Boxed sets of curriculum are often frowned upon in homeschooling circles. Since they use a one-size-fits-all approach to learning, people see them as inflexible and uninspiring. Veteran homeschool moms often find that the assigned work is not beneficial and becomes things that just take up space and time; that the textbooks are uninteresting; and that the workloads include unnecessary components of a traditional classroom. Mothers who have been teaching their children at home for any amount of time usually avoid using curriculum sets that come in a box as they would rather create a personalized education for their child–one that will encourage curiosity, help develop their unique talents, and present information in an interesting and interactive way.
However, you may find that boxed curriculum sets have their place and are sometimes a helpful part of the homeschooling journey. Let me explain. For some moms, owning a boxed set provides a sense of security. New moms who homeschool don’t want to have to start from scratch on Day 1. Although they are inexperienced, they find comfort in knowing that someone else has already done the heavy lifting of lesson planning and that all the educational bases will be covered.
New is always a little bit scary. But those pesky homeschool fears can be lessened when a mom feels like she has a solid scaffolding holding up the whole thing. For some, a traditional scope-and-sequence, textbooks, workbooks, and detailed teacher’s guides can be just the thing to build teacher-confidence. They act like helpful training wheels, steadying a mom at the beginning of the journey, keeping her upright and moving forward.And that’s something every veteran homeschool mom should encourage, not condemn.
Although traditional curricula can be helpful in the beginning, they can eventually hold a person back if they are used for too long. That’s not to say that a boxed set has to be abandoned completely, but that any mom who wishes to have longevity in homeschooling has to learn to do one of three things with her boxed set:
- Become immune to the rolled eyes, whiny voices, and frustrated tears of unengaged children.
- Slowly replace elements of the set with other more delight-directed curricula, subject by subject.
- Learn to modify the set, making small tweaks here and there to fit the needs and interests of her child.
Modifying the teachings may sound like more trouble than its worth, but it is probably the easiest of the three options. There are six simple changes you can make to a traditional curriculum to make it more enjoyable for you and your children.
1. Math Problems
There are many review problems in math programs so that children can keep practicing a skill until they become good at it. If you want your child to master a skill, and you find they have by problem number five, don’t make them finish the whole page. Instead of encouraging him to do all the problems, only encourage him to do the even-numbered or odd-numbered ones. Make sure your child completes the first three problems in each section if there are multiple sections on the page.
The most important thing to remember is not to waste time on something that is not going to produce results. When the skill is mastered, move on!
2. Writing Topics
Grammar curriculums will often assign writing topics. Your fourth grader might be asked to write a paper on any bird of their choosing. But what if he doesn’t like birds?! The purpose of writing a paper in grammar/writing class is to improve one’s skills at expository and/or creative writing. Does it matter what topic is chosen? It shouldn’t. As long as the paper meets the pre-established criteria of the assignment, the topic choice can and should be left up to the child. He will be more willing to write if the topic is one that interests him.
3. Content Reading
Unless you plan on testing your child on a particular section, they don’t need to only learn from the textbook. If you are assigned to read something boring, like a few paragraphs about George Washington from a history text, you can skip it and read a fun biography or picture book about him instead. A great way to spend some quality time with your partner is to take a trip together or watch a documentary. You can always hop back into the textbook tomorrow.
This means that even though you may have chosen a set curriculum because you lack the time or motivation to come up with your own educational plan every day, maybe you can stray from the standard path occasionally. You will see big improvements in your school year by making simple changes in the way you do things.
4. Review Questions
A child does not have to write their answer to a review question in the blank space provided for it. If you let your child answer the questions out loud, what would happen? Would you rather have your child do a regular assignment, such as answer questions or write a paper, based on the material they are learning? Or would you rather have him create a presentation, special project, or notebook page detailing the information he learned from the material? The purpose of any review question is to review the material. If your child does not like filling in blanks, try reviewing in a way that is less tedious for him.
5. Leveled Readers
Leveled readers are convenient for classroom teachers when they want to teach and practice reading skills with a group of students. If twenty students were allowed to read whatever books they wanted out loud during reading class, it would be total chaos. By using leveled readers, teachers can keep the entire class on the same page, literarily. Students can all read the same story at the same time, instead of reading different books based on their reading level. The teacher can check for comprehension by asking questions and reviewing vocabulary words, allowing every student to contribute to the conversation. Leveled readers are necessary for a classroom. They are not necessary in a homeschool where, most of the time, only one child is at a particular reading level. The stories found in leveled readers are not interesting, the characters are flat, and the plots are dull. They will rarely nurture a love for reading. If it’s possible, don’t use the school’s curriculum readers and have your child read actual books instead. Here’s a great list of books to get you started on your journey to becoming a great writer!
