The perfect homeschool curriculum

Published by Lori Pickert on February 11, 2009 at 06:05 PM

There is so much variety out there in the homeschooling world — classical, Charlotte Mason, Montessori, Reggio Emilia, Waldorf, Enki, Saxon, Thomas Jefferson, unit studies, unschooling, literature-based, and a whole host of boxed curricula to choose from.

The enormous variety of choices — not to mention the people you meet in the homeschooling community with such strong opinions — can lead to analysis paralysis.

You may find yourself seeking and seeking, sampling and trying out, always wondering, like a 53-year-old divorced man on, if there isn’t something maybe a little bit better just around the next corner.

We read a bit of truth that another person says and it resonates with us as something we already believe to be true, so we take that as a sign that this is meant for us … until we read further and find something that jars, so we take that as a sign it isn’t meant for us after all.

If you ask your five-year-old child what they want to study for their project, they may very enthusiastically shout out suggestions: “boats! giraffes! BACON!”

If you instead quietly document how they play, what they talk about, what draws their interest again and again, you may come up with something entirely different, something more authentic (based on how they actually interact with the world, and not what seemed interesting in that moment you asked).

In the same way, before we go out to pull a homeschool curriculum off the shelf, we should spend some quiet time documenting our own thoughts, feelings, values, and goals — the things we already know to be true.

Then we can go out and explore what’s out there, the work that has already been done by someone else. And we can hold it up against our own personal compass and see how it fits. But we should feel free to take what works for us and discard the rest. Take the ideas that fit with what we want to accomplish, consider the ideas that we aren’t sure about and be open to trying things out, but simply set aside what doesn’t fit with what we know to be true.

Because the perfect homeschool curriculum is the one that is perfect for you, and there’s only one you. So it is highly unlikely that you will find an off-the-rack solution that fits like a glove.

All of these approaches are made of ideas, and ideas are endlessly malleable and transmutable. You can break these approaches apart like LEGO creations and fit ideas together in a new way, a way that works for you.

Trust yourself.

A joyful life is an individual creation that cannot be copied from a recipe. — Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, 1990


Comment by Annika on February 11, 2009 at 06:59 PM

You had me at LEGO. *swoon*

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 11, 2009 at 07:02 PM

annika, is it any surprise we think of everything in terms of LEGO? ;^)

Comment by mister dad on February 11, 2009 at 07:05 PM

wow... i just wrote about guys like you. and THIS is why.

thank you, so very much. might that we all be and become the little sponges our kids are trying to teach US to emulate...

Comment by amy on February 11, 2009 at 07:10 PM

Absolutely. We have Enki, and it is... um. Well. There are Yahoo groups for users, and right away I observed that criticism of Enki--even constructive criticism, of the sort of "How can we make this better?"--is not allowed. Using only a part of the curriculum is not really, um, encouraged. My husband and I sometimes refer to it as a cult, and for all I know, the minions will follow me to this comment and cut me off. :-)

That said, my son loves the story work in Enki. But math wasn't challenging enough for him, and I couldn't keep up with the circle and movement activity once we had a new baby. So what? We still use the stories. If I'm feeling energetic, I haul out one of the games/manipulatives to play with. We went in another direction with math. He's investigating All Things Space as an offshoot of his Jupiter project. There's not one educational philosophy I've come across that I agree with wholeheartedly and/or can implement in full. Like you said, we make our own. It's been a learning process for all of us.

Comment by Teri on February 11, 2009 at 07:39 PM


Comment by Lori Pickert on February 11, 2009 at 07:46 PM

thank you, mister dad, and yes, exactly — how can we trust our children if we can’t trust ourselves? how can we say *real* understanding is our goal and then just adopt an approach lock, stock, and barrel? we have to turn it inside-out and use it in order to own it.

amy, there are *so many purists* out there who revile you for not following their approach down to the letter. i’m convinced this is because people *need* to know that they are doing the “right thing” (like there’s One Right Thing) and if you pick and choose from the buffet, then you are making them feel less sure of their choice. blind followers don’t inspire me. people with real experiences who can share what has worked for them and let you find your own way are rare.

thank you, teri! ;^)

Comment by Sarah on February 11, 2009 at 08:02 PM

I so needed this. My little folks are still so small, and I really don't need to be in such an all fired hurry to figure everything out, but I find myself consumed with questions all the time. I needed a little encouragement that figuring things out as I observe and try will not scar anyone for all time.

