How to Design an Eclectic Homeschool Curriculum

Welcome to my little mini-series on Homeschooling. Whether it’s your first venture into the “mysterious” world of homeschooling, or whether you just need a jolt to get you going for the third, fifth, or fifteenth year in row. This series is designed to motivate, encourage, and empower you on your homeschooling journey!
Here are the other posts in the series for you to browse (or look forward to).
  1. The Only Thing You Need to Start Homeschooling: Conviction
  2. 33 Reasons for Homeschooling: What’s Yours?
  3. Schools of Thought: A Quick Explanation of Homeschooling Styles
  4. My Eclectic Homeschool Curriculum with a 4th Grader, 2nd Grader, Pre-K 4, 2-year-old and 4-month old!
Today we’ll be talking about what to do if you *gasp* don’t fit into a homeschooling style!! Where do you fit? What’s your plan? And most important: how do you create a workable curriculum when you don’t fit inside the box?

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Last time, we talked about the various homeschooling styles. Could you see yourself fitting right in with one perfect method? One that just perfectly clicked for you and all your kids? If you did, fantastic! If you didn’t? Hang in there, because you’re in good company.

I don’t fit into one of the homeschool styles, either.

A good many of my friends are Classical Homeschoolers. They can happily turn to Classical Conversations or Mother of Divine Grace, and know that all their curriculum requirements will be met. I also know a few who swear by the Waldorf Method. Brilliant, because there are so many great resources out there, and Rudolph Steiner put together a fabulous curriculum for K-8 that is pretty much utilized in every Waldorf school on the planet! Others I know are committed heart + soul to the “living books” culture created through a Charlotte Mason education, and a handful throw caution to the wind and manage to live + learn in perfect integration as unschoolers.

I am none of these things.

I have what homeschool guidebooks call an “eclectic style.” (I checked to be sure it didn’t say eccentric. Though that would also apply.) Now, what does it mean to have an eclectic style?

An eclectic homeschooler is basically a wonky shaped peg that doesn’t fit perfectly into any style of hole–but sort of connects with a lot of them!

Personally, adore the beauty, simplicity, and subject-integrated approach of a Waldorf Education: but I simply can’t achieve a pure Waldorf education in a busy home, while teaching multiple ages. I click with the stages of Classical education (grammar, logic, rhetoric), but I’m not married to them. Wherever possible, I like to incorporate living books a la Charlotte Mason, but I’m not above doling out run-of-the-mill workbook pages from our favorite math curriculum on a daily basis. I greatly appreciate interest-led learning (I did a lot of it when I was growing up, in spite of my traditional education) and believe it will become a larger part of our homeschool as my kids hit the passionate tween and teen years to come!

As you can probably tell, there’s not a great boxed curriculum out there for someone as eccentric, um, I mean eclectic as me.

So how do you design a curriculum when you’re the wonky-shaped peg and there are only square-, round-, and star-shaped holes around you? 

YOU DESIGN YOUR OWN, OF COURSE!! (Because you’re crazy! I mean eccentric! I mean, eclectic.)

Admittedly, this can be incredibly intimidating, especially if you’re just starting out as a home educator. Following a boxed curriculum gives you the confidence that you’re actually going to meet all the requirements and not leave GIANT, UNFATHOMABLE gaps in your child’s education.

(Trade secret: All curriculums will leave gaps in your kids’ educations, including the public system. Including your own. That’s why instilling a lifelong love of learning is the golden approach for the long-run.)

(Trade secret #2: If you know you’re an eclectic homeschooler, but you are still incredibly intimidated about not using a boxed curriculum: buy a boxed curriculum. Think of it as your training wheels. It’s an investment in your own education, and in your case, it is totally worth it!)

But planning an eclectic curriculum doesn’t have to be scary. And if the one you design does have a few gaps, don’t worry, they don’t have to be big. Your kiddo can still get into a good college, even with an eclectic mom like you.

To plan an eclectic-style curriculum you need to:

  1. PRAY!
  2. Brainstorm.
  3. Organize + Distill.
  4. Create a flexible schedule.
  5. Distill again.
  6. Order your materials.
  7. Execute your eccentrically eclectic plans!!

It’s my opinion that this general outline can work for any eclectic homeschooler. But it’s all rather theoretical when you see it written out like that. So, let’s break it down.

1. Pray!

It is so easy as homeschoolers to wind up with our thoughts running like hamsters on the proverbial wheel. We have total control! But that also means we run the risk of getting locked into our own way of doing things.

Remember, if God called you to this, He is going to see you through it. But (spoiler!) He’s going to have an opinion on what that looks like. So: pray! Offer up your own desires for this homeschool year. Read your Bible; allow God to speak into the assumptions you may be coming with. He may surprise you! Lift up each of your children–their gifts, their challenges, their goals–and see what He’s got to say on the matter. It’s all good stuff, believe me.

2. Brainstorm.

Now that you and God are on the same page, it’s time for a mega brain dump! When I start brainstorming for a school year, I like to write down each subject I want to study down one side of a sheet of paper. Across the top, I write each of my school-aged children’s names. Then I just put a check for each of the kids I want to have study that subject.

Next, I decide what the basic topic and/or text for each child is going to be. So, for science (which my family does all together), I’d write “Geology” in every column where I’ve put a science check mark. Under Math, which is at varying levels for each of my kids, I’d write down the math curriculum we’ll be using for that year. Very bare bones. Very basic.

