One of the most common questions new homeschooling parents ask veteran homeschool parents is “what homeschool curriculum should I get?”
Like there’s only one. Or there’s one that’s SO much better than all the others. One that will sprinkle hearts and flowers and unicorns all over the front yard.
Not true. Definitely not true. And —sadly — also, not true.
People ask, “but what do you use?” And I always tell them the same thing — I don’t recommend curriculum because I know only what things worked for us and what works for them may be something totally different.
But one thing I do share with them is the fact that sometimes the absolute best curriculum is no curriculum at all.
No curriculum?!? But…but…what do you do? How will they learn how to write? How will they know what a verb is? How can you be sure they’re learning?
That’s when I say, “Unschooling doesn’t really work that way.”
“UNSCHOOLING?!?!?!? You mean you don’t actually teach him anything??? I just KNEW those homeschoolers were all crazy crackpots.”
Maybe not crackpots so much as non-traditional, unconventional, or adventuresome.
Still, I understand — because unschooling is definitely an outside the box educational philosophy, and I certainly didn’t start out as an unschooler as much as we became an unschooling family.
When I began my life as a homeschool parent, I did what most people do — fell back on what I knew about school in the early elementary years. I tracked down workbooks devoted to single subjects like math, phonics, and writing. I tracked down oversized all-in-one workbooks that included a little bit of everything like science and social science. I downloaded lists of spelling words, and looked in antique shops for vintage McGuffey’s Readers to teach reading.
I thought about what Mrs. Groose and Miss Morrow in those did and tried to do that as we launched ourselves into the world of homeschooling.
The only thing was, my husband and I quickly realized that, while Wyatt would do the workbook pages, they weren’t a source of unending joy for him. They were just…fine.
Surely there had to be a better way to make him fall in love with learning.
And there was. It was called real life.
After “school” was done for the day, it was time for the hubbub of regular life, and I was amazed at how much he learned, how quickly he absorbed information about the world around him, and how deeply he retained the things he learned through active, engaged play.
He loved watching birds and quickly exhausted all my bird information. I was good on common birds like blue jays and cardinals, chickadees and nuthatches, but pretty soon “woodpecker” wasn’t enough because he could tell the birds were different in size, shape, and coloration. He wanted to know what kind. Hairy woodpecker or a downy woodpecker? Really? It’s pretty tricky to tell the difference between those hairy and downy birds when they’re dangling from a cake of suet only to flit off into the woods.
Clearly, we needed more and better bird identifications — so we moved from online resources and more extensive bird books. We got the Audubon book of North American birds and learned about more birds, and he wanted to learn how to read better so he could have the bird books all by himself.
While we were in Barnes and Noble he noticed other Audubon books — trees, butterflies, rocks, mushrooms, wildflowers — and wanted to collect all of them so he’d be able to read about those things, too. He wanted to learn more words — big words, scientific words — so he could understand what those books were saying.
I was struck by just how much my son resembled those baby birds with their mouths open, only thing was he gobbled up information rather than worms.
We were unschooling…I just didn’t know it. Only later did I discover there was a name for what we’d been doing. I just thought we were having fun together.
But. But. But how do you learn spelling or writing?
Unschooling doesn’t mean your child(ren) won’t ever write or spell, rather the way a child learns those things may look a little (or a lot) different.
And keeping it real keeps it relevant.
When I work with homeschool parents, I often describe unschooling as reverse engineering an education. Unschooling is looking at what kids have done, then assessing what they’ve learned from the experience.
Reading about birds or rocks or mushrooms or butterflies is reading — or science. Writing thank you notes to grandparents or aunts and uncles for birthday and Christmas gifts is writing. Doubling or halving recipes in the kitchen is mathematics. Running a micro business can be economics.
So before you jump in and buy a bunch of curriculum for your homeschool adventure, consider unschooling as a vital component of your homeschool. Embrace a full, rich life — you may find out it’s the best curriculum you can find.