Curriculum Recommendation for Real Life

June 2, 2015

mom and son“Hi, my name is Melissa and my son just completed 4th grade. I’m really concerned because he is really struggling with Reading Comprehension & Writing. I know the VLA program starts with 9th graders, but what program/programs would you recommend for 5th graders and middle schoolers? I appreciate your feedback, thank you!”

This is an actual email I received a couple days ago, and it is a sampling of what fills my Facebook messages and personal email inbox.

I most certainly understand and applaud parents who are searching for the very best stuff out there for their children in terms of curriculum. What I want to highlight is the fact that it AIN’T about curriculum!

Curriculum is just a tool in the hands of a student. A good student can use any curriculum and learn. It is the MINDSET of the STUDENT that will yield his results.

Self-Propelled students have a “yes, I can!” mindset from doing their own problem solving day in and day out, regardless of curriculum. Students who are dependent on their teachers do not necessarily possess this positive approach to learning. (I write extensively about this positive mindset in my book The Self-Propelled Advantage.)

Students who have a “no, I probably cant” mindset are going to struggle with any curriculum. It is all about getting to the bottom of this attitude and understanding what causes it which will be of most benefit to the student, not trial and error with this curriculum or that curriculum, although that is what happens most often. Home-educating parents tend to doubt the worth of a curriculum before they look at what is REALLY going on in the heart of their student.


It is easiest to blame curriculum. It is pretty darn simple to curriculum-hop, but isn’t it painfully expensive and time consuming? In 23 years of schooling eight kiddos, I’ve never changed a curriculum. What I purchased 23 years ago for my first child, my last child is using today.

What did I say to the sweet mom who wrote me? I’ll cut and paste my answer in case anyone is interested. Hopefully it will highlight what parents can do right now, this summer, to grow children who are on the road to becoming truly educated.

Hi Melissa,

Thank you kindly for your email! If you don’t mind, may I just say one word?


Writing skills develop over time, and that is why I don’t offer any courses for kids below high school.

I have five high school graduates. All totaled, they’ve written me ZERO papers in their 13 years of schooling other than for the composition class and research paper classes they took in high school for a total of two semesters. When they did VirtualLanguageAlive, they didn’t write essays for ME, they wrote them for themselves to utilize their vocabulary, to learn their vocabulary words.

What I did require and what I recommend you do is to go to the library and let him check out books. Set a minimum time of one hour of reading per day even (and ESPECIALLY) through the summer. Allow your kiddos to get ALONE with their reading material. Take away distractions of the technological kind, and make reading the only option, but give children choice in selecting their own reading materials.

Have technology-free days or technology-free times of day, at least. Take away those distractions and temptations FOR your children.

Encourage your child to read by giving your child ruminating time: time to think with no distractions. Charlotte Mason said, “Children must be left alone to ruminate,” and as a child, I was given that time as well. We didn’t have close neighbors or a public swimming pool, or etc. My mom took me to the library every two weeks or so, and my brothers and I would leave there with at least a dozen books. Happiness meant reading away in the coolness of an air-conditioned house. Or in the car. Or on the porch swing.

If I had had all of the distractions that today’s kids have, I would never have developed an appreciation for being ALONE with a book. I would not have honed my reading skills when there was no pressure to do so because I was reading for pleasure, not for school.

Today’s kids need to be left alone with their thoughts to ruminate. We are not being “mean” by just saying NO to screen time of all varieties!

This is the biggest challenge parents face in the 21st century: fostering reading in an age of electronics.

Just my two cents. Bahahahaha! I really got going there, Melissa. I apologize for being lengthy. I didn’t intend to be. READING is the key to lifelong learning. Comprehension will come and it grows over time, so simply allow a child to have his own relationship with any book he reads this summer. Eventually, from whatever curriculum he is given, he will be able to grow and learn.

joanne calderwood


reading girlOne last tip for today:

Head out to your local bookstore, and let your kids look around for the latest and greatest stuff. Don’t purchase the books from the bookstore! Go to or to your favorite online book seller and order them at a discounted price. Waiting for the books to come in the mail adds EXCITEMENT! Don’t you love getting stuff in the mail? So do your kids! Set them up for additional excitement this way.

