Don’t buy a curriculum -Do this first!

Curriculum can throw off your child’s learning by making her believe that the way you are teaching her is the way she should learn. In other words, it’s the same paradigm of school, a learning box the child must fit in.

When she’s little get in the flow with your child, read to her, play with her, build things, paint, draw, do crafts, present different materials, play at the playgro

und, go on unhurried nature walks, let her play with sand at the p

ark, dig holes, make mud. Let her watch YouTube when she’s old enough, sign her up for classes if she’s interested or agrees to trying something out. See what she enjoys doing, see how she plays, does she like to build forts, does she like to make stuff, does she tell stories, what is her pretend play usually about?

Curriculum is not Big Picture

When we set out to homeschool we make ourselves responsible for our kids education, so we have an idea of what standards and goals we are aiming for. This idea, these goals, is our benchmark.
But often, we go to either extreme, we become very overbearing about the details such as what lessons she should learn this year or today so we can check stuff off the academic list. We also go to the other extreme and we say “I just want my child to grow up to be happy, and whatever he does I want him to love what he does!”.
Either approach doesn’t achieve anything constructive. The overbearing one zooms in so close that you lose sight of the big picture, and the other extreme, well, “happiness and love” is a little too much to ask of an education.
What kids need is a platform for learning. You can design an education that will set your kids up for success. And depending on your family values, economics, priorities, etc. look at what you need to provide to guide and coach them. When they become young adults -they can take it from there.
When kids are teenagers the questions often comes up: What are you going to be when you grow up? Latter the question: Are you planning on going to college? And by the time they are between 17 and 23 we ask: What are you going to do with your life? What are you going to be?
These are pretty big questions, specially for someone who has always been operating within a curriculum and someone’s agenda.
Instead, try it in reverse.


Do This Visualization Exercise

It is difficult to imagine your kids being older, but try just to have a base for how your child looks like when she’s 12 years old.
Sit in a comfortable position and do this visualization exercise:

  • Is she wearing jeans, or is she in her pajamas, is her hair long? What is she doing?
  • Or your son. Is he wearing jeans or pjs? Is his hair short?
  • Are there instruments in the room? Is there art? Books? Collectibles?
  • What are the sounds you hear? Try to put some details in this vision.
  • Is this a kid that has many friends or just a few good friends?
  • Is this child confident, calm, resilient, playful…
  • Is he/she working on a project, reading something interesting, learning a language, painting, building something, programming, staring at the ceiling, contemplating, reflecting, writing an easy or letter, what are they doing?…What do you like about what they are spending time on?

Answer this question: Why is what they are doing important to you?

  • Think of a role model. Someone you like the person that they became? Is it you? Maybe someone in your family, or someone who you knew at some point and had some great qualities, cultured, well rounded, a great job maybe? What is important to you?
  • How can you as a parent contribute to them being the person in your vision?
  • What can you do that would enable your kids to achieve what you think is important that she should know and do when she’s 12 years old?
  • How is your background, family values, and who you are affect what you want your kids to achieve, learn, do?

Now that you have an image of the Big Picture”…

Set Big Picture Goals

Trace in big strokes what a well educated person looks like for you. What traits do they have?

Is music important in your family? Do you believe that in order to be a well rounded person your child should learn to read and play music?
Is math important in your family? Do you think your child will be interested in becoming and engineer or an economist, a business person?
What about history? Knowing about the world, having a good understanding of the environment, countries, etc.?

If all or some of those examples are important, your kids will be able to know from the fact that maybe you play music, or have instruments in your house, or you listen to music and talk about it.

If math is expected, you can introduce some simple math when they are young. But only enough so that it is useful to them in the real world (their day to day lives). There might be special projects that require some math and that is also a good and useful way to learn a little math.

We have put together here a good guide for Math.

They will understand that history is important because you have history books, talk about history, tell stories. Even if it is about their grandparents and their great grandparents.

