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    Home Education

    If it Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It

    February 15, 2016 by Brandy Vencel

    Out there in the homeschooling world, there are a lot of options. This wasn’t always the case, and there is a sense in which our forebears had it both easier and harder. On the one hand, moms didn’t always have resources they needed. On the other hand, they didn’t have the pressure of trying to find the perfect whatever-it-is — because everyone knew such a thing didn’t exist.

    Options are both a curse as well as a blessing. I’m thrilled about what is available today. I can’t believe how much more is out there than when we first started. I mean, blogs were still a new thing. Online tutorials were virtually non-existent. Right now, we’re using both blogs and tutorials to make our homeschool better than it would be if it was just me, the teacher, existing in a vacuum with a library card.

    Good, then.

    But what about the flip side — the part where we are paralyzed by the sheer number of decisions we have to make? The part where we start to jump from curriculum to curriculum because we’re pretty sure the new one is better than the old one (which was supposed to be better than the one before that)?

    Let me introduce you to a cheesy phrase that needs to be your best friend:

    Why this cheesy phrase might just be your best homeschooling advice.

    Listen to this post as a podcast:

    This phrase will be your ally every time you read a blog post, look at Pinterest, talk to your friends, or go to a conference (especially a conference with a Vendor Hall).

    Yes, it is fine to evaluate and reevaluate what we are doing and why. Yes, it is fine to make changes. But let’s be sure we’re not making changes just because. That is a waste — time, energy, money, you name it! All down the drain.

    Let’s give some examples.

    Sally has a grammar curriculum that she has used for years. It looks really boring. There are no bells and whistles. It is neither new nor shiny. Its website looks as if it wants to party like it’s 1992.


    Sally’s grammar curriculum works just fine. She already owns it, she’s got a good habit of using it, and her children — get this — are, in fact, progressing in their knowledge of grammar in under 15 minutes per day.

    Sally hears about a brand new, fancy, impressive grammar program at a conference or from a friend or on a blog or or or. Sally is very tempted. What should Sally do? Sally needs to ask herself a key question.

    Is this broken?

    Or take Jenny. Jenny’s using the same math program with her younger children that she used with her older child. But on a podcast she listened to, she heard that math should be spiral — or not spiral — or wonder-based — or memory-based — or or or.

    Now Jenny is confused. Her math program is not what this podcast said it ought to be.

    What should Jenny do? Jenny needs to ask herself a key question.

    Is this broken?

    Or take Heidi. Heidi is trying to add a foreign language. She bought a curriculum last summer, and it’s going okay so far this year. But then she heard a Latin teacher say that languages ought to be taught using method x and she’s pretty sure her curriculum is using method y.

    What should Heidi do? Heidi needs to ask herself a key question.

    Is this broken?

    Lots of times, the answer is just noNo, this is not broken. It’s not what “everyone” says it should be, maybe, but it’s working fine for your family.

    Other times, but far less frequently, the answer is yes. Yes this is broken.

    What do you do now?

    When It’s NOT Broken

    Don’t let people convince you otherwise. The learning curve involved in adopting a new curriculum is huge. If you have a curriculum that is working for you, use it. Use it faithfully. Be consistent. Let it be your friend, ally, and tool. And then let all the shiny new stuff go. It doesn’t matter. You don’t need it.

    When It’s Broken

    It is usually pretty obvious when things are broken, because it’s not going well. Children aren’t learning — they are frustrated. They don’t get it. Or you can’t seem to be consistent at it (this one is tricky because sometimes the problem is US, but other times we can’t be consistent because it’s not working — you will have to pray for discernment on that one).

    We had a situation a couple years ago where I changed math curricula. I had used Math Mammoth with my oldest. It was great — he used it for all of his elementary school years. But then when my younger children started the curriculum, it went terribly. At first, I thought my oldest daughter wasn’t ready for math — and that was partly true. But the deeper issue was that she needed a lot more direct instruction than the program offered. It wasn’t until my next daughter was also struggling that I realized the curriculum wasn’t a good fit and moved them both to MEP math.

    In this case, moving to a new curriculum was a good idea. It continued working well, and so when it was time to start my youngest on math, I went ahead and started him on MEP as well. He’s a natural at math. Any program probably would have worked for him, but the rest of my children were doing MEP, and so I let if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it be my guide.

    Other cases might call for using the same curriculum in a different way. For years, I used KISS grammar. I found that printing KISS worksheets out worked well for my oldest child, but was a total fail with my second child. I looked around and tried other curriculum (this is also called “wasting money and time”), but nothing changed. It was then that I realized the problem was me and that I wasn’t making adjustments for how grammar needed to fit into a homeschooling lifestyle that had more than one student. What had worked when I only had a student or two wasn’t working when I had four different grades to teach.

    So, I moved grammar — the same old KISS grammar I had used for years — into Circle Time. We do a few exercises hand-copied onto a white board during Circle Time a couple mornings per week. This works for us better than anything else I have tried, but it’s taken me a while to accept that because I often feel like grammar needs to be this big deal.

