Making your own curriculum

Veteran homeschoolers often tell new homeschoolers that all-in-one curriculums (or curriculum in a box) aren’t a great fit for kids who don’t fit the classic grade level “box.” We vets usually suggest putting together your own, meaning cobbling together various different things to fit all your needs.

No, not ALL of your needs. Just some of them. Put some back. More. Put one more back and then, maybe, you’ll be at a manageable level of needs. (I’m talking to both veteran and new homeschoolers here, right?)

Too many things

We homeschoolers tend to want to do it all. ALL THE THINGS! Because they all look fun, or cool, or kiddo missed out in public school, or you need to catch them up … it’s overwhelming! That’s the appeal of an all-in-one. Someone else, presumably more knowledgeable in educational things, will pick out what’s appropriate and mash it all together into a “real” school mix to send to you.

The thing is – you’re the expert in your child. And no matter what any list or Standards of Learning (SoL) says, you know what’s a good fit for your child. So tuck that bit of knowledge into your belt and run with it.

“From Scratch” not required

No one says you have to make a curriculum from scratch. Some do, especially if it’s a subject they’re already an expert in. That’s way more common than you might think in the homeschooling world! What most of us do, though, is far more simple: pick from a list of stand-alone subject curriculum and decide what’s a good fit for your kid.

Some of us even do it 3-4 times a year. Or more. Because we didn’t find quite the right fit the first time and we keep trying! (Which is why we’re still finishing up year 3 Geography – because I didn’t find one I liked until halfway through.)

What works for us

Most years though, I have a rough framework of “bookwork” that I weave a messy, creative web of inter-disciplinary topics, activities, experiments, and ideas into. What does that mean?

When I looked over the Grade 2 and Grade 4 Geography books at the start of the year, I noticed that a lot of the topics matched up. (Also, boring! We just DID THAT last year, SEriOuSlY!) Both grades were studying different types of maps. Ok. We can do this, but way more fun than just …. (whispering so my kids don’t hear me) worksheets.

*descriptive example*

Last week we did weather maps. Instead of the dinky little map worksheet with the dweeby cows and snowflakes, I printed everyone a world map. Then we got down to business. I showed them the weather symbols, and they randomly stabbed points on the world map. Which is how we ended up with Helsinki, Antananarivo, Toronto, Rio de Janeiro, and Tokyo. I looked up current weather conditions online, and it all went on the map. Coincidentally, how weird that the entire globe was “partly sunny,” with the exception of Toronto, who was excitingly “THUNDERSTORMING!”

My 5-year-old made sure we all remembered to put in a map compass, although I had to remind him the symbols actually meant specific directions, and my oldest created a rather nice map key without being reminded. Win!

*descriptive example 2*

This week, we started off with topographical maps. A big word for “bumpy.” And off we went, screw the worksheets, full blast onward to a topographical map the size of our kitchen table in salt dough.

Somewhere along the way we learned “archipelago,” “peninsula,” and “river delta.” They all insisted on adding volcanoes the size of super calderas, and ridiculous thumb-print-jab-sized lakes. Later, when it’s dry, we’ll paint it in colors of the biomes, detail the rivers, and add in an ocean around the edges.

After washing the crusted salt off our hands, we sat down and brainstormed a name for our continent (Sofaleaf, don’t ask, I literally have no idea why they found that hilariously funny,) and drew a picture of what they thought it looked like. After that I worked with each kid to do a short story detailing what they saw on “Sofaleaf” and what it was like to live there. My kids have literary flair in full measure, but we’re still working on the smooth transitions and plot lines.

Do we EVER sit down and do “school?”

Math and phonics are really the only serious curriculums we consistently roll with. Everything else is like geography – messy, integrated, fun, different, and never the same. It works for us. The kids might be able to adapt to a super-structured routine, but I’m not that kind of person, despite being excruciatingly organized in other things.

Everyone does things differently, of course. That’s the beauty of homeschooling! I wrote that way-too-detailed example of our wacko geography lessons just to illustrate curriculum doesn’t have to be intimidating, and that you can always expand, tweak, change, add to, or scrap it so that it works for your family’s needs.

Homeschooling isn’t intimidating. I really wish families considering homeschooling could shadow a few homeschool families on a typical day and get a feel for what it’s like – good, bad, and in-between. Even the bad can be good – today’s 9-year-old meltdown over 4 math problems produced a good connection and a new understanding of the perfectionism he struggles with. Food for another post, that.

All of that to say – don’t stress!

Note: some of you are probably reading this and scoffing “ha! A 4th grade homeschool veteran! Try talking to me when you’ve attempted middle school or high school.”

Yup, did that. ACTUALLY did that. Second gen homeschooler here.

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