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Welcome to the Homeschool Better Together Podcast, where we explore building a joyful homeschool experience for your family. In this episode, host Pam Barnhill explores five different types of curriculum—scripted, open-and-go, fixed grid, buffet, and whole-family learning—and discusses how each one can meet the unique needs of your homeschool journey. 

By understanding the different kinds of curricula available and how each can fit your family’s needs, you’ll be well-equipped to make decisions that reduce stress and enhance your homeschooling adventure. So, grab your notepad, maybe a smoothie, and let’s step out of the overwhelm and into the wonder of homeschooling better together.

Pam Barnhill [00:00:01]:
Are you ready for homeschooling to feel joyful again? Do you long for support as you learn alongside your kids? Welcome to Homeschool Better Together, a podcast about building a homeschool experience that works for your family. I’m Pam Barnhill, and it’s time to step out of the overwhelm and into the wonder. Let’s do this. Hey there. Hey there. Okay. So 1 of the things I wanna do before I get started today is share with you something that has been working for me, and this is not really homeschool related, but it’s life related. And you know what? We may be homeschooling parents, but we all have a life to live.

Pam Barnhill [00:00:46]:
And this is just something I have been enjoying so much. And that is frozen smoothie packs. It is a 1000000000 degrees here, and that is not hyperbole. I promise you. And I’ve just been looking for something cool and refreshing to drink over the summer. And so I have been actually using smoothie packs, using frozen smoothie packs for breakfast. So most mornings, I’ll get up and I’ll have a little bit of coffee. And then later on, probably about 9 or 10 AM, I’ll have 1 of my frozen smoothie packs and make a smoothie.

Pam Barnhill [00:01:19]:
So let me tell you what is inside of them just in case you’re interested in doing this for yourself. And, yes, I could just make a smoothie. But what I like about doing the frozen smoothie Pam, 2 things. First of all, it freezes everything up. It makes it nice and cool. So you don’t have to add extra ice to your smoothie, which just completely waters down the flavor and the ingredients and everything else. And also, like, I can buy ingredients for my smoothies and go ahead and make the packs and freeze it. And that way I don’t have to worry about the ingredients going bad.

Pam Barnhill [00:01:53]:
Because if you’re anything like me, like, you don’t consume produce on an even keel in your life. Like sometimes we’re like super produce consumers. And other times we buy things thinking we’re gonna be super produce consumers, and they just languish in the back of the produce drawer and turn to mush. So trying to avoid that, and the smoothie packs really help. So I end up Morning, like, anywhere from 5 to 20 of these at 1 time, and I freeze them in quart size freezer bags. And I’ll buy, like, a huge clamshell of spinach to put in them. So what do I put in my smoothie packs? I put in fruit. I put in some kind of frozen fruit.

Pam Barnhill [00:02:34]:
I really I just go ahead and buy fruit that’s already frozen and cut up because I’m lazy that way. You could certainly cut your own fruit if you wanted to, but I’ll get, like, the tropical fruit in a bag and it has pineapple and mango and strawberry. Sometimes I’ll add extra strawberries to that because I really like the flavor of strawberries. And so I’ll put about a cup and a half of fruit in my smoothie bag. And then to that, I also add a scoop of vanilla protein powder because I wanna add some protein to my smoothie. I put a tablespoon of chia seeds. I really like the way those taste. A big handful of spinach.

Pam Barnhill [00:03:11]:
I don’t really measure the spinach. I just put in a big old handful and then a half a banana. So banana just adds a lot of great creamy texture to a smoothie. I’ve done avocado before. You could certainly do avocado, but I’ll just take a banana and cut it up. Now this is a big thing if you don’t have 1 of those super fancy Vitamix kinds of mixers, which I do not, sadly. Vitamix, if you’re listening, I would love to try out 1 of your mixers. I just have a regular old mixer, and so I cut my bananas into little chunks so that the mixer can handle it.

Pam Barnhill [00:03:44]:
And so I throw all of that into the smoothie bag. And then on the days that I make the smoothie, I pull a bag out of the freezer. Once again, wimpy mixer, wimpy blender. So I just throw it up on the counter and let sit for 30 minutes and get a little bit mushy. And I add to it about a cup of Greek yogurt and also some almond milk. Now I don’t have anything against regular milk, but almond milk is lighter in calories. And I’m trying to up my protein and reduce my calories for these. And I while I wouldn’t normally eat almond milk in my cereal, I have no problem throwing it in a smoothie.

