I never thought I would see the day that my eldest would be using a curriculum and liking it, but she is. When we began our homeschool journey, I attempted to bring in a curriculum and was met by a brick wall of resistance in my daughter, then five. I did an about face and plunged into unschooling, as this was the only alternative solution I could find to a curriculum resistant child, and I began to learn how children learn and love it and how to create a supportive, cooperative learning environment for my children. That’s not to say a perfect learning environment. I learn as we go, and that means I make mistakes and learn from them… and they do to. That’s one way we learn. But a particular goal is always there as a beacon leading me: the goal to empower my children to stand in charge of their own lives and their own educations.
At one point, I couldn’t see how a curriculum pre-designed by another person could empower my children, especially my right-brained children who learn on the fly, flitting from one interest to another (and really learning and liking it) and who learn in the trenches of the fertile ground of their desire to know and understand the world around them, dug in and digging deeper and wider for as long as they need. How could a curriculum adapt to that? I didn’t think it could. But another need began to take hold in our lives this year, and curriculum became the answer to that need.
What happened? My children are required to take a standardized test each year for the state as “proof of progress.” The test was rather easy for my daughter, now age 10, until last year. She passed, but didn’t feel prepared or equipped. So I tried to equip her. That’s my job; I’m a mom. But, no matter how much I tried to present the information in a way that was not an insult to her intelligence and in a way that was comprehensible to her, she was not happy with this arrangement. I was stumped because this preparation took, let’s say, about 15 minutes out of her life about 3 times a week on average. If we kept on at this simple pace, we she would feel prepared.... right?
But, no go. OK. Well. She wanted to feel prepared, and she didn’t want me involved in the process, so I bought a curriculum called Math U See for her to try out because it’s a right brained approach to math, and I hoped it would be self-explanatory. I also bought Daily Grams, while cringing at the idea that the educational system and powers that be think that hyper focusing on parts of speech will make children better able to use the English language. (Sorry folks, major issue for me. I was a whole language convert in the college of education I attended and hate to see language broken down into little intimidating parts especially before a child has a chance to experience the beauty of the whole of it on her own and especially when the little parts are often arguably irrelevant.) Against my desire on that one in particular…
I bought these curriculums not to teach my daughter but so she could teach herself what she thinks she needs to know how she thinks she needs to know it in order to take that standardized test with confidence this next year. She needs to feel familiar with the land of school and the standardized tests that come from that land that are required of her if she wants to continue the autodidact's life without school. The test was foreign to her. The very act of taking a test was foreign to her.
I took the curriculum workbooks and counted the pages and let her know how many pages she would need to complete each week to accomplish her goal, which is to complete each. I encouraged her to skip parts that she already knew and felt comfortable with. She told me that repetition makes it "stick" in her mind. OK. I gave her the teacher books to refer to on her own. And, that’s about all the direction I gave her. She asks me for assistance when and if she needs it. She wants to be prepared to take that test, you see. She wants this. She has defined the goal and the means. She wants to do this privately, on her own.
I told her that I think she would learn as much grammar as she needed to know with no problem without the curriculum. I do not want that grammar curriculum to become her crutch or to tell her that she needs it for anything other than her defined purpose. I want it put in my idea of its proper perspective. It is her tool for empowerment for taking that test for today. She’ll learn about nouns, verbs, prepositions, compound subjects, predicates and so on… things she probably wouldn’t come across and learn while reading books and writing her stories… things she doesn’t need to know to be a successful anything but an English teacher, in my opinion, but she will be equipped to take that test. But guess what? Perhaps her opinion will be different than mine. She may decide she *likes* this stuff! OK. It has to be *her* choice.
The math curriculum has turned out to be another story. I supported her when she expressed how frustrated she was that she was required to know certain maths this year when her mind did not feel ready. And, she has discovered this curriculum is helping her understand the math that she seemingly has feared and avoided because she hasn’t been able to wrap her right brain around it. This Math U See is helping her see math in a right brained way and now she feels more confident, not just to take the test, but to do math that she runs across in everyday life. She enjoys the process of her learning using this program.
So mom learns yet another lesson on the homeschool journey, as does daughter. Curriculums have their place in our world when used as a tool to meet a need as defined by the learner (even if derived from an imposed demand, or not) and especially when the learner chooses her path and her method. Curriculums can help when a particular step by step fashion of learning is needed, and sometimes it is, even in a flit fly and dig, self–directed learner’s life. She is digging into the curriculums. We live and we learn from all kinds real life realities, in all kinds of places, and in all kinds of ways, don’t we? And it can all be good.
Robin considers herself a budding naturalist and conservationist and a spiritual eclectic who enjoys celebrating the wheel of the year with her own unique blend of earth-centered world traditions.