Big Box Curriculum YAY or NAY?

Hi.  My name is Tara and I believe TEACHERS do not need a BIG BOX curriculum for their students to be successful learners. I believe that TEACHERS do not need a BIG BOX curriculum to put them in a BOX and STIFLE their CREATIVITY, their PASSION, and their LOVE FOR LEARNING!

Wow.  I feel so empowered saying that, but at the same time my hands are sweaty and I’m getting heart palpitations as if I am about to share this post with teachers from around the world.  Oh wait. I am?  We will move forward and I will get over my own fears of speaking from my heart for the betterment of my fellow teachers! 
See that’s me below!  I am a sixth year teacher {ohhhh six years…what does SHE know?}.  I have taught at the same {awesome} school with an abundance of resources and {fabulous} staff.  So, after all that why am I whining about getting to use some expensive curriculum that was purchased for me to use {shouldn’t you just be grateful?} 

Well, I used that fancy curriculum for two years {was it really that long?} I used my nice, fabulous, pretty packaged, OVER abundant {boxes, and boxes, and BOXES} curriculum until I found a teacher miracle site called Teachers Pay Teachers.  What was so special about this site?  Well, you can tell right from the title, TEACHERS pay TEACHERS.  As I searched through the site I came across activity after activity that I knew would be perfect for my class.  It eventually came to the point that before I taught my BIG BOX curriculum lesson I would go check and see what Teachers pay Teachers had on that subject….and before I knew it I was relying on this site for TEACHERS more than my curriculum.

So, the more I used the site the more I fell in love with the idea that TEACHERS are creating and helping other TEACHERS.  Basically the site translated to Teachers Collaborating with Teachers…and all administrators like teachers to collaborate right?  I fell in love with the site so much that I decided I wanted to create, share, collaborate, and connect with teachers!  I opened a shop, started this blog, and went to town!  I quickly realized that little ol’ me was able to make a difference for teachers.  I would often get emails that said,
“This is exactly what I imagined the perfect reading curriculum would be like. Over the past 13 years, I have tried to tweak district curriculum to make it more fun, more meaningful and more appropriate for kindergarten but I was never as thorough and successful as Tara West has been with these units. After looking through the units I already know that I will be able to use everything, not just bits and pieces, so definitely worth the price!”

I started to realize that I was not the only teacher in this day-to-day struggle with myself… the struggle only teachers get.  It sounds about like this….

Every time a teacher reads that quote they chuckle to themselves and probably say, “Uh huh that’s right!”  And thinking about that quote…why would a teacher need to “pretend” and be “sneaky” about teaching students meaningful material?  Well, remember that fancy BIG BOX curriculum that was purchased for them…well you have to use that!  If Rm. 10 is teaching an awesome Teachers pay Teachers lesson and Rm. 15 is teaching the BIG BOX curriculum then what happens?  Well, according to the following quote it is actually a GOOD thing to veer from your BIG BOX lesson plan, but after posting this quote on my Little Minds at Work Facebook page I received several comments that said they were not allowed to anything that was not IN the book.

Well, I feel that sometimes those decisions are made thinking logistically and not with reality in mind.  Let’s say you are doctor {this is clearly a make believe and hypothetical story as I am a kindergarten teacher and not medically inclined to tell true medical stories} and a patient comes in very sick.  The protocol states you need to run basic tests like X-ray, blood work, etc before advancing the patient to the intensive care unit.  Well, you are using your doctor intuition {AKA basic knowledge} and you know right away this patient needs to go to the intensive unit.  However, your superiors said NOT to do that unless you followed protocol.  I mean that is a little dramatic story in this case because someone’s live is on the line…but it’s no different than we feel as teachers….that our students’ educations are on the line.  When we forced to follow protocol {AKA BIG BOX curriculum} we are not doing the kids any favors.  What ever happened to balance?

Okay, I get it.  You are a TEACHER and you think TEACHERS know what is best for their students over BIG BOX curriculum. Yes and YES!  I will further my opinion on this matter with five exhibits below {wow I feel like a lawyer now…doctor, now lawyer look at me!}  I was sure to choose stock photos from a photo database for these exhibits because I know you teachers would take a particular interest in them!

BIG BOX curriculum sets are just about unrealistic as the picture above.  My teacher friends probably already noticed what was going on this picture.  Ten students are working elbow-to-elbow at one standard size table.  They are also sharing ONE cup of pencils.  Also, on the table you will see a bowl of chalk, yet none of the kids are even acknowledging a bowl of CHALK on the table {Chalk AKA go outside run wild, drawing all over the playground}.  That scene just does not happen in the real world.  Just like BIG BOX curriculum expectations are just not doable.  The curriculum set says I am covering all of my 30 standards for the week, but I don’t know if holding up a letter card is actually teaching the standard.  Or, how about the BIG BOX curriculum giving me assigned easy readers to read with my kids.  The books are broken down into three categories; on level, above level, and below level.  Well, I was just wondering if the company knew that my class comes in not knowing their letters and there is not an above level.  They don’t know.  Basically…they can’t know because it’s not realistic.

