Do you have so many curriculum options that you don’t know what to use? That was the problem one of my readers had. I could relate. After all, the longer you homeschool, the more books you purchase, and the tougher the decisions can be. Here is how I’ve overcome this decision paralysis.
As I considered this problem, I realized I have confronted it in many areas of my life. I am someone who wants to do it all. I want to write books in multiple genres. Truth be told, I’d love to be a Christian podcaster and speaker and not just a homeschool one. I’d love to write and speak about a variety of topics. I’d also like to teach in a co-op and maybe at the university again. I’d like to get more involved in homeschool activities and leadership.
There is a term for people like me. We have so many interests and we get depressed when we are told we have to choose one to focus on. We are called scanners, multipotentialites, Renaissance women, and polymaths. I think of myself as a Holly Hobby. In the past I felt bad about my habit of trying to do it all. It felt immature. It’s true that in trying to do it all, you rarely finish anything. That was discouraging and hurt my self-esteem. Then I read the book Refuse to Choose by Barbara Sher. She has dealt with many people like me and has some solutions for us. I am going to pull from one of her solutions to address the problem of curriculum paralysis. You can use it to deal with paralysis in other areas of your life as well.
What I am not going to say to my reader with curriculum paralysis is just as important as what I am going to say. I am not going to tell her she has to decide on one option and get rid of the rest. This is terribly depressing and discouraging to a Holly Hobby. It’s like telling her that she can choose one ride to go on at Disney World. No, she won’t be able to go on every ride and see every show, but she has to believe that she can when she enters the park in order to be happy. We know there’s no way she can do My Father’s World, Classical Conversations, and Tapesty of Grace at the same time. But telling her to choose just one for all time isn’t the right response.
Decide Which Curriculum to Use This Year
So here is the right response: schedule your curriculum. To begin, that means to decide which curricula you absolutely want to use this year. If you can tell yourself that you will use some of them next year, you’ll reduce some of the options for this school year.
How can you put something great off an entire year? By choosing curricula that really can wait without your children becoming too old for it. If it’s a history curriculum or something that isn’t strictly age-dependent, wait on it. For each, ask what’s the worst that can happen if you wait a year to use it.
Another way to decide which curriculum to use this year is to consider what’s most exciting to you. Take a look at your bookshelves and move the options you are most eager to use to the front. If you do this every year and there are books that are always at the back of the shelf, you’ve made a decision about what not to use, but in a less painful way. I have books that I have never used because of this process. While I regret that I haven’t used them, I know I made the right choice. I’ve been able to pass them along to homeschoolers who will want to use them.
Another way to limit your options for this year is to decide how many different curricula you think is reasonable to use for one subject (that includes all-in-one curricula that also covers the subject at hand). If your friend was using three math curricula this year for the same student, does that seem like too much? If it does, settle on a number that makes sense to you.
Next, ask yourself if using multiple curricula at once will make any of them less effective. For example, if you are doing poetry tea time with Brave Writer and poetry memorization with IEW and the Grammar of Poetry, your kids may not enjoy the relaxing and fun aspect of poetry tea time. They may end up hating poetry! This is the same issue with using a curriculum that is great because of short lessons. Stacking many curricula for the same subject will erase its advantage in motivating your children.
If you still can’t decide how many curriculum options to use for the same subject, ask your veteran homeschool friends — and not the ones who are always trying to impress. If you presented using My Father’s World, Classical Conversations, and Tapestry of Grace this year to your experienced homeschool friends, they would laugh. You can also ask your kids. Show them how much work they would be expected to complete each week for each subject and if they seem alarmed and not just reluctant, you’ll know you’re trying to teach too much at once.
Once you have decided on a number for each subject or for an all-in-one curriculum, go to your shelf that you’ve arranged according to excitement. For example, if you think using two Bible curricula this year is reasonable for you, go to your shelf and choose the two you’ve moved to the front as the most exciting options. Then, and this is very important, move the books you will not be using this year out of sight. I have a storage area in my basement for books I’m not using. It helps me to feel confident and to be less distracted when I don’t see those other options tempting me.
Schedule Curriculum for This Year
Once you know the materials you will teach this school year, decide how you’re going to schedule those options. I see three good choices.
First, choose the day or days of the week that you will use each. For example, some of my customers use a different language arts curriculum Monday through Thursday and then do Grammar Galaxy on Fridays. For some curriculum options, this means you will not finish it this year. Is that acceptable to you? It may be if it is a supplement, a fun curriculum, or something you plan to continue the following year. Create a schedule for which curriculum you will use on which days that your whole family can see. A schedule will help hold you accountable so you aren’t dragging something else out of storage.
