This past summer I had the opportunity to go through a school room partially filled with curriculum that was about to be discarded. Since the time available to me was short, I took a great deal with me that I thought might work with the knowledge that I could sort it out later. Since all of what was left was going to be dumped later that day, I didn’t feel badly taking anything and everything I thought I might find useful.
I’ve gone through all of it and have discarded about 90% of it. Why? Most of it is really only usable in a classroom. Even the teacher handbooks that I thought might provide some good ideas that I could adapt for our use at home really weren’t that useful.
Part of the problem is the teacher handbooks are geared to help the teacher make the material be all things to all children. With the rise of differentiated instruction, teaching to strengths, and the multiple intelligences, the expectation is that the teacher must meet every child where he/she is and adapt the curriculum accordingly. So the teacher’s manual becomes this horrifically complicated and overwhelming mass of information. The reading manuals I looked at were so crammed full of suggestions and ideas around the samples of the child’s reading book that I couldn’t even bear to look at them.
It reminded me of something I read in The First Year of Homeschooling Your Child (a practical and encouraging book, by the way). The author wrote this about school curriculum:
Remember, too, there is nothing magical about the curriculum your local school subscribes to. The school chose a curriculum it felt would best meet the needs of the greatest percentage of a large number of children doing the same thing at the same time. Check with a different school and you’ll get its version of curriculum which it, too, felt would do the best job for the majority of the students.
In homeschooling you aren’t playing a numbers game with many students, hoping enough of them will get good scores on standardized tests, hoping it really is just a minority that falls through the cracks. Your curriculum can be custom-made for your child’s needs that you are right now observing to discover.
That is truly the beauty that I am experiencing with Caroline. I watch what she does, I see where she still needs practice, and I find something to use for that. My planning really happens on a day to day basis. I can’t figure out how other parents can map out an entire semester or year ahead of time. I have a general direction where we are heading and I have the end goals for the year in the form of a checklist. How we get from point A to point B? I have no idea. I have no idea what we will be doing for reading in December or March or May. I give Caroline something to do, I observe her doing it, and I make my plans for the next day after observing her.
The other day Caroline saw the Bing splash page on my computer and was intrigued by the large cave. We looked up the cave online and discovered it has an interesting story about bats that goes with it. She wanted to know where the cave was so we looked it up (Malaysia) and found it on her new globe. (Thanks, Grandpa and Grandma!) We talked about the Pacific Ocean, friends and family who have visited or lived in Hawaii, and how you would fly from Malaysia to Michigan. We discussed the international date line. By the end of kindergarten she will know far more about geography, globes, and continents/oceans than she “needs” to know. I plan very little of it. Most of it just happens and that is the best way because it shows Caroline to be curious about life and the world. She’s learning how to find information when she wants to know something. There is no way she would be learning these things in a classroom of twenty to thirty kindergarteners. Instead, she would be standing in line to wash her hands for snack and learning how to sit in a circle and wait for her turn to answer one question from the teacher.
Now, would it be a bit more complicated if I had more than one child? Absolutely. I don’t have to keep anyone else busy and that is a huge advantage. But I do wonder how many parents would discover they really enjoyed homeschooling if they were able to adjust their expectations and try it out. Sometimes I think the proliferation of homeschooling information out there makes it seem much more complicated that it really needs to be.
I think the first step for many parents might be realizing that the schools don’t have all the answers and there is nothing magical about the curriculum they choose. The curriculum is, in fact, geared toward casting a large net at the masses and hoping to catch many fish. A motivated mom who can make learning interesting for her child can go a long way beyond that with a small budget, a library card, the internet, and a printer.