Our Life Curriculum

I popped onto a homeschool forum I’m a member of, and came across a post from a fellow homeschool mom. She said she was soul-searching, wondering what some of the “not-to-be-missed” topics and experiences are in life. What are some things that we feel are so important to see, do and teach in our journey as a homeschooling parent? What are the things that when they are an adult, will truly matter – rather than spitting out memorized facts that have no meaning or application in their lives (my words, not hers)? What will help shape them as individuals, what will bring the family together as they grow and learn?

I sat down to share my thoughts, and as so often happens, my short answer turned into, well… this. A lengthy post thousands of words long. Consider it an occupational hazard of being a writer – even the short thoughts can turn into lengthy epistles. I realized that my answer was going to be far too long for the thread, so I came here. Double benefit – I could share the link to this blog post on the forum for anyone there that was interested, but also share it here. I’m sure the author of the question is far from the only person who has ever felt like this. I know I have.

I think in a way, her question was a two-part question, pondering about academics, but also life. But while the two are often considered separate in the mainstream world, a homeschooler knows that the two  can not be separated, for academics and learning are our a foundation of our life.

For starters, I would say to this mother, “Hang in there Momma, you’re not alone.” In fact, I would bet all homeschool mothers, and probably most mothers that don’t homeschool, have felt a version of this at one time or a dozen.In fact, I posed a very similar question not too long ago on another board I’m on. It must be the season – spring, a time of rebirth, new life, second chances.

My struggles and soul-searching have been largely focused on the academic, wondering where I want to go in our education journey, wondering what I want to teach my children, how I want to teach my children, what curriculum I want to use. Wondering, when this homeschool journey is over and the children are on their own, in university or in their adult lives – what is it I want to have instilled in them? Taught them? It’s not a small subject and it can easily become overwhelming, scary and stressful. When you choose to homeschool – you are responsible for these decisions in a way that other parents are not. When you send your child to public school, really, in the grand scheme of things, you have little to no say over their education. The government or school board decides what your child will learn. They decide what knowledge your child will graduate with, and rest assured, their decisions, shape your child.

When you homeschool – you are solely responsible. We have an amazing freedom, a power even, that other parents and children do not –  we can customize the education our child gets to one that suits our child the best, that truly nourishes not just their mind, but their soul. But, to (perhaps cornily) quote Spiderman “With great power, comes great responsibility.” In exchange for this freedom and power, we also have a huge responsibility that other parents do not. When your child goes to public school and fails, it’s not normally seen as the parent’s fault. It gets blamed on the teacher, the system etc… But when you homeschool, it’s ALL. ON. YOU. It can be scary when you sit and think about it. And trust me, every homeschool parent thinks about it. We all feel the pressure at one time or another.

At one point or another, we all think about what we want our children to learn –  not just academia, but skills and personal development as well. Everyone’s list of things that are “must-learns and must-dos”, and everyone’s goals for their child’s personal development are going to look different. To me, I always start by thinking about my own upbringing and education, and what truly stood out to me, both positive and negative. I think about what things I experienced that I want my children to be able to, and what things I wish for them to avoid. I look at things through overall goals, and then set the “musts” as ways to achieve those. And so, I bring to you, what I envision as our “Life” curriculum, a list of ten goals, the things that  I want for my children, and how I hope to achieve those goals.

1. First and foremost, I want my children to love the Lord. I want to instill in them faith and trust that He is in control and  through all things in life, that He will be there to guide them. We start our day with the daily gospel reading (we follow Living with Christ). We then pray over the Gospel we read. We do our hymn sing and read a Bible story. My children are still young, so for now, I’m focusing on teaching the children to pray and immerse themselves in the Bible stories. As they get older, I want to do an in-depth study of Biblical history, as well as scripture memorization. (Proverbs 7:3).

But I also feel that we will  achieve this goal outside of  “sit down and study” time. I think this goal is achieved every time we go to Mass, when the children go to Faith Formation, when we receive communion, when we pray as a family before bed or before meals, when my husband reads them a bedtime devotional. I teach my children to pray at any time – at only 7 & 5, my children will see an ambulance or a fire truck go by, stop what they’re doing and pray. I love that. And that is one of my goals: to have prayerful children. Children who pray at all times, for all reasons, and not just for their needs, but to be aware of and pray for the needs of others around them. Last night their father wasn’t feeling good, and when he went to say goodnight, they prayed for him, asking God that He would make Daddy feel better.  More than any Bible study or Bible curriculum, I think a love of the Lord is taught through LIFE. Through seeing Mom & Dad living their faith. Actions will always speak louder than any words.

