Why curriculum doesn’t work


Often, parents ask me how long my son has been skateboarding. This is parentspeak for, “I hope your kid is a lot older than he looks because I don’t want to think my own kid is slow.”

I think the core parent worry is that their child is falling behind and the parent’s job is to keep that kid out in front. We all pretend to not think that, because it’s not a healthy way to parent—as if we are in a race—but I think most of us battle against thinking that way sometimes.

I think using curriculum is caving to the wrong side of that struggle. Here’s why:

1. Curriculum is an anachronism.

It used to be that rich people hired tutors to teach their kids all the things that rich kids memorized. Painters, pianos, geography, the stuff that the lower classes could never pick up just from living. You could tell someone’s social rank by finding out what they had memorized.

That’s what being “cultured” meant.

But we don’t believe in such a canon anymore. That went out the door in the 80s, when college students could substitute Adrienne Rich for T.S. Eliot in Poetry 101. And the Internet is the final nail in the idea that memorizing has merit—you can look up anything on the Internet, so it’s the information synthesizers, rather than the memorizers, who make impact today.

2. Curriculum is arbitrary.

The Education Report explains why national curriculum standards stifle innovation. There are a lot of reasons for this conclusion, but basically it’s because curriculum is arbitrary. And curriculum is more about the person who designed the curriculum than about the student receiving the curriculum.

It blows me away that parents take the very forward-thinking step of taking their kid out of school and then make the anachonistic decision to use curriculum, as if we are living in Renaissance England and we are all aiming to have our kids accepted into the landed gentry.

Curriculum was designed to keep parents sending their kids to school. First, school was created to get the kids out of the factories. Then, when it was clear that rich people would not put their kids to work, we needed to think of ways to keep the parents believing the kids should be in school. So we came up with arbitrary standards that kids should follow so they can go to elite colleges. But you no longer need to learn proscribed curriculum to get into college. So why are we using it?

Answer: Fear. The more you rely on curriculum, the more you are parenting out of fear.

3. The best curriculum focuses on doing something.

Business school is falling out of favor because you learn more about running a business by running your own business, rather than studying how to run a business. We have clear data on this because the stakes are high and quantifiable and Silicon Valley loves a good argument.

But Joi Ito, director of The MIT Media Lab, generalizes this problem to all of education (via BoingBoing). He says that teaching kids through text books and standardized testing is like teaching kids by having them read the dictionary. It’s totally impractical and it demotivates their thinking.

This is why I think parents are splitting hairs when they talk about which curriculum they are using and which is best: they all suck the life out of learning. Which is why, when people ask how my son got so good at skateboarding so fast, I tell them, “We homeschool. And right now we have a skateboarding curriculum.”

43 replies
  1. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    Ahhh–that’s the hiss of guilt as it exits my consciousness.

    My kids get deeply into things that would never be part of a curriculum and which are about as useful—perhaps more so:

    What can be made with a glue gun.
    The history of video games.
    Background stories on all their stuffed animals.

    That’s problem solving, art, history, and storytelling–no workbooks required.

    I “expose” them to things, like a NOVA video we watched today about Archimedes. We’re meandering in that theme, waiting for notions that intrigue.

    Posts like this are a gentle pat, urging me to release that controlling/competitive streak engrained from an upbringing of doing “what I’m supposed to do.”

  2. ChristineMM
    ChristineMM says:

    Nearly all curriculum has let us down when used in isolation and when used strictly, or even when using it with every single intention of its author.

    Using some of something, or abandoning it when you realize it is not working, is good. Blending with other things is probably best. Dipping in for help with certain segments can be useful. Using it in a sped up or slowed down way to customize for the learner seems right to us.

    In the end we’re talking about learning. And if learning happens, even if some is from a curriculum or inspired by a curriculum, I think it is okay.

    We are not slaves to curriculum by any means, and our family is against anything that is “school in a box” clumping subjects and content by a grade level. We teach to the learner’s need or ability and that requires more customization than school in a box offers.

    Also, sometimes just having it on the shelf is somehow reassuring, silly as that may sound, so it can be emotionally useful if it is just collecting dust.

