Teach the Child

Using a homeschool curriculum is like using a recipe.When it comes to cooking, it seems that there are two kinds of people: those who follow the recipe exactly and those who tweak it.

Those who tend to stick to the recipe probably like the security of doing what they’re told to do. Someone has already figured this out so I don’t have to can be a comforting thought. (Ask me how I know.)

But sometimes the recipe just doesn’t fit your situation. Maybe the person who created the recipe has a passion for hot and spicy, while your family prefers mildly spicy. Maybe the recipe says to bake at 450° for 15 minutes, but you know that your oven struggles to keep a constant heat at that high of a temperature.

So most cooks learn to make adjustments. They might reduce the amount of cayenne pepper or leave out the tabasco sauce. They might add more minutes onto the baking time. Whatever adjustments they make, they tweak the recipe to better fit their families and their situations.

Curriculum is Like a Recipe

Curriculum is a lot like a recipe. Whoever writes the curriculum is setting forth what he prefers; what worked in his situation. But just because the author presents it a certain way doesn’t mean you have to use it exactly as is.

Maybe a certain curriculum moves a little too quickly for your child; you can adjust it to a slower pace. Maybe a curriculum doesn’t include enough hands-on activities for your tastes; you can add some. Maybe you like everything about the curriculum except one little part; leave it out. Maybe a particular recommended “ingredient” isn’t available in your location; substitute something similar.

Just as people who create recipes are dealing with ingredients, not your family’s taste preferences or your finicky oven, so people who write curriculum are dealing with the material, not with your unique child. It’s impossible to write a curriculum that will address the specific needs of every single child. That’s where you come in.

Tweak the Curriculum

Think of it like this. Imagine you were making a cake for a special occasion and the recipe said to bake it at 350° for 30 minutes. What if, at the end of the 30 minutes, you inserted a toothpick in the middle and it came out messy? If you were focused on the recipe, you would yank that cake out anyway because the time was up. But if you were focused on the end product—a delectable cake—you would leave it in the oven and monitor it closely until it was a beautiful golden brown and baked through just right.

It’s the same with curriculum and your child. If you are focused on the curriculum, you will continue plodding along, checking off the lessons, but possibly not accomplishing your goal of educating your unique child.

As the parent-teacher, your focus needs to be on educating your child as a person. In fact, that premise is the foundation on which Charlotte Mason built her whole philosophy.

The central thought, or rather body of thought, upon which I found, is the somewhat obvious fact that the child is a person with all the possibilities and powers included in personality (Preface to the Home Education Series).

So don’t expect a one-size-fits-all curriculum to suit each unique personality in your family; it won’t. But that’s the beauty of homeschooling; you can make adjustments. Any time.

You have permission. It’s your family. It’s your child. You know him better than any curriculum writer ever could.

Teach the child; don’t just teach the curriculum.

9 Responses to “Teach the Child”

  1. Missy OH November 2, 2011 at 9:15 pm #

    Thank you Sonya! Exactly what I needed to hear today.


  2. Ashley November 3, 2011 at 7:19 am #

    Thank you for your honesty and encouragement.

    Yesterday I stopped in the middle of school, put the books down, and, walked away. I told my eight year old, “Mommy needs to figure some things out with this history.” In my mind, thinking I am lost. I don’t even understand this book, much my eight year old. So, needless to say back to the drawing board.
    Thank you for the words to say,” it is okay to start over.”

    You are a blessing.

  3. Luke Holzmann November 3, 2011 at 8:16 am #



  4. Lanaya November 4, 2011 at 7:04 am #

    Agreed, agreed!

  5. Sarah L November 12, 2011 at 7:54 pm #

    But how do I get my first grader to sit still long enough to stick a toothpick in her?!

    • Sonya Shafer November 16, 2011 at 10:15 am #

      I assume you’re speaking figuratively (and not actually sticking a child with a toothpick 😉 ). You’re right, sometimes it’s hard to evaluate the effectiveness of your curriculum. I guess it all boils down to two questions: What are my goals? and Are we making progress toward those goals? As long as you are making progress and your child is growing, I’d be inclined to say it’s “cooking” like it should.

  6. Sarah November 22, 2011 at 9:28 am #

    I agree! Your article made me think of this decision I am pondering just now in our home school regarding the CM method and adjusting for uniqueness. My question is about the short lessons that CM always emphasizes and I have been implementing. I have a child who loves to stay focused on a project or a story for hours. Some skills like copywork or math he still likes the shorter lessons, but on other subjects where his imagination really grabs a hold of an idea he likes to remain there longer..for hours some times. When I implement the short lessons he is truncated in his thinking and very frustrated. Am I right to adjust my lessons for this uniqueness or is there a higher reason I should stick with the shorter lessons?

    • Sonya Shafer November 22, 2011 at 2:41 pm #

      Great question, Sarah. Short lessons serve many purposes: increase the habit of attention, decrease the tendency to dawdle, allow time to include a wide variety of subjects during the day/week. It’s good that your son likes to “live” in the idea for a while; that’s one way that we know that the child has formed a relation with it.

      I guess I would have two cautions and one suggestion as you think through how to teach your child best.

      Caution #1: Make sure you are stopping the lesson before he loses attention. The longer the lesson goes, the harder that task can become. The mind can reach saturation point pretty quickly as time increases.

      Caution #2: Make sure the extra time he is spending on certain subjects is not elbowing out other subjects that would provide a wide curriculum and change of pace for the brain.

      Suggestion: Maybe it would work well to put the subjects that he likes to spend extra time with last on your daily plan. That way you can keep your “lesson” short but allow him plenty of free time following to imagine, ruminate, and remain with the idea at hand.

      All that to say, short lessons are a means to an end. Keep your focus on the end goals and adjust as needed to get there.

  7. Sarah November 23, 2011 at 4:44 am #

    Thank you! I concur with your reasons and will see what happens when we allow those interesting subjects at the end of the day.

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