Comment by Lynn on February 11, 2009 at 08:06 PM

You go, gal pal! Beautifully said. Tragically it's taken me three or four years to come to these realizations, but better late than never, right? >;-D

Comment by anna on February 11, 2009 at 08:09 PM

What a beautiful post! I feel like I am sitting in a pew, saying "Amen! Preach it!!

Comment by Brynn on February 11, 2009 at 08:47 PM

I think we should be looking for a a philosophy of living and learning, not a curriculum. As a teacher, a learner, and a mother my experience dictates that a curriculum kills motivation! A philosophy provides fertile ground from which to grow! Let us all be open enough to find the good and let what doesn't fit rest. It is this process of presence in the ebb and flow that is our curriculum, is it not?

Lovely ideas. Thanks for sharing.

Comment by Brynn on February 11, 2009 at 08:53 PM

And another thought, because I always think about this, is our searching for some"thing" that fits perfectly a part our longing to belong or part of our cultural drive to stick a label on it to make it real? We are the product of our culture. That has never been so clear as we continue to ponder our journey in learning and living. Let's break free!

Comment by Lynn on February 11, 2009 at 09:01 PM

Lori! another wonderful, inspiring & encouraging post - thank you.
I would love to share this link with you for a new book we just got:

'My Map Book' - check t out when you have time

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 11, 2009 at 09:28 PM

sarah, you have time — and it’s panic that makes people over-commit in the first place!

lynn, hey, that’s what wisdom is! things we learned the hard way. ;^)

anna, thank you! (and sometimes we do the wave. ;^)

brynn, philosophy has a way of becoming curriculum. i think this same need to trust ourselves applies to making life choices -- we’re tempted to pick something up whole and say “yes, this will do!” when really we need to be finding our own path. we are inspired by the life someone else leads and think “that’s what i want!” when really, we need to tease out what it is about their life that appeals to us and stop trying to be another person. we deserve a unique, custom life!

i think you are right about labels — they are a shortcut for identifying each other, and we use them to say something about ourselves and to fit in with the group we want to fit in with. it’s hard to step out and be yourself.

thank you, lynn, and the book looks wonderful — i can’t wait to get a hold of it!

Comment by Nancy on February 12, 2009 at 12:59 AM

bravo, Lori, bravo. I must admit that when I go to the homeschool store, that curriculum can tempt me -- because, damn, wouldn't it be handy if someone had figured it out all for me? it would be like having a personal assistant (an intoxicating idea, yes?). but alas, only I will be brave enough to embark on our paint-trampoline-chicken-fairy-vinegar-glue-pajama curriculum. xo Nancy in NC

Comment by Gina on July 20, 2013 at 12:29 AM

I love the paint-trampoline-chicken-fairy-glue-pajama.....curriculum, so glad to hear it's viable.

Comment by nancy on February 12, 2009 at 01:03 AM

I wish you could live right next door to me and tell me this everyday, but I guess that will never happen so I'll just bookmark this post for tomorrow!
Is it really okay if my boys spend most of their time playing Legos and talking about Legos?:)

Comment by gonzomama on February 12, 2009 at 01:35 AM

perfect timing on this post. i just spent part of my evening last night at the library (seeking peace and quiet for an hour or so) and started researching the homeschooling laws for my state and browsing home education sites for my region. it is overwhelming, but the great thing about exploring the options this early (oldest is 2) is that i can pretty much tell what is not going to work for us. the rest of it i figure we can try on and see what works best for us.
thanks for so much encouragement and inspiration.

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 12, 2009 at 01:53 AM

nancy, lolol, well, maybe you can write that into a unit study and sell a million copies! ;^)

nancy, i guess that’s up to you! :^)

gonzomama, starting early is wonderful! and thank you. :^)

Comment by Dawn on February 12, 2009 at 02:16 AM

Great food for thought here...
Although we don't currently follow any curriculum, and I don't see us doing so in the near future, I would imagine that if we did pick one I would have to put my own learning style and processing aside and pick what would work best for her... not for me (as a learner). Finding a happy medium with my ablity to process it enough to "teach" it and her desire to take part in the whole thing.
Any thoughts on meshing two different styles when choosing learning tools?

