How to Put a Bad Curriculum in its Place

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Ten Days

We have covered a lot of ground during this ten day series on Ruling Your Curriculum.  We have covered: health/learning problems, methods of teaching and learning…and how to teach your advanced children.  What about curriculum…that doesn’t fit…or that we might think is ‘bad’?  Today, Cindy gives some insight on handling that…so we can RULE our Curriculum!

Have you ever dug into your newly acquired curriculum and been appalled to see something like this?:

Start doing your project during month X so you can integrate your studies with Y holiday. Acquire Insect B to study in Habitat A. That’s a homemade insect habitat, of course, made from hand-blown glass and the bamboo brought back from the family field trip to China. Oh, by the way, Insect B doesn’t exist anywhere in the world but within a 100 mile radius of the home of the writer of this curriculum. What? You can’t manage all that? Underachiever! Your children are going to be pathetically unprepared for adulthood!

It’s all a bit much, sometimes, isn’t it?

Quivering Mass of Homeschool Failure

Often, when I open up a new curriculum or unit study, this is what I feel like I’m being presented with—a list of impossible tasks, based on some other family’s lifestyle and strengths. The writers of these curricula never intend to reduce me to a weeping, quivering mass of homeschool FAIL, but here I am again, wondering how I’m ever going to live up to the program of study I’ve just committed to.

Here are a few things a homeschooling mom needs to remember when the time comes to implement (or ignore) her curriculum:

Curriculum is your slave, not your master. Feel free to skip a unit that doesn’t interest your kids, or that you can’t afford the supplies for, or that you’re just not competent to do. We all have our own strengths and weaknesses. Use the ideas in your curriculum as inspiration, not as a checklist of must-dos.

Curriculum Is Your Slave, Not Your Master

Remember where much of this stuff comes from. Back in the Stone Age of the homeschooling movement, when curriculum choices were few and far between, parents were forced to either turn to the texts and primers of the past or write their own. Once they found the best way to teach their own children, they were all too happy to package it and sell it to the rest of us! Many of the glossy curricula homeschoolers buy are just idealized and restructured versions of what other families have come up with for their own use.

There is nothing wrong with that, of course! The core curriculum I use and love began its life this way, and our homeschool is awesome because of it. It suits us very well. But we are a lot better off when we spend less time on lesson plans written for the sake of other people’s children and instead take our cues from the needs of our own families.

Necessity is the mother of invention. If you find that you’ve hit a wall with your curriculum, just toss it out. (I throw bad curricula with as much ferocity as I throw books. It’s fun. You should try it.) When you find yourself faced with students who want to learn, but no plan whatsoever, you’ll almost certainly come up with something all by yourself. I roll my own lessons pretty frequently. My kids thrive on it because their lessons are created for them by the teacher who knows them best!

Necessity is the Mother Of Invention

Don’t let sunk cost bias ruin your homeschool. If you’re like me, you like to have a certain amount of bought curricula. I don’t want to try homeschooling without Tapestry of Grace or All About Spelling, for instance. I could homeschool my kids without buying them, I suppose, but they make me happy, so I continue to use them. Occasionally, though, I buy a dud. Saxon math did NOT go well for my second grader. Instead of doing the rational thing, which is admitting that the money we spent for the curriculum is gone and we need to move on, I insisted on continuing to use it for far too long. Be smarter than I was: Don’t torture your students with a bad fit in addition to your initial mistake of buying the wrong curriculum.

Go free or cheap to avoid buyer’s remorse. I collect freebies and almost-free resources from the internet throughout the year, buy cheap books at yard sales and library sales, and accept pretty much anything friends and family offer that seems related to education. Those primers and texts from years past are wonderful guides, if you can just get past the old-fashioned language. If a book or game that cost me nothing doesn’t work out, I don’t have to feel guilty about leaving it behind!

How about you? What do you do when your curriculum turns on you?

Cindy at Get Along Home Cindy is a Christian homeschooling mother of five wonderful children (the youngest of whom will make his debut sometime in June). She’s not an expert on anything, just a mom. She blogs at Get Along Home about motherhood, large families, Jesus, food, money, and lots more. You can also follow Cindy on Twitter, if you’re feeling chatty.



Enjoy All of the 10 Days of Ruling Your Curriculum series..



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  1. Thanks for the share, as a homeschooling mom, I often feel the fail more than the success, and if we have success I want to yell it from the highest mountain because we have struggled to get to the top.

  2. I am so enjoying all of these posts! Thank you so much, Rebecca, for hosting this great series, and to Cindy for your insights today. I am so guilty of comparing myself to other homeschoolers and I feel the “fail” often. Many moms in our homeschool bowling and baseball leagues are constantly talking (and sometimes I think gloating) about all of the languages their children are studying or how it is important to take double laboratory science in one year, etc. And then I look at myself and our homeschool and think that we aren’t doing that and I tend to feel that I am shorting my kiddos in some way. But, these posts have encouraged and inspired me to realize that following my children’s interests is what is right for them and for our homeschool and they are going to be just fine! 🙂 Many blessings, Lisa

    • Lisa, we have done very little outside of our home this year…and I know exactly what you mean…but, God is helping me not compare…but, seek love and encouragement/wisdom from others! You have been a wonderful sense of encouragement for me this year! Thank you!

    • Yes! Honest, Lisa? I think having too many “extras” is probably really bad for a lot of kids. We all need downtime to discover what we are capable of. Homeschooled kids used to get a lot more of that than they do these days. I wonder if the success of the homeschool movement will be somewhat less than anticipated because of our emulation of the world’s expectations about extracurricular activities, co-ops, sports, and social functions. Hmmm. There’s another blog post all by itself.

  3. Okay, so full disclosure… I had a giggle because the core you mention is what made me react similar to your opening example. More proof that the best curriculum for one family is not the best for another and we really need to be looking inward instead of outward. Thank you for the reminder. When we seek Him, He will guide us in leading our homes. <3

  4. kelli- AdventurezInChildRearing says:

    I KNEW there’d be THROWING involved when I saw the topic with the author! 😉 love her! smart and funny!

    • I’m getting something of a reputation for violence. Totally ruining my (imaginary) reputation as a considerate, thinking individual. 😉