No it’s not necessary but yes, it is sometime desirable.
How many of us stick to the same curriculum all the way through our homeschool journey? How many of us ‘have to’ change and how many of us just ‘want to’ change? How many of us don’t have the luxury of changing curriculum because, sadly, money just doesn’t grow on trees? Admittedly there is a lot of chopping and changing that happens in homeschooling. Most of us do it. But do we really ‘need’ to?
One area in my curriculum spectrum, where I haven’t changed a lot, is Math. I’ve loved Singapore math since the very beginning. We started out in the preschool years and I expect we’ll use it into the high school years as well. I just love it and I think it’s important to maintain consistency in Math, more so than most areas.
However, I don’t find using this one curriculum long term stifling or dull because it’s not the only thing we use. Singapore Math is our core program or our spine curriculum. Surrounding our ‘core’ or ‘spine’ is plenty of variety that keeps Math fresh and interesting. We dabble with different programs that supplement Singapore Math and we have a nice selection of different activities that we use in addition to our main program. These additional features are like the outer layers of our core. Sometimes they are costly extras, like Beast Academy, and other times they are just simple things like flashcards and printed pages from the internet. These ‘extras’ alter the flavour of our Math and provide variety and body to our spine. They can change according to whim or need, but Singapore Math, our spine, remains constant.
Sometimes curriculum has to change. If the sight of a curriculum makes children and mother cry then for the sake of sanity, you should change it if you can. With so many homeschooling curriculums to choose from it’s easy to make a poor initial choice. It’s especially common in the first year of homeschooling, when we tend towards what schools use, and later find those resources a poor match for our homeschooling journey. I actually advise newbie homeschoolers to use the textbooks they already have left over from school, rather than buying more textbooks or costly curriculums. With a little time, they quickly come to their own conclusions about school textbooks and get an insight into the kinds of curriculums they think will work for their family. It seems to be a lesson they need to learn for themselves. Life is too short to suffer through a curriculum you just hate. Hopefully we can figure out which curriculums don’t make everyone cry before we part with too much money.
Money is often the gatekeeper in this chopping and changing of curriculum. If money isn’t an obstacle, then it may be easier to switch curriculums. To those without much money, this can seem like a real blessing, one they’d like, but I think we need to be careful about what we wish for. If the ‘chopping and changing gate’ is wide open and easily accessible, it can be more difficult to settle on one curriculum and allow it time to work before getting the urge to try something different. Money restrictions and a tight budget can be a blessing in disguise. They require you to make careful choices and to consider wisely whether a curriculum change is a whim or a need. Money enables indecision and can lead to discontent. Either way, I think the most important point here is to determine whether a change in curriculum is a desire or a need. There is a difference.
How do we know if it’s a desire or a need? Well I think this is more of a personal point and I dare say we vary a lot on the continuum. For myself I look to see if the product still has value if we continued to use it in a tweaked way. I’m always tweaking resources but there are some that need to be tweaked so much that it’s pointless using them. For instance, this year I tried First Language Lessons again, and within a handful of lessons knew that I still hated it. So I started tweaking it to create lessons that were useable. The problem was that it was so awful that all I could keep was the topic and the rest I was making up for myself. No point having a curriculum when you have to rewrite the thing from scratch. The grammar curriculum I had been using, Rod and Staff, also required tweaking. The difference was that I loved the content and teaching of Rod and Staff’s grammar program but found the exercises becoming increasingly difficult to complete in a quick, daily, oral fashion, which is our preference. Clearly I should have settled with Rod and Staff. It worked, I liked it (although the boys nicknamed it “Rotten Stuff”) and it was just a little inconvenient. (Rest assured I’ve solved that grammar issue. At present I’m loving Michael Clay Thompson’s Langauge series and have also purchased IEW’s “Fix-It”, figuring that the two will combine together nicely. So far so good.)
No, I don’t always takes my boys ‘desires’ into consideration. Their goal isn’t to find a curriculum that suits their learning style. Children will do their best to get out of as much work as possible or to at least find the route of least resistance. They are, after all, children. (It’s their natural inclination, even if people try to tell you that their little Mary or Johnny is a darling and would never do such a thing.) Children want a curriculum that is fun and easy and for breakfast, lunch and tea they want sugar and soft drinks. Nah, they are poor curriculum choosers. I can almost guarantee that we’d never stop chopping and changing if they were in charge. They’d like something one minute, discover it was actually work disguised as fun, and then want something new. When I consider my boys’ needs, I pay more attention to observation than complaints, tantrums and tears. There are times when I can see that a curriculum clearly isn’t a good fit for a child. It’s then that I’d take action. Apologia’s elementary Exploring Creation series was a curriculum that I changed after observing that my boys were going into a comatosed state after trying to listen. Or perhaps it was my snoring that was distracting them. The observation I made was that they went from children who loved Science to children who struggled to stay awake during Science. (Not saying that the Exploring Creation series won’t work for others though. It just didn’t spark our interests. However we do love it as a reference guide and can eagerly listen to small doses of it when there’s a real need to know all those many facts about animals.)
For those who are stuck with the same resources, year in and out, because of finances, don’t despair. There’s plenty you can do to tweak and enhance those resources so they can work for everyone. Firstly, remember that your curriculum can just be your spine onto which you can add many things. The internet is a wealth of treasure just waiting to be found. There’s always some great worksheet, experiment, game or video that you can use from the internet to enhance what you are studying. Yes, it’s a little time consuming to track these things down, but time is free and the resources are there to use if you really do want to do something to improve your curriculum. The library is another free resource that I’m betting most people under utilise. Admittedly the quality and quantity of appropriate resources varies from library to library and topic to topic but always check anyway. You might be pleasantly surprised.
Don’t forget the power of ‘tweaking’. There are so many different ways to tweak. You could: use it orally, write the questions on a whiteboard, use the exercises and turn them into your own worksheets (I did this for Latin one time), skip the sections that don’t appeal, just take the topics and information and teach it yourself or even do something radical like creating QR scans that your ipod or phone can read that have the answers to the problems. (Yes you can do that! There’s an app that makes them. We did a set of Math problems the other day that had QR scans with the answers. The boys were thrilled!)
Determining whether curriculum change is a desire or a need really is a personal choice. If you have the means to do it, great, but be careful of using the freedom too liberally and changing curriculum like you change socks. And if you don’t have the means, it’s not the end of the world, and can in fact be a blessing. Children really aren’t as fragile as some people make out and utlisling learning styles other than their own is a valuable lesson (one we should all include!). Plus a misfitting curriculum can always be altered in some way to make it work. You just have to be creative and willing to make the effort. Most importantly, you have to remember that a curriculum is only as good as the teacher using it, and much of its benefit comes more from consistent use, than all of its bells and whistles.