  3. Mel
    Mel says:

    I went to a homeschool gym day this afternoon. It’s my first attempt to connect with other homeschoolers in our little town. My kids are just 3.5 and 5, but their friends all start kindergarten next year and I want to make sure we know some people who are available during the day…and so they know they aren’t the only ones who don’t go to school.

    (This is a long preamble) One of the moms asked me if we had started schooling yet. I thought it was the weirdest question. Yeah, we read, we go to museums, the boys play with Lego nonstop, we hike, we do gymnastics…. But what she meant was, have we started a curriculum yet.

    I hope we can still be comfortable with this group as non-curriculum, always-learning folks.

  4. Cindy
    Cindy says:

    While Ms. Trunk is entitled to her well-reasoned opinion, it is just that — an opinion. Ms. Trunk’s conclusions (about history and about current times) are not ones with which every educator/historian/citizen would agree. Personally, I generally disagree with points one and two (though there is some truth in both points), and I agree with point three. As a culture, we need to learn to be gentle and disrespectful towards people we disagree. It is more persuasive to say, “Here are my thoughts” instead of saying, “You are [add negative adjective] for thinking about this topic in a different way.”

  5. Casey
    Casey says:

    You writing about the post that only got one comment the other day made me want to comment so that you’ll want to keep writing about homeschooling. I’ve been reading your blog for a couple years now and I always find it intensely interesting. My son is only seven months old, but I’m really trying to figure out how I can homeschool. As a single self-employed parent who works from home I’m not sure I can do that and earn enough money, too, but I guess I have the next four and a half years to figure that out.

    Thank you for exploring all these issues!

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Thanks for commenting, Casey. I like hearing where you are in life and why you’re reading this blog.

      One of the things that has been shocking to me is how I have been able to get better and better at earning money AND homeschooling at the same time. It is not easy, but it makes me certain that everyone has enough money to homeschool.

      Another thing I am starting to realize is how much school interferes with a parent’s ability to generate income because the school calendar and school deadlines are so demanding and inflexible.


  6. Melanie Orrand
    Melanie Orrand says:

    LOVED THIS!! I feel so guilty when we don’t do a curriculum and my child is only in kindergarten. It seems like he learns so much more when we go with his interests.. Thanks so much for posting this!!

  7. Gwen Nicodemus
    Gwen Nicodemus says:

    My kids and I talked about various jobs and what’s required for the majority of them. We came up with this curriculum and methods for obtaining that knowledge.

    — Reading & Writing (email, facebook, telling stories. Grandmas and Grandpas make great email penpals.)

    — Math & Science (Yahtzee, kitchen messes, NOVA, …)

    — Dealing with people (basic knowledge of art, music, sports, and practice, practice, practice)

    — Networking & Marketing (We haven’t figured this one out yet. I think they need to come up with a product or service and start a kid business.)

    — History (so we don’t repeat mistakes, History Channel, books, SCA, …)

    Those things seem basic to any job.

    We do a disproportionate amount of science and painting because that’s what the three of us like.

    • KJ
      KJ says:

      We don’t homeschool, but I am intensely interested in the “hows” and “whys” of it. This is going to sound rude to Gwen, but that’s what my kids do after school and on the weekends. I couldn’t imagine that actually substituting for school. Still trying to wrap my head around why/how homeschooling is better.

      • Jennifer
        Jennifer says:

        I went to school and I did those “extra” things in my spare time too. My grandmother watched PBS almost exclusively. I recall those nature and history shows with her–along with being influenced by her stories, commentary, reading habits, cooking style–more vividly than any day in a classroom.

        I sought out a few interests deeply and, yes, they are engrained more than the workbooks or unit studies required at school. I read because I loved to read. I did art well because I loved it.

        If you were to test my Trigonometry skills now–despite earning a B+ in college with loads of studying–I would remember nil. Never used it. Never loved it.

        • Penelope Trunk
          Penelope Trunk says:

          I think I can speak to this. If all the kids are doing this stuff on their own, after school, why are they going to school?

          The issue is, I think, that kids are more productive on their own, at home, than they are at school. And school is crushing.

