The most frequent question about home school curriculum is, "What curriculum should I use?"
This is a great question, except when it really means, "What units of knowledge, skill and information should I be delivering to my child?"
Reducing education to "units" to be delivered is extremely common and perfectly natural given how the concept of education is mostly used in our society.
Unfortunately that concept is wrong which you can read about on my definition of education page.
Educational reform would be far more effective and the necessity of home schooling would be avoided for most people if policies could be written from a more accurate conception.
That misguided assumption that the particular "units" that are presented to children are the basic "elements" of elementary school or the "primary" lesson in primary school leads to problems, the most widespread of which is the problem of fauxchievement.
Fauxchievement is when a student goes through the motions without mastering the material.
You can avoid that problem by switching what you take to be "primary" or the "elements" that are necessary for your children.
The three primary elements that form the most basic foundation upon which all schooling is built are:
- How to manage our own and other people's behavior for the common good a.k.a. governance, politics, and/or power,
- What and how we exchange with others to meet our needs (in the classroom that usually includes attention, papers, grades, test scores, etc. while in the "real world" it refers to time, money, attention, goods, services, etc.), and
- The quality of consciousness that results from living within those governance structures and exchange processes.
Curriculum is not merely the units of knowledge, skill and information, it is the entire way of living that is demanded by the environment in which the student is immersed. For my in-depth exploration of the concept of curriculum click here.
3R's Free Home School Curriculum
This changes the nature of the question of what home school curriculum to use considerably.
In this way of thinking the essentials of education boil down to the 3R's: Respect, Responsibility, and Resourcefulness.
My assumption about human nature is that we are state of mind optimizers.
Everything we do is predicated on the assumption that by doing whatever it is that we are choosing to do in each moment it is an attempt to establish and/or maintain optimal states of mind.
The REAL Home School Curriculum Concern
But there is a very important concern that is behind the original question about what home school curriculum to use.
That concern is for the future of your child; "How will I know that I have done everything that I could do to ensure that s/he is going to succeed?"
John Dewey addressed this concern very well back in 1938 in his book Experience and Education:
"We always live at the time we live and not at some other time, and only by extracting at each present time the full meaning of each present experience are we prepared for doing the same thing in the future. This is the only preparation which in the long run amounts to anything."
Today even more than in Dewey's time we cannot know what the future holds.
Even though we may think we know what knowledge, skills, and information our kids will need in the future, we will get the details wrong.
The thing that all life forms, including our children, continue to need and will always need no matter what occurs in the future is access to optimal states of mind.
The Start Anywhere, Learn Everything Home School Curriculum is a practice of cognitive cartography that has both teachers and students mapping access to optimal states of mind. For a full explanation of why the cognitive cartography definition of education is better than the delivery definition in a home school curriculum click here.
It really doesn't matter what knowledge, skills, and information are used, as long as the basic practices are focused on the 3R's and solving problems and achieving goals.
The 3 Basic Free Home School Curriculum Practices
The three basic practices in the Start Anywhere, Learn Everything Home School Curriculum are;
- planning, and
- decision making.
Each of these practices is required of both teachers and students.
It is presumed that the teachers start off more accomplished at each of these practices than students but that the teachers are committed to a gradual process of relinquishing their role in planning and decision making for the students in order to give the students ever more responsibility for their own activities.
Teachers are always ultimately responsible for their own behavior and the maintenance of respect and safety within the group.
This means that teachers are responsible for the context of the relationships between teachers and students, but not necessarily doing "educational" activities in that context.
The practice of empathy is required in order to know your own mind and the minds of others.
Minds are not truly separated from bodies nor from the world in which they are embedded, despite our illusory perceptions to the contrary.
Thus the more you know of the minds of others, the more you know about the influences that are affecting your own mind. Empathy is at the heart of both respect and responsibility.
The practice of planning is required in order to develop greater skill at anticipating the long term success of your problem solving and progress towards your goals and aspirations.
The essence of planning is the anticipation of what will happen as a result of your own actions.
Planning is also the process of making predictions about the world and then following up on them to find out whether your predictions are effective or not.
Planning is at the heart of both responsibility and resourcefulness.
The practice of decision making is required in order to balance your needs with the needs of the other people who are being affected by your decisions.
Decision making is at the heart of both resourcefulness and respect.
You might have noticed that the three practices and the three principles are intimately intertwined.
Respect is the combination of decision making and empathy.
Responsibility is the combination of empathy and planning.
Resourcefulness is the combination of planning and decision making.
Each of the principles is a delicate balancing act.
Home School Curriculum Principle #1
As the adult you are charged with the ultimate duty to maintain safety and respect.
If you wield your decision making power as the adult without practicing empathy for those over whom you exercise your power, then you will not be respectful.
If, on the other hand, you are so empathetic about your children's aversion to conflict and difficult feelings that you cannot make hard decisions that will keep them safe from their own inexperience, ignorance, weakness or vulnerability, then you are also being disrespectful.
Respect is essentially the willingness to look again (re- again, spect- to see) at your judgment of a situation to make sure you have found the right balance between empathy and decision making.