A second option is to use a loop schedule for your curriculum. When I have explained loop scheduling at conferences, some people are confused. I’m going to try to make it clear, but if it isn’t, Proverbial Homemaker has a Loop Scheduling workshop. So maybe you have Fix It Grammar and Grammar Galaxy in the loop for 11:00 in your homeschool day. If you used Fit It Grammar the last time you did language arts at 11:00, you’d use Grammar Galaxy today at 11. Or, if last Friday you used Fix It Grammar, you’d use Grammar Galaxy this Friday. A loop schedule works well when your schedule is unpredictable and it allows you to fit in a number of options. You can loop more than one option, too. So maybe you want to loop your Kids Cook Real Food course, an art course, and a music appreciation course for a block on Fridays. You can use a schedule that hangs on the wall with pockets for activities. You would move the card for each activity back as you use it when looping. Alternatively, you can write your loop options on an index card and move a paper clip to mark which option is up next.
A final schedule option is to use one curriculum for part of the year — a quarter or semester. We tend to do this when we think a curriculum isn’t working, but this would be a planned change. The advantage of this is you keep things simple by just using one option at a time and you change about the time you and the kids are getting bored. The thing to keep in mind with this option is the need for continuity of subject matter. If you’re going to change math curriculum at the semester, you wouldn’t want to start at the beginning of the new book if the material has already been covered. On the other hand, the kids may not understand how to do the problems in the middle of the book if they haven’t seen how the material is handled at the beginning. For this reason, I don’t recommend changing certain curricula mid-year. If your kids are struggling with the material, changing mid-year is fine. It’s no problem to change Bible or history curriculum mid-year, for example. Even language arts can be changed mid-year, depending on the scope and sequence.
If you’re still feeling paralyzed, ask a verteran homeschooling friend to come over and go through this process with you. Verbalize why you want to use each curricula, and most likely you’ll know what to do, even if your friend says nothing.
One final thought. You are the teacher. People were homeschooling successfully before there was curriculum written specifically for homeschoolers. Your decision is not going to make or ruin your kids. If you are a reasonably consistent teacher and pour love into your homeschooling, your kids will do well.
I am so excited about this week’s episode of The Homeschool Sanity Show. I have been wanting to interview new homeschoolers for a long time and have my listeners take the journey with them. It’s finally happening! I will get to introduce you to the five women who are going to be joining me each month and sharing the homework assignments I give them.
For their first homework assignment, I knew I had to talk about routines. Here’s why they’re so critical for beginning homeschoolers.
The Need for Routines in the First Year of Homeschooling
The lack of routine in my life nearly put an end to my homeschool and any possibility of having future children. It caused a lot of stress in my marriage, too.
The freedom of homeschooling really appealed to me. I would be free to choose curriculum, free to emphasize the subjects that mattered to my family, and free to go through the day according to my own rhythm. It was that latter freedom that ended up enslaving me. Being able to rest when I was sick was wonderful and so was being able to adjust my schedule to have my mother-in-law (who suffered from dementia) over for the day. What wasn’t wonderful was having no time to homeschool, yet feeling like I hadn’t accomplished anything else. It wasn’t wonderful having piles of undone laundry and no idea what to make for dinner when the clock read 5 p.m.
When I found FLYLady online and created routines, I discovered real freedom. I no longer had to decide when to do dishes or laundry. I knew when we would do school. I even knew what we were having for dinner. The kids loved having a routine and my husband was ecstatic. Routines gave me peace of mind and the confidence that I could not only homeschool but add more students.
The Importance of Chores in the First Year of Homeschooling
Homeschooled children are home most days and that means more mess. Art projects, dramatizations, and science experiments require extra clean-up, too. If we don’t develop an approach to making sure our kids contribute to the clean-up and needs of the home, the likelihood of burnout is high. The bonus of creating chore routines is that our kids develop important life skills and a sense of responsibility. Spouses who prefer an orderly home will appreciate it, too.
If you’re just beginning this journey, allow me to save you a lot of time pursuing the perfect chore system: there isn’t one. I’ve tried dozens of them and the simplest system is the best. You don’t even have to have a system, but you must have a routine. I often get the most housework done with my kids when we work together, room to room.
Establish a routine for doing the daily tasks and then create a routine for weekly chores. What works best for my family is rotating the daily tasks and assigning the weekly chores on a yearly basis. We have always completed our daily chores before starting school. That’s for my benefit. If the house is a mess, I can’t focus on our school work. Homeschooling also becomes a reward for getting chores done.
You can find one editable chore checklist here and a new Chore Game printable below for subscribers. (Click the form below to gain access.) But any chore system will do.
