The 5 Most Common Curriculum Blunders Homeschool Moms Make

If you’re like most moms who homeschool or are considering it, you are – to put it lightly – on it.

Before pulling out the sleeping bags and cleaning them for summer, you have scoured the catalogs, overwhelmed yourself with yet another Google search on homeschooling curricula, your Pinterest boards are full of ideas for the next three grades of schooling each child and you’re even braving the Facebook homeschool curriculum groups, with Paypal on overdrive.

But wait.

Are you making one of these five biggest blunders?

Asking this question early can save you heartache, yes, but it can also protect you from spending thousands of dollars on curricula that will leave you unhappy, your kids grouchy and you hating the very idea of homeschooling.

BLUNDER #1 – Not taking the time to recognize your child’s individual personality

Every child is different. As a mom, you already know this. You know which one out of your children is the social butterfly who chats with all the grocery store clerks and you know who is the recluse. You know your singers from your drummers and your – ahem – controlling ones from the kids who are happy to just follow along.

When you buy a curriculum, remember these differences.

For some reason, even though as moms we understand our children’s unique personalities, as homeschoolers, we fail to acknowledge them. There is no one style that fits all and if we try to teach all our kids the same way, it’s only a matter of time before we teach them to dislike learning.

BLUNDER #2 – Not understanding your own unique teaching ability

To understand your unique teaching ability, you have to first go back and think about what drew you to homeschool or unschool your child in the first place. What is your gift? What about having your child with you all day long resonated with you? What did you hope to achieve by this togetherness?

Think it through and try to formulate or find a curriculum that works in accordance with your vision.

There were months that I spent feeling guilty for not reading enough to my children, not doing what all my other homeschooling mom friends were doing. It was only after I took this quiz that I realized why I had been feeling like I was teaching differently from the others. Most of my friends followed the classical system; I was more of an unschooler.

Whatever your style may be, to avoid feeling like you’ve been put into a straight jacket, play to your strengths in what you choose to do this year.

BLUNDER #3 – Overscheduling your school days

This usually happens because either you’re trying to replicate school at home or because you’re just having tons of field trips and fun, fun, fun. If you (and your children) enjoy either of these, there’s nothing wrong with it. But most of the time, children, especially younger than ten years of age (or the third grade level) do not need hours and hours of sitting down and working at a desk. Some studies suggest that it could even be detrimental.

Leave room in your homeschool days for segues, for spontaneity. Leave room for fun.

Do not, I repeat for emphasis, do NOT schedule 180 days of school. Yes, I know, that’s what the State of California requires, but trust me, if you teach them diligently, you will have 180 days of school even without scheduling them all. I would start by scheduling three solid months at a time.

After those initial three months, you can take a week off, review, and see what pace works for your family and plan the next three months accordingly.

BLUNDER #4 – Buying a premade curriculum for a specific grade level

Okay, okay, before you throw my blog to the curb, unfriend and denounce me publicly, let me say this. Some homeschoolers do just fine with pre-packaged curricula. They find just the right one that works with their style of teaching, their children’s style of learning and they don’t hold so tightly to it that they can’t veer off the beaten path ever so often.

However, the problem with a pre-packaged curriculum is that most moms are tempted to follow the guidebook that comes with it. If you don’t follow the guide, you worry that you won’t finish in time, aren’t doing it right, and so on.

The other problem with pre-made curricula is that it often does not address children working a grade or two above or below their grade levels, which can happen often before middle school. My son, for example, started second grade math while he was at kindergarten grade level. Because I homeschool multiple children, I could accommodate his needs but if I was limited by our curriculum choice, I suspect he would be bored.

Pre-made curricula takes the guesswork out, but it also takes away from your personal touch and sometimes your (and your children’s) unique personalities. Refer #1 – #3 above.

BLUNDER #5 – Failing to include cross-disciplinary learning

This one is by far the most important, which is why I saved it for last. I have said before that I see homeschooling as a journey not just for the children, but also for the parents. I see homeschooling as a fun, creative, educational pursuit for the entire family. Your goals might be different but they do not mean that you have to be so focused on textbooks and workbooks that you forget curricula that can be had for free!