    My point is that when it’s broken, I think we should feel free to switch curriculum, yes, but we might first check into whether we can use the same curriculum in a different way.

    This is the time of year when we start to think that maybe curriculum hopping will solve all our problems.

    News flash: it won’t.

    This is why I like to remind myself of this phrase. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. It doesn’t matter if your friends think it isn’t the latest and greatest — if it’s working for you, keep using it. In the long run, being faithful and consistent covers a multitude of homeschooling sins.

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  • Reply Jess June 3, 2018 at 7:58 am

    I listened to this on Friday (2 days ago), and I’ve already said, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” about at least 2 different parenting tactics since then! I also used it as encouragement to try to something new in an area that WAS broken. Because if something isn’t working it is at least worth trying another approach to see if it helps! Thanks for the encouragement to not rock the boat if it’s not needed. 🙂

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 3, 2018 at 2:44 pm

      You’re welcome! I’m so happy this was helpful! 🙂 ♥

  • Reply Lena February 22, 2016 at 3:25 am

    I thought about this post this weekend. I was mulling changing our phonics program. So I stepped back. Was it broken? Actually no. But it was getting cumbersome. So I decided that this week I was going to let my younger take a week off to practice what he already knows and the oldest was not going to check all the boxes, because why waste her time on things she knows cold just to check all the boxes. I think using the curriculum we have, just on a slightly different way might just fix all the problems. And really it is working, because my oldest is starting to write complete sentences and the K boy is reading real sentences this year. Thanks for supporting consistency!

  • Reply dawn February 16, 2016 at 6:59 pm

    Great Post. I’ve linked or recommended it all over the place the last couple of days <3

  • Reply Mindy February 16, 2016 at 1:08 pm

    I’d like to kiss you. Infinite options + perfectionistic expectations on self + idealistic hopes = paralyzing fear. Thank you, again, for taking the time to share gracious wisdom.

  • Reply Shannon February 15, 2016 at 7:17 pm

    Much wisdom in this post. Thank you for the reminder.

  • Reply Angelique February 15, 2016 at 3:46 pm

    I think the difficult thing for me right now is that I don’t know if my approach to Grammar is working or not. I’m not even sure what my objective is, because I am one of those people who wasn’t really taught more than the most basic of basics (2nd grade!), but managed to fake it well enough in my writing because of all the reading I did. The whole thing is nagging at me, and just looking at that KISS website made me want to want to hyperventilate. So we’re sort of working through Simply Grammar and I’m hoping that there’s a point to it. Do you think that plus PLL and ILL are “complete”?
    By the way, 1992 was a good year for me…I outgrew my perm and my parachute pants. 🙂

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 15, 2016 at 8:22 pm

      I. am. dying. Perms and parachute pants!! ♥ I have been educating my children in 90s rock lately, but we haven’t yet touched on the fashion. 😉

      I don’t know if this will help or not, but I decided about a year ago that I had a very narrow goal with grammar: I wanted my children {and myself — my grammar education was insufficient as well} to be able to identify the part each word of a sentence plays. So, obviously, we have to work from simple sentences to complex ones, but that is really it. I think knowing the parts the words are playing will help them be able to self-edit when they are older, plus give them a bit of a boost in foreign language learning.

      I don’t know if that is a sufficient goal for *you*, but I thought I’d share, just in case. 🙂

      • Reply Mystie February 20, 2016 at 8:04 am

        I, for one, think that’s a great grammar goal. 🙂

        • Reply Brandy Vencel February 20, 2016 at 8:06 am

          Aha!! I have the pretend life coach’s approval! ♥♥

  • Reply Amber February 15, 2016 at 9:51 am

    Your grammar discussion made me realize that this is exactly what I’ve been doing in grammar this year with my Y4 student. I started the year using KISS Grammar with him (because someone, *ahem*, keeps writing about it 😀 ) and it was a complete fail.

    Part of it is definitely my fault – my knowledge of grammar is definitely not what it should be – but I also got thrown by the program’s use of the term complement. I’d much rather use the terms direct object and indirect object, because that’s so useful in Latin. I had actually never seen the term complement in grammar before and I was having a very hard time teaching something that didn’t really make sense to me.

    As I was going through my bookshelves a couple weeks ago, I came across Winston Grammar, which is what I had used to teach my daughter (and myself!) basic grammar when she was her brother’s age. I pulled it out and all of a sudden things are making so much more sense to him now! He likes building the sentences with the cards, and I like that I’m already familiar with how it works and can actually explain things well and in a variety of different ways. He spent the first term being all muddled, but I can already see that things are finally starting to make sense to him. A definite win-win!

