Be The Boss of Your Homeschool: Simple Ways to Tweak Any Curriculum For Your Unique Family
Dear Homeschool Mom,
I know the curriculum says you should…
finish in a given number of weeks
read certain books
assign specific questions
complete 25 math problems today
read 19 history books this year
define the vocabulary words in writing
give math tests…and the list goes on
And I know you have family, neighbors, or friends who make it clear that a solid education must include…
a five-paragraph essay by fifth grade…and the list goes on
But guess what?
You do NOT have to do it their way, the traditional school way, or anyone else’s way.
Nope. Not even a little bit.
You are free to educate your child in a way that honors who they are, what they love, and how they best learn. And you are free to do it using methods that work for your family.
That might include, but is not limited to, traditional worksheets, “living books”, oral tests, written tests, museum visits, YouTube, online classes, family conversations, textbooks, co-ops, tutorials, traveling the country, and you can even toss in some twaddle literature just for fun.
The doors of educational opportunities are open to you and you can walk through any that you wish. In fact, you probably going to walk through several of them along your homeschool journey so don’t get too attached to any particular doorway. The next kid might drag you through a different one.
And all of this freedom is fantastic.
But it can also be overwhelming because eventually, we have to make decisions.
We have to pick a curriculum or direction. Sometimes we have to register for that online class or commit to that co-op. And there is the fear that it might not be the right fit or we might wish we had gone a different direction.
But here is the thing, you can change your mind. And move on and try something new.
But if you aren’t ready to drop it completely, there are a million ways to adapt a curriculum or particular course so it will work for your family.
To be honest, I can’t think of a curriculum that I haven’t tweaked a bit for our family.
So channel your inner Lorelai (from Gilmore Girls above) and tweak things to make them work for you.
Simple Ways to Tweak Any Curriculum
Make it Shorter.
Are there too many titles and you can’t keep up? Drop a few. You don’t have to read them all this school year. Save a few for summer or just skip them entirely.
Is the amount of practice in your math curriculum driving kids to tears? Let your kids do every other problem. Or pick the 10 problems you most want them to try. Can they successfully complete the hardest three on the page? If so, let them skip the easy ones.
Make it Longer
Perhaps you have the opposite problem and no one wants this particular study to end. Ignore the fact that the guide says you need to move on and simply remain on this one topic longer. Read a few more books. Take a trip. Visit a museum. Whatever you need to do to spend more time on the topic.
Maybe your kids want more math? Add in a logic workbook, brainteasers, or a word problems book. Let them dive in a bit deeper.
I know the pressure of feeling like you should be moving on to the next writing project or essay, but it isn’t going to serve anyone well to rush it. Take an extra week if you need it and help your child experience that feeling of success and pride in a job well done.
Skip the included copywork if you want.
Don’t write out the answers – have a discussion instead.
Forget looking up every vocabulary word included in the history curriculum.
And just because the science curriculum suggests a written lab every week, written answers to discussion questions, and a paragraph or more summary of the reading does not mean you have to do all of this. You can discuss the questions, write 4-5 formal lab reports a year, and pick a few topics that interest your kids to require written outlines or paragraphs.
If there are 7 questions for every chapter in a literature course, you can let your child dictate instead of requiring that their hand falls off. Let them speak the ideas and you type their exact words. Let the co-op teacher know about the modification…or not…YOU are the ultimate teacher.
Got a kid that loves writing? Let them write more than a paragraph even when the curriculum only requires one.
Find writing experiences that aren’t part of the curriculum. Let them participate in NaNoWriMo in November. Locate a writing club or create one. Freewrite regularly.
Value their opinion and ideas OVER the curriculum assignment when it comes to writing. Let them tweak the assignment.
Less Independent Reading
Just because the curriculum assigns independent reading for your child, it doesn’t mean they have to read it independently, especially if reading is tough for them or they just don’t enjoy it.
You can read it out loud. You can read it as a family. You can purchase the audiobook so they can listen instead.
Find them a graphic novel version to read while you read the classic version out loud.
Let them pick 4-5 of the books to read on their own while you make modifications for the rest.
This is NOT cheating. This is making learning fun. This is making it work for your child and your family.
More Independent Reading
If you have a voracious reader, you can swing the other way and add some outside reading to the curriculum.
Do a little research and add more challenging titles to the curriculum. You aren’t limited to the books listed in the guide
Of course, if you have a voracious reader, they probably do this themselves.
Grab the Calculator or Multiplication Chart
My kids used a 10×10 multiplication chart quite frequently in elementary school. I always kept one handy when they first learned long division. It was such a tough concept with so many steps that they struggled to recall facts in the midst of all their new learning. By taking that part off their plate, they could understand the division more easily and drop the need for the multiplication chart after they memorized the process of long division.
We worked on our facts separately from the curriculum by using math fact sheets and Xtramath. If my kids needed a multiplication chart in elementary school for their math work, I let them use it knowing that we were still working on the facts. Honestly, I think looking up the facts on the chart actually helped reinforce memorizing them.
The same is true for calculators. Even if the math course doesn’t specifically mention that a calculator is allowed, you can allow it.
