10 Reasons Why Mama Homeschools Outside the {Curriculum} Box

This July (just a few short weeks away!), my kiddos and I will enter our third year of homeschooling together.  I’ve already chosen our various curriculum for next year, for which I am busily creating a schedule.

During this planning time of year, I’m reminded of why boxed curriculum doesn’t work for our family.  And by ‘boxed curriculum’ I mean any of those curriculum that you can literally pull out of the box and it tells you exactly what to do and what days to do it on.  A few examples are Heart of Dakota, My Father’s World, or even Sonlight.

Let me preface this list with saying that am I definitely not anti boxed curriculum at all – it just doesn’t fit with our family.  In fact, I spent hours at the Heart of Dakota table at Teach Them Diligently this past March trying to figure out how to make it work for my 5-year-old.  But I just couldn’t devise a method.  Despite how much I liked it, I knew in my limited experience that it just wouldn’t work.


Here are the Top 10 Reasons why we school outside of the {curriculum} box:

Skill Level Doesn’t Necessarily Match with Grade Level

My oldest son, Davis, learned to read quickly and easily.  Even though he knew how to read very well, he was still on a very Kindergarten level when it came to such things as handwriting and math.  The Kindergarten boxed curriculum sets were on target for him for most things, but he would have been bored stiff with the readers.  This was honestly when I first realized that boxed curriculum wouldn’t work for us.  This leads me to…

It’s All About Grade Level

We honestly don’t talk much about grade level here at the Hill House.  I’d much rather focus on whether my son can master the actual concept, as opposed to what grade level the activity falls under.  (As a side note, that’s why I have the hardest time assigning worksheets and printables with a grade level here at Mama’s.  Skill level is much more important to me as a homeschooling mom.)

With a boxed curriculum, you can’t mix and match skill level as you can with a curriculum you piece together yourself.  You are stuck with the grade level that comes with your order.   That doesn’t work for us, since Davis’ reading ability is not in sync with his writing or math ability.

Using Boxed Curriculum with Multiple Age Levels

Oh I can’t even describe the near panic-attack when I realized I could potentially have to teach four different time periods of history in the near future.  We have four children and the thoughts of that made my head ache.  I researched history and science for countless hours to find one where all of my children could participate (when they were old enough of course), despite their different skill levels.

Yes, I realize that some of the boxed curriculums are {somewhat} designed for use with multiple ages.  Despite my best efforts, I just couldn’t wrap my mind around how to plan for this:

Extended Programs

I mean the kind of curriculums that state: “Use for ages 4-6.  But can be extended for ages 6-8.”  What?  But what does that mean if we use that for Kindergarten and then my 5 year old comes along and we need to use it again?  What will my older son do then?  How do I loosely plan for the next several years if I can’t figure out exactly what to do this year?

I realize that different Cores and such can be used with multiple ages, but I just couldn’t piece it all together.

I Like for Us to Learn Together

This is very similar to the concern over teaching 4 different types of history or science.  Through all of that research and pondering and praying, I realized that I wanted us to learn together.  I wanted us to all study the same Bible passages each day, the same period of history, and the same science topics.  I know it sounds dorky, but the concept of the one-room schoolhouse is so appealing in a  lot of ways.  My youngers can learn from my olders, just by being present in the same room.  Of course this doesn’t work for all subjects, but I love that we can study several subjects together as a family.  A boxed curriculum doesn’t necessarily lend itself to this type of learning in our home.

Some Subjects Seem “Light”

In reviewing some boxed curriculum, I noticed that some subjects seem light in content, math specifically.  I don’t have the time or energy to work hard in supplementing a curriculum, so I’d rather just piece together the math portion of our school to make it truly custom to my son’s needs.

We Like Interest-Driven Studies

This past school year, my son wanted to study astronomy, tornadoes, hurricanes, Roman soldiers (in depth – nothing surface!), and how to look up words in the dictionary, to name a few.  Of course I could schedule those topics, but it wouldn’t seem nearly as fun to him if I said, “Wait, Son.  We aren’t scheduled to study those until next Tuesday.”  Instead, we can drop what we’re doing and pull out the dictionary so he can learn to find words all by himself.

But if we drop what we’re doing, that puts us off schedule.  And that leads me to…

The Schedule

For me, one of the pros of a boxed curriculum would be the schedule.  What a dream to open the Teacher’s Guide and everything be laid out beautifully.  When I think about how much time I spend planning school, I cringe.  This would be a huge asset for me.

But honestly, it would be a con for me as well.  My personality is the type that likes to check boxes as ‘complete.’  It thrills me when I can mark ‘Complete All’ on our day’s schedule because everything has truly been accomplished.