    Great post, thanks!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 15, 2016 at 8:19 pm

      I mention KISS a lot, don’t I? Ha! I almost put in this post: “for example, *I* mention curricula I really like — this doesn’t mean you should switch!” But looking at the KISS site you now understand the 90s reference, I’m sure. 😉

      I have never heard of Winston. You have already turned my head. 😉

  • Reply Amanda February 15, 2016 at 9:41 am

    SO true, Brandy. But, hey, 1992 was a really good year! 😉

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 15, 2016 at 8:14 pm

      Amen, sister. I miss Z Cavaricci pants, and I bet you do, too. 😉

  • Reply Amanda February 15, 2016 at 7:57 am

    Girl, there are not enough words to describe how much I appreciate you and your insights! As I continue to grow in my understanding of classical and CM education, I’ve adjusted so much of what we are doing and feel really peaceful about the changes. I’ve have, however, had major moments of “This is NOT working!” this year because I was trying to add in All! The! Stuff! that everyone told me should be in our school days. I was burning out. I feel like just recently I have found a really peaceful resting place. I have also decided that I am not changing anything major for next year. I need time to rest in what we have implemented this year. I’m keeping a running list of all of these great ideas that others have to offer, so that if and when I feel the need to change because something isn’t actually working, then I have that as a reference. Beyond that, I just need some time to sit with what we are doing…even if others are not doing it the same way. I so very much appreciate you and your reality checks. You are the voice of reason among the homeschooling blogs.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 15, 2016 at 8:17 pm

      It’s such a hard balance, isn’t it? I found myself thinking about this today during a long drive we had. On the one hand, we still fall so short of the ideal, and there are so many things we could be adding or changing that are good things, but on the other hand, losing my bearings would mean it would *all* fall apart. Sometimes I feel like we’re climbing stairs with lots of landings along the way. We climb, but we also need those resting places — where that new height can become our “normal” before we start climbing again.

  • Reply Kansas Mom February 15, 2016 at 5:36 am

    I think curriculum-hopping is especially dangerous in math. If you change too often, you’ll find gaps in your child’s knowledge because different programs use a different topic order. What happens when you get to middle school and realize your child never had x, y, and z?

    Not that I always take my own advice, since we switched math programs a few years ago. The original one stopped working for my oldest as he progressed. But when I switched, I switched everybody. I knew I couldn’t handle lots of different math programs for lots of different kids. All three (almost four!) are making steady progress at their own speed. (And I’m purposely not naming any names…)

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 15, 2016 at 8:12 pm

      I completely agree on the math curriculum-hopping, KM. In fact, the year we switched, I brought both of my girls down to the first level, even though that put them below grade level {one of them especially below}. They were both really lost, and it just seemed like the safest bet in terms of gaps.

  • Reply Nelleke Plouffe February 15, 2016 at 5:03 am

    I preach this to myself all the time, and I appreciate your supporting arguments so much! I’m always tempted by all the bells-and-whistles curriculum in the areas in which I feel most insecure. (Art, for one.)
    It also helps me to ask myself if I’m actually steadily doing what Charlotte Mason recommends in that area, because I trust her wisdom on most things educational.

    • Reply Amber February 15, 2016 at 9:41 am

      Nelleke, I have found asking myself that same question to be so helpful as well! At the beginning of the year I was sure that dictation with my Y4 son was going to be a complete fail because he is an absolutely abysmal speller… and I was so close to buying a spelling program with lots of bells and whistles. But I stopped myself at the last minute and decided to at least give studied dictation a try, and I am astounded at how well it is working for him. Maybe CM knew what she was talking about or something… 😀

      • Reply Brandy Vencel February 15, 2016 at 8:09 pm

        Love this, Amber. I do think that, yes, having a firm grip on our philosophy helps a whole big bunch — it gives us moorings, direction, and on and on.

        I’m with you, Nelleke — it’s the areas where I am insecure that bring the most temptation.

  • Reply RobinP February 15, 2016 at 4:59 am

    Yes, yes, and yes. This is something all of us need to hear. When I started homeschooling 20 years ago, there weren’t that many options. But now? I can’t imagine starting my journey now with the VAST number of options for every.single.subject! I stopped going to curriculum fairs years ago. I have 18,000 living books in my library. That, the great outdoors, and a few tried and true resources and I’m good to go.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 15, 2016 at 8:07 pm

      18,000??? Oh my. I want to see that someday, Robin! That is incredible! ♥♥

      • Reply RobinP February 16, 2016 at 5:56 am

        You’ll be in my neck of the woods in Oct. at the Grace to Build retreat, I understand. Come on over. You’re friend and blogging guest, Christy Hissong, is a member of my library. (BTW, that’s the way I justify all these books purchases. I loan them out.). ?

        • Reply Brandy Vencel February 16, 2016 at 1:56 pm

          Christy! She is wonderful, isn’t she? ♥

          So you OWN a library from which people can actually borrow books? That is amazing, and also a dream of mine (though I only own somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 volumes). I really would like to see it. I don’t have all my travel plans worked out yet for October, so we’ll see how that goes. The one bump in the road might be that I won’t have a rental car, but be driven around by other people. I’m not sure how much freedom/control I will have over my schedule because of that. But I can hope! 🙂

          • RobinP February 16, 2016 at 2:48 pm

            Yes, it’s in a finished apartment in my basement. If I get to go to the retreat this year, you’re welcome to come back with me. There are photos on my blog.

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