Can we quit talking about curriculum?

Can we quit talking about curriculum

I surf the web looking for where the currents are, the tides – how homeschooling is understood and bandied about by other home educators. What philosophy guides today’s new homeschooler? What are the issues they care most about?

Hard to say. Hard to know. Why? Because most homeschooling discussion boards and blogs have a surprisingly narrow aim: the hunt for curricula. There is an unending need to identify, shop for and examine new methods for every subject under the sun every year, even every month! No one seems satisfied with what was used last year, unless, of course, you were and now you can write sixteen pages of posts extolling its transcendent virtues! (By the way, I so get this having done it myself.) Lord knows, I’ve received valuable advice that has “saved the day” in subject areas that were sincere struggles for us, too. So I’m not saying never to discuss curricula.

Still, what bothers me as I click around today is that it appears the forums and boards have been reduced to these conversations. In fact, may I dare make a bold statement? It seems to me that many moms love having a place to share about homeschooling so much, they become obsessive about curriculum shopping in order to sustain a reason to return to the board and friendly community. In other words, you don’t get to “play” on the boards unless you have a curriculum question! As a result, moms spend a lot of time developing ever more questions to help them have reasons to interact with all the other cool homeschooling moms that they love!

A strange disquiet grows when this is the approach (this endless dissatisfaction with our current curricula choices) though. Rather than talking about the real life scenarios that we all find ourselves in on a day-to-day basis, we stay in the realm of theory – the potential application of a curriculum we don’t own to our kids that we only partially reveal to the online world.

Then we spend more money and yet still have to think of new questions in order to return to the support and friendship of the moms on the forums, boards or in the blogs. What a cycle! It utterly guts the power of online community. It leads to a compulsive need to reevalaute every single curriculum decision every time you read a new post. I can remember even reading a comment one night where the mom said, “I really love what we’re using for X, but now that you bring up Y, I think I’m going to switch. It sounds so tantalizing!”

You know what tantalized her? Not just the curriculum. It was the opportunity to play on the forums, to affirm this other mom, to type a post and be a part of the conversation. We all need that. My goodness, it’s lonely at home. The Internet is a revolution of interconnections that has made homeschooling this incredibly powerful universe of interdependent relationships that deeply satisfy. I’m all for it!

Still, I want to suggest a few things.

First, let’s stop talking about curricula only.

Let’s talk about your kids. Let’s talk about how you are living the dream – the life that you always wanted with your children. Wordly Wise is not living the dream. Buy it or not but don’t waste another second of your precious life deciding if you want a $7.60 workbook. Don’t use up your valuable free time (time you could spend drinking margaritas with a friend or playing Zooreka with your 5 year old) talking about math endlessly. Pick a math book and use it. Get help if you don’t understand it. If it rises to the level of crisis (Math. Isn’t. Working!), then by all means devote time to finding a solution online.

Second, find places online to chat about this kind of stuff:

how to help a slow learner (not what to use for a slow learner, but how to be a better mother to a slow learner); what to do with five kids under 10 who need both your focused attention and your supervision; why it matters that you spend your days playing games and going to the park as opposed to filling in blanks in workbooks; how you can recharge your own battery; what you ought to be reading and enjoying as an adult learner who is still engaged in developing a self, not just a role…

Third, study homeschooling philosophy with friends.

Pick a home education book and read it together. Or study and share the Charlotte Mason Home Education Series. Or find a bunch of friends to hash out the real meaning of unschooling. (If you ever find it, let me know. I think it’s the holy grail of home education methodologies… elusive). Dig around in the ideas that go with educating your kids, not just which materials can do the job. It will actually make it easier for you to evaluate curricula if you have a guiding philosophy first.

Fourth, share your successes.

It’s so helpful to be reminded of what is working (not just which materials). For instance, couldn’t we all use more help with how to support a dawdler without yelling? Or wouldn’t it be nice to read about one of those mornings where your kids started a chain reaction of learning (they read the ingredients on the cereal box, which led to looking up “malodextrin” on the Internet, which led to asking about where sugars come from, which led to reading about sugar refineries, which made your kids wonder where sugar was grown, which found you looking at pictures of cane fields in Hawaii, which led to playing with hula hoops in the backyard)?

Fifth, chat!

Not all online conversation has to be about homeschooling. Be sure to talk about redoing your kitchen, the coming general election, what movie you saw over the weekend, how to seduce your husband into a date night… that kind of stuff. We all need it.

I hope I don’t come across as too didactic here. I’m a veteran of online communities. I have been playing on the Internet since 1996 back when homeschooling groups were merely a bunch of email addresses copied and pasted into an address window. Gosh, that was a long time ago! And I’m sure there are lots of you who have these kinds of online spaces where you get to discuss the whole range of ideas and issues that create your family lives. Still, if for a moment I could be that little Jewish mother who nags you to drink up all the broth rather than just slurping the noodles, don’t give too much of yourself to curricula discussion. In the end, curriculum is only a part of the overall atmosphere of the home and the quality of the learning experience.

