Thursday, March 3, 2016

Lose the Curriculum

Making her own multiplication table. Just because.
Whenever I hear stories of parents choosing to send their children to school after homeschooling for a time, or struggling to find the joy in a homeschooling lifestyle, or having difficulty managing the needs of their older children while their younger children (especially those tricky toddlers) get in the way, invariably I find that these parents are the ones doing school-at-home.

Following a curriculum, they have a set of predetermined-from-somewhere-else expectations for content to be covered, material to be taught, and skills to be mastered at a certain time in a certain way. There is still the belief that children must be taught, instead of the understanding that children simply learn.

As Boston College psychology professor, Peter Gray, writes:
"Through their own efforts, children learn to walk, run, jump and climb. They learn from scratch their native language, and with that, they learn to assert their will, argue, amuse, annoy, befriend, charm and ask questions. Through questioning and exploring, they acquire an enormous amount of knowledge about the physical and social world around them, and in their play, they practice skills that promote their physical, intellectual, social and emotional development. They do all this before anyone, in any systematic way, tries to teach them anything. This amazing drive and capacity to learn does not turn itself off when children turn 5 or 6. We turn it off with our coercive system of schooling. The biggest, most enduring lesson of our system of schooling is that learning is work, to be avoided when possible."

School-at-home approaches can similarly turn learning into work, frustrating both parents and their children and, all too often, leading families to school: either for younger siblings while their older ones are taught at home, older siblings while the younger ones are home, or for all children as mom or dad becomes overwhelmed and burnt-out.

The answer is not school. In fact, the answer is to move as far away from schooling as possible: to embrace a different--a natural--way of learning and living. Lose the curriculum, let go of arbitrary expectations of skills and knowledge, and recognize that children learn as naturally and effortlessly as they breathe. They are innately designed to be curious, to explore and wonder about the world around them. This curiosity can be dulled if they become conditioned to be passive learners instead of the active learners they are born to be.

By granting our children the gift of self-directed learning we allow their natural curiosity to flourish. We trust that they will learn the important tools of their culture in their own way and in their own time, when surrounded by the full resources of their community and the loving guidance of their family.

Learning should be fun! Learning together--as a family--should be even more fun. If you're not having fun, it may be time to take a critical look at your days, at your expectations for what your children should know and do. Ask yourself where these expectations are coming from and why they matter. If the answer is that a textbook or teacher told you, it may be time to lose the curriculum, and start listening to your child. Your child will tell you, will show you.

You will be amazed. Once that curriculum goes away, once that coercion is replaced with trust in a child's own capacity to learn and do in his own way and in his own time, you will be amazed at what you see. Your child will regain full command over his own learning and will guide you where to go. You watch, you notice, and you connect your child with resources important to his learning and his interests: everything from pen and paper, to libraries and museums and community organizations, to mentors and online tools.

You become a facilitator of your child's self-directed learning. You watch as learning becomes seamlessly integrated into your day, into your everyday living and being, and not segregated to certain times and certain places with certain materials or certain people. You discover the joy of living and learning together as a family.

Learning doesn't require a curriculum. In fact, it's better without one.

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