 Exhibit two.  I am sure that this picture does not need explaining, but I will explain anyway…well because the kids are adorable.  So, this teacher has SIX students.  Unless she hid the other 20 behind the camera {which I highly doubt because no five year old hides from a picture}. BIG BOX curriculum companies forget that the majority of us are teaching class sizes of 20+ kids.  So, when the lesson plans says, “Prepare these manipulates per students: 10 blue snap cubes, 10 red snap cubes, 10 green snap cubes, 5 paper clips {yeah paper clips this is going to go great!}, and activity cards 1.a-1.z.  You start to get the sweats and hopefully you are that awesome prepared teacher that looked thoroughly through your plans the night before so you could then take your snap cubes and paper clips home to sort them.  You see again the BIG BOX companies do not get it. They don’t know.  Basically…they can’t know because it’s not realistic.

Well. Well.  What do we have here?  Exhibit three explains what BIG BOX companies are best known for {don’t worry this isn’t a good thing to be known for}.  BIG BOX companies are known most for what they do not have.  There isn’t a packet in my shop that doesn’t have a comment like this one, “This will be a great addition to my curriculum.” That is an example of teachers searching for activities and ideas to fill the holes in their BIG BOX curriculum.  So, the school district purchased this very expensive curriculum and one of the perks was no doubt that “everything would be included” just “open the book and teach”  and “anyone can teach from this book.”  Yeah.  If I taught straight from my BIG BOX curriculum I would be teaching about 15 minutes of material and the kids and I would be sitting there staring at each other for the other 45 minutes.  Well. that isn’t going to fly because one kids don’t sit for 45 minutes and 2 well you know …  So, good teachers do what they have always done best…they go out on their own and find meaningful material for their students to use.  The forefront of that being…Teachers Pay Teachers!

 Why are you showing me a room of adults?  Didn’t you say you teach kindergarten?  Yes. and exhibit four is the most mind-boggling to me.  You see BIG BOX educational curriculum programs are created and written by…….. PROFESSORS!  {Got ya!  You thought I was going to say teachers!} Professor.  Teacher. all the same right?  Well, not so much.  The big difference being that professors teach adults…and I teach five year old children.  Unless you are a teacher you do not know the kids like we do.  Most people are completely “cool” with that.  They give high-fives to teachers or tell us, “I don’t know how you do it, but thank you!”  However, those in charge of creating these BIG BOX programs do not know my kids.  They don’t know that never “saw” their name until it was written on their table.  They don’t know that they have never been to preschool and don’t exactly know what it means to sit criss-cross.  They don’t know that kids actually come to school and learn at all different paces.  Yeah,  BIG BOX curriculum…my kids are not ALL the same.  My kids do not fit in a one-size-fits-all box.

Exhibit five is clearly the most important.  You see the kids in this picture are “mine.”  Yes, that is “N” and “E.”  When they came into kindergarten last year I immediately took in what each student would need to be successful and we set forward in our day-to-day learning.  I did not rely on my BIG BOX curriculum to tell me that one would need extra assistance with math while the other would want to get me thrown into copy machine timeout from making too many copies of the “all about” booklets because they were #obsessed with writing.  You see…no company could tell me that I would need to alter the way I taught letters in my below group because this student would have trouble with their b’s and d’s.  The BIG BOX curriculum didn’t know that one of them would miss a week from school with the flu and need to catch up on addition. Not even my sister teaching across the hall would know my students like I did.  Why?  Because that is what teachers do…they LEARN, OBSERVE, and they TEACH. They recognize their students’ needs and they REACT!  Teachers don’t wait for a book to tell them to review short vowels…the see their kids’ need and they review shorts {that usually means logging onto Teachers Pay Teachers and finding a fun and engaging lesson that reviews short vowels.}
So, you rambled on about why you don’t care for a BIG BOX curriculum but you don’t understand…I don’t have a choice!  Well, teacher to teacher here is what I say.  Keep doing what teachers do best!  Teachers make a difference everyday.  If your tied to a BIG BOX curriculum {I will keep you in my prayers} you are NOT any less of a teacher.  You are doing the best you can do with the limitations set upon you.  However, I encourage you to dig down deep …which probably won’t be too far and muster up the courage to approach your administration with a set plan.  Of course if your suggestion is to throw the million dollar curriculum out the window they are most likely {never mind they will} say no.  Instead, be transparent…let your emotion for your students prevail.  Ask for possibly one week where you can try a new program …and possibly throw in that they are welcome to come in and observe you doing these {awesome and fantastic teacher-created} lessons.
If you are not tied down to a BIG BOX curriculum {woohoo we all just did the disco move for you} then I encourage you to hop over to Teachers pay Teachers and browse the teacher-created resources.  There are 1,000’s of awesome resources that range from free to paid. What I love even more about Teachers pay Teachers is the fact that because the resources are created by teachers they can be easily tweaked and even get updated!  Let’s see if the BIG BOX writing curriculum will update their writing plans for FREE like Deanna Jump and Deedee Wills are doing.  Yeah. I am sure we just answered that.  I also wonder if the BIG BOX curriculum companies have feedback like this on their websites… {that was funny}!