Don’t know what I’m talking about? Read about how Finland recently decided to get rid of individual subjects and teach only through cross-disciplines.

Consider including different media or chucking media altogether and learning through field trips. Think about free classes and other free or inexpensive resources all around you. Engage extended family members, friends, specialists in their fields, go on tours, learn a new craft yourself! Learning is fun. For everyone, regardless of age!

Steer clear of these five most common blunders and have the best homeschool year yet! See any that I may have missed? Have personal experience with any of these or others? Be sure to comment!

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Language Arts – A Kinesthetic Solution

All my kids are relatively late talkers.

I have never had one of those kids that chatters on before she turns two. My daughter, now six, didn’t speak a full sentence until she was four. Sure, there were times I panicked. But my husband calmed me down with three words. “Relax, she’ll talk.”

She did. She talks all day now from the time she wakes up until the time she closes her eyes. She also reads fluently.

There’s just one problem. Grammar.

Because she is a late talker, she hasn’t had as much time as other kids to learn language patterns and so she gets her grammar wrong. As does her five year old brother and because they talk to each other all day, the same wrong speech gets reinforced and learned.

No, we do not have a grammar curriculum.

I figured we could reach a language arts solution in the same way we came to the problem. Here’s what we do. We do nothing formal. We just let them interact. When we hear them use wrong grammar, they are required to do three push ups.

It’s not punishment. It’s just correction. And it’s at the level they understand – a kinesthetic level.

There is no shame in it. In fact, for them, it’s fun. It works.

Speech patterns are caught more often than they are taught. It works for us and it works for them.

As I write this, my daughter caught my son saying “fell” for “dropped.” He is currently on the floor doing push ups, repeating “dropped” three times.


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Obedience Versus Self-Direction

In my younger years, I had a distinct aversion to the word “obedience.” If you had prodded a little, you would have found that you might have agreed with me.

I did want to obey my parents – I loved them. What I pictured in my mind when the word “obedience” was used was however walking rank and file and doing everything they said immediately with my head bowed. In other words, I mistook obedience for obsequiousness.

Today, as a mom, I realize I am not raising an army and I am no commander. I am working with children. And while I do love obedient kids, I do not want them to wait to be told what to do every time, every minute of every day. Am I treading a fine line here? Certainly.

When I instituted (or allowed, as you might argue) unlimited screen time in our home, I knew what I was doing. I had spent years teaching my children to check the clock, we had schedules for quiet time, nap time, bed time, lunch, dinner, you name it, that they were well entrenched in. They checked the clock often. They could tell time. They even obeyed me when I told them that bedtime was at seven. They could argue their cause for twenty minutes of play over ten.

But what they had still not learned was managing their time.

They had become used to me standing over them, directing them into different activities. And, yes, when they were five and under, there was a time and place for that. But not any more. I want them to move from simple obedience to self-direction. It’s a higher form of obedience, I’m beginning to believe. My instructions are clear but they are not exhaustive. I still do expect obedience, but I will not micromanage their time. I will not shield them from making mistakes and suffering the consequences of their behavior.

Will there be some hand holding along the way? Of course. But we’re getting very close to the time when they will have to learn not just to walk without hanging on my hand, but fly. These are the first flutters.

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When Should You Start Homeschooling?

Ah, homeschooling! The pictures in our heads one small word can evoke! Little children sitting peacefully at the dinner table writing. Or swinging in the backyard as the school bus trundles through the neighborhood. Nice pictures and true, I might add, on some days. Except that they have the power to ruin the reality in front of you everyday.

When my oldest daughter (now six) was two, I decided to take the leap into school. I had read a few reviews on Amazon. I was very excited about it all, I had done all my research and preschool homeschool seemed to be my thing. I was ready to go.

Except for one small thing. She wasn’t. And no matter how many counting bears I lined up, no matter how colorful the books I wanted to read to her, she wasn’t learning. I couldn’t understand what I was doing wrong.

It wasn’t until much later that it dawned on me. She wasn’t ready! What a revelation!