Okay, buy them one book at the bookstore. And grab yourself one while you are at it. If your kids see you enjoying a book in your spare time, they will get the message that reading is a worthwhile pursuit.



What About Grades?

November 25, 2012


Grades are a controversial subject. Is our whole educational grading system out of whack? Should we suspend grading students’ work altogether? Of course not. We need a system to evaluate how much a student has learned so that he can be given feedback, hopefully positive. That said, I don’t think taking grades is necessary in every subject every day.

Grades fall into the extrinsic motivation category. Some students are very motivated to work for an A. If parents set the expectation for their young student that he will learn his lessons to an A level, and if the student has the tools necessary to learn to an A level, the student should be able to meet that expectation. When we praise the student for his achievements, motivation to continue working hard is the result. However, we can’t set expectations that are not attainable for our children. Frustration will be the result in such a situation.

In the realm of home education, we have the opportunity to break tasks down into manageable pieces or skip over material the young student isn’t yet ready for and wait until he is developmentally ready to tackle it.

Contrast that with the first-grade classroom where a student’s readiness to learn phonics or tell time is not taken into account. If the textbook says it’s time to tell time, and he is not ready to tell time, he will receive a poor grade which will in turn lower his self-esteem. Receiving a bad grade is one of those “sticks” that Dan Pink talks about in his book Drive, while the promise of an A is a “carrot.” This is a common situation. Yet psychological research has shown that students do not respond well when they are bribed with carrots or threatened with sticks. In fact, the result is they tend to lose interest.[1]

In addition, comparing students to other students via grades is hardly fair, in the classroom especially. It is common knowledge that children do not all learn at the same rate, so why lump them all together and grade them according to how they compare to the other students in the class?

In the home-education environment, children move at their own speed (which is generally faster than the speed of a thirty-student classroom). Children are not corrected in front of other children, which is important to self-esteem. If a young child does not completely grasp a concept, the parent-teacher will catch it right away and can correct the situation early on, before the student is labeled a “slow reader” or “not a math whiz.”

Grades are not always useful metrics, and I don’t advocate their usage as anything besides a yardstick against which a child can measure his own progress.

While I certainly want my children mastering their material daily, sometimes they have to work harder to achieve mastery than they do at other times. Understanding becomes the goal, not simply getting an A.

Self-propelled kids understand that yes, they can do well independently, and they don’t want to lose that freedom by neglecting to reach mastery. Self-teaching is a freedom, but it is an earned freedom. If my students are not showing mastery, I will be looking over their shoulders to find out why. They don’t like being restrained in this manner.

Grades are not the ultimate goal for self-propelled students; freedom to work independently is.

Some kids read better than others, and as a result, they are able to progress quickly. Some kids may read well but be less gifted in logic. All kids have strengths and weaknesses. All kids have subjects they like more than others. The secret to motivating our children to learn is not to teach them that the goal is an A. We must go further than that and help them see the big picture: self-effort is rewarding. If you work harder, you’ll get further, faster. Making progress becomes an extrinsic reward.

Grades are a necessary evil in the classroom because a teacher lacks the time to teach everything to each student’s level of mastery. Unfortunately, some students become accustomed to failing which over time causes them to resist learning altogether.

Then there are the higher-achieving students who barely need to break a sweat in order to make all A’s. Remember those “smart kids” in high school who didn’t even have to study? They might not have it so good after all. When they are faced with a challenge that does require their utmost concentration and effort, they may actually taste failure because they haven’t been conditioned to put out more than a minimum of effort.

I’ve seen this happen time and time again. College is often a rude awakening. The motivation to work hard was never developed in these students because everything came easily, so when they actually need to pour on the effort, they can’t dig down deep and find the resolve to truly work for the sake of learning. That is unfamiliar territory.

Giving kids material that is challenging—not too easy or too difficult—is the key to full engagement in high school and beyond.

[1] Daniel H. Pink, Drive, p. 37.


