Surviving Homeschool Curriculum Overwhelm

homeschool curriculum overwhelm | finding the right homeschool curriculum

I recently got to venture to a large homeschool conference with a homeschool vendor hall of over 120 exhibitors. That’s a lot of books and a lot of options. As we visited with one vendor, just 30 minutes after the event opened, the vendor mentioned having a tearful conversation with a new homeschool mom who was already overwhelmed. As fun as all those options can be, it’s also a whole lot to take in. If that’s you, tearfully surveying all those options and feeling completely lost, here are a few tips for surviving homeschool curriculum overwhelm.

Surviving Homeschool Curriculum Overwhelm

Realize it’s trial and error, not pass or fail. Our success does not depend on our choices in the vendor hall or in our online shopping cart. We don’t need all of this to succeed, and we won’t fail if we make the wrong choice. Even an experienced homeschooler makes choices that don’t work out as well as they’d hope. It’s just part of the process, constantly making adjustments. But you have time to find your stride, and you won’t ruin your child’s education in a day, or a month, or a year. There are plenty of free resources to fill any gaps or rough edges you may discover as the year rolls on.

Remember it takes time to educate a child (as in 12 years!) It was comical to walk the aisles of the vendor hall and see all the promises the different products made: master multiplication in 10 days, learn a new language in a month, teach grammar in 15 minutes—you get the idea. Educating our kids can seem urgent, and in our frustration it’s easy to want a quick fix to our struggles. But the reality is, it takes time to teach our kids. I’m not saying these tools aren’t helpful and even amazing, but we set ourselves up for burnout and frustration if we plan our year according to these promises. Even with a great curriculum, it may take you longer than 10 days to master multiplication, and that’s okay.

Recognize that books and lesson plans are just tools. I’ve made a meal in someone else’s kitchen before, without my go-to tools and favorite appliances. It’s possible, not always convenient and maybe a little frustrating, but definitely possible. Homeschooling is the same way. Any of these tools will work to get the job done. Some of them may not end up being your favorite go-to item, but the real curriculum we teach from is life itself. There are so many hours and opportunities to teach what your child needs to know, and so much of it will happen when and where you least expect it. Maybe it will be from that shiny, new exciting publication you picked up from the vendor hall, and maybe it will come from the walk in the park this summer. 

I remember the days when there weren’t as many choices and options, when my mom did the best she could with what she had and improvised. And a lot of the options and resources we have today are because of those brave moms who innovated and improvised. I’m so thankful for them! I’m thankful for the richness their ideas have brought to my kids’ education. Surviving the homeschool curriculum overwhelm begins with seeing these as what they are—options, a wide range of good options. Start somewhere; and in one sense, it doesn’t matter exactly where. 

Read more about finding curriculum for ADHD and recognizing your child’s learning style.

Recognizing your children’s learning styles

recognizing learning styles | discovering how your child learns best

A huge part of homeschooling is much more than teaching material; it’s teaching a child how to learn, how to teach himself. Learning styles play a key part in this process of learning how to learn. By teaching to my child’s unique learning style, I’m not just catering to her preferences, I’m teaching her how she learns best; I’m equipping her with tools for life. What’s more, teaching to my children’s learning styles allows my children to be comfortable with who they are and how they learn. It’s okay if my daughter doesn’t learn the material in the same way her older brother does. They each learn in their own way, and they’re both learning. My daughter doesn’t have to feel stupid or incapable because she doesn’t learn the same way someone else might.

But sometimes, the whole realm of learning styles and modalities can be really overwhelming and confusing. How do you figure out which learning style fits your child? What if your child is in between styles or a little bit of several?

An Explanation of Learning Styles

At it’s very simplest, learning styles can be divided into three broad categories: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. A visual learning style could include both graphics, charts, and pictures, as well as words; it’s any learning preference that involves sight. An auditory learner primarily learns by hearing, preferring spoken directions over written directions and audiobooks more than reading books. The kinesthetic learner is your hands-on learner, learning through exploration, experimentation, and anything that involves doing or moving.

