How We Homeschool Without Curriculum

Homeschool without curriculum has been a glorious unfolding or evolutionary process, if you will, in our home. For more on why you should Ditch the Curriculum, check out this post. If you’ve been around here for any time at all, you know I believe strongly in shrugging off the dogma and comparison to public school. However, if you’re new here, you’ll definitely want to start here. And if you’d like to read others’ perspectives on the topic, I have several books I highly recommend in my Amazon List.

So what do we actually do for our homeschool without curriculum to lead the way? Well, before I get into the nuts and bolts of that, I must give a disclaimer: This rhythm and education strategy is what works for our homeschool right now. I’m always willing to pivot based on a child’s needs or a season of life. My oldest son had a lot of challenges and special needs, so our homeschool was different before he graduated. And if something comes up, I’m willing to be flexible for the sake of their mental health or growth process.

I encourage homeschoolers to find what works for them. What works for me may not work for you in terms of educational focus. I encourage you to take my methods and adapt them to suit your family dynamic. Think creatively. You know your kids and I’m not about to assume I know what’s best for them and you. Ultimately, you are guiding your children and creating your atmosphere in your home. 

The Nuts and Bolts

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, allow me to pull back the curtain.Rather than doing a long list of subjects that are unrelated and compulsory, we focus on the things that will make the biggest impact in their education journey. Our main goals are character and holistic development (myself included). You’ll want to check your state’s requirements at hslda.org. Whatever the requirements, you don’t have to use a curriculum/textbook to satisfy the law. You can think outside of the box. 

Each day I have a set of priorities; what I call Big Stones, Pebbles and Sand. It’s based loosely on a Franklin Covey time management concept I learned years ago in business. You may already be familiar with the idea, but for those who aren’t, here’s a little snapshot:

If I gave you a jar and asked you to fill it with big stones, pebbles and sand, it would not make sense to start with the sand, shove in the big stones and then try to squeeze in the pebbles. It won’t all fit. But if you start with the big stones, add the pebbles and then pour the sand in to fill in all the other spaces, you can fit way more in.

The jar represents our finite time each day. The big stones are the most important tasks that often take a big chunk of time, but also make the biggest difference. The pebbles are the little tasks that need to get done, but can eat up more time if you let them. And the sand represents the tasks that would be nice to get done, but if you start with them, they somehow take over your entire day. I’m looking at you, Facebook!

Big Stones

The kids and I are most alert in the morning (after a cup of coffee for me). These Big Stones are things that don’t move and should be completed every day. As soon as breakfast is done and cleaned up, we dive right into these priorities:

  • Devotions
  • Read Aloud
  • Math
  • Spanish

Devotions

Our devotions vary depending on the season, but include some sort of Bible Study, self reflection, “Be Still” time (contemplative prayer) and/or journaling. I start with myself in the morning before the kids get up (gotta put on my own oxygen mask first, right?!) Then it feels much more genuine to help the kids connect to God.

Read Aloud

After connecting with God through our devotion time, we move on to reading aloud to connect with each other. Yes, I read out loud to my kids, including the olders who can read for themselves. Reading aloud has absolutely revolutionized our homeschool. We enjoy discovering rich literature through read-aloud and the thought provoking conversations that happen naturally around the plot and characters. This is a wonderful booklist of over 400 classic titles that are excellent read aloud books. There’s a great book on all the benefits of reading aloud here.

Math

For math, we use Teaching Textbooks (not an affiliate). The kids (3rd+ grade) work on it fairly independently. It brought so much peace to our home when we switched. I’ve heard good things about CTCMath and would venture to say it’s comparable.

For years, I really resisted using an online math program because I hated the idea of my kids looking at a screen or my teenage boy being tempted to open another tab and start scouring the interwebs. But I was overjoyed to find that they can do up to 5 lessons without an internet connection and it will update their work at the next connection. Also, the little stickers and dancing cartoons incentives keep the kids engaged. I have one kid who was allergic to math (broke out in tears at the mention of the word) and one kid that loves it. BOTH have done very well with TT and understood the lesson videos without much mom explanation. 

