On Using Curriculum

posted in: pedagogical | 11

In what ways have you let your materials be the driver in your homeschool instead of yourself?

What ways have you tweaked your curriculum to make them work for you instead of you for them?

When we talk about not being slave to the materials and using wisdom to apply them to your situation and your children, sometimes it is easy to assume that the best route would be to use no ready-done curriculum at all, to hand-craft each and every lesson. If we’re going to be tailoring, why not tailor from scratch?

One reason it’s often the best choice to start with a curriculum provider’s list or teacher manual or package is that it’s all thought out with the end in mind and from the perspective of someone who thoroughly knows the subject. I like to write my own lists and make my own plans, but there’s no way I could list my way into competent Latin instruction. I don’t know Latin, so of course I can’t teach it without help and guidance!

I personally do know grammar, and could teach it without a workbook or a program, but I also have a lot of details besides grammar to track and accomplish. I’m not only a grammar teacher. I’m also instructing in reading, math, Latin, history, and everything else we do. On top of that, these people insist on eating three times a day, so I’m also cook. Then there’s laundress, chauffeur, shopper, not to mention wife and mother. If I have to create the scope and sequence and lesson plan for every single grammar lesson, how often would grammar happen and how coherent would it be? Not often and not very.

Start with a garment, a material, you like and want to play with, and feel free along the way to nip and tuck, let it out a little, hem it up, or add an extra panel or a cute embellishment. Make it yours in your own way, but don’t feel inferior for starting with something off-the-rack.

What are some ways you’ve tailored your curriculum to fit you and yours?

Related reading:

11 Responses

  1. Karen
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    Thanks Mystie for a great post!

    I decided to use The Well-Trained Mind as a resource for my planning for this year. But I’m not following every.single.thing they suggest in regards to curriculum or method. For example, for my first grader, the book suggests having a separate section in the grammar notebook for writing and that writing needs to be done as a separate subject. But I integrate the writing. I don’t feel like my daughter has to do a separate handwriting assignment if she just spent time writing out spelling words in her spelling workbook or she’s done copywork with First Language Lessons. :)

    For my oldest, I decided to use the Omnibus VI as a resource for the Great Books study this year. Instead of using the Omnibus VI as the curriculum for Great Books study to follow to a tee, it was to simply be a resource for background material, discussion questions, etc. However, after the first three weeks of getting back into the school routine, due to some various reasons, it looks like we’re even going to change that direction in History and Literature and do something different.

    Mystie, you made such a great point about how much it can involve in fabricating our own lessons; and how we have so many things on our plates already. It was good for me to read that…and to read when you said: “We should tailor our lessons to our students, but that’s not the same thing as fabricating our lessons. A tailor takes a garment and makes some adjustments so it fits just right. We want to be tailors, and we don’t need to be seamstresses who begin with the bolt of fabric and a pair of scissors.”

    The thing about posting your curriculum plans on your blog is that inevitably something is bound to change (or several things!). :) And due to a number of reasons, there are some things that are changing in the plans for my 11th grader. For the last couple of years, I’ve spent hours and hours and hours reading and preparing materials for my high schooler in some of the subjects. But I am finding that it’s just not so realistic to do that this year. Therefore, I’ve decided to go ahead and use a standard textbook for history and then simply fold in some Great Books into that study using literature guides to help with that. So I’m taking something already prepared and tailoring it a bit to suit us. :)

  2. […] you been by Schole Sisters this week? Mystie has been talking about curriculum. In today’s post, she talks about how we can utilize prepared curriculum so that we don’t have to start from […]

  3. Cheryl
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    I was hoping to see a lot of comments on this. This is something I struggle with. I let the curriculum ‘drive’ every year and then I’m disappointed when the end of the school year comes and I haven’t covered the things I really hoped to in a particular resource. You’ve inspired me to take time this weekend to look at the resources we are using this year and prioritize the things I really want to cover. I need to make a plan of how to do it too. Which lessons to skip/combine. We’ll see how it goes. I started school 2 weeks ago and just jumped right in (afraid, as Sarah mentioned). We just keep doing the next thing in each resource, but I’ve had the nagging feeling that I need to set aside the time to make those tough decisions about what to cut/combine. TIME…that’s the problem…how to use it wisely so I can do these important things and not just the urgent things.

  4. Lisa A
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    I definitely adjust and tweak as we go along. Mostly because I strongly dislike following other people’s plans :P and yet, I’m always finding myself looking at how other people do things so that I can get ideas about what I’d like to try.

    Let me see if I can think of examples….

    For math we started out using MUS, and I found it SO helpful because I didn’t know what I was doing. But once I got more comfortable we switched to Ray’s Arithmetic, which is much less guided, and I’ve slowly become more and more comfortable with knowing what the next step needs to be.

    Another program we use is SWR. I’ve seen posts on various forums and groups from lots of people who feel worried about not doing everything exactly as laid out in the manual, but even though I’ve felt the same concerns, I have only been able to do as much as we could handle because I saw the children in front of me and I knew there was no way in the world that we could do it exactly as specified right from the get-go. But by NOT doing it exactly as laid out and by following my gut instead I’ve become much more comfortable in my skin as a teacher and I think I’d feel pretty comfortable adjusting anything we end up using.