The Importance of Teaching Children to Do Laundry in the First Year of Homeschooling
I used to do all the laundry in our home. At first, that wasn’t much. But with just three children who were ages three and under, I felt like I was drowning in it. Of course, the most time-consuming part of laundry is putting it away.
As soon as possible, consider teaching your child to use the washer and dryer. I chose not to have my kids separate lights and darks and only rarely had a problem as a result. I would pour the laundry detergent into the cap for my littles and they loved pouring it into the machine.
I also underestimated the importance of teaching my kids how to fold. Before I did, their clothing was jammed into drawers. I bought expensive folding boards, but teaching them to fold on their own was more effective. When I learned the Konmari folding approach, I taught it to them and have loved the results.
Finally, do what you can to help your children hang clothing. A lower closet bar may help and accessible hangers are a must.
A critical part of both your chore and laundry routines for kids is supervision. My fantasies of having my children do what I’ve trained them to do without me checking on them have not been realized. The younger your kids, the more likely you will have to work with them. Rather than being irritated by this as I have often been, see it as a time to connect with your children. Have fun, chat, and encourage.
The Importance of Meal Planning in the First Year of Homeschooling
My mother ran a large daycare in our home when I was little. With so many mouths to feed and so much childcare to provide, she always had to have a meal in mind. If you are a beginning homeschooler, you may not have 14 kids to feed, but you may have another meal to plan and provide than you did before (i.e. lunch). You aren’t running a daycare, but you are teaching at least one child and possibly providing childcare for others. You may be signed up for classes and activities. Without a plan for meals, you will probably be very crabby at the end of the day. You may have to run to the store or spend extra money on takeout. The delay can make the rest of your family crabby, too.
The mistake we make in meal planning is to use new recipes. A meal plan should be made with meals your family already loves. The book Do Less recommends serving the same six meals every week. That seems extreme, but even if you have that one-week meal plan established and you’ve shopped for it, you’ll be ready to make something — even if it’s not as varied as you like.
In my free meal planning ebook for subscribers, I share ideas for making your base meal plan healthier and adding new recipes to the plan. I also talk about the benefits of buying a month’s worth of groceries at once. I wrote about this concept when five of my kids weren’t teens to adults. A week’s worth of shopping is a major undertaking for me now, but it’s so much better than having no plan in place. Claim Your Meal Planning Ebook
First Year Homeschoolers Homework for Routines
If you’d like to follow along with our new homeschoolers, here is your homework assignment:
The iHomeschool Network bloggers have been sharing unit studies on famous people whose birthdays are that month. I wanted to get in on the fun! But I’m unconventional. I chose to create a unit study on a contemporary comedian who is also unconventional: Howie Mandel.
In the process of creating a unit study on Howie Mandel, I learned a lot. I hope our kids will, too. I love the idea of taking a day to study something completely different. Don’t you?
A unit study of Howie Mandel gives us the opportunity to learn about topics we don’t spend a lot of time on in a traditional school day:
Comedy writing, and more!
Howie’s life also serves as a reminder that individual differences can be the source of our success!
Because I love learning new things, I decided to use this unit study as an opportunity to learn a new platform: Teachable. This online learning site allowed me to put this unit study into a series of lessons, including videos and websites. I’ve even opened the comments on the last section so kids can share their funny material. I’ve made the unit study free since I’m working the bugs out.
I could absolutely be the perfect homeschooler that some moms already think I am if not for these six things:
#1 I have imperfect kids
Besides the usual signs of childhood imperfection like refusing to leave diapers on, disobedience (I told him not to play with slime), and mess-making, my children have maligned my good reputation by:
Peeing all over the pool deck at swimming lessons, necessitating special clean-up
Shooting the little neighbor girl in the back with an Airsoft pellet on two different occasions (after I assured her mother I would protect her)
Arguing against the faith in front of my homeschool friends (They asked, “Which apologetics curriculum are you using again?”)
And those are just the things I feel comfortable telling you. I could be a perfect homeschooler if it weren’t for my kids.
#2 I have an imperfect husband
My husband is our school principal and he works out of our home. Although his self-employment has been a blessing to us in many ways, it has allowed a rather annoying habit to get in the way of my homeschooling: He likes to call off school for good weather. I will be in the middle of teaching when he will come into the school room declaring, “It’s a beautiful day! We’re going for a hike. Everybody outside!” The kids gladly disappear, leaving me holding the books. I could be a perfect homeschooler if it weren’t for my husband.
#3 I have an imperfect house
Having an attractive work environment really does aid learning. Unfortunately, there’s something wrong with my house. For example, I must have really weak drywall, so that when the kids bounced out of their inflatable trampoline, landing on the wall, the drywall just imploded. The wallpaper must not have been adhered well to the wall, because it peeled off so quickly. My furniture must be poor quality, too, because the leather desk chair’s “leather” has peeled off by itself. I could be a perfect homeschooler if it weren’t for my house.
