On multiple occasions I’ve heard well-intentioned homeschoolers say things to people like, “You’re going to homeschool? Oh, you have to use (well-known homeschooling curriculum that shall remain nameless)! It’s the absolute best! We’ve used it for 12 years and we love it! Believe me, if you use (nameless curriculum), your children will simply excel!”
Yeah. Right. Because my children are exactly like yours. Same personalities. Same interests. Same abilities. And I teach just like you, too, right? And now that I think of it, our homes, families, and schedules are also precisely the same, aren’t they?
Obviously I’m being sarcastic. God created human beings with all these amazing and wonderful differences. Your strengths aren’t mine. My weaknesses may not be yours. Our family responsibilities and our schedules and our circumstances vary in unbelievable ways! So to say that any one curriculum or homeschooling approach is going to work for absolutely everyone is pretty nonsensical.
But early on, before I came to know more about the vast world of homeschooling and the wealth of options available, I fell prey to the use-this-particular-curriculum-and-you-can’t-go-wrong philosophy. So when I tried a “miracle curriculum” with two different children and neither of them excelled and I found myself simply hating it, I thought there was something wrong with me!
For years, all I knew of homeschooling was some form of the traditional approach. Traditional homeschooling, in case you don’t know what that means, is homeschooling the traditional-school way, via textbooks and/or workbooks. There are several fine and reputable traditional curricula companies and the material they produce is of a good quality. I’m not here to knock those companies or to criticize anyone who has met with success using them.
In fact, I recommend the traditional approach for beginning homeschoolers. When you first wade out into the homeschooling waters, the options can be overwhelming! Traditional homeschooling curriculum publishers like A Beka Book or BJU Press provide a good starting place for parents who aren’t sure which direction to turn. And these are often referred to as “boxed curricula,” because you can generally purchase all your core subjects plus electives from the same company and have the whole kit-and-kaboodle arrive at your home in a single box. What could be simpler? The material is divided into clear grade levels, so you know exactly where to place your child, and lesson plans are generally included or can be ordered separately. For a lot of people, even those who are experienced homeschoolers, having that work done for them is a big plus!
But while I don’t fully regret trying out the traditional approach for a time, (after all, doing so gave me a chance to get my footing in home education,) I am so thankful I haven’t continued with it!
Why? There are several reasons, really. For one…
I realize I was initially drawn to traditional homeschooling because it most closely mirrored my public school education.
This alone gives me great pause now!
I stepped into homeschooling carefully, hesitantly, thinking good homeschooling had to follow the pattern of a public school. That’s all I’d known, after all. But when you consider that American public school students consistently rank at the middle or bottom among industrialized nations, why on earth would I want to adopt a homeschooling approach that follows the public school model? People blame our failing schools on a lot of things and I’m not trying to make the assertion that traditional educational methods are the sole problem. They certainly are not. But it’s just as certain these methods do not and cannot guarantee our children’s success, so why be beholden to them, simply because it’s what’s familiar to me?
Another reason I’m glad I ditched the traditional approach…
Traditional homeschooling textbooks are BORING!
If you want to make learning dull, stuff lots of dates and tidbits of information, (though nothing too in-depth,) into a thick, dry textbook and make a kid read it and answer questions about it. Few things can possibly put a child to sleep faster than that!
I’ve looked at the textbooks from traditional homeschooling curricula companies, even purchased a few of them, and you know what they look like? They look an awful lot like the boring textbooks we used in public school, except with occasional Bible verses or references to God scattered through them! I’m thankful for Biblically-sound textbooks, but while those public school textbooks were secular and boring, these are Biblical and boring. Sorry, but boring is still boring!
Consequently, the very best teachers I had in my public school years were those who ditched textbooks. I remember a handful of teachers issuing the books, (because they had to,) and then telling us not to bother bringing them to class. Why? No doubt because they found the textbooks as dry and boring and as lacking in important, in-depth information as I did!
I realize that not every part of the education process will be fun and exciting, but if it’s possible to present material in a different, more interesting way, why on earth wouldn’t I want to at least give it a try?
Traditional homeschooling may involve less work for the parent, but it often includes much more busywork for the child.