In spite of every homeschooling book out there I had read, I had jumped the gun. I hadn’t given her enough time to catch up developmentally before dumping her into academics. I know, I know, counting bears isn’t exactly academic. Still. I also had her style of learning and my style of teaching completely wrong. Once I figured these things out, it changed the way I saw my role. It also saved me time, money (those counting bears were lost, barely used) and my sanity.

So I put it all aside – the schoolwork, the books, the curriculum. You know what I did? I waited. A whole two and a half years. And even at that, we did minimal things for homeschool – Lego Duplos, some play dough, Leapfrog DVDs for phonics. That’s it.

I often say a lot of parenting is waiting. Homeschool isn’t much different.


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The Unconventional Guide to Time Management (for my kids)

Well, we’re at the point where enough is enough. I have been teaching my children the routine for far too long.

We have been doing the same thing – well, almost the same thing – every single day. There is school, free time, quiet time, breakfast, lunch, dinner, chores, you know, a life lived together.

So I’m going to try something new. I’m going to give them the gift of learning the art of time management for themselves. It isn’t that different, really.

How it’s been going so far is this. Me: Okay, kids. It’s now eight. Chores. Kids: All right. Me: Okay, kids, it’s now nine. Time to have breakfast. Kids: Yes, mom. Me: Okay, school. Kids: Okay, mom. You get the drift. And this is how I want it to go. Me: School starts at 9, guys. At nine o’ clock, kids: Mom, I’m ready for school.

Really, how hard can it be? Well, I might have found out today.

Five minutes before our scheduled time for school, I confront my daughter, video game controller in her hand.

“But I didn’t hear you!” “But my brothers are always playing.” “But… but I didn’t know.”

After about ten minutes of listening to her non-excuses and explaining how things are going to go from now on, we moved on to doing the things we wanted to get done in the first place.

After all, since we’ve decided to unschool – at least on a small level – they’re going to need to learn to manage their own time.

Ultimately, I’m choosing to focus on the effort and energy I will save in the future by guiding them to learn to manage their own schedule. It will take effort now, but it will pay off in the end.

I’m eating my frog and they’re going to learn to eat theirs.

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Three Ways to Eliminate Mom Guilt

I recently read Essentialism – The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. I devoured it whole in one sitting last evening.

Even though it is a business book, I think our current culture of harried moms who eat this concoction we refer to as “mom guilt” would benefit immensely from reading it.

Take for example this nugget I found.

An editor is not someone who merely says no to things. A three year old can do that. Nor does an editor simply eliminate; in a way, an editor actually adds. […] a good editor uses deliberate subtraction to actually add life. […] Likewise, in life, disciplined editing can increase your ability to focus on and give energy to the things that really matter.

I might be an editor at heart.

I find that moms who know their number one priority on any given day seem happier in general and are less likely to say they suffer mom guilt.

So how do you avoid mom guilt? Here are some suggestions.

Discern what’s really important

McKeown suggests setting aside some time to discern what’s most important. As moms, we are bombarded with decisions every minute and they all can seem vital. Add to that the pressures of social media and each day seems to evaporate before it even begins.

Set some time aside periodically to think, not just about the daily or weekly to-do and grocery shopping list, but the bigger picture. What are you trying to achieve? What do you want to teach your children? How do you want your home to look?

Be realistic. Be concrete and then ruthlessly eliminate everything else that takes away from those goals. And suffer no mom guilt for it. Mom guilt stems mostly from feeling like you should do something when you have no desire or inclination to do so. It is a result of letting others decide for you.

It is easier to eliminate mom guilt if you have consciously chosen one thing over another.

Don’t downplay the trade offs

These are inevitable because we’re human and we cannot do everything. But I don’t think we realize that.

As moms, we think we must do everything and do it right away. Not true.

When my husband and I decided to homeschool, I knew there were certain things we were going to have to give up – things like me having a job outside the home, or being able to go places during the day without children.

