Most Science Curricula Is Quite Useless

Most Science Curricula is Quite Useless
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Next to math, science is one of those things parents worry about teaching the most. I will admit to some trepidation myself. It seems like such a vast, broad field after all.

But here’s the thing to remember: as with history, most science curricula you purchase (if you purchase one at all – we do and we love it) is quite useless. When you know this and accept it, teaching science becomes much, much easier.

Let me explain.

Science is about Inquiry

The basic tenet of science, if you will, is the same as a Google search: “Let’s find out.” We frame the question, get information, see if it fits, reframe the question with new and old available information and reach a potential answer.

Unfortunately, with science curricula, we sometimes get the idea that there is a specific body of facts we have to know and if we don’t know that (or don’t agree with it), we don’t know science. The corollary is that if we know that specific body of facts and accept them as complete truth, we are somehow now wedded to science and everything we say about it is, in fact, absolute truth.

Neither one of these perspectives is true.

How to Teach Science

While we love our curriculum, we don’t mistake it for fact. As someone who has spent hours researching the data on food in general and carbohydrates in particular, the idea of “settled science” does not appeal to me. (Read about Ancel Keys and Gary Taubes for a taste, pun intended.)

And while it is important to know some facts just as with history, it is even more important in science to be able to put them in perspective and think through them logically.

Also, consider that SATs and ACTs do not actually ask for science “facts” but only that the student can think like a scientist.

So you see there’s nothing to fear. As long as you’re willing to make mistakes and let your children be willing to make mistakes, experiment and find out, as long as you’re willing to research and abandon ideas that don’t logically follow, knowing that there is a long line of people who have done exactly the same thing before you, you’re good to go.

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“Why Do I Need to Study History?”

Why Do I Need to Study History?
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My daughter may have learned more from me than I thought I was teaching. The other day, hands on her hips, she asks me, “But why do I need to know history at all?”

Oh boy.

Arguments of American students in general do not know history were not going to work. There had to be a reason for it – a good one. Because that’s how we structure our homeschool. We remove anything that we don’t like that is unnecessary.

But as I explained to my daughter, we can’t lump history into that unnecessary pile.

But why?

I find it slightly ironic that someone who likes to ask the question “why?” so much didn’t see the necessity of this point. History answers a lot of the why questions about people and places. It explains some of the more current concerns and problems we might be dealing with.

It could potentially help you figure out how to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work with just teaching a few people history.

“You’re going to vote in a few years!” I told her. “And I wouldn’t be a good parent if I didn’t teach you at least some basic facts about what went before you so you can make good decisions.”

That didn’t seem to convince her. Or perhaps it did because that conversation ended there.

Truth and Perspective

But I think my daughter did hit on something quite important. History is one of my favorite subjects to teach and we love it so much, our entire curriculum is fairly history-centric – even Science.

But by history, I don’t mean we engage in hero worship. We memorize facts and don’t shy away from discussing current events with the children. Our written curriculum often remains just the tip of the iceberg because we bring everything into conversation – even so-called “fake news.”

And while that doesn’t sound like much, let me mention that in the last month, I spoke to two very well meaning, wonderful people who had no historical perspective. One held the official view of history through her public school textbooks (and by extension television) and the other told me with a straight face that he got his history and current affairs education through pop singers and their music. (No, I’m not making this up.)

So here’s maybe the straight answer. We study history to understand that truth exists, but we have to often search for it. It is important to get perspectives, read source documents. We have to think.

We cannot depend on half bites of information, masticated and manipulated by others for our consumption.

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Time Spent in School Does Not Equal Learning

Time Spent in School Does Not Equal Learning
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One of the biggest things you learn when you begin homeschooling is that time spent with a book in front of you does not equal learning. You can spend all day at a desk and come away knowing as little as when you started.

As this article explains, the 10,000 hour rule made famous by author Malcolm Gladwell only works for certain domains. These domains have stable structures like classical music and chess. And even then, that 10,000 rule refers to deliberate practice which sitting at a desk passively is not.

If you want to learn more about deliberate practice, I recommend reading Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin.

Focus on Education, Not Time

This concern with time is especially important for homeschoolers and unschoolers. When I recently wrote that we begin our school year on January, a reader expressed concern that it might throw off the date of graduation.