If we chose to ditch a day of school to go to the park or to scratch our normal history curriculum for a week so we could study Cleopatra a little longer, I’d feel horribly guilty.  And behind.  I detest feeling behind.  I’m afraid The Schedule would run me, instead of the other way around.

We Can Easily Ditch What Doesn’t Work

This year I had a moment of insanity and changed our math curriculum.  Let’s just say it didn’t work well for us at all.  Thankfully, I could easily ditch it and move on to something else.  With a boxed curriculum, it may not be that simple.  Subjects are often intertwined and it’s not as simple as putting the books aside and moving on to a different method.

The Price Tag

Boxed Curriculum can run anywhere from $200 to $1000 per grade level (per child of course). This is assuming that all of the materials were purchased in new condition. When I multiply that times 4 (my 4 kiddos), I start to think outside of the box again, wondering what the best fit would be.  The price tag of a boxed curriculum set just isn’t a good fit for my family.


Please make sure you understand: I am not down on boxed curriculum at all, despite that being the topic of my post!  I certainly think it has its place, it just so happens that it is not the best fit for our family at this time.  I could definitely see us using it if we were going through a harder season of life and I didn’t have the opportunity to plan school as I do now.

Homeschooling style and curriculum can be such a divisive area for moms, and I certainly don’t intend to contribute to that!  This post simply explains why boxed curriculum is not a good fit for us. Smile

What are your thoughts on boxed curriculum?


I am pleased to link this post to iHomeschoolNetwork’s Ten in Ten series and also to Top Ten Tuesday at Many Little Blessings.


  1. YES Yes and yes!!! I feel like this could have been my list. It is great learning together, ditching what doesn’t work and traveling roads that interest us!!!! For grade level….well, that’s a whole other post for me!

  2. We are using boxed curriculum. I was so overwhelmed when I pulled my son out of public school, I don’t think homeschooling would have worked if I had started by piecing together a curriculum. We purchased next years curriculum when they had a 40% off sale. That will be our last year using boxed curriculum. I have 3 kids, and while some of the text books I can reuse, I have enjoyed teaching my almost 4 yr old my way. My oldest also HATES the boxed curriculum. There is so much busy work. We have modified it to make it work for us, but I feel like I have wasted money when I skip things. I also do not like the Science or Social Studies that came with this program. I think boxed curriculum’s are a blessing for those who are so overwhelmed they don’t know where to start, or those who know homeschooling is right but don’t have the confidence. It has helped me learn the ropes of homeschooling, and allowed me to homeschool while I took time to research and learn about other options.

    • Lauren Hill says:

      Nicole, I completely agree with you that in some instances a boxed curriculum is the perfect answer. If my 5 year old had been my first born, I’m certain this is the route I would have chosen. I, too, was overwhelmed with choices (and still am sometimes!) and think it’s a great starting point for first time homeschoolers.

      Thanks so much for sharing your experience with it. I’m sure that will be helpful to others who are trying to make curriculum choices. :)

  3. ditto.
    boxed curriculum has it’s place, especially the first year homeschooler in the earlier years.. but overall, it is too ‘busy’ for our overall busy family. It would get spendy to purchase a full boxed set per child, oh my. You covered all the angles of why it doesn’t work for us too! nice post.

  4. I agree that boxed curriculums have there place especially in the first year or two of homeschool. It was a help to me as well… until we had to adjust our schedule for anything unexpected. There was so much review and busy work that the schedule suggested in the teacher books was very unforgiving. I thought we must not be working hard enough or efficiently enough because we hardly ever finished the week where we were supposed to be. It did created a lot of stress. When I realized I was having the children work just to check off the lesson, I knew we had to make some changes. Also, my sister who teaches in a private Christian school, was using some of the same books in her class and was not finishing the lessons as laid out in the curriculum. Trying to keep-up left no time for fun, learning in the moment, and a love of learning. Jump ahead 12 years, I still use the box for phonics (A Beka). I haven’t found anything better for my family. I have given myself permission to skip ahead if a concept has been learned. I also still use BJU math. It gives a strong foundation, but again catering to my children’s needs. Everything for social studies, history, and science is living books, unit studies, and lapbooks. Pray for wisdom to choose what is best for your family. Don’t get overwhelmed by catalogs or what others are doing. Home schooling should not just be school at home. Thanks for your post.

    • Lauren Hill says:

      “Pray for wisdom to choose what is best for your family.”

      I couldn’t agree more! Wise words.