About the Author

Joanne Calderwood has been called America’s Homeschool Mom. She is an underwhelmed Mom of eight great kids, owner of, and an author and columnist. Her new book, The Self-Propelled Advantage: The Parent’s Guide to Raising Independent, Motivated Kids Who Learn with Excellence, enables parents to teach their kids to teach themselves with excellence.

What Type of Motivation Do You Need?

November 21, 2012

Types of Motivation

Let’s dive into a little psychology here. There are two simple types of motivation: that which comes from the inside or the outside.

That was easy, wasn’t it? Okay, well, that was the simplified version. Let’s go deeper. The type of motivation that comes from things or forces outside of you is called extrinsic motivation. The other type of motivation is a little more complex, and it comes from inside of you: intrinsic motivation.

If you are intrinsically motivated, you do something for the sheer pleasure of doing it. For example, some people enjoy working on cars in their spare time, and they do it for the sense of pleasure derived from messing with cars. Many of us are intrinsically motivated to pursue hobbies, which are a perfect example of doing something for an intrinsic reward: the feeling of a job well done.

What kinds of things do you do for the sheer joy of being involved in the pursuit? I’ve heard of some women who are intrinsically motivated to clean their homes; they do so out of the sheer joy of having a clean house while, others need to be bribed with something delicious in order to get the job even started.

I was intrinsically motivated to clean the little one-bedroom apartment where my husband and I lived right after we were married. I couldn’t sleep if there was anything that needed to be ironed. I would stay up until everything in our little love nest was perfect according to my high standards.

Motivation shifts and changes over time, however. Now I need a healthy dose of extrinsic motivation to get me to clean and straighten because I am old and tired. I will usually think of a way to reward myself when the work is done, and then I’m more motivated to get busy working.

Obviously, extrinsic motivation is the opposite of intrinsic. It is motivation that comes in the form of something concrete, such as a paycheck or a handful of gummy bears. A car mechanic may be motivated to go to work only because he receives a paycheck at the end of the week, not because he loves fixing cars. Originally, he might have gone into the field of auto mechanics out of intrinsic motivation; perhaps fixing cars was a hobby. As I said, motivation waxes and wanes.

That’s why it is not always a good idea to turn a hobby into a job. Something that was fun may suddenly not be fun anymore because now it is work. On the other hand, some people don’t perceive their jobs to be work at all because they enjoy what they do so much that they would do it even if they weren’t being paid to do it. That’s a wonderful situation to be in. That’s intrinsic motivation at its best!

What is a hobby? Generally, a hobby is something one does for fun or adventure during one’s free time. Is there any reason why studying and learning can’t be perceived as a hobby? I mean, when I presented my first child with little phonics and math workbooks when he was four years old, he was thrilled! For some reason, I did not need to bribe him to spend time learning. Learning was fun!

Babies are born, and they are immediately interested in the world around them. They are curious little things, aren’t they? Curious and sleepy and hungry. They spend their days eating, sleeping, and learning. A toddler is a little Energizer Bunny, always on the go, always wanting to taste, see, touch, feel, and experience. We can’t wait to teach our toddlers how to do things by themselves, such as feeding, dressing, and going potty. Tying shoes is a triumph for a child.

So why do we stop teaching them how to do things by themselves? Sure, they need instruction in the basic building blocks of written and verbal communication, but then they can be off and running on their own! Why can’t seniors in high school see pursuing their interests as a hobby? Why isn’t this the norm? It truly can be when a student has the self-propelled advantage!

Extrinsic motivation is not necessary to get my kids to dive into their school work each day. They just do it. Why? They know that they have to, first of all, because it is expected. No, they don’t bound out of bed in the morning, simply dying to get into their school work. It is still work. But they do enjoy learning independently.

It’s kind of like this: if we have to work, don’t we want to work the way we want to work, when we want to work, and how we want to work? Isn’t that what is so attractive about being self-employed? With self-learning, we give students the tools that they need, and then we let them work how they want to work, where they want to work, and the way they want to work. In other words, we give the gift of ownership.

It would be unrealistic to expect that our students will want to deep-dive into every subject, just as you and I aren’t wild about studying some things either, but when it comes down to it, education should not be something we shove down children’s throats. We should not have to offer extrinsic rewards, such as money or candy or what-have-you, in exchange for our students getting “good grades.”

