We’re delving into “middle school” this year for the first time. My oldest is so excited for this milestone. He’s my Flint Lockwood (from Cloudy and a Chance of Meatballs), my absent-minded, super-dramatic, techy science guy. So putting together his curriculum is always a lot of fun. For the most part, we are classical homeschoolers, making a few adjustments here and there for our rampant ADHD. To accommodate for personality and attention-span, we include lots of variety with short lessons. None of our subjects extend beyond 20-30 minutes at a time, but I serve up a variety each day to keep all his firing cylinders on task. In classical terms, he will be in the logic or dialectic stage this year, learning to think critically and make deeper connections with what he is learning in his homeschool curriculum for 6th grade.
There is nothing that beats being able to hold a curriculum and flip through its pages when you are trying to decide what to buy, but that’s not always possible. Whether you simply can’t make it to a homeschool convention, or the curriculum you are interested in isn’t anywhere to be seen, shopping homeschool curriculum online can be done. Even though it’s not quite the same as seeing a book “in person,” you can still get a good idea of what a curriculum is like with a few simple tips.
Tips for Shopping Homeschool Curriculum online
As we are wrapping up the last of our subjects, I’m in the throes of homeschool planning for the new school year. My decisions are all made, my online carts are empty, and the boxes of curriculum are beginning to roll in. In my routine, May and June are my intense planning months. I like to get all my homeschool planning out of the way so that I can truly take a break. Nothing homeschool related is swirling around in my brain come July and August; it’s done, on the shelf, and just waiting for us.
I plan the new year while the struggles of this year are fresh on my mind. I map out my solutions to all of our homeschool problems, from learning struggles to organization-fails, and then give it all a rest. My kids salivate over the new folders and books they are dying to read, and I dangle next year in front of them—my proverbial carrot—tantalizing their appetite for next year’s menu. It’s fun. We all love this time of year.
So since homeschool planning is consuming all my mind and energy right now, I thought I’d share with you the method to my madness, my steps to mapping out our next year. And over the next couple of weeks, I’ll go into more detail.
My steps to homeschool planning:
Planning our core curriculum: Tapestry of Grace
I’ll just give you a brief summary here, but just know this one step is getting a complete post of it’s own. For one, 60% of my homeschool planning is tied into Tapestry of Grace. It’s a huge undertaking, and when it’s finally done, I feel like I’ve scaled Mt. Everest. When I plan Tapestry, I’m not just planning our history studies; I’m planning our reading list, literature skills, Bible study, writing assignments, arts and crafts, and geography—for all three kids! This year, I will be teaching Tapestry of Grace on three of the four different levels that the curriculum provides: lower grammar, upper grammar, and dialectic. I combine as much as I can, and have my upper grammar student practicing her reading-aloud skills by reading the lower grammar book choices to my kindergartener. A lot of the writing, arts, crafts, and even Bible we will be doing together. The key to teaching multiple ages and keeping your sanity is to combine as much as you possibly can so that you can maximize your time. Tapestry of Grace is wonderful for this.
Gathering our other curriculum.
I have to see what I have to be able to plan. I can’t visualize anything on my own. Whether my husband is discussing house renovations or I’m planning math, I just can’t imagine what something is going to look like until I have it in front of me. Thus, the next step for me is to lay it all out where I can see what I’m working with. I’m also a sucker for the downloadable, print-your-own curriculum. I have a decent printer that uses inexpensive ink, and I shop paper prices and buy it in bulk by the case. So, in order to see what I have, I usually have a ton of printing to finish. Once everyone’s curriculum has been printed or has arrived in the mail, then I’ll take a look at one child’s complete curriculum at a time.
Mapping out the weekly/daily schedule.