The trouble is, sometimes these categories can be a little too broad. I have two visual learners, but they learn in two entirely different ways. One is visual with language and loves words, and the other would much prefer pictures and graphics. For this reason, many people find learning intelligences or modalities to be more helpful: musical-rhythmic, visual-spatial, verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, etc. Confused yet?

Knowing how your child learns doesn’t have to be confusing or technical. Who cares if you’ve got the proper name for it? Just know how your child learns best. You can figure this out without a complicated test.

1.  Watch your child play. Watch your child interact with information.

Do you have a child who can memorize anything put to music?

Do you have a child that never reads directions but follows the pictures in those directions instead?

Do you have a child that skips the lego instructions and pictures altogether and jumps into building and exploring?

Do you have a child that likes to order and arrange pieces and information before getting started?

Do you have a child that loves texture and messes and must touch everything?

Do you have a child that learns best in a community or group rather than alone?

You don’t have to know the learning style terms. Just know your child. As you watch your child play legos or organize a game with other children, what strengths does your child use? If your child loves music, add music to your curriculum. If your child loves to explore, hand him some manipulatives and have him work out a math solution before you hit the workbook; or give him a science experiment kit and journal rather than a textbook. If your child learns by pictures, make sure your curriculum includes lots of visuals.

2. Ask for your child’s opinion (if your child is old enough).

I have learned more about my kids by getting their feedback on what curriculum options I’m looking at than perhaps anything else. I’ll show them two or three options that I am considering, and they will readily tell me which they prefer. They know I make the final decision, and they can’t always tell me why they prefer one over the other. But as I notice what they are choosing, it gives me tremendous insight into how they learn best.

Also, as I recognize and praise what my kids are doing and how they learn, they are usually quick to give me ideas of how they’d like to add that to our homeschool day. When my daughter excitedly told me she could spell “Mickey Mouse” because she can sing the Mickey Mouse Club House song, we both knew we needed to add some tunes to our spelling time. When my son excitedly draws and sketches maps for his novel that he’s working on, I recognized we needed to add more drawing to our other subjects. When my daughter could not get the concepts of area and perimeter straight, we did an abstract art piece instead, with perimeter shapes in marker and area shapes in tissue paper.

There is nothing like finding a curriculum or method that allows your child to learn in his way, that allows him to succeed in learning and to love it. Homeschooling allows you to celebrate who your child is and to capitalize on that uniqueness. And best of all, it’s not complicated. It’s just a matter of recognizing what makes your child unique.

Surviving Homeschool Mondays (and even liking it)

surviving homeschool mondays | homeschooling on the hard days | ideas for a casual learning routine

All year I have fought the battle of “Monday”—coerced, threatened, plotted, and plodded through the toughest day of the week for us. I know Mondays are tough for most of mankind, but being a pastor’s family, Mondays seem to be that much more daunting. We come into the week empty

Though I did know enough about our family and our routine to keep our Monday calendar empty, I caught myself demanding that much more from our homeschool because it was one of our few days spent entirely at home. I mean, just think of what we can get done! Except that we weren’t. I cracked the whip, but everyone else dragged their feet, and the day seemed endless. It seriously took my kids three times as long to do the same assignments on Monday as it did any other day of the week. A twenty minute math lesson any other day was going to take over an hour on Monday. Surviving homeschool Mondays became such a drudgery, and we all ended the day so out of sorts and cranky, that I finally decided to revamp our Mondays entirely. 

Introducing our new routine for…

Surviving Homeschool Mondays

Our new Monday schedule consists of three parts: meetings, projects, and games.