The self-propelled student who is intrinsically motivated will work for the sense of a job well done. He will desire to work with excellence because he is working for himself, not for a parent or a teacher. That mindset makes all the difference in the world!


About the Author

Joanne Calderwood has been called America’s Homeschool Mom. She is an underwhelmed Mom of eight great kids, owner of, and an author and columnist. Her new book, The Self-Propelled Advantage: The Parent’s Guide to Raising Independent, Motivated Kids Who Learn with Excellence, enables parents to teach their kids to teach themselves with excellence.

It’s Here! Get the Replay of my Webinar on The Self-Propelled Advantage!

November 15, 2012

I’ve got some good news!  Tuesday evening I had the honor of being a guest on a Webinar presented by CHEO: Christian Home Educators of Ohio. Thank you to Dawn Borris and Jen Gorton for inviting me, and for always providing the replay link for my friends and fellow Moms to catch at their convenience.

In this Webinar, I outline the three elements of The Self-Propelled Advantage and give you an overview of how to use them in your home. There is so much content in this 80-minute presentation, and then a 40-minute Q &A session afterwards.

It is possible to raise smart, happy, respectful, self-learning kids whose bottom line is the pursuit of excellence in education as well as in life.

Replay Link: Click Here!

And enjoy!

I offered some special things to the CHEO group on the webinar which are also available to you if you tune in as well. I think you will be blessed!


About the Author

Joanne Calderwood has been called America’s Homeschool Mom. She is an underwhelmed Mom of eight great kids, owner of, and an author and columnist. Her new book, The Self-Propelled Advantage: The Parent’s Guide to Raising Independent, Motivated Kids Who Learn with Excellence, enables parents to teach their kids to teach themselves with excellence.

A Higher-Education Revolution?

November 4, 2012

Today I want to tell you about something kind of exciting. It’s called Coursera.

Coursera is a for-profit company that is teaming up with more and more top-notch universities to bring you live broadcasts from classrooms across the realm of elite institutions.

Yes, folks, it’s free education. Do you earn a degree? Well, you do earn a “statement of accomplishment” signed by pedigreed professors, so there are certificates involved. You will also receive official course records as well. All of your study is based on an honor code.

For those seeking education for the sake of learning, this could be the start of something amazing.

I’ve taken classes via video before, and I have to say that it has its pros and cons. The cons are that even though these were classes I was interested in, I didn’t actually retain a lot through listening to the lectures and then taking a quiz online. I did earn several professional certifications this way, but to me the knowledge was minimal compared to the price tag.

Coursera presents a new and more exciting way to take classes than just the video scenarios of distance learning. It is live-to-you instruction. You can interact with other students and professors. And according to their website, they are very concerned with mastery. Imagine that. Yes, I am a fan.

I urge you to go check out the courses that currently are being offered. You can sign up TODAY! In many cases you can start TODAY!

I would like to take this Intro to Logic  class which is taught by a professor at Stanford. Looky! I am now a student in this class: Intro to Logic.

In fact, I believe I will have my high school junior sign up for this class as well, and perhaps my high school freshman, and we’ll do it TOGETHER.

Pop over to Coursera and peruse their catalog of courses. I bet you’ll find something there that excites you!

This is fabulous stuff, y’all! Let me know if you sign up for a course and then how you like it. I’d love to track your experience for my own research. I’ve found half a dozen courses I personally want to take! So much to learn, so little time.

Did I mention this is free?

It will be fascinating to see how this concept grows over time.

Happy Learning! 🙂


About the Author

Joanne Calderwood has been called America’s Homeschool Mom. She is an underwhelmed Mom of eight great kids, owner of, and an author and columnist. Her new book, The Self-Propelled Advantage: The Parent’s Guide to Raising Independent, Motivated Kids Who Learn with Excellence, enables parents to teach their kids to teach themselves with excellence.

The Results Project

October 24, 2012

I’ve gotten quite a few questions lately about helping children with ADHD. I’ve read some really amazing things about ADHD studiies, but I do not consider myself an expert by any means.