#4 I have imperfect curriculum
My kids would all already have their Ph.D.s if only better curriculum were on the market. The material is too hard or too easy. There is too much to do or too little. It takes too much time or not enough, allowing the kids to become idle. It’s too interesting, making all other subjects unappealing, or it’s too boring. And to top it off, I’ve spent tons of time and money looking for something that doesn’t seem to exist. I could be a perfect homeschooler if it weren’t for our curriculum.
#5 I have imperfect friends
On days when my husband is working out of the house and I can finally teach, we get a phone call from our homeschooling friends asking if we’d like to do something fun. It doesn’t matter if I don’t take the call, because the kids have already gotten a text message from my friend’s kids and they’ll announce that we need to start getting ready for our field trip immediately. I usually agree because the kids’ behavior, my husband’s impending return, my messed-up house, and our imperfect curriculum will surely make the day a loss anyway. I could be a perfect homeschooler if it weren’t for our homeschool friends.
#6 I have some imperfections
This is definitely last on the list, but I have a few very tiny problems of my own, that I have mostly taken care of. Sort of. Like when the kids were little, I would very rarely (no more than once or twice a day) get so caught up in what I was doing on the computer that I wasn’t supervising them and then they would give themselves haircuts. Nothing big.
Then every once-in-a-while I don’t tell my husband that we’re going on field trips (only never) and so he doesn’t really know our schedule. That could explain why he doesn’t know that we’ve been gone every day this week and today isn’t a good day for a hike.
It’s also happened that on those very rare occasions when I wasn’t supervising the kids (for only a few hours at a time), that they’ve used that time to destroy the house. But I still think the house and furniture should be high enough quality to withstand some abuse.
When it comes to curriculum, I have to admit that in a few instances (every six months or so), I will change curriculum, just in case there is something better available. But you know what they say, “If you love a curriculum, set it free…” Wait, that might not be the right saying. But you know what I mean.
Finally, it’s possible that I might have told my friends that we’re fairly flexible (like I might have said, “Any time you want to go, give me a call!”). It’s also remotely possible that I may have been the one to call or text my friends to say, “Hey! It’s a beautiful day! Let’s go for a hike!”
I don’t seem to be the only homeschooler who will never be perfect! Be sure to check out iHomeschool Network’s other articles. Don’t worry about what the kids are doing. I’m sure they’re FINE.
I’m having a cranky day when I’m wondering why I bother to:
Write what few people read
Clean when it gets messed up again
Buy things that are broken right away
Be kind when I don’t get kindness in return
Teach my kids when the lessons seem quickly forgotten
Work toward my goals when almost no one cares what I do
I’m sick and tired, thus I am vulnerable. At these times, I hear the voice of my enemy saying, “Why bother?” He knows well how I depend on encouragement from others. When it isn’t there, he knows how to turn my funk into a fiasco. When he is done talking, I want to go back to bed and forsake writing, homemaking, kindness, parenting, and working forever.
But the same question that I asked myself I have to ask my enemy. Why bother? If I were an insignificant woman, why would you spend your time and energy trying to talk me into giving up? Jesus breaks into the discussion.
“Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” – Matthew 4:10
We bother because we are serving the Lord. He reads every word we write and He sees us cleaning, returning kindness for evil, teaching the resistant learner, and achieving His purposes for us. He likes it all.
So why do we bother listening to any voice but His?
My daughter had her first sleepover birthday party last night. I didn't make this cake, but I wish I had. How cute is this?
While we didn't have cake, we did have one girl who struggled. As I lay awake after returning her to her mother in the middle of the night, I thought about how Christians are sleepover shy, too.
I'm hungry. That was one of the shy girl's complaints that I can relate to. Though she had a healthy-sized bowl of popcorn late in the evening, she longed for more. Like her, I've enjoyed so much in life, yet I'm not fully satisfied. No matter how many blessings we experience in this life, we all continue to be hungry.
I'm scared. That was another of her issues with the sleepover. I get that. My house was a dark strange place to her. This world is scary to us as believers, too. The Bible gives us enough "Don't be afraid"s to last us a year, and yet we're still not comfortable with this dark world. Maybe we're not supposed to be.
I wanna go home. The sleepover shy girl missed her mom and dad. Why wouldn't she? There's nothing like being near the one you've always known, the one who loves you unconditionally. While this sleepover we call life can be great fun and we enjoy the people we're with, we wanna go home, too. Our Father is waiting for us with open arms. That image makes the long night a little easier to get through, doesn't it?
Good-night, friend. See you in the morning.
Psalm 4:8 In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, LORD, make me dwell in safety.