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 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.

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