Saturday, September 22, 2007

Value of Curriculum

On the homeschooling forums on MDC, someone asked whether it's possible to homeschool without using a purchased curriculum. Lillian J, who frequently has the best, most helpful responses ever, said this:

When you have a packaged curriculum - especially if it's cost a lot of money - it takes on a lot of power. Children can very well find themselves sucked into a plan that may have no relevance to the way they learn, their talents and inclinations, their basic personalities, nor much else that's supportive of them as individual learners.

It's understandably overwhelming at first to look at the enormity of providing an education for a child. What's really hard to know at that point is that an awful lot of it will be coming quite naturally and easily in the course of living, playing, using the imagination, having good conversations, being out in the world and observing all that's around, going to the library and to museums, field trips, being read to, being around other people, exploring interests, pursuing hobbies, taking community classes or attending community activities, doing their own building projects and participating in family projects, playing games ("educational" and otherwise), eventually reading on one's own when the time comes, occasional group classes or activities your group can organize around things your children are interested in, exploring Internet sites and good software... It all builds and builds into a pretty impressive body of knowledge and understanding - even with no planning or orchestration. Those are not just platitudes - promise - there are a whole lot of us who have experienced all this and have actually been as surprised as the next person to see how amazing it all is. I know of plenty of grown homeschool grads, my son among them, who got an excellent education without the use of a curriculum.

For more focus on various subjects, the library is amazing - take a browse through their juvenile non-fiction section alone and see all the things you have access to! And many libraries are catching on to the large market of users they can tap into among homeschoolers - serving homeschoolers can give youth librarians a lot more to do. I've been on a panel that was put on by a large group of youth librarians specifically to find out what homeschoolers would like to see in the way of services. Your group could probably think of things they'd like to request when their children are older.

I do see the humor in talking about not using curriculum when I just went and purchased the first two workbooks in a math curriculum. But there's a difference (to me, anyway) in picking two workbooks that I'd researched thoroughly and determined would be of the most enjoyment/use to us, which also happen to be inexpensive, and buying a full curriculum that tells you exactly how to teach all subjects.

I don't buy into the idea that kids need to learn certain things in a certain order. I mean, I suppose I can see the value in learning history and math in 'order' - clearly some math skills have to be learned before others - but it's not absolutely necessary. Who says it's wrong to learn about the Tudors before learning about ancient Egypt? As we learn more and more, we can create a timeline and talk about when things happened in relation to others, as it's meaningful to us.

The joy of not being tied down to a curriculum is that we can learn what we want, when we want, and because the material is what my children have picked as being valuable and meaningful to them as they learn it, that material will have a special place inside them. As it's currently popular to say, they'll "own" that knowledge, in a way that they wouldn't if I just said arbitrarily, "Okay, we're going to sit down and learn about the sacking of Rome."

Oh, how I love homeschooling, and unschooling in particular. It is such a good fit for our family, I can't imagine doing it any other way.

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