  5. I detest the thought of a boxed curriculum. It makes it seem so ‘public school’ like in the sense that everything is on a perfect schedule. Kids have to do things at a certain time for a certain amount of time. I don’t want to do that. I want to be able to do what we want, when we want, and for however long we want. My twins are doing Kindergarten work this year, and I’m focusing a lot on their writing skills (which the public schools hardly promote any longer), math, Bible, and really just letting them decide what else they want to learn. I will add other things in, but I feel, at this age, that these are the most important.

  6. I have to absolutely agree with you that not being able to check off each box each day drives me batty. We used a box curriculum for our first year of homeschool, and I felt tied to it. If we wanted to take some time following a rabbit trail, I felt guilty about not finishing what we skipped. UGH. It was crazy making. I feel much more free now that I can plan out our year and all of us can learn at the same time, regardless of age and ability.

    • Lauren Hill says:

      Checking off those little boxes must be a personality thing, huh? If it is, I definitely have that trait! A blessing and a curse, it is.

  7. I guess I don’t consider Sonlight a “boxed” curriculum since the books that are used aren’t textbooks. That being said, I feel the same way about the schedule–it is helpful, but to me, only as a guide. I feel the same way about not being able get to everything that they’ve listed; it makes me feel like I haven’t done enough. Sometimes, I struggle with the lure of BJU or Abeka…but I really, really don’t want to follow the “public school at home” model.

  8. I feel the same way. I have tried boxed curriculum and with 3 kids each 4 years a part I just couldn’t get it to work.

  9. I find it funny that (most of) the 10 reasons you gave NOT to use a Box are pretty much the reasons I DID choose to go with My Father’s World. I am not a new homeschooler (12 years now – this year I am teaching 8 kids and the baby)and I was a classroom teacher before I was a mom. I do agree with you about the light subjects at times. Some subjects we want to dive in deeper (so we do.) But there is nothing keeping me tied to the exact timeline or curriculum given to me. It is a tool, not a master. We don’t do grade levels and we don’t adhere to a strict calendar year. We take as much time as we need to cover what we should and to master important skills. And I have never used the math suggested (not included) by another company. We use Math-U-See with all of our kiddos. My favorite parts (and my sanity savers) of MFW are our children learning together, the great books, resources and project ideas that I don’t have to come up with, the Biblical worldview and mission focus and the fact that it doesn’t have lots of busy work like the traditional classroom approaches, i.e. ABeka. I just found your blog, so I need to look further, but I would love to read about what you do use with your family.

    • Lauren Hill says:

      Amy, Don’t get me wrong – I think curriculum like MFW and HOD have *huge* advantages! I just couldn’t wrap my mind around how to use something like that with several children. And that’s not to say I won’t use a boxed curriculum in the future. You never know what life will look like a couple of years down the road. :)

      Even though we started school last week, I haven’t posted our curriculum yet for this school year. I need to get working on that! I hope to have it up next week.

      So glad you stopped by. :)

  10. Jennifer says:

    We have tried to use boxed curriculum; but like you stated, it just didn’t work for us for a variety of reasons. So we have become eclectic homeschoolers. Which is hard to describe to someone when they ask “So what curriculum do you use?” Even harder is to explain that you aren’t using ANY textbooks for any of the subjects. Probably the most confusing is trying to explain why you don’t lump your children according to grades! Haha! And most of the time I think people, at this point in the conversation, give up trying to put us in the proverbial box!
    But this is what works for us. And it has taken me three years of frustration to figure it out.
    As for scheduling, I do enjoy a good plan, but I rarely stick to it. Then I feel guilty and feel like giving up. So this year I was inspired by someone else’s approach and I am going to focus on what learning we did that day, rather then let the schedule tell us what we are learning that day. This will allow for learning opportunities that will keep homeschooling fun and vibrant.
    Great article!

  11. I have used a boxed curriculum for the past 3 years and plan to use it again this upcoming year (HOD). We actually LOVE it…BUT, like you, I’m really interested in my kids learning together and the idea of in a few years running three separate teacher’s guides makes my head spin, so I’m looking into changing things up for th e2013-1014 school year despite how much we enjoy HOD. Just as an aside, my oldest DD was an early reader as well and I haven’t had trouble tailoring HOD to meet her needs. HOD is actually really flexible, it just takes a little time to get situated on HOW you want to change things.

    • Lauren Hill says:

      I love the looks of HOD. If we were going the boxed route, it is what I would choose. One of the HOD instructors at a conference I attended was so kind to talk me through the whole thing…and I STILL couldn’t wrap my mind around it!

      Thanks for leaving your experience with HOD and homeschooling an excellent reader. That will be helpful for other mamas trying to make a decision. 😉


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