2. Stemming from the first, I want my children to grow up to have an appreciation of the natural beauty God has surrounded us with. To respect nature, to appreciate nature, to protect nature, to be able to seek out nature, that beauty – anywhere, be it in a forest, a meadow, a backyard, or a city block.

And so, I think nature study is so important. And I struggle with it at times, but I think it’s because I tend to, and we all can, tend to make nature study more complicated than it needs to be. I don’t think nature study needs to be scheduled in on the lesson plan book. Nature study can be, is, as simple as sitting outside while the kids play and pointing out the song of the birds. It’s hanging a bird feeder in a tree and watching the birds that come to feed. It’s going for a bike ride and stopping to look at the small brook babbling through the trees. It’s walking down the city street and seeing how a dandelion will grow through the concrete, or seeing the Robin hopping along the sidewalk. It’s watching how a gull swoops down to grab dropped food. It’s watching the river rise and swell with spring flooding, seeing the power of the water. It’s planting a garden or a flower and watching it grow, seeing the drops of dew on a spiderweb in the morning. More than anything nature study is just learning to notice what is around you always, the wonder of God’s creation.

It is making a point to go to places like streams, ponds, lakes, forest whenever possible. I make it a point to go to nature preserves and nature trails for walks whenever possible. My goal is to find someplace new, each year. Nature study is letting your children haul home leaves,weeds, rocks, twigs and other paraphernalia in their pocket, encouraging their observation skills and their interest in those objects.

Also under this goal of mine, is the desire to teach conservation. I think conservation needs to be taught. God gave us this earth – we need to protect it, not destroy it. I think this can be nothing more than simple, basic things when they’re younger about not littering, recycling, not wasting water. In later grades, I think a strong conversation science program is in order, and Winter Promise actually publishes one that I plan on doing with my children when they’re older. I think learning about natural energy sources – wind power, solar power etc… And not just how our world can use it, but even how we can use it ourselves, personally.

3. I want my children to grow up to be self-sufficient. I do not want them to have to depend on others for their livelihood, to take care of them. So, I think skills training is very important. I think that everyone (boys and girls alike) should know basic things like how to check major fluids on your car, know how to change your oil, change a tire, how to use basic hand and power tools, how to do basic home repairs. I think everyone should know how to cook, to at the very least mend a seam, should know how to maintain a budget and should know how to start a fire without matches.

I think homesteading should be a major part of education – learning how to grow your own garden so you can feed your family, how to preserve food, how to make soap, clothes, cleaning products (green ones, tying into my #2), learn how to raise and care for an animal that is a producer (chicken, cow, pig etc…), learn a handicraft that they enjoy/are good at, that also some day could be a potential source of income.  I want the children to know how/experience how to sell something at the market (preserved food, fresh food, handicrafts etc). I want them to learn how to be resourceful, economical, how to “make do” by reusing, buying used etc…

Maybe they will be blessed financially and never need these skills to provide for themselves, but maybe they will need them, as we have had to in the past. Maybe they’ll just enjoy these skills and want to use them regardless of need.  I think everyone should know how to be self-sufficient and provide as much for themselves as possible, regardless of how much or how little income they have. I think that homesteading is also part of conservation. The beauty of this is, these skills are life skills that can be taught slowly, over the years. They are not things that should be taught via a textbook – they need to be taught side by side with their parents, through seeing and doing. To me, these lessons go far beyond learning a skill, but will also become treasured memories of time spent with you.

4.I want my children to appreciate the arts – and this could mean many different things. I don’t necessarily mean they have to be an art critic but I do want to expose them to a wide variety of art, create in them an awareness of the different styles of art, I want them to understand the history behind the eras, how social issues and culture impacted the major artists. But more than that, I want them to learn to see art anywhere – the repetitive lines in the steel legs of a holding tank, the iridescent colors of oil mixed with water on a pier,  the way the light and shadows play across a wall or a floor, the simple beauty of symmetry in a Georgian facade, or the beauty of Frank Lloyd Wright’s asymmetry. I want my children to be aware, to observe, to see. Again, this isn’t something that can be taught in a textbook. Instead, this is taught through taking them to art galleries, through looking at books of pictures, of pointing out details while we walk down a street. It is something I hope to teach them as I hand them my camera, allowing them to express that urge to capture that which they notice.

I want them to create art, as well. Through whatever medium may interest them – lead, charcoal, ink, paint or construction paper and glitter glue. Perhaps it will be through a camera or through wood or metal. I don’t care how, just that they do.