          Another thing: Kids need downtime. This is well documented. So if kids do what school kids do during school time, and kids do what homeschool kids do during nonschool time, then when is the time when kids look at the clouds, stare at the wall, fight with their siblings?

          Kids need downtime.

          Maybe we can start shifting the discussion to justifying why parents send kids to school, instead of justifying why parents take kids out of school.


          • ChristineMM
            ChristineMM says:

            I can’t tell you how many stay at home mothers have told me this, “I don’t want to be with my kids all day.” Some of those have said, “The family dynamic between me and my child” or “between my siblings” is (something negative) and we can’t be together all the time.

            I have said in the past that being together so much forces me to address certain behaviors or attitudes just so we can all learn to not just get along but to enjoy each other. However not every parent is willing to do that work or they are too closed minded to even try. These parents say, “Can’t wait for Christmas break to be over to get those kids back on the schoolbus — see ya!”

            So not everyone wants to homeschool!

            In some cases parents want a different academic load for their kids but won’t homeschool for a number of reasons so they “after school”. Sometimes the SPOUSE is against the homeschooling. Sometimes the KIDS do not want to leave school.

            I know homeschoolers who wound up using school and they admit the primary reason to go is sports team access or just being around kids all day long. Academics comes second.

            I have strong opinions about my own life but have eased off of judging others.

            Regarding curriculum I cannot make an algebra curriculum up out of my own head and don’t know why it is considered bad to use one to learn from.

            If you read the writings of John Holt he was never against curriculum. In fact his mail order catalog sold curriculum and even textbooks. Whatever a kid needs to learn, use it as a tool. What’s the big deal?

            The crappy silly curriculum, toss it out. The good stuff that works, I say use if anyone needs to or *wants to*.

          • Zellie
            Zellie says:

            ChristineMM said it. Most people don’t like their children well enough to be with them every day.

            That’s the number one reason if they’re honest. You can hear it in the way they talk about their children.

      • Gwen Nicodemus
        Gwen Nicodemus says:

        That’s exactly the point KJ. Your kids get all that stuff on their own. Why do they need school?

        Think back to your time in school. Over a six hour day, how much was actually spent learning something? Take out recess, lunch, roll call, time waiting for others to catch up, time spent switching tasks, … School is a time sucker with a very low bang per buck ratio. An hour or two a day in either self-directed study or lessons with a parent results in much more learning.

        I learn so much more when it is self directed. My kids do too. My eleven-year-old daughter knows more about paleontology, and the science of it, than I ever did. She’s interested. I’m not. I forward her articles from science journals and she reads them, and understands them.

        If they want/need to learn more than basic reading/writing/math, they’ll learn it. Do they need a curriculum for it? I don’t think so. When have you ever diagrammed sentences as an adult or actively used the definition of gerund? You learn to write by reading and writing. Have you ever had to take an integral in your daily life? I haven’t, not since the classroom.

        I anticipate my daughter demanding to know about logarithms within the next year. She’ll want to know that math so she can understand some dinosaur things.

        • T
          T says:

          “When have you ever diagrammed sentences as an adult or actively used the definition of gerund?”

          Well, I have. But I’m a professional editor, and I sometimes need to prove that I am right about particular grammatical constructions. :)

  8. Bec Oakley
    Bec Oakley says:

    “Curriculum is arbitrary” – This is such an important point. The number one thing people say when I tell them my kids are not in school is “but how will they get into university?” And it’s true – the high school curriculum is designed to prepare you for the exams that get you into university. That’s a dangerously narrow scope.

    For me, it was fear that led me away from curriculum. Fear that it was irrelevant, fear that it was wasting time – I don’t want my kids to wait until university to start learning the things that interest them, discover something they love or find the stuff that they’re good at.

    • Bec Oakley
      Bec Oakley says:

      I should add that many kids are lucky enough that the curriculum in their school includes the things that they’re interested in and are good at. It just wasn’t the case for us.

      Traditional schooling makes two big assumptions:

      1. Here’s what you need to know
      2. Here’s the best way for you to learn it

      Those assumptions weren’t true for my kids.