Monday Meetings: Okay, this is actually the only part of our typical Monday I kept. We’ve been doing this all year. Monday Meeting is when I meet with each kid, look over the previous week’s assignments, hand over their new assignment sheet and week’s work, and discuss the week with them (events, extra-curriculars, projects, etc.) For my fifth grader, this is my primary contact with him, nearly the only time all week we are together. The rest of the week, he works independently. For my third grader, this gives her the scope of the week and the expectations, but I will still meet with her each day for math and grammar. 

Projects: The bulk of the day is spent on projects. Sometimes, this includes notebooking projects and a read-aloud. Other times, this is our major art project time where we sculpt and paint and create. This is also our primary science experiment day. It’s our day to make the big messes and do those projects that take lots of time. I’ve loved this part of the routine. Because I have very little planned on Mondays now, I feel like I can relax with the messes and allow them the time to really enjoy their projects, rather than rushing through so that we “get to everything” before dinner. And trust me, Relaxed Mommy is a whole lot more fun than Stressed Mommy.

homeschooling on hard days | projects, games, & casual learning

Gameschooling: I’m embracing some “Gameschooling” on Mondays, as well, particularly for math. Our new favorite right now is Number Rings. All my kids can play and be challenged at each of their learning levels. I love it! So instead of the workbook math, we play games and embrace hands-on math lessons. Next year, I want to develop this even more, expand our games collection, and include some other subject areas.

Occasionally, I may also throw a DVD into our Monday mix of learning; my kids love “Bill Nye the Science Guy” DVDs from our library. Typically, we’ll have our meetings and game time in the morning, eat lunch, then start on our projects after lunch. 

I hesitated for so long to make this switch in our routine, worrying about falling behind in our work or ruining my kids’ character and work ethic. But the opposite has been true. Mondays are now paced to allow us to rest and recharge from Sundays, and we are better prepared for the rest of our week. And the kids have worked hard those other four days to get assignments done. It’s been a win-win all around, and I’m so glad I finally gave it a try. Not only are we surviving Homeschool Mondays, we are actually enjoying them.

 

Using literature-rich curriculum with dyslexic and ADHD kids

literature-rich curriculum with dyslexia ADHD | Tapestry of Grace with special needs | classical homeschooling with learning struggles

I’ve made a lot of curriculum adjustments over the years, but one constant for us has been Tapestry of Grace, a classical, literature-rich curriculum. I love using a literature-rich curriculum in our homeschool—with busy, loud, active ADHD kids, one of which is also dyslexic! In our classically-inclined, charlotte-mason inspired homeschool, we use tons of books, lots and lots of them. Living books, classics, historical fiction, and engaging nonfiction books line my shelves, spill onto the floor, cover our dining room table, and sit by the door (in hopes that we’ll remember to return them to our library.) 

Using a literature-rich curriculum immerses my kids in a culture of reading. Reading is not a school subject. It’s not a checkbox on their assignment sheet. It’s our lifestyle. We read books together and on our own. We listen to books. We talk about books. We buy books. We borrow books. We make room for more books. Why choose a literature-rich curriculum like Tapestry of Grace for kids who are active and have language-struggles?

Three reasons to choose a literature-rich curriculum:

Exposure

We currently don’t use a “textbook” for any subject. Instead, we learn history, science, literature, etc. from library books, lots of library books. Last year, each of my kids read about 50 books each. We are on par for at least that this year, and that’s just for school; that doesn’t include the “just for fun” books. Using a literature-rich curriculum allows my kids to be constantly exposed to books. They are surrounded by them, and reading is a normal part of life—not just school but life itself.

This constant exposure to language through stories (whether audio books, read-alouds, or books they read themselves) has tremendously helped my daughter especially. She’s a strong, confident reader in spite of her challenges. She knows she doesn’t read as quickly or as easily as others, but she loves stories. And the exposure through so many senses and with so much variety, strengthens her understanding and skill in an otherwise challenging area for her.