Pam Barnhill [00:04:22]:
And so I’ll use almond milk in my smoothie. And it just makes the most delicious breakfast or snack or whenever you want to consume it on a hot summer day. So it’s super fast to grab. Also, I’m thinking as the school year starts, I’m just gonna keep making these smoothie bags because I can just grab them and blend 1 up and sit there and drink it while we’re doing morning time or while I’m working with 1 of the boys on a riding lesson or something like that. I can just be drinking my smoothie, and it’s going to be absolutely perfect for that because it’s so easy once you’ve made the bags. So anyway, that’s what I’m enjoying this summer. Maybe it’s something that you would enjoy as well. Okay.

Pam Barnhill [00:05:12]:
So now we’re gonna move on to our regularly scheduled topic for the day, and that is all about curriculum. And we’re gonna be talking about different kinds of curriculum. We do a lot of different style podcasts. This 1 is what I call, like, really instructional. Like, this is a very instructional podcast for you guys. Some of you may know some of this stuff and it may be new to others of you, but I wanted to just offer that there are different kinds of curriculum out there. And knowing a little bit about those kinds of curriculum can really make your life easier when it comes to curriculum shopping. So the first kind of curriculum that I wanna talk about today is what we call a scripted curriculum.

Pam Barnhill [00:05:54]:
Now when you have a scripted curriculum, they actually write out in the curriculum Ali the things that they want you to say when you are teaching a lesson. So 1 of my very favorite scripted curriculums is Ali about reading. All about reading is 1. We use that for years years. It was just fabulous helping my kids with reading problems, learn how to read, and to read well. All about spelling is another fabulous scripted curriculum. I always knew exactly what to say when I opened the curriculum. Now here’s the deal.

Pam Barnhill [00:06:30]:
You do not have to read the script. If you do not need the script that they provide for you, that’s totally fine. Just skip that part and don’t read it. But if you ever do need the script, you can always go back and look. This was how they were teaching this thing. These were exactly the words that the curriculum provider thought I needed to say in order to help my child understand this concept. So it’s there for you if you need it. And then if you are a new homeschooling parent, somebody who has not done this before, who feels like, can I do this? I’m not a teacher.

Pam Barnhill [00:07:05]:
The script can be invaluable for you. And so scripted curriculum can be really handy if you need it, and then if you don’t need it, you just ignore the scripted part. There were many times where I did not read the script for All About Reading or All About Spelling word for word. And there were so many other wonderful beautiful benefits to the curriculum. The script was just a very small part for me of what it offered. But if you’re 1 of those newer homeschooling parents, the script could absolutely be a lifeline for you. The next kind of curriculum I wanna talk about is an open and go curriculum. These are 1 of my absolute favorite kinds of curriculums.

Pam Barnhill [00:07:46]:
Actually, the more open and go curriculum I can add into my life, the better, and I always like to take a look at the curriculum that I’m using as a whole during the school year and weigh which curriculum needs more attention from me, which ones am I gonna have to go in and pick and choose from, and we’re gonna talk about those in just a minute, versus which ones are absolutely open and go. And it’s got to balance out to where it’s at least 50/50 open and go, 2 other kinds, or more for my school year to go great. And so I stack up, like, I’m using these 10 resources this year, and at least 5 or more have to be open and go for me to be able to survive the school year. And I think this is 1 thing we don’t always think about as homeschooling parents. We’re just going through and we’re picking out all of the resources that we think look great, and we do it in a vacuum. It’s, oh, here’s math we’re gonna do, and here’s language arts we’re gonna do, and here is history we’re gonna do in science. At some point, you have to put them all together preferably before you buy. Put them all together and look at them as a whole and say, as a whole, what percentage of these are open and go just super easy for me to use, and what percentage are a little more difficult.

Pam Barnhill [00:09:05]:
They’re gonna cause me to have to make more decisions. They’re gonna cause me to have to do more things, pull together more resources. There’s nothing wrong with those kinds of curriculum, but you want to strike a balance between the open and go and these other kind, or your year is probably going to be a little bit harder, a little bit more of a struggle. So So I really encourage you to do this. Just take a piece of paper and divide it down the middle. And on 1 side of the paper, write down all the things you’re gonna use next year that are open and go. On the other side of the paper, all the things that you’re gonna use that take a little more work from you, and see how equal those columns are, or is the open and go column longer, and then you’re gonna be okay. But I think looking at things holistically, that is a really important thing to do.