I do, however, have a go-to-guy to whom I direct people with ADHD questions. His name is Steve Plog. He has ADHD himself.

Years back when I was writing my first book, I came across Steve’s stuff online, and it was such insightful, real help that I asked him for permission to repeat a portion of a study he did. He quite happily granted permission to use his material in the book. That book is out of print now.

If you or someone you know struggles with ADHD, I want to recommend an excellent resource for solutions and helps along the way.

Take a peek at The Results Project:

Steve is not against medication, just a warning. He is all about being SURE that you or your child needs the medication you are on.

The thing I like most about Steve is that he calls children with ADHD  “Quick Start Kids.” If you read his website, you’ll see why. ADHD kids are GIFTED!

Feel free to pass Steve’s Website on to those who can benefit from his insight and experience.

Know what? I’ve always suspected that I am ADHD. Turns out after studying Steve’s materials, I realize that I’m right. I am. And here I just thought I was weird! Oh, to have had such insight when I was a kid. If you suspect that you are ADHD, check out The Results Project and see if you’ve been right all along.


About the Author

Joanne Calderwood has been called America’s Homeschool Mom. She is an underwhelmed Mom of eight great kids, owner of, and an author and columnist. Her new book, The Self-Propelled Advantage: The Parent’s Guide to Raising Independent, Motivated Kids Who Learn with Excellence, enables parents to teach their kids to teach themselves with excellence.



Social Media Love

October 19, 2012

I love living in the era of internet communication and smart phones. How did we ever live without a cell phone? How many times have you left the house without your phone only to turn around and go home to get it because it is just so NECESSARY? LOL I do the same thing.

I do remember (because I am old), however, a time when my husband would drag me out of the house on a date night, and we’d have to find a phone booth while we were out so I could call the house and see how the babysitter was faring with the little brood of gremlins all to herself. Not having a phone 24/7 was an inconvenience at times. Sometimes it was a restful thing. There is something to be said for being unplugged, isn’t there?

I see Social media as such a blessing! Facebook is delightful! I love connecting with friends and family through Twitter. Just got going with Instagram a couple of days ago. My next project is to get linked into LinkedIn. Then there’s Pinterest, Google+, and Weebly. So much to learn!

In case your head is spinning over all of the social media options, I thought I would share with you a description of them given by my friend and mentor Felice Gerwitz.

“I look at it this way, which helps me (or I’d chuck it all and move to an Island somewhere warm): Twitter is text messaging — Facebook is the in-person communication, LinkedIn is the business lunch — Pinterest is the trading cards — Google Plus is the hangout — YouTube, the home movies.”

I just love that!

Social media gives us options when it comes to keeping in touch with our young adults who may have moved away or who are away at college. And of course, who could live without text messaging?

I told my kids once that when I was a child, the only movie you could ever watch more than once was The Wizard of Oz, and you had to wait until network TV would put it on again. It took  me the longest time to understand why someone would want to watch a movie more than once. I think I’ve just been absorbed into the culture and it seems normal now.

Like anything else, social media can be misused. There is a down side to everything. It i what you make it.

Right now I am designing four levels of curriculum to be published in January 2013. I couldn’t do this nearly as easily without Google and the internet. I found my publisher via the internet. I am also Googling vocabulary words for my girls & their schooling. Don’t forget the enormous educational possibilities that social media presents! Wait. I can’t think of any except for break time when the kids can check their facebooks. Well, at least social media gives us poor homeschoolers some form of socialization these days. heh heh.

What is your favorite form of social media? Why not take some time this weekend and discover a fun, new way to connect to other social media options. I’ve been toying with dipping my toe into the waters of Pinterest, but I have a feeling I will spend too much time frolicking there. It is still fun to see what available.

Now if I could just get my mom to use email….


About the Author

Joanne Calderwood has been called America’s Homeschool Mom. She is an underwhelmed Mom of eight great kids, owner of, and an author and columnist. Her new book, The Self-Propelled Advantage: The Parent’s Guide to Raising Independent, Motivated Kids Who Learn with Excellence, enables parents to teach their kids to teach themselves with excellence.

%d bloggers like this: