology. I have to admit I’ve been loving the structure and the easier lesson planning. About two months ago, I decided to stop putting together all of my own reading lessons for my boys and switched to Bob Jones Reading for them and…I love it. Your post seemed to confirm some of the changes we’ve made and the benefits I’ve received.

    Samantha
    Samantha’s latest post: The Nutcracker Ballet

  24. Meredith says:

    This was refreshing. I’ve been home educating for 17
    years now and I’ve never met anyone who thinks traditional
    textbooks are evil, but I have met many who think if you’re not
    using them your disadvantaging your children. When I began
    teaching I had 3 different levels and a 2 year old and we loved
    “school” but over the years some heavy handed professors and
    experts squeezed me into a mold of thinking we were lacking without
    full time re-inventing the wheel, in fact I know one family where the
    Mother would be up till 4am preparing lessons and cooking waffles
    for the next day and buy bucket loads of extra curricular study courses
    so her children would be academically ahead. When she graciously gave me
    her books to save me money they covered 2 dining tables every chair and high
    stacks around both tables. I was overwhelmed. So… I agree with the comment
    about keeping your eyes on your own goals and aims. Others well meaning specialists of overload can cripple your family. A curriculum that is parent friendly and allows for movement and room to breath where Mum has time to
    still be Mother, wife, woman, guide, comforter, listening ear – that’s success!
    Learning ia more than books, it’s more than grades, it’s a well rounded, compassionate, upright and conscientious human being. That isn’t always housed in books, so Mum needs time for all of that. Being weighed down trying to be a super achiever often robs the children of their Mother.
    I teach Yr 11, Yr 8, Yr 6, Yr 3 and have 2 adults in the work force after being
    Homeschooled. One owns his own construction and design company the other
    studies Law. Not bad!
    We used Rod & Staff, Abeka, LEM, Sonlight, Werribee, and ACE…. And a whole lot of Mums creative ideas and studies gleaned from
    Nature.

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