In order to make sure I’m not biting off more than we can all chew in a reasonable amount of time, I sketch out a rough daily schedule for each child. It’s not a precise schedule. I simply jot done each child subject’s, the days of the week they will work on that subject, and how much time I anticipate them spending on that subject. I’ll also jot down how much time I expect to work one-on-one with each child. This way, if I’ve planned for a subject to take 15 min. each day, then I need to be sure I don’t assign more than 15 minutes worth of work. If I’ve decided that a total of one and a half hours of independent work is appropriate for one child, than I need to be sure I don’t assign him more than that. If I have only 45 minute with each child, than I need to be sure that I don’t assign more work than we can get through in that amount of time. A rough-draft of our schedule provides boundaries for me as I plan the assignments.
Tackling the master plan.
Some subjects require more planning than others. But in general I usually keep this as simple as possible. I divide our year into three 12 week terms. Some resources I use for just one term, to add some variety to our year. For the subjects that we will be doing through out the year, I schedule out how many lessons we need to accomplish each term or how many page numbers we need to get through. Some subjects, like math, require nothing more than that. Other subjects, like science or writing, I need to think through more specific assignments. Because I’m a little OCD about my planning, I plan on “scrap paper”; I actually have a notebook of grid paper that is specifically for these rough draft plans. Then, when I’ve sketched it all out the way I like it and I’m finished making all my mistakes and alterations, I’ll copy it into a finalized plan for my planner. (I’m an editor at heart, even more than a writer, so everything I do has to have at least a few rough drafts and revisions—even my text messages.)
Organizing the resources.
This is not necessarily a final step. Usually, I’m organizing resources throughout the whole process. And this year, I’m totally overhauling my system of organization. We had a major “loose-paper and missing-supplies” crisis this year. As a result, I reworked and revised how I’ve doing everything. Where will books go, where will loose paper go, what folders will go with what subject, how will each subject be organized, how will the kids recognize their own supplies, what supplies will be shared, how will I be able to quickly and efficiently double-check to make sure books and supplies get back where they belong—I’m serious! I rethought everything. (And I’ll be sharing the final results when it’s finished.)
Bonus: Accommodating ADHD and Dyslexia
There is a difference between coddling a child and accommodating learning struggles. If one of my kids has an attitude or behavioral issue that does not necessarily stem from their difficulties, I will not coddle that behavior; I allow my kids to experience consequences of bad decisions. However, I do believe in accommodating if there are legitimate struggles. I my kids have some legitimate issues. For instance, we have always accommodated ADHD with short bursts of learning. I keep most subjects limited to about 15 minutes each. For my fourth grader, her longest subject is scheduled for 20 minutes. That means on a good day, when her attitude is right, she has no problem completing the assigned work in 20 minutes. On a bad day—well, yes, we have bad days that require further adjustments and natural consequences. For my sixth grader, 30 minutes is a good average for his major subjects. I arrange my schedule according to which children will need me most. This next year, that will be my kindergartener and dyslexic daughter. My oldest is not suffering from this arrangement; he’s old enough for the responsibility and, in my opinion, it’s part of his learning process to need less of me. My daughter, though fourth grade, requires more hand-holding than my other two; it’s a combination of her dyslexia and ADHD. She’s my “Dory,” and she needs some accommodations for her short-term memory struggles. (I also make accommodations to fill in her learning gaps.)
So yeah, that’s what I’ve been up to and what I’ll be wrapping up next month as well. By July, I hope to be posting pictures of me on the beach with not a single homeschool planning thought in the world!
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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.
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.
I love homeschooling my ADHD kiddos, but it’s challenging for sure. Even with diet changes that have been more effective than their ADHD medications ever were, it’s still a challenge. If you can imagine with me, I homeschool Flint Lockwood (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) and Dory (Finding Dory) with Winnie the Pooh keeping an eye on meal times and snack options. It’s noisy, high energy, messy, and loads of fun. Certain days are rough; some days rocket and dive and veer into a range of extremes: anxiety and emotional melt downs, high distractibility, zero self-regulation, etc.
If you are homeschooling or are thinking of homeschooling an active or challenged child, finding a homeschool curriculum can seem even more daunting. How do you know what will work? Will they be able to stick with something for the entire year? Can we make it through all the subjects when we can’t make it through a single meal? But let me reassure you, finding homeschool curriculum for ADHD isn’t as hard as it sounds.