When we decided to unschool, there were certain assurances we were sacrificing – things like whether the kids would in lock-step academically with their public schooled peers. When we decided to save money to pay off the mortgage, to never be in debt, there were consequences to that – the budget had to be maintained, there were no long vacations, we had to live frugally and make the most of it.

Everything has a trade-off. If you haven’t taken the time to think through these things, guilt will likely follow and you will be right back running from one form of mom guilt to another. 

Hang on tight!

Choice, says the author, is not a thing, it’s an action.

We don’t have choice, we choose. But there is an art to choosing. His criterion is that if something isn’t an absolute yes, then it’s an absolute no. (He says that if your reaction is not a Hell, yeah! you should go with No.)Tough, but effective.

Thought about this way, every decision is put into perspective against your (limited) time, your (short) life. I think mom guilt assumes we have more than twenty-four hours in a day, that we have no need for sleep, that we have unlimited room in our tired bedheads, and no need for any other human contact but the kids. All are fallacies.

When you choose, hang on tight; chances are you will be required to continue choosing the thing you have chosen.

Which brings us right back to the quote about editing above. Moms without mom guilt are great editors.

I have been teaching my kids subtraction lately and I can’t tell you how nervous it makes my daughter. Even though she is good at it, she wants to jump straight to multiplication.

I think we’ll stay here a while, subtracting, removing, eliminating. It could be the best thing she has learned all year.

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How Long Do You Homeschool?

“Just two hours a day? Is that enough?” my father asks me.

His seventy-five year old voice is still firm halfway across the world. I have just told him how our homeschooling is going and he’s curious, a little doubtful but more skeptical than anything else.

Just two hours, I reply, thinking, This will never make sense to him.

I went to private school, beginning at age 3 and I loved it. I excelled at it.

I’m not sure if I liked it because I was good or the other way around but school was like my second home. I certainly spent most of my day there. Beginning in first grade I left my house at 7:30 a.m. and didn’t return until 4 in the afternoon.

Some of that was just commuting to school and back. Then there was recess and lunch break and time for down time even during classes, but I understood what my dad was asking – Is it enough?

Look, I get it. Frankly, I struggle with this question, too. And I don’t think I’ll ever be done struggling because school is part of life.

And it is a question life throws at everyone – is it enough? Did I do enough? Did I earn enough? Did I get enough sleep? Enough protein? Did I read enough? Have I done enough work today that I can be content within myself to rest now? Is it enough?

I remember when I quit my real estate work-at-home job to be a full time mom. My daughter had just turned two and my middle son was eight months old. I remember asking myself if it was enough to say enough – that I was working as much as I could and was beginning to get overwhelmed. It was okay to step back and admit I was human, limited, finite.

But more time in school does not always equal better education.

All I include into our homeschool attendance records is what I can document and test. But a good education encompasses so much more.

A good education does not necessarily break down into subjects, compartmentalized, organized, tested, completed.

Add to that the fact that I have no idea what skills the children will need in the future. Sure, there are the usual reading, writing and arithmetic – our heaviest emphasis at present – and I would never want to divorce wisdom from the fear and knowledge of God as revealed in the Bible.

But beyond these two givens, I think of their education as something organic and eclectic.

And for that, our two hours of seated work for a six and five year old are plenty of time.

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Less is More in our Homeschool

I love change. On some days.

On other days, I love the safe, solid, even stolid, routine we follow. And I begin to expect it. And then comes fall. Lovely, golden, orange, red and chilly fall. And, as regularly as clockwork, I turn inward, wondering more often than I expect, Says who?

In those moments, I am thankful to have cycles within cycles, a time to reap and a time to sow.

Fall comes along each year as a new beginning, a chance to restructure, reinvent, begin again, begin better. If you have children, you know you need those. And even if you don’t, a new starting line can be invigorating in time management and the achievement of specific goals.

This fall, right on time, I made some changes to our routine. I went contrary to my controlling nature, contrary to my scheduling side and contrary to my wanting-everything-to-be-predictable side. But in doing that, I clung to my convictions and instincts. Apparently, it is possible to be quite schizophrenic within ourselves.

The biggest thing I did? I started sleeping in.