Pam Barnhill [00:09:53]:
Alright. So the 3rd kind of curriculum that I wanna talk about is what I call a fixed grid curriculum. So this is a curriculum that the curriculum provider has given you schedule. They’ve taken a few different resources and they’ve scheduled them for you with the intent that you are going to do most, if not all, of what they have scheduled for you. Now I am of the belief that the vast majority of curriculum providers out there never write a curriculum where they intend for you to do 100% of what is there. But there there does seem to be some curriculum providers where the intention is for you to do most of what they have scheduled. So they’ve given you this lovely schedule that falls into a grid. And so 1 of the ones that I’m thinking about when I think about this is something like a Sonlight.

Pam Barnhill [00:10:52]:
They really intend for you to read all, if most, if not all of the books that are in the curriculum and they’ve laid everything out there for you in a grid. This can be really helpful. There is nothing wrong with this kind of curriculum providing this help for you. Book Shark is another 1 of these. Memoria Press does some things like this, and so they’ve provided this wonderful, delightful schedule for you until it’s not until the schedule is not wonderful and delightful because you just can’t keep up with the gridded schedule that they have created. And so 1 of the things that I would like to recommend that you consider doing is changing that grid into what we call a snaking loop schedule. So here, there’s nothing wrong with the curriculum. These are awesome wonderful curriculum.

Pam Barnhill [00:11:41]:
It’s the grid that they provide for you that can be just a little limiting and intimidating and suck the life out of you. So instead of trying to do this where Monday, you sit down and you do these 5 subjects, and Tuesday, you sit down and you do these 4, and Wednesday, you do these 6. Change the schedule into this snaking loop. And so what you do is on the 1st day of the week, you start at the very top square on the top left side, and you know how long you can do school for the day. Right? Mostly because sometimes you have toddlers and babies that even mess that up, but you you know how long you have to work. And you just start at the top and you start working down that first column. And if you don’t get all the way down the column, you just stop wherever you need to stop. If you get all the way down to the column, you could even go into the next day’s column.

Pam Barnhill [00:12:35]:
That rarely happens, but just go as far down the column as you can and stop wherever it is you need to stop on that day 1 column. Then on the next Dawn 2, don’t move to day 2, pick up where you left off on the day 1 column and get all the way to the bottom of that column and then snake your way back up to the top of day 2 and get as far down the day 2 column as you can. And then when you’re done for the day because you’ve run out of time, close your books. The next day that you do school, pick up in that day 2 column wherever it was you left off. And you’re just snaking your way down and up the columns, down and up the columns. And so what doesn’t happen is you don’t end up having to flip your pages back and forth because the first subject of the day, you’ve gotten way over here 3 weeks into the future, and you’re still stuck back here on the last subject of the day because you hardly ever get to it. And so now by using this snaking loop schedule, you’re actually getting to everything that is in that fixed grid curriculum. So like I said, these are wonderful, beautiful resources that can make your life so much easier, But sometimes, we have to flex a little bit in how we use them to make them even more practical for us, and so that’s a fixed grid curriculum.

Pam Barnhill [00:13:58]:
The next kind of curriculum that I want to talk about is what we call the buffet curriculum. There are lots of wonderful resources out there that are a buffet curriculum. Couple of them would be Guest Hallow. That’s 1 that my family has used in the past and we’ve really enjoyed. Another 1 of these is Layers of Learning. This is a fabulous curriculum. I think their writing program is absolutely wonderful. It is 1 of the best ways to have kind of this organic writing experience in your family with a whole group of kids in a writer’s workshop style.

Pam Barnhill [00:14:36]:
So absolutely fabulous curriculum. It is definitely a buffet. So when the curriculum developers at Guest Hollow, at Tapestry of Grace, at Layers of Learning create these curriculum, they do not intend for you to do everything that is written inside the resource. What they have done is they have given you this buffet of things to choose from. Now the problem with the buffet curriculum there are a number of problems with buffet curriculums, and I love them. I’ve used them myself, but I think it’s important for us to go into these with our eyes wide open about what we’re getting. Very first thing, no. Deep in your heart of hearts that they did not intend for you to do everything.

Pam Barnhill [00:15:24]:
They have given you all of these awesome, wonderful options, and you get to choose which ones are going to serve your family and serve your goals for that subject for the school year. Because seriously, trying to do everything is like trying to go to Golden Corral and eating every single thing on the buffet. And it is not humanly possible, so just keep that in mind as you’re looking at your homeschool curriculum. First of all, set yourself some goals. As we do writing this year, with this writing curriculum, or as we do history, with this fabulous history curriculum, or chemistry in the kitchen. What are my goals? What are the things that I want my kids to learn? What are the things that I want them to be able to do? And then start to choose what you’re gonna do from that curriculum in order to help you to meet those particular goals. So that is the first thing. Actually, that’s the second thing.

