How I Narrowly Escaped the Analysis Paralysis of Curriculum Shopping (and you can too)
So, I-don’t-know-how-long ago, I enthusiastically enlisted myself to write for the Home Ed Voices Blog. Over the winter I envisioned sharing well-researched and entertaining posts. I mean, I love research and I would really love to be entertaining (snark). But then I proceeded to produce nothing. I tried. I really did. I wrote and rewrote the same post five times and scrapped all drafts. A case of perfect being the enemy of the good? Maybe that was part of it.
But I really think it was my Annual Spring Crisis that tripped me up, ya’ll. We home ed from Spring Equinox to Thanksgiving (November). And every spring, right around Easter, I decide I’ve gone about it all wrong. This is partly because the kids are still resisting the tweak to routine and mostly because I’m me. This year I came to the conclusions that the little darlings weren’t jumping into their learning with two feet because our curricula were more prescriptive than discovery-based and we were not making enough time for artistic endeavours. So then, I fell down a rabbit hole of scouring the internet for “how to learn maths through art” amongst many other things. I love home ed. There are so many ways to learn and I kinda want to do them all! At least until I find a most-fun-best-fit for every subject for each child instead of just an oh-look-he-didn’t-complain-about-doing-grammar-with-this-curriculum-fit. I can realistically do that, right? Ha! No, of course not. Perfection is certainly the enemy of the good in my home ed planning and that has been my distraction from all other intentions so far this year. My Annual Spring Crisis is me in a nutshell. Hello! *Waves*
Plan with the end in mind
Writing for this blog was just one of many intentions I set for this year. Other intentions included nesting in our new house, practising gratitude, and making creativity and curiosity priorities in our home education – ya know, lofty nebulous aims. I think my Annual Spring Crisis occurs exactly because I do not sketch steps to success for these lofty aims, steps that will pull these aims down from nebulous ideas into concrete plans. I write my intentions down over the winter and I consider my ‘seeds’ sown. Then spring arrives and I look around for signs of growth but there doesn’t appear to be any. Well of course not! Setting intentions doesn’t bring about growth anymore than a list of seeds brings about a bountiful garden. Seeds of intention must not only be sown, but regularly tended and warmed by the sunny light of celebration.
As I felt myself about to hit Spring Crisis Meltdown, I stepped back, took a deep breath, went back to the beginning and blew the dust off my journal. I unburied my list of intentions for 2019 and sat down with the kiddos to create vision boards, garden plans if you will. It was enlightening and encouraging to hear my six-year-old request more reading and writing practice (she has always been somewhat resistant and so I haven’t pushed it). My I’m-no-good-at-maths nine-year-old requested more Algebra. And I included their current craft interests (glass and woodwork) and their animal mascots as reminders to myself to use the creative arts and a bit of whimsy to keep the kiddos curious and engaged in learning.
These boards use images from internet searches and were put together using free online picture collage software. They have been hanging on a prominent wall in our main learning space since May. I’ve used them to inspire lesson planning at the start of each term (prioritising one or two interests each term) and to inspire a shake-up if/when a term feels it’s losing its shine.
These vision boards are improved versions of writing intentions in my joural:
- they’re collaborative and that’s important
- they’re visual reminders for me and the kids so we can hold each other accountable
- they can be prominently placed in the learning space and still look nice
But there is still the potential for these vision boards to become part of the wallpaper. These garden plans do not include benchmarks by which we measure whether our “seeds” are flourishing or floundering. These are not concrete goals. So, the next step, for me, was to envision the end of the year and what I would like to be able to celebrate with the kiddos on Thanksgiving Day, our last day of the ‘school year.’ The kids wanted to practice handwriting. We set the goal of being able to hand-write age-appropriate notes of thanks at Thanksgiving dinner as a way to celebrate their efforts and achievements in composition and penmanship. The kids wanted to cook more this year. We set the goal of getting us to a place of kitchen competency where they could cook a dish together for the holiday meal. I then scribbled these goals in the margins of our vision board pictures, reminders for myself.
From these concrete goals, I could work backwards to tease out benchmarks of progress. These benchmarks became my strategy for the year. For example:
write a note of thanks, my youngest will need to be able to write a
write words, she will need to know which letters make which sounds
AND how to write those letters
- Step 1: Assess where R is at with her phonics knowledge
- Step 2: Fill in the gaps in her knowledge
- Step 3: Assess where R is at with her letter writing
- Step 4: Fill in the gaps in her knowledge
- Step 5: Practice sounding out words as we write them down
- Step 6: Practice stringing a few words together
- To write words, she will need to know which letters make which sounds AND how to write those letters
Only at this point was it worth it for me to dive into the ocean of curricula to find those that would serve us in achieving our benchmarks and our goals for the year. We had been using a nice free program for handwriting print letters, but my youngest still got some letters muddled and didn’t know for certain which sounds they made when reading or which shape she wanted to make the sound she heard when speaking aloud. In Spring Crisis mode I can become a bit obsessed with ‘better’ curricula. I might have gone out and bought a shiny new combined phonics and handwriting curriculum this year, but with a plan, I can see that it wasn’t the curricula that I was using so much as the order I was using them in. I was trying to do too much. We pushed the handwriting curriculum aside for a term and focused on the phonics program we were already using combined with a moveable alphabet and some games.
So there you have it, from vision to goals to strategy to success!
Celebrate victories big and small
The little celebrations, the regular tending and warm sunshine of recognition for growth earned, will spur you all on to ultimate success.
As most of you, dear readers, are preparing for a new season of sowing seeds, my advice is to look forward to the harvest! There are many shiny maths and science and history and English curricula, oh so many, and if you feel your brain melting over which will be the best for your child, stop, take a breath, and ask yourself what you hope to harvest. What is worth celebrating? A curriculum should not determine the method, pace and result of the year’s journey for you. You and your child should decide what you want to sow and harvest, how and how quickly. Choose the curricula that best serves you both in your strategy and your goals.
Want to master number bonds to ten? Read an entire book series? Learn to write cursive? Explore a particular time period in-depth? What little victories will these goals offer along the way? How will you celebrate them throughout and at the end? The little celebrations, the regular tending and warm sunshine of recognition for growth earned, will spur you all on to ultimate success. Succeeding at goals set is a vital life skill and well worth a big ‘harvest’ party!
And with this post I water one more of my seeds of intention. With this post I introduce you all to the hot mess that is me and the sort of flawed thinking and ah-ha moments that make me tick. If you are better put together than I am, feel free to ignore any future posts with my name at the top! (Ed – Nope. Don’t do that. Kate is great and has lots of clever things to share!)