So what does this exposure look like practically? I select several books for each kid on our topic that we will be covering for 2-4 weeks. For my oldest, I’ll suggest a couple of titles that I’d like him to read each week, chapter books often taking 2-3 weeks. Then, I’ll “strew” the other books around the house to tempt him to read more on the subject. Because my daughter requires a different approach, I’ve recently just assigned all the books for the term and allowed her to work through them at her own pace. She’s using (and loving) this funschooling journal along with her reading. She gets to creatively draw a picture, write a sentence, or choose some copywork from her book of choice to record in her journal. 

Variety

Honestly, I don’t think my busy rambunctious kids would be readers if we had chosen a traditional curriculum with textbooks and readers. The key to engaging my ADHD kiddos is variety, and Tapestry of Grace provides such fantastic variety. My kids are exposed to classics, biographies, picture books, historical fiction, encyclopedias, and more. Although my kids love books in general, they don’t love every book and are sometimes skeptical of a book I’ve assigned. So, I’ve instituted the “five chapter” rule. For all fiction, they must read at least read five chapters before they can decide whether or not to finish the book. In nearly every case, by the time they got to chapter 5 they were totally engaged. In some cases, the book even turned out to be a favorite. For nonfiction books, I don’t require them to read every word. They read for information, to learn certain facts, or to discover facts that interest them. In both instances, the variety of books means that there are books that appeal to all of my children for one reason or another. It also means that my kids have often discovered they were interested in a book or subject that they didn’t think they’d like.

The variety also allows my kids to connect with the subject matter in their own way, to make their own connections based on what interests them. My daughter connects with art, beauty, nature, and animals of a culture. My son connects with wars and weapons and inventions. They remember different things about the different time periods we are studying together. This has been awesome because as we share as a family what they’ve been reading and learning, we get such a wide spectrum of information.

Shared Experience

Books create memories. My kids have favorites they love to re-read. They have favorites that Daddy alone can read to them. (Babaji is a favorite from when they were very little that they still love to have him read—in character.) They have books that we share together as read-alouds. Books makes those moments special for us. Books bond us together, all snuggled on the couch listening to a story, or side by side each with our own book as we wind down for bedtime. Tapestry of Grace allows for tons of great book selections to always be available at every reading level. I don’t insist that every book be “read.” We have fond memories of listening to Mr. Popper’s Penguins and The Railway Children as audio books. And I don’t insist on reading every read-aloud myself. My kids read-aloud, too. This year, we’ve read selected chapters from the Story of the World and Grandpa’s Box to go along with our ancient history studies. It allows me to give the input and emphasis of our study, to draw out the major themes we are studying, but it also allows them the opportunity to contribute as well.

I have very fond memories of reading aloud with my mom, chapter by chapter through multiple books all the way through college. Even now when we visit each other, we select a book to read aloud together. I love those memories with my mom, and I love those memories with my kids.

There are so many reasons for choosing a literature-rich curriculum, even with a household of ADHD and dyslexia. My kids read upside down on the couch, under tables, outside, in giant refrigerator cardboard boxes with flashlights, or in the most cock-eyed positions. And we still stay very active, with lots of hands-on projects to supplement all that reading. But the constant exposure, variety, and shared experiences from using a literature-rich curriculum have been treasures to my family and to my kids.

How do you know if a literature-rich curriculum is a good fit for you?

  • Don’t let reading or attention struggles rule this out for you.
  • Do consider how committed you are to reading as a lifestyle. If you look at a literature-rich curriculum as simply school assignments to get done in a week, you will probably both hate it.
  • Do consider access to a good library. Honestly, a good one is worth paying for if you aren’t local. A good library allows that maximum exposure and variety without breaking your budget. I could never afford to keep my kids in books without our local library (and that’s where we find our great audiobooks).
  • Don’t assume that a particular learning style will prevent a child from enjoying literature. Instead, use that learning style as a means to enjoy literature.

It would be easy to see all that energy and assume my kids would never sit down long enough to read. But that just hasn’t been true of our family at all. Books are a calming constant. It wouldn’t be home without them.

