The following is a guest post written by Sarah Mackenzie of Amongst Lovely Things.
What if we’ve got it all wrong?
What if it doesn’t matter which books we use, which history projects we take on, how many lessons of math we accomplish in a year?
Homeschoolers spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about “curriculum,” but what if, when we compare spelling programs and choose math books, we aren’t really talking about curriculum at all?
Curriculum isn’t something we buy. It’s something we teach. Something we embody. Something we love. It is the form and content of our children’s learning experiences.
Saxon Math isn’t the curriculum. It’s just the book that we use to teach the actual curriculum, which is: math.
If we started thinking about our children’s learning in terms of what we hope they will come to encounter in any given year rather than thinking of getting through a particular book or “covering” material, we free ourselves to learn far more than we could by binding ourselves to a set published resource. Of course we will use such resources to reach our goals — but the resource will be our servant, not our master.
Authors of curriculum resources are often wise and helpful in setting general standards and goals, but no one knows our particular children better than we do. No curriculum publisher could possibly understand our hopes and dreams for them — their strengths, their weaknesses, the longings of their hearts.
We, however, do.
Why trade that out for 36 weeks of someone else’s?
We are an anxious bunch, we homeschoolers. We fret and worry over how much of the curriculum we can cover in a year.
But curriculum cannot be covered anymore than we could hope to go over all the mysteries of the universe in 12 academic years.
Curriculum is life, and life cannot be contained within the pages of a book. Let’s not shrink this down from the splendor that it actually is. We have the opportunity here for wide expansive learning.
When our children look back on their childhood, what are they most likely to remember with pleasure? The history paper on the Hundred Years War? Or the family trip to the local museum taken on a rainy afternoon? The chapter in the science book about waterfowl, or the trumpeter swans seen on a weekend hike?
Intellectual learning is of tremendous value, of course, but in our seeking after it, let us not forget the importance of poetic knowledge. Poetic knowledge is that which we can only acquire through real experience — the rich deep knowing that happens down in our bones.
Those afternoons we forego the usual schedule to volunteer at a soup kitchen or shovel snow for the sick neighbor are of no less value than academic work. We know this at our core, but we forget when we get right down to the daily grind.
We give lip service, saying that we value service projects or family leisure but then leaving no room in our schedules for doing puzzles, taking long afternoon strolls, or making meals for the mom with a new baby down the street.
Instead: live life. Fill it to the brim with love. Take your time, and talk about everything. Doing this in front of our kids, doing this with our kids — this is the essence of poetic knowledge.
I’m not suggesting that we tack this on to our already crammed schedules. I’m suggesting that we clear the way and MAKE room. Forget about getting through every single lesson in the book between September and May. Do the next lesson, do it well, and give it our all.
But then do something else.
Don’t let published resources be the master of the curriculum. When we realize that our family camping trip is ripe with learning opportunities, we come to value that week in August as much as we value a productive academic week in January.
Once we understand that the curriculum is actually far, far bigger than any published resource could ever be, the opportunities to let all of life become teacher explode before us. The doors of learning fling wide.
Our children are indeed learning all the time — sometimes it’s academic, sometimes it’s poetic. Our children need both. Let’s not slide into thinking that nothing is happening if we aren’t hitting the books.
The real curriculum, after all, is the curriculum of life.
How do you embrace the curriculum of life in your family?
Originally published on February 7, 2014.