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 12, 2009 at 02:46 AM

personally, i think it is, again, negotiated. for myself, i consider what my child needs in order to learn best. but i have to make the decisions i think are best for my children. what they want when they are six or seven years old won‘t necessarily match what they want when they are 26. i’m responsible for making those decisions. they trust in me. but i also consider it my responsibility to know my child and do what works best for *him*.

Comment by Dawn on February 12, 2009 at 03:45 AM

"what they want when they are six or seven years old won‘t necessarily match what they want when they are 26"
Thanks for the insights!

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 12, 2009 at 04:38 AM


Comment by rachealb on February 12, 2009 at 10:02 AM

Thank you Lori! Your writing is entertaining and inspiring! This posting is so so so true! This was just what I was needing to be able to understand my own values regarding learning and what I want to create in my home environment...and then find any methods or ideas that work with my family! Thank you again for sharing all this!

I'll leave this quote with you (And of course I don't have the book with the words may be less poetic) from Kahlil Gibran "The Prophet"
"We are the bows and our children are the arrows. The Arrows are sent through us out into the world. The bow must chase after the arrow rather than the arrow follow the bow"

now I wish I had my book to really quote it for you!

Comment by Barbara on February 12, 2009 at 11:06 AM

"You may find yourself seeking and seeking, sampling and trying out, always wondering, like a 53-year-old divorced man on, if there isn’t something maybe a little bit better just around the next corner."

a fine bit of writing, right there! LOL
great post, encouraging as usual :)

Comment by melanie on February 12, 2009 at 01:49 PM

"trust yourself"... yes!! Thank you! In so many ways that is why people -start- to homeschool because we trust ourselves as their parents, more than we trust the schools to know what is best... and then along the way of the millions of choices and ideologies in homeschooling we get lost, and lose that trust.

What an inspiring post. Thank you!! I really do have to get started on a notebook of my own for observing my children. Now!

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 12, 2009 at 02:05 PM

rachealb, thank you, and yes, that is a wonderful quote! :^)

barbara, lol, thank you. ;^)

melanie, thank you, and that’s a good point — the choice to homeschool is itself a step off the path; we need to stay strong and not immediately choose another defined path.

now, get that notebook! ;^)

Comment by Sally on February 12, 2009 at 03:14 PM

I really apprecaite this blog and your insights.

I suffered from the over-curriculum syndrome the first couple years I home schooled. It overwhelmed my daughter and neither of us enjoyed the experience. Now I find the perfect curriculum is whatever my kids are interested in. I wish I would have figured this out much sooner.

The turning point for me was the day my kindergarten son begged to “learn” about Power Rangers as his home school lesson. We ended up researching the history of Power Rangers and found out all we could about them. We spent hours on this, letting his interest stream into Japan, animation and whatever else he could think of. He challenged me by asking what I considered inconceivable questions, but were intellectually astute for a 6 year old (How high can the Power Rangers actually jump without having to wear oxygen?).

Changing my curriculum to become THEIR curriculum has made a tremendous difference in their willingness to learn and explore.

Comment by Meme on February 12, 2009 at 03:34 PM

I am so thankful for your blog. Thank you, thank you! I will be homeschooling my two youngest come September and some days I think I have it all figured out and others I am a frozen deer in the headlights - I think you nailed it perfectly with the analysis paralysis. Since every child has different interests and learning curves I am grateful I can pick and choose, make mistakes, restructure when necessary, and enjoy the process as I go. As I get older I realize more and more that "perfection is my enemy" and hopefully I can pass this wisdom along to my progeny.

You are doing a much needed and much appreciated work. Thanks again.