6. Elementary Social Studies
The goal of elementary social studies is for students to be able to understand, participate in, and make informed decisions about the world around them. Social studies content helps kids understand relationships with other people, institutions, and the environment, and gives them knowledge and understanding of the past. It gives them the skills they need to be good at problem solving, decision making, and knowing what is important and what is not. Essentially, this means that the individual is able to put these skills and knowledge into practical use to become an upstanding and contributing member of their community, country, and the world. The teaching and learning processes social studies follow are designed to help develop certain capacities, which are first taught to the youngest students in our schools.
The traditional curriculum model of self, family, community, state, and nation is no longer adequate for today’s students. Social studies for elementary students should focus on engaging them in civic activities, as well as teaching them about the core topics of civics, economics, geography, and history. Critical thinking, socio-emotional development, prosocial skills, interpersonal interactions, and information literacy are more meaningful and useful when developed within the context of social studies. The integration of technology into elementary social studies also prepares students to be active and responsible citizens in the twenty-first century. Digital citizenship must become a priority in our schools, even for the youngest learners.
Social studies is integrative by nature. Social studies teaching that covers a variety of topics and promotes understanding of civic duties can be powerful. The program also includes a focus on practical application, integrating knowledge, skills, and dispositions. When children are working on a project or investigating something, they come across many problems and questions related to civics, economics, geography, and history. Teachers can help guide children in exploring social studies concepts and processes, as well as other content areas. The curriculum should include specialized social studies vocabulary and concepts. Students will not be able to remember vocabulary to use it on their own unless the teacher demonstrates it and uses it during class conversations.
Social studies does not have to be limited to one specified time or day. Instead of trying to teach social studies as a separate subject, teachers can help children develop social studies knowledge by incorporating it into other subjects throughout the day. Regular everyday activities and routines can introduce and help to grow important civic skills. Social studies can be integrated into other subjects throughout the day to make time for it in a crowded curriculum. With an interdisciplinary curriculum, teachers can find ways to promote children’s competence in social sciences, literacy, mathematics, and other subjects through integrated learning experiences. Experiences that aid in learning should not be limited to a single discipline or subject, but should encompass a variety of fields and topics.
7. Book Reports, Quizzes, and Tests
Book reports, quizzes, and tests are not necessary for a homeschool, at least not at the elementary level. They are a way for one teacher to show how well or how badly a large number of students have learned something to a school board or a group of parents. They are assessment tools, nothing more. They don’t teach anything or help learning in any way.
If you want your homeschool to be focused on education, then you should skip these three things. You can save seven weeks of school by teaching new things! Since there are typically 36 weeks in a school year, and a five-day spelling cycle spends the first four days learning new words and the fifth day on assessment, this means that 7 whole weeks of spelling class are wasted each year on assessment alone.
Ideas from Other Moms
Here’s what a few moms on line had to say:
“I add artwork. We were reading a book about the history of the flag and it explained the origins of flags. I had the students draw flags from the illustrations for each section. Kathy K. had to then listen to the history of the flag her students chose. “We incorporate food and baking! Luka S. believes that being in the kitchen can help improve fine motor skills, and can also be helpful in studying subjects such as math and science/chemistry.
“We use a science textbook as the spine each year, but then supplement with hands-on experiments, manipulatives, games, and YouTube videos.” ~Natalie M. from the U.K.
“We love keeping chronological history notebooks. We add pages from all different subject areas as we study: famous scientists, artists, mathematicians, and leaders. We even add in brochures from related field trips we take. Every time we flip through to add something, it’s like a mini-review!” ~anonymous
“Hit the high points only (i.e. an overview) of a textbook chapter and let the children choose one or two people, places, events, things to learn more about in whatever way works best for your family.” ~Jane K. from Central Texas
“I like throwing in YouTube videos. They are super easy to search by topic and my kids enjoy hearing someone else talk as well as getting to see the topic in action.” ~Laura H.
“Skip projects and crafts that are boring to your child and have him/her choose a project to do that still pertains to and solidifies the topic.” ~Felisha D.
“Early in my homeschooling journey, a friend introduced me to [the idea of] purposely checking for applicable field trips. They greatly impacted my children’s learning. We toured a working cotton gin, a historical courthouse, visited a Holocaust museum, the Alamo, and so many other places.” ~ Terri W. from Texas
A Final Word
Boxed curriculums can be helpful for homeschoolers, even though some might not believe it. If used well, they can actually create a perfect foundation for learning. One way to be successful when working with a boxed set is to not be too rigid with it. Never let a curriculum bully or push you around. You are the teacher of your homeschool. You get to decide which curriculum components are worth doing and which should not be done. It is your home. It is your school. A traditional curriculum can guide you to fill your days with delight, but it shouldn’t be treated as a set of rules.