Boxed Curriculum vs. Mix and Match

One of the biggest debates you may have with yourself, and even others, on your homeschooling journey is boxed curriculum vs. mix and match. You'll find folks from both sides who feel passionately about their choice, but which one is the one for you? That's a personal decision for each family, but here are a few pros and cons to help you make the decision for yourself!

Boxed Curriculum Pros:

1.) It all comes together, basically in one box. Hence the name, boxed. Need 7th grade? Easy enough. Just choose the 7th grade option, then wait on the delivery guy to show up in a couple of weeks.

2.) It usually has all of the core subjects, so you're not scrambling around to make sure you have the right subject, at the right time, for the right grade.

3.) Reusable/resale value. A lot of times, boxed sets are textbook based. You can easily put those books up for later use with a younger student, or in some cases (check the company policy first!) you may be able to resale.

4.) Pre-planned. Most boxed sets come pre-planned for convenience. Also known as "open and go," boxed sets will usually include a calendar for parents to follow.

5.) There's usually something for everyone. Most anyone can find a box set to match their chosen method or system of beliefs.

6.) Often, the subjects will pair with each other nicely. Whatever you are learning in history will also be the topic in reading.

Boxed Curriculum Cons:

1.) Price: Often times, complete boxed sets cost more. I've found that if I price each piece individually, I can often scrounge around and create the same set for hundreds less. Especially with literature, I can generally find the same required books for pennies on the dollar used off Amazon vs. new from the company.

2.) One size does not always fit all. Maybe your child is on a 5th grade math level, a 6th grade science level, and a 7th grade reading level? A boxed set isn't going to be easily tailored to fit your needs. This is especially true when it comes to special needs.

3.) Overwhelming. Boxed sets can seem daunting and overwhelming when the set arrives and you suddenly have five books just for geography, another three for math, and don't even get me started on history! It can be stressful when you are initially going through all of the books.

4.) The rigid structure can be an unnecessary hassle. One of the main reasons we homeschool is for flexibility. With a boxed set, there's often a pre-planned set of days. While that's great in one sense, it can be easy to get caught up in the "we have to finish this by day 62...OR ELSE!" Or else...what? One of the main questions I get asked on a regular basis is, "What happens if we don't finish our set in 180 days? What if we need 190 days?" My answer? Then you take 190 days! Homeschooling is about flexibility and the ability to set your own schedule, not a pre-planned one.

Pros with a mix and match curriculum:

1.) Skill level doesn't always coincide with grade level. When you mix and match, you can truly tailor your child's education to his/her own unique levels. My son may be in 7th grade, legally, but he still needs help with some lower level math skills. With mix and match, I can easily choose a family plan for math that allows us to move about grade levels with ease, rather than being stuck with 1 grade level book and a lot of frustration and learning gaps.

2.) Ease of flexibility. I can plan what we do, when we do it. Sure, it's not as easy as opening a box and just starting, but the freedom and lowered stress of not having a pre-planned calendar staring at me is nice. There are also a lot of single subject courses that are still planned for you. We are using a history program now that is labeled day 1, day 2, etc. and based off of a 5 day week. It's great that it's not labeled as starting on any particular day, and I can check off the days we've completed as we go. But if we want to take a month off of it, and do something else, we can with no worries at all about starting back again. We don't have to worry about keeping up in history so that our reading-or another subject- will make sense. While it is nice to have them match, it's much easier to move at an individualized pace between two distinctly different programs.

3.) We can include both secular and non-secular choices. Boxed sets are typically one or the other. This way, we can have both as we want.

4.) We can have a variety of different methods and forms. My son prefers to do some things online, and others with pencil and paper. With mix and match, I can customize his day so that he gets a good mix of both. We can do history online, and we also have book and paper history for other days. He can do math online, but we can also pick up a math workbook and focus a bit more on a harder-for-him concept. We can do more hands on for science, and stick to the internet for reading. Whatever the combination, mix and match is the way to go for variety.

5.) Interest driven is a possibility with mix and match. Does your child want to study anatomy, but that 7th grade set calls for Earth Science instead? With mix and match, you can choose whatever topic you want, when you want it. Right now, my son wanted to study great explorers to 1815, even though other boxed curriculum wanted to put him in late american history or even the middle ages. I believe children learn best, and retain more, when they are truly interested in what they are studying. Mix and match gives you the ability to choose what interests them the most.

6.) Family learning. With mix and match, you can choose programs that the whole family can use at the same time. You can have a younger student working on the same topic as an older, but the work is tailored to their levels.

Cons with mix and match:

1.) Time consuming. It can be time consuming and stressful to pick and choose exactly what you want, and what you need.

2.) Second guesses. You may second guess yourself. Did you choose the correct level? What if you forgot something needed? Do you really need those optional flash cards? What if Little Susie doesn't learn everything she's supposed to in 4th grade history? What if Little Johnny isn't on the exact same language arts program as the neighborhood kids? Freedom and flexibility can come with a certain level of stress.

3.) Shipping costs: I personally hate shipping costs, haha! Nothing like saving that 10% only to turn around and have to spend 14.99 on shipping! If you're internet savvy, you can often times find free shipping codes, or other promo codes. If not, shipping costs can add up, over time.

4.) Going overboard. It is very easy to go overboard when shopping for curriculum. You may find yourself wanting your child to learn everything there is to know about the Civil War, and end up with way too much in the way of resources and materials.

As you can see, there are a lot of good and bad with either option, and it is important to choose what is best for your situation. I hope I've listed enough pros and cons to help you make the right choice for your family!