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 12, 2009 at 03:35 PM

sally, what a fantastic example of how great learning can start from any intense interest. :^)

meme, thank you so much! :^)

Comment by patricia on February 12, 2009 at 04:19 PM

Another wonderful, thought-provoking post. One of my favorite parts (in addition to that gorgeous Lego simile):

"If you instead quietly document how they play, what they talk about, what draws their interest again and again, you may come up with something entirely different, something more authentic..."

This sounds so simple, but it's such a piece of wisdom.

It's interesting that you've ended with a quote from Flow. When I struggled to help my oldest find a path for homeschooling high school, considering Csikszentmihalyi's concept of flow guided me. I wanted to be sure my son had moments of flow in his days, and when I tried to imagine him in that state, I immediately saw him in front of the computer, editing films. So together we designed his own "curriculum" for filmmaking. That opened up a whole world for him, and I'm now stunned with how far he's going with it.

Thanks again, Lori, for providing a forum for sharing all this good stuff!

Comment by Sarah Jackson on February 12, 2009 at 05:55 PM

Thank you for this. Right now, I'm avoiding anything that looks like curriculum and we're going our own way. I'm sure that as time goes on, I'll bring in something more formal for math. but not yet. She loves math anyway, so it's easy to incorporate into our day.

One subject I've been thinking about a lot is history. What ways have you brought history studies into homeschooling without using curriculum? We're reading the Little House series and are talking about what was going on in the United States at that time. We're talking about Abraham Lincoln today since it's his birthday, we've discussed the history of racism in the US etc. after the presidential election (as well as how we elect our presidents and that yes, women can be president. Ouch.) Other springboards that have worked for you for world history or geography?

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 12, 2009 at 09:00 PM

thank you, patricia :^)

sarah, well, “curriculum” to me is just what you *do* — i refer to purchased materials as “canned curriculum”. so i’m going to assume you mean “without using [canned] curriculum”.

anything we think is important for the boys to learn that isn’t integrated naturally in their project work, we address separately. the boys (after doing projects from age 3) tend to approach anything they do in a project-oriented way. so if, in addition to their chosen projects, we “assign” them to read three books on american history during the year, they usually end up reading 12, drawing maps, making books, building models, etc., even though the idea didn’t originate with them. as they get older, we’ve found this a painless way to cover subject areas that didn’t naturally crop up through their own interest-led work.

after years of doing projects, they don’t shy away from any subject; rather, they tend to dig in expecting to uncover a lot of interesting things, and they know they’ll be free to explore whatever particular pathways interest them the most.

Comment by Sarah Jackson on February 12, 2009 at 09:05 PM

You're correct - I did mean a canned curriculum. Thanks!

Comment by jen on February 12, 2009 at 09:19 PM

This post is so, so good...yet I have to interject that a curriculum has been a great jumping off point for our family. I wish I could be a fly-by-the-seat of my pants teacher who could assess my children's needs as I go...but the reality is that I'm not and I can't...yet. So we have used a curriculum this year; it has provided some needed structure, some readily available ideas, and some help assessing needs (which was huge around here, since we have two "pupils" with very different needs.)

That said, I do so appreciate the encouragement to not check off all the boxes on the to-do list but rather make some boxes of our own! I am so ready to learn in some different ways and customize. I just wish I didn't feel so darn overwhelmed when I look at all the options and things to do and learn and see and explore and...and...and...and...

Going for the paper bag now!

(Thanks for the great post though!) :)

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 12, 2009 at 10:53 PM

jen, lol, exactly! there is so much out there .. which is why i think it’s important to take deep breaths and start with yourself -- your values, your goals, what *you* want to accomplish, what works best for you and your family and your child.

there are great approaches, great methods, great curricula, great ideas .. but if we can’t make a calm center in the midst of all this chaos, we’ll just be pinging off everything like we’re in a pinball machine. i wasn’t trying to say there wasn’t good curriculum out there, just that you should feel free to adapt it and customize it and take away only the choice bits. :^)

Comment by Leisa on February 13, 2009 at 01:42 AM

You are making me want to dig out my old project journals from White Oak. I should find and photograph some of them.

