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Why “What Homeschool Curriculum Do You Use?” is the Wrong Question

Why is “what homeschool curriculum do you use,” the wrong questions to be asking?

Moms are often in the position of answering that condescending question of “what do YOU do?” This can make the most confident mother shrink under the weight of her answer, “just a mom.” Is our identity and worth as mothers, women, and human beings indeed tied only to our paid occupation or lack thereof?

We know better than that, but the question still stings at the holiday party.

However, in homeschool circles, we’ve created our own ubiquitous question that seems to be the default conversation starter, “what curriculum do you use?”

Why? Why has this become the default question that implies the homeschool curriculum is the measuring stick of a good homeschool? Yes, I realize we’re just trying to be polite, but maybe we should look a little deeper and question why we equate learning with homeschool curriculum?

What Homeschool Curriculum do you Use?

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The Perpetual Nagging Question

We were at a new homeschool PE class at the YMCA, and I started talking to another mom I had never met before. First, she asked if I had any middle schoolers, and I pointed out the two that were with me. Without missing a beat, she asked me the question, “what curriculum do you use?”

I dodged a little because I don’t use a lot of curriculum and those that I do use, I use very loosely. She accepted my evasion, but hit me with the next one, “well, but what about for math?”


I get it. We want to make the best choices for our children. We want something that “works” and makes this homeschool life a success. However, progress is individual and will not be bestowed by the perfect curriculum.

A homeschool curriculum doesn’t know your children, your family, or your interests. It can’t know what your children will find interesting or if they will be bored. It certainly doesn’t hold the magic key to a “complete” education free from gaps.

We continue to wrestle with curriculum decisions as if they are a requirement of homeschooling, and we MUST make a choice or else.

However, before we bury ourselves under catalogs, blog posts, and Pinterest boards, let’s take off our rose-colored glasses. Let’s get real about what homeschooling curriculum is and isn’t.

Why what homeschool curriculum do you use isn't the question you should be asking.

Why Questions of Homeschool Curriculum Don’t Help

Yes, everyone is a little nosy. We like to get a peek into the personality of this new homeschool mom we just met, but does this question do more harm than good?

I say yes, but why?

Because it leads to judgments, and homeschool moms are already judged enough without judging each other. The response to this homeschool curriculum question leads to assumptions that cloud the creation of any new friendship:

  • They’re too religious.
  • No, they’re too secular.
  • Ohh, she’s so schooly.
  • Ugh, she’s one of those crazy unschoolers.
  • Oh my, she doesn’t do enough STEM.
  • She should require more Great Books.

Do you see what I mean? No matter our response, connections, and judgments are made. This isn’t how we need to begin a new relationship, and it doesn’t help to further connection and community.

But the even larger issue is that homeschool curriculum isn’t the issue. 

It isn’t the answer we need because it isn’t even the question we should be asking. However, in our societies formulaic and regimented view of education, it’s the first thing everyone thinks.

Are you going to homeschool? Of course, you need a curriculum! Why is this the collective belief?

We’ve been trained to believe that curriculum leads to learning, and learning the curriculum leads to education, and this education leads to success. It is seen as a one-way street that everyone must follow.

Questions to Ask Beyond Homeschool Curriculum

So before we go asking every homeschooler we meet what curriculum they use, let’s ask ourselves some questions first. Reflecting on these ideas can go a long way towards considering if we want to ask the question, or if the answer is irrelevant.

What is learning?

What is learning? Is it to gain new knowledge? Perhaps it is doing something today that we weren’t able to do yesterday.

Is it the result of curiosity and paying attention to the world around us, or is it completing the curriculum?

I’m always interested in learning something new.  ~  Katherine Johnson

I think we all can admit that learning does not happen because we check all the boxes and the worksheets complete. There is more to it than that.

We can’t force someone, a child or an adult, to learn. We can bribe and cajole, demand and plead, but ultimately learning is up to them. There must be a desire to learn, and many things can cause this desire:

  • Curiosity
  • Personal Goals
  • Experiences

Whatever the reason, the learner has to be involved. Your child won’t or may not be able to learn long division even though it’s on the next page of the math book.

Why school and curriculum?

School and curriculum, the two go hand in hand, but why?

School is a twelve-year jail sentence where bad habits are the only curriculum truly learned. I teach school and win awards doing it. I should know.  ~  John Taylor Gatto

Is school the best way for children to learn? No, not particularly.

Is school the best means to manage funneling a large number of students through a standardized body of information? Of course, but do we need either?

The curriculum is needed in a school to ensure every child is receiving the same information. By delivering the same information, we can test them with the same test. Easy peasy.

However, as homeschoolers, we’re allowing our children to have an individualized experience that caters to them, not the generic student. So maybe our focus should be less on homeschool curriculum, and more on our child and their interests.

Why what homeschool curriculum is the wrong question to be asking.

What constitutes an education?

Here’s where it gets murky and uncomfortable, what is an education? Our society loves their degrees, diplomas, certifications, and grade point averages. However, it’s entirely possible to have “an education,” but not be educated.Having an education means enduring all the steps necessary to reach the end of the educational road, and the more prestigious the bestowers of the culture, the better.

As a culture, we come to distrust the “self-educated” person and think education isn’t official unless there is a piece of paper attached. However, as homeschoolers, we are also separating the knowledge from the institution. Independence is a wonderful benefit of homeschooling. We are genuinely questioning the status quo.

Education is a work of self-organization by which man adapts himself to the conditions of life.  ~  Maria Montessori

Learning leads to education, yet we can’t force someone to learn. As Maria Montessori says, education is a work of self-organization.

Education is individual and different for every person. The Olympic athlete has received an education to which I will never be privy. We are all different, and there is no set education divinely bestowed upon humankind.

Homeschool Curriculum Isn’t the Answer

So as you consider another homeschool year, or contemplate homeschooling for the first time, remember homeschool curriculum isn’t the question nor the answer.

You don’t admire Michaelangelo’s David and wonder what chisel he used. Your first thought when you hear Beethoven isn’t what piano he composed on. If you met your favorite author, the most burning question wouldn’t be PC or Mac.

The chisel, the piano, the curriculum. . . . . these are tools, not some mystical key that unlocks greatness. The greatness is within.

It is within you, it is within your child, and it is within your homeschool.

Perhaps a curriculum will inspire great learning, but don’t for a moment believe that it is the only way for a child to learn.

Learning is everywhere, not just within the perfect curriculum rubric.

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  1. thought provoking.
    I don’t judge others are their curriculum, I just find it interesting what people use, and then I often ask why. Is one of the children interested? Do you like a hands-on math, what appeals to you about that as I’ve never considered it. I think those follow up questions matter. Anything can be called curriculum if you’re using it to help your children learn… unschooler, free range schooler or eclectic…

    1. Me too, Annette. I often ask what people are using both because I am curious and because I want to know more about what people are liking and why. “What do you use for writing?” “How do you find it?” “Are you happy with xyz?” No judgement 🙂

      1. I agree with both of you that that’s what it can be, I’ve just often found it to be the opposite. Also, why is that the first question? But since I don’t use much curriculum, I guess I’m rarely looking for too many recommendations.

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