Asking a homeschooler about what curriculum they use is basically the equivalent to asking a stranger about this weather we’re having. You don’t really know what else to say, and you don’t want to leave awkward silence between the two of you, so you offer up the only word you know about homeschooling: curriculum. Usually, it’s when someone finds out we homeschool and they’re trying very hard not to have a reactive face. They want to stay even-keeled, don’t want to be judgmental, but deep down inside they want to know why. The perfect way to ease into a line of questioning, the one word you know will form a connection, the only thing all homeschoolers have in common – ask them what curriculum they use.
Well, the answer isn’t so simple for us. We build our own curriculum.
When we first started looking at homeschooling, thinking about it, toying with the idea of possibly considering it, I was terrified. There were so many facets to homeschooling that scared me, intimidated me, made me feel inadequate and unprepared. I questioned how my relationship with my child would be affected, how my need for alone time might be a factor, if I knew enough to be able to teach a profoundly gifted child, what we would do about socialization, and most of all, what curriculum we would use.
There are countless options. Really. It’s overwhelming how very many curriculum options exist. What a time to be a homeschooler, to be so rich with choices that we feel as frozen as if we had none.
I visited the sites of a few well-known curriculum companies, the kind where you can order a box with a grade level on the outside and everything you need arrives at once, neatly packaged and planned and ready to go. Those were tempting. Everything we could need, in one place, proven and tested and guaranteed to meet all the standards and expectations of that specific grade level. Like an assistant in a box, a teacher’s manual to hold my hand and tell me I was doing the right thing, these boxed curricula seemed to glow on my screen with the comfort and reassurance of a safety net.
Come to us, they sang. You don’t have to feel scared or overwhelmed if you choose us. Everything your child needs is in this box.
One big problem persisted, however – my child doesn’t fit in a box, and it was guaranteed that everything he needed was not going to be in one, either.
The more I looked at those boxed curricula, the more I saw how much I’d have to change and adjust. Asynchronous to the core, my kiddo was not performing at a single, consistent grade level. In one subject he was as many as six grade levels ahead, while in another he was where you’d expect a child his age to be. He also did not have the patience for frequent review and needed to be able to learn at his pace, whether that meant skipping ahead or taking some extra time. He is known to hyper-focus on subjects, following rabbit trails for weeks on end, and to adjust a boxed, pre-planned curriculum for these would mean a whole heck of a lot of extra work – work that I was supposed to be spared by buying a box with everything already done for me.
No, it was clear, these boxed curriculum companies were not going to be a good fit. I needed to crack my knuckles, do some digging, and piece together our own.
Surprisingly, it was easy. Even more surprising, it was fun.
Being able to order programs or books based on his ability level was so much more simple than trying to find ways to make a lower-level course work. Based on recommendations from parents in awesome parenting groups, I was able to discover new, niche, colorful, fun programs that we could easily implement according to his abilities. Instead of sitting down to a set menu, I was now given free rein to a homeschool buffet!
Now when I’m preparing for a school year, rather than being told what we’re learning, we get to choose. Instead of a general science class, we may explore zoology, forensic science, astrology… whatever is interesting to us. Instead of repetitive grammar lessons, we can learn at his pace and from any source we choose. We can follow his interests, according to his abilities, and stay or skip whenever we want.
There is no pressure to make it through to the end of a teacher’s manual. There is no set schedule looking over us. There is simply learning, and the excitement that comes from getting to do it. There is no fear that we are investing in an entire program that must be replaced if it doesn’t work out the way we’d hoped – we simply find another writing program, another typing program, or another book to read.
Sure it takes a little time upfront to research and find each individual item we use, but this is all time I would have spent searching for ways to supplement a curriculum that promised to be complete. Sure I have to find resources of varying levels, but I would have had to do this, anyway, if we’d been trying to make a one-grade-fits-all program work. Sure, it can get a little costly when we’re pulling programs and pieces from all over, but I’d rather invest in what I know we’ll use and love than purchase a curriculum that is only half-usable for us. Besides, that stereotype about homeschoolers loving the library persists for a reason! Rather than waste the parts of a program that are already below his academic abilities, we can jump straight ahead to what will challenge him. Rather than putting all of our educational eggs into one box, we can taste and test from all that is good and interesting.
It sounds daunting every time I tell someone that we create our own curriculum, I know. Hopefully, it sounds impressive, too, but that’s just my own pride talking. With the weight of your child’s education resting solely upon your shoulders, why take on the extra burden of building something you don’t have to?
Because it’s awesome.
It transforms learning from a have to into a get to. No longer are we checking boxes, we’re pursuing passions. We’re not forcing a square peg into a round hole or running ourselves ragged trying to supplement, twist, or manipulate a program that just isn’t a perfect fit. We’re creating our own environment that is the perfect fit because it’s carefully customized to be just what we need. It’s exciting, freeing, adaptable. It’s more interesting, it’s all right where he needs to be, and it’s honestly just so much easier.