Even as I say that, something inside me screams, “Lazy!” But I discovered that I could pour out my day tirelessly for the children if I only got to sleep in until eight or so instead of waking up at 5:30am to be “ready” for them when they awoke. So I did it.

They wake up, have breakfast, entertain themselves with video games and television (“Blasphemy!” something screams inside me again. “TV before 2?”) while I have time to wake up on my schedule and get ready for the day. It also forces them to learn to get along and do more things on their own without being told.

Self-motivation is high on my list for them as a desirable skill.

Another structural change to our day was embracing a looser structure for educating the kids. There are definite advantages to the classroom structure but I have always favored unschooling for doing more than one subject at a time and tackling learning organically.

My research background in Gatto, Holt, Elkind and the Moores convinced me how our homeschool was to be tackled and yet the classroom structure seemed more predictable and I stuck with it. Then I realized I didn’t want to make the mistake this mom made (and corrected, eventually.)

I want to teach the way my children learn best; I want to teach the way I teach best.

And if that means changing some habits, so be it. Just because it’s always been done that way doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the ideal way. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we will never run into difficulties or that now it’s a yellow brick road all the way, but it does mean that I am aware of what’s most important – I am free to change.

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When Homeschool Schedules Attack

It has happened again. The homeschool schedules have attacked.

Or maybe the changing weather does this to me. October makes me want to escape, take a break, run into the wilds and never return. Except I really love my couch. And my bed. Oh, and let’s face it – I do love the internet.

But when a few days ago, I became aware that all my day dreams began to be about a vacation and not having to follow a schedule or to put more accurately direct a schedule, I decided something had to be done.

I grew up with schedules for everything – and I really do mean everything.

Television watching had a time. (I still have guilt feelings about turning on the telly before one p.m.) Bathing had a time. Eating was on schedule. Studying was to be done first thing in the morning. There was a time for coffee, tea, snacks, lunch and dinner.

If something, anything, was out of place, it was noticed, cataloged and commented on – by everyone.

I must have liked this eternal Groundhog Day or at least felt comforted by it but today, it feels like a straightjacket. And so I have to acknowledge that while, for the most part, schedules are amazing things that help us achieve everything we want to, sometimes, they make us feel like automatons.

So all this week I have labeled Unschooling Week. Not just for my children, but for me as well.

I’m de-scheduling myself.

For school, we will be visiting pumpkin farms, museums and zoos. Worksheets will be banned. I will be doing nothing on schedule or at the very least I will be doing everything with a heaping dose of creativity and ease. It’s an experiment of sorts.

If it works, we’ll tack on another week.

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Schedules and the Importance of Starting Over

In my supposedly brutally honest moments, I will admit that there is no such thing as starting over.

Each time I fail, starting over gets harder.

That time I quit writing every day, that time I decided to sleep in instead of waking up early to exercise, that time I started to get lazy about cooking homemade dinners, they all add up and starting over gets harder each time.

After all, isn’t the definition of perseverance keeping on keeping on when you have nothing left to keep on keeping on? Maybe not.

Sometimes, perseverance (and the ensuing success, no matter how hard won) can be as simple as letting go of the previous effort and making a complete break with it. And the best way to do that is to establish a new starting line.

So you lost the last race. Or stumbled. But you have the freedom to start another.

This became clearest to me when I started a 365 Days of No Yelling (at my children) Challenge with my friends. I realized that most of my temper tantrums occurred in the mornings – the most challenging of times with my children because there were chores to be done, then school and, let’s face it, sometimes working with children is like herding cats.

But there was another piece to this challenge and that was me.  Because the way I saw my success or failure contributed to my struggle.

My internal dialogue told me early on in the morning that it was no use, they had already started to be difficult and it wasn’t even nine, and I should just give up and call off this challenge because, hey, if I didn’t scream and lose it, no one paid attention to me anyway. I needed a new starting line or lines, many, many little starting lines.

If one hour went badly, there was always another. Every day was another opportunity, every week a new beginning. A new starting line was available when I wanted it.

Suddenly, starting over didn’t seem that hard.

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