  9. bethany
    bethany says:

    Why don’t I post comments? Because I always have too much to say.
    And it always seems off topic after I’ve written it…

    I talked my mother into homeschooling me when I was 11, in the middle of the 6th grade (after skipping the 5th). There was technically a curriculum. There were videos I was supposed to watch of a teacher teaching a class of students. It was from a university in Florida (I was in Nevada. Later, New Jersey). The whole thing was such a pain. I didn’t watch them. I signed the paper saying I did, and ultimately ended up with a highschool diploma from said university.

    Instead of doing what I was supposed to do, I taught myself Japanese. I read James Joyce. I played video games. I had such a love of learning, I took everything in (Now 25, I still do).

    By the time I was in highschool (per curriculum), my sister was attending university. I would go and stay in her dorm room for a week at a time with her and her roommate. I would attend classes with her. Just show up. I never got kicked out.

    I attended a couple colleges. I dropped out. I somehow got talked into art school. If there’s anything lamer than regular school, it’s art school. I dropped out.

    I never liked school. It bored the **** out of me. Without studying, I was able to glance over the text, 10 minutes before the test, and ace it. Then I would see poor Jason. He clearly had some kind of learning disability. He would study like mad. He would fail. The teachers would praise me, and tell him he didn’t work hard enough. Even in the 3rd grade, I thought that was a system fail.

    My boyfriend left school in 6th grade, too. He was homeschooled with a curriculum. But he didn’t do it either. He played video games. He wrote stories. He worked in his father’s bar when he was 16. He doesn’t have a diploma. He thinks I’m super smart. And because he doesn’t have a diploma, he thinks that makes him an idiot. I try to tell him, if I had any scruples, I wouldn’t have a diploma either.

    We don’t have any children yet. But I’m looking forward to carrying on our own unplanned history of unschooling with them.

    • ChristineMM
      ChristineMM says:

      Bethany, Your story is interesting. How old are you now? Can’t tell the years betweeen you leaving art school and today. And what are you doing now with your time? I’m curious.

      • bethany
        bethany says:

        I’m 25 now. For the last few years, among other things (like freelance tech support), I’ve been developing and tailoring clothing, as well as creating jewelry and bags on a per customer per item basis. Recently, I’ve been studying on how to leave this ‘Artisanal’ niche, and develop it into a more far reaching business without completely sacrificing the basic idea it emerged from.
        Furthermore, I’m getting interested in the idea of rekindling that urge that makes children want to learn, that makes unshooling possible, for the poor souls who’ve had it squashed out of them from years of schooling. On a community level. Literally “Un-schooling.”
        And, Yes, I think I’ve found a way to combine them. Nice.

        My boyfriend is a writer.

        I don’t know what happened to Jason.

        • ChristineMM
          ChristineMM says:

          Lisa, I agree with the rose-colored glasses notion.

          A problem though is if the high schoolers don’t do certain advanced math they will be blocked from a future of engineering. They have to do what the colleges require if they want to do a certain major. Period.

          We don’t seem to be able to change the system so we have to go along with the system to get what we want in life.

          So if my kid wants to be an engineer the loosey-goosey great alternative education times he had from birth through grade 8 have to end and now he’s got his nose to the grindstone. This kills me but it’s what he needs to do in order to do what HE WANTS.

          I learned things in college that I never used in my career. I think it is always that way.

          A few years ago when I used to watch Dr. Phil on TV they debated this topic. A boy wanted to quit school and go immediately to being a sportscaster on TV. A sportscaster came on & said they would: 1) never hire a high school dropout 2) they would never hire a kid in his teens 3) they only hire college grads as it shows a certain discipline was done with their life (attending classes, doing homework, passing tests, getting decent grades), it builds character and shows they can do hard work. 4) they usually hire former pro athletes to be sportscasters 5) the path to being a pro athlete for most is to graduate high school then go to college and do college sports then move on to pro sports.

          So the teen decided he should stay in school.

          (Homeschooling was never offered as an option but that is irrelevant.)

  10. Melissa Jamieson
    Melissa Jamieson says:

    This was really really interesting.
    I’m at a cross roads….I have a fear that if I dont do a curriculum, my kids will miss out…but the curriculum I find feels empty.


