Last Fall I introduced a friend of mine to Susan Weis Bauer’s The Story of the World curriculum. This is a four-book history set from ancient to modern times. I love the curriculum and have used it with all three of my kids. In our conversation a few weeks ago, this same friend was telling me how much she appreciated my telling her about the set and that her daughters loved it. What? She had finished the entire set of books in one year. I never thought to do this. Instead, I have dragged the curriculum out over two years’ time with my youngest two and did the entire four years, one book a year, with my oldest.
I had so many questions. For instance, did she use the workbooks too? She had. Did she read it with her daughters? She had. Did they do anything else but history? They had.
Why did I drag out this curriculum so that it was slow paced and lasted an eternity?
The answer was simple: it was suggested by the publisher.
Many of us fall into these “publisher suggested” time-frames when it comes to organizing and timing our curriculum. For many years, the kids were on my schedule instead of their own (teenagers are different animals), and during this time we would do our daily lessons and stop. I had the entire week, month, and year planned out. If a subject wasn’t finished by the Spring, we would attack it in the summer.
This is an organized slow to medium paced, generally popular homeschooling schedule. While I felt that we were on schedule most of the time, I realize now that we could have achieved a lot more if we had dropped the suggested time-frames and put a little fire into our homeschooling schedule.
Often, we see articles and advice on homeschooling that suggests we take it slow. We are told that children should learn at their own pace and shouldn’t be rushed. I am a true believer in this. Curriculum doesn’t need to be completed, and go at the speed of light. We do not need to rush our children into reading, writing, and math. Children learn as they grow and when they are ready. This is all true. But what if in adopting this mindset we are also keeping them behind?
I felt, suddenly, like I may have been over-generalizing their abilities and relying too much on a schedule that tends to look more like a public-school year than a true homeschool one. Why not give them the reigns and let them run?
This last week I told the kids to do as many math lessons per day as they wanted. They knew they had to do at least one. By Friday, instead of five math lessons completed, one of the kids had done seven and the other, ten! This was twice as many, and it wasn’t because I had pushed them but because I had let them go until they wanted to stop. This wasn’t the only subject though, I let them have total freedom. Instead telling my son to read a chapter of chemistry and finish the questions at the end of it, I told him to do chemistry and to stop when he felt like it. This kid read three chapters!
I believe another issue here is that many of us come from a world of schedules. Many homeschoolers come from a background of public school. We hear parents complain about their children being pushed to fast through the school system, but we also hear stories about children who are kept behind. No, you can’t do a math chapter before the class is ready; no, you can’t paint the rest of the scenery before the class has completed this part; we were supposed to finish the book as a class and perhaps you should have waited to finish it.
Do we do this at home? I think sometimes we do. I heard a homeschooler the other day working with her son on his writing. She told him that he was only to do one paragraph a day. At first, I didn’t register what was actually being done here. The mom was literally limiting her son’s writing potential and didn’t even realize it. What would have happened if she had instead told him to write as many paragraphs as he wanted? Would he have finished the paper? Would he have been ready for a second book followed by a second paper that much sooner? This person is a good homeschooler and a fantastic mom; but still, a mom whose son may have produced ten papers this year instead of three.
Why do we do this? Is it not strange? Do we worship schedules this much? Is that, as homeschoolers, we feel that we need some control over time management and curriculum schedules, to keep our own life from falling apart?
I’ve always believed in letting my children learn on their own in a slow-paced and patient environment, but I never thought that perhaps I was keeping this pace too slow in fear of jeopardizing their freedom in learning. While I focused on this idea of learning at their own pace—I failed at learning what that pace was. And while schedules are good, and having a plan for curriculum can be beneficial, it is also important to allow that schedule to adjust and change with each individual child and to place the bar a little higher than anticipated.
Here is to supporting the kids in finding their highest potential, and to pushing their own bar even higher to achieve their goals.
Amy teaches college English and literature full time. She recently self published a book of poems, and her novel is currently with an editor. Amy started homeschooling her oldest when he was in first grade and now he is a junior in high school. Her other two are 9 and 12. They are eclectic and Amy has dived into several curricula. Her middle son is dyslexic so that’s a challenge in itself. They have done umbrella schools, groups and even online curriculum.