I know having lessons planned and material organized for the parent is a big plus where traditional homeschooling is concerned and I don’t fault a mom or dad who needs that and takes advantage of it. But I would also argue that what is easiest for the parent isn’t necessarily what’s best for the child.
I strongly believe in the importance of parent-to-child interaction during school. Many traditional curricula are set up so as to avoid any more of that than is absolutely necessary. For me, that’s problematic to begin with! But I also.think reading and answering questions, which is a very traditional way of schooling, is a rather poor way of determining the depth of a child’s comprehension and learning. It encourages fragments of thought and tends toward rote memorization of facts that a child will then spit out onto a test and forget forever afterwards.
Traditional homeschooling curricula I’ve seen and used also include lots and lots of review work. Some parents love that, insisting the constant review really drives the information home to their children. And if that’s the case with your child, wonderful!
But for some children the workload can be completely overwhelming, especially given the fact they may grasp the material quite well without pages and pages of review.
I’ve heard some say, “Leave out some of the material if you don’t feel you need it or if it’s too much for your child.” But there are a couple of problems with that. For one, with some traditional homeschooling curricula, the work must be completed in full for the child to get credit for the course. Secondly, and this was my own issue, when you’ve paid a fairly hefty sum for a curriculum, tossing out half of it seems an incredible waste of money! What’s the point in paying for a curriculum where half the material, (or less,) is useful to you?
Personally, I don’t want my selection of a curriculum to be based solely on what’s easiest for me and I don’t want to see my child bogged down with a lot of unnecessary busywork.
The traditional approach makes it difficult to tailor your homeschool to suit your child’s specific needs.
This is the greatest benefit I have found in ditching traditional homeschooling. I have a child who struggled unbelievably with the traditional approach in reading and in math and while I had been assured the curriculum I was using would help any and every child grasp the necessary concepts, it wasn’t proving true in our family. Yet when I tentatively switched to a more multi-sensory math curriculum, for example, my child’s comprehension improved incredibly. When I left off with the dull readers and moved to reading real books, reading comprehension immediately began to improve. When I abandoned the concept of reading and answering questions and went instead with hands-on learning and a narration-style review of material, I found that my child’s ability to understand and later recount information was much more complete and thorough.
“That’s fine!” say some. “Use the traditional approach and then just add in whatever else you need.”
The problem with that is two-fold. First of all, many traditional curricula do not allow for add-ins unless you intend for your children to be schooling 10+ hours in the day. By the time a child has completed the scheduled work, there’s little time or energy or brainpower left for more!
And, honestly, why would you be committed to using a traditional curriculum if it’s not meeting your child’s needs? If a child can learn the information in nontraditional ways, and especially if they can learn it better, doesn’t it make sense to toss the traditional methods, no matter who is using them and who insists they’re the only reasonable choice for good homeschoolers?
Because often I think that’s at the core of the devotion to traditional homeschooling. It’s not necessarily the superiority of the method; it’s devotion to an educational norm. Just as a lot of non-homeschoolers are very uncomfortable with homeschooling because it is such a foreign concept to them, I also believe a lot of traditional homeschoolers are uncomfortable with a nontraditional approach because it’s so different from what they’re used to. Sometimes it may even seem to run contrary to everything they’ve known about education.
But that’s one of the beauties of homeschooling, I think; being able to tweak your system to fit your family and change curriculum if it isn’t working or create your own curriculum if nothing you find suits your fancy! If your homeschool doesn’t fit the traditional model, it shouldn’t matter so long as your child is learning! Pressure from a friend or a family member or a homeschool group, even if well-intentioned, should never be a determining factor in how we decide to teach our children. And if it is, boredom and discontent and burnout could be the result for student and teacher alike.
I have found such joy and freedom in abandoning the traditional methods and taking a more eclectic approach. Maybe sometime I can even share some of the curricula and methods we use in our home. The important thing, I feel, is finding what works for you and your children. If that’s the traditional approach, that’s marvelous! But if not, never be afraid to try something different! You might just find, as we have, that taking a different direction has been the best turn we ever could have made in our homeschooling journey!