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.



A day in the life of your family

October 28, 2012

Ah! Sunday mornings! Peaceful, restful, and refreshing here at the Calderwood hovel.

We take our day of rest seriously. Not legalistically, by any means. But the day has a distinct rhythm to it that is slower and calmer for my kids, especially.

Isn’t there something that just feels different about the weekend?

I, however, am busiest on the weekends. This is when I check over essays and write personal notes to all of my VLA students. I happen to enjoy it, but it is still something on my plate. But because Sundays are days of rest for the rest of the household, the environment is peaceful. Unless the Titans are losing. Heh heh. Just kidding. We’re used to that by this point in the season.

How do your weekend days compare to your weekdays? Every family is different, and I completely respect each household’s design. It is the very nature of our society that weekends are usually more laid back. I hope you have some laid-backness in your weekend. We all need downtime.

The truth is that Monday is just around the corner though, peeking its head into our thoughts even on the weekend. I don’t know about you, but my weekdays are really not much different than the weekends in tone.

Tomorrow I will have completed another weekend of working with my students, but then there is the specter of 40 more pages of vocabulary pages to design by Friday.  Monday means back to it, as it most likely means for you. But what will your household FEEL like tomorrow? Will it have an easy, relaxed-ness (not a word, I know, but it is now) to it? Or will you hit the ground running when your alarm rings Monday morning?

If you have young children, your life is pretty much controlled by their needs, right? 🙂  Yes. I remember those days. They can be trying, for sure. But you can also stay in PJs if you like. I remember trying to see how many days in a row we could stay at home without having to go anywhere. Why? Because there is just something peaceful about being together at home. When the rhythm of life is slow and steady, unmarred by the exclamation points of Mom’s voice hollering at everyone to get their stuff together and be ready to go out the door in ten minutes, everyone is much more peaceful.

Sure, we do have to venture out into society. As a mother of  a lot of young children and as a mother of four girls, ages 10 to 16, I like to be at home as much as possible.

There is a season for being gone from home a lot ~ for us it was volleyball season ~ but hopefully there is also a season for being home a lot.

Children should be able to entertain themselves and each other without constantly having to go see this or that movie, or go hang out with this or that group of friends. Friends are wonderful, and socializing is a fun part of our lives as a family. There are special times when the girls visit with friends, of course. But being together as a family ~ just you and your family ~ shouldn’t be the “special time” part.

In our society, so many have lost the feel of a solid home life. Do your children know what that feels like? All families are different, but all humans have a need to belong. The family is the primary place for receiving  a sense of belonging and acceptance. A family is a group that respects each member, yet there is a structure of order and authority that brings peace. Sure, there are times when corrections to behavior must be addressed. That happened here yesterday. But once the corrections were made, peace quickly returned.

Tomorrow is a school day in our home, but not much will be different about the environment. I will engage with my girls regarding their school work as needed, but they don’t really need me to be engaged very much these days. They are self-propelled. Sure, they prefer having days without studying because school work is still work, but they will do their work and move on to something else: chores, reading, hanging out outside, cooking something, etc. One daughter has a piano lesson in the afternoon, and another daughter will most likely volunteer to drive her. Other than that, we’ll be here at home working together and enjoying each others’ company.

The one thing we do as a family at some point during the week is that we’ll go hang out at my married daughter’s house with her and her husband. I love the way all five of the girls enjoy being together! What a blessing that Lauren and Brandon live so close by.

And of course there certainly are things that pull us from home during the course of the week, but for the most part, we are home as a family more than we are out and about, pulled this way and that way with our family all chopped up day in and day out. Having a husband who works from home with me is a beautiful blessing, but it hasn’t always been that way. In fact, it has only been since July of this year that he’s been home. But the peace of God can reign in the home regardless of your situation.

I just want to encourage you to take the pulse of your family and see if you are enjoying each other in your lives together, or if you are more content being off doing your own things are family members. I also want to encourage you that it is okay to say NO to outside activities if you are feeling overwhelmed by activity in your family’s life right now. We all have choices to make on a daily basis in order to protect and nurture the family God has given us. We’ve said NO to a lot of really good activities including church activities. The good is the enemy of the best.

Do what you have peace to do as a family, and don’t let others hound you about being more involved here and there. When your children are grown, you will have plenty of time for outside activities. If you want to be the major influence in their lives when they are young, then you have to say NO to those things that you feel hinder your calling as a family. Trust the Lord to show you and your spouse what things are edifying to your family in this particular season of life.

If you were to take a typical slice of your family’s time together, what would it look like? Are you happy with the overall flow of your family life? If not, call a family meeting and prioritize. Talk to your spouse; chances are he or she is feeling the very same way. Be as busy as you CHOOSE to be or as you choose not to be.

Children LOVE when Mom and Dad are relaxed and peaceful. Be it a weekend or a weekday, may your home atmosphere be relaxed and peaceful.

Food for thought. Blessings to you and your family! 🙂


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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