While it is normal to worry about this, especially in states where you are required to show a certain number of hours for “school,” I think the concern is unnecessary. It might even be misleading.

You do not need to worry about time spent in front of a textbook; you only need to think about if the lesson was learned. (This is another reason I don’t like using a box curriculum. Most boxed curricula come with schedules.)

Better yet to focus on the process that was undertaken to understand the lesson. SATs and ACTs – if your child is headed to college at all – focus not so much on the material, but on the ability to process information and glean meaning out of it.

Don’t worry about hours spent at a desk. Spend time in conversation. Choose to teach what matters to you.

Hours and minutes do not equal an education – the ability to learn does. As long as you have imparted the how of learning, you do not need to concern yourself with the what. And the how takes far less time than you would imagine.

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Do Nothing (For a While)

Do Nothing (For a While)
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Perhaps the best piece of advice I have received (and the hardest to keep) is to do nothing. Doing nothing (for a while) every day is the best way to release creativity and motivation for the other times. You know, those times when we work.

Doing Nothing in a Homeschool Setting

Some people like going on walks to clear their mind. Some others swear that playing a musical instrument and letting their mind wander does the trick. Whatever it is that you like to do, make sure you leave time for it in the day.

And leave time for it for your children as well. Do not fill up every minute of the day with something to do. Boredom is good and healthy for everyone.

You might have to work out the how of it for your particular family, but for mine, I’ve got ignoring my children down to an art form. Seriously, why not pursue something you’d like to do for a while? After the first few years, parenting doesn’t need to be hands on.

It’s not Worthless

Doing nothing isn’t time wasted.

It’s easy to think that time spent doing nothing is worthless, but a simple experiment will prove otherwise. Try it.

If you are concerned with doing nothing, stick this Aqua Notes waterproof notepad in your shower. Trust me on this one. Don’t try to come up with something to write on it, don’t try too hard. Just leave it there. You might even forget about it. Then go about your day.

As you forget that it’s there and go about your day (and your shower) you will notice that while you’re doing nothing and letting your mind wander in the shower, you will have ideas. These thoughts might need jotting down.

I do some of my best thinking in the shower. While I’m doing nothing. And I’ve found that those twenty minutes tend to enliven the rest of my day.

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Don’t “Pace Yourself”

Don't Pace Yourself
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Sometimes even the most well meaning people can give us the worst advice. A few months ago, I wrote about one that drives me nuts. You can read about how I don’t “trust the process” right here. Today, I want to talk about another piece of bad advice: pacing yourself.

As I mentioned in my previous post, doing something consistently does not mean that you need to do it everyday. It’s the same with pacing yourself.

Picture, for instance, beginning something new, realizing you’re quite excited about it and then having someone else tell you, “No, just do a chapter today. Pace yourself.”

Bad advice!

The problem with bad advice is that it always sounds so careful and wise.

Well, yeah… I could get bored with this, you think. Perhaps I had better just read 50 pages a day. No sense in immersing myself in it today and getting bored tomorrow and abandoning it completely.

But have you noticed the disinclination self directed learning has to pacing itself?

Self directed learning – whether done by you or your children – follows its own rhythm. It is exciting, obsessive and not interested in external schedules. In fact, trying to get it to “pace itself” can hinder it more than help it.

Think about the last time you had a burning question – an online argument, for example. Or a conviction you couldn’t shake. Or a book you couldn’t put down. How much faster did you learn and how much did you retain from it?

I can almost guarantee you learned more in a day from your obsession than you would have had you done a little a day every day.

Here’s What To Do Instead

Work as much as possible with your natural inclinations and let the children do so as well.

Craft a curriculum that works with their individual personalities.

Let them be bored.

Realize that interest is cyclical and goes through waxing and waning cycles. If they’re obsessed with something and then lose interest, it might come back soon.

Don’t push for mastery too soon. To develop what we call grit, children need to try out a few different things and play at them before they’re ready to settle in and work hard at it.

Instead of forcing a top down philosophy of learning and education, try to trust your own organic sense of self direction and see if you can work with it. Don’t pace yourself. Go all out. Exhaust yourself. Then recover, refresh and come back.

That’s how the best learning occurs.