    • ChristineMM
      ChristineMM says:

      Melissa I was going to ask if you know of Charlotte Mason but I see your blog is on that topic. I segued from unschooling to immersing in living books a la Charlotte Mason when my oldest was in grade 1. Yet we were not rigid (unlike Ambleside Online). I found a group of local people to relate to. We did classical and Charlotte Mason influence while doing neither “to the extreme” and tailoring everything per learning styles and doing most things with our time with the interests of the child. It has worked out great. I only switched to more school-y for grade 9 for my oldest who wants to be an engineer and must meet strict college prerequisites that actually reach back to grade 8.

  11. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    “And the Internet is the final nail in the idea that memorizing has merit—you can look up anything on the Internet, so it’s the information synthesizers, rather than the memorizers, who make impact today.”

    Sort of. It depends on the information being memorized and/or synthesized. The range and breadth of knowledge being published on the Internet by individuals and organizations is amazing. It’s readily available and searchable. Here’s the problem – has the information been vetted? If it has been vetted, in what context and for what agenda? Who conducted the information gathering and synthesizing and how completely was it performed? These are some of the questions that need to be asked whether the source is from analog (books, microfilm, newspapers, documents, etc.) or digital sources before objective conclusions can be drawn.

    • Allison
      Allison says:

      It seems to me that searching for information on a subject, and in the process being exposed to differing standards, perspectives, agendas, etc. would make you more aware of the realities of the world, and therefore a far more astute judge of quality as well as a more engaged learner, than passively accepting pre-vetted media from a teacher.

      Isn’t knowing how to find and evaluate sources for self-learning is an essential skill in adult life? Why make them wait until they are an adult to start learning it?

      • redrock
        redrock says:

        you don’t have to throw out the independent thinking because you are in a classroom. No teacher is perfect and knows everything. You can always ask questions, only the most antiquated teachers do not allow for questions. And understanding does not come automatically from reading, it requires a very active component of information exchange. I definitely agree with Mark: the internet is big pile, lots of it is garbage, half-knowledge, weird ideas, unsupported theories…. it requires a lot of persistence to sort out and find the gems. And as one famous inventor said: “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” The perspiration means also that there are some things you have to commit to memory and have to have available at your fingertip. It is far easier to start with small pieces (the book used by a teacher, or recommended by others) and go to big ones (the scientific journals, the specialists textbook, some parts of the internet), than the other way around.

        • Sarah
          Sarah says:

          I find it funny that you used that quote in support of rote memorization and schooling.. That quote is by Thomas Edison who was told by his teacher that he would never amount to anything, so he left school and homeschooled! He also was known for not knowing all the ‘book work’ (principle names, etc) and relied on experimentation.. :)

          Anyway, we are not unschoolers but do approach homeschooling with a very hands-on, out of the box thinking way, but I definitely think there is a lot of merit to the idea that if a child is allowed to lead the way in his learning, his true gifts and talents will be able to be developed enough to shine! I think by having a “one-size fits all” school system, we are leaving most children to be moderately good at all the standard things.. To be good workers, rather than innovators!

      • Mark W.
        Mark W. says:

        Thanks redrock.

        Allison, my comment above doesn’t make any mention of a teacher. Also, nothing about “passively accepting” pre-vetted media. I have been questioning media, teachers, and their sources since forever.
        “Isn’t knowing how to find and evaluate sources for self-learning is an essential skill in adult life? Absolutely.
        “Why make them wait until they are an adult to start learning it?” I don’t think I said they should wait. What I am saying is that information needs to be vetted (somehow, someway) rather than being taken at face value.

  12. Ashley
    Ashley says:

    I teach a curriculum and focus importance on reading/writing and math. Everything else we focus on his interest. I’m sorry but I think it is advantageous to use a curriculum for at least math, reading/writing. My son would care less to want to learn these things on his own. Can’t there be a balance of curriculum and free pursuit of interest? We spend all of our free time either researching stuff or reading or playing. He reads on his own constantly now that he knows how to read. He is also good at math and can apply it to life situations. The only thing he loathes to do is creative writing or writing reports. He is 7 and a second grader and I know if we didn’t have a curriculum he would be unable to read, spell, or do simple math.

