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.



~ Upping Scores ~

May 25, 2009

I’ve been doing some thinking, and that thinking was prompted by one of my sons not scoring as well as he would have liked to on the SAT this spring. He wants to up his score by about 100 points come September. How can I help him achieve that goal?

The answer to this question will be unique to each student and family, but there are some good across-the-board guidelines that we can follow to achieve more on the side of academics while boosting a sense of family.

The first change we will make for everyone in the house is to unplug the TV.  We’ll put away Game Cube. I forget just how much these often mindless activities steal our children’s attention AND desire to engage in creative and more worthy pursuits. For some reason, I seriously dislike Wii and Game Cube and the like although we do allow them from time to time. Until I get totally fed up with them.

broken TV

So screen time is the first thing to go. That means no movie watching either, although I can not rule out trips to the drive-in or to the theater. These make movie-watching a treat or a family activity.

I know from experience that we will live in a much more harmonious environment, and the kids will be outside playing more, reading more, and they will get to bed earlier.  I will be outside playing more, reading more, and will get to bed earlier.

Factor in doing more things as a family, and it is a win-win situation.

I believe there is a season to everything which is why we allow the screen time in the first place. There is a season to put it away as well. I know from experience that removing distractions will be a blessing to us right now.

The next thing we are going to change is the library that we use. We live in a small town, and our library has very limited options. There is the whole “they’ve gotten rid of all the good books” argument, and that is pretty much true.


So we will travel to the big city and use their library this summer where the likelihood of finding good books will hopefully go up. The travel time and gas usage will be a sacrifice that pays dividends though. I look forward to some new books as well. If I had unlimited funds, I would have an excellent home library. But I don’t, so we outsource the library.

If we want to encourage our children to read, the best thing we can do is read to them and let them see us reading.

I think that the combination of putting away the idleness-inducing appliances and giving access to a whole new world of books will yield good fruit this summer and long after. We have already been without screens for two whole days, and we have had nice family times in the evenings. We usually do, but then we would put on a movie and everyone would be up too late watching it, which would be painful in the mornings.

One other thing I highly recommend with the SAT before I forget. I recommend that you order the complete test and answer packet for your student. (I forget what it is called ~ sorry!) I think the price is like $18 for this service, but it is well worth the funds spent.

Your student will receive the test, the answers, and the answers that he gave for each question so you can analyze what was missed and hopefully see a pattern. My son will study his materials when they arrive and knowing him, he will work up a strategy to fill in his weaker areas on his own. I will look over his materials as well just for my own information. Actually, he will give me a synopsis, but if your student does not do this on his own, be sure to take the time to analyze his results so that you can learn as much as possible from mistakes.

I will support my son by taking away the temptation to fritter away his time on pointless silly games and TV shows. Am I behind the times? I see this as a self-control issue for both me and my family. I am not secretly watching TV on the side while I expect them to do without. Rather, we are taking time that would evaporate otherwise and investing in activities of consequence.

If that is behind the times, so be it.

Good byTV timee this.

Hello walking

I’ll let you know how effective these changes turn out to be after my son’s next SAT this fall.  I know that we have never regretted putting the screens away. I just wonder why we don’t do this more often if we know the benefits. Perhaps it has something to do with my own level of self-control? Sadly, I think that is most likely it.

~ Are you your own worst enemy? ~

April 1, 2009


It is pretty much spring here in Tennessee. By the time we say goodbye to March, the school year seems to be winding down; just two months until graduation for this year’s high school seniors. Amazing, isn’t it? Time marches on, and as day turns into day and year turns into year, we may get the feeling that things are out of control or are not as in our control as we would like them to be.

“In our control” is an interesting prepositional phrase. We as moms feel the need to control our environment, which is totally natural. Of course we must manage what we have been given to manage. You no doubt are an amazing mom, capable of taking large blocks of time and turning them into learning opportunities for your children. You do what many people are paid to do professionally – you have accepted the challenge of educating your children.

If you are a homeschooling mom, you are an amazing combination of mother and educator. While neatly organizing your children’s educational timelines, you also manage your physical household, which undoubtedly requires much thought and energy in order to keep things running smoothly. While most days you may not feel amazing, I want to look you right in the eye and tell you, remind you, that you are amazing.

I am willing to bet that you would not admit that. I am willing to bet that you don’t realize how truly valuable you are to those around you; moreover, I suspect that you may be just a little weary from carrying burdens day after day after day. Perhaps things have gotten more than a little out of control in your life right now.

Generally, in this space I present you with a strategy for de-pressurizing your homeschool world. This time, I would like to share with you a very personal tip that has the power to de-pressurize your life.

To begin, let me ask you a question: do you reverently fear the Lord, listen carefully to His voice and aim to obey day after day, yet the cares of life steal your sense of well-being on a regular basis? Do you sometimes find yourself overwhelmed with inertia, unable to move beyond the nagging burdens facing you at the moment? Funny, but Isaiah asked this same question of the folks in his day.