My one caution regarding math is not to switch curriculum if you can avoid it. Once you find math that works for your family, stick with it. Math is one of those subjects that is taught in a sequential order and each publisher places things at different intervals, so when you switch math curriculums, you can create gaps. 

Until 3rd grade (8-9 yrs old), you really don’t need a curriculum. You can start with counting objects, practice writing numbers, playing Yahtzee or dominoes, etc to learn basic addition, subtraction and even multiplication and division facts and concepts. Word problems, baking with mom, grocery budget, flashcard games and adding prices on a calculator are all great ways to teach practical math until they show an interest or are ready for formal math training.

So while my olders are doing TT on the computer, I play math games with the little(s). Math might be the most intimidating to homeschool without curriculum, but if you focus on games (fun!) and real life application (baking, measuring, etc), it’s really not hard and they learn the math concepts in a way that feels organic.

Outside Time

Getting outside is such an important aspect of learning and growing! Whenever I recognize that the kids need a break, I send them outside or we go for a walk. Our family is taking on the 1000 Hours Outside Challenge this year! Will you join us? https://www.1000hoursoutside.com

Spanish

Our final “big stone” is Spanish. This one is specific to my middle schooler because she’s taking an immersive Spanish class with daily activities, so we want to make sure she does something to practice her foreign language skills everyday. Obviously not everyone will have this “stone,” but it’s important to us, so there it is! Usually while she’s doing that, I’ll give my 4 year old a little one on one time, playing a game or interest-led learning. But a lot of the time, he likes to peak over her shoulder and learn Spanish with her. So, why not?!

My goal is to complete all of the “Big Stones” before lunch. Does that always happen? No. But it gives me a general goal to shoot for and keep my day moving along so we don’t get lost in the weeds. If we don’t make that goal because someone needed extra attention in an area or a little guy had a meltdown, I don’t get too tied up in knots. The timeframe goal is really more so there to remind everyone they don’t need 6 snacks between breakfast and lunch!  IYKYK

Pebbles

These activities may look different for everyone. These are things that are still a priority, but don’t have to happen every single day like Big Stones. But something from this list should be done each day. I love Pebbles because they keep us balanced and remind me to inject fun and adventure into each day. It’s actually because we homeschool without curriculum that we have time for these things! They’re the spice of life sort of things! Here’s a non-exhaustive list of our pebbles:

  • Nature walk, Park Day or Hike
  • American Heritage Girls badgework
  • Service Project
  • Independent Reading
  • Educational Board Game
  • Baking/Cooking
  • Arts & Crafts or Playdough
  • Passion Projects and Business Ventures (we have a couple of budding entrepreneurs)
  • Field Trips, Library, or Museum 
  • Music, piano practice, dance, singing

So much learning happens when the kids are doing things they’re interested in. I try to schedule at least 1-2 hikes, park days or nature walks each week. The kids get plenty of outside time in our yard, but Nature Walks and Hikes draw out a different, exploration and scientific discovery sort of intention. 

American Heritage Girls

Something from the Service Projects and AHG badgework category go on our schedule daily. My tween girl loves her AHG troop and wants to do all the things, so this has been a great way for her to try new things, explore interests and earn badges along the way. I usually have her choose one or two badges that intrigue her and then when I do my weekly plan, I select 1 activity from those badges to work on each day. We also work on at least one service project a week to keep our hearts focused on others. Obviously she’s the only one that earns the badges and service stars, but why not include all the kids in the activity and service?! 

Independent Reading

Unpopular opinion: I don’t make my kids read. I used to. And it ended in a lot of tears and they all started to hate reading. I used to require reading good literature every day. One kid had no interest in the material and would reluctantly do it. The other would cry. Why? Because I was forcing it. The struggling reader felt tortured and the uninterested reader was completely unengaged. Kids retain what they’re interested in (just like us grown ups).