  13. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    My dad’s an electrical engineer and he confided to me that he never uses any of the math that my 16 year old sister does in her advanced math classes. However, he does seem to like discussing math problems with her for fun.

    I think the main issue with school is that the system is just getting worse and less relevant and most parents have no idea. They assume the education the kids are getting is about the same as their own memories of their education, which is inevitably better than it was since people view the past through rose-tinted lenses. So they think their kid’s schooling is all unicorns and rainbows, which is not based on the reality of the past and even less on the reality of the present. It’s a factory for creating glossy, false memories.

  14. Karen Loe
    Karen Loe says:

    I have been so happy that I found your blog!
    Here is another post that I love.
    I abhor curriculum.
    Homeschooling parents talk it to death. Switch. Buy. Try…
    My kids are learning without curriculum because kids learn. I admit that I do use textbooks, regular “school” textbooks, that I have acquired in a variety of ways. But we don’t follow from one page to the next. We simply read through them and take what we want from it.
    We also use so many other resources that I couldn’t begin to list them all. Including materials that I create myself.
    I can’t say that both of my kids are rabid learners, but they do know how to find things out. They know how to research what needs to be known. And they know how to follow their own interests and bliss.

    Great post! I love it.

  15. Jani
    Jani says:

    As a part-time piano teacher, I find the idea of teaching without a curriculum an interesting one, and I wonder about how I would go about my lessons if I were to ditch it.

    It scares me to think of not depending on it, to be honest. I think because I have a tendency to be so right-brained, and it makes me feel as though I come across in a scattered way. A curriculum lines things up nice in a linear fashion (vs my usual cobweb fashion), and I feel like I’m more of a “real” teacher when I’m teaching in a more traditional, recognizable fashion.

    All of which wars against my natural learning instinct. When I do something – anything, I jump in the middle and sort my way out to both ends, putting pieces together as I go. I can’t be the only one, and I always wonder if maybe my students would benefit from something less traditional.

  16. Judy
    Judy says:

    Non-homeschooler, here, who has had 3 kids in public school. One is a junior in college, one a senior in HS and one in 6th grade.

    I have a question for you, especially those o fyou who do not use a curriculum.

    What if your kid isn’t interested in a particular subject? Do they just skip it?

    Do you determine some basic subjects that you will cover regardless?

    Are you any of homeschooling high school aged kids?

    Are you less comfortable without a curriculum as your kids get older?

  17. Bec Oakley
    Bec Oakley says:

    For us, we don’t use a curriculum because we don’t do subjects. We don’t sit and say “now it’s time to learn Math, after lunch we’ll learn Science…” Learning is learning.

    We’ll go to the beach and look at all the shells stuck to the rocks. Talk about what they are, how they got there. Count how many are on one rock, estimate how many are on the whole beach. Make up a poem about it on the drive home. Look up ‘periwinkle’ on the internet. Learn how to spell periwinkle so we can look it up on the internet :) We probably covered all the ‘subjects’, but I couldn’t care less. We learned about periwinkles. It was awesome.

    And yes, one of my sons is in high school. I was more worried about ditching curriculum with him, until I freed myself from the worry that he won’t get into university.

    • Judy
      Judy says:

      I am asking because I am genuinely curious…

      I “get” how an elementary kid’s curiousity could be the driving force of what they learn, but for a HS kid who wants to go to college, is curiosity about a periwinkle enough? Don’t they need to know about kingdom, phylum, etc? Shouldn’t they know how to dissect a sea-world cousin or two? Learn about the physical forces that drive the waves to leave this stuff on the beach?

      As the parent of a HS kid, there is NO WAY she knows enough to self-direct her learning and no way I know enough to direct it — and I have a master’s degree!

      How does your kid learn calculus and physics, world history, US history, great literature, rhetoric, critical reading and writing? Do your kids do document based queries that teach them how to read and interpret primary sources? When I think about what my kids have learned in high school (a public school in a middle class community in NJ — no great leader in education) I shudder to think about what they would NOT have learned or been exposed if they were left to their own devices!