Comment by Julie on February 13, 2009 at 02:14 AM

I stumbled upon your blog a few months ago, but have been hesitant to post as I am not 100% following the Reggio approach (yet?). My newly turned 3 year old has been steering me more towards this approach, and I’ve found a sense of peace from your blog. Once she turned 2, I put a lot of thought into building a curriculum for her. Thankfully I gave it a test run before making too many weeks worth of themes. I launched a theme on butterflies on the same week she developed a love of ladybugs on a bush outside our door. She learned way more about ladybugs over the next couple of weeks than I ever would have thought to include in my little butterfly unit. I’ve learned to let her lead the way more, and to follow her interests. By doing so she has learned things that I never would have even thought about discussing with a 2 year old. Plus she retains and builds on what she has learned because it is of importance to her.
I’m working on starting the observation journal. Which is a step up from our ‘book of questions’. The questions were coming out so fast & furious I couldn’t always keep up with them, so we started writing them down to get back to ASAP. It is a great sense of peace not feeling like I have to plan out her learning path for the weeks ahead, and hope she will be receptive to it. I can step back a bit and let her steer the way into learning about the world around her. It is much more enjoyable for us both.

I am very thankful for your blog .I look forward to reading and learning more.

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 13, 2009 at 03:41 AM

leisa, that would be great. :^)

hi julie. :^) as you can tell from this post, i do not require 100%! or even 37%. ;^) it‘s just about ideas — talking about ideas, sharing ideas, thinking about how to know our children more and work with them better.

your experience with the ladybugs vs. the butterfly unit is exactly why projects trump themes and unit studies .. why design a box first to hold something that you can’t even measure yet? the first is so limiting, and the second really teaches us what our children can do — with no limits.

thank you for your comment!

Comment by greenchickadee on February 13, 2009 at 04:41 AM

As always, you resonate with my thoughts again. I finally figured out why I hated homeschooling fairs, and even to some extent, groups, because it just overwhelmed me and made me feel inadequate. WE do what we love, and we do it best without much interference. You strengthened my resolve to keep looking to the kids for answers, and not everywhere else!

Comment by allie on February 13, 2009 at 04:46 PM

Beautifully said.


Comment by Barbara on February 13, 2009 at 06:17 PM

Ah, trust. So much of this homeschool journey for me so far has been about trust. Trust that I can meet my kids' needs for learning and everything else. Trust that they will learn what they need (whatever that means) without my deciding for them and directing them through. Trust in their inner guidance and their natural drive to discover the world. Trust in my ability to step back when I can and step in when I'm needed.

Thanks for this post!

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 13, 2009 at 06:57 PM

greenchickadee, thank you :^)

thank you, allie. :^)

you are very welcome, barbara, and thank you! trust in them, trust in ourselves — without it, we can’t achieve anything.

Comment by Stefani on February 13, 2009 at 10:36 PM

Oh gosh. How I wish I had read this years ago. I can't tell you how many things I've bought that I felt sure would be THE curriculum for us.
Thankfully, we've grown beyond that, but man has it been painful and EXPENSIVE lesson.
Every single time I come here I walk away wiser.
Thanks for that!

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 13, 2009 at 10:55 PM

thank you, stef ;^)

Comment by Susana on February 14, 2009 at 03:48 PM

Thank you for this gift of clarity, deep thoughts, and encouragement to follow one's own path; what appears jagged/rough/impossible to some is comfort for another and vice versa. Gotta get back to our Marvin Gaye-Valentine's breakfast-make a pirate ship from tin foil party. xo Happy day to you and yours.

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 15, 2009 at 12:40 AM

aw, thank you, susana!

that sounds like a great party! ;^)

Comment by kelli backstrom on February 15, 2009 at 11:15 PM

Thanks! I can rest another day and enjoy my children for who they are. Loved the analogy!

Comment by Sherry on February 16, 2009 at 03:13 AM

Lori, you've probably gotten it many times, but I've given you the HOOKED ON YOUR BLOG AWARD. You rock!

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 16, 2009 at 03:45 PM

thank you, kelli! ;^)

thank you, sherry! :^D) that makes my day!

Comment by renee @ FIMBY on February 16, 2009 at 06:26 PM

I think I commented already but I'm re-reading this (& linking to it) for a post I'm writing. ANd I just have to say (sigh) I love this post.


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