I want them to experience music. Even at a young age my children love music. Our daughter seems to have been born to shake her booty to the beat of a song, and my son has a very nice singing voice. Of course those who know me, or my family, knows that the music gene is strong! My mother has recorded professionally in Nashville, and makes her living via music. She is a self-taught musician who plays guitar, harmonica, drums, keyboard and sings. Oh yeah, and writes her own stuff! My father used to play guitar and also sings. My step-mother is a music teacher, who sings, plays piano, flute and bagpipes (she’s in touch with her Scottish heritage!). I sing and play piano, and long to learn to play the saxophone. So I confess, that I really hope to encourage musical ability and appreciation in my children. Music is always playing in our home – on the tv, the radio, in the car. We sing daily – anything and everything. We have a piano, and a nice selection of percussion instruments. The kids love starting their day with Circle Time and singing and playing. Eventually when an area of strength starts to show itself, we will pursue that with formal music lessons.

I think an appreciation of the arts is a gift that parents should give to their children. Not every child will have it, I know. But the thing about the arts is – they are so personal and emotional. With art, be it a song you hear or a piece of artwork you look at – you make it your own. It becomes yours in a way that few other things can. We often see in a piece of art that which reflects our pain or our joy. We seek out music that reflects our feelings. Art can be therapeutic. Being able to create art takes it that much farther. Instead of just seeing the reflection of ourselves, we are then able to express ourselves in a way that words often fail us.

5. I want my children to have an appreciation of history. More than anything though, I want to make history come alive to them. To me, history is a subject that is so important – we need to be aware of the mistakes of the past, so we can understand how it has shaped the events of today, so maybe someday we’ll learn to not repeat our mistakes. And yet, I confess that in school, I despised history class.

I think children need far more education on ancient history than they receive – I think they need to understand the history of Greece and it’s Gods, the Roman empires, Ancient Egypt. The stories of Troy, William Wallace and other leaders like them. The stories of queens and kings. The stories of explorers, navigators, scientists, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther, Martin Luther King Jr.,  – people  who changed history. The stories of the major wars. But more than anything, history should be about the people that shaped it.

I also think that for everyone, there is an era of history that interests them more than another. For myself, this would be the pioneer/Loyalist era. However, I don’t think that memorizing the dates is important, I don’t think that memorizing all the worlds countries and capitals is important. I think it is most important to know the overall stories. Then, when a particular era stands out to the child – be it the days of Laura Ingalls, Troy or Imhotep, the child can immerse themselves in learning everything and anything about that time.  In history, more than anything, your child will only remember what interested them.

So with that said, to me, there is nothing worse than sitting and reading a textbook full of dry details and dates. To me, history is something that should come alive, through reading good books and stories, watching shows and movies, going to historical re-enactment shows, sites or better yet – seeing the sites firsthand. Be that driving to Gettysburg, or flying to Rome (oh what I would give for an unlimited travel budget!), seeing history is what makes it come alive. Every year my husband and I take the children to a historical settlement, the same one, because every time there is something else to discover. That is what I love about history – it is something that can be explored as a family.

6. History sort of leads to my next goal – and that is to travel. We love to travel as a family. Now, we normally do not have much of a budget for travel, so typically we do long weekends, sometimes 4 or 5 nights away someplace that we can drive to in a day. I think traveling together as a family is one of the best things you can do. For starters, you will  create memories that will last a life time – some great ones, some okay ones, and some bad ones. But even those bad ones will normally end up becoming a good memory that you laugh at – like the time we got lost because Dad missed the exit because he was too busy drooling over the Lamborghini that was zooming by us.

Traveling together leads to such great learning opportunities – there are so many amazing zoos, aquariums, museums, galleries, historical sites, nature preserves and state/provincial parks etc… that will bring learning to life. When traveling, you have the opportunity to experience all areas of learning – maths, language, science, history, art, nature, and I can guarantee you can find great opportunities within a day’s radius. And the best way to experience these chances isn’t by over-analyzing, but by just doing, just being there, seeing it and talking about it. Take a guided tour. That is enough. Follow up on anything that really piques interest by reading about it when you get home.

While we typically plan our travel for entertainment/relaxation purposes – the learning is always there, and some of our best memories are at places/times when we are learning as a family.