We pull out the calculator frequently when kids are solving multi-step problems, percent word problems, and any time I feel like they need some additional assistance. It doesn’t matter what the book says.
Go At Your Own Pace
You can ignore the assigned pacing of the curriculum. And you can ignore it partly or completely. It’s up to you.
I understand that it can be helpful to keep in mind as you work through the year, but you can move faster or slower through any curriculum.
During a busy season, you can move slowly. Then use a calm season of the year to push a bit and “catch up.”
I like to pick 1-2 subjects that we stay on top of daily and then I can feel a bit more relaxed about the pacing of the other ones.
Play a little catch-up on the weekends. You can even use the summer if you have to make it through math before the next school year. We have also used evening bedtime reading to read a book we skipped or couldn’t finish during the school day.
Do not let the title “Week 7” in the guide stress you out when it takes two weeks to cover it. It is okay. Enjoy the learning process.
And remember, you can always shorten the assigned work if you need to catch up a bit.
Drop the Testing Pressure
Test-taking is a skill. It is something you have to practice, but you do not have to practice it in all subject areas every single year of your education.
Classroom teachers need a way to assess learning and understanding in a room of 25-30 kids. Test-taking makes sense in this scenario. This is not because it is the best way. It’s because it is the most efficient way.
But at home, you are working with your child alone or in small groups and you have a pretty good idea of what they know and don’t know. So you are free to change up how you implement the tests included in the curriculum.
You can let your kids take them with an open book as a review. [Guess what? School teachers do this one sometimes.] Or complete them with a friend or as a group. Or use them as kindling for the fire. It’s completely up to you.
Personally, I love to use the tests as review but offer assistance as needed. I keep in mind where my kids required help so I can help them brush up on that skill as we go forward.
That said. Testing taking is a skill and depending on your child’s educational goals, it is possibly a skill they need to develop. They have to learn how to memorize material over time. How to study for a math test. And how to cram. (ha!)
In our house, we begin to dabble in traditional test-taking in late middle or early high school. I like to make sure that 1-2 classes each year will include traditional tests. And we begin to practice this skill without the pressure ruining the joy of learning with constant test-taking.
But hey, if your child WANTS to take traditional tests and earn grades, then, by all means, make sure you have a curriculum that includes tests!
Final Thoughts: Classes Outside the Home
If your children are taking classes outside of the home, then it will take some communication with their instructor to make modifications. I have found most instructors completely willing to work with me when I suggested a modification that would help my child. [They make modifications in school classrooms for kids as well.]
Don’t be shy about speaking up. Just last week I talked to a teacher about the amount of writing in my daughter’s class. My daughter was stressed about it and I mentioned to the teacher that I’d like to let her dictate while I typed for her as she adjusted to the workload. Not only was the teacher happy to have us do that, but she suggested several other options, including a video of us having a discussion about the book that she could submit instead. WOW!
Keep your goals in mind. I know mine, in this case, was to ease her into keeping up with so much work and I am confident she’ll get there in her time.
Final Thoughts: On Being Your Own Boss
I know that it can be scary to ignore the guide. After all, don’t the people who write them know what they are doing?
Sure. They probably know a lot.
But they don’t know your family and they don’t know. And you and your family an important part of the puzzle. Probably the most important part.
You know when your kids are learning. You know what they can handle. You can play with the balance of when to push and when to ease up. After all, it’s your child and your family.
So you don’t have to let that curriculum guide be the boss of you. You get to be the boss of you and your homeschool.
I give you permission (as if you need mine) to own it like a boss.
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Great post, Mary! Shared it with my overseas military homeschoolers.
Thanks Amy! I am glad you passed it along – thank you 🙂
So encouraging! I have finally reached this level of confidence and freedom in our homeschool day and it is a beautiful thing for all of us.
I am so glad!!!
Absolutely love this!
THank you 🙂
We’re in our 6th year of homeschooling (I just had to count that up to check, because that does not seem possible!), and just this year I’m *finally*–after listening to Cait & Kara discuss this very thing on their podcast–able to modify the curriculum we’re using without feeling bad about it. I was getting some “I hate this!” and that is a clear signal that something needed to change. Thank you for sharing this!
YES! I am so glad to hear it. I hope you find something that makes everyone feel a little happier about how things are working this year.
Mary, you have been a life saver in our education journey. With no previous exposure to homeschooling, we pulled our kids out of public school almost 2 years ago – and a teacher my children had had pointed me in your direction. Every time i read a blog post, FB entry or e-mail from you, it’s as if you have read my mind and address my current thoughts about how we’re doing in this journey. As a matter of fact, i woke up at 2am this morning, worried that my middle-schooler who struggles with spelling will never get better if i don’t do more about it; i couldn’t fall back asleep for at least an hour worrying about it. And then i read this! THANK YOU for reminding me that it’s a personal journey that we’re on together, and that i can use the resources i have, at the pace that fits my kids and our family — and that it’ll all turn out okay!!
Jennie, Thank you so much for taking the time to share this. I am so glad these words have empowered you to keep going and make your homeschool work for your family! -Mary