      Doesn’t that scare the crap out of you?

      I guess the thing I most don’t get about homeschooling is — what about the social aspect?? When I think of what my kids have gotten from school-based leadership opportunities, camaraderie from marching band and drama, the experience of teaching fellow classmates about social justice issues through school groups like amnesty international, learning how to negotiate complicated social systems, how to deal with authority they don’t care for, and what they’ve gotten from adults they love and admire… how in the world do you provide that for home-schooled HS kids?

      Assuming you live someplace with even decent, safe public schools, of course…

      I guess i was one who loved school, whose kids like and even sometimes love, so it’s hard to imagine.

      • Bec Oakley
        Bec Oakley says:

        I understand exactly where you’re coming from and yes, it did used to scare the crap out of me. Until I took a good look at why it was scaring me – I believed that (a) there was a prescribed set of things my kid needed to learn before he turned 18 and (b) school was the only place he could learn those things. I no longer believe that to be true.

        For any kid, whether they want to go to college or not, curiosity about a periwinkle isn’t just enough, it’s everything. If he cares enough to want to know where it came from, how it got there, what other animals it’s related to and what it looks like cut into little pieces then he’ll be driven to find these things out. If he doesn’t, then clearly Biology isn’t in his future. So why waste time on it? I’m perfectly happy if my kid becomes an adult who doesn’t know everything (yet). Learning doesn’t stop when you’re 18, I model that for them every day. A lot of stuff we figure out together (and I also have a Master’s degree). It’s fantastic.

        I think it’s wrong to say “left to their own devices”. It’s not like I point them towards a book and say “now go learn something”. We immerse ourselves in the world. They ask questions, a LOT of questions. And one of the best things about homeschooling is that they can get an answer, to what they want to know, when they want to know it.

        The question for me is not how will they learn all those things, but do they need to? Learning what is interesting to you is self-selecting for the things you need to know. We learn physics by trying to understand its real-world applications, like the motion of the planets and why we need seatbelts. We learn literature by writing our own stories and talking about the ones we read. We learn history by travelling and asking questions about what we find there. They learn that what they want to know has value and merit. Best of all, they learn how to learn.

        As for the social thing, you can read about those arguments on any homeschooling website. I can’t answer it because I don’t understand the question… are you saying that being a part of the world outside of school doesn’t require navigating complicated social systems, interacting with adults you admire, the opportunity to be a leader and feel camaraderie? Or is it just that only adults get to have those experiences outside of school.

  18. Melissa
    Melissa says:

    As a self employed individual, I too found that it was actually easier and I had one of my best years in sales yet the year that I decided to keep my children home to school.

    I tried “home schooling” with my children 8, 10 and 12 this past year using a online curriculum through one of the virtual charter schools. I guess it’s fine if you want to bring public school education into your home, but I quickly decided that I didn’t like it. Teaching to take the tests – didn’t really feel like learning.

    I appreciate this post because I am planning to take a no curriculum or at least a lot less curriculum approach this coming school year. I am hoping to have shaken all of my fears about not sending my kids to school and how I might be irreparably damaging them – ready to start a new year with a new attitude.

  19. Allyson
    Allyson says:

    I have been in a battle the last 2 years with homeschooling my children. We use curriculum. It has never worked and I am fed up with it. My step-daughter dropped out of school while I was homeschooling her. Took her out of public school for reasons. My step-son never really cared about school. He wanted us to take him out when in 11th grade. We did, along with our other children. He goofed off with homeschooling the same as he did with public schooled, but he didn’t quit. He finished all that was recommended to receive a high school diploma. He now works on a tugboat. My 14 year old daughter is in 8th (she was held back a year because of the leap test). She really wants to be in the grade she belongs in and works really hard at trying to catch that grade level up. It stresses me out seeing how she zooms through the books only to catch up. My 13 and 9 year old boys hate the school work. They enjoy it when they learn something, but otherwise is bored to death with it. They get so far behind in the work; there’s no way they will finish for the time I have set. I have done tons of research and learned lots of things about homeschooling. I’ve chosen to do away with curriculum next year. The only reason I’m continuing the curriculum now is because it costs. I’m ready to throw it out the door though. I’ve been printing lots of ‘lessons’ that will be more hands on for all of us to do together, plus some individual ‘lessons’. I’m desperately needing to lay back a bit more with their schooling, take our time and enjoy these years. It’s very stressful right now. I do have the fear of ‘what if they aren’t learning what they need to learn?’. I know they will only learn what they want no matter what, but it still scares me that I may be harming them in the long run if I don’t teach them what is statewide recommended. I do plan to help them learn about whatever field they are interested in. Even if it changes from year to year. I know what I want/need to do with their homeschooling, but it doesn’t help with that fearful thinking, ‘am I doing the right thing?’. I enjoy reading posts like yours ’cause it helps encourage me in the direction we’re heading.

