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Curriculum Paralysis: Deciding Which Curriculum to Use This Year
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.
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I’m a Christian psychologist turned homeschooling mother of six. My life can be a little crazy, so I look for sanity-saving ideas to use and share. I hope you’ll read my About page to learn more.