Homeschooling: Beyond Curriculum Lists

This is the time of year when many homeschoolers are having conversations about curriculum choices.  We are curious what others are using and why, what works for other families and why.  I started yesterday to put together a post for this website with my curriculum and literature list for the coming school year, but I became uncomfortable.  I make a list every year of the curriculum and literature/books we will be using, but this list is such a sliver of our homeschool experience and really not the most important thing.  I think the thing I love most about homeschooling after all these years and the reason we have experienced some success with it has very little to do with the curriculum I choose.

Here are the aspects of our homeschooling that are even more powerful than our curriculum list:

1.  Learning environment

Lydia's writing center
Lydia’s writing center

One of the insights I appreciate most from Charlotte Mason is that a child’s home can be a natural learning environment.  Even when I am not instructing my child, our home environment is.

I have learning zones in my home.  They transition year to year.  Right now the living room is reserved for reading, music, and puzzles.  The dining room is for sewing (and occasionally dining!).  In our homeschool room I have a bookcase reserved for nature studies and displays for whatever topic we are studying in science.  I have a Reggio-inspired writing center for Lydia which holds everything she needs to make her own books and write copious letters.  We have a well-stocked children’s library — contained right now on shelves and in baskets, but I dream of a better system.  We have a craft closet which holds all our paints and nearby is a rolling cart with our art paper (recently organized and labeled so that the children can find what they want without shuffling through piles of different paper).  Claire has her own container garden and Dominic has a robot-building shelf.

All these things are available for my children to explore while I am doing other stuff.  I use our environment to stimulate further creativity and curiosity about the things we learn about in art appreciation, history, geography, literature, and science, but I also listen to my children for clues to what they are passionate about when I am setting up these learning zones.

These learning spaces are really more important to me than my curriculum selections. Lydia will have a kindergarten handwriting book this year to learn how to make her letters, but I the writing center is the most important part of her writing education because it teaches her that writing can build up community, is a special way to use words with people we love, and is fun!  And, of course, it will give her practice in making the letters she learns in her handwriting book.  Her handwriting book is on my curriculum list, but the writing center is not.

2.  Conversations

I consider myself a Charlotte Mason homeschooler at heart, but only a fraction of my curriculum is from a CM vendor or author.  I use curriculum and literature selections from many places and I change things up frequently — often mid-year — when one of my children is not responding well to a curriculum choice or if we have a sudden inspiration and decide to study something fascinating yet unanticipated.  Still, I believe my approach is still Charlotte Mason because 1) I choose living books as much as possible and 2) I use any curriculum selection to foster conversation.  For example, I use the literature guides from Memoria Press, which are advertised as a classical resource, but I use the guides to give me ideas for conversation starters.  I do not require my kids to fill in the workbooks (though my girls seem to love workbooks for some reason!).  Like Charlotte Mason, my “teaching approach” is relational, not instructional, and I believe can use my approach with many different curricula available (though, clearly, some are easier to adapt to CM than others).

3.  Emotional atmosphere

We can’t underestimate the power of the emotional atmosphere of our homes to shape our child’s mind and heart.  When children are valued and respected, when we have realistic expectations of them, when we consider their perspective and needs, learning will come naturally.  I try to have clear expectations of my children balanced by generous affection and devotion. I try as best I can to create some semblance of structure and order, but I accept the often unpredictable and chaotic reality of living with children. Which means sometimes Lego end up in my labeled paper drawers and laundry piles up on the reading chair.

With that caveat, I will post my full curriculum list tomorrow!

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