One of the most common mistakes in education is planning without empathy, which results in adults demanding that children jump through meaningless hoops.
This irresponsibility takes the form of stupid make-work school assignments or can take the form of a child blindly following their parents goals for them without regard for their own intrinsic motivations and personal aspirations.
Planning without empathy is most often perpetrated by very well meaning adults who have learned hard lessons in life and want to save child(ren) from the hardships they experienced.
The problem is when they project the details of how they navigated along their path through life onto a child who is living in an entirely different world, along a totally different path.
Empathy is the key to preventing this problem.
Empathy helps you;
- keep in touch with your child,
- develop the kind of relationship in which you respect each other's unique challenges, and,
- figure out how to communicate the most valuable lessons of your life in a way that honors both yours and your child's struggles and triumphs.
Home School Curriculum Principle #2
Responsibility is the ability to respond creatively rather than merely reacting impulsively to situations in your life, it calls for both planning for the future and having empathy for those who will be affected.
Children cannot learn responsibility unless the have support for their primary human need for autonomy.
Cultivating the 3R's in children requires parents to provide more autonomy support and become less controlling.
Home School Curriculum Principle #3
Resourcefulness seems to be generally denied in children's lives today.
As we have come to perceive the world as being more dangerous we are increasingly protecting our children and cutting them off from the opportunities to make a lot of decisions. In order to become good at a skill you have practice.
Decision making is one of the most important skills in life and children need all the practice they can get. But once again, there is a balance to maintain.
Planning is also necessary to achieve anything complex, therefore there is a discrepancy between your more comprehensive adult vision of what is possible in their lives given the right early training and their need for the feedback of making decisions themselves.
Resourcefulness is about being full of the source again; it's about being the creator of your life.
The most important key to being resourceful is ensuring that you and your children build on strong foundations of respect and responsibility as you create your lives together.
One of the main differences between me, as a private teacher, and you as a parent, is that you probably have more goals and expectations of your children than I do.
Do yourself a favor and discuss your goals and expectations with your children.
If you have an academic agenda then you would be wise to help your child understand the moral foundation of your agenda so that they will understand why they have to do the things that you will make them do.
Share with them how and why your agenda for them expresses your values.
And also respect their goals and aspirations, too.
Make your agenda the start of a conversation, not the basis for imposing control over their behavior.
I do not have an academic agenda for kids (although I expect excellence if they choose to pursue academic goals), therefore I have no inclination to impose academic instruction.
Part of the reason I do not bother with an academic agenda is because I know that academics are a huge well of resources for achieving goals and solving problems.
Therefore, if I keep insisting that the kids pursue goals and solve problems they will inevitably discover that they need academic skills to succeed. There is no avoiding it in the society I live in.
(It would, of course, be very different if I lived in a different society and was a different kind of person.
If you expect your kids to learn things that you don't know, then you will have to send them away to people and into communities that know and teach whatever you want them to learn.
If my students need more than I can give them then my job becomes facilitating their process of finding the right catalysts for their learning and supporting them to be successful.)
What I did when I was a private teacher home schooling other people's kids was to have a contract with every one of my students.
The contract spelled out how we were going to be operating as a consensus run small group according to the 3 R's.
We were each to be responsible for our own behavior while I, as the teacher, would have the power and additional responsibility for maintaining safety and respect.
Once the contract was in place then I asked the kids, "What do you want to do?"
And then I waited for answers, real answers, not evasions.
They always evaded at first, "I don't know." Or, "What do you want to do?"
If I answered at all I would usually answer with something along the lines of, "I want to find out what we can do to have fun instead of sitting around here all day. What are some of the things you like to do?"
Once they started making suggestions I accepted everything as a possibility, no matter how absurd or uninteresting to me personally.
After we had at least a few potentially interesting ideas that I would be willing to pursue, then I would have them choose the one they think would be the most fun.
Then I helped them think about what might actually be possible given our limitations of budget, timing, physical reality, our agreement on consensus decision-making, and stuff like that.
If flying to the moon struck us as the most potential fun, then there are obvious things that will prevent us from accomplishing that right away.
We would try to figure out the most potential fun until we got to something that we all agreed was both fun and possible.
If it was something that could be done right then, we did it.
If not we figured out what needed to happen next and if we could do that right then, we did it.
If not we continue until we figure out what we could do right then.
The outcome of this process was often a combination of some goals and some problem solving.
We also got to know each other based on what we think is fun and the limitations that we shared.
Often times, since I was working with 6-12 year olds, there were things that they do not know how to do and part of our process together was helping them to develop the skills they needed to accomplish their goals and solve their problems.
I was not there to entertain them, protect them from the adversity of challenges, nor to provide them with everything they wanted.
My job was to help them discover more and better ways to be fully engaged with living life respectfully, responsibly and resourcefully.
That's all there was to it.
That's ultimately all there is to do in this world, anyway, as far as I am concerned.
When problems arise we solve them. When goals inspire us we pursue them.
When there is a lull in our time then we might get bored.
That' O.K., as long as we meet the expectations of being respectful, responsible and resourceful, too.
If it becomes a problem, then we solve it.
If we really hate being bored then we can set a goal to avoid it.