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Consistency Doesn’t Always Look Consistent

Consistency Doesn't Look Consistent
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Open any book on habits and sooner or later (sooner, in most cases) you will come across the admonition to “be consistent.”

Then will follow reminders to wake up earlier and “eat that frog” earlier in the day. And perhaps a reminder or two to join an accountability group to stay on track.

There’s only one problem with this advice: it may not work with your personality. But that’s only a problem if you let it be one.

Consistent doesn’t mean daily

When scheduling our homeschooling, I make sure to leave time for goofing off. I do this because I know I need it as much as the children do. And even with that we find ourselves dumping the schedule and running off to play on some days.

When I check out books from the library, I include some that look interesting, but I do not put restrictions on myself to read them all. I know I will quit some after the first fifty pages because they don’t hold my interest.

At any given time, I have about five or six obsessions running through my head. My current ones are writing, frugality, reading history, brushing up on the two foreign languages I know and working on Latin.

But I don’t practice these daily. In fact, the moment I try to establish some sort of a schedule to be able to “be more consistent” with these interests, they become a little tiring.

What I’m Not Saying

I’m not saying everything in your homeschool has to be the result of passion. And I’m certainly not mouthing platitudes such as “follow your bliss.”

But I am making the point that it’s okay to relax a little when it comes to scheduling your children in their endeavors. Consider longer timelines – weeks, months, years. Not days. As long as something gets done over a month, don’t worry about the day to day work.

Most interests tend to be cyclical. Your desire for consistency does not need to take on the mantle of a dictatorship to be fruitful.

My daughter will eventually come back to cartooning and writing, even if she takes a break from it for a few days. I’m certainly not going to ask her to do it everyday. Yes, she loves it, but if I force her to pursue that interest in a top-down way, she might just grow to hate it. I know I would.

While scheduling for passions and interests, be sure to leave room and time, not appointments and programs.

Consistency doesn’t always look consistent. And it certainly doesn’t have to be daily to be effective.

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Using Momentum for Scheduling Your Homeschool

Using Momentum for Scheduling Your Homeschool
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If you’ve been following my previous blog posts, you know I write a lot about scheduling. I like my checklists, for one. I like the sense of control having a good chart gives me.

But as I mentioned in my second book, I also am keenly aware that different personality types benefit from doing different things.

One size does not fit all. Or why homeschool at all?

Enter Momentum

I recently came across this article about how resolutions should take a back seat to momentum. It resonated with me.

I already tackle to my to-do list with this in mind. I make a list of everything I want to do in a set period of time. Then, instead of “eating the frog,” I attempt what seems easiest and the most fun first and begin there.

Pretty soon, I’ve gathered enough momentum and everything is checked off.

Why not apply that to our homeschool schedule, I thought. I decided to try it. If you’re considering the same, give it a try with me.

Here’s How

Make a list of all that needs to get done that week. With the exception of outside classes, everything can be done with momentum.

Don’t try to schedule anything yet. Just make a list of everything. Write down the total number of pages, chapters, goals, and so forth. Then, instead of separating out the days and scheduling each day, just leave it up.

Watch what happens. You might be surprised!

I suspect that if your children are anything like mine, they might just jump on the first thing that grabs their interest and begin it. They might tear through it and decide on the next best thing. Pretty soon, they’ve gathered momentum. It might keep them going.

Be warned, however: this could mean some uneven days. It could even mean that “school work” gets done before half the week is over.

Why not let it?

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How Unschooling Changed My Philosophy of Reading

How Unschooling Changed my Philosophy of Reading
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People don’t know what to do with me when I tell them I’m a classical unschooler. The world, it seems, constantly wants to peg us down as either belonging to the classical philosophy or radical unschooling.

We are something else entirely: we memorize, but not too much. We value play and self direction. And because we see the value in rabbit trails and strewing, most of what we learn tends to happen through great conversations.

Taking My Own (Unschooling) Advice

Sometimes, we tend to lose focus, too, though.

I have also been fooled into buying curricula at various times. “Perhaps there really is some secret to this – some system – to learning I haven’t figured out!” I’ve thought. There is some deep understanding that others have that I don’t!

But soon I realize it’s not true. And I tire of knowledge that seems to hang there, disconnected from each other, details of grammar that can’t be applied and put into practice immediately.

So I recently decided to take my own advice when it came to self directed learning. Why not, I thought, use the unschooling advice of simply introducing something of interest instead of trying to remember all the details of how it happened?

Enter Reading with Purpose

The philosophy of unschooling says that it is enough to simply offer readers and learners a “taste” of something. You are not looking for mastery, you are looking for interest. If there is some desire, the learner will pursue it himself.

The classical method says that there are three stages of learning – the grammar stage in which you are just acquiring the basic information, the logic (or dialectic) stage when you put those discrete pieces of information together and then the rhetoric stage when you formulate your own opinion on the matter.

Putting these two together in my classical unschooling philosophy has been the focus of our learning and reading this year. And it made a big difference to how I personally read.

This philosophy leaves me (and my kids) free to explore. It doesn’t matter that we don’t quite “get” it all. We don’t go deep, we go wide. We expose our minds to information we’re interested in and then, when it matters, we go deeper into the rabbit trails.

The best thing about it? It removes fear. Because you read widely, and you read for interest, there will always be something that captures you and chances are good that something somewhere connects to something else.

That’s how the best kind of learning (and reading) takes place.

To see what I’m reading, follow my Goodreads page.

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Two Organizational Skills Homeschoolers Need

As I write this, we are living in an apartment half the size of our previous home. Our homeschooling is going without a hitch through this transition. And yet, something is missing.

That something is not just the fact that we have less space. As I have written before, homeschooling can be done with much less room than we think.

What’s currently missing is knowing where to find something.

Although we live by the “a place for everything and everything in its place” rule, moving has a way of disrupting that stolid approach to life. Suddenly, there is thinking involved in reaching for a spoon, a knife, a book.

This leads me to think of all the new homeschoolers out there and offer up some of my advice to add to this collection of the best advice to new homeschoolers.

New Homeschoolers Need A Place For Everything

New homeschoolers think they need a curriculum, a schedule, a way to get information into their children’s heads. That may well be true. But more than anything else, new homeschoolers need a place for everything.

When you organize your homeschooling material, ensure you have a place for everything before you buy it. This is not limited to physical space, mind you. Mental space and temporal space also matter. Consider that it will take some time.

New Homeschoolers Need to Know Where to Go

In addition to having a place for everything, new homeschoolers need to know where to find things they need.

Online groups are indispensable in this regard. A homeschooling friend or two, a community, someone who has been there before you, someone who is homeschooling right alongside you – these are people to keep close. You will find what you’re looking for.

Remember these two things when you organize homeschooling material and you will do just fine.

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About Those Gaps in Learning…

About Those Gaps in Learning
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Each time I attend a homeschooling conference, there is an inevitable question that gets asked by new homeschoolers.

“But what about the gaps in learning?”

It’s a normal concern, I suppose. And anything is better than the socialization question that plagues new homeschoolers, but the gaps question is also an age old one and needs to be addressed.

My Gaps in Learning

I was recently watching Penny Dreadful with my husband. And I realized that I had never read Frankenstein. Not a big deal, I know.

But I am a literature major. And a writing major. How was it that I had made it through college and written so much about it and yet never read it? I had to fix the problem immediately, I decided. I downloaded my free copy and began reading it on my Kindle immediately.

It’s a small example, I know. But a significant one. Sometimes, information seems to permeate around us so much, we know enough about it but don’t know it.

For a related post, read my lament about not knowing the classics and how I began to fix that.

Everyone Has Gaps!

The fear most would be homeschoolers have when they begin is that they will somehow leave out something important. They are afraid of failing their children. And noble as this concern is, it is unfounded.

There is no mastermind in public schools that ensures there will not be gaps.
Everyone has gaps – this is the nature of education. Especially self directed education.

Think about all the things you looked up this week – recipes, lyrics of songs, instructions on how to put something together, plans, meanings of words, maps, even perhaps names of people you thought you knew. These were gaps in your learning. And you knew how to fix them.

If the Age of Information has taught us anything, it is this: gaps are inevitable. And that’s another nail in the coffin of public school. And for that, I welcome the realization.

A sacrosanct tome of information downloaded into your brain has always been a myth, but it was at no time more obvious than today.

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