So when we started implementing reading aloud (me reading out loud to them), I let go of all requirements and expectations of their independent reading for 30 days. It took all of 2 days before my struggling reader started reading for fun… chapter books even! Suddenly reading was fun again. So I no longer put requirements on what or how much they read and they just pick up books on whatever topic they’re interested in and devour books! So reading happens regularly and copiously in our house, but not because I require it. We simply cultivate an atmosphere of literature. My husband and I are avid readers, so we are often discussing books we enjoy. The kids just naturally engage now that I’m not making them read what and when I want them to. 

Baking, Arts & Crafts

What kid doesn’t love messy art projects, science experiments or playdough?! I used to LOATHE these activities entirely because of the mess it makes. Glitter was my arch nemesis. But now I have only 3 rules around this sort of thing in my home: 1) Keep it at the table (nobody wants slime smashed on the carpet!) 2) Clean up any mess you make. 3) pick up a project before moving on to anything else. As long as those rules are followed, make all the Ooblek, slime, baking soda volcanoes and playdough your heart desires! 

Educational Board Games

Lately, my kids are obsessed with Snap Circuits, so if I need quiet time or the baby is fussy, that’s the thing they’ll pull out. We also love board games and card games in our house, so those get a lot of mileage! We also schedule one family night a week to connect with dad and even invite over my oldest who’s out on his own for dinner and a board game. The guys really like strategy and it’s been a fun way to stay connected even with one out of the nest!

Sand

The last type of activities can be small, helpful doses or they can undo the whole day if I don’t keep them in check. They’re not inherently bad, but if we’re not careful, they’ll suck the day away!

  • Screentime
  • Appointments
  • Play Dates
  • Busywork

Screentime

While videos can be a helpful educational tool, they can also completely derail the day. I’ve had plenty of days when my 4 yr old wants to watch Daniel Tiger or (our fave) Bluey. I’ll cave and then suddenly 2 hours disappear and he’s a total zombie. If we just don’t turn it on in the first place, then I don’t have to go through the battle to get them to shut it off. So I’d rather just send them outside! That said, it is nice to have a family movie night once in a while or supplement an educational experience with a video or game. For example, we’re finishing up reading aloud “The Wind in The Willows” and we’re all looking forward to watching the 1983 claymation movie when we finish the book. 

Play Dates

Play dates and homeschooler meetups are essential, but in moderation and at the right time of day. We always push play dates, appointments and errands to the latest possible time of the afternoon (3-5 is our sweet spot). At least for us, I’ve noticed that if I have a mid-morning appointment or play date, we don’t have enough time to get our big stones done before leaving the house and it’s almost impossible to get back on track when we return. Somehow a 1 hour appointment steals 4 hours and then I feel like the day is lost! 

See my post on time management for homeschoolers!

Busywork

This one is more about me keeping my head in the game. This is something I am still working to get better at. I have to hold myself accountable to keep distractions at bay like checking Facebook, AHG leader stuff, business admin & activities, side projects, blogging, etc. When we’re focused on learning, I have to be fully present and discipline my own attention. How can I expect my kids to stay focused if I don’t lead by example?! Check out Shauna Niequist’s Present over Perfect for a soothing read on the topic.

Conclusion

At the end of it all, it’s a matter of priorities and intention. Learning doesn’t require a curriculum. It’s happening constantly and even passively. I very much lean in to interest-led learning. We don’t just hang out in our PJ’s, watching TV all day (contrary to what some may assume). I start with an atmosphere of peace and kindness in our home. We create an environment of learning and then connect as a family. We learn from and with each other. And because of this, my kids find joy in their education as curiosity and discovery lead the way. Moreover, the number one compliment I get when we’re in public is, “Your children are so well behaved and well spoken!” While I’m not going for outsider’s compliments (trust me, the criticisms also abound), it is nice to have their manners and kindness be the most highly remarked attribute. 

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *