“Which curriculum should I use?” It’s the question I get asked most often.
I suspect there’s another layer just underneath the surface of that question. A layer that sounds a bit like, “I’m tired. I’m overwhelmed. I don’t want to screw this up. Can you just tell me which curriculum is the best, so I don’t mess this really important thing up?”
At least, that’s the kind of thing that went through my mind back in my early homeschooling days, when I asked that question myself.
I’m answering this very question on today’s podcast episode.
Click the play button below, or scroll down to keep reading.
A Little Clarity
I’ve been at this homeschooling gig for a while now. Our oldest is 20, our second is graduating this year—and while we’re at the end-of-the-homeschooling-line with those two, we’re still homeschooling four kids; the youngest are eight.
There are miles to go before we sleep.
But something happens with time and experience. We get a little perspective, a little clarity.
We realize the questions we’ve been asking aren’t the most important questions, after all.
And so, when asked which curriculum someone should use, I respond: ““The best curriculum is the one you like using. The one that makes your job easier, lighter, and more enjoyable in this season of life.”
That “season of life” thing matters, by the way.
The curriculum you like using (and that you can manage to get to most days) while you’re sleep-deprived with babies and teething toddlers is different than the curriculum you’ll like using when your kids are older, and you’ve gotten a full night’s rest.
Trust me on this.
It All Works, More or Less
Here’s the thing about homeschooling today: there is an abundance of curriculum resources at your fingertips. Most of it is pretty good. Most of it will get the job done.
If our goal is to enliven the hearts, minds, and souls of our kids (and that is our goal, right?), then most any curriculum can help us do that. It turns out that the curriculum itself matters much less than we might have thought.
The disposition of the teacher, though?
That matters far more.
Any history or science curriculum in the hands of a parent who is cheerful, relaxed, and eager to enliven the heart, mind, and soul of her student can do the trick.
Homeschoolers have been graduating kids through various teaching styles, using a wide variety of curriculum, for decades upon decades. Charlotte Mason, unit studies, classical, unschooling, literature-based, textbook-based, eclectic …
There are as many styles of homeschooling as there are homeschooling families, and the good news is: they all work.
Homeschooling works because real education is about connecting. Connecting with each other, connecting to ideas, connecting what we know to what we’re about to find out.
So the question, “which curriculum is best?” doesn’t matter nearly as much as we think it does.
Some Practical Considerations
Even so, something should be said about using a curriculum that’s simple enough to actually do on an ordinary day.
I like a curriculum that doesn’t take much prep, that’s pretty open-and-go. I’ve spent many of my homeschooling years with babies on my hip, and in such a season of life, open-and-go is a lifeline.
There’s also the consideration of what’s enjoyable.
If your curriculum is enjoyable (for your kids, yes, but really I’m thinking mostly about you here) . . .
. . . you’ll make time for it more often. It will require less oomph from you on a dark Wednesday morning in February if you like the books you’re using, if you enjoy the teaching and learning.
That matters too.
So when I’m asked, “Which curriculum would be best for me to use?” what I really want to say is this:
“That depends. A family who is homeschooling a 10 and 13 year-old has a very different day-to-day reality than a family homeschooling 5 kids all 12 and under. You may have the desire to spend a significant amount of time outdoors. Or access to a plethora of museums and libraries and field trip locations. Maybe you have chronic illness in your house. Farm animals to tend. Maybe you’re sleep-deprived. Maybe an elderly parent lives with you, or one of your kids needs regular outside therapies. Maybe you have high schoolers AND preschoolers, and you’re trying to juggle several different grade levels at once. Maybe you have one kid. Maybe you have eight. Maybe you love reading aloud. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you’re strong at math. Maybe you’re not.”
You can see why this question is impossible to answer.
And so I tell them the truth
“The best curriculum,” I say, “is the one that you use, and the one you enjoy using.”
It’s never a satisfying answer.
“But… which curriculum will give my kids a great education?”
Most of them, actually. Which is good news. The odds are good that what you have on your shelf right now will do the trick. Just remember that curriculum is your tool— a resource to help you enliven the heart, mind, and soul of your student.
The important thing isn’t the curriculum.
The important thing is you.
The goal, remember, is to enliven the heart, mind, and soul of your student. You can do that with almost any curriculum, as long as you remember that real education happens is hard to quantify.
Even if you never finish a single curriculum, you can still give your kids an amazing education. In fact, most homeschoolers I know never finish their whole curriculum (and certainly never finish it in a year). And that’s okay. It’s ideal, even. Because it means that we’re focused on enlivening the hearts, minds, and souls of our students.
And what curriculum does that?
God. Life. Books. Conversations and connections and relationships. You.
Perhaps I should revise my answer.
“The best curriculum? The best curriculum is you, showing up day in and day out, eager to enliven your child’s heart, mind, and soul. Don’t worry about which curriculum to use. Just pick something you like using, that’s simple enough to get to regularly even with everything else on your plate. And then give your kids you.”
A Better Answer
I could tell you the names of the curriculum I use for history, or math, or language arts or any subject at all. I could tell you what I used with each of my kids at different stages– when I was homeschooling 3 kids, when I was homeschooling 3 kids and had 3 babies aged 1 and under (yep—that happened!) When I was homeschooling all 6.
You’ve heard the names of those curriculum materials. And I used something different each year, depending on my own bandwidth and what we could get to. I
But honestly, sharing the names of curriculum wouldn’t be that helpful. See, none of the specific curriculum choices themselves made that big of a difference. It didn’t matter that much, one curriculum choice to another.
- What do you already have on your shelf?
- What can your family afford right now?
- What do you have the time to use, and the energy to use?
- What do you have the mental and emotional bandwidth to use right now?
That will do the job.
Andrew Pudewa and I will be answering the 10 Best Questions We’ve Ever Gotten About Homeschooling (just like this one!) at the Great Homeschool Conventions in 2022. You’ll find all the information at greathomeschoolconventions.com.
(I’ll be uploading an audio recording of that session into RAR Premium this summer, so if you are unable to attend a GHC but really want to hear this session with Andrew and I, then make sure you are a part of RAR Premium, and then watch for that this summer.)
Links mentioned in the show
- Andrew Pudewa and Institute for Excellence in Writing
- RAR #01: Reading Aloud with Older Kids, a Conversation with Andrew Pudewa
- RAR #89: Andrew Pudewa is Back
- Great Homeschool Conventions
- My GHC sessions
- RAR Premium
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