Monday, March 30, 2015

Best Curriculum Ever!

We love this book!  It's called "101 Places You Gotta See Before You're 12!" by Joanne O'Sullivan. This book was an accidental discovery for me at the library.  Now I think it makes far better curriculum for homeschooling than most of what I've seen, and I want to spread the word!

This book was written for kids to inspire them to explore their world directly.  It's been out of print for a while and copies that still have the original stickers inside will be hard to find.  But no matter.  I bought a copy for one cent plus shipping.  

What's inside?  A page or two devoted to each of 101 places worthy of discovery. Each place is both fairly specific and general enough that it should be possible to find something in its category no matter where you are.  If families were to take the obvious next step and learn something about the places they planned to visit, thoroughly exploring while there, and tracking down answers to any follow up questions afterwards, a child could get a wonderful education from it.  Yes, most people would want to supplement with some math.  But if you consider nearly every other subject of study, this book has it covered! Some examples:  a migration path (#4); a marvel of engineering (#30); a battlefield (#41); a literary location (#52);  an endangered place, for example a grain elevator or a prairie church (#79); your parent's workplace (#84); a medical museum (#87).  Each entry is accompanied by inspiring photos. The book ends with short lists of potential destinations for each item from around the USA and Canada.  

We don't often form lasting memories of things we learn in a classroom.  I do remember some of the fiction books I read, and whatever information I now use daily (such as reading and basic math skills).  But I've pretty much forgotten much of the facts I learned in my first 12 years of school.  And I know I'm not alone. What kids do remember are experiences.  Homeschooling provides a unique opportunity to take lessons out into the real world.  In our homeschooling, we do use curriculum for math (it's hard to teach long division through hands-on activities, after all) and for language arts. But for everything else we look for real world experiences. I make detailed plans each month for local events that will take us to do interesting things and hear interesting people talk about their work. We volunteer for citizen science projects. And we often rely on serendipity rather than a set learning plan.  For example, if we find that there is an archeology summer school doing a dig within driving distance, and they are giving public tours, we go! And we spend some time learning about the specific time in history that's being unearthed.  We use the event as a starting point rather than rejecting it because it doesn't fit with our preset curriculum.

The benefit of a curriculum, of course, is the security you feel when you know you're covering everything according to a tried and true course of study and not leaving anything important out.  It gets to be the job of some often nameless "expert" to decide what needs to be learned and when.  The problem with this is that although math and language arts arguably follow a linear path of progressive learning, other subjects do not.  Where is a good starting point for science?  For culture?  For civics? There's just no obvious answer. Although history seems to follow a linear path, studying it in a linear fashion becomes difficult.  Suppose you spend a lot of time during 1st grade studying ancient Egypt. By the time your child reaches 4th grade, they will have forgotten many things.  And many new discoveries will have been made as well that will be changing our basic understanding of that time in history. The basic concept that civilization develops as technological, cultural, political, and social developments are made and lost is probably more important than remembering events along a timeline learned in a particular order. 

What this book provides instead of a linear path is a thought provoking checklist of worthy destinations for a kid to get out and discover their world.  Many of the destinations in this book are defining pieces of Americana that would certainly give a child a good sense of our shared history, the beauty there is in our extraordinary land, and what it is to be a citizen protecting this heritage and sharing it with each other.

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