One of the best pieces of advice I received about teaching my own children was that the parent-child relationship far outweighs any curriculum choice. To put it another way, there is probably no really good or bad curriculum choice that the parent-child dynamic will not supersede. If the parent is engaging with the child, considering the needs of the child, and paying attention to the learning progress of the child, any curriculum will be a springboard for your child’s education. On the flip-side, if you browbeat the child with a schedule and comparative results, or neglect relationship and discussion, then even a well designed curriculum will likely leave a child unmotivated and detached from learning.
Curriculum can seem like the lifeline to expertise and comprehensive teaching, but this is only possibly true at higher levels of some specialized subjects. Even then, it can become an unnecessary burden if approached in a dry classroom style. But it also depends on what is meant by curriculum.
Broadly speaking, curriculum can mean any material that is used to guide or supplement an area of study. In this sense, it can include basically any book, video, discussion, or activity outline. However, many people think of curriculum as a pre-packaged set of resources that cover all educational subjects expected or required at a given age. This leads to false expectations and many frustrations for homeschool families.
It helps to remember that most people think of curriculum in terms of what has become typical for a Prussian-modeled public school classroom. (If you are new to this, you may not know that the American institutional school model was very purposefully modeled after the Prussian one.) Such a classroom has far too many students for one teacher to significantly interact with on a personal level. Besides which, that is not the point of the system. The system wants impersonal uniformity and compliance.
There can be only minor adjustments made for individuals or the classroom system breaks down. Every child needs to be moving along at basically the same pre-determined pace, learning information deemed important by government bureaucrats, and getting test scores that show the information is being appropriately absorbed. There is just enough foundational education mixed in to make the propaganda palatable. And it takes several hours every day to make this work.
There is NO need to mimic this in a home setting! To do so is akin to running your family life after an orphanage model. Would you leave your child locked in their bedroom until some neighborhood-wide bell rang for the next activity of the day? Would you feed your child only what all the other families on the block are feeding their children, according to a government approved menu. Well, some people obviously will, because either they don’t want to think or they get convinced some faraway person somehow knows what is best for everyone. But if you are homeschooling, you are already realizing this isn’t right. You know your family and your child have unique qualities, abilities, and interests.
For these reasons, after the first couple years of homeschooling, I evaluated learning materials differently. Here are some of my basic guidelines for using anything thought of as curriculum:
A. Young children, roughly up to age 8, need little or no formal study material. If you provide them with interesting books, read many of those books with them, and give them access to interaction with the real world, they will happily learn many foundational things. (I will plan future posts about specific things I used, but to include that here would make this post too long).
B. The goal of learning is understanding and application, not checking off boxes in a curriculum’s list of goals and activities.
C. The more pre-packaged a curriculum is, the less it encourages thinking, evaluating, and problem solving.
D. No curriculum has to be used a certain way, even if it claims such a thing. Fit the curriculum to the child, not the child to the curriculum.
E. Curriculum tends to abnormally segment life, so feel free to re-attach it across “subject” lines.
F. In this segmentation, curriculum makes learning longer and tedious because it misses opportunities to smoothly segue into other areas of learning.
G. No curriculum has to be finished in a certain amount of time. Guiding or training children in diligence and the benefits of continuity should be separated from unimportant administrative goals of meeting schedules or impressing onlookers.
H. Testing is of value only to help a child or tutor/parent evaluate comprehension or to plan future learning strategies. If a curriculum stresses testing, do not be tempted to emphasize that or teach to the test. And don’t move on just because a test score is good enough. Proceed when it is best for the child.
I. Grades are also an unproductive measure of or help in learning, especially for young children. Grades imply things like accepting a low, but somehow acceptable, level of understanding and still moving on; then oddly expecting the child to grasp future concepts well. Or grades can give a child the impression that that is the goal of learning, which often leads a child to miss both the joy and depth of a subject.
J. Curriculum tends to provide a lot of busy work. This should be avoided. Busy work is there to fill time in the classrooms and to make the course look like it is worth more money.
K. No curriculum can substitute for real life experience and good discussions.
It is easy as a homeschooling parent to feel pressure to be able to exhibit that he or she is teaching correctly, because, “see this curriculum just like what the schools use?” It is better to understand and be able to cheerfully explain why teaching your children at home is better for them than anything a classroom can offer. Classroom style, pre-packaged curriculum is the only way an institutional school can function, but that does nothing to recommend it. There are more effective and personal opportunities possible in the home setting. Let your curriculum choices reflect that.