Finally, I draw a box (usually I’m on the back of my sheet of paper now) for all the things I want to cover that I forgot because they’re not one of the main “subjects.” So, for example, I’ll list my big kids’ swim lessons, pentatonic flute (which I teach), piano (we have a teacher who comes to our house), poetry and other memorization, etc. At this point, it’s not all meant to look pretty or make much sense: it just needs to physically make it onto paper.

3. Organize + distill.

This is where I start to untangle my brain dump. I take a look at each subject I want to teach and start researching which resources we might want to use for them. I create more detailed charts and start to plug those resources in for myself. At this point, I like to have one document that is for everything we will do as a family, and separate documents for each of my school-aged kids.

Once I’ve got my resources plugged in, I like to do a reality check. The fastest way I do this is to put a star next to every subject I will need to teach (based on which resources I’ve chosen) and two stars next to any subject that will require prep work from me (such as a science lab). Then I ask myself whether this is achievable on a daily basis, or whether I need to pick another resource which, while not necessarily my ideal, will at least teach my kid the subject without prompting us to kill each other by November.

4. Create a flexible schedule.

At this point, I know what I’m teaching, what I’m using to teach it, and I’ve made appropriate changes to ensure I don’t go crazy based solely on those decisions. Now it’s time to give our days a framework!

Personally, I need a break after breakfast before I launch headfirst into schoolwork. My kids are all still pretty young, so I don’t have a teen helping in the kitchen. I’ve got a baby to feed and dinner to get in the crockpot. So, while I’m doing those things, I have my big kids get started on their independent schoolwork. This might include math, grammar worksheets, writing, and piano practice.

Next, we have our Morning Symposium, which for us includes filling in our daily calendar, liturgical living activities, catechism and other memory work, pentatonic flute, and singing. I try to fit this around the baby’s morning nap.

After that, I rotate my older kids for their daily subjects that need 1-on-1 attention from me. While I’m busy with one student, the other is occupying the younger kids for me. Then we have lunch, do a quick clean-up of the house, and get the baby and toddler down for their naps.

This is the most peaceful time I have to work with my older students, so this is where I do what I call our 1-on-1 Loop. This is when I do some heart-to-heart work. It’s not about math drills or sentence diagrams. This is where I put those subjects that I really want to talk about with my kids, where I want to make heart connections. Each day, I meet with one of them, and then I move onto the next kid the next day. Each class is about 30 minutes. While I’m working with that day’s student, the other 2 bigger kids color or find something quiet to play together in another room.

Then, we have an hour of quiet time. Because it makes me happy. And I need it.

After quiet time is our Afternoon Symposium. We start off with a read aloud while we have our snack. (On Tuesdays, we have a Poetry Tea!) Then we rotate our more hands-on whole-family subjects: History/Geography, Science, and Spanish. We tackle only one of these a day. If there’s time left, we rotate through our extracurriculars: nature walks, art, playground games (PE), and handwork.

I try to be done with all our school for the day, including corrections and grading, by 4:30pm. This gives me enough of a buffer to calmly get the house in order, get dinner prepared, and maybe squeeze in a board game or some extra read aloud time before my husband gets home.

If that all sounds a little too complicated, I can promise you, it’s really not. Next time, I’ll show you my actual schedule so you can see what it looks like, and I’m sure it will make a lot more sense.

The key here is keeping the schedule flexible. Notice, other than the 4:30 cut-off, I did not include any times. I try to start Morning Symposium by 10am, and other than that, I just need to know about how much time to devote to our different subjects and symposiums and I simply do the next thing. It’s not strict, but it does help keep us on track when life inevitably gets in the way of my well-laid plans.

5. Distill again.

After six years of homeschooling, I find I don’t need this step quite as much as I used to. However, I include it as a sort of fail safe. This is the point at which I take my second reality check. Can I actually cover all the 1-on-1 teaching in the time I’ve allowed myself, or do I need to make a simpler, more independent curriculum choice for one or more subjects? Is there a subject I could be teaching as a group instead of individually if I just made a couple tweaks? Is there a subject I can combine for two of my students? Is there something I could off-source to a tutor or co-op? Simplify, simplify, simplify.

If I look at my schedule and feel like I’m just slightly underachieving, I will still be going strong in March. If, however, I look at my plan now and think, Sure. We could maybe-probably-possibly-I-think-I-hope get this to work. Well, then I’ll be pulling my hair out by Wednesday.

6. Order your materials.

Time for the fun stuff: shopping! I have yet to meet the homeschooler who doesn’t do a happy dance when she finally hits “submit order” for a stack of shiny books or a nifty new laminator. Because you’re not buying a boxed curriculum, you can take advantage of sales and deals. I usually check with our local homeschool consignment shop first. Whatever I can’t find there, I will try to buy used off of Amazon. As a last resort, I purchase new.

7. Execute your plan!

And that’s all she wrote, folks!

Next time, I’ll flesh all of this out by showing you what our actual plan is for this year with a (oh-my-word-how-did-they-get-so-old???) 4th grader, 2nd grader, Pre-K 4yo, 2yo, and 3-month-old!! Wild + crazy times, y’all. Wild and crazy times.

3 comments

  1. D. says:

    I really appreciate your emphasis on prayer, as well as the conviction involved in choosing to homeschool. It gives purpose and grounding when I ask myself on the harder days, “Why did we sign up for this!!!!”

    I have found over the years (we’re going into year 5) that my expectations have been lowered because we’re not homeschooling to produce brianiacks, but to impart a godly, Christian heritage to our children.

    I have also found that eclectic works well for our family. We use our local library, as well as local museum and science centre for fun, informative outings. I’m starting to realize that less (curriculum) is actually more and we really don’t need mountains of workbooks to learn.

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