When starting out as homeschoolers we all start with what we know. We start with school. We came through a system that taught us how to learn and we take our children out of that same system, so it makes no sense to try and replicate at home, that which you are leaving behind.
So we meander through the quagmires of rigid strucure and no-sturcture, falling from one teaching philosophy to the next and from one resource to the next, all the while hoping to stumble upon the magic bullet that will slay all our homeschooling woes.
If you have been doing this long enough you must have tried many of the “tried and tested” advice from veteran and the not so veteran moms. Yet find yourself thinly spread, anxious about whether you are doing enough, only to be told that that anxiety and burn out is part of the package of homeschooling. The one size fits all solution to all our anxieties is the well worn “just let them play” axiom. As a mom I just don’t have the ability to make every learning experience a fun game, while also balancing it out with enough facts and accepted theory so as not to lead my kids to the dreaded “learning gaps” or “common misconception” marshes, while breaking information down into building blocks that are dispersed at the right developmental level and tempo. I would need to become a developmental expert and content expert so that I can deliver an understanding of each subject at the right portion and level, keeping up with the child’s interests as they grow and widen. All while guiding them through emotional, physical and spiritual growth. Supporting them physically with a clean, healthy enriched environment while maintaining a shred of sanity and self, not to mention being a spouse, friend, and volunteer. Contending with the perfect Pinterest moments of other moms around the world… It seems we are setting ourselves up for failure.
What if a program could help you take care of facilitating learning so that you can focus on parenting. What if there was a program that is low prep, with clear explanations of how to teach new concepts (which you might not have learned yourself). What if there is a program that teaches through real-life exploring and teaches children to question both their own and other’s conclusions. What if all this leads to a lifelong love of learning?
Is there a program that we can follow in a way that is structured enough so that the basics are covered and loose enough so that we don’t end up as slaves to a set number of pages per day? What if a curriculum is not what you thought it was. What if Cambridge Primary International is not the super structured, highly academic, for gifted only, program that you thought it was? What if it meets the child where they are at with explorations that help them learn actively through activities while linking that to knowledge?
Lets’ look at what a curriculum is. It is a learning program that follows developmental milestones to learn foundational concepts in small increments so that understanding is gradually built over time. A curriculum follows a syllabus, which is a set of outcomes that you will achieve if you follow the learning plan. A syllabus is drawn up for a qualification and the qualification is achieved by passing an examination.
When looking at a curriculum you have to ask which qualification this leads to. If the answer is none or not an accredited one then that should be a clear indication that this learning program will not prepare the learner adequately for the qualification that they are aiming to achieve.
Standardised testing does not measure development. So we have to distinguish between testing to gain a qualification and measuring development. Development is measured through formative assessment. These are assessments that are done by the parent to see how the child is growing in a specific area. They are built into a good curriculum and can be done without the child knowing they are being evaluated. The child can also evaluate themselves. A great curriculum like Cambridge International Primary teaches children to self-evaluate and self-correct. Another way to know how children are developing is to have a trusted educational psychologist evaluate them. There are many wonderful professionals who are not in the business of labeling and medicating children. Make sure that you agree with the school of thought of the psychologist you are visiting. You will gain a holistic picture of the areas your child needs additional support in and where they are excelling.
Then we come to standardised tests which lead to a qualification. Yes, it is a crude system that takes a snapshot of the learner at a given day to test their knowledge and understanding of a selection of the syllabus. It is however still in use as the only effective way to award qualifications en-mass. We still need to have qualifications in order to open further learning doors for our children. I do agree that the world has changed and having a degree is not going to set you apart and guarantee success. Not having any way of obtaining a further education will, however, limit a child’s options, making their road to success a lot harder and longer. Let us open as many doors for our children’s futures as we possibly can.
If there is no silver bullet program then what is the answer to the question: Am i doing enough/the right things? The solution lies in a place where no-one seems to be looking: ahead. Most of us start our homeschooling journey reactively and make decisions reactively. There is another way. You can look ahead and start with the end in mind, to quote Steve Covey. Which school leaving qualification are you pursuing with your children? Which curriculum will best prepare them for that? Choose that as your starting point.
A curriculum is a roadmap that will lead you to an end destination, a qualification. We are all following a learning plan, either one that we make up as we go along, or one that was developed with a clear goal in mind. Following a curriculum does not mean that you are a slave to a set amount of pages per day. You can follow the roadmap and stop to explore the surroundings, as learning opportunities present themselves, then get back on track towards your goal. You can go at your own pace and take longer to climb the steeper hills of difficult or new concepts and run through the familiar fields of well-known topics.
A good curriculum is a tool that we can use to equip us on our journey as parents. It will make our steps more intentional and sure on this path to the unknown future and give us the freedom to spend our best energy and attention on being emotionally present to lead our children as they grow and learn.