How to Homeschool without curriculum

how to homeschool

Three years ago we made a big shift in our family & began homeschooling. We home schooled preschool without (a formal) curriculum & instead focused on play-based learning at home. Although our homeschooling journey did not start out this way we have come so far in such a short period of time I wanted to share the secret to our success, we homeschool without (a formal) curriculum. It all started with my endless search for “the best” curriculum. I was an elementary school teacher and was seriously so overwhelmed researching how to get started!  There is SO much information online that it was overwhelming.
  • How do you know what you want or what to do if you’ve never homeschooled before?
I spent half of my time online looking up homeschooling terminology… unschooling, strewing, etc. and while I learned a lot I never found exactly what I was looking for.  So for me the best curriculum didn’t exist. I’d spent several days on the computer and still had no idea what to do or how to start. So I did the next best thing… I went with what I know teaching (n a public school setting).  I outlined the skills & concepts I wanted us to learn about for the year and we tried the School-at-Home model… which failed miserably. It was, however, a beautiful mistake that lead me to several months of unschooling myself and challenging what I knew about teaching & learning, in the best way.  I learned that the same methods I used in a public school are unnecessary in a homeschool setting AND my child is happier, learned quicker and retained more information.

Homeschooling without Curriculum

What I mean is I do not use a formal homeschool curriculum.  For us there is no specific reading, math or science, etc. program we use.  I look at the skills and concepts kids are expected to know by grade level (Using a simplified version of CCSS) & content I know my son will be interested in. Families can go about learning without curriculum in a few different ways:
  • Unschooling (no curriculum) lessons are day-to-day and based in real time as skills & concepts cross your path. They are specific to your child and often child-led.
  • DIY- make your own curriculum, this can vary widely. I recommend multi-age play-based or project based activities.
  • Hybrid– mix of your own curriculum and purchased materials or services (you do not have to do it all by yourself)
We are eclectic & do mix of Unschooling & DIY. To satisfy my Type A inner teacher (who worries that he won’t learn enough if we are too relaxed- which has not been a problem, if anything he is at or above grade level in all areas). I outline the entire year of curriculum content & skills that I want my child to learn and put it in a curriculum map. This is the same tool I would use if I were teaching a classroom full of students. It helps keep me organized and on track even if it seems to everyone else like we aren’t doing much. homeschooling multiple ages

Curriculum Map

I map out our goals for the year and pace them out on a curriculum calendar (that I never follow to the T but we always get through all of the content).  I make our own curriculum for our lessons and when we “do school” AND when I find learning tools that I don’t have to make myself I am happy to purchase it. Also we outsource music & PE with lessons.  The above sample curriculum map is not for homeschooling, it was from a lifetime ago when I taught second grade. I am including it as a visual of how you can track multiple age curriculum in one single spreadsheet if you have more than one child OR you can use this to track your curriculum over the years by the child individually.


For example… in reading we read nearly every day and make sure to mix up that reading time. Sometimes I read, and model a skill. sometimes we listen to books together & sometimes he reads to me. We often choose a book & take turns. Sometimes this is just enjoyable reading time and sometimes we focus on a skill with a mini-lesson & some practice time. The point is that I pay attention to my sons miscues (the mistakes he makes when he reads), the questions he asks, etc. to help guide what we are going to work on.
For Example:
If he is skipping words while he reads I need to identify if he needs more word work (vocabulary & sight words – not all words are decodable & some just need to be memorized) or if he’s just rushing through the text and needs to slow down.

Book Talks

  • Do you talk about books when you read them?
  • Do you discuss them before, during and after reading?
Our book talks end up being mini lessons & quick discussion that focus on different things… sometimes we talk about what happened in the story (comprehension), work on fluency (read aloud to someone, a stuffy or the dog).  Sometimes we notice skills the author is using (punctuation, Large type font for expression, etc .)  and try it out by putting it in our writing as well.

Homeschool Math

It seems to me that homeschooling math is a real advantage for kids. It provides the opportunity to use everyday math concepts in context to why we need good basic math skills. How often do you use math in your daily life and not even notice it?  Next time you’re cooking, sorting laundry, counting, etc. Invite your child(ren) to help.

Number Talks

Number talks are basically the same as book talks but for numbers.  You are working on building skills, comprehending mathematical concepts and building fluency in manipulating numbers. This too needs to be practiced regularly in daily life.

Need a little help getting organized? Try our Homeschool Organization Challenge!


KNOW your Homeschool Style

I call the method you chose to homeschool your homeschool style because when you chose to homeschool you are making a lifestyle choice. This will guide your choices as you learn to get the rhythm of homeschooling. What is your style of homeschooling? When you know this homeschooling without curriculum becomes MUCH easier. When we first started I looked into different methods of homeschooling and used the “school-at-home model” and planned kindergarten readiness activities. It failed miserably (was a great learning experience) but we regrouped & are now are eclectic homeschoolers. What that means is I draw from many different homeschooling models in order to make up a homeschool flow that is beneficial (we are learning a great deal) and feels natural for us. My son & I have opposite personalities & work styles and we use ideas and activities from Montessori, STEM, Montessori, Charlottle Mason, Wild & Free, Unschooling & more. We are child-led and spend a LOT of time outdoors.

The Homeschool “Classroom”, know your resources!

Wherever you are is where you’ll learn, it’s really that simple. When the weather is nice we take your learning outside.  This philosophy has lead us to discover many wonderful things and deepen our learning. We have a lot of nature based resources in our area. This has led us to curate several nature based collections over the years and we use these to learn about easily integrated concepts like math and science.