Become an interesting person yourself, develop online relationships that inspire you to be a better you, and play with your kids. Curricula will sort itself out in the end. It has a way of doing that.

The Homeschool Alliance

16 Responses to “Can we quit talking about curriculum?”

  1. Jenni says:

    Hi Julie,

    I have a question that I don’t know quite how to ask. I have, for 9 years, been doing “school at home,” pretty much. I have used reading living books along with narration in history for some of this time. But I have 3 children who tell me they hate school. This is not what I want — I want children who love learning and who have the confidence that they can learn about any subject they decide to learn about.

    I’ve been reading your website and your books (The Writer’s Jungle and Help for Highschool, along with some Arrow information), and I am intrigued by your ideas. I’ve also been following links here and there and reading about “4-Real Learning” and “delight-directed learning”, etc., etc., etc. The ideas make so much sense, but when I think about implementing them, I feel stuck! I have a fear of “nothing” being done that “should” be done!?!? I worry that I wouldn’t know what to do! I’ve read “days in the life” sort of posts, and it seems to me that they are mostly written by parents with early elementary school age kids. I have a son who’s about to begin highschool, a daughter going to 6th grade, and a soon-to-be 2nd grade girl.

    So, I guess my question is, “How do I implement these ideas?” How do I give my children time to enjoy learning by following their interests while still making sure the basics are covered? Our state has a tuition scholarship program available for all, but you have to take certain required classes throughout the entire 4 years of highschool. I guess I’m wondering how this works out in reality!

    Does this make any sense? Perhaps you can comment and/or recommend other reading?


  2. Katie says:

    Hi Julie,

    Just wanted to “amen” the curricula frenzy you talk about. I used to be on a Latin group that was so interesting and fun. The ones I am on now are just as you described. Thankfully, I have lots of friends here to talk face to face with about real life and real homeschoooling! So many of us just need that friend to say, “your kids are doing great!”. Thanks for the tips and the fresh perspective!

  3. JoVE says:

    Thank you for articulating that. I wholeheartedly agree. I recently joined a forum that I thought might be interesting and it does seem dominated by curriculum discussions. There are some nuggets of the “what we are doing that is working” discussion in the responses, but not much. I might stick it out and see if this is just a phase (maybe folks reevaluate at this time of year?) but I might also drop it.

    I wonder how much of this is part of a wider cultural trend to think that somehow experts can find the “one right way” and solve all of our problems? It seems that there is less cultural space to talk about our diversity and how different solutions might work for different people, whether that is in education, health care, physical exercise, parenting, or whatever. We seem to know so much more about the diversity of human experience and yet are still drawn to eliminating that diversity rather than really celebrating it and working with it. I think that way you (and i) would like to see is more self-confidence in how we approach these discussions. I am certainly not looking for someone to fix things for me but for information that I can use to make my own decisions about what is going to work for me and my daughter.

  4. Cindy B says:

    The irony here is when people ask about writing programs and curricula, I always point them in your direction!!

    You are such an inspiration and I love sending people to your blog for “a little perspective”. You have certainly opened my eyes; when my dd said she was getting bored with science but really liked the geology section, we decided to use that as a jumping off point and develop our own course following here interests. She is a much happier student these days. I really believe all you need is interest, enthusiasm, an internet connection, a good library system, and some field trips and you can have the “best curriculum out there”. And also your blog, of course, which keeps us pointed in the right direction.

    Thank you for sharing your wonderful insights with us.

  5. Betty says:

    Great post! So true. I have found myself caught up in those same talks. I’ve had to cut out some of the message boards and email groups for this very reason. I was spending more time researching curricula than actually homeschooling. I grieves me to admit that. But it’s information overload. I also spent too much time yearning for the greener grass as displayed in someone else’s blog rather than working to make my life one that I would enjoy.

    Keep plugging at this message! It’s so needed.


  6. llmom says:


    This is so very true. However, in my experience, I have found its not just curriculum talk. So many people seem to be addicted to info on the web but then don’t apply it. They love to chat about things like curriculum, discipline, etc. but then they don’t really apply it. I have seen mothers complain that they don’t have time to keep up with the house but they seem to spend hours on the internet searching for the best math program or how to motivate little Johnny when they could have used that time to spend with little Johnny. You have got to read it AND then live it too or its a waste. I have been down this road and it can make one rely too much on friends and/or experts. It can lead to not being content in many areas, not just curriculum.

  7. Anne says:

    Thanks for your revolutionary and insightful words. I am guilty of being on line “researching curriculum” and ignoring my daughter who wants me to snuggle and read or look at a new bird she has sighted in our yard.
    Is this search for new curricula is motivated by our consumer culture? Do we fall for the idea that the perfect homeschooling life is out there if we just buy the right things or get our kids in the right classes? Trusting that the best things in life are free is so hard, isn’t it?
    I am bolstered by my wise friends, experienced mothers like my friend, Jennifer. One day we were standing in her kitchen, a jumble of art projects, cooking projects and dirty dishes around us. She flung her arms out and proclaimed “Why do we always have to look outside our homes. There is so much to savor right here!”
    Thanks again, Julie. I’m saving this post in a file marked “Homeschool–inspiration”.


