I read a blog entry earlier today from Shannon Hayes, who posted about the decision she made to go from unschooling to using a curriculum for math and writing with her 8 year old daughter. It was very thought provoking and I’ve spent a lot of time this evening mulling it over. At first it was just me and my brain having a conversation that went something like this:
My Brain: Hmmm, maybe you should impose your own educational agenda on Maya & Ben in areas in which they currently lack.
Me: No, I shouldn’t. That’s just school brain talking.
My Brain: No it isn’t! Look at Maya. She can’t figure percentages in her head except for maybe 50%. You should totally get a math curriculum and force her to do it.
Me: Ok, so if she really needs to learn that, I could just start having her figure the tip for the waiter when we eat out. Or any number of other things. No curriculum necessary.
My Brain: But what if you are ruining her chances at expanding her worldview, at being confident at taking on new challenges? What if she and Ben just quit when stuff gets challenging?
Me: Well, that would be bad.
My Brain: Yes! It would! Shannon said she was afraid part of her daughter’s problems stemmed from laziness. Maybe you are raising LAZY children.
Me: But all kids are different. Shannon knows her daughter better than anyone, but I know my kids. I don’t think they are particularly lazy.
My Brain: But if you use a curriculum, then you’ll know for sure that they are learning what you want them to know.
Me: Yeah, what I want them to know. Maybe even things I’m sure at some point they’ll need to know and will use a lot. But won’t they figure that out without me forcing it on them? Just by living in the world? Just the way Ben learned to read?
My Brain: Risky. Veeerrry Risky.
Me: (long pause while I consider) You know what? I think I’ll talk to Maya and Ben about this. Ask them what they think.
My Brain: No! No no, no. You don’t want to do that! They’re kids! Are they really going to tell you that they would quit something if it was challenging? Get real! They will tell you what they think you want to hear just so you won’t go all curriculum-based learning on them.
Me: I don’t think so. Let’s see what happens.
My Brain: Noooo!
Before I go any further, let me just say that this is not meant to criticize Shannon Hayes for her choice. I understand it and if it’s working for her? Great. It is a choice I have considered more than once, as has every unschooling parent, if they are being honest. Maya started off using a curriculum, and for a while she loved the one on one time we spent together, and she did learn stuff.
But even though that was the case for awhile, it didn’t last. At least for us.
So after me and my brain finished our conversation, I sat down and put the question to my kids:
Me: What would you do if you were working on a project – something you really wanted to do, and for whatever reason it got difficult; maybe there were math equations you didn’t know how to do, or vocabulary in the instructions that you didn’t understand. Maybe you were trying to write a story or a letter and found you couldn’t express yourself. Would you quit? Give it up and not come back to it?
Maya: Maybe. It would depend on what it was.
Me: Some project – something you were really excited about learning or doing.
Maya: Well if it was something I really wanted to do, why would I quit?
Me: What if it got super challenging and frustrating?
Ben: If I didn’t know how to do something, I’d look it up.
Me: Look it up?
Ben: Yeah, on line or something. Then I’d know how to do it and finish the project.
Maya: If I got frustrated I might quit for that day, then come back the next day and keep working on it.
Me: Really? You don’t think you’d just give up?
(Both kids are now staring at me, wondering why I keep asking the same question over and over)
Maya: Not if it was something I really wanted to do!
Me: Oh I was reading a blog post about this subject and just wondered how you guys felt. I’d hate for you to feel like something was beyond you or too challenging because you don’t know the math, for instance.
Maya: (Rolls her eyes) Well, if I really wanted to do whatever it was, then that wouldn’t be an issue.
Maya: Do we seem like we’re not confident?
Me: Well, no.
Maya: Then what’s the problem?
Me: There isn’t one. I just wanted to see how you guys felt about it.
Maya: Oh. Ok.
Ben: Hm. Ok.
Sorry school brain, but this round goes to the kids.
Shannon Hayes seems like someone who spent a lot of time thinking about the right way to handle the issue with her daughter. She is also clearly flexible and willing to change if the curriculum thing stops being effective. That said, I think often times parents impose a curriculum because, despite the struggles and tears it may cause, it is easier, more familiar territory for our school trained brains. We know what to do when there is resistance to a curriculum. It’s all part of the teacher-student dynamic with which we are almost all far too aware, having been subjected to it for at least 12 years of our lives. We’re not so certain how to handle non curriculum based learning issues (or what we perceive as issues). I know I’m not. But I’m getting better. Usually the best way to handle it, at least in our house, is to talk about it. Converse. Find out what the kids think about an issue and then, if need be, provide guidance or suggestions. Despite what school brain might say, Maya & Ben are usually very honest in their answers to my questions. They definitely do not always say what I might want to hear, but in the end (so far) it’s always been for the best.