Choosing a Homeschooling Curriculum
Choosing a Homeschooling Curriculum
I think the most common question I am asked might be, “What curriculum should I use?” There are quite a variety of approaches and all work just fine with some kids some of the time. There doesn’t seem to be an “standardized” approach that works with all kids — which is one reason why our public schools are such a failure for so many students.
What curriculum you use will mostly be determined by your beliefs about the basic nature of people and where those beliefs fall on a scale of trust. At one end is the completely child-originated curriculum, where the parent believes that babies are born pure and are equipped by nature with a drive to learn all they can to become surviving members of the society in which they are born.
Most of us start here, at birth, pretty much just enjoying being with our new baby and providing him with lots of interesting things to see, smell, feel, and hear, all at a pace set by him. The parents’ focus is to nurture and encourage. We are our babies’ greatest fans. The area we share with our babies grows larger and larger over time and soon we are going to interesting places and engaging in all sorts of fun art, craft, and science “projects” (like scribbling with crayons and playing in mud). We naturally tell him things like names of objects in his environment or colors as he shows an interest.
Somewhere in time, though, many parents begin to lose faith in this natural process and begin to feel pressured “to make sure” their child learns “what he needs to know.” At this point, the parent may, for instance, stop playing with the toddler at the beach and enroll her in a swimming class. Or the parent might buy a phonics program. How this manifests as the child gets older depends on what the parent believes the child “needs to know” and how strongly the parent feels about it. This can be as light a touch as encouraging a child with “Let’s look it up in the encyclopedia” or it may be as structured as scheduled lessons with penalties for not doing them. How smoothly the structured approach works depends on the child and his relationship with his parents. A strong-willed, independent thinker who doesn’t want to do his lessons will fight back. If it happens that these lessons are what he’s truly interested in, he may excel in them. A subdued child, conditioned to going along with the orders of adults may do well do his lessons without protest, though his success is less guaranteed. Often this child will cooperate until late elementary school age or the early teen years, at which time he may feel strong enough or fed up enough to start protesting overtly or covertly.
When the parents or other adults set the agenda and enforce it, it is parents’ idea of who the child is and of who the child should become and of what the child needs to know that prevails. Many parents are comfortable in this role and feel that they, as adults with life experience, can see into their child’s future well enough to make these decisions for her. Grades, test scores, certified programs, diplomas and other societal measures of success may well be a part of this family’s homeschooling experience.
Parents who are more trusting of nature and more humble about their own ability to see into the future will look at their children with more wonder. They will watch to see what unfolds as the child grows and seek clues from the child so they can best nurture and encourage what the child is reaching towards at the time. This just might be a traditional education with the same test scores, certified programs and such as above, but it far more usual for the child to discover some passion basic to his view of who he is and to want to indulge in that, seemingly to the exclusion of all else. They may go through many of these “binges,” as I call them, any one of which could become their life’s work. These kids still learn to read and write and do basic math sufficient for operating just fine in our society. They’ll generally get some history and geography and civics in the course of growing up — it’s difficult not to. Their knowledge of these things, though, will tend to be more personal as it was prompted by their own life experiences rather than what they had on their curriculum to study next.
An example of this is our son’s path. When he was into marbles, he learned archaeology and that marbles were found in Egyptian tombs. When he was into POGs (round milk-bottle covers in myriad designs to be won and collected), he marketed his own design and learned some entrepreneurial economics. When he was into bodyboarding, he learned about weather. When a friend of ours decided to defend himself against a parking ticket, he learned about our court system. When he got into stunt rollerblading, he learned much geography in the course of locating contests and skate parks around the world. (Note: as of 2003, he has won the World Amateur Vert In-Line Championship, competing against rollerbladers from all over the world. After that, he competed in his first professional competition in Cincinnati, Ohio and came in 6th and since went on to compete all over the US and Europe. One never knows where a passion will lead.)
When parents ask me how to choose a curriculum, I always suggest that they examine their beliefs about human nature and about education. Do you believe that children need to be pushed to learn? Do you believe that you know best what this unique individual that is your child needs to know when he’s grown up? Or do you believe that nature provided your child with the drive to learn the skills he needs as he needs them? Do you believe that certain facts accumulated to the end result of a diploma are needed for success? Or do you believe that if the child discovers who he really is, what his passions are and if he follows these, that he can’t help but be a success? How do you define success? What does your child think about all this? When you’ve answered these questions for yourself, you’ll see more clearly what type of educational approach will work best for your family. And as your beliefs change and as your children grow and change, so will your approach to homeschooling. We all do a bit of everything before we are done…that’s one of many things that make homeschooling so rewarding for everyone in the family!
Some interesting quotes and notes:
“…about two-thirds of those millionaires who still work are self-employed — versus one in ten for all Americans….Self-employed people are four times more likely to be millionaires than people who work for others. (Reader’s Digest, Nov. ‘97 “Secrets from ‘The Millionaire Next Door’”.
And what do you think would prepare you better for self-employment — compulsory school or the independent learning of homeschooling?
Note: the Unabomer was a Harvard PhD.