It’s no different than when we tell our kids to have manners. We don’t tell our kids one time, we tell them maybe fifty times between when they’re 3 years old and when they are 12 years old! We mode good behavior ourselves. But we don’t have to tell them every day and we don’t spend an hour a day teaching Etiquette. That would be silly. They grow up knowing that having good manners is important in their family and it’s a good thing in the long run.

Arithmetic? I insist, don’t go on reading any of my articles if math is important for you, until you’ve read this post about the best maths.

In our family Art is a big part of our lives. We have art all over the house, my daughter has seen me prepare shows, her grandma is a painter, and their house is full of art, my sister is a muralist and they have art all over their house…We talk about art, we talk about painters and why they are famous. This is amusing to her. She and dad like to come to art openings around town. Needless to say we do a lot of drawing, painting, crafts, etc.

See Favorite Activities for 4 – 6 year olds. I don’t follow any kind of Art curriculum, but I think my daughter gets that our family is into art…When she’s 12, she may be open to learning Art History.

Speaking languages is very important. We’ve made that very clear since she was very young because that’s the best time to learn them.
But world history is also important and we haven’t touched that so much yet. There will be time for that when she’s older and gets it.

Using good grammar is important, at least in her first language. I make comments about words from time to time (like “plural” “singular” “adjectives’ “noun”). We correct her from time to time and tell her what is the “grammatically correct” way of saying something. We will work our way to more grammar casually and by the time she’s 12 I hope she will be fully equipped to get interested. I will start asking a year before…

Travel and learning about other countries’ traditions, history, food, music, etc. is important in our family. I think my child can tell by now, if only by the look of her poor Hello Kitty suitcase that looks like it’s been hitchhiking around the galaxy.

After you have visualized your child when she’s 12 to 17 years old and you have laid out some big picture goals. Answer this:

1. What do you think she needs to learn before she’s 12 years old to be open to soaking in the kind of stuff that is important in your family, as well as the things she might be interested in?

Kids can learn anything on their own when they’re 12 years old. If they’ve had some gentle exposure to certain subjects they should be able to take charge of their learning because a lot of things will sound and seem familiar. There will be subjects and activities that they will learn from scratch simply because they chose it on their own, the can own it. There will be things they might need to learn in order to learn something else they are interested in.

12 year olds have endless resources. At the very least they have the Internet, but depending on where you live there will be libraries, science centers, a university or a community college. Sky is the limit when it comes to learning in this day and age.

In our town the local university is a great resource because if you have a particular intellectual kid who is too young to take college courses you can find a graduate student in just about every specialty, who can mentor, guide him, answer questions and point him to good resources.

Now, Imagine Yourself Homeschooling. Can you homeschool without a curriculum?

What do I need to homeschool without a curriculum?

Basically, you should know how to use the Internet. If you can find a curriculum you like, you can find resources to expose your child to the right content. You may have to pull from here and there.

Start here in True Jedis with our free guides, tips and activities full of meaningful, fun, significant, and rich learning resources to add to your repertoire:

Age Appropriate Skills Kids Can Learn

Best Math and How to Help Your Child Learn It before you go spend money on a math curriculum. It’s free.

Natural Science Guide for 5 – 8 year olds.

Must Have Art materials and supplies

Absolutely Best Games for 4 -6 Year Olds

Great Games for 6 Year Olds

And How Much Does it Cost to Homeschool and How to Start Homeschooling by Seasons for some ideas.

Also, 8 Meaningful Activities With Kids and Ways to Help My Child Learn Entrepreneurship.

Social studies –  I can appreciate that some people want to watch historical movies, documentaries, etc. But I think the only way to fall in love with History is by reading really cool History books or through another subject you are really interested in.

