When we started homeschooling a little over two years ago, we saw it as probably very temporary: a one-year thing. But we took the thing seriously anyway.
Eric and I put together a (possibly quirky) list of subject areas that we saw as important. We also reviewed our local school district’s grades 1, 2, and 3 curricula and intended learning outcomes.
We know ourselves and our fatigue level all too well, and I guess we didn’t want to resurface a year later and go “Oh crap! We totally forgot about [math/art/whatever!]”
Our list was what you’d expect, if you know anything about us: reading and literature, writing and storytelling, math, arts and crafts, music, science, history, social justice and civics, geography, second language learning, and practical skills (cooking, sewing, telling time, tying knots, navigating, and understanding money, weights, and other measures, …).
We’ve explored and practiced in all those areas during the past couple years, for sure.
But I’m not sure we ever actually referred back to the list.
Here’s one thing we’ve learned through the months and years of homeschooling so far: The stuff in that list isn’t what we’re really teaching Noah (and Simon, too, increasingly). We’re also not really teaching and learning about the specific topics we choose to explore together: weather, coral reefs, artists, composers, fossils, birds, our state, and the like. We know our children won’t remember any of this stuff as adults or even as middle school students, unless they happen to stay fascinated by and continue learning about particular topics and skills. (Do you remember the details of what you learned in the second grade?)
Instead, we have a secret curriculum, one we did not discuss in advance and have never really articulated. And it probably looks something like this:
- Learning, observing, reading, creating, and asking questions are amazing activities that we can enjoy our whole lives. We’re nerds, so modeling this approach comes naturally to us. Yay books learning fun! And it’s not exactly a hard sell with curious, engaged children. This part is why homeschooling is such a joy for us.
- Here’s how to learn. This is what I really learned in my doctoral program, along with the ‘how to find information’ point below. How do you, personally, learn? What are the options for learning particular skills or information? If something is really really not working, is there some other approach you could try or some help you could get? Also, 1) you have to be absolutely terrible at lots of things before you can be good at them and 2) you are fully capable of getting good at them, if you keep showing up and trying. Those last two parts are tough to learn in your bones–especially in our “you’re either born smart/talented or you’re not” culture–but they’re so important.
- Here’s how you can find any information you want or need. We constantly model how books work (as a reference librarian, I seriously met many college students who DID NOT KNOW HOW TO USE AN INDEX AND TABLE OF CONTENTS or even what those were, and that is a huge and unnecessary hurdle between you and information! he’s also been using field guides and similar reference books a lot lately, learning to read the “How to Use This Book” section so he can understand the entries and abbreviations), how to find an expert though our social network or in our community (Can’t quite identify that plant in our yard? Let’s email a photo to our friend’s horticulturalist friend and see if he knows!), how to ask librarians for help (knowing they’re willing to assist, but also being specific and assertive, like when we recently convinced a librarian that books for adult coin collectors would serve Noah’s purpose better than the children’s books she really wanted him to want), how to evaluate information in books and online (he knows how to find and think about publication dates, to trust his gut when something seems questionable and in need of fact-checking, and that we usually check multiple online sources to see whether they agree), and so on. We’re working on the basics of online searching, too: “what search terms should I try to find that out?,” I’ll ask before just finding the answer.
- You get to ask questions and stick up for yourself; your feelings, needs, interests, and opinions matter. This subtext of the learner-led approach matters a lot to us.
- Here’s how to compromise, negotiate with sensitivity, and consider other people’s needs and abilities. Learning to learn around an infant and then a very high-energy and risk-taking toddler, and around a parent who also works from home and is easily overstimulated, is pretty much going to promote these skills. If we don’t want anybody’s head to explode.
- We care about other people and about injustice and unkindness. We talk about this stuff, constantly, in honest ways that don’t overwhelm Noah where he is right now. It’s funny, because I think we talk far less about disturbing news items than many parents of eight-year-olds but also talk far more openly and often than most about racism, sexism, poverty and classism, privilege, religious beliefs and differences, power, parenting approaches, general societal rudeness toward children, and our culture’s problematic attitudes toward sex and sexuality and fat and dis/ability and the like. It’s the mix that works best for us and for him right now.
This is, of course, a lot of what we do as parents, not just as homeschooling parents. And that’s another thing we’ve learned: it’s just parenting, just part of our relationships, just answering questions and compromising and thinking about what our children want and need. The parts of homeschooling that suck are the parts of parenting that suck; the parts of homeschooling that are awesome are the parts of parenting that are awesome.