Pam Barnhill [00:16:25]:
The first thing is to realize you’re not supposed to do it all. Secondly, choose things according to your goals. And then also realize I know guest hallow does a fabulous job at this. They actually prioritize the books for you, and they say, if you’re going to strip this curriculum down to the bare bones, do these books. And I think they they label them as a books or level 1 books or something like that. But they label them for you somehow and they say these are the most important books, and then they have a b level and then a c level. Which ones are the spine books all the way down to which ones are the most optional books, your most voracious readers. Right? And so a lot of times the curriculum provider will help you with that.

Pam Barnhill [00:17:07]:
But just know that you are not supposed to do it all. Choose the books that you’re going to do based on your goals, and I would really recommend that you make those choices in the summer ahead of doing the curriculum and somehow pull that information out of the curriculum as a whole and not look at the curriculum as a whole again. So I know Guest Hollow actually provides an editable word document for you so you could go in and delete the things that you’re not going to do. When I was using the layers of learning, I actually went through the writing program and I highlighted the ones that I was going to do. So there are just any number of things that you can do. You can make a lesson plan list for that. We teach you how to do that and put your home school year on autopilot. I’ve also my Time Task Card Masterclass also deals with taking something like a Guest Hallow and making it into something that you could actually hand your teen.

Pam Barnhill [00:18:05]:
Because what I found with guest hollow was the lesson plans were great for a teacher, but I had nothing to give to my teen. And so I was able to take that and whittle it down and create something that I was able to give to my teenager, and they were just able to complete the list by the end of the week. So go ahead and do any of that, whatever you’re going to do in the beginning ahead of time. Make those decisions all at once. Don’t leave the decision making up to the Sunday before you’re going to do the lesson because then it just becomes you’re in a period of overwhelm, you’re trying to get school done, and you’ve got a million different things going on in your week, and now you’re adding this decision fatigue on top of that. So I highly recommend that you make the decisions about which part of the buffet curriculum you’re going to use ahead of time in the summer before you start your school year, and then don’t look back. Own what you’ve chosen. Don’t look back.

Pam Barnhill [00:19:03]:
Don’t spend time second guessing yourself. Don’t think, oh, I could have made it better if I did this or that or the other. Just make the decision and move on with it. So the final style of curriculum or the kind of curriculum I wanted to talk about today is what we call whole family learning curriculum. Unit studies certainly fall under this kind of curriculum. Back when my kids were little, we did 5 in a row and it was just a joy for our homeschool for us to do that, but whole family curriculums make it easier for you to teach some of your family together. And I I kind of caveat that you probably heard the hesitation in my voice with the Time even with differentiated learning, which is what a really good curriculum for the family does, meeting different kids at their different levels and providing different content for them. Even with that, it is really difficult for a curriculum to span from 1st grade all the way up to high school.

Pam Barnhill [00:20:03]:
So when I look at curriculum for a whole family learning experience, I like to keep it within a 5 to 6 year age range. I think sometimes you can do a a first through 8th grade age range as long as you are teaching a little bit higher to the group and just allowing the younger kids to come along and get what they can. But when you’re trying to do something with multiple kids together outside of the realm of a morning time where you’re doing fine arts and things like that, but when you’re when you’re trying to do something a little more content based with a group of kids together, I think keeping it within a a 5 year age range is probably going to be the most beneficial for you and for the student. But these kinds of curriculum are out there, and we’re developing some of them ourselves here at Homeschool Better Together because we think there’s certainly a delight in learning together as a family, but there is also inefficiency that comes with being able to combine your kids for similar subjects. And so we have our new language arts together line. We have our 2nd bundle of that that we’re releasing, and next week’s podcast is actually all about the language arts together line and everything that it includes, and that is 1 of those where we say you can teach your kids 1st through 8th grade together as long as you are leaning in towards those upper elementary years and those younger kids are just listening to the story, listening to what’s going on during that family learning time and doing reading instruction and handwriting instruction outside of that family learning time. You certainly can’t expect to be able to to do all of that with that 6 or 7 year old during that family learning time. So you have to be realistic about what any 1 unit study can do for your family and as my kids got older and progressed, they were within 4 years of each other and so we could do a lot of family based learning together because of that 4 year span.