7.   Then there’s science. Honestly, I don’t really have much of a “goal” when it comes to this. I am by nature a person that leans more towards the arts than science. That’s likely part of it. I feel though that science, like history, is something that a child will only remember that which they are interested in. And so my goal for the early years is to cultivate an interest in the crucial scientific skill of observation. And I think that so many of the other areas I’ve touched on, are key to this – for observation skills aren’t just a “science” skill. They’re a life skill that will guide you in nature study, in history, in art, in noticing patterns in mathematics, in your every day relationships as you learn to observe and read people.  Spend the early years developing this skill, and I think you will have accomplished one of the most important things you can teach your child. For us, science in the early years is purely interest-driven. Let them read about what they are interested in and talk about it. Let them draw pictures of the animals and planets. Let them watch videos and go to museums and aquariums. Let them do experiments. Let them explore. I think this will create the perfect foundation upon which to build the skills for physics, chemistry and biology, later.

8. Then there’s the big two – math and language arts. My goals are simple – I want to produce literate children who enjoy quality literature. I want their childhood to be full of quality books and ideas, not twaddle.  I want them exposed to the classics and poetry. That said, I want reading to be fun, and I will not deny them their “fun” books, either. As they get older, I want them to recognize literature as another form of art and expression. I want them to to seek recognition of self, to see how others express themselves through written word, and I hope they will learn to express themselves through writing as well.  I want them to have neat penmanship – and yes, we are teaching cursive! I want them to learn proper grammar.

We love books here and read all the time. Every day my children are either reading, or being read to. As I have said before – actions speak louder than words, and I think that if children grow up seeing their parents reading and enjoying quality literature, it will rub off on them. We also keep the books accessible. That means a huge bookshelf in the hallway on the main floor. Books are not meant to be shut away in an attic or a closet. In the early years, we do not do comprehension. Simply reading a book together and talking about it is enough. Nor do we dissect poems. There are plenty of years ahead to get into the dissecting of a poem or story, digging for the hidden truth and meaning. For now, cultivating a love of reading is enough. And a love of reading is also what I consider a foundational skill – teach a child to read, to enjoy it, and the whole world of knowledge will be at their fingertips.

I want them to grow to be capable of doing the math that they will need for their every day, adult life. I confess that we will put far more emphasis on business and trades math, than say calculus. And make no mistake, my children will know their math fats. I think one of the biggest mistakes in modern education today is the lack of focus on having children memorize their addition and multiplication facts. The very foundation of all other mathematics is those four basic operations – addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. And too often today, not enough time is being dedicated to those in the early years. Drill, drill, drill those four operations in the early years – then when they are older, the more complicated processes will come easier.

We also seek out math in every day situations – making change at the grocery store, learning fractions while cooking or playing with Legos, multiplication while figuring out how many forks we need for the table based on how many people will be there, seeing symmetry and patterns in the world around us.

9. I want the children exposed to languages, but not necessarily mastered. I live in the only officially bilingual province in Canada. The pressure is intense to have the children go into French Immersion. As a homeschooler, we’ve had more than one comment along the lines of, “What are you going to do about French? They’ll never get a job in this province without French.”  Well, for starters, quite frankly, that’s a crock. Oh certainly, there are certain jobs in the province that will require them to have French (government jobs). But, there are many, many jobs to be had that do not require a person to be fluent in French. I am also not under any illusions that my children will choose to stay in this province. Would I prefer it if they stay close to home? Sure. But the world is theirs to be had.

Instead, I would rather my children be exposed to several languages, especially Latin.  Once upon a time a child was not considered educated if they did not learn Latin. However, soon into the 20th century, this was dropped, and then modern languages became the norm. Another crime of modern education. Latin is as prevalent today as it ever was, in fact, Latin is the very foundation of our language (English)! One can not truly understand or grasp the basics of grammar and spelling, at least not in anything more than a superficial sense, without understanding Latin. Latin is alive in Christianity and in common speech as we use Latin expressions such as “Carpe Diem!” It is found in fields such as law, medicine and pharmacology. Want to be a pharmacy technician or a medical office assistant or transcriptionist? You’ll use Latin every day. In fact, Latin is used in almost every scientific field. Latin is found in music. Latin is everywhere. So, if there is one language I want them to master – it is Latin. The others will fall into place, and will likely come easier with a foundation of Latin.

10. Lastly, I want to teach my children how to learn. I want to mold in my children the habit of learning. I want the desire to learn to be a part of them, as much as the air they breathe. I want to instill in them the joy of learning and discovery. I want them to know that the best education they will ever receive – is through life itself. I want them to know that they will learn more through living life, exploring, making discoveries, reading and doing, than they will ever learn from a textbook or institution. The textbooks and workbooks are merely to reinforce what life is teaching them, what God has surrounded us with. If I can do this – if I can teach them to love to learn, if I can teach them to be open and aware, to observe, to see the joy in discovering and learning something new, then all my other goals will fall into place. And I will have two children with a fine education, and what’s more, fine memories of a family that learned together.

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