 “Okay…so I literally have no idea where to begin. I think you may have helped save my guided reading groups, especially those that are still struggling! Thank you so much for all the effort that you placed on this amazing bundle, and for making it affordable and endless. I cannot even describe to you how helpful that is for me. I will also be purchasing the first grade so I can push my advanced kiddos.”

 I encourage to head over to Teachers pay Teachers this back to school season and see what your fellow teachers are up to!  Oh yeah and here’s to some teacher-made power! 

If you are a fan of BIG BOX curriculum programs {oh golly I really hope I dind’t upset anyone…I don’t like when people are upset at me} please know that these are simply my opininos and again I am not in your classroom to see you rocking the heck out of these lessons.  Again, I never judge either way…teachers receive enough judgment as it is.  Do what is best for YOU and mostly your STUDENTS!
And last but not least…I personally want to thank you for  making the dedication to teach.  Teaching is NOT easy, but is by far the most REWARDING career there is.  I will leave you with this…..


  1. This will be my 25th year in the classroom – 23 in kindergarten ( holy mackerel when did that happen ?). I have seen many , many programs and methods for teaching young children come and go. Tara, for a 6th year teacher you have knowledge beyond your years ๐Ÿ™‚ As we begin a new school year ( how many of you never stopped getting ready for your new little ones all summer long ?) your words speak to the best teacher in all of us … thanks for the inspiration and the amazing ideas that every teacher needs !

  2. Amen, sister! I love everything about this post. We do not use a reading series at my school and I absolutely L-O-V-E it. It works great for meeting not only the diverse needs in my room (we're talking beyond the typical "below", "on", and "above"), but also their unique interests! There is NO way a big box curriculum does that. I can't stand when teachers look down on others for using TPT materials – wouldn't you want all your teaching "stuff" to come from an actual teacher? I'd much rather put money back into the pocket of a teacher like myself than give it to a big-name company who is not as in-touch with what my students need!

    Okay, off my soap box now ๐Ÿ™‚ You seem like such a such a fabulous teacher. Can't wait to check out Firstie Literacy!

    Paiges of Learning

  3. Like many others, I have curriculums that I "have to" use. What I have found, however, is that you can pick through these programs and pull out anything valuable (or that can be valuable with a slight modification). Then I supplement with other things. Sometimes the program just needs to be rearranged a bit. Sometimes I can use the program with different manipulatives. Sometimes I find the "extension" activities are better than the minilesson and use those instead. This way, I can show that I am consistently using the prescribed program, but also without compromising my students' needs.

  4. Great post! I agree! I like that you noted that the teacher is the only person that knows their kids strengths and weaknesses. But, I think teachers need to be careful with Teachers Pay Teachers. I have seen teachers buy units and just use the whole thing in their classroom (same problem with Box Curriculums). It needs to be personalized for each of their students. A unit that works in your K class probably would not fully work well in my class in Baltimore City. I love TPT and refer to it for some things. But, using it every day, buying a $5 cutesy unit on The Three Little Pigs and not looking to see if it is functional for your classroom, meets the standards, and is personalized for each of your students could spin into an even bigger problem! I will continue to use TPT as a resources but also caution teachers from buying everything and tossing it at their students because it is full of color, cute cliparts, and a fun story!

    Thanks for sharing your work! Love your blog! ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Hey Whitney! You bring up a great point and it truly is all about balance…if we only ever ate candy and chocolate we wouldn't be in the best shape either ha! I agree that teachers have to always be cautious in making sure things will work for the kiddos sitting in front of them! True, true! ๐Ÿ™‚ Have a great year….I just can't believe it's nearly here again!


  5. YES, YES, AND MORE YES! Having gone from a school where the expectation was that your manual was open with your eyes glued to it to a school who favors balanced literacy, there is such a noticeable difference in student engagement and learning. When I veered away from our math curriculum (in secret, of course) and focused on a workshop model, my kids did exponentially better than ever before.
    Not that I am a proponent of standardized tests or think they show exactly what a kid does/ doesn't know, but our K-1 classes have the highest scores in the building and are the only ones NOT using the network mandated curriculum. Balance and knowledge of students is that important part that you completely hit on the head! Thank you!

    Mrs. Garcia's Super Scholars!

  6. We are getting a reading series this year after not having one for many years. I am so disappointed. We have been told that this is your resource and you must use it with fidelity. They even questioned the use of read-alouds not dictated by the series. I will shut my door and do what is best for my kids. After years of hearing others complain that their curriculum is dictated by their district and shaking my head in disbelief, I am now realizing that my district has done just that. Sad.

  7. Great post that I completely agree with in every way!!!!! I am not a fan of Big Box Curriculum (whether reading or math). TPT is an excellent resource. I enjoy learning what my kids need and doing my best to help them learn and grow. I haven't found a Big Box program that teachers all my children and don't think I ever will. Thanks for sharing.

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