“Who is among you who reverently fears the Lord, who obeys the voice of His servant, yet who walks with darkness and deep trouble and has no shining splendor in his heart?” (Isaiah 50:10a)

Some time ago, I stumbled upon this verse, and I confess that it hit me hard. Isaiah is saying, “Do you love the Lord, spend time with Him, yet turn right around and get sucked into worry and fear the minute after you say ‘Amen’”? In other words, do your children see a somber-spirited mom who is distracted with concerns and cares? Is your normal demeanor lacking an internal flame of peace? Are you often occupied with frustration, anger, doubt, and other agitating emotions?

If you answered yes to any of the above, there is a seemingly simple solution given in the second part of verse 10: “Let him rely on, trust in, and be confident in the name of the Lord, and let him lean upon and be supported by his God.”

The solution is found in the verbs rely, trust, lean, and be confident. We can escape the vicious cycle of acknowledging God with our heads, but denying Him in our hearts and by our actions. Rely, trust, lean on and be confident. How does one demonstrate trust and confidence? The elusive answer is by resting. The evidence of faith is rest.

Quite frankly, Isaiah is telling godly folks that if they claim to be members of God’s household yet fail to rely on the Lord to care for them, then something is wrong. There is a disconnect somewhere in the wiring of our hearts if we say we love the Lord, yet we don’t display a “shining splendor” that comes from within.

In order to understand how great your God is, you have to grasp the fact that He is concerned with every detail of your life, and He wants you to be able to recline in His arms, rested, unworried, unburdened, and full of faith in His ability to meet your needs.

If we truly understood that He is able to do exceedingly abundantly beyond what we can ask or think, then we wouldn’t be frustrated or anxious or worried or frightened or unduly concerned about what is facing us today. Think about it; what is keeping you from feeling peaceful right this moment? Hold that thought.

Let’s move on to verse 11 of Isaiah 50, as it may just illustrate further the state in which we so often find ourselves.

“Look, all you enemies of your own selves who attempt to kindle your own fires and work out your own plans of salvation, who surround and gird yourselves with momentary sparks that you set aflame! Walk by the light of your self-made fire and of the sparks that you have kindled for yourself if you will. But this shall you have from My hand: you shall lie down in grief and in torment.”

Wow! Scripture says that we are our own enemy if we try to make things work on our own, expending our precious time and energy doing things our own way instead of honoring God by simply laying down our burdens. We can work our own deliverance, but the end result will be less than desirable. Who in their right mind would choose grief and torment over rest? We do ourselves a favor when we rest in the Lord.

After I read the verses in Isaiah and truly comprehended the magnitude of what he was saying, I realized that I was missing out on the unstressed life that was mine in Jesus, and my mindset needed to change. It needed to change because I was trying to control my life instead of trusting the Lord to do what He wanted to do. I thought that I could handle whatever came my way by praying about it and then doing what I thought best.

The problem was that I would indeed pray about a situation, but then I would worry about it, constantly look at it from a bazillion angles and worry some more – usually worrying about the “what-ifs.” In case you don’t already know, “what-ifs” will cause you to lie down in grief and torment.


Experience is often the very best teacher. Have you ever been in a situation where you have had no one but God to rely upon? The problem is that too many of us work out our own deliverance in order to avoid the position of needing God absolutely. Quite frankly, we are afraid to rest ourselves fully on God. It is our human nature that loudly calls to us to start our own fires, to knock rocks together in order to get a tiny spark that we can then fan into flame, expending great time and energy on something that we don’t need to be doing in the first place.

Worry, fear, depression, anxiety: there is nothing new under the sun. Isaiah was addressing the faithful ones of his day who obviously feared the Lord, but who obviously were still living in darkness and fear. People haven’t changed; we still choose fear and darkness when we could embrace rest and peace. Stop the craziness!

Here is a practical suggestion for how to break the cycle of fear and doubt and worry: Get a journal. Decide for one month that you are going to take God at His word. Commit your worries and concerns to the pages of your journal each day for 30 days. Also, read Isaiah 50:10 and 11 each day.

After you have laid out your cares in the journal, in your mind’s eye picture yourself leaning against the Lord, resting on Him and refusing to pick those burdens back up just for that day. Before you leave the solitude of your room or wherever you are writing, determine that you are not going to worry just for that day.

What you will find is when you refuse to fall into the old patterns of working things out yourself, the Lord is going to meet your needs in ways you couldn’t imagine. God will make a way where there seems to be no way. When He meets those needs, and as you see how He walks with you through the day, record that in your journal the next day.

Leave a trail of answered prayers that you can look back on and reread when your faith falters. Give the Lord an opportunity to be the one in control just for today.

Eventually, even after just one month, you will be living within the parameters of a new mindset! You will be more joyful and relaxed which will carry over to the homeschool realm most certainly. Moreover, the Lord will do things His way, which is what we truly want, isn’t it?

As we learn how to walk each day in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit, our minds will be renewed, and we will be empowered to be the parents we are called to be, the home educators we are called to be, and so on.

When we cease trying to light our own fires and struggling to make things happen in our own strength, we illustrate to our children that the Lord is God and can be trusted in all matters; we have experienced Him and found Him to be faithful.

Truly this is one of the most valuable lessons we could possibly hope to pass on to the next generation.

All scripture quoted from The Amplified Bible.

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