    I guess that’s not all that helpful as to *how* to tweak, but it’s where we are. Maybe it will be helpful to someone. :)

  5. Meghan
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    I’m going through this process for the first time with my 5-year-old’s phonics/reading curriculum. I ordered All About Reading a month ago, because I’ve felt we need something more structured. After going through the quiz they give you when deciding which level to order, I went with Level 1 because I’d heard that it’s good to completely master these phonics rules. But once I opened it, I realized that Ellary HAS already mastered probably 75% of Level 1. I probably should have packed a lot of it back up and kept it for her little sister, but she had already seen the star stickers and the workbook and was just begging to get started, so I gave in. Now we’re busting through ~4 lessons a day, pretty much just so she can have her star stickers and so I can make sure she isn’t missing anything. (Of! She didn’t know how to read “of”!)

    Sometimes I’m frustrated with it, because I spent money on something that we don’t really need. But I’m trying to just roll with it and recognize there’s never going to be a packaged curriculum that exactly meets my child where they’re at the first day we use it.

  6. Kansas Mom
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    I tailor everything! I love buying prepared curriculum and then tweaking it. Let’s see…some examples…

    Math – Skip any lesson your child already knows. In some years, I’ve been known to skip the first 20-30 lessons in Saxon. It’s all there for review in a classroom setting and many children will not need them at all. (In the same vein, you can usually stop long before the end of the book if you run out of time, especially in elementary ages. Those tougher concepts will show up in the middle of the year or so the following year.) We recently switched from Saxon to Life of Fred and I’m finding it a better fit. Some people use it as a supplement, but we’re using it as our base. It recommends using flash cards to master the math facts, but we all hate math flashcards here, so we use xtramath for our math facts practice. If we come across anything that needs more practice during the year, I’ll assign particular skills on Khan Academy.

    I read Uncovering the Logic of English and loved all it had to say, but the beginner instruction seemed expensive to me. (I already had Essentials, which I used with my oldest son and didn’t want to invest more.) So I use The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading. Instead of the first 26 lessons to learn the letter sounds, I read through Doodling Dragons. Then we started at lesson 27. We spend three to four days a week doing lessons from the textbook, sometimes 2 a day, sometimes 1, depending on how successful my younger daughter is feeling. On another day, we play a game from The Logic of English Phonogram and Spelling Game Book. My kids LOVE these games. When my older daughter was learning to read, we started out sometimes doing only a half or a third of a lesson a day. (I started her way too young!) By the end, she was often doing three lessons a day.

    For history, we use Connecting with History. I am using volume 4 for American History concurrently with Volume 1 for Ancient History. We’re going to go through volume 4 very slowly. Instead of one year, I expect it to take us three years or so. We’ll probably do every single reading, but we’ll only work on it two days a week. For Ancient History, we’re doing most of the readings, but I’ve scheduled only seven or eight units for the whole year so we can spread some of the heavy reading days over two or more days. I bought the lesson plans and they made my planning so easy! I just went through and picked and chose what I wanted to do with the kids. Sometimes I combine my fifth and second grader and sometimes I read things to them individually. My second grader is a tremendous independent reader, so I often hand things over to hear that I would have read aloud in third or even fourth grade to my oldest. But she loves to read on her own and that frees up my time.

    This is my sixth year homeschooling and even though my oldest is only in fifth grade (and therefore I don’t know anything at all about middle school or high school), I have found my confidence over the years has grown considerably. I love to have something all planned out that I can modify to my heart’s content. I have experience with a lot more books so I feel more confident as I substitute or cross things off. I guess I’m saying, it comes with time. Early on, you might want to follow things more closely, and that’s ok. Later on, you can switch things up more.

  7. Karen
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    I’m just wondering, I subscribed to the comments for this post and I’m not getting any email notification when someone posts a new comment. When I make a comment, does clicking the button to subscribe mean I only receive emails when someone replies to my comment? Or should I be receiving emails when any comment is made? Thanks for the help! :)

    • Mystie Winckler
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      We had a technical glitch where the plugin that supports that turned all its settings off when it updated and we didn’t realize it until yesterday. It should be working again now. Sorry about that!

      • Karen
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        Okay. Thanks Mystie. :) Should I get emails for any new comments to the post or only ones that are replies to a comment I make on the post?

        • Mystie Winckler
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          You *should* get an email for all subsequent comments.

  8. Gina
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    This is exactly what I do, and have done it since we started homeschooling. I love how beautifully you’ve put it here, though. Whenever anyone has asked me ‘what do you use?’, I’m left saying, “Well, I use this provider as a guideline, but then I go and switch things in and out and just make it work for us.” I have never liked feeling confined to a box of books, a strict set of daily lesson plans, or even the idea that I should finish X-number of pages by a certain date. Tailoring to fit my family has always been what worked best.