Tag Archives: Unschool

Why the idea of curriculum is absurd

Okay, that is a deliberately provocative title.

The thing about curriculum (particularly in schools), and even more so standardized tests, is that some one has arbitrarily chosen the content in or on them and said that, in our vast sea of knowledge out there, this is all you need to know or be interested in. Rarely do educators or students ask, who decided this was important and why? And even more importantly, do I agree?

Parents and educators are often up in arms about how hard it is for children to discern what is good information and what is bad, what is useful and what is not They also work themselves up into a tizzy over the amounts of information that are at all of our fingertips in the form of the Internet. The solution, curriculum and standardized testing. In worrying over the information ocean and overload, they decide not to give them the skills to navigate that sea or evaluate it or even how to be efficient. Instead curriculums tell the children what they need to know so they never have to dip their toes in those information waters.

But this sets kids up in a Catch-22. They are told what to learn, are given an arbitrary set of information (that often is not particularly useful nor relevant to them or their interests), and then are berated for not knowing how to go out and find and evaluate other information when they discover how useless and miniscule their “well-rounded” education has been.

This for me is a large part of why I want to unschool. Instead of dedicating money and hours and hours of my child’s life to a set of information that someone else had deemed interesting and important I would infinitely prefer to give my daughter the skills to create that set of information for herself. Her time will be infinitely better served in doing that. Plus, in having those skills, instead of a collection of facts, she will know how to learn on her own and follow her interests.

The thing is, children will learn to read, will learn basic arithmetic and science through their own natural curiosity and through their need for those skills.* Saying I want Cam to form her own curriculum does not preclude my stepping in to help her learn skills or explicitly teaching them to her. I just need to tread lightly and at the right time. Many of the skills we hyper obsess over in school, in curriculums, and on tests are not the end goal. Reading is a skill to be put into service of learning, not the other way around. And for that reason children will be motivated to learn to read.

So, using a one-size-fits-all arbitrarily curated curriculum doesn’t serve the majority of children well and I would like to opt out of that for my children. 

*I am well aware that there are children who will not come to those skills easily or at all because of learning disabilities and I know how important early diagnosis is for those children. I also know that the reason for curriculum and forcing skills on kids is NOT to ensure that kids with learning disabilities get the help they need as early as possible. Learning disabilities in schools is a whole other thorny issue that is often not addressed correctly or appropriately.

Unschool Update: I Walk the Line

Money MaterialsFor anyone that knows about unschooling or practices it with their children, they are probably also aware of how different it is from the traditional model of schooling. I know for me, the traditional model of school (think desks in rows or pods, teacher at the front, set curriculum, benchmarks, etc.) is both what I went through for my education and was also the setting I taught in when I was in the classroom. Unschooling is much freer, following the child’s interests, introducing skills when they are useful to the child, and trusting the child to know what they need when they need it. I’ll be the first to admit it’s been incredibly difficult to break away from that traditional style of instruction when working with Cam over the past school year. 

It’s a fine line to walk, at least in our home, between offering Object Boxesdirect skills instruction to Cam while also following her lead. This year has been the year she has been both ready and willing to start the process of learning to read. I know from experience that she’s a decoder by nature. Basically she relies on phonics to read. She breaks words up into phonemes and is very focused on letter sounds and combinations. This makes for a slow progress and also does require some hands-on and planned instruction by me. It will ultimately make her a stronger reader over the next few years as grows into more and more complex books, but in the meantime it could really feel like we had veered off into a more traditional model of schooling. That was really a sign to me to back off. Reassess. Check in with Cam and stop anything that wasn’t working for her. Did I manage unschooling perfectly this year? Absolutely not. I’m unlearning how I was taught and also trying to find the best way to use the knowledge I have to help Cam master skills and learn things that she wants. But it wasn’t a complete failure either. 

Hundreds BoardSome other things we worked on or studied this year, prompted by Cam’s expressed interest, were taking nature classes at our local nature center, learning about pregnancy and birth as she watched my belly grow and then saw the birth of her sister, and a little bit of numeracy (counting up to 100 and learning about money). 

This year also saw the addition of Cam’s sister. That basically tanked the last couple months, which was fine. A new baby and being a big sister is a learning experience in and of itself. Cam has grown incredibly over the past three months and I couldn’t be more proud of that emotional and developmental growth. It’s far more important than any academic skill she might work on or any subject she might study. 

Pregnancy MaterialsThis coming year I want to work in some social-emotional learning and mindfulness practices to our daily schedule. I know, though, that this is going to be another area where she needs the skills (we’re working on taming anxiety in her that has reared its head), but I don’t want to push too far or become the driving force behind offering them to her. I am new to these practices too, so maybe that will mitigate some of that. I can frame it as we’re learning together and instead of planning ahead we can plan together. That’s the line I’ll try to walk next year.