Thursday, September 6, 2012

Teaching without a Curriculum

While having lunch with my mom and her friend recently, our plans to homeschool Peter came up in conversation. My mom's friend asked if we were using an online academy (traditional schooling in a home setting, complete with assignments and a teacher accessible during school hours), as her grandchild had done. She was flummoxed when I said we weren't planning to use a structured curriculum, just teach him what he needed as he grew. It was as if I had said we were planning to only walk backwards now.

It makes sense that people default to imagining homeschooling as traditional schooling at home. After all, almost all of us were raised in traditional schools with a set curriculum and regular testing. This is what we know. The joy of homeschooling, though, is that our own experience does not have to limit our children's experiences. They can have the freedom to explore what interests them and learn in a style that fits their strengths and abilities.

The educational theory my husband and I plan on using to guide our instruction is a mix of Charlotte Mason and unit studies. Charlotte Mason theory emphasizes "real" books - biographies, historical fiction, and other literature - to teach facts, rather than compartmentalized textbooks. Unit studies focus on one area of interest at a time, using a variety of approaches to learn about that topic. Here's an example of a unit study I created that I might do with Peter within the next year.

Brazilian agouti
No, not a squirrel! That's a Brazilian agouti. Obviously.

  • Take a trip to the zoo (socializing)
  • Show him a map of the zoo, use it to find an exhibit (social studies)
  • Read exhibit signs (reading)
  • Count animals in an exhibit, how many if one goes inside? (math)
  • Watch what and how different animals eat (science)
  • Practice good hygiene when we eat (health)
  • Observe differences among habitats (science)
  • Count types of zoo workers, what responsibilities each has (math, social studies)
  • Read Zoobies magazines about animals we saw (reading)
  • Learn about veterinarians and how to care for animals (social studies, science)
  • Read the Creation narrative and Noah's ark stories, identify animals (reading, theology)
  • Ask Peter to tell others about his trip to the zoo (writing*, socializing)
  • Make a list of animals we saw (writing*)
  • Learn The Unicorn Song (Irish Rovers) with motions (music, theology)
  • Make a mask of one or more animals seen (art)
  • Create a story with animals as the main characters (writing*)
  • Learn about our responsibility to care for the earth and all animals (social studies, theology)
*Writing involves both the physical act of writing and the cognitive skill of organizing and sharing our thoughts. At Peter's age, the second skill is more important.

This isn't a traditional curriculum. I don't have a preschool social studies textbook that lists zookeeper and veterinarian as careers to learn. This is "real-world" learning, picking a topic that Peter enjoys and using it to increase his knowledge and basic skills. I like that it stretches his brain and is flexible enough that we can use whatever interests him as a teaching moment.

And personally, I don't want to sit home with a textbook. :-)


  1. What a fun unit study! We use a mix of Charlotte and units as well with a little textbook thrown in when we have nothing else going on. I love that "school" does not have to be sitting at a desk. God bless you and your family, :)

    1. Thanks! I just started following your blog so I can steal, uh, borrow ideas from you as Peter gets older. :-) Peace!