  20. lej
    lej says:

    My oldest daughter was born 3 months early and has extreme learning difficulties. Before she even began pre-k she already had an IEP. She has been held back once already even with her IEP and is still on an early 1st grade reading level when she should be in 5th grade. Her desire to learn is surreal. She never gives up. However PS is detrimental to her. She spent her first 5 years in school mostly in and out of the hospital and the last 1 1/2 trying to desperatly catch up. My second daughter a second grader is strong and math and weak in reading. She too has some lighter health issues but her learnign troubles come from social anxiety.

    I have spent 7 years trying to decide if homeschooling is right or wrong. If I am even capable of trusting myself enough to educate my own children outside of the PS norm. My husband and I have always considered ourselves to be great teachers to our children when it comes to charcater, moral values and integrity. However for some reason homeschooling has terrified me. I have now reached the point that leaving my children in PS terrifies me more. I have four children that are very different from each other and I want to make sufre that I help them reach their own goals in life.

    I have had countless meetings with school officals and teachers and I realize that they worry alot about EOG’S and that school year in particular. I am concerned with what happens when they become adults and will they be capable of finding their own success in life with the education that they are getting right now.

  21. christinemm
    christinemm says:

    Lej you can do it. You have been through so much as an advocate trust me when I say the actual homeschooling is easier than all that.

    I have homeschooled my kids since birth and they are 16 & 13. My 16 yr old is gifted with 4 LDs plus ADHD inattentive type. He has had Lyme 4x and mono which resulted in brain injury. I know what it is like to deal with medical issues and dealing with medical providers.

    My 13 yr old has no LD or medical problems. He is giving me real pushback and puberty teen attitudes so he is going to try school for the first time this week. I predict he will beg to return to homeschooling. I am too burned out and busy dealing with homeschool high school and college prep and community college with my 16 yr old to fight the younger son now.

    Anyhow you can do it. Find a local support group and jump in.

    • lej
      lej says:

      thank you christinemm. I have sent over my notice of intent and talked to my school aged children. My whole family is excited about homeschooling. Even my mother who has been my biggest naysayer all of these years has finally seen the light.

      Each child is different and may require a different learning process. Maybe your son will thrive in PS now that he has the core fundementals instilled in him at home. Or he may come back home to school findinig that one-one is a better way for him.

      I am learning as we go but I am so willing to find what fits when, I am not planning on a heavy paper ridden curriculum. My girls are much to icurious and creative for that type of learning. I have researched homeschooling for so many years and have read so many reviews. I have collected some books and workbooks to use occasionally and found some free online programs that we have already been working on during weekends and breaks. I am researching a few more learning styles for history and science.

      I must tell you it feels great emotionally, menatlly and spiritually to finally say I feel encouraged about the direction of my childrens educational and emotional futures.

      It is so hard at times having to constantly be an advocate for one thing or another. Medical issues and school issues. I stand so strong in public but the countless tears I have stayed up crying in the middle of the night fearful for my childrens future. Most of the tears I cried were when I felt as though I HAD TO allow someone else to dictate my childs value and worth with numbers, letters and etc. It’s very painful when someone else is the decision maker for your child and everything in you screams opposite but its conventional, so you follow. I have always had a solid stance on my kids health and now I am taking a solid stance on their educations.

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