Political Science – If politics is important to you and you require your child to learn this. Have one of those special conversations with him about the importance of this subject. I don’t think kids need to be introduced to politics until they are older, maybe at least 12 or 15 years old, when they can understand all the sides, the history, the policies, etc. Here is a link to the national budget. I love this website: Reduce the Federal Budget Challenge

Reading – Showing them the letters and the letter sounds is easy. In fact, a lot of preschools teach this and kids learn it pretty effortlessly as long as it is made fun. But, if your child is having problems with reading, it’s not because of the curriculum you are using. It’s because it’s too early. Between 7 – 8 years old is a good time to do this: Read How to Homeschool First to Second Grade.

Grammar – If they are around good grammar they will use good grammar. Encourage your kids to read and write a lot. Beyond that if it is important in your family to have a good understanding of the language (syntax, semantics, and pragmatics)

Writing – I know…I know…With all the different types of writing curriculum and choices, how, and which method should I use to teach my child to write? NONE.

At the end everybody writes in their own personal handwriting. Some better than others but I can assure you my handwriting is atrocious and I was taught in the most cursive of ways and we got graded on calligraphy. My handwriting is atrocious because 1) the method didn’t work for me, and 2) I am left handed and expected to write cursive letters that leaned towards the right, resulted in my hand posture being bad. When I stopped getting graded on calligraphy, around age 14, my handwriting started to improve.

Just have them write whatever they want how they want when they are little. Writing cones before reading. When they are reading, have them write more and try to do pretty letters like daddy or an older friend. Start doing challenges in which you have to say a world and they have to write it just like they remember it not like it sounds. Then do a list of words. Depending on how you play our cards with this, you can call it a “Dictation Challenge” or just call it a “writing challenge”.

The more people read the more they learn how to spell. In English there are some spelling rules that sometimes work across the board, but more often than not there are a ton of exceptions to the rules. In this day and age, with spell corrector we keep seeing how certain words we get wrong are corrected and we can learn from that too. Spelling is challenging no matter what curriculum, method or methodology you use, it’s kind of a personal thing.


Am I an Unschooler if I don’t follow a curriculum?

No. We are just parents with a vision. But it’s easy to get sidetracked in the minutia.


Curriculum vs. Being in the Flow

I remember the first time I took my daughter to a playground. It was a small baby playground at a mall. I was at the benches where parents sat and watched their kids, I could hear her saying “mama, mama, mama, mama…” as she walked around the playground, checking things out.

We are their North Star at all times. We are their reference for everything.

So when someone tells us that kids learn from their parents, we can understand completely. Kids ask their parents questions, they don’t just ask to get the answer, they ask to validate an answer they’ve heard from someone else.

We believe that we can homeschool if only we believe that we can teach our kids. Often, we need our partner, parents, or friends to support us in the decision to homeschool, and our “Pitch” turns into something like: “I can teach them everything they need to learn.”

The level of cockiness just keeps creeping up as we gain more confidence and support: “And, I don’t need anyone to teach my child THAT when I can teach that to him.” Or: “I’m not gonna pay someone to teach my kid (fill in the blank).”

And then, at night, you are furiously googling all the possible ways there might be something wrong with your child because she doesn’t get with the program, she doesn’t want to learn what you teach her, she can’t stay still when it’s time to sit and do the work. You may even get the sense that she doesn’t want YOU to be teaching her.

Then you make casual comments to your partner, your parents, your friends about how she is making homeschooling hard and maybe even asking to go to school. And how SHE is making it very difficult!

You see, the minute you told yourself (and everyone else) at the very beginning that you could teach your child you should have said “I can be responsible for my child’s education” instead of “I can teach my child. How? I’ll just go out and get a curriculum and it tells me want to say and do, everybody follows the instructions and we cross it off the list.”

It is true that kids learn from their parents but not the same way they learn from a teacher.

There are exceptions -some kids really love the whole seating around the kitchen table with mom and getting all the attention in exchange of minimal effort on their part. As well, kids that used to go to school and then chose to homeschool may embrace a curriculum taught by their mom because compared to school it goes by faster, they get to be home, and they like their teacher.

I hope this post will have helped you form a vision that fits your family’s values and priorities to design a rich life of learning.

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