Want to know more about how we use Tapestry of Grace with ADHD/dyslexia? Check out these posts:

Tapestry of Grace Writing Aids

Celebrating progress with unit parties

Brainstorming with your Reluctant Writer: out-of-the-box ideas for your out-of-the-box learner

teaching a reluctant writer | homeschooling dyslexia

Writer’s Block happens even to the most gifted writers, but it is a serious problem for our kids who hate writing or are intimidated by it. My dyslexic daughter definitely falls into the category of the reluctant writer, not that she doesn’t have ideas. This child is always bursting with creative ideas for everything, but trying to find words for those ideas is tough. Even more so if she is required to think of those words on the spot or under pressure.

We know that the first step to writing is brainstorming, compiling a list of ideas and choosing the best from that list. But how do we get our reluctant writers to even get started with this list? Here’s a BIG Tip: don’t make them write it! 

I’ve taught writing in many settings over many years—to college freshman, to sophomore and junior English and pre-law majors, to kids in homeschool co-ops, and of course, to my own kids. And one strategy I like to try when working with reluctant or intimidated writers is trying to plug into their other strengths, the areas where they are confident. If I could tap into an area of creativity where they were confident, the ideas flowed much more freely. We all have ideas, but each of us processes those ideas uniquely. Connect with your reluctant writer on their level with their gifts.

Ideas for Brainstorming with your Reluctant Writer

  1. Is your reluctant writer a talker? Let her talk and talk and talk. Ask questions. Encourage her that there are no bad ideas right now. Just whatever pops into her head. You can be her scribe and write down the ideas as she says them, or you can just listen until she finds her favorite ideas and is ready to start writing.
  2. Is your reluctant writer an artist? Let him draw! Don’t make him describe the room with words; let him draw it first and then tell you about his drawing. Let him create a comic strip of the story first, then narrate the story to you from the comic strip. Let him sketch the abandoned shack before he describes it to you. Let him draw a diagram before he tells you the steps to building the marshmallow launcher.
  3. Is your reluctant writer an actor? Let him act out his ideas. If he starts using sound effects instead of words, ask him what is happening. When he’s done, retell the story back to him to see if you understood it correctly. Write down what he says, or record it and let him transcribe the video.

Remind them that bad ideas and good ideas are all a part of this process; sometimes those bad ideas lead to the best ones. If your child is a perfectionist, trying to think of the perfect idea will also lead to reluctance and writer’s block. Try playing some games to get the ideas flowing. A couple of games I love are Story Cubes (there are several varieties) and WriteShop Story Prompts. Play one of these games as a warm up before you get started.

Once the ideas are flowing, help your reluctant writer to capture those ideas before they disappear. Act as the scribe and write down what your child says. Or, use a voice recording device and allow your child to replay her narration as many times as she needs in order to write it down. Writing is a complicated process that we tend to take for granted. And it’s often very tough for our kids, particularly our dyslexic kids, to have an original thought, remember that thought long enough to write it down, and then write it correctly onto paper.

Reluctance usually comes from fear. Remove the fear, the intimidation factor, and you very well could have a budding author in your midst.

Homeschool Theme Days: ideas for spring and nature activities

spring and nature activities | homeschool theme day ideas

This time of year, I get about as antsy as the kids. The sun is out, everything is in bloom, and I want to be part of all that nature. The bookwork and crafts that have occupied us all year through the rainy season no longer hold their appeal. It’s time to bring school outside and to bring the outside indoors. It’s time for a homeschool theme day for spring!

Ideas for Spring and Nature Activities:

  • Create Nature Art. And I mean create WITH the nature. Start with a nature walk and allow the kids to pick their art tools and supplies from their nature finds. Create earth art outside with rocks, sticks, and leaves. Let them create their own little fairy or gnome village. Then take your art inside and create some more—paint with nature, paint on nature, or create a collage of their treasures. The possibilities for spring and nature activities are endless.