  8. Desiree says:

    I have been re-reading a book which goes right along with this discussion, called ” I Saw the Angel in the Marble” by Chris and Ellyn Davis. A really excellent book and inspiring read about the diversity of our kids and our diversity as parents and how much WE have to learn, how different ways work for different families, and how the whole home “schooling” movement has gotten on the wrong track. Anyway, it ought to be available used, but I’m not sure it is still in print. Definitely worth looking up!


  9. Jewel says:

    You know, I have a son graduating high school, a daughter finishing 10th grade, a son finishing 8th grade and a son in kindergarten. You would think that I would have this homeschooling thing down. It doesn’t really feel that way. I am not at all sure quite how to craft a transcript for what we have done. I thought about it a lot over the years, but it seemed to add a lot of stress to our learning experience, so we just kept walking our path. My son just finished a geometry class at our local community college. He earned a 98.87%. He doesn’t even like math. I guess a transcript doesn’t matter that much.

    I probably sound careless. I don’t think so. I have a great relationship with an incredible son who loves to learn. If I could change one thing, it would be some of the stressful moments we have had trying to conform to what some “expert” thought we should be doing.

    Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us.


  10. Merry says:

    When I see someone getting that “grass is greener” look in their online eyes, I always tell them, “don’t fix what ain’t broken!”

    When I launched into a journey to find a new math for my son several years ago (because what we had was definitely broken–when a child tells you the writers of his curriculum don’t want children to understand math–well, time to move on!), he and I spent the time together. I did a lot of the research, but then I showed him samples online, printed them off, had him try them out. I asked him what he didn’t like about his current math & what he did and didn’t like about the samples. I remember one seemed to fit his criteria but he took one look at it & asked me not to buy that one! He couldn’t articulate why (he was 7) but even though he wanted color & it had color, he didn’t like it. But we did find one that met all his criteria (except for a desire to never do math again, LOL!), and he has ended up understanding, *occasionally* even liking math (though he’s loathe to admit that & will usually still say he hates it, but I’ve caught him enjoying some topics, LOL!). Next year is our 4th year with this curric., and switching was one of the best things we could ever have done.

    So if something IS broken–really broken–don’t forget to talk to the most important people to evaluate a perspective curriculum–you, and your child. Will it fit with your teaching style, and your child’s learning style are much more important than whether it made Jimmy-John-pre-Harvard-at-age-10 a great student. And I’d add, pray about it. Don’t press that “buy now” button right away, it can wait a week while you think and pray and seek direction.

    Do people really buy curriculum for the sole purpose of being able to talk about that curriculum online? That idea astounds me! But I guess I don’t have that kind of money, LOL! To me the only fascination with curriculum is figuring out the method and the idea behind it–what drives it, and is that how we learn or how we teach? Merry 🙂

  11. Shannon says:

    Hi Julie,

    This is the first time I’m reading your blog and I have to agree with you. In fact, this is pretty much the reason why I’ve turned from reading my egroup lists to reading homeschooling blogs. I found that by listening to all of the personal advertisements for curricula, I was doing little more than second-guessing myself on a daily basis. I knew that wasn’t good being a new homeschooler! The blogs that I “consult” with on a day-to-day basis, give me glimpses into “actual homeschooling”. I don’t feel a need to “investigate”. It is very freeing.

  12. kate5kiwis says:

    julie, hi.
    spotted ya on the NZHEd group… clicked your blog link.. and voila, a wonderful wee surf. (noticed you have sitemeter, so am waving *hi from The Sunny Bay of Plenty* lol)
    and have finally hit upon my reaction to nearly all of my yahoo groups.
    the endless *curriculum* chat. (which i am so frustrated with, as we’re at the unschooling end of the spectrum).
    loving perusing your thoughts. thanks for the brain food.

    katie X

  13. Annette T says:

    WOW!!! May I simply add to those who want to know how to implement the endless ideas– Pick One AND BEGIN!!! If it doesn’t work– Pick another or change it but whatever you do DO it WITH your kids!!!

  14. Laura A says:

    I find that the longer I homeschool (8+ years now), the less I think about curriculum. Occasionally I will contribute to a discussion or ask for information about a resource, but such practicalities and techniques hardly seem like they should be a primary basis for a relationship with another human being. Thus I tend more and more to avoid homeschooling support per se and just look for interesting people to talk to.

    Needless to say, this is the same way I think of our relationships at home. We rarely even buy curriculum anymore, except for Latin and math. We mostly just buy good books, and try to have interesting conversations. The focus is on the person who is growing up in our home, not the curriculum. Will it ruin us? I hardly think so!

    Thanks for saying this out loud! If you think there’s a big pent up sigh behind my words, you’re probably right. It seems like there used to be many such discussions online and in real life, but they have languished.

  15. I blogged about this very thing in June! I can’t bare another home school gathering where experienced mothers talk endless about curricula! I even have been going through my closets(11 years of homeschool books) and buying less because I figure what I used for my first three children I can certainly use for number 4 and 5!

    Thanks for this post!

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