Pam Barnhill [00:22:09]:
We just kept aging up our materials and I would teach towards that upper end of my group to my 2 oldest and my youngest kind of got what he got and actually really held his own a lot of times in what we were learning. But it worked only because my kids were close in age together. I was not trying to combine a 1st grader with a junior or senior in high school and expect that everybody was getting exactly what they needed out of that. So that’s my caveat with family style learning. But outside of that caveat, I do think it is 1 of the best ways to learn, and there are a couple of different curriculum companies that do this pretty well. Simply Charlotte Mason is 1 of them that I think does it really well and then of course like I said we are developing materials here at homeschool better together that allow you to do that. We’ve got our Language Arts Together line. We’re selling our second bundle this summer but you can also get individual titles as well.

Pam Barnhill [00:23:07]:
And then our citizenship together is coming out. And the Language Arts Together right now is at first through 8th grade, and then we tell you, like, where you need to pick up some additional materials for younger and older kids. And then the Citizenship Together leans a little more for 4th through 8th grade. And with that, we’re starting with an election unit later this month. That is something that you really don’t need to add anything else to. 1 of the things that we’re also doing with that particular style of curriculum is we are calling it the anti-buffet curriculum. That’s what we call it internally here on the team because we knew that there was a lot of decision fatigue that came from trying to take a buffet curriculum and pair it down. And so as we’re developing these new curriculum products, we’re we’re really doing what we call the anti-buffet system.

Pam Barnhill [00:24:02]:
And that is we’re choosing 1 resource and we’re building the curriculum around that. We’re telling you what to do every day, we’re not putting anything in a grid, We’re giving you short doable lessons. And as long as you like the resource that we’ve chosen, it’s gonna work great for you. Now if you don’t like the 1 resource we’ve chosen, sadly, you’re going to have to look for a different curriculum. But if you do like that 1 resource and you’re ready to use that 1 resource, then this curriculum is gonna be absolutely simple for you to use. There’s a lot of ease built into it. So I really encourage you if you’re interested together bundle, the Citizenship Together, which is all about the together bundle, the Citizenship Together, which is all about the US elections for those of you in the US. And then later on this year, we’re going to start releasing our Geography Together materials.

Pam Barnhill [00:24:59]:
And then we do have plans to just add to this line as we go along because families have told us that it is just super simple to use and really brings some good conversations in their family and they enjoy it. So we’re gonna keep developing that as well. So family style curriculum with the caveat of keeping everybody within a certain age range for doing that curriculum. So those are the different kinds of curriculum. Hopefully, this was really helpful information to you today that maybe you’ve never thought about it. You probably don’t give quite as much thought to curriculum as I do or my team does over a year, and you’ve never really thought about what made a certain curriculum work for you or why a certain curriculum didn’t work for you. And if you start thinking about these big categories, then when you go out and you start looking for new curriculum, you’re like, oh, I need to look for something that’s open and go or I need to look for something that’s not a buffet because all of these choices just wear me out or I want something scripted. So by thinking about these different kinds of curriculum, you can start to categorize new resources that you come across and know a lot faster if something is going to work for you or not just based on what your preferences are.

Pam Barnhill [00:26:14]:
So hopefully this was really helpful. We’ll be back next week. We’re gonna be talking all about that language arts together curriculum and we cannot wait to share that with you. That’s our show for today. Be sure to follow, subscribe, and leave a review so you never miss out on the wonder of homeschooling better together. To stay connected and learn even more about the Homeschooling Better Together resources and to join our free community, visit hsbtpodcast.com. Until next week, keep stepping out of the overwhelm and into the wonder.

Links and Resources From Today’s Show

Key Ideas About Simplifying Your Homeschool Options

  • Learn about different types of curriculum, including scripted, open and go, fixed grid, buffet, and whole-family learning, to find what works best for your homeschool style and needs.
  • Understand the advantages of scripted curriculum for new homeschooling parents and how it can provide a structured yet flexible learning experience.
  • Explore the concept of open and go curriculum and how balancing it with other types can simplify your homeschool year and reduce planning fatigue.
  • Gain insight into fixed grid curriculum and the snaking loop schedule as a method to avoid overwhelm and ensure a balanced approach to using comprehensive resources.
  • Get tips on effectively using buffet curriculum by setting specific goals, prioritizing materials, and making decisions in advance to avoid decision fatigue.
  • Appreciate the value of whole-family learning curriculum, with a realistic approach to age range, to foster family unity and efficient multi-age education.

Find What You Want to Hear

  • [00:00] Introduction
  • [00:46] Pam’s smoothie recipe
  • [05:12] Intro to five different types of curricula
  • [05:48] Type one: scripted curriculum 
  • [07:37] Type two: open-and-go curriculum
  • [09:53] Type three: fixed grid curriculum 
  • [13:59] Type four: Buffet style curriculum
  • [19:13] Type five: whole family learning curriculum 
  • [26:14] Closing 
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