Know your resources:

  1. Use your local library, museum, children’s museum, indoor play place, etc.
  2. Nature walks are a great way to get outdoors & spend some quality time together
  3. Start a collection (rocks, sticks, spring flowers, fall leaves or whatever else interests your child)
  4. Count, sort, identify and organize your collection
  5. When it’s appropriate add, subtract, graph, make patterns with and talk about attributes you notice.
  6. Dig deeper and find out how ____’s are made & why they are important to the world.

Ex: Rock collection:

  • How are rocks are made?
  • How do people & animals use rocks?
  • Find rocks that you already have an use in your life (granite counter tops, cutting board, decoration on walls or your house) 
As you’re putting thought into how you want to learn with your homeschool style also think about where you’ll learn.  We do not have a lot of extra space in our home but carved out a special space for learning and storing materials. Make use of outside patio space when the weather is nice and clear out space in the garage or check out the local library for a change of scenery when the weather isn’t cooperating.

Integrating Subjects

School subjects in reality are not separate. They are separated out in public school so that administrators can be sure their legal required minutes are being met. You do not need a separate reading & math or science time. You can read and do math or science (and sometimes even all three)! Integrating your concepts into your daily activities is super simple. Math, Science & Language can be found in nearly any subject & can be broken down in kid friendly ways for learning. Start with basic math activities (numbers, colors, sorting and counting) and following up with real life experience with these skills as they naturally occurred in your day. For example:
  • Sort and match our socks, nature collections or toys before putting them away
  • Read a recipe and count the low number of ingredients to make it (ex: 2 eggs)
  • On our nature walks we would discover many rocks and sticks & these served for many more ways to learn. We counted them, made patterns, art and even did science activities like sink & float.
Sign up for the wait-list for our online course Ready, Set, Homeschool! to get your homeschool more prepared than ever before. This course has 2 modules on homeschooling without curriculum; how too homeschool reading without curriculum & how to homeschool math without curriculum.

Homeschool without curriculum: Writing & Reading

Kids need years of pre-writing activities before directly learning how to write. Create homeschooling activities to teach pre-writing skills and make a homemade journal. Try some of these ideas to get started learning how to write without curriculum: Pre-writing Activities to Offer
  • fine motor activities; scissors, transfer or scoop & pour, play-dough, lacing,
  • sensory activities; sensory bins, play-dough, ooblec, slime, etc.
  • drawing & coloring opportunities: blank paper & color crayons, paint, markers, etc.
Once they have practiced pre-writing activities or are showing interest in writing, drawing or coloring try these Writing Activities
  • Scribble
  • Draw
    • a picture and label (any symbol, letter or strings of letters used to represent the spelling of the object.)
      • (initial sound, ex: “D” for dog)
        • & final sound, ex: “DG” for dog)
        • Initial, middle & final sound. The letters may be correct or close to correct, ex: “dug”)
      • (one CVC word,correctly spelled ex: “dog”)
      • with detail (ex: “dog playing”)
      • with a sentence (“a dog playing at the park”.)
I grouped Reading & Writing together because a lot of the time our new reading skill or word we just learned could be immediately put to use in our writing. Keep it simple and offer integrated pre-writing & pre-reading activities BEFORE you get to your reading & writing lessons. This helps kids ease into reading & writing with the concepts you are learning about.  (NOTE: your child may or may not naturally enjoy reading or writing but it still very important to offer the opportunities.  Do NOT force or coax  a child to participate in activities they do not want to do. It will only make learning at home harder.)

How to Homeschool Without Curriculum & Unschooling

When we started homeschooling I spent a great deal of time unschooling myself. I am a product of a public education. I had to shift my personal learning experiences & formal teacher training’s from serving 24-26 students to serving one student.  All of the things that you need to do when you are teaching 20+ kids are not helpful when homeschooling a single child. I didn’t need formal assessments, or curriculum.  I read books on different philosophies of education and decided to mostly observe and facilitate my sons learning (using Maria Montessori as my inspiration).

Homeschooling Tools

We are eclectic and take what works for us from other homeschooling philosophies & practices. I take a few days a year and outline our plans for the year then I take that and convert it into the fun learning invitations & explorations like exploring the science and math behind our rock collection. How do you choose planning tools? I use my own and make time to plan about 7 days per year. A few days before the start our school year I map out our big ideas for the year and then one day per quarter I review/revise our plan. This year I revised our homeschool planner & planning process. To learn more about our homeschool organization system join our Homeschool Organization Challenge here

Challenging Days

Everyday will not be magical and not everything will come naturally or easily for your child, that’s just life. Everyone has to work hard for something and part of that work is struggling and all of the other feelings that come with a challenge.  The growth mindset is a great tool to help you over come challenges as a family! When you struggle or are frustrated in a nurturing & supportive environment, that is where the magic can happen. Kids make valuable realizations, on their own. Parents let go. Kids gain self confidence, independence and values. All of these things are highly motivating and I consider them wins.   Keep a journal & write them down to serve as a reminder for those challenging days.

How to Homeschool: Curriculum or Content?

I chose not to purchase curriculum because I knew it was something I could create myself and I had a very specific vision in mind and quite frankly what I wanted hadn’t been invented yet.  I wanted a skill-building, play-based program that would engage my very active & inquisitive preschooler. Last week he read his first chapter book (a simple Beginning Readers Series, Level I) but it was a huge milestone. He doesn’t not love writing but he’s good at phonetic spelling, communicating ideas and he is probably one grade level ahead in math. For more information on how to get your homeschool organized sign up for our Homeschool Organization Challenge here. Included is a planner, a 5 day free